Friday, April 11, 2008


A lot of people (like me) find billboards a hideous blight on our cities and our countryside. Billboards blot out the natural beauty and architecture of communities, assets that should be highlighted, not hidden behind ugly billboards. In urban centers they are actually little more than trash.

Rather than going away, corporate America is coming up with new ways to make things worse.

For example, some big companies have taken things a step further - they turn huge buildings into giant advertising graphics. As Spreading the News points out what happens is a marketing type company scouts for a space (a building) to "hit up", once found they contact the realtor or owner, persuades them for X amount of dollars to rent or lease the space, generates a large ugly digital print known as "supergraphics" and has them installed, on the building for us to be bombarded with its imagery and be seen every morning while we either drive to work or every evening while we drive home.

Lucky us.

But as ugly as giant billboards, there is another model that is growing much faster and is just as hideous and probably more dangerous.

Growingly (that is not a word according to spellcheck, but I don't care) we are faced with digital signs that change about every few seconds. From Connecticut to California, digital billboards are becoming an increasingly hot issue as outdoor advertising companies seek to convert existing billboards to digital and erect new ones. Critics say they are a driving distraction and a neighborhood eyesore that should be forbidden. Scenic America, which is fighting to stop these digital eyesores says, "The biggest threat now facing America's communities and highways is the proliferation of digital billboards."

In Detroit, its one such billboard in particular is taking some heat from locals. A billboard on Interstate 75 near 7 Mile in Detroit has some residents in the area very upset. They say the billboard is too bright and is making sleep impossible.

"It drive me crazy at night. I live right here," said resident Audrey Watson. "It shines right here in my family room."

Well, Audrey you aren't alone in your anti-billboard feelings.

Some citizens of Los Angeles have had enough after documenting their fair town has 11,000 "points of blight" on local streets allowed by City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles City Council. It seems, too, any time any city has tried to limit and control what some call "litter on sticks," the billboard industry has fought hard to limit restrictions. Now, anti-billboard activists in LA have mounted a last-ditch effort to derail a proposal before the Los Angeles City Council that would place two 76-foot-tall billboards next to the 10 Freeway as part of an unusual trade-off to create a park in South Los Angeles.

Although the double-faced billboards are planned for a gritty stretch of 16th Street near downtown Los Angeles, the proposal has drawn the ire of opponents in Westwood, Venice and Holmby Hills, who fear the decision will set a precedent -- clearing the way for towering signs at other freeway locations.

"Once one billboard company gets this, then everybody will want the same thing, and there's no way you can stop that," said Ted Wu, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight.

In Long Beach, Calif., three neighborhood groups are fighting the construction of six digital billboards along local freeways; each sign would be 40 feet high, with a 30-by-20-foot screen. Members of the North Long Beach Action Group and the Bixby Knolls Improvement Association, believe the flashing signs would affect neighborhoods in North Long Beach, Bixby Knolls, just south of Long Beach Airport, and on the Westside. "Digital billboards of that size can be read from a quarter of a mile off the freeway," Martha Thuente, chair of the North Long Beach Project Area Committee told the Long Beach Press Telegram. "It destroys the visual aesthetics of an area."

Though the industry claims billboards are essential providers of important information, polls reveal that they most people see them as ugly, intrusive, and uninformative.

Between 1957 and 1977, at least eight polls found 70% or more of respondents to be anti-billboard. In the 1990s, pools found people in Florida, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Texas, Michigan, and Missouri all agreed that billboards are litter on a stick. In fact, virtually every credible poll that's been done reveals one fact: Americans do not like billboards.
By a 10 to 1 margin, Floridians prefer reducing the number of billboards over further increases.

64% of the citizens in New Hampshire oppose to billboard advertising on highways, with 53% of total respondents strongly opposing billboards.

62% of Rhode Islanders state that billboards make state roads less attractive, as opposed to 31% who simply felt it made no difference.
96% of Houstonians believe it important to make major improvements in beautification of the city, and

79% of Houstonians support maintaining or strengthening the city's ordinance removing ALL billboards by 2013.

69% of Missourians believe that fewer billboards would make their state more attractive to tourists, while just 26% disagreed.

Who likes these billboards anyway.

Billboard companies and other advertisers - that's who.

Says Paul Meyer, president and chief operating officer of Clear Channel Outdoor, "The more congested the area is, the more effective outdoor advertising can be."

With TIVOS and VCRs allowing some of us the option to cut out TV ads, billboards are becoming ever more popular with the industry because even fickle viewers go outside --and find themselves often stuck in traffic when they do so -- so billboards are harder to avoid. There is no button to press that gets rid of them.

The billboard companies do not exist nor multiply on their own. They are supported from local and multinational companies who use billboards as a cheap advertising alternative.

And don't think the massive amounts of moola the industry puts into the pockets of local, state and national legislators doesn't pay off.

Take Dayton, Ohio, for example. On February 6th the local billboard laws were gutted by the city commission. Despite citizen opposition the new changes to Dayton's zoning code regulating billboards means according to the blog Daytonology, "These monstrosities are going to go up as close as 500 feet apart in all these areas they were formerly outlawed: light industrial (I1), business park (BP) and eclectic commercial."

Then there is the state of Tennessee. Gene Burr, an architect who serves on the board of Scenic Tennessee, wrote in the News Sentinel that Knox County, through its Board of Zoning Appeals, decided to permit digital billboards in response to a request from the billboard industry in May 2007. There was no public hearing, Burr said, and now there are three digital billboards in the county.

Forget about Dayton and even the entire state of Tennessee if you want. You don't live there.

Yeah, well, thirty-seven states fail to protect unzoned and rural areas, allowing companies to litter the countryside with signs; and 23 states permit billboard companies to cut down trees to improve the visibility of billboards. Maybe that bothers you.

Spreading the News makes an interesting point:
"Graffiti is always cast as an "urban blight" - but peeps, an ad where an almost nude 50 foot man in underwear advertising a cologne that I do not wear is an "urban blight" to me. Why would I want to see that? Do you enjoy it? I am sure most don't and like graffiti is to many a nuisance these corporate ads are a nuisance to many. To me at least."

Maybe its time for a little more militant, a little more radical grassroots anti-billboard action.

I'll leave it to you to come up with your own ideas about that.

The following story is from the LA Times.

Anti-billboard activists target multi-story 'supergraphics'

Anti-billboard activists have a new target: multi-story "supergraphic" signs plastered illegally on about three dozen buildings citywide.

A handful of West Los Angeles activists joined City Councilman Jack Weiss on West Pico Boulevard at Overland Avenue on Thursday morning to call for hefty fines against those who post the signs.

Their backdrop: a Gap Inc. supergraphic with a blond model reclining across several stories of an office building in the 10000 block of West Pico Boulevard.

The ad, which appeared in February, is a 60-foot-by-20-foot vinyl sheet stuck to the building, according to a lawyer for the company that negotiated a lease for the space. That's 1,200 square feet compared with about 750 square feet for a traditional billboard.

A few blocks away, another supergraphic advertised "Dirt," the new Courteney Cox show on FX. Others elsewhere in the city tout Washington Mutual and Wachovia banks.

"This is taking off because people are finding a way to get around our law," which prohibits new billboards, Weiss said, calling the ads "sneaky" and deriding the "shrink-wrapped buildings" as "urban blight."

Companies that post the signs defend them as free speech and say city leaders are discriminating against them by forbidding supergraphics in some areas while allowing them in others, such as Hollywood.

A lawyer for the Philadelphia-based company that posted the Gap sign, Worldwide Rush, said the company is contesting the city ban in federal court, arguing that it violates free speech.

In areas where the signs are banned, code-enforcement officials typically cite companies, then go to court to have the ads taken down, a process that can take years.

While the suits are pending, judges have barred the city from removing the supergraphics, said Nick Velasquez, a spokesman for the city attorney's office.

"It's visual blight, a distraction to motorists, just treating the architecture of the city as a canvas," said Dennis Hathaway, a spokesman for the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight.

Weiss wants the city to enforce a law already on the books that allows it to levy $2,500-a-day fines. The fines apply not only to advertisers such as Gap -- which buy the signs -- but also to the sign companies that post them and the property owners who lease the space.

The average supergraphic costs $20,000 to $200,000, depending on the size of the building, location (freeway proximity drives the price up), nearby businesses and other variables, said Matthew Cooper, a spokesman for Beverly Hills-based Skytag Inc.

Cooper said all of his company's roughly 20 signs are in areas permitted by the city. "If it's done right, a highly pictorial ad with a nice creative [design] can add to the landscape," he said. "These people who just slap up these ads anywhere are giving us a bad name."

Thursday, April 10, 2008


In Russia’s Sverdlovsk Region, a ten-day sit-in strike by 96 bauxite miners 800 metres below ground ended last Friday. The strike began on the evening of March 26, when, according to a local mine union source, 107 miners completing the night shift refused to leave the mine. Twenty-four hours later, they sent up their demands. They launched a hunger strike on April 1 and again refused to come to the surface until their demands, including funding for the construction of another mine, were met. Workers also demanded the restoration of previously suspended parts of the their welfare packages

The world’s largest aluminium producer – United Company RusAl – has now agreed to amnesty for all involved and pledged to meet the strikers demands.

The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) reports the company, privately-owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, shut five other bauxite mines in the North Ural Mountains on 28 March, curtailing wages for 5,000 other miners in an effort to divide miners and pressure the striking union. That failed, with members of the other unions signing pledges of support for the strikers, as well as sending food and other supplies to them, until they started the hunger strike.

An annual pay increase put in place late last year for all the unionised miners of the region by RusAl paled next to the company’s vast profits and the 15% inflation rate of the region. The strikers of the Independent Miners’ Union sent a list of ten demands to the surface. Those demands included a 50% pay increase on top of the average salary of US$760 per month, an end to weekend work, resumption of a company halted social welfare programme that took effect 1 January, and investment in other mines of the region.

The blog Dance with Bears points out this was the first organized action by miners against a Russian metals oligarch for a share in the wealth he has been accumulating in the current commodity boom. It is also the first challenge by an independent miners’ union to overwhelm resistance from the company-favoured unions. The Independent Miners’ Union of Russia which led the strike is one of four unions at the mine. The larger unions at the mine began by officially denouncing the smaller union’s strike as illegal.

Local press reports said that the wildcatters were backed by other miners, and most of the population of a nearby town, who came out for a solidarity rally.

UC RusAl, controlled by Basic Element, owned by Russia's richest man, Oleg Deripaska, became the world's largest aluminum producer after a March 2007 merger between RusAl, rival Sual and Swiss Glencore's alumina assets.

The following is from

Russian Bauxite miners occupy mine shaft

After over a week of occupation of a mine shaft, the Russian miners returned to the surface, with the promise of compromise on key wage demands and the restoration of social programmes.

The occupation began on March 26th, with the workers producing a list of 11 demands including a 50% wage increase, and the restoration of previously suspended parts of the workers welfare packages. The occupation was part of a strike by 3000 workers against Severuralsk - part of the Rusal group, under the control of Oleg Deripaska, one of Russia’s richest Oligarchs, and is the first strike by unionised workers against Rusal.

While initially responding aggressively and threatening legal action against the occupation it claimed was illegal, Rusal backed down as all 5 shafts in the mine were shut down by workers. Attempts to bring in police were suspended, and negotiations have begun between Rusal and representatives of both unions involved. Demands for the restoration of certain social programmes have already been accepted, and wage increases of over 20% are anticipated.

The strike has attracted significant attention and sympathy from across Russia, as well as active solidarity from other unions and residents of the local town.


Hospital workers from the National Federation of Workers of the Health (Fenats) and the National Federation of University Professionals of the Services of Health (Fenpruss) occupied a hospital in Chile today.

The San Jose Hospital was already in the news after a mother of Peruvian nationality gave birth in bathroom of the waiting room while waiting to be seen. A prosecutor was assigned to investigate the incident also today.

Currently there is very little available on the take over which happened only a few hours ago. I'll keep looking in the days ahead.

The following is from El Mercurio.

Workers take over San José Hospital facilities

SANTIAGO, Chile - Some 300 workers of the San José Hospital have taken over the medical center to demand better salaries and more transparency about the appointment of management positions.

“We are protesting for better salaries, for respect for workers and to speak out against the political favoritism that exists at the hospital, which is the institution’s main problem”, stated protest leader Luis Morales.

“There are department heads that were given their positions based completely on personal contacts. The administration has said that, in order to make management more transparent, various candidates would be allowed to petition the positions, and this has not happened”.

The protesters are also demanding their salaries be raised to 300 thousand pesos as well as a pension incentive of 20 million pesos, not 3 million as they are scheduled to receive.

The demonstration began with the protesters taking over the facility´s management offices. Later, the workers made their way to the adult Emergency Room, where they set up barricades.

Special Police Forces arrived at the scene around 10:00 AM to break up the demonstration and take down the barricades.


At least 19,000 school students and teachers have demonstrated on the streets of Paris against a proposed reform of the French education system.

USA Today reports police are using tear gas to quell pockets of violence on the edges of the Paris protest by high school students.

Skirmishes are breaking out between police and demonstrators on the Boulevard du Montparnasse on the Left Bank of Paris. Plain clothes police officers have been charging small groups of protesters. Some marchers have been setting off fire crackers.

AP Television footage showed projectiles being hurled at riot police, as skirmishes broke out between police and demonstrators on the Left Bank of the capital.

The protests are against job cuts in secondary schools. The government plans to cut some 11,200 education jobs this year, including 8,500 teaching posts.

The protest, which began on Thursday afternoon, is the students' second this week and the fifth in two weeks.

One teacher taking part in the rally told The Associated Press that the job cuts will affect quality of education in France.

"We are against the laying off of jobs in the field of education because we think it would be absolutely impossible for us to teach decently to the students that we have,'' he said.

Demonstrators also fear that Sarkozy's overall reforms will erode the protection they get from social and labour unions that underpins French society.

The following is from the Tocqueville Connection.


About 19,000 French high school students took to the streets of Paris on Thursday, according to police, stepping up protests against President Nicolas Sarkozy's planned job cuts in education.

Organisers said between 30,000 and 40,000 protesters took part.

It was the fifth and biggest protest over the past two weeks against the government's plan to slash 11,200 jobs in education in September, including 8,830 teachers.
"We are saying 'stop this haemorraghing'," said Florian Lecoultre, president of the UNL student union.

Students, joined by teachers and parents, set off in the early afternoon from Paris' Luxembourg Gardens on the Left Bank, carrying a large banner that read "Students mobilised against job cuts."

There were some minor incidents at the start of the march, when police used tear gas against protesters who threw rocks and other projectiles, but the protest overall took place peacefully.

On Tuesday, some 8,500 students took part in Paris protests, according to police but organisers put the figure much higher at about 25,000.

A first protest drew between 4,600 and 6,000 students in Paris on March 27.

The protest action disrupted classes in hundreds of secondary schools in the Paris region, and about 40 of them shut down altogether. Police detained 11 students in a suburb after they threw rocks and attacked storefronts.

Education Minister Xavier Dacros vowed not to backtrack on the proposed job cuts that the government has said will be achieved by not replacing retiring personnel.

"We hear the students and they have reason to be worried about their future but it is a lie to make them believe that the school issue is a numbers' game," Darcos told parliament.

"We have to reform high schools and it's not 100 more or 100 fewer staff that will make the difference," he said.

Smaller protests were also held in France's third city of Lyon and in Toulouse, in the southwest. Up to a quarter of teachers went on strike in the Paris region, according to union officials.

During demonstrations on Tuesday, police detained 25 people and three police suffered minor injuries in scuffles with protesters.

Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters who threw rocks and other projectiles at them on Tuesday.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


April 8th is International Roma Day, which was first marked in 1971.

There are about 15 million Roma worldwide.

An estimated 7-9 million Roma live in EU member states but to date there is no integrated and comprehensive EU policy specifically targeting discrimination against Roma.

The European Agency for Fundamental Rights recently concluded that Roma continue to be the single most discriminated group in Europe and that urgent action needs to be taken. Said Socialist Group vice-president Jan Marinus Wiersma: "If there is one organisation that can and should do more to promote Roma inclusion, it is the European Union".

Around Europe rallies and commemorations have taken place aimed at calling attention to the current plight of many Roma on the continent.

According to statistics from the Roma Information Center, about 59 percent of the Roma population in Serbia is subjected to poverty, while 60 percent never finish primary school.

Co-existence of Czech Romanies with the majority society is not improving, activists from some Romany organisations said today.

On the contrary, anti-Gypsy tendencies have strengthened in the past period, activists from the Dzeno organisation and the Association of Romany Regional Representatives said.

An analysis has shown that one-third of Romani in the Czech Republic live in ghettos in which almost all adults are jobless and families are dependent on welfare benefits.

Czech Romany organisations have called a demonstration outside the Government Office on April 11. They demand the resignation of Deputy PM Jiri Cunek, head of the junior ruling Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), over his recent controversial statements on Romanies.

A press release from the Dzeno Association says, "In the Roma communities (of Moldovia) there is no access to qualitative drinkable water, Roma are often disconnected from the electrical energy source, are subjected to a violent treatment applied by policemen. Discrimination is a phenomenon which can be met in schools, medical institutions and other public places.

In Belarus fficially 91% of total Roma population is unemployed.

In Prague, an exhibition on Prague’s Namesti Miru, opened today showing the faces and names of those who have been killed in racially-motivated attacks in the Czech Republic since 1989.

The Organization of Bulgarian Jews "Shalom" supported the remembrance of the hundreds of thousands of Roma, who were killed in the Nazi death camps by sending a letter to the Municipality of the Danube town of Lom, and the "Roma Lom" Foundation.

For the first time ever Macedonia marked the International Roma Day as a national holiday for its Roma people, Macedonian television A1 reports. NGO Nahtari and the Union of Roma in Macedonia have marked the holiday in Šuto Orizari municipality; celebrations were held on the municipal square yesterday.

In Bulgaria, in the town of Stara Zagora a folk dance and song company “Avligite” held a concert. In the town of Sliven wreaths and flowers were laid in front of the monument of Sabi Dimitrov in remembrance of the Roma people who died in the Holocaust.

The following is from

Moldovan gypsies hold action of protest in Chisinau

Moldovan gypsies have held a demonstration in the country’s capital Chisinau in protest of what they described as the indifference towards their social and economic situation on the part of the government.

About a hundred Romanis – this is the way the gypsies call themselves – marched along downtown streets, waving slogans and flags.

“We held this action on the International Romani Day to remind the government of the policy of ignorance and discrimination we’re subjected to,” said Nikolai Radita, the chairman of the National Center of Moldovan Romanis.

He summed up the gypsies’ main woes, saying they are unemployment, problems in getting education, scanty access to potable water and electricity, and some others.

“About 90% of Moldovan Romanis are unemployed today and, unfortunately, our young generations are heading into the same problem as they don’t have an opportunity to study,” Radita said.

Unofficial data puts this country’s gypsy population at 15,000. It is believed that the town of Soroca where the gypsy king Artur Cerara has the main residence is the capital city for the Romani.

The International Romani Day was instituted in commemoration of the 1st World Romani Congress that was held in London April 8, 1971. It has been marked annually in many countries of the world since then.

Europe has a Romani decade lasting from 2005 through 2015. One of its objectives is to improve the social status of the gypsies on the Old Continent.


Witnesses said at least one person was killed by hotel security guards during a protest in the southern city of Les Cayes, where at least four people died last week in food riots and clashes with U.N. peacekeepers.

Today Haitian officials were calling for calm.

The call went unanswered.

AFP says early today protesters crowded against the fence around the presidential palace throwing rocks toward the building guarded by police, on the second consecutive day of demonstrations in and around Port-au-Prince and six days after unrest first erupted in the city of Cayes.

The web site "We Haitians United We Stand For Democracy" reports thousands of people marched mostly peacefully past the National Palace in Port-au-Prince. "We're hungry," some called out. Others carried posters reading "Down with the expensive life!"

Some protesters threw chairs against buildings and shouted for the U.N. troops to leave the country, blaming them for the high price of rice.

By midday the whitewashed palace was completely blocked off as a dozen armored vehicles manned by Brazilian soldiers under the UN Minustah peacekeeping mission took position around the compound.

Witnesses said there was gunfire and that scuffles broke out with UN soldiers.

In other areas of the capital, barricades were erected on the streets.

"Living conditions are horrible. We are tired of hearing promises, we want fast action," said a protester named Wilson, 25.

Haitians are particularly affected by food prices that are rising worldwide. Eighty percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

"Some can't take the hunger anymore," the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste told The Associated Press. "As a priest, I encourage all government officials to do their best to find ways to solve the near-famine situation."

The protests began after a sudden jump in prices for fuel and basic food commodities in the poor country of 8.5 million.

The cost of staples such as rice, beans, fruit and condensed milk has gone up 50 percent in the past year. Gasoline has seen its third price hike in less than two months.

Hedi Annabi, UN special envoy to the country said the UN was there to support the government. He later told reporters, however, that there was a need "for urgent assistance to alleviate the suffering of the population".

Merisma Jean-Claudel, a young high school graduate from Port-au-Prince expalined to Haitain Analysis:
"...people can’t buy food. Gasoline prices are going up. It is very hard for us over here. The cost of living is the biggest worry for us, no peace in stomach means no peace in the mind. Although, many can’t pay taxi or tap-tap fares just from Delmas to the downtown of Port-Au-Prince, I wonder if others will be able to survive the days ahead because things are very, very hard. It is imperative that the government reopen food banks to save lives. In 2003 they had food banks in the popular districts. Now they are closed. The government must reopen them if they don't want people to die."

What is happening in Haiti is not and will not be unique.

The head of the United Nations World Food Program warned on Monday that a global surge in food prices could lead to further tensions.

"A new face of hunger is emerging; even where food is available on the shelves, there are now more and more people who simply cannot afford it," WFP director Josette Sheeran said in a statement.

The following is from Caribbean Net News.

Fifth person dies in Haitian food price protests
Published on Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A man was killed by gunfire as demonstrators took to the streets in the southern Haitian city of Les Cayes on Monday, raising the death toll to five in protests against rising food prices, officials and radio reports said.

Protesters also marched outside the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, the capital of the impoverished Caribbean nation of nearly 9 million people, expressing anger at the higher cost of food.

Four people were killed and 20 others were hurt in a riot in Les Cayes last week. UN vehicles were burned, peacekeepers were attacked and a food warehouse was looted by angry mobs on Thursday and Friday.

In response to the unrest, Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis announced a multimillion-dollar investment program aimed at lowering the cost of living.

Haitians protest the high cost of living in front of the Haitian Parliament in Port-au-Prince. AFP PHOTO
Prices of rice and other essentials have doubled and in some cases tripled, sparking protests since Wednesday in Gonaives, Petit-Goave and other cities against the government of President Rene Preval, whose 2006 election brought relative calm after decades of violence and political upheaval.

The head of the United Nations World Food Program warned on Monday that a global surge in food prices could lead to further tensions. Unrest related to food and fuel costs has recently hit Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Mozambique and Senegal, it said.

"A new face of hunger is emerging; even where food is available on the shelves, there are now more and more people who simply cannot afford it," WFP director Josette Sheeran said in a statement.

Tensions remained high in Les Cayes, one of Haiti's largest cities. Gunfire erupted on Monday when protesters tried to storm the home of a senator, Gabriel Fortune, and two men were wounded, according to a city official.

One of the men died later at a hospital, he said.

"The government is solely responsible for what is happening today because it has failed to properly address the problems," resident Maxon Benoit said on Sunday. "Why don't they eliminate taxes on food products and give the population a break?"

Les Cayes Mayor Pierre Yvon Chery was attacked on Sunday by angry protesters when he went to the seaside neighborhood of La Savane to explain measures enacted by the government to help calm the unrest.

Residents said the violence was the worst Les Cayes had seen in years.

"This is a shame for us, inhabitants of this city known for its calm, its hospitality and its civility," said 45-year-old Marie Jeanne Occeant. "It is true the situation is unbearable. I have not seen such hardships my whole life, but the violence can only make it worse."

Over the weekend, UN and Haitian security forces helped clean streets in Les Cayes, where barricades of burning tires and the shells of wrecked cars were erected.

"We have reinforced our police contingents with specialized units from Port-au-Prince and a new battalion of Brazilian troops has also arrived in support," said Henriot Toussaint, police chief for the southern region. "We have the situation under control."


Please send Lew Perkins (Kansas Athletic Director) a special plea to keep Bill Self at Kansas. For those of you who somehow do not know, Bill is our basketball coach. Email Perkins at

I realize college basketball isn't world peace or anything, but it helps keep me sane, okay. I also realize the contradiction between spending millions of dollars for basketball coaches and virtually everything else here at the OD, but what can I say. Sometimes you just have to live with the stupid stuff, too.



Monday, April 07, 2008


Last week a friend of mine asked me to use my experience to help out someone he knew. It seems this guy is going to prison (someplace he's never been). So my friend asked me to write up a little primer of what to do, not do, expect etc. It was an interesting challenge and I think I'll print a revised (less personally directed) version from which anyone facing prison time might benefit. Remember this is just my opinion from my experience. Obviously every situation is somewhat unique. Others may disagree with my opinions. Other may have different suggestions. I would love those folks to send in their comments and suggestions. One big difference from my time and this time is the prevalence of gangs. They were there, but not so organized back in my day.

Also, these suggestions are for someone who wants to do their time and get out with as little hassle as possible. This is not for someone who wants to be the big cheese. This is not for someone who wants to do heavy political work while in prison.

My experience only applies to male prisons. I have not the slightest clue what it's like in a women's prison.

By the way, the above picture is a current google earth aerial view of a place I spent some time doing "research" for this guide.

The stuff below is in no order, just put it down as I thought of it. It's several pages long so it's all I'll post for today at the Oread Daily.


Commissary fund – Keep it low. Even if you have the financial resources, don’t put too much money in it. Doesn’t look good to all the convicts who don’t have much and will want yours. Don’t buy too much stuff at once. Stick to the basics. Snacks, coffee, juice, soda whatever. Just don’t overdo it. You don’t want too much stuff hanging around your area. And do not become known as someone who is giving away his stuff either. It may seem nice, but it isn’t a good thing to get into. Later, when you have friends if they share, you can share.

Cigarettes – Keep some packs on hand whether you smoke or not. They are one of the main currencies in the joint.

Stand Up For Yourself – This is a big one and a tough one. No matter what, don’t weakly give in to anything, even if you might get the shit beat out of you do not just fold. This applies to most everything. If someone steals your stuff, find a way to confront them (within reason). Once you give in, you become fair game for everyone. There is no shortage of people who are so scared that they will submit to just about anything. If you are not one of those people, you’re less likely to have a problem. Also, don’t whine. Don’t piss and moan about your situation. Prison culture is male culture, bad male culture.

Be Cool – Unless you are planning on being in prison forever, the best policy is to just stay out of the way, stay to yourself (at least, until you have some idea of what’s what and who is who). Don’t intervene in disputes. Mind your own business. Don’t tell people your business. Do your time and get out. Don’t make waves.

Race – The reality is if you are white, you are white. It doesn’t matter if on the outside you are big on “diversity.” It doesn’t exist on the inside. This doesn’t mean you have to act like a racist or be nasty to other races then your own, just realize when you go to eat a meal and if the place is divided by races (which it probably will be), eat on your race’s side. It's a drag, but it's reality.

Respect – Respect other cons and their space. Don’t dis anyone unless you are looking for trouble. Respect yourself. You too have rights. If you don’t respect yourself, no one else will either. Keep your clothes clean, your area neat, yourself looking good. It’ll help. Don’t just let yourself go. If you can get something to wear besides prison garb and others do it, I’d suggest you do it.

Gangs – When I was in prison they weren’t a big deal. I would do my best to stay as far away from them as possible, but in truth, I don’t know how it works these days. Gangs are divided by races and ideologies.

Don’t complain to the man – If something happens your recourse is NOT to go ask a guard for help. Do not rat anyone out ever. Do not give the impression that you are doing that. It is best not to initiate communications with guards or other staff. If you look around and other respected cons seem to interact with a prison staff person, then it’s probably okay for you to do so as well. However, again that does not mean if someone steals your stuff, for example, that you should go complain to staff, any staff, about it. You will have to deal with it yourself as best you can.

Visits – If you are lucky and you get a bunch, that is good. However, remember most cons don’t, so don’t play it up. It’s okay to have them, you’ll need them; just don’t “brag” on about them. Also, after visits are tough times because everything sort of starts over again for you. It’ll pass. Wear something clean to a visit. If you have something special to wear, now is the time. If they let you get food from the outside world (we could order from Sonic when I was in prison), I’d do it. You’d be surprised how great lousy fast food can be.

Learn the ropes – Watch what others do and learn the culture. Pick out people you “like” and try to follow their behavior to some extent. It’ll take a little time but it’s worth it.

Friends – Friends in prison are good, but take your time making them. You need to know who is who and what you are getting into with whatever clique you might become a part of. More than likely friends will pick you and not the other way around. It’s good though to have friends to hang with, to talk to, to joke around with, to eat with. Prison can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. Keep in mind you are responsible for your friends. Others will judge you by your friends. Remember that most people in prison are not middle class whites and their culture is not that of middle class suburban America. If you are, this is actually an opportunity to make friends who are not like you and to learn something. Keep that in mind. You can keep these friends forever or not.

Debt – Don’t owe anyone anything. Don’t borrow. Don’t get in debt to someone else. It may seem friendly at first, but it can lead to trouble. When you first enter any institution, you will be approached with 2-4-1 offers. Meaning that the person will front you 1 item (pack of cigs, commissary food, whatever) but you will have to repay them two. This is a classic trap for inexperienced inmates. If you are there long enough and you develop friends, then you’ll know how to relate to them as far as borrowing goes.

Television Room – In my day they had TV rooms (I presume they still do). Don’t change the channel unless you are the ONLY one in the room. Watch what’s there. Don’t tell others to “hush up.”

Movies – Even if you don’t feel like it go to them or whatever other entertainment is offered (unless you hear there is going to be trouble).

Exercise – Do it. I did it mostly in my cell or ran. I didn’t go to the weight room because I was staying out of crowds, so to speak, and the guys in the weight room were huge and I wasn’t. How and where you exercise is up to you, just do it.

Drugs/Contraband – Of course, it’s up to you, but my advice is stay away. Drugs are everywhere and you can get them if you want them, but it’ll only cause you problems.

Gambling - Never, EVER become involved in gambling.

Older Convicts – In general these are the guys who know what’s what and aren’t trying to impress. The younger guys are still trying to prove themselves.

Routines – For me developing routines helped. I would guess that is an individual thing. The flip side was that for me, I’ve never totally gotten rid of those routines. However, routines helped me get through the day.

Shower – Exactly what they say, “Watch your back.” If you shower with the group it is one place you are really exposed all the way around so to speak. If you happen to have a job or something that allows you shower alone, do it. Otherwise, get in, do your business, get out. It isn't as dangerous in the shower as some make it out to be. Just don't invite trouble. However, stay groomed. It’s a good way to respect yourself and demonstrate to yourself that you are still you.

Strip Searches – Get use to it. Just do it. No big deal. I’d rather be the guy getting searched then the guy doing the searches.

Job – It may seem lying around all day would be a good idea, but it gets old and time goes slow. Most any job is better than that. Anyway, they may ask you to select from several jobs. I did that and they gave me the one I didn’t choose. It didn't really make any difference. I had several different jobs. I actually enjoyed my job in the power house.

Rules – I’m presuming you just want to do your time and get out. In that case try to follow the rules. It isn’t possible to follow all of them, but do what you can. Don’t freak out if you get in trouble for something. It happens. Always remember you are unfortunately under the control of the prison authorities. They’ll do what they want.

Radio/TV – In my day you could buy a radio in the commissary. It was the best thing I did. I actually enjoyed listening to ball games and the like. Now days in some places you can have tvs etc. It’s up to you. I suppose I’d see what others have. You don’t want a bunch more than other convicts just because you have more financial resources.

Racism/Sexism – Get used to it. People don’t talk like you may be used to. The N word will be used widely. People will discuss what they’d like to do to women etc. You don’t have to play that game, but you also don’t have to correct anyone or try to make them “politically correct.” Again, you don’t have to become a racist to make it. Just try to ignore it and move on. Just be aware that racism and sexism and homophobia are much more overt inside then outside.

Be A Stand Up Guy – I know I’ve harped on this, but it’s important. Don’t promise anything you can’t keep. Don’t lie if possible. Again, respect yourself. Be trustworthy. If you have friends, mean it. Don’t fake it.

One Day At A Time – It’ll seem like your MR is never going to come. It will. When it’s over it will seem like it all didn’t last that long (although it’ll be with you for the rest of your life). Try not to focus on the distant future, but always remember it will come.

Phone – Varies from place to place on what phone time you get and how you use it. Anyway, use it. It is something to look forward to (like visits) and it is something that keeps you in touch with the outside and helps keep you sane. You have lots of supporters it sounds like. You are lucky. Never mess with someone else’s phone time or visiting time. It is important to them just as it is to you.

Diet – If you have some special diet (say you are a vegetarian), try your best to follow it. Most prison food is starchy. I confess I actually liked prison food (call me sick). I liked the mashed potatoes and the bread and the oatmeal etc. However, I can tell you stories about finding metal fibers in my cookies etc. You can usually eat as much as you like so be careful not to get fat. Again, exercise. If your prison happens to have a farm, you may actually get fresh vegetables or milk…who knows.

Homies – It’s odd but if there is someone there from your home town, you’ll be glad. It’s good to have something in common with someone. If you happen to know someone from before now is the time to renew that friendship. Share newspapers etc. On the other hand, just because someone is from your home town doesn’t mean they are cool to know. You’ll know.

Read – If you like to read, now is the time. You’ll have lots of time to read. You can get most books as long as the prison doesn’t censor it and they don’t censor all that much really. The prison library is a good place to hang from time to time. It will have a collection of all the books you never wanted to read. But again you can get stuff from outside. You can also get newspaper subscriptions. Do it. Get a couple. They’ll be late, but so what. Get a local paper and some other paper you like. After you’ve read pass it on to someone who’d like to read it. Or leave it in some common area. It’ll be appreciated. The small things are.

Convicts – It is okay to refer to you and others as convicts. That’s what you are and it isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Take possession of the word (unless this has changed…pay attention, you’ll know). Also, remember that outside of a few total crazies most of your fellow convicts are just people who got caught. Just like you they have lives. Beware though of those bad guys. Try to stay out of their way. Never tell another prisoner what to do or give anyone orders. Don’t tell someone in the library or the TV room to quiet down. Don’t stare at people.

Guards – Guards are not your friends. For the most part if you don’t bother them though they won’t bother you. Don’t give them a reason to single you out or they can make life hell. Also, remember that they would like most to get through the day with no problems. Also remember that they are just as crooked (if not more so) then the convicts. They are in it for themselves. Who becomes a prison guard? Still, there are some guards or other staff who are actually human. Not too many, but some. If you happen to have one in your area, all the better. But prison staff is not there to help you. They aren’t interested in you. Also, there are guards who are just assholes. Watch out for them. Some of them seem to get pleasure out of messing with people.

High School - Keep in mind that like high school there are cliques and just like high school some guards, like some teachers, have favorites and guys they don’t like. Just like high school there are staff (guards, counselors whatever) who want to act like one of the guys. They aren’t. They go home at night.

Guilty As Charged – Everyone and I mean everyone will assume you are guilty. If you are, you are. If you aren’t, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean you have to admit anything (and there generally is no reason to do so), but it is a given.

Crimes – If you don’t have to discuss why you are there don’t. If you do, don’t lie about it. Some crimes give you status. Mine did. Most people probably won’t even understand what you are in for. Some crimes are real no nos. No one likes child molesters, for example. The same crimes you find most heinous, your fellow cons likely will as well. Keep in mind that most crimes are committed for a reason. Don’t judge.

Education – If there happens to be something you always wanted to study and the opportunity presents itself, now is a good time. Most of your fellow cons may not have near the educational opportunities you’ve had. As time goes on and you get to know people, they may come to you for help with writing letters or whatever. Be nice. Help em out. But do not patronize. Just because you may be more educated, doesn't make you better than anyone else.

Religion – Personally, I’d say don’t flaunt it. However, lots of people go to church groups and the like. If that is your thing fine. If it isn’t fine. Don’t hassle someone over their beliefs. Same with politics. No big reason to get into it.

Making Prison Better – If you are selfless and want to organize the place that is your business, but your chances of improving things are pretty damn slim and your chance of getting yourself in big trouble are pretty damn great. Anyway, unless you become someone whom everyone respects, you can’t accomplish much. I think today though it’s mostly gangs, but I don’t know.

Cops – Don’t talk to them. Don’t be seen talking to them. If you are you’d better have a good explanation. Being a rat is the worst possible thing to be in prison. It’s always possible the cops may come to talk to you about something. Your options are limited, but don’t talk to them if you can help it. If you must, keep it brief and hope you have friends who can explain your situation to others. Never snitch. Never ever snitch. Never ever ever snitch.

Goody Two Shoes – Don’t be one. Doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk or a bad guy, just don’t act like a choir boy.

Punk – Do not become someone’s punk. There is nothing worse. Fight if you have to. Don’t become someone’s gopher because you’ll only have to do more and more for the person. If something awful happens maybe you can get into protective custody or transfer. Bad things are always possible. Probably not as pronounced as the outside world believes, but it is prison after all. The strong survive, the weak don’t. Be as strong as you can. Don’t become involved with punks.

Fear - Even though you will feel it at some point, try not to show fear. Convicts smell fear. Your first day will probably be the scariest as you will have no idea what’s what. People will yell at you. Ignore them. Someone will probably try to take advantage of you. Just be cool. You are the new kid on the block and you are different (you’ve never been inside before). You’ll be a curiosity. Some may want to put you down to show you are no better than anyone else.

Listen – Listen to people when they talk to you. Their stories are important to them. Don’t blow them off. Also, the prison grapevine will be your best and worse source of information. Convicts run the place and they know what is happening. On the other hands, in a closed society rumors will run rampant. You’ll learn. Pay attention. If you hear something bad is going to happen, take it seriously, stay out of the way.

Humor – Humor is good. Just make sure people get it. Funny things and stories actually occur in prison, believe it or not.

Trouble – If there is trouble, a riot, a big fight, whatever, go back to your crib if possible. Best to just stay out of the way. This, of course, does not apply to a situation like Attica (which if you are political you will understand).

Volunteer – Like in the army (which by the way is one way to think of your time) don’t volunteer (unless it is something you really want to do for some reason). No one likes a suck up though. Keep that in mind.

Busy – Stay as busy as you can doing something.

Noise – Prisons are noisy. It is the first thing you will notice. All that steel etc. People yell, people scream, people snore, etc. etc. You’ll get used to it.

Be Aware – Stay aware. Stay alert. Take note of what is going on around you. I don’t mean you have to be on a constant state of tension. Just be aware of where you are.

Short Timer – As your release approaches, time will slow down. Not much you can do about. Don’t talk about getting out all the time though (or at all if you can help it). Others may have a long way to go and don’t want to hear about how happy you are to be getting out. Some jerk may even get off getting you in trouble, so again, don’t talk about your upcoming release. When the day comes, say good bye to your friends, give away your stuff. Take whatever the prison is giving you even if (as in my case) it is an ugly green leisure suit. You’ve earned it.

Hooray – You will get out and return to life. You’ll have a million stories to tell. You’ll be stronger for the experience (although you may have adopted some neurotic behavior to cope with prison life that isn’t so great in the free world – I did). You’ll actually learn a lot that you would never have learned otherwise. Not saying I’d sign up for the experience, but you might as well get something out of it. Never act like you never had it. Don’t bury the experiences. If there were awful ones then get some help. Otherwise move on with your life and don’t go back.

Parole – Don’t violate your parole. Most parole officers will be glad to have a guy like you on their caseload. Most parole officers are lazy and would just as soon they don’t have to do anything. Most parole officers get off on their power. Oh well. Some parole officers can actually be nice. Like guards they are the exception, but if you get one, lucky you.