Dear Friends & Allies,
On October 20th I celebrated my 36th birthday – it was my first birthday incarcerated and I was fairly miserable, lonely and sad. I received many birthday cards and emails but despite having such a loving family and so many supportive friends, I often feel lonely and isolated in here.
On November 1st I will have been incarcerated for one full year. I was at the county jail in Oakland for 7 months and I have been at this federal prison outside of Denver, CO for five months.
Prison life is much better than county jail time. As I described in my previous open letters, county jail was pretty horrific. Shortly before I left the county jail an older Mexican man in the cell next to mine attempted suicide by smashing his head into the wall. When the guard opened the door, I saw the man laying on the floor with a very large pool of blood expanding around his head. I heard that he had received news that day from his lawyer that his request not to be deported back to Mexico had been denied, and that he attempted to kill himself because he feared certain retribution from drug cartels in Mexico. I share this story to illustrate just one example of of our criminal justice system and the cruel results of our drug and immigration policies.
Being transported from county jail was a difficult experience. Were handcuffed to a chain around are waists’ so that we couldn’t move are hands away from our bodies, with the handcuffs digging into our wrists. The chain around the waist is connected by another chain which is connected to tight shackles around the feet. While we are loaded on and off the airplane, there are officers around with automatic weapons. On my way to the prison I was kept awake for 36 hours and given no food or water for 12+ hours. By the time I arrived at the prison, my whole body was achey and cramped and I had a bad headache and kidney pain from dehydration. Like many aspects of incarceration, it surprised me how cruel and medieval these practices seem.
The prison I’m at is considered one of the less violent federal prisons. There are lots of resources and activities to keep busy. The former CEO of Enron and the former Governor of Illinois are incarcerated here. Unfortunately 60%+ of the inmates here are sex-offenders which makes it a challenging environment for me to be in, especially since I was a victim of child abuse as a child. I’ve been spending time focusing on spirituality, personal growth and education. I’ve been taking lots of classes including Spanish Language, Touch Typing, MS Office, Retail Business, Novel Writing and Critical Thinking. Soon i’ll be starting a business course taught by a local community college. Starting in January, i’ll be teaching a 10-week long poetry class focusing on spiritual poetry for 15-20 students, I’m really looking forward to this.
There’s a craft room here with ceramics, jewelry making, painting, drawing and leather crafts. I’ve made a few teacups on the pottery wheel and hope to learn how to make a teapot soon. I also plan to make some jewelry. There are computers that allow us very limited access to email (but not internet or websites) and that we can also purchase mp3s from that we can listen to on mp3 played purchased from the commissary. As a professional DJ and music collector i’m very grateful to be able to listen to good music.
The recreation yard has a great gym with lots of weights and exercise equipment. There are lots of sports activities including a running track, two tennis courts, a soccer field, two baseball diamonds, a volleyball court, bocce ball, horseshoes, shuffle board, table tennis, three pool tables etc. There are yoga classes taught by low quality videos but the classes are in the middle of a noisy gym and there are inmates walking by and heckling women in the videos so its not a very pleasant or spiritual experience. They show feature length movies about twice a week in the gym. Most are cheesy hollywood movies with lots of violence. As with many aspects of the prison experience, one wonders why they wouldn’t show movies with socially or spiritually redeeming messages instead of movies that inspire crime or violence.
The chapel and the library both have large collections of DVD’s and videos. I often go to the chapel and watch spiritual documentaries or movies. The best two movies I have watched so far are “Kundun”, a Martin Scorsese movie about the Dalai Llama’s early life, and “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”, a beautiful movie about St.Francis or Assisi with a soundtrack by the 60’s musician Donovan. If you haven’t seen either of these movies, I highly recommend you check them out.
I’ve been very active in many spiritual programs. I have participated in Jewish, Christian, Native American and Wiccan services. Every week I attend a Buddhist meditation group, a contemplative prayer group, the threshold program (a generic spirituality program offered in all Federal Prisons) and Prison Peace Education Program (a spirituality program for prisoners developed by my parents former guru Prem Rawat).
I spend most of my time reading. I’ve been reading fantasy, cyberpunk/sci-fi and other novels as well as poetry, spiritual texts and social science books. I spend a lot of time working on creative writing projects including poetry, a fantasy novel, a futuristic movie and a superhero graphic novel. I’m also doing research to write articles or a book about prison and drug policy issues.
The prison compound has some nice greenery and there are small wild rabbits running around with red-tailed hawks flying above. The skyline has a beautiful view of the Rocky Mountains. During the summer there are lots of thunder storms and recently it has been snowing – both weather events that i’d found lacking in the Bay Area’s weather.
While this isn’t one of the worst prisons and there are plenty of ways to keep busy and learn, I would give up these benefits just to treated with respect and have healthy food to eat. It is extremely hard on my spirit to incarcerated, some of the most challenging aspects of this experience are:
- Sadistic, power-tripping inmates with violent, macho attitudes. Being bullied is not fun at all. Prison culture is very toxic and negative and it is a challenge not to be enculturated into convict culture.
- Sadistic, power tripping staff members arbitrarily enforcing lots of petty rules. Staff members behave unprofessionally, frequently breaking their own rules. They are not trained to help inmates to become better people and most of them are poor role models for how to be a good human being.
- It is difficult living in such a controlled environment with so many rules and limits. We are regularly strip searched or patted down. Movement from one area of the prison to another can only happen at specific times during narrow windows of time. It is painful to be constantly supervised by both staff members and inmates.
- There is a shocking mismanagement of the institution. Infrastructure is neglected, scheduling is poor, resources are squandered and policies ignored. One example: all the toilets in the compound were without hand washing soap for the first four months I was here and that was only remedied after the prison received a disciplinary violation from an OSHA inspector. There is a grievance process but its frequently ineffective and many inmates report retaliation from staff for pointing out their errors.
- There are few aspects of the prison experience that are effective in improving people’s character. Prisons have a high level of recidivism and a negative effect on the character of inmates, breeding and nurturing criminal lifestyles and gangsterism. I have never experiences as much racism, sexism, homophobia and intolerance as I have in prison and this environment fosters these attitudes. For those wanting to initiate positive social and spiritual programs in prison there is a lot of resistance from the administration. Many of whom believe that prisons are just here to punish people and not to rehabilitate them.
- I grew up with alternative medicine (chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, teas, herbs, health supplements etc.) and it is sad not to have access to any of this. The medical care they do offer here is terrible. They frequently make dangerous mistakes and people with serious medical conditions can wait months to receive care or be denied treat altogether.
- The food is disgusting and unhealthy. I didn’t think it would be great but I didn’t realize it would be this bad. Budget cuts over the last years have caused a decrease in quality. There is almost no fresh produce. Overcooked vegetables usually come from cans. Beans are undercooked and indigestible. They often give us food that is several months past its expiration date. Many of the foods I consider to be my staples I haven’t had since I was locked up a year ago, including avocado, olive oil, kale, quinoa, butternut squash, miso etc.Additional food can be purchased from the commissary but most are the kind if items you would expect to find in a gas station. There are some low quality teabags but I have to drink from a plastic mug that I heat in a microwave. Many people ask if they can send me food and supplements to me but unfortunately they cannot, the only things allowed in from the outside are books and letters. If I could have food send in, I wouldn’t be complaining.
- It is painful to be kept separate from my friends and family. While I do receive occasional visits,I miss living in the supportive, loving community that I experienced in the Bay Area, surrounded by so many creative, open-minded and evolved individuals. I also feel the lack of gender balance here in this ultra-macho environment with no women.
- I long to be in nature, to be able to go to the beach or walk in the woods. Also miss the excitement, diversity, creativity and adventure of city life.
- I have so many ideas for creative, business and non-profit projects that I believe would bring more beauty, healing and compassion to the world. It is really frustrating not to be able to put them into practice.
While all the above factors make this incredibly challenging and unpleasant experience, I am frequently able to maintain a positive and optimistic outlook. The support I receive from my friends and family as well as the spiritual tools and perspectives that i’ve learned help me to feel at peace and contented.
It makes it a little easier to tolerate the situation because I have hope that I won’t have to serve my full sentence due to my legal appeal and also potential reforms to the criminal justice system.
I was sentenced to 12 years, 7 months in prison with 5 years of probation. After deductions for time served, good behavior and for completing the drug program (RDAP) I could be released as soon as 8.5 years from now. I would be 44 years old and would be on probation for an additional 5 years, involving probation meetings, drug testing, no alcohol consumption, limits on travel and random, unwarranted searches of my person, property, vehicle, residence and business. To be under state supervision till I am almost 50 years old is a depressing possibility to consider.
My appeal is still in it’s early stages and will likely be completed sometime in the next 9 months to 2 years. There are 4 possible results for the appeal from worst to best:
1. My appeal could be unsuccessful with no positive results.
2. Due to legal errors in the way I was sentenced, I could be granted a re-sentencing hearing and hopefully secure a lower sentence.
3. Due to the many legal errors in the way my 2nd trial was conducted, I could be granted a new trial. I would likely be released on bail at that point and begin my case at the pretrial stage with the option to go to trial again or accept a (likely fairly low) plea bargain sentence offer.
4. The best possibility is that my Motion to Suppress Evidence would be granted appeal due to an illegal search that officers lied about their role in conducting. This would result in my release from custody and strong likelihood that eventually all charges would be dropped and the case would be dismissed.
Friends and family are raising money to pay for my appeal and potential future legal fees. There is currently a crowd-funding campaign which concludes on November 12th. Feel free to make a donation or spread the word by posting to social media or mailing lists. You can find the campaign at www.teanotprison.com.
Aside from the appeal there are some good reforms to the criminal justice system in the works that could reduce my sentence considerably. Positive trends in public opinion are being reflected in the policies of the Justice Department and Sentencing Commission and there are several bills in congress that could take years off my sentence if they are approved.
- HR2371 Prisoner Incentive Act of 2013 - this bill could take about 3 months off my sentence due to increased good time credit.
- HR1695/S619 Justice Safety Valve Act - this bill makes mandatory sentences optional in certain cases. Not sure if it would affect me, but is a great bill regardless.
- HR2656 Public Safety Enhancement Act - this is the best bill for me as it could give me the option to do half my sentence under house arrest instead of in prison.
- S1410 Smarter Sentencing Act - This bill would half the mandatory minimum in cases like mine from 10 to 5 years. This would not affect me unless it was made retroactive (which the bill below this does).
- HR[HR.3382] Smarter Sentencing Act - This would half the mandatory minimum for my case but only if I got re-sentenced and the judge decided to go give me a lower sentence. [retroactive version by Raul Labrador (R) & Bobby Scott (D)
None of these reforms have actually gone into law yet but I am hopeful that the current political climate around budget issues, prison overcrowding and non-violent drug offenders that at least one of these measures will be successful.
A lot of people ask me how they can help. The best way is to work to change public opinion and government policies related to incarceration and “drugs”. This helps not just me but also the 2.5 million people incarcerated, a large percentage for non-violence drug crimes. I have met many kind, intelligent people who are serving 10-20 years for small drug transactions. If you need some motivation to inspire you to do something imagine thousands upon thousands of people locked up in inhumane conditions for no good reason. Think of their families and of the tremendous cost to society.
Here are a few ways you can do something. I encourage everyone who reads this choose at least on action they can take:
- You can make and distribute fliers, leaflets stickers and posters about these issues.
- You can write articles for magazines and newspapers about these issues.
- You can attend rallies, protests and political events that bring awareness to these issues.
- You can volunteer with one of the many non-profits organizations that are working for reform.
- If you are a student, start or join a chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (ssdp.org)
- The Drug Policy Alliance (www.drugpolicy.org) is working to decriminalize drugs.
- Law enforcement against prohibition (leap.org) is made up of judges, police chiefs and law enforcement officers advocating to decriminalize all drugs.
- The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (www.maps.org) is working to get maurijuana and psychedelics approved for medicinal and psychotherapeutic use.
- More organizations are listed on the www.teanotprison.com website.
- You can produce events about these issues. You can also integrate education into your existing events such as parties, festivals and conferences by inviting people to speak at your the event or organization.
- You can help our culture evolve beyond cruelty, judgement and punishment into a culture of healing, compassion, forgiveness and restorative justice. This begins with all of us examining that we judge and punish each other and by learning to forgive and love each other.
I believe that all drugs should be decriminalized. Portugal offers a good case study to demonstrate the success of this policy. Since they decriminalized all drugs, the crime rate, violence, HIV infections, overdoses and youth drug use have all decreased. When the drug use is problematic, it should be treated as a health issue not a criminal justice issue. When the drug use in not problematic, it is a non-issue. We need honest, science-based education about the dangers of drug abuse and we need to promote harm reduction strategies to minimize the harms caused by drug use, including disease and overdose prevention, addiction treatment and rehabilitation.
The drug war causes more harm than the drugs themselves. It makes worse all the problems it is supposedly trying to fix. There is an overwhelming amount of corruption in all levels of law enforcement as a result of the drug war.
Non-violent offenders should not incarcerated at all. I believe that jail and prison should be reserved for societies most dangerous and violent criminals and that most other problems should be resolved by alternate methods of criminal justice. In addition to drug offenders, there are for to many people locked up for far to long for all kinds of offenses. When it is really necessary to isolate people from society, the focus should be on healing and rehabilitation, not on punishment and warehousing human bodies. It is a violent act to lock people up in cages and it has negative effect on individuals, families and communities.
The drug war and prison industry are big businesses. Law enforcement, prison guards, private prisons, prison labor industries, criminal justice professionals and even drug cartels all a vested interest in the current policies and they will keep applying pressure to things continuing as they have been. We need to keep applying pressure to reform these cruel and corrupt policies.
If you are interested in communicating with me (via postal mail, email, phone or visits) of you are interested in donating money to my commissary account (to purchase food, clothing, health products, phone and email credits, mp3s and craft supplies) you can find instructions here (www.facebook.com/notes/oshan-anand/faq/772920572733546).
Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who has given me love and support during these hardships including those who have organized benefits, donated to my legal defense, written me letters, visited me, put money on my commissary, sent me books, shared my story or sent silent prayers. You have all helped make this experience more bearable.
I hope to rejoin you all as soon as possible and continue to devote my life to tea culture, healing, beauty and compassion.
For the benefit of all beings,