Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sarah Pender To Return to General Prison Population

Pender in 2008, at the time of her arrest
While Sarah Pender was denied an appeal last week, she has been removed from the solitary confinement cell she has lived in since being apprehended following a prison escape in 2008, according to a report in a prisoner advocacy journal.
Pender writes in an article for Solitary Watch, a journal that examines the practice of solitary confinement in our corrections system:
I am confined to my cell 22 hours each day, and the other 2 hours am handcuffed and escorted 25 feet down the hallway to another locked room for “recreation and exercise,” though the space is only twice the size of my cellDespite knowing that isolation can drive people insane, the mental health care here is woefully inadequate. Once a month, a mental health staff comes to ask us if we are hallucinating, hearing voices, or are suicidal. More frequent meetings can be requested, but they offer no coping skills, no therapy, no advocacy. The luckiest among us are prescribed anti-depressants to numb us from the hardest parts of being alone. I am fortunate to have incredible support from my family and friends. To pass the time, I read, write, learn and plan for the future when I can be with them again. What sanity I eek out of these letters, books, phone calls and visits is enough to sustain me just a little longer. I am mentally stable now, but my mind broke down under the weight of isolation 3 1/2 years ago, and it was a long, slow, painful process of putting myself back together.
She is living in a transition dorm before returning to general population, according to Solitary Watch. 

Pender is serving 110 years for her role in a double homicide in 2000. Pender escaped from prison in 2008 and spent 136 days hiding in plain site before being captured. My book, Girl, Wanted, details her time on the run. From the book, this is where Pender is talking to Ryan Harmon, the cop who doggedly chased her while she was temporarily free. This is from a tape I obtained in the course of my reporting:
“I don’t have a sink, and I can’t flush my toilet. I can’t open or close my door, I can’t turn off my own light. I have a video camera in my room, I can’t make phone calls, I can’t have visits. I can’t even flush my own toilet. I’m in like the suicide room . . . the other rooms can’t talk to me. My door has to be closed at all times. If I come out of my room, all the doors have to be closed. They are not allowed to talk to me. The Commissioner said as a direct order, ‘If you talk to her you’ll get written up.’ The staff can’t even talk to me. The staff can only talk to me if I am asking them for something I need, like if I need my toilet flushed or I need a pencil sharpener. Like I could not even get a pencil for like five days; I think it was more like a week. They ask me if I want ice or whatever and I can say yes. But other than that there is no conversation. They cannot talk to me like a normal person. No conversation outside my immediate needs. And if it’s like a male officer they cannot even speak to me at all unless there’s someone else there. I can’t have my own clothes in there; everyone else has their own clothes. They have to bring me mine. I just now got my hygienes. I use to not be able to brush my teeth until I took a shower and when I take a shower . . . everyone else can just get let into the shower. I have to get locked in a cage in the shower. So that I am handcuffed at all times and I have no contact with the people. If I come out of my room there has to be three people on the floor. Two officers and the third has to be a supervisor or a man. Oh, it’s insane.
“I couldn’t have any mail at all for like the first week and a half. And then when they finally came over and interviewed me . . . they finally let me have a pencil and paper and they told me I could receive mail right now but I couldn’t order commissary so I have no stamps and envelopes to send out so my parents must think like ‘What’s going on?’ You get what they feed you. . . . which is really bad food.”

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Salvation Mountain, One of the Great American Destinations

Sitting on a (Salvation) Mountain
A couple of years ago I was wandering in the desert and pulled into the town of Calipatria, Calif.  It was a weekday morning in June, around 9 a.m., and I wanted to take a walk and get some water.  I went into a store and this biker dude behind the counter started talking to me, asking me where I was from etc. I told him I came to the desert every summer to hike, and he reminded me that Salvation Mountain was still active but that Leonard Knight, the fine character who created it, was ailing and in a home.
Supplies at Salvation Mountain
Leonard died Monday but Salvation Mountain, a painted hillside in the middle of nowhere, will probably endure. I went out from Calipatria to the place that day in 2012.  A video crew, with talent trailer and a box truck of gear, was setting up to do a promo for a Web company. Other than that, I had the place to myself. I walked up to the top of the “mountain” and further on to the water tanks at the back of the lot, which are fully engulfed in spray paint art. Graffiti seems too stuffy a term for the excellent work.
The first time I went to Salvation Mountain was
in the late 90s, and Leonard was out there. It was early evening and
Water tank art
I had heard about some resentment over the attention the mountain was getting from the residents of Slab City, an encampment just down the road a bit.
Slab City is a place for people who just want to keep away from everything. They have their various reasons, but it’s an amazing little power generator place, with community activities and an informal system of governance. That is, don’t fuck our shit up here. 
Some of the people had threatened Leonard. He wasn’t taking it personally.
“Ah, they’re just talking, they’re just looking for something to say,” was how he shrugged it off when I talked to him that night.  Slab City looks pretty scary at night, and some of the people who reside there have had an acquaintance with the criminal justice system.
But he was an easy-going guy, sitting in the middle of nowhere and pretty happy about it.  He had no power, no running water and no worries.

I wasn’t working on any story, I was just curious. I left with some postcards of the mountain that Leonard gave me, a few of which I still have.  Salvation Mountain is one of America’s great destinations and Leonard Knight can rest knowing he did something cool on his own terms.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Esquire magazine 1971 on Alice Cooper: "...Four guys in drag."

AC: Or was that three guys?
Dangerous Minds wisely yanks an old issue of Esquire magazine from September 1971 and examines an insert that purports to be a musical guide to college students. As usual, most of Esquire’s tastes are bland and blander. But it also warns the future pencil pushers of America of some music.
For example, on the Stooges first lp – yes, a couple years late – it claims “lead singer Iggy Pop leaps into audiences, smears his half-naked body with peanut butter, tears his lips open by hitting his mouth with the microphone, and stabs himself viciously with shattered drumsticks.”
Of Alice Cooper, Esquire’s crack music staff claims of the band about to go platinum,  “posthumous rock by four guys in drag.” Umm, that’s five guys.
By the way, Esquire’s musical writing today is similarly unadventurous and uninformed.