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Monday, 30 May 2011

Borrowed details to pass around for ex-offenders in Texas

I'm a little busy with work and emotional stuff at the moment, but I've just read something on another blog The Prison Wife which I would like to share with folks who also read mine. I don't usually get involved with religious programmes, but anything that can help ex-offenders get a job and get their lives back on track has to be good, yes?

Workforce Solutions of Tarrant County
140 West Mitchell
Arlington, Texas
Offered on the last Friday of every Month at 9:00 AM in room c100D we will share information on :

•... Tips for the Ex-Offender Expungement
• Sample Questions and Answers RECOURCES
• Example of Illegal Questions * Health Care Information
• Telephone call script templates * Dental Information
...• Resource Room * Mental Health Information
• What does your body language say * Substance Abuse Facilities
EMPLOYER INCENTIVES * Reentry Service Providers
• Work Opportunity Tax Credit * Housing Information
• Fidelity Bonding Program

How to market W.O.T.C. and Fidelity Bonding to employers

• 3 Day Job Search Workshops Job Fair Information


• Job leads
(Unless at the time of the session we have knowledge of any employer that is offering employment opportunities for ex-offenders at the time of the session)
• A "Felony Friendly Employer List" MORE USEFUL INFORMATION
Contact Person: Jason Cancino
Saul to Paul Transformed by Grace Ministries
Phone # 817.823.6471
e-mail: jasonc@sptgministries.org

We are very excited to report that Saul to Paul Transformed by Grace Ministries has scheduled job seminars for most every week of the upcoming months. These job seminars have an emphasis on people with backgrounds trying to overcome them CONTACT INFO & SEMINAR DATES BELOW

......May 31, 2011 @ 7 pm hosted by the Christian Center of Fort Worth - 4301 N.E.
28th Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76117

June 6, 2011 @ 3:30 pm hosted by Catholic Charities of Fort Worth - 249 West Thornhill Drive, Fort Worth, Texas 76115

June 7, 2011 @ 6:30 pm hosted by the Outreach of Love Assemblies of God Church - 3591 E Highway 199 Springtown, TX 76082. – co-presented by aLive Ministries.

June 14, 2011 @ 5:30 pm hosted by Catholic Charities of Fort Worth - 249 West Thornhill Drive, Fort Worth, Texas 76115

June 20, 2011 @ 3:30 pm hosted by Catholic Charities of Fort Worth - 249 West Thornhill Drive, Fort Worth, Texas 76115

Saturday, 14 May 2011

When is a violent criminal not a violent criminal?

Possibly when they are serving time for a violent offence that was a one-off event.

This is a long blog post, because it is something I feel strongly about and which directly impacts us. I regularly read the BackGate website and blog for current news on TDCJ from the officer's perspective. I'm not one of those people who think all prison officers are the spawn of Satan; many officers try very hard to uphold professional standards of security and care in the face of increasing bureaucracy, unscrupulous colleagues, antagonistic inmates and inmate families who are not much better. Today on the BackGate, they have the results of a poll they have conducted, which makes interesting reading simply because the majority of voters are those who work for TDCJ.

The poll asks "Do you support the release of non-violent criminals from Texas prisons as a means of reducing prison overcrowding and saving money ?"To which the response has been:

Yes:  71 (68%)
No:   33 (31%)

Given the usual vitriol on the BackGate from members towards inmates and their families, this response is a surprise. More so, because releasing more inmates would necessarily mean TDCJ would be able to reduce their staff levels as well, so by suggesting this should happen the officers are talking themselves out of a job.

Normally, inmates are classified as either non-violent or violent by TDCJ (and many in the media use these terms as well). However, this is usually based on the crime the inmate has been found guilty of, and not necessarily the inmate's personality, normal demeanour, or behaviour while incarcerated. This can, and often does mean that individuals who are convicted of murder for example, a crime with a consistently low statistical rate of recidivism for the same crime upon release, can show no signs of violent behaviour while incarcerated and yet not be considered for parole until much later into their sentence than those who commit burglaries or drug offences (often multiple counts with a very high recidivism rate).

The media love to whip people up into a frenzy when talking about the release of "violent offenders", almost as much as whenever sex offenders are mentioned. They would have you believe that the moment these inmates step outside the prison gates, they will immediately seek to run riot through the local community raping, pillaging, and generally behaving as if the End of Days is upon us all.

What the media roundly fail to mention is that a significant number of inmates who are convicted of murder, rape and many other violent crimes are released into the community each week at the end of their sentences, and sometimes with a late parole. These individuals are usually never heard of again; if lucky they find somewhere to live and work, often with the help of family, friends or a local church, and exist quietly for the rest of their days with very few people knowing of their past. TDCJ releases around 70,000 inmates each year according to Scott Henson at the Grits for Breakfast blog. Few murderers and violent criminals receive LWOP (life without the possibility of parole) sentences in Texas and only a handful get the death penalty. Most will be released eventually, so why exclude those who have not shown violent tendencies during their incarceration, or in previous convictions, from consideration for parole at the same point of time-served as any other inmate?

In Texas, inmates do not get automatic parole. The decision is made by the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP), who on average spend around 45 seconds (yes, seconds) on each file that they receive. It is no surprise that the majority of inmates are denied parole several times over, and often for things that they could not change even if they wanted to (nature of offence, and insufficient time served are two of the most common reasons given, yet neither of these can be altered by the inmate and the second one seems to directly ignore the laws of Texas which state that an inmate is eligible for parole consideration after serving 1/4 or 1/2 of their sentence depending on the type and date of conviction).

But as Texas does have the BPP, surely Texans could rely on them to not release inmates who have displayed violent behaviour while incarcerated - regardless of the crime they are serving time for?

Violent offenses almost always come with longer sentences. No one is suggesting that murderers should receive shorter sentences than someone who commits identity theft. But keeping these inmates in prison is expensive, and the longer you keep older inmates in prison the more expensive it becomes. Sure, let out those serving sentences for non-violent crimes, but that still leaves a sizable portion of inmates who are going to grow old and sick while in TDCJ and who will cost more to look after in the long run.

The alternative(s)? 
  • Set the first possibility of parole at 1/3 time for all inmates.
  • Make parole an affirmative action rather than assuming a negative outcome.
  • Take into account the actions of the inmate during the entirety of their incarceration (education, work record, behaviour, participation in programmes for behaviour modification etc)
  • Do not penalise inmates continually for things they cannot change
  • Look at the family and community support available
All of these things together could be used to create a more effective and successful parole system, with better communication between the BPP and the community. This could help offenders succeed in staying out of prison and costing the state less in the long run because they would be working and paying taxes like everyone else (and often, just like they were before their incarceration). Everyone wins.

It is at this point that many people ask "what about the victims?", usually followed by something like "Jane Doe never had a chance to do X, Y or Z so why should her killer?" I understand this sentiment. I also understand that there is no "closure" for the families left behind even if the inmate never gets out of prison. It is another media fallacy used to incite hatred from the mob towards an easy target. In many instances, the murder or other violent crime happens within a family. What if that family forgive the inmate and simply want them home again? Should their voices only be heard when they ask for punishment and not when asking for mercy too? 

You cannot live in the past. You can uphold the memory of a lost loved one positively by moving on and not continually wishing for vengeance. That simply makes a person bitter and unhappy, and is unlikely to be what the dead person would want. Those who become consumed by such passionate hatred of the offender can find themselves lonely and avoided - not because of what the offender has done but because of how they have reduced themselves to being what amounts to a full-time victim. Should they wish their own heartache onto the family of the inmate as well?

There are no easy answers to any of this. However, the fact remains that inmates of all types do have the capacity to re-enter society and be productive if given the opportunity. Parole gives a level of supervision that does not exist when inmates are forced to serve their entire sentence and are then thrown out onto the street with no support or guidance at all. That is why Florida's experiment with 100% sentencing failed, and why Texas must look to find positives in parole rather than admitting defeat and warehousing itself into bankruptcy.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Think pictorially

Are you one of those people who wouldn't be able to talk if they couldn't move their hands? Well, I'm one of those people who think in pictures. I visualise everything.

I've been looking around Blogger at lots of other blogs out there and have come to the conclusion that this one is a bit thin on the picture front. A lot of the blogs I've been looking at seem to have several photos per blog post, plus some down the side bar, across the top behind the title, and anywhere else with a spare bit of web page. They look good too.

I am probably the most un-techy Aquarian you will ever meet (I don't even have a mobile phone). I haven't worked out yet how to get a picture behind the title on this blog, but as I'm sure you've seen, I can add pics to my posts. So I will try and add more in future, because apparently they are often worth a thousand words....


Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Mothers, flowers and a bit of effort

One of the oddities between the US and the UK is that we have our Mother's Days on different dates. In the UK it tends to be quite early in the year, around March. In the US, it is later, and indeed was this past weekend.

I usually send Ray's mum a card for the UK Mother's Day, and then he sends her one for the US date - we tell her she is worth having 2 days to celebrate. Part of me finds this a bit odd though, because in our family, my parents and grandparents never marked Mother's Day or Father's Day at all. My mum was adamant that she didn't want us to think of her on just one day of the year! I feel the same way (probably because I was brought up that way), and also I find it odd to send a card to someone who isn't actually my mother.

Both my parents are dead. Mum died a few days before I graduated in 2000 and my dad died 6 weeks before Ray went to jail in 2004. But even in my previous relationship, I never sent or wanted cards for those days from my parents-in-law.

What I find even stranger is receiving those cards from any one but my daughter. This year, my mother-in-law sent a very pretty card with a nice verse in it. But I'm not her mother. And even though Ray knows we don't celebrate it at all, he still sends a card that he has someone else draw for me (because he can't even draw stick people).

What did touch my heart this time however, was what was inside the card from Ray. Over the past couple of years he has taken to picking occasional flowers that grow in the courtyards where he is. The inmates are not supposed to, and I do worry that he will get caught one day and catch a case for it (for something so innocent, but still against the rules). He takes the flowers back to his cell and presses them under his mattress. Then, at random times during the year, he sends them to me.

Inside the Mother's Day card he sent me this year were 3 pansy flowers of different colours.

Anyone can grab a bunch of blooms from the local petrol station on their way home and thrust them at their wife or girlfriend as they walk through the door yelling "Hi honey, I'm home!" Anyone, if they have the cash, can make a grand gesture of scattering individual rose petals all over the bedroom and bathroom for that romantic night in.

My husband picks flowers for me in the summer, and sends them to me in the winter, because he loves me all year round.


Monday, 2 May 2011

Amigurumi for the folks at work

Where I work, I'm supervisor to 4 very hard-working temps at the moment whose jobs have just been put out to internal staff only to apply for. We've been encouraging them as best we can with chocolate, cakes and sweeties, but during a conversation a couple of weeks ago I happened to mention that I can knit (or crochet) just about anything. This led to the temps suggesting various animals for me to make as a challenge.

Well, here are the results :)

Pictures_0674 Frog

Pictures_0612_edited-1 Elephant

Pictures_0621 Seahorse

Pictures_0691 Sloth

None of the patterns were my own, all can be found on Ravelry.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

What I did in February

I've been waiting to blog about this for a while, as the photographer (Lisa Fellows photography) had promised the first mention to one of her other pals. But now that's been published, I can write about the day from my own perspective as a part-time amateur model of voluptuous proportions and part-time writer.

This also ties in with my previous posts on alternative style. Uptight Clothing is owned by the lovely Janice and is based in Dunstable, Bedfordshire. Janice designs and makes the kind of gowns that any woman can feel sexy and gorgeous in, no matter what their size or shape. The trick? Corsetry!

Many of Uptight Clothing's outfits are worn as wedding dresses by those ladies who feel that white just wont do (although there are several Uptight creations in white too, for those who can't resist). The gowns also suit formal or masked balls, gothic events, handfastings, or indeed any event that calls for something special in the frock department. 


The outfits generally come in 2 sections. The first is the skirt portion, often with what feels like a whole acre of fabric in satin or silk, and sometimes with an overskirt of fine organza for extra swish. The second section is the all-important corset. Boned at the front and sides, and laced at the back, all are made to measure the individual. This means you can choose whether to have the lacing slightly open to show your back, or closed to just display the laces themselves (which can be of contrasting or complementary colours). The corsets come in a number of different designs, with shaped necklines, detachable long or capped sleeves, frills, crystals, or some of the embroidery that Janice is incorporating more and more into her work such as dragonflies and ivy leaves.

As all the outfits are hand-made and come with a sensible price tag, they would normally be out of my own price range. So being given the opportunity to wear not one but 2 of the Uptight Clothing dresses, even if they weren't made specifically for me, was too good to miss.

The day was a portfolio shoot for all concerned. This means that the photographs were experimental, designed to try out new ideas and lighting effects, locations, styles etc. At the end of the shoot, the photographs can be used by any of the parties involved to promote their work. Digital photography has made this far more achievable, as many hundreds of shots can be taken without the need for developing to take place to make the final selection of the best images.


Lisa wanted to have older models, instead of the usual young brides seen in most wedding photographer's portfolios. She also wanted to try out some industrial locations, rather than the woods and nature you usually get these kinds of frocks photographed in. Janice wanted some new photographs of her stock as her website is due to be updated soon. And of course, I wanted some pics that I could send to Ray!

Also with us was Lisa's friend Sharon. She is petite and slender, the complete opposite of my 5 foot 9 inch, well-endowed frame. She is fair where I am currently dark (purple actually), so the contrast would be even more pronounced. Second shooting on this occasion was Bryony Claire.

The first pair of frocks we had were to complement our colouring, so Sharon's was pale and very floaty, and mine was strong and bold. Actually putting on the corset needs 2 people, you can't lace yourself into one! It wasn't a perfect fit, as everybody's body is slightly different, but it felt strangely magical as the laces were tightened to reveal a waist I thought had all but vanished over the years.



Wearing a corset makes you walk differently. You have to stand straighter, and really I could have done with a pair of shoes with kitten heels instead of my flat pumps. We made good use of the industrial estate where Uptight Clothing is based, and as it was a Sunday morning there were few workers around to watch us.



For the second pair of frocks, Sharon had a heavily embroidered dark blue/green ensemble and I had a lighter outfit with an organza overskirt and matching ¾ length sleeved shrug which I loved. We also played around with some hats and fascinators made by Violet Peacock in Houston, Texas. For the second set of shots we moved to the small park next to the industrial estate and posed in front of some fabulous forsythia and some equally fabulous graffiti (which just happened to be in the right colours!).




To be honest, there is only so much you can do with a full-length gown and a corset that stops you bending over by more than a few degrees. Many of the poses are similar for this shoot, even though the backgrounds are different – but that's OK because it was the frocks we were showing off rather than us models. Sometimes you have to take a back seat and let the clothes and set do the work, under the guidance of the photographer. When I've done life modelling before, the shapes you make with your body are often what gives the photographs that extra interest, but with a corset, the shaping is already there. I wasn't feeling quite as bubbly as I usually am, and I think that has come through in the pictures (although no one else may realise it), and my hair was a little too short for my own liking as I'd only had it cut a couple of days before. It's longer now and if we did a shoot tomorrow I think I'd personally be happier with the results, but this one was not about me at all, so how I felt on the day is less relevant.

It was a fun day, and an interesting experience. Hopefully Janice is as pleased with the results as we are. There is a possibility of a more organised shoot later on this year with some more of the Uptight Clothing range in different colours, which I am definitely up for!