The murderous impact of light
The two photos above, both portraits of murder suspects, display the impact of the different placement of a single light source.
To the left is Arthur Clayton Hester, who eventually was sentenced to 50 years in prison for killing his foster father. And to the right is Arthur Eggers, who was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife.
Read more on the photo’s history over at Framework.
Photos: Paul Calvert / Los Angeles Times
The impact of California’s intense prison isolation practices
Former Pelican Bay prisoner Steven Czifra, who was kept in isolation for up to 22 1/2 hours each day during much of his imprisonment, is out of jail and trying to pick up the pieces. But even as he rebuilds his life and attends UC Berkley, the effects of spending so much time completely alone linger with him:
Even on a campus noted for its tolerance and tranquility, Czifra can’t bridle a sense of doom: He will lose his scholarship, jeopardize his partner and their 5-year-old son, lapse from sobriety. Sometimes, his heart races and he is sure he’s going to die. Right here. Right now.
His short-term memory is weak. Those 12 lines of Yeats? Czifra had to read them over and over. James Joyce’s “The Dead” will bog him down for days. On this particular day, he’ll forget two appointments.
The fear, anxiety and memory loss are some of the symptoms commonly found among people kept in extreme isolation. They lie at the heart of a policy and scientific debate that was renewed this summer after prisoners statewide went on a hunger strike to protest conditions in high-security lockups.
Read more on Czifra’s journey, and the debate among researchers about the impact of isolation, in our latest Column One feature.
Photos: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times
After an overturned conviction, man steps into the unknown
George Souliotes was a middle-aged father wrongly convicted for the murders of three tenants who died in a fire he was accused of setting. Now, after almost 17 years in prison, at the age of 72 he’s trying to move beyond the jumpsuits, restrictions and bars of his former life.
From Maura Dolan’s Column One story:
At St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Souliotes mingled with other Greek immigrants, many of whom had followed his case. People wanted to know about prison, but he didn’t like talking about it.
He wanted to forget the stabbings — he saw 17 in one day during a riot in the yard. He wanted to forget the spaghetti that came in a clump and had to be sliced. He wanted to forget the nights he cried into a towel so no one would hear.
"I want to quit talking about these things," he said. "The past is gone."
Photos: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times, Joan Barnett Lee / Modesto Bee, Bret Hartman / For the Times
Solitary solidarity: The men behind California’s prison hunger strike
A man decked in Neo-Nazi tattoos and locked away in solitary confinement, armed with a paralegal degree and a prison library, has emerged as the most prominent figurehead in California’s ongoing prison strike protests.
The convicted murderer Todd Ashker, along with three inmates with ties to the Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia and the Black Guerrilla Family, have sparked a protest of state prison conditions which, at their peak, involved more than 30,000 prisoners.
He describes the group as "a collective effort initiated by a multiracial group of long-term, similarly situated (SHU) prisoners who decided enough is enough."
But you would expect, not everyone’s on the prisoners’ side:
Terri McDonald, who ran California’s 33 prisons until a few months ago and now runs the Los Angeles County jail system, said Ashker and his compatriots in the Short Corridor Collective are not fighting for rights, but power.
"From my perspective, they are terrorists," she said.
Read more of reporter Paige St. John’s continued work covering California’s prisons here.
Photos: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Reexamining the prisoner’s dilemma
Plenty of people refer to the prisoner’s dilemma, a classic mental test of a group’s ability to cooperate - but it hasn’t been until recently that the test was conducted among actual prisoners.
First, female prisoners and students played simultaneously, choosing letters and earning points that were translated into Euros afterward. Their choices then were randomly matched with others and analyzed.
If each player chose A, both would earn seven points. But by unilateral betrayal (BA and AB), either player could earn nine and leave the other with one. Mutual betrayal (BB), however, would net three points apiece.
As it turns out, the prisoners were more cooperative than everyday citizens - 55% to 37%, and
Photo: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times
A look inside of Pelican Bay State Prison
Photographer Mark Boster, with Times writer Paige St. John, recently took an opportunity to peek inside the Secure Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, Calif.
Below, Boster sits beside prisoner Javier Zubiate. As recounted by Boster:
Javier Zubiate, with his shaved head, sunglasses and numerous tattoos, gave us a glimpse of his life as a lieutenant of the Nuestra Familia gang. He was soft-spoken and well-mannered. I had to remind myself that he had been convicted in a 1995 murder and there is a good reason why he is now in isolation on the Secure Housing Unit.
California’s prisons are a "system in crisis," widely criticized for its treatment of prisoners and its overcrowded conditions, recently prompting thousands of prisoners to take part in a hunger strike protest.
And Gov. Jerry Brown is currently combating a court order to release more than 9,500 inmates by the year’s end to combat the rampant overcrowding.
Photos: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times
The high school dropout became fascinated after reading a prestigious archaeology magazine in a prison waiting room. The rest may be history.
In 1996, Fenstermacher, then 24, was sentenced to 16 years for felony assault, a period extended by three years after an altercation with a guard in prison.
The prison confrontation landed him in solitary confinement, where he thrived because he could focus on Egyptology. When time came to return to the general prison population, he sought and won permission to remain in solitary.
Using the cartons from his allotment of morning milk, Fenstermacher would make flashcards, each bearing a single hieroglyph — four a day for a decade. He read the cards while he worked out, forcing himself to get five right before switching exercises.
Transgender inmates struggle in California prisons: A court ruling in one prisoner’s favor could make California the first place in the U.S. required to provide sex-reassignment surgery.
Photo: Thomas Strawn, a transgender inmate who goes by the name Lisa, applies eyeliner inside her cell. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times