25 years without a computer (∴ six years without Twitter)

(Via Boing Boing, via Quora) Michael Santos spent 25 years in prison, during which time his only connection to the explosion in communications technology was by oral accounts.  (Which sounds like the excuse a Sci Fi novelist would use to give his narrator permission to explain everything.)   Now, he's working to help people understand what it's like for people who are incarcerated, and help incarcerated people prepare for a productive, lawful life upon their release.

He answered a question on Quora, which has since been reposted by Gizmodo, about what it was like to emerge from prison and try to jump into the state of the art.

When I went to prison, in 1987, Motorola manufactured the large, gray cellphone that I used. People referred to it as "the brick." It had the capacity to send or receive phone calls, but there wasn't any text messaging back then.

I also had a pager, but it could only transmit digits, as I recall. I had a personal computer manufactured by IBM with a DOS operating system that I didn't really understand and 40 megabytes of memory. I was told that was a big deal. I linked the computer to an Epson dot-matrix printer, and I remember the perforated paper fed through on a track system that easily derailed. It was a hassle.

Technology has changed considerably during the 25 years that I served. [keep reading→]

He seems to be doing a good job building a motivational speaking career out of his incarceration,  which is great, because he's pushing for productive use of one's time in prison, and decreasing recidivism.  This is from his website:

If you’re going to hire a prison consultant, I’m your man. Unlike those who spent a few months in a single camp, I served 25 years in prisons of every security level. Yet while serving that time, I achieved more goals than anyone would’ve thought possible. Don’t take my word for it.

It's all pretty cool.  I recommend the article.

What the hell, Mississippi

(via ThinkProgress) I'm glad that there's news coming out of Mississippi, because it's one of like five states whose names I can spell correctly the first time.  (Connecticut has 3 C's in it.  Seriously.)  I am not, however, at all happy about what the news is.

Mississippi schools are sending students -- mostly who are black or disabled -- to prison. These kids aren't selling heroin or stealing chemicals from the science classroom.  It's not even stuff like getting in fights.  ABC News writes:

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has released investigative findings determining that children in predominantly black Meridian, Miss. have had their constitutional rights violated by the Lauderdale County Youth Court, the Meridian Police Department, and the Mississippi Division of Youth Services in what civil rights investigators allege is a school to prison pipeline with even dress code violations resulting in incarceration.

[...]

“The system established by the City of Meridian, Lauderdale County, and DYS to incarcerate children for school suspensions ‘shocks the conscience,’ resulting in the incarceration of children for alleged ‘offenses’ such as dress code violations, flatulence, profanity, and disrespect.” The Justice Department findings letter noted.

The worst part is, this isn't a new thing.  The ACLU has a name for it -- it's called "The school-to-prison pipeline," and they say it's a national trend.

"Zero-tolerance" policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while high-stakes testing programs encourage educators to push out low-performing students to improve their schools' overall test scores. Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline.

At about 1% of the population, America has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.  Imprisoned Americans are about a quarter of the imprisoned people on Earth -- and some of them are kids, in jail for breaking the dress code.

So, y'know, Live Free or Die and stuff.

International Criminal Court's first conviction

(via SourceFed) Remember KONY 2012?  This is vaguely related to that.  the International Criminal Court (ICC), the organization that put the warrant out for Kony's arrest (which Invisible Children, the charity that made the KONY video was promoting) has made their first conviction of an African warlord[I use this term, despite the criticisms about its validity, because the dude kidnapped children to use them for sex slaves and soldiers.  I would love to have a discussion about whether that distinction is valid, or if it's just as Eurocentric as it would be if he wasn't a kidnapper and vicarious rapist, in comments.], Thomas Lubanga.

News website Voice of America reports,

"The trial and the sentence has sent a very strong message about the seriousness of the crime of recruiting children and using them in war," said Human Rights Watch's (HRW) senior researcher Anneke van Woudenberg.

Reading out the sentence, presiding International Criminal Court Judge Adrian Fulford gave Lubanga prison terms of 13, 12 and 14 years respectively for conscripting, enlisting and using child soldiers. Those sentences will be served concurrently, with an overall sentence of 14 years.  Deducted from that term will be time Lubanga spent in pre-trial detention since 2006.  

[emphasis mine]

By my math, that means he'll go to jail for about eight years.  The judge criticized the prosecution's insufficient proof that Lubanga committed sexual crimes.  Human Rights Watch expressed the opposite disappointment:  that the prosecution didn't bring charges addressing the sexual crimes.

To my mind, it appears the ICC has managed to get this wrong in both directions.  It's an easy institution to criticize on the basis that it's a massive overreaching of authority from what essentially consists of American and European legislators.  The fact that they targeted Africa for their initial prosecutions lends credence to accusations of colonialism.

That said, they also massively under-sentenced considering the crimes we're talking about here.  How is this not life in prison?  If we have an international court, how are there options that aren't life in prison?  This man orchestrated a large-scale system of child kidnapping, murder and rape.  I can't imagine that, had he been tried and convicted in his home country, he would have gotten away with less than a hanging.

On this more than anything else I've written today, I'd love to hear commenters' thoughts.