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Sunday, 24 April 2011

Here be dragons

Just wanted to share this little chap that I made today. Sunny D will be on his way to my friend in Magnolia, Texas shortly.


Friday, 22 April 2011

TDCJ inmate trust funds, medical bills, phones and families who pick up the pieces

For those who don't know, Texas has a round of law-making every 2 years called the Legislative session. It's also when the public agencies like TDCJ get their funding for the following 2 years decided. Sometimes good things come out of the Lege, like the TDCJ Inmate Phone Bill that was passed a couple of years ago which allowed Texas to join every other state in America by allowing the inmates to make calls on a pre-paid or collect call basis. The Phone Bill could have gone so much further in its provision, but just having Texas stumble into the 20th century (yes, 20th) was an achievement for all who had campaigned long years for this privilage.

This year, belts must be tightened. Texas owes a shed-load of cash (try around $27 billion according to the Texas Tribune) and every department is expected to make big savings. This could in part be because Texas does not have a state income tax. However, given the nature of Texan hostility to any kind of centralised government particularly when it comes to taxes, it would probably cost Texas more to collect the money along with the associated incarceration costs that would almost certainly be a result.

TDCJ is again in the spotlight. Lawmakers are having to work out if they can continue to lock people up in the numbers to which they have become accustomed over the past 20 years, without spending any more money on the whole incarceration, parole and probation machine. Indeed, can they continue, while at the same time making significant savings. Everything is up for discussion it seems, from closing a prison or two (now seeming to be unlikely despite the prime city centre location of Central Unit which was flagged as the most likely to go) to prison officer's subsidised housing, to raising the number of minutes inmates are permitted to use on the phones per month, and last week the latest suggestion: inmates should pay $100 per year from their trust funds to cover medical costs.

This latest suggestion has so many flaws, yet having been proposed by State Representative Jerry Madden many would assume that he had given the subject considerable thought when penning his House Bill 3386 (currently pending in committee). The Austin Statesman's reporter Mike Ward was quoted on the Grits For Breakfast blog (one of the best places to get the lowdown on Texas' incarceration antics):

"The revised bill also calls for each imprisoned convict to be charged a $100 annual fee to cover the cost of their health care instead of the current charge of $3 per visit to a prison doctor.

That change could bring in about $13.5 million over two years, according to an internal memo.

While an earlier version of the plan did not detail how the fee would be collected, the revised bill allows prison officials to take the $100 from inmates' trust fund accounts — either the full amount if it's in the account, or half of any deposits into the account until the $100 is paid.

At present, prison officials said that more than half of the state's 154,000 convicts have trust funds containing more than $100.

The revised bill will also double the number of minutes prison convicts are allowed to use prison pay phones each month, from 240 minutes to 480. Madden said that change, if approved, is expected to raise $2.9 million more per year than the nearly $6 million expected under current rules.

The rewritten bill would also allow some over-the-counter medicines — aspirin, ointments and other medications for upset stomach and pain relief — to be sold through prison commissaries for the first time.

Under current policy, prison clinics dispense the over-the-counter drugs for free to convicts."

There are a lot of ifs and buts surrounding this bill, particularly the costings/savings. The reporter, along with most in the Legislature, talks as if the inmates trust fund money just appears there delivered by fairies. Inmates in TDCJ (apart from a small handful at a private unit) do not get paid any money at all for the work they have to do unless medically excused. If the inmate refuses to work, they receive a punishment that usually invoves being placed in Ad Seg (23-hour a day cell confinement, restricted commissary priviledges and no phone use). Any money that an inmate has in their trust fund is placed there by friends and family.

While I am in no way against paying one's way, personal responsibility, or the need for everyone to pitch in when finances are short, this is in effect a tax on families of inmates. It is also, in many cases, unneccesary as not every inmate uses the medical facilities while incarcerated. 

It is often the case that when a man goes to prison (and it is by far, usually men who do go to prison) the family they leave behind loses it's main bread-winner. The wife/partner/girfriend often has to take up the slack by taking an extra job, moving to smaller/cheaper accommodation, trading down her vehicle for something cheaper to run, and in many cases taking on children full-time as well. Some move in with friends or family, or take in a lodger, because they cannot cover all their bills by themselves. They try to be careful with the phone minutes, knowing how easy it is to rack up a high bill. They also try to put a few dollars into the inmate's trust fund regularly so that letters can still be written and received, hygiene supplies bought, and perhaps college classes attended. 

Now, according to this Bill, half of what they give to the inmate could be taken by the state for something the inmate may never use.  

In a state so anti-taxation, the prospect of taxation as punnishment for the wrong-doing of someone else is firmly on the table. And if the money in the inmate's trust fund account is considered to be theirs, taxation without representation anyone?  

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Alternative style #2: Calling all posers!

I have a friend (well, I have lots of friends) who is a tallented photographer. She has her own business based in Stroud, Gloucestershire, Lisa Fellows Photography, and much of her work so far has been centrered around wedding photography. She has a real knack for capturing candid shots, as you can see from some of the images on her web site. She also has a sister company focusing on childrens portrait photography, Logan & Letty, so she is pretty busy with her art at the moment!

We were talking the other day about alternative lifestyles, off the back of my previous blog post. Lisa is pagan like me, and used to be heavily into the Goth scene having grown up in Whitby on the east coast of England. We were discussing the various types of alternative, how they are lived and not just put on at weekends, and how there are probably more people living an alternative lifestyle than most would expect.

As a result, Lisa would love to do some portfolio work with individuals, couples, families and groups who live any kind of alternative lifestyle. It doesn't have to be weddings (although that would be great, Lisa would have to charge for her time, at a reduced rate for anyone who mentions seeing this blog post); the whole idea of alternative lifestyle photography is to capture the kinds of activities that make up that particular lifestyle.

For example, if your family is into all things from the 1950s and you spend your evenings and weekends dancing to Buddy Holly or riding Lambrettas around your local town, that's what Lisa wants to depict. Another example would be families who are very involved with the Scouting movement. For individuals, perhaps you have a love of falconry and you keep your own raptors, or you may be the next teenage Lewis Hamilton and spend every moment away from school or college driving around racetracks or under the bonnet of a high-powered racing car.

It's not just about dressing up. It's about your lifestyle. Having said that though, it doesn't matter what alternative lifestyle you lead, Lisa is very good at bringing out the best and most flattering side of anyone and you will end up with a small set of images to remind you of the experience. If you want to purchase some prints or have the set mounted in an album, Lisa also has some very attractive package deals.

So here's your chance to be imortalised on (digital) film. Interested? Then drop Lisa a line by email here or give her a call on 07963 936620 and tell her Silva sent you.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

What's so “alternative” about vintage?

I'm currently working on a project to create some vintage-style inspired knitted Christening gowns. This has meant doing a bit of research, not only to find suitable patterns and images, but also to see what other vintage-style stuff there is out there.

One of the hottest topics associated with the word “vintage” at the moment seems to be weddings. I think these are on the whole a lovely idea. If you have the location and are into a particular era, then setting your wedding around that theme can produce some wonderful opportunities for your photographer.

A vintage-style wedding is about more than just the dress though. For example, simply wearing a 1920s inspired wedding gown yet having your wedding in a modern hotel with the reception including a disco, really couldn't be considered to be a “vintage wedding”. Neither can having a modern wedding, but with all your photographs in a sepia tint or with softened edges.

Now, I'm not the wedding police - people can get married however and wherever they choose! But I am a bit of a pedant where words and phrases are concerned, and I happen to think that too many photographers, bridal outfitters and even brides themselves say that their wedding is “vintage” when it's not.

The same goes for the word “alternative”. I have seen this used to describe vintage weddings (it gets a bit confusing from there on!). But is vintage really alternative?

I don't think so. Anyone who lives an alternative lifestyle (for example, Rockerbilly, goth, biker, LARP, eco warrior, pagan, etc) will more than likely have the wedding / handfasting / christening / naming ceremony that fits their lifestyle. Vintage, in my opinion, isn't a lifestyle. It is a way of describing the look or feel of an item or group of items.

In car terms, vintage applies to only a small group of cars, made before a certain date (generally between 1920 and 1930). Cars made after 1930 are termed “classic”. Cars made before 1919-20 are generally referred to as “veteran” in the UK and “antique” in the USA. If you apply the same terms to a wedding, then no modern weddings could really be called vintage because they are happening now, not 80 years ago.

Just as the clothes do not make the man, the wedding dress does not define the wedding. An alternative wedding would not generally have a white wedding dress, a big fruit cake with royal icing, a church service or even a reception. My own wedding was pretty alternative, as my husband and I were married by proxy in Dallas, Texas. I wore jeans and a cardigan I had knitted myself, my mother-in-law stood in for my husband, and we had bubbles instead of confetti. Then we went for lunch with a few friends at a local Chinese buffet.

The best thing to do is put “-style” after the word vintage or alternative if that is what you are describing.