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Thursday, 30 June 2011

How hard can it be....

....to knit a butterfly?

I am having difficulty with the prototype that I am working on. I know how the body will be, and that's a simple crochet tube with a bit of shaping. But the wings refuse to come off the knitting needles the way they are in my head.

It is important to me to get this right, which is why I'm making a prototype first. The yarn for the real project is delicate and wont stand being unravelled by more than a few stitches. It is also important because it is my tribute to Ciel, with the yarn spun by Jo at Secret Spinner and gifted to a group of Ciel's friends in May. I don't expect this butterfly to be perfect - in fact, it shouldn't be perfect at all because it is handmade - but it should at least resemble what my mind's eye can see.

So I'm going to put it down for a while, carry on with one of my other projects, and come back to it later.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

View from a PA prison cell - inmate phone services; who gets the benefits?

As well as my husband being incarcerated, there are approximately 2 million other Americans sharing his circumstances at the moment. I write to a couple of other inmates and one is an elderly guy in Pennsylvaina doing a life sentence. He is very active in the politics of incarceration, and could be considered to be a royal pain in the behind to the "prisoncrats" he regularly writes to. He wrote something recently that I wanted to share with you all, and now I have his permission to post it, here it is:

Mother Mary by Jon Y
Sixty-year-old Mary, disabled and impoverished, languishes in her Philadelphia room, wishing that during what remains of her life she could converse with her son who is incarcerated in a distant Department of Corrections (DoC) prison. Neither she nor her son writes well enough to communicate through letters. medical issues preclude her from travelling either to that prison to visit him or to a Prison Society site for a video "virtual visit" thereby leaving her telephone as their only viable means of communication. However, the DoC's imposition of a 44.4% socially regressive commission on Pennsylvania inmates' telephone contracts with families (Prison Legal News, April 2011) is a nearly impenetrable barrier to Mary experiencing the joy of conversing with her son.

The DoC contract with Global Tel*link ("GTL": owed by Wall Street's Goldman Sachs), telephone service provider for prison inmates in more than half of the States. Mary's son cannot telephone her "collect" because she is unable to afford a mandatory GTL prepaid account for $6.25 per 15-minute collect call in as much as GTL would charge her a 20% service fee for each $25 payment that she would invest in such a pre-paid account.

Purchase of pre-paid telephone fees ($5.15 per 15-minute call) is available to her son via the prison commissary but he has little or no personal income. Since the DoC requires that inmates purchase no less than $10 (plus 60 c sales tax) of pre-paid telephone time, his prison account is inadequate. Mary's only option is to send $10 to her son to pre-pay for 2 calls - but she learns that maintaining familial relationships for inmates clearly is not a priority for the DoC.

Research of the Prison Legal News (April 2011, pp 1-17) confirms that (1) phone companies do not compete to offer lower phone rates to inmates' families but rather to provide larger kickbacks to prisons, and (2) since such commissions are not controlled by State or Federal regulatory agencies, the only limit on the maximum rate for prison phone call costs is the top rate of kickback permitted by service contracts between GTL and the DoC. For example, in contrast to GTL's kickback enhanced $5.15 charge for Mary to speak with her son, GTL's non-kickback contract with Rhode Island DoC costs RI inmates a flat fee of just 70c for 20 minutes! GTL obviously perceives that RI prison telephone service contract as profitable. If Mary's son were confined in a federal prison, her costs for telephone reunions with him could be as little as 90c for a 15-minute call.

Not in Pennsylvania! The DoC directs families to send funds  to inmates through "JPAY", a Florida corporation that charges an additional $4.95 if contacted by phone or $395 if contacted by email to deposit $10 into a prison account. Does the DoC also receive a kickback from JPAY? Mother Mary, $14.95 poorer, awaits a call from her son. However the system has not finished fleecing her yet.

From each entry of wages, gifts etc into an inmate's account, 20% is seized as payment of court-imposed fines, costs and retribution. Upon Mary's $10 being transferred from JPAY to her son, $2 is automatically deducted. Thus, in order to reunite with her son, Mary becomes monetarily responsible for his sentence! With only $8 of that $14.95 actually deposited in his prison account, Mary's son is unable to comply with the DoC's $10-minimum purchase of pre-paid telephone time. If Mary could have afforded $25 to overcome such deductions, JPAY charges would increase to $6.95 via email and $7.95 by telephone!

Mary is but a composite of the hundreds of indigent (grand)parents of inmates who are being victimized by the DoC's $7+ million kickback from GTL. Children of inmates are even more helpless to overcome such agency greed. They should not be cut off from imprisoned family in order for the state to turn a profit. South Carolina, California, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York and Rhode Island do not accept kickbacks from their telephone service providers!

The DoC claims its $7+ million annual kickback from GTL is necessary for the telephone system to function in prisons but then diverts more than $4 million of that commission to the DoC's General Fund. That is not a "reasonable user fee"! The DoC further alleges that $3 million of the kickback is retained to "benefit" inmates! If that were so, the DoC could simply hire a single employee at each prison for an annual wage of $20,000 to process money orders sent to inmates by families rather than requiring JPAY processing at the exorbitant rates cited above.

But who cares? Do you? Our Marys cannot fight this struggle alone. If you care for those like Mary, it is time for education, advocacy, coalition building and community organizing to lead the struggle against a kickback so ill-conceived that is shocks the conscience!

(The views expressed above are Jon's not mine, though I do share his fury at the extortionate charges levied upon inmate families by the phone companies, JPAY and the States involved)

Saturday, 25 June 2011

A dedication from Hubby

Journey - Send Her My Love (HQ music video)

Sometimes Ray tells me to listen to songs he has heard on the radio, or ones he remembers from before all this. Sometimes other people's words fit when ours don't quite make it.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

TDCJ inmate medical tax becomes a reality

Just when you thought Texas couldn't get any meaner, the inmate medical care tax (House Bill 26, full text of Engrossed version Bill here) has been passed into law. The main portion of the Bill comes into effect on the 91st day after the end of the 82nd Legislature, which is roughly the end of September.

The basics are:
  • Inmates will no longer be charged the current $3 per visit for seeing medical staff
  • Any inmate requiring medical attention after the end of September 2011 will have to pay a $100 fee, annually, from their trust fund account.
  • From September 2015, the $3 medical visit fee will be reinstated - it is not clear whether this is on top of the $100 fee or instead of.
  • Common over-the-counter medications will be made available for inmates to purchase via the commissary store
Now let's remember something here folks; TDCJ inmates do not get paid any money at all for the work that they have to do. Texas is about the only state in the USA that does not pay for inmate labour. The money that is deposited into each inmate's trust fund (which earns zero interest for the inmate but you can bet earns plenty for the State) comes almost exclusively from friends and family supporting the inmate financially.

These friends and family are already feeling the pinch, with trying to cover the costs of visits, phone calls, looking after children with only 1 wage coming in instead of 2 etc. Now the State of Texas has decided to levy a new TAX on inmate friends and family to cover the cost of medical care.

This is not the same as a free-world individual paying for medical insurance. The free world individual has a choice of which insurance company to sign up with, a choice of how much they are willing to pay, and usually a choice of what services they want to include in their cover. The free world individual can then work and earn money in order to cover those payments.

The inmate's family has no say in how much the TAX will be, no say on what services will be included in the cover, and no say on who provides those services. Additionally, the inmate's family are very likely to be working and paying taxes to the State which are supposed to be covering the costs of incarceration already. This means that they are being TAXED TWICE for the same thing!

The Bill states that no inmate can be denied medical care if they do not have the funds to pay for it. So the families have a Hobsons choice of either finding the money and hoping the inmate can remember to not spend it all before they might need to see a medic (not always easy when many TDCJ inmates only get a statement of account once a month, but can visit commisarry twice a month and may not be aware of any money deposited between statements), or not depositing any money at all into the inmate's trust fund and risk not having phone calls, letters or the inmate going without hygiene supplies or extra clothing such as panties for the female inmates who are only issued with 2 pairs every 4 months.

For me, I am already taxed way more on my income by my own English government than most Americans. Usually if I spend money on items in the US I can claim back the tax I pay when I leave the country. This, however, is a tax that I will not be able to claim anything back for. They may call it a "fee", but if it walks like a tax, looks like a tax and craps all over everyone like a tax, then I think it is safe to call it a TAX.

So either my husband being taxed without representation (because inmates cannot vote) if they say the momey belongs to him, or I am (because I don't get to vote in Texas either) if the money I put on his books belongs to me. Either way, there seems to be very little anyone can do about it until the next round of elections, by which time anyone not connected with TDCJ will have forgotten all about it.

And this is the kind of system that David Cameron was spewing the virtues of on the evening news last night, when he did a huge U-turn on his Justice Minister Ken Clarke and announced that incarceration was his preferred method of dealing with those who break the law. Well, it works for Texas, California, Florida, Indiana and Alabama doesn't it....

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Inspirations from a Goddess

I may not have mentioned it here before, but I am a pagan. My husband is attempting to find his comfort zone within Christianity after much of his life has been spent in critical hostility towards it (or rather, towards those close to him who found that path apparently easier to follow). This generally means we talk about religion quite a bit, and get to mark all of the holidays associated with both.

One aspect of paganism that Ray finds really difficult to comprehend is the concept of multiple deity. I have never been anything other than pagan, and follow the path of my ancestors - those who I inherited my family name and genes from and also those who shaped the lands I have lived in. This means roughly that I acknowledge the Gods of northern Europe (modern Germany, Austria, a bit of Poland and the Czech Republic), with more than a passing nod to Roman deity.

The two pantheons overlap for me in so many ways, that despite more academic pagans often telling me I'm diluting both paths by not being exclusive, or even that there is no historical evidence that some of what I feel is correct, to me the Saxons and the Romans are 2 layers of my heritage rather than 2 branches of a single tree. And much like the physical history of those peoples, one group tends to show up and party for a bit, while the other is constant and blends itself with whatever else is going on around it. Like the Atrebates who populated my birthplace originally, I appear to have a foot in both camps.

This can all lead to some good discussions as I said earlier, and sometimes to some surprise visits from individual deity. My dearest friend Ciel believed that all Goddesses were a facet of the One Goddess, and didn't have much to do with Gods. I believe the opposite, that all deity are individuals, with specific oversight and associations. In the same way that you wouldn't normally call out a hairdresser to fix a broken washing machine, I wouldn't expect Pomona to turn up if I were trying to learn a new musical instrument for example.

I'm not much of a scholar when it comes to beliefs. I tend to live it rather than learn it. Since Ciel died earlier this year though, I've been called in ever increasing volume by a particular Goddess that I've not had any dealings with before. Instead of being all facets of one Goddess, this one is more one Goddess to all peoples.

Minerva has been honoured by many tribes and by several names. Her Roman name, Minerva, is the one I'm most comfortable with, but her shrine in Bath is one of the few places sacred to the native tribes that was adopted by the Romans and maintained after their departure from Britain. She has been important to the Ancient Britons, the Greeks and Romans, the peoples of Wessex, the nobility of Georgian and Victorian England, and now to me.   

I am working on an idea for a new creative business venture. It involves knitting particular items and using very lightweight yarns in natural fibres. When searching for a name for the venture, my daughter suggested it should be something to do with water, and Minerva revealed herself. Since then, her calling has been growing louder. Owls have been appearing in the most unlikely places and the ideas I am getting for the venture seem to be taking shape as guided inspirations rather than just from my own head or learning. The associations with water are strong, and what started as a tiny spring is now in its well stage as I draw from it. I'm hoping it will grow to a lake of safety that feeds a river beyond. I am learning more about the craft involved - even having practised it for over 30 years already - and I am confident that I will find the level, just as water does, eventually. It is not something I can hurry though, it is taking time to work out but I think it will be better for that extra detail.


Monday, 6 June 2011

Now, back to the socks...

But not just any socks, oh no! These are Cielebration socks :) I started these on a whim while at the memorial weekend for my dearest friend Ciel who died back in January this year. The socks are for my daughter, as now she is all growed up I rarely get a chance to knit her anything anymore.

Cielebration socks for Lily

I am 3/4 of the way through 2 pairs of denim-coloured double knit weight socks for Mother-in-Law's crew at the nursing home now, and once those are done I will be starting a small project to use some of the Cielebration handspun yarn I was given by another of Ciel's friends. It will have sparkles!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Never under-value yourself or your work

As you know, I have a good friend who is a photographer. Last year, she agreed -almost as a favour to the wedding planner involved, let's call her Sharon - to shoot a wedding 200 miles away, near to where my friend grew up. The bride and groom were not originally going to pay for a photographer, as they have a friend who is also just starting out in the business. My friend said she would do the work for a very low price, thinking that she might be able to tie it in with a weekend away with her family.

Fast forward to yesterday. Situations change, and my friend now has other commitments which mean a family break in Harrogate wasn't possible at this time. Faced with a long drive, she asked me if I would like to tag along and assist her. Having never been to Yorkshire before, I agreed. We left home at 5am, made good time on the motorways, and arrived in a very pretty little village just outside Harrogate, just on 9am.

The wedding planner arrived just after us, saying she was already stressed and that the reception marquee was so full of details that it would be a miracle if she finished setting it all up on time. She went in to see the bride first and then headed off to the marquee, which was in the garden of the quaint old pub next to the bride's parent's house.

I've spoken before about the term "Vintage" especially when used in conjunction with weddings. The theme of yesterday's wedding reception was a Village Fete. To be fair, the marquee did look lovely. There were trestle tables and chairs, with plain white crockery. Table runners were patchwork, place labels were pinned onto individual apples (a nice touch that my friend used for her rings shot as well), there was a long table laid out with a lot of different handmade cakes like you would see on the Women's Institute stall at any village fete, and fabulous yards of bunting all around the marquee and the garden.

Outside, there were games set up for the guests to play between the initial welcome snacks and the buffet meal. There was face painting for the 20-or-so children present (unusual in itself these days, with many couples requesting that children do not attend the wedding or reception), and traditional fete stalls such as a bran tub, guess the name of the dolly and the number of sweets in a jar. I'm not sure that asking the guests to pay for some of these was a good thing, even though the money was going to charity. The large games included Aunt Sally, giant snakes and ladders, hoop-la and space hoppers.

My task for the day was to get plenty of wide-angle shots, while my friend concentrated on the details and portraits. I was also there to carry lens bags, remind my friend to drink plenty of water, and hold car keys etc.

While we were taking a few setting up shots in the marquee before the bride left for the Registry Office, the friend came in and began doing the same thing. I was rather surprised at this, given that my friend had been employed to take the photos. The wedding planner also knew this friend, and I was equally surprised that she didn't take the lady to one side and remind her that she was a guest on that day and as someone was being paid to work, she should not try to use the occasion to build her portfolio. We mentioned to the wedding planner that the bride had agreed to pay for a bar meal for us both later on in the day, and could she just make sure that was still OK.

After the getting ready shots were completed, the bride left for the Registry Office around 20 minutes late. The wedding planner did not attend the wedding ceremony. When we got there, my friend decided that she would be better placed at the front of the room, as the Registrar was amenable to photos being taken during the ceremony, so I stayed at the back. Every time I tried to get a good wide shot of the couple at a significant moment, the friend leaned out in front of me and got in the way. I did at least manage to get some group shots by standing on the staircase as the couple and guests came out of the room, but then in the rear courtyard afterwards, people were still looming in front of me  - and my friend - as we were trying to work.

Back at the pub, the guests were treated to mini fish and chip cones along with a glass of Pimms and encouraged to view the Cheese Cake. This was a strange ensemble of a number of local whole cheese wheels, stacked on top of each other and decorated with cheese-shaped hearts and a few flowers. The pub was small and very dark, so I'm not sure how many photos will be OK from that period. I tried to get pictures of all of the guests in small groups, as they were eating, drinking and talking together. The difficulty was that there was another wedding taking place in the Church next door that afternoon, and it was hard to work out whose guests belonged to whom!

Lots of shots followed of the guests trying to work out what the games were. At just before 4pm we said to the wedding planner that were were going to get something to eat. She told us that the pub wasn't doing food because of the wedding and that if there was anything left from the guests' buffet we could have a plate from there afterwards (when the speeches would be taking place!). Luckily I'd packed us some sandwiches, but we were rather put out having worked 7 hours by that point without a break - or even a proper drink. What made things worse was that while we were sitting in the bar eating our sandwiches, Sharon came in with a bowl of chips and proceeded to eat them in front of us. My friend asked where she got them, and Sharon vaguely replied that it had taken her a real effort to get them from the kitchen!

Speeches were supposed to be from 6.30 to 6.50 with the first dance at 7.30pm. We'd arranged to stay until after the first dance, with the idea that we'd be away by 8pm. The speeches didn't actually begin until 7.20 - with the groom spending 15 minutes trying to find a spare electricity cable for the microphone! They went on until almost 8pm at which point my friend took the bride and groom to one side and suggested that their friend take the first dance photos because we had already been there 11 hours and we had a 3 hour drive home and they had only paid a very small amount for the pictures that had already been taken. The couple agreed, and we left.

The moral of this story is not so much that you get what you pay for, because in this case the bride and groom got way more than they were paying my friend for, and got probably significantly less than they were paying the wedding planner for. The moral is more that if you under-value your own self and work, no one else will value it any higher than you do. My friend has learned a valuable lesson by carrying through her end of the contract - she cannot, and should not, agree to work for less than she is worth. She is a professional, and doing favours for people who clearly don't have the same professional outlook could be damaging to friend's future reputation.

For me, it was all experience. Something to add to my catalogue of "Things I've Done", and it was an enjoyable day to see the bride and groom so happy. We've got some new ideas for photographs now, and a couple of other tips in general, so it wasn't a wasted day at all. Just a very long one.

(no photos to go with this blog post, because there is a chance that they may be featured in a magazine)