Why I’m doing this…

Have a gander at this:

The blue line in the above graph shows the total number of inmates in California’s prisons each year from 1930 to 1980.

Now check out the total number of inmates in California’s prisons from 1980 to 2008:

That’s a 700% increase in 18 years!

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How I talk to God by screaming into the ocean

This story isn’t about prisons, it’s just a taste of what it’s like to be hitchhiking in a Northern California winter:

I am a ball of rubber wrapped in plastic.

Seriously.

me, hiding in plastic

Inside my shoes it looks like an artistically-challenged four-year-old attempted to shape a pile of mashed turnips into feet.

And failed.

The rain won’t stop. My flesh is rotting.

And that’s what this story is all about: What it’s like to rot.

***

But let me back-up … more

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The reason why RVs exist

In every sense, fear and freedom are uniquely intertwined.

One cannot exist without the other. And we cannot exist without them both — like dry wood and oxygen to a campfire’s light.

America is a land of many freedoms. Prison reflects our need to protect them, our fear of losing them.

Hitchhiking is also a pure strain of this dynamic. It forces the participant to give themselves completely to the road, to embrace unmanageable wildness. Few things can feel freer. Few things can be more terrifying.

And if this project had a thesis, you would have just read it.

Here’s a remotely related video. It was taken in September of ’05 as I attempted to hitchhike from Alaska into the Yukon Territory:

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A little dirt in the soul never hurt anyone

I took this photo while hitchhiking the day
after this entry was written

This morning, my girlfriend was still asleep as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling. The bed was warm. The December air cold. I tucked the blankets around her neck and she shifted and whispered something about pancakes. I could have cried. For, despite the tranquility of the moment, a panicked spark was spreading through my stomach… I knew this was all about to end.

12 hours later, as I write this, I’m barreling through the rain-filled darkness of Northern California on a bus that smells like body odor and porta-potty juice. I’m headed to the top of the state with plans to hitchhike to the bottom. The wind whips hard against the Greyhound’s side, as if taunting me, “you can’t hide in there forever, boy.”

It’s been almost two years exactly since I last hitchhiked. And, frankly, I’m terrified to start again. I’m not scared of the things people usually assume I should be — like characters from bad horror movies — but there are other fears; standing alone in the rain, the looks of putrid disgust twisting across a misunderstanding drivers’ face, the nights spend hiding suspended between two trees, fumbling with swollen lifeless hands to spark a lighter and, above all, that empty, unyielding feeling of loneliness that burns and chafes so stubbornly against the lining of a lone traveler’s soul.

And yet, I have my reasons … more

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“Dog will hunt”

After a month spent living off borrowed bread in my friend’s kitchen, I’m happy to say that the Kickstarter.com fundraiser for Voices of Justice was successful! Thanks so much to everyone that contributed.

So… now what? Well, in short: Hitchhiking, that’s what.

Those who know me well are likely aware that I’ve spent a large amount of time hitchhiking as a journalist in the past (and that I vowed never to do it again). Well, after a lot of thought, I’ve decided to get back on that saddle one last time … more

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“The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”

While America was quaking in the shadow of the ‘Great Depression’, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the podium in 42°F cloudy weather to give his 1933 inaugural address. He famously declared, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” before leading our nation through one of humanities’ greatest wars.

FDR’s 1933 inaugural address (View on YouTube)

 
FDR died before WWII ended. The America that followed would be like none he had ever known. From the Soviet Union and nuclear bombs to crack cocaine and terrorist attacks, our nation has faced very real fears.

Yet, Roosevelt’s words are today as (if not more) important than ever … more

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The silent war inside

The 1960s and ‘70s were turbulent times for our country. Crime rates were on the rise and many states began waging “wars on crime”.

“Tough on Crime” campaign commercial for Richard Nixon, 1968, who many argue was the father of our nationwide political “war on crime” (View on YouTube)

 
Yet we’re quick to forget, as police officers and parole agents got tougher, the streets may have gotten safer, but the war didn’t end. Instead, it continued silently, in small rooms behind locked gates, waged by underappreciated prison staffers and desensitized inmates, 98 percent of which will return to our neighborhoods.

This article is about the impact of that war in California … more

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The day the prison build-up began

The California prison population grew 874 percent between 1977 and 2007.

The reason “why” involves a variety of complex factors. Yet, at the root lies one single day: July 1st, 1977. The day California switched from what’s called indeterminate sentencing to determinate sentencing. And if you’ll stick with me, I’ll explain them both.

This image is part of a larger, dynamic visualization putting the above numbers in context. Click here (or on the image) to view it in its entirety

… more

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“Prison brain cells” or “Why we only know what we know”

Tecapan, Guatemala is shown, where the Caribbean and North American tectonic plates meet

Click this image to expand larger version

At 3am on February 4th of 1976, the giant slab of rock that makes up the earth’s outer crust from Siberia to Central America brushed up against the giant slap of rock that lies below it (shown in the image to the right). In total, the two tectonic plates bumped for less than 40 seconds.

Yet, close to the epicenter of the event, most of the residents of the Mayan town of Tecapan, Guatemala were sleeping. So the resulting earthquake – measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale – killed nearly 3,000 of them in bed. Almost half the town was crushed to death by the very clay roofs and adobe walls their own hands had build. Their bodies were dumped into mass graves by donated bulldozers.

Interestingly, as tales of the devastation spread, so did stories of a mysterious wolf pack that, allegedly, wandered through town a few hours before the earthquake.

Would wolves do this? It’s not likely. Did wolves do this? We can’t really be sure. All we have proof of is that many residents claim to have witnessed the event.

Anthropologists Edward Fischer and Carol Hendrickson explain the wolf story by saying it foreshadowed the seemingly pointless destruction of civilization and the coming of the “wild” to Tecapan. In other words, it gave the townsfolk a reason why.

“The story is compelling and worthy of being repeated,” they write, “because of its cathartic value in explaining the seemingly inexplicable question: Why us?”

Yeah, but the Mayans didn’t have Wikipedia
In our modern culture of televised news and digitized information, we’re prone to assume we’ve outgrown such folklore. Yet, just because nobody is crying wolf pack anymore, it doesn’t mean we’re better at predicting earthquakes, or most other large scale events.

When the economy collapsed in 2007, Americans searched for a reason why. The media worked day and night to compose the narrative for us. In reality, economists say that the intricacies of modern finance are too complicated for simple explanation. Nonetheless, we blamed Wall Street, we blamed democrats, we blamed capitalism and we blamed Alan Greenspan. These things became our scapegoats. They became our wolf packs wandering down Wall Street … more

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VoJ hits Kickstarter.com!

Watch the Voices of Justice video!

Click image to visit the future…

We just launched a fundraiser for Voices of Justice on kickstarter.com.

Click on the image above or the link here (http://kck.st/aWJA1r) to watch the VoJ video and learn more about the project! If you like what you see, we could sure use your help … more

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