The Thought Police are in New Mexico!

A Letter from Tilda Sosaya on "Cognitive Restructuring" In Prisons

Date: Wednesday, September 13 2000

On Tuesday, September 12, 2000 I attended a presentation at UNM sponsored by the NM Department of Corrections. "What Works" was the title of this presentation which preceded a three-day training seminar for employees of NM DOC, Wackenhut, Cornell, and CCA - all the private prison companies. The DOC plans to implement a new "cognitive restructuring" program, based upon the program devised and designed by Dr. Stanton Samenow and "Truthought," a Chicago based company.

Much controversy surrounds the philosophic base which drives the paradigm Samenow introduced yesterday. Mark Donatelli, a Santa Fe attorney renown for his efforts in establishing the Duran Decree which provided a humanitarian "bottom line" to protect the human rights of inmates in NM, has been critical of this program and with good reason. A groundswell in "tough on crime" legislation and mandatory sentencing laws on the state level, as well as the Crime Bill of 1994 and the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1997 have served to fill prisons to capacity. With the advent of privatization, profit motive has created a monolithic power structure where no regard is given to human rights.

The results for inmates and their families have been horrendous. Since the Duran Decree was vacated by the courts on December 31, 1999, we have seen an almost 20% increase in incarceration in this state, at least in part due to bureaucratic bungling, undue extension of sentences, parole violations for a wide range of minor infractions, and delayed parole. We have seen NM inmates sent into wholesale solitary confinement and suffer extreme abuse and overt racism in the hills of Appalachia. Families in this state are no longer permitted to have contact visits in many of the state institutions - video visits now meet the "constitutional minima."

The new program that the DOC is implementing is based upon the work of Stanton Samenow, PH.D and has at its root a firm philosophy of individual blame, i.e. it is not the crumbling socio-economic structure, broken families, drug addiction, nor poverty that contributes to crime - it is the "criminal" who, in Samenow's opinion, was "born that way." He gives no validity to such external factors, stating that the blame lies in prisoners' thinking processes - it's all in their heads.

While various ideas and aspects of his program have merit, at the base of it is this notion that somehow all we must do is "fix" the inmates' thinking patterns. He describes a highly structured program with 52 tenets, presumably one per week, that are utilized in this process. In addition, "thoughts" are the most critical part of the dynamic between inmate and facilitator. Since inmates have nothing "of their own" but their minds, the idea that they will now be compelled to reveal literally everything they are thinking is unthinkable.

In Santa Fe this program has already been implemented and bastardized. It has been in place in Santa Fe since the new super-max/close custody unit opened in late July. Rather than working face to face with the facilitator - usually an educator - the inmates write their thoughts, all their thoughts, every day. Inmates must do everything in the quiet of the solitary confinement cell, since that is what Santa Fe South is all about. Inmates are locked down in a bare cell for 23 hours per day and sometimes 24 hours. They are permitted out three times a week for recreation, which is indoors. They never see the light of day. And these are NOT all murderers and rapists. They are young guys and old, many convicted of minor crimes.

Perry's classification system and lack of sound management were cited by the recent Independent Investigators report as problematic. To classify an inmate at level 6 presupposes the worst for this level of confinement is more typically inhabited by the likes of Charles Manson and Jeffrey Daumer.

Samenow's theories are based on a study he conducted with inmates for six years and completed in 1978. The study took place at St. Elizabeth's hospital in Washington DC and the subjects were convicted as criminally insane. He has done no further research but has worked as a clinician, dealing with both juvenile and adult offenders - all court referrals. In addition, he has written several books, developed his "cognitive restructuring program" and he does the lecture circuit, complete with spots on various TV shows, like Oprah. The charge for the five hour seminar yesterday was $99. The cost of the three day training is $600. The DOC pays for their employees which they estimated at 200, for a total of about $120,000.

While DOC Secretary Rob Perry has already proven himself inept on his good days, and on his bad days sends more than 100 men 2000 miles away without reason or recourse, the idea of his "thought police" in the prisons is absolutely absurd, in fact it is abominable. Unfortunately this has come as a surprise to all but some who work inside; Perry kept it under wraps until the deed was done - it was announced publicly on Friday. This is characteristic of his inclination toward secrecy and egocentric desire for absolute power. I say this with experience under my belt, having seen him testify in district court (where I saw and heard him lie by answering one question in three different ways over the course of two days testimony) and before the legislative Corrections Oversight Committee.

So now we have teachers who can't offer anything resembling an education, instead they must use this plan for restructuring and monitoring inmates' thoughts. It is reprehensible. Samenow even stated that his ideas have been called Orwellian, but he rejects that notion. Though he would not go so far as to state that he adheres to a "bad seed" theory, he falls only slightly short of doing so.

Further, there is no room for discussion of the criminals who work within the system. Samenow's entire program presupposes that "all is right with the world" and the values (or lack of them) of the dominant culture. Samenow illustrated a situation where an inmate was abused for no reason. While he did not condone the abuse, he basically said, "too bad, that's life in prison." He discounts any discussion of mental health issues claiming that "diagnoses are excuses" for every condition from drug addiction, alcoholism (he says it's not a disease), to ADHD and mental retardation (a sham, he claims). His presentation was filled with anecdotes and lacked substance. He takes the moral high ground and discounts issues of race and poverty with impunity. Conformity is the objective - conformity to a system and way of life that is filled with contradictions and confusion, especially where ethics, morals, and values are concerned.

Finally, I would like to comment on Perry's criticism (ABQ JOURNAL, 9/8/200) of Mark Donatelli and the "cost" of the Duran Decree. The fees for Duran ranged in the $5 million range. A few weeks ago at the Oversight Committee one of the main points of discussion was the forthcoming costs of prosecuting/defending the cases of 15 inmates charged in the murder of Officer Ralph Garcia on August 31, 1999 at the Wackenhut Guadalupe County Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa. It is estimated that it will cost $15 million dollars - for starters. This does not take into account the costs to the people of this state when the more than twenty lawsuits against the DOC resulting from the mass transfers of inmates to Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap, Virginia following the riot which took Garcia's life. This riot could have been avoided. Perry had closed several units in the state system, forcing the state to house inmates in the two new privately owned facilities in Santa Rosa and Hobbs. In addition, against all the wisdom and advice of experienced people in the department, Perry concentrated members of two rival gangs in those facilities creating a recipe for disaster. Two days before the guard's death, an inmate was also murdered in Santa Rosa. Perry reacted to that by issuing a threat to the inmates which further exacerbated problems. The end result was another death and the mess we are in now - five murders in two private prisons in eight months!

I urge everyone to write to the Governor and to Senator Michael Sanchez of Belen and suggest that Mr. Perry resign, along with John Shanks and Donna Wilpolt, both assistant secretaries, both equally as culpable in these matters. We call for the abolition of contracts with private prison companies, as well. They have proven to be poorly managed, unsafe, profit being the only consideration. Letters to the editor also help, but the Albuquerque Journal will only print letters from NM residents. Perry's sole motive seems to be to create a political stepping stone for himself and ultimately to wield some kind of "ultimate" power. In a word, he appears to be a megalomaniac. At times his denial is so strong that he reminds me of Nixon. Then, with Alfred E. Newman in the governor's office, there is no reining in of the DOC Secretary ... Governor Gary Johnson, who has achieved national renown touting his drug reform policies, has turned a blind eye to any issues of human rights for NM inmates or their families.

If you have questions, please feel free to ask. Thanks very much. Here are addresses:

Governor Gary Johnson ------------------------------------State Capitol ----------------------------------------------Santa Fe, NM 87503

Senator Michael Sanchez --------------------------------------3 Bunton Road ---------------------------------------------Belen, NM 87002

In solidarity, Tilda Sosaya COPA! NM _______________________________________________

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. _______________________________________________

prisonact-list mailing list