Category Archives: U.S. Prisons

Practiced at the Art of Deception

In this edition: That’s right, you can’t always get what you want, but… The beat of another drummer. We’re Number 1! (number one jailer in the world). Obama nearly reaching the status of Bill Clinton (with regards to impeachment). Hijinks and Highlights.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I saw her today at the reception
A glass of wine in her hand
I knew she was gonna meet her connection
At her feet was a footloose man

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need

And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, “We’re gonna vent our frustration
If we don’t we’re gonna blow a 50-amp fuse”


I went down to the Chelsea Drugstore
To get your prescription filled
I was standing in line with Mr. Jimmy
And man, did he look pretty ill
We decided that we would have a soda
My favorite flavor, cherry red
I sung my song to Mr. Jimmy
Yeah, and he said one word to me, and that was “dead”
I said to him


I saw her today at the reception
In her glass was a bleeding man
She was practiced at the art of deception
Well I could tell by her blood-stained hands

[Chorus repeating]

– Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Recorded by the Rolling Stones (1969)

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is from the Rolling Stones’ 1969 album Let It Bleed. The London Bach Choir opens the song, highlights passages throughout, and brings it to its conclusion. Al Kooper plays piano and organ, as well as the French horn intro. Stones drummer Charlie Watts wasn’t on the recording. For some reason, he was having trouble getting the part and when Jimmy Miller, the producer, offered to show him he suggested Miller just do the drumming on that song. There’s some contention about whether that was done in a snit or not.

Jagger had developed the song on acoustic guitar, referring to it as “one of those bedroom songs.”  (If you didn’t know, all guitarists sit alone in the bedroom noodling on a guitar.) Mick thought a gospel choir would be a nice touch, but they didn’t find one. When someone suggested the London Bach Choir I think they shrugged and said “Wtf, mates, why not?”

In 1969 the world was awash in protest, the sentiment of brotherly love, and casual drug use. The song covers those topics, but in the fashion of the Stones love wasn’t about dreamy hippie generalized love, but more about the love of some bad girl practiced in the art of deception and with metaphoric blood-stained hands at the reception. In a way, it is a more down-to-earth view that points to the following decade’s creation of new sexual ethics.  The protest they attend features frustration and abuse. Finally, the drug use isn’t characterized in 1969 terms of stoned goofing or trippy psychedelia–we’re talking about people looking ill who say one word and that is “dead.”

Just as some wrongly heard song lyrics make their way into wide acceptance (like Creedence Clearwaters’ “There’s a bathroom on the right” or Elton John’s “Hold me closer, Tony Danza.”) I seem to make the wrong connections with a lot of the classic rock music I am acquainted with. I’ve always connected the Chelsea Drugstore reference to the British National Health Service’s policy of allowing heroin by prescription. This practice peaked in the late sixties and declined with the rise of methadone as a treatment for heroin addiction. Many people go through methadone treatment without success, and in these cases it is still possible in the UK to get heroin by prescription in doses that avoid withdrawal symptoms but don’t give a strong buzz. There may be a lesson here for the U.S. as addicts create an underground market for the drug that spills over into the general population in varying and unpredictable strengths and purity.


The Chelsea Drugstore

Instead of a gathering place for addicts the Chelsea Drugstore was, in fact, more of a symbol of Swinging London (See YouTube below). The store was a modern building in West London where customers would find bars, a pharmacy, newsstands, record stores, and other concessions. They were also infamous for the “flying squad” delivery option. Those who used this service would have their purchases delivered by hand by young ladies adorned in purple catsuits arriving on flashy motorcycles. CVS and Walgreens take note.

Back-up singer Doris Troy is also featured on the song. She’d had an early sixties hit with “Just One Look” and was sought after as a back-up singer for British rockers of the time. She also sang on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, but was not the powerhouse singer who nailed the wordless melody in the song “The Great Gig in the Sky”. (That was Clare Torey.)

There’s an apocryphal story that Mr. Jimmy was actually a resident of Excelsior, Minnesota where the Stones had played to a small, unenthusiastic crowd. Mr. Jimmy was a kind of street person who knew everyone in town. I didn’t find much to sell this story, but you can Google Mr. Jimmy and Excelsior if you have the inclination. In a trip to St. Paul in the mid-eighties I had seen a man in a pyramid hat visiting bars and restaurants to universal welcome so I was open to the theme of Minnesota eccentrics. But I still don’t think that was in Mick’s head at the time. More about Minnesota eccentrics here.

In the end, the song is about the end of a period in London history, when the city was awash in top stars in music, film, and fashion. Mitigating the song’s gloominess is the chorus’ suggestion that while you can’t always get what you want, if you try sometimes, you get what you need.


On August 12, 2013 Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department will no longer charge nonviolent drug offenders with serious crimes that subject them to long, mandatory minimum sentences in the federal prison system. The speech serves to provide new guidelines for federal prosecutors. He’s also called for the expanded use of prison alternatives, such as probation or house arrest, for nonviolent offenders and for lower sentences for elderly inmates.

One big reason for the new guidelines is seen in this graphic.

federal-prison1The most significant factor in increasing prison populations in the 12 years portrayed is imprisoned drug offenders, followed by weapons and immigration issues. Nearly 50% of federal inmates are in for drug offenses. The U.S. houses a total of 220,000 federal inmates.  At the same time, the national budget for drug control has been on the rise, from $10.8 billion in 2002 to $15.5 billion in 2011. If it’s working then the problems are greater than we think!

Holder said, “We must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is, in too many ways, broken… And with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate — not merely to warehouse and to forget.”

The federal prison population doesn’t tell the whole story. The states are housing about 1.4 million prisoners. While only about 20% of those prisoners are there on drug charges, the segment has grown by a factor of 20 between 1986 and 2004. And while the states are much more likely to imprison offenders on violent crimes, drugs still are common as secondary charges. Costs for these prisons and inmate care are in the neighborhood of $74 billion per year. Ten states now spend more on imprisonment than they do on higher education—six times more, in the case of California.

The average length of a prison stay is going up, too. From 1990 to 2009, the average length of stay for prisoners increased by 2.9 years. As a result of this progression, the prison population is not only growing, but also aging,  and due to costs of healthcare, prisoners over the age of 50 are twice as expensive to house on average. One in every 34 U.S. adults was under some sort of correctional supervision in 2011 – whether it be in prison or jail, or on probation or parole, according to figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This represents a slight decline from the previous decade’s numbers but is an incredible figure nonetheless.

To a relatively small subset of people, that $74 billion represents not an egregious line item on the state and federal budgets but an opportunity.  Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group are the nation’s first- and second-largest operators of for-profit prisons. These corporations are solidly optimistic about the future of imprisoning Americans. The GEO Senior Vice President John Hurley assured investors recently:

“We have a longstanding partnership with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the United States Marshal Service and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. … We continue to see meaningful opportunities for us to partner with all three of these federal agencies. The federal bureau of prisons continues to face capacity constraints coupled with a growing offender population.”

The first quarter of 2013 represented a 56% spike in profits for GEO. This was partially driven from a tax break they and CCA received by successfully arguing to the IRS that they were not prison companies but were instead real estate companies with prisoners analogous to “renters.” As Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) they are subject to tax breaks as the intention of IRS rules was to modulate the taxes of passive real estate owning companies. Prison companies are not the only ones screwing the U.S. taxpayer by dodging their fair share, casinos and document storage companies are pursuing the same strategy.

When an ex-convict leaves prison, he or she has a 40% chance of returning within three years. One big driver is that it’s very difficult, especially in this economy where low-skilled workers have few opportunities, to enter the work force. There are both social and security stigmas that affect felons. Another key factor is that the drug use that led to imprisonment picks back up again. 65% of American inmates are clinically addicted to drugs, only 11% receive any form of treatment.

What many in the U.S. fail to appreciate is that the cycle of poverty, ignorance, and hopelessness creates downstream costs to the society that are increasingly difficult to maintain. As a nation we seem unable to create the kind of bold strategies that actually alleviate problems as our politicians quibble over ideological trivialities. We have to ask ourselves, “What kind of future do we want for this country?” Do we stick with the “I got mine” mentality that has driven us since the Reagan years or do we look at the stats, consider the causes, and drive improvement in the way that corporate America succeeds by driving process improvement throughout organizations?

Many statistics came from this Harvard Political Review article and this article at Think Progress.


Hijinks and Highlights!

Maine Republican Governor Paul LePage landed in the national spotlight following an August fundraiser. According to two unnamed state lawmakers, LePage told a group of conservatives at a GOP fundraiser last week that President Obama “hates white people.” LePage denies it but the denial carries little weight.

Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz is the junior U.S. Senator for the state of Texas and the future target of a Democratic-led birther movement. Well, maybe not. It’s come out that Cruz, a GOP presidential hopeful, was born in Calgary, Canada and holds dual citizenship (he plans on renouncing that). His “supposed” claim to U.S. citizenship is that his mother was American (which although it sounds more like the proof you need to be Jewish should work). His father, like Obama’s, was a foreign citizen. Cuba not Kenya. However, since Obama was born to a Kansan citizen but is still under a cloud of suspicion about Kenyan roots then should the Left be willing to give Cruz a break? I think not, friends! Cruz’ politics are all about de-funding Obamacare, denying a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, spending more on walls and militarization of the Mexican border, raising the age for Medicare eligibility, denying reasonable gun restrictions, and restricting unemployment benefits that “exacerbate joblessness.” And did I mention de-funding Obamacare?

Whackjob “news” site WND.COM (World News Daily) is spearheading an “Impeach Obama” campaign. They support 12 reasons offered by the Overpasses for Obama’s Impeachment group, and if you have the stomach for it, they are found here. Portraying the Overpasses as a booming grassroots group they miss the salient point that 40,000 purported members represents just 1/100th of 1% of the population. No mandates there!

Tom Coburn, Republican Senator from Oklahoma, warns us that Obama is “getting perilously close” to the standard for impeachment (in Coburn’s head). Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) suggested that he’d like to impeach President Obama, telling a disappointed constituent that he would file such a bill if he could find the “evidence” to make it stick. Bentivolio said “You know, if I could write that bill and submit it, it would be a dream come true.” He needs more useful dreams for his constituents. Bentivolio is a former Santa Claus impersonator and reindeer farmer (no joke!) And in the same week, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) answered questions from a fervent anti-Obama constituent at a town hall, (telling the woman that he would take a closer look at her birther conspiracy document)  suggesting that House Republicans had enough votes to impeach the president. (Btw, the House begins impeachment but the Senate tries the matter.)

So the Tea Party spirit of Townhalls in 2009-2010 is revived with encouragement from the anti-American wings of the Senate and House of Representatives. When you disagree with a president’s policies you 1.) Cease the consideration of all normal legislation to assure said president’s “failure” and 2.) try to impeach the president rather than win a war of ideas.

That first tactic started on the night of Obama’s first inauguration, when a group of around 15 Republican Representatives and Senators (brought together by Frank Luntz) met for a boozy dinner in the Caucus Room, a “high-end D.C. establishment,” to discuss methods to “win back political power” and to “put the brakes on Obama’s legislative platform.” Those attending the meeting included Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, and Pete Sessions as the House Representatives and Tom Coburn, Bob Corker, Jim DeMint, John Ensign, and Jon Kyl from the Senate. Newt Gingrich also spoke there. There’s something very disgusting about planning a president’s failure at the height of an economic downturn in order to be complicit in causing his failure to enact legislation to improve the lives of suffering citizens.

Cat_scratch_fever_coverBut I digress. On the topic of impeachment, the most eloquent voice remains with the wild-eyed legendary superstar Ted Nugent, who tells us there’s “no question” Obama should be impeached (in his head), blasting “the criminality of this government, the unprecedented abuse of power, corruption, fraud and deceit by the Chicago gangster-scammer-ACORN-in-chief.”

“It’s so diabolical,” he adds.

I think I’ll start an Overpasses Against Ted Nugent movement. Too bad, I still love “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Stranglehold.”LB_Rule


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