In the last blog installment of Informant America it was noted that I received a long letter from Rick Wershe who is now in prison in Florida. Communication with Rick, or any inmate in the Florida prison system, is not easy. Rick has spent nearly 30 years behind bars, most of them in Michigan. He says the Florida Corrections System is real culture shock. This blog continues with quotes from Rick’s letter…
Rick Wershe wrote his multi-page letter to me standing up. He had no choice. There is no place to sit in his two-man cell. “There’s not anywhere in the cell to sit down and write a letter,” he writes. “I stand up and use the top bunk to write on.” Eating meals in the cell is a challenge, too. “You stand up and eat off your tray or sit on the floor with the tray on your lap,” Wershe writes.
In a previous blog I wrote that prison food in Florida is nothing to write home about. It provides daily nutritional needs and that’s about it. Like prisons everywhere, Florida has “canteens” where prisoner with a little change in their pocket can buy snacks or simple foods like packaged soup. “The prices down here for a lot of things are more than double,” Wershe writes. “A soup in Michigan costs 34 cents. In Florida prisons, it’s 70 cents. (The cost of) Everything is 50% to 100% or more and here they have no paying jobs like in Michigan or with the Feds.”
What he’s referring to are paying work details in other state and federal prisons. Paid work details accomplish several things. They give inmates something useful to do with their time. It gives them a means of acquiring modest amounts of money they can spend inside on something they want. This mimics the world outside, where you work to earn money to spend. Imagine that. Yet, Florida doesn’t offer that constructive opportunity for prison inmates.
Someone reading this might sarcastically think, ‘Aw. Too bad for those poor criminals.’ That kind of hard-ass crime-and-punishment thinking might make some macho men feel better, but it comes down to a bigger question: do we want convicted criminals to do time behind bars and nothing more, or do we want to at least try to educate them in subtle but daily ways about acceptable ways to get a long in life on the outside?
You can learn a lot about the crime and punishment attitudes of each state by doing an Internet search of their “Corrections” Department websites.
Allow me to show you an example of what I’m talking about. If you think Rick Wershe is being wussy in his complaining about the Florida Department of Corrections, I invite you to do the following Google search:
Fire up Google and enter the following: Florida Department of Corrections Photos.
The first thing you get is this:
Click on it. It will take you to a page of “high resolution” images of—Death Row. You will find 23 images—all related to executing prisoners.
|This is Florida's gas chamber, which they proudly feature as the first photos you find if you try to find images about their prison system. (Photos: Florida Dept. of Corrections)|
This is a cell where Florida inmates on Death Row wait to die. (Photo: Florida Dept. of Corrections)
There are 16 views of the Florida gas chamber, six views of Death row cells where inmates wait to die and one image of an electric chair. That’s it. That’s all the Florida Department of Corrections offers Internet visitors who would like to see images of what their “Corrections” system is all about.
Good luck finding other images. If you dig around you can find some. Like this one, celebrating trophies won by guards who work with attack and tracking dogs:
|(Photo: Florida Dept. of Corrections)|
|(Photo: Florida Dept. of Corrections)|
Bloodhounds for tracking escaped prisoners seem to be a favorite photo subject for the Florida Department of “Corrections”:
But as the photo above shows, the Florida Department of “Corrections” doesn’t just rely on dogs. They are ready for deadly combat with inmates, too:
Yes. Yes. They have to be ready for trouble because some of their guests are troublemakers. But it tells us a lot that Florida emphasizes photos of Death Row and attack dogs and assault troops in what might be called their public relations. It tells us that concepts like "corrections" and "rehabilitation" don't mean much in their prison system.
There’s a bit more in Rick Wershe’s letter from prison and I’ll share it in the next post.
Here’s how to write to Rick Wershe if you are inclined to do so. Be sure to include his inmate number in the address and on the head of the letter itself:
Mr. Richard J. Wershe, Jr.
Columbia Correctional Institution
216 SE Corrections Way, Lake City, FL 32025
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