BY DAVE ALLEN Like time, news waits for no man. Keeping up with the funny papers has always been an all-day job, even in the pre-Internets era. These days, however, it’s a two-man job. That’s right, these days you need someone to do your reading for you, or risk falling hopelessly behind and, as a result, increasing your chances of dying lonely and somewhat bitter. That’s why every week PAPERBOY does your alt-weekly reading for you. We pore over those time-consuming cover stories and give you the takeaway, suss out the cover art, warn you off the ink-wasters and steer you towards the gooey center. Why? Because we love you!
ON THE COVER
CP: Philadelphia, God love it, is a gritty city. Knew it when I moved here, and I’ve lived with it ever since. But a story doesn’t have to be set here to be gritty. Matt Stroud ventures north, to the wilds of Northeast PA, to report on the abject story of a prisoner driven to suicide through malign neglect. He hooks you in right away with a couple of hard truths and one notable lie, from the state Department of Corrections: “There was no indication noted by staff members who regularly interacted with Offender Bullock that he was depressed and would take his own life.”
Bullock’s parents say that’s simply not true. In their lawsuit, they claim that not only had Bullock tried to kill himself while in custody on multiple occasions, but their son also had repeatedly told SCI Dallas’ corrections officers (COs) about his suicidal inclinations. The COs didn’t ignore him, according to the lawsuit and written statements provided by fellow inmates: They taunted him — and actually encouraged him to take his own life.
When he told COs of his suicidal tendencies, the lawsuit continues, prison officials moved him from a solitary cell that was within view of an observation camera to one that wasn’t. Then, the lawsuit alleges, someone slipped him “instrumentalities which are commonly used to commit or attempt suicide” — a bed sheet, which suicidal inmates in “the hole” are not supposed to have — and COs “incited [Bullock] to ‘kill himself.'”
After that, family attorney Shelley Centini says, Bullock was left alone for hours, though DOC policy mandates that inmates in solitary be checked on every 30 minutes.
During that time, Matthew Bullock made good on his death wish.
Stroud’s piece comes across a kind of “true crime” narrative, but with surreal twists, as Bullock’s auditory hallucinations crop up in his recollections of the crime. But the next twist, as the story pivots away from Bullock, is all too real: systemic failures by the DOC; abuse by corrections officers; miserable, squalid conditions. You realize, of course, that prisoners are there for punishment, but there is a line of decency that has undoubtedly been crossed.
PW: Prostitutes seldom cross my mind. I know every city of a certain size has them — you could even find them in the dying upstate New York city where I used to live — but if you avoid certain neighborhoods or head to bed early enough, you’ll likely never see them. The stigma associated with prostitution still exists, though, and rather than employing a “one size fits all” approach to combating it, Tara Murtha shows that Philly is trying something with a great deal more good sense and compassion than you might expect.
Project Dawn Court is Philadelphia’s newest problem-solving court, designed for women with repeat prostitution offenses. The first of its kind in the country, it’s modeled on the nationally lauded Philadelphia Treatment Court, established in 1997 to reduce both drug possession recidivism rates and the cost of jailing drug addicts by providing rehabilitative services under close court supervision.
Like Philly’s Mental Health and Treatment problem-solving courts, the goal of Dawn’s Court is three-fold: connect nonviolent repeat offenders with therapeutic and re-entry services; make the community safer by reducing recidivism of a particular crime; and lessen the financial burden of taxpayers paying to keep minor offenders in jail.
“In county prison, if you eliminate violent offenders, the second single largest block of women at the prison are in on prostitution and prostitution-related events,” says DeFusco, who led the way getting Project Dawn Court rolling with the collaboration of many people at various agencies (The Defender’s Association; District Attorney’s Office; The Philadelphia Adult Probation and Parole Department). “The way the city budgets it, that’s $95.90 a day per inmate.” By DeFusco’s estimate, the city wastes almost $10,000 a day housing prostitutes in jail—even more if the inmate has kids who must be placed in foster care. DeFusco calls this a no-brainer.
“The DAs don’t want to see these women in jail. The judges don’t want to see them in jail. They just want them to stop [prostitution],” says DeFusco. “[We] want them to get help, so they’re able to stop because the women themselves want to stop.”
DeFusco is the source of that “one size fits all” quote, and she notes that since there are 10 times more men in prison than women, it’s a man-sized punishment that is frequently visited on these women. Interesting. Like Murtha’s previous article on the police employee in charge of notifying families, this piece shows the soul at the heart of the system, and though it’s largely positive in tone, it still engages, examines and asks tough questions.
INSIDE THE BOOK
CP: Bell Curve on the right-hand side? Up is down! Black is white! Dusting cookies, straining soup. Respect for the classics. Cultish suds and faux instruments of torture.
PW: Bad restaurants bring out the best writing. A worthy successor to Adam Erace. The Wells Fargo wagon is coming… to be sued. The Police Advisory Com-missing in action. The print headline on this one is totally awesome.
WINNER: Fine work all around this week, but I have to give PW the nod for both a Philly-centric story and for putting a pleather skirt with racing stripes on the cover. Daring.