Salinas Valley State Prison A4-120
PO BOX 1050 Soledad, CA 93960

February 4, 2023

Jeff Macomber
Secretary, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
1515 S. Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Secretary Macomber,

I would like to introduce myself. My name is Michael Jay Harris (MichaelJayHarris.com) and I must explain to you that I start a lot of shit within prison, within the CDCR, within Salinas Valley State Prison in particular. But it is all in an effort to be a better citizen. To help create a safer and more secure California. To help create a better society. Towards this end, I am writing to you in order to invite you to consider initiating discussions based on the premise that the GTL tablets could be more effectively used for education and rehabilitation and that a redesign of the current classification regime is long overdue. These premises which I will discuss below, are in all reality, nothing more than former conclusions, reimagined.

Certainly there is a fundamental split in society related to an ideological difference of opinion as to whether (a) you need to slap your horse to get it to move, or (b) you should hold a carrot in front of the horse to get the movement you desire. I truly appreciate your personal dilemma to be responsible to the safety and security of all Californians (and the correctional officers), while having to respond to the vast swaths of society who believe that education and rehabilitation are the methods by which a more safe and secure California can be realized.

So, what then could I possibly offer you at this moment in time? I am nothing but a prisoner, yet I am old and I have an ability to articulate the issues I face as a prisoner in CDCR custody. I have pondered these issues at length and now that I may possibly have your attention, I would like to delve deep into the boots on the ground reality of each premise in the hope that you, and the CCPOA, can contemplate and understand that all of the actions of the CDCR are directly related to the success and failure of educational rehabilitative efforts within California’s prisons.

Now, you can be sure I get the contrary view, I get it, people make choices and they lie in a bed of their own making. But if you are not going to kill them straightaway, then society must fix them, or at least, enable them to fix themselves. And even though I believe in “this and that” solutions, I recognize that either/or of the fundamental fact that you can kill them or fix them.

Of course, there is no right held by a prisoner to educational opportunities or rehabilitative programs. However, the fact remains that these programs are critical to fundamental change having a chance to occur. There is no way that California is going to arrest its way out of its current societal problems. California does not have a gun problem; it has a crime problem.

It is a choice problem in all reality. I would go so far as to say it is a leadership problem as well. Thus, I implore you to lead and to seek to not only be aware of the need to teach responsibility and accountability to those in need of correction, but also the need and the desire of Californians to be progressive. And progressiveness requires progress, so that is the real reason I am writing. It is towards this basic goal of a safer and more secure California which I have realized for decades in my beautiful home along the eastern Sierra. We simply have no crime that parallels the realities of urban California.

For prisoners living in their own unreality, it is only by chance or happenstance that he or she, they or them, escape the cycle of crime and incarceration. This change in lifestyle relies on the prudence and providence of others, and these others may not even understand the truth of the unreality prisoners face, at all.

Let’s start with the tablets first. At SVSP, we finally received our tablets but they require connectivity in order to access educational and rehabilitative materials. This issue forces an inmate to choose between music and educational or rehabilitative materials when a choice should be not required. I feel this is pure craziness. I do however understand the need to not allow storage and memory access on the tablets yet my Viapath E-reader from education allows me to read books all day long without any Wi-Fi access. This is the illogicality of the GTL tablet exposed plainly before you. Aside from this storage and accessibility issue though, it is clear to me that the real issue is money.

The battle between GTL and Securex over the tablet contract illuminated the fact that the tablets are all about money, and a fair dose of carceral surveillance. But what about education and rehabilitation? Isn’t that more important to the safety and security of Californians than whether GTL or Securex make tons of money? I sincerely appreciate the goal of the legislature to reestablish familial relationships with Senate Bill 1008 but why is the money factor more important than the core issue of restoring families and making California safer as a result. A more community and family based culture instead of the surrogate STG culture which pervades society currently?

This leads to the discussion which must be had regarding the actual content on the tablets and the wasted opportunity for mental and spiritual growth due to the limitations of availability and accessibility to actual content which can and will make a difference in people’s lives. For example, there is much new content that offers plenty toward helping inmates grow and mature. But there is much room for growth and maturity within the leadership of the CDCR to recognize the extreme need for wholesale change in tactics and strategies based on reality, not speculation and risk assessments.

And much of the content is very welcome, but if you look at the Mormon portion of the Religious Library, I couldn’t help but notice the use of the term Mormon even though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not refer to itself that way. And the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has published 3 volumes of The Saints yet you only have one. This is not even the biggest issue to me though because my biggest issue is that the Church is knee deep in digital content to push to your server related to our weekly lessons and our eternal salvation. And it’s not just my church.

The Mercy and Grace Ministries who lead worship services here at SVSP also have vast amounts of content to place on your server to help people grapple with their life and their eternal salvation as well. And let’s not forget the Muslims and those trying to worship at SVSP. This spiritual component on the tablet is a good start, but it is incomplete nonetheless and ignores the reality that the vast majority of the inmate population cannot read. And they certainly cannot read in a brisk manner such that they may consume and retain important material in one sitting.

The separation of connectivity and learning opportunities must occur so that the inmate population may have unfettered access to digital content. And that digital content must include talking books and podcasts like on audible.com so that the inmate population can learn and grow. Instructive and informative digital content will allow the transformational growth of the individual to occur which is what society seeks in the first place.

Certainly, a good place to start would be to include “Thinking for a Change” as a tablet offering. The book “The Road Less Traveled” should be required reading as well. There really is no excuse they there is not more being done to transform the inmate population through the use of the tablets.

This now leads to the classification issue I have also mentioned. I am a strong advocate for a new classification system that replaces the current antiquated system. The current classification approach, which has been decried as out of touch by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, relies on decades old data and research. I have mentioned to Lt. Poodry on facility A at SVSP (who really knows what is going on) that what is needed is a point system for inmates based conceptually on the bid system used by the correctional officers to rank themselves in order to get better job placements and shift assignments.

I have discussed with Lt. Poodry, and others, the fact that incentivizing prisoners by giving them “brownie points” for self-help group and educational or vocational effort and then using a behavioral multiplier would give a truer sense of an inmates reformative efforts. Then, by granting favorable housing, food, and amenities to inmates based on their efforts as indicated by their ranking would seem to be a reasonable and intuitive solution.

Our whole society is based upon personal growth and the rewards derived there from so why is prison different? Why is the sole determinant Rules Violation Reports which can be issued based on whim and whimsy and can never realistically be challenged due to the “some evidence” standard? It’s simple. It’s the one-size-fits-all approach and it is damn easy right?

It is worth point out at this stage that nobody cares about prisoner issues except prisoners, and maybe their families and friends. So, when you throw a bunch of dysfunctional and socially inept prisoners together and tell them to “handle it like men,” they rarely do. So, then the whole “men” concept becomes important to understand. Men who have an STF mindset are not the same as men who are out to become functional and beneficial members of society.

This re-indoctrination of prisoners who possess an antisocial mindset into the reality of society’s expectations must occur in steps and requires the use of incentivization with the ever-present consequences of having less in order to foster the making of good choices. Making good choices is the very essence of responsibility. The inmate population of the CDCR’s prisons are diverse, as is society, yet the actuality in prison is that there is racial and cultural diversity within the various cohorts proposed by my new classification scheme.

It will just require a little bit more work. Not a lot, just a little. I have proposed a survey database similar to COMPAS which will allow the CDCR to classify, house, and correct wayward souls, in a manner which leads to their success. And I have previously defined success as a person’s ability to benefit themselves, their family, and society itself. And so I must conclude this verbose diatribe with something which has always suck in my mind, and that is that we must live today as though we will die tomorrow but we must learn today as though we will live forever.

Shortsightedness is always present when there is no hope. And a person without hope is a dangerous person. Therefore, I implore you to help create a safer and more secure California by committing yourself to discussions related to my wishes expressed here with others who are “in the know” because everyone in California will agree, things must change because things as they currently stand are completely unacceptable.

Thank you for your time and service,

Michael Jay Harris

cc: Sam Bailey,
President, Soledad Branch,
Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints;
Doug Chase,
Mercy and Grace Ministries;
Lt. Poodry


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