Life in non-punitive therapeutic civil commitment is not what you think

Duck Soup

Jimmy Pesci, author and publisher of the outlawed blog Duck Soup and its successor FCCC Instigator,

FCCC Instigator2

is one of 6,000 men in this country who, after completing their sentences, are being held indefinitely behind locked doors and razor-wire fences while the Supreme Court assures them that they’re not in prison.  So they’re not called “inmates” but “patients” or “residents.” They’re not incarcerated but “housed” in a non-punitive therapeutic facility. They’re not being punished, they’re being treated.

They’re not overseen by a warden but by an “Executive Director.”  They don’t commit infractions, they “engage in clinically inappropriate behavior.” They’re not subjected to disciplinary proceedings but to “behavioral management hearings.”  Being locked up alone isn’t solitary confinement but “controlled management.”

Indeed, the websites of the mega for-profit corporations that run the Florida Civil Commitment Center (FCCC) make life there sound so attractive you might be tempted to move there yourself. First it was the Geo Group, now it’s the chillingly-named Correct Care Solutions. (You’d think a business devoted to keeping large numbers of people behind barbed wire would avoid the word “solution”).

Duck Soup pricks the therapeutic bubble, deploying critique, anecdotes and cartoons to expose the punitive reality behind the treatment façade:  the head-crackings, the arbitrary rules, the incompetent management that makes life hell for inmates and the rare staff members who try to do a good job.  Like a good investigative reporter, Pesci interviews his sources, distinguishes between mere rumor and matters seen and heard, and tells it like it is, living under a regime that has “allowed security to dominate most aspects of the everyday operations of this facility.”

His attempts to file grievances about the conditions of FCCC are met with the retort, “There appears to be a lot of cognitive distortions in your thinking that needs to be addressed in treatment.” Well, why should anyone listen to a man who’s been classified by a court as “a sexually violent predator likely to engage in future acts of violence if not confined indefinitely”?

Duck Soup doesn’t remotely advise riot or violence. In fact,  Pesci often criticizes his blustering fellow inmates for fighting with each other instead of speaking up:

One of the things that perturbs me the most is that every time another deprecating memorandum is posted on our bulletin boards from the administration with new rules and ultimatums, or those inspection teams walking through the dorms barking orders and threatening disciplinary action, the entire dorm becomes quiet as a church mouse. Where are all the soldiers? Where are all these gangsters that like to run their mouths and are quick to fight other inmates? If the shoe fits, wear it, because you are truly what defines a coward!

It’s said that the sunlight of investigative reporting is the best disinfectant against corruption and incompetence. But to the bureaucratic mind, it’s the ultimate threat. The warden – sorry, the Executive Director – prohibited the inmates from printing Duck Soup unless they supplied their own paper, explaining that his purpose was “to limit access.” A few months later, he declared the blog to be contraband and issued disciplinary – sorry, behavioral management – sanctions against Pesci for having it on his flash drive.

When a new warden took over, Pesci started the FCCC Investigator, a newsletter instead of a blog – inmates now being forbidden all access to the Internet or the sharing of any files. The Instigator sports a more sophisticated format than the Soup, similar to Prison Legal News.  The warden applied his predecessor’s tactic of limiting the number of pages an inmate could print, but claimed it was all about conserving paper and ink. 

Pesci filed a suit in federal court,  protesting the banning of Duck Soup and the attempt to limit access to FCCC Instigator.

As every law student knows, courts apply one of four standards of review when deciding whether the Constitution has been monkeyed with: strict scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny, low-level scrutiny and blind-eye. The latter being the standard for prisoners asserting a deprivation of  First Amendment rights.

The 11th Circuit, or whatever fresh-faced intern wrote the decision, swallowed hook, line and sinker FCCC’s “saving paper” excuse, along with its claim that Pesci’s writings were “incendiary” and “could create a safety issue” (italics in original). After dutifully intoning that “deference to facility administrators and concerns relating to safety and security cannot be used as a pretext to silence undesirable speech,” the decision upholds exactly that. It concludes that since the warden was “genuinely” concerned that Duck Soup might cause “tensions and hostility,” that settled it. No need to ask whether he was reasonably concerned. Or whether whatever tensions and hostility existed in Therapeutic Paradise were caused by Duck Soup and not by the conditions it was reporting.

Duck Soup was originally uploaded to the now defunct http://www.uncomfortabletruth.org. But you can read some of it here and decide for yourself whether it’s Pesci or the bureaucrats who suffer from cognitive distortions.

Duck Soup cartoon

Cartoon by Jimmy Pesci

Jul 2009 Duck Soup

Aug 2009 Duck Soup

Sept 2009 Duck SoupNov 2009 Duck Soup

Dec 2009 Duck Soup

Feb March Duck Soup

April 2010 Duck Soup

June July 2010 Duck Soup

The Instigator Sept 2011

Sept 2014 The Instigator

About Appellate Squawk

A satirical blog for criminal defense lawyers and their friends who won't give up without a squawk.
This entry was posted in Civil Liberties, First Amendment, Law & Parody, Prisoners' rights and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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