I visited Los Angeles County Prison this Thursday as part of the research I'm doing for an article on Alonza Rydell Thomas. It's a sprawling campus with 4,700 inmates squeezed into a facility with a maximum capacity of 2,200. I saw beds stacked three tiers occupying all available gym and day-room space. Because of the overcrowding, even medium security prisoners are often only able to go into the yard for two hours a day.
There was one point of light, however: the honor yard. Lancaster is the only prison in the state with an honor yard reserved for well-disciplined prisoners serving life with little chance of parole. Virtually every inmate on honor status is a convicted murderer. To be on the honor yard a prisoner must spend five years incarcerated without incident, have no active gang affiliation, express willingness to program with inmates of any race, and be drug free.
Operation Procedure 00-762 states - What characterizes the Honor Program is not the relaxation of discipline but the consistent and voluntary embrace of discipline so that certain collective and personal goals can be more effectively attained.
There is a sense of order and resigned calm. Men sit outside playing cards or exercising or in the art studio watching a painting video. Other inmates repair glasses donated by the Lions Club that are then sent to those in need all over the world. In the honor yard the inmates mix freely. What makes the honor yard so desirable is the character of the inmates.
Here are some paintings done by honor yard inmate Harlan King. For information on purchasing inmate art (proceeds go to charitable causes) contact Lucinda Thomas, Arts and Corrections facilitator, 44750 60th Street West, Lancaster, CA 93536-7620.