Waiting To Die Behind Bars

Jack Allen is a sixty two year old man, and he lives in a Florida prison.  Twenty years ago, in the spring of 1997, he was arrested for Burglary with Simple Battery.  In order for Jack to complete the sentence he was ultimately given, he must die.  If a person gets ‘life’ in the state of Florida, like Jack did, it doesn’t matter if they are twenty years old or fifty – they will live to die in prison.  It also doesn’t matter if they feel remorse or if they dedicate themselves to helping their fellow inmates.  It doesn’t matter if they take every class the prison has to offer.  Nothing they do matters.

There was life before prison for Jack Allen.  There was life before children and marriage and responsibilities.  There was childhood.  For Jack there were some challenges from the beginning.  He tells of being molested by a babysitter when he was three years old.  From the age of eleven, he learned how to deal with foster care, low income housing and being on welfare.

A child’s mind isn’t normally well equipped for those types of things, as they maneuver through life and its growing pains.  None of us can really know how it felt to be that little boy, or the growing man who didn’t know how to process the things he went through and instead attempted to numb himself with alcohol and drugs.

I don’t know much about the case that he is serving Life for.  There are questions, but more important than the questions, to me, is that Jack has served enough time for Burglary with Simple Battery, regardless of the case.

Jack Allen describes a Life Sentence in Florida like this:

“It becomes worse and worse after every court denial, every death in the family, every marriage missed, every child born without you there.  Special days like graduations and so forth are just nails in your coffin.  Each passing day, more dirt is thrown on your grave, you are dead, and your body just does not know it yet.”  

In the twenty years that he has been in prison, Jack Allen has lost three brothers, a sister and a mother.  He is sixty two years old and is not in the best of health.  The little boy who had more than his fair share of troubles, grew into a man that leaned on things he shouldn’t have and found himself in prison.  He was charged with Burglary and Simple Battery, has spent about a third of his life behind bars and as it stands, he will never again be free, no matter how old or feeble he gets.  The state of Florida intends to incarcerate him until his last breath.

If you would like to read more about the details of Jack Allen’s case and sign a petition in support of his release, click HERE.

John 19:16b “So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.”

On the 18th of January this year, I watched as my beloved friend of two years handed himself over to the squad of correctional officers in order that he might be executed.  Before the officers came to get my friend, we celebrated Holy Communion together.  He was grateful to celebrate communion one more time and hear the words that he was God’s beloved.

We knew our time was drawing to an end, so I asked my friend, “If people ask me about you, what should I say?” With a quick laugh and broad smile he said, “Tell them I know Jesus.” Ahhh yes, my friend knew Jesus and Jesus knew him.  I called him my “theological partner” as he uniquely was able to show me facets of God and Scripture that I just could not see. His life had been redeemed and transformed by our all-loving and all-merciful God.  His smile beamed God’s unconditional and immeasurable love every single time I was with him.

Then I asked him one last question, “When you look back over your life, what are you most grateful for?” Without hesitation he said, “For the unconditional love of God, of friends, and especially of family. I feel everyone’s love right now, and it is overwhelming to me. I can’t be grateful enough.” I then told him, “I am grateful for your friendship, your unbounded love for me, and your laughter. I love you so much.” To which he replied, “I love you more.” And I ended, as I always did, with a forthright, “Impossible!”

I was then got escorted out of the cell area and around to the observation room by one of the correctional officers. The observation room was already packed with people.  On the back row there was a seat left just for me. Everyone stared as I sat down. The room was closed and hot; it was like sitting in an oven. There were windows along the right hand side and in front of us. Everyone just sat and stared at an empty gurney; sweat rolled down my back.

After a few minutes, my friend walked into the execution chamber with his head bowed and with his shoulders slumped. There was nothing about him that made him look like a threat to the six or so officers in charge of him. Nonetheless, the officers moved as if he was challenging them. They quickly and forcefully pinned him to the table and strapped him down, each officer assigned a strap, as strap after strap after strap was fastened on top of his body. Maybe they were afraid of some last minute recoil to the macabre proceedings, but he did not do anything to warrant their fear-filled and anxiety ridden actions. They also were all wearing safety glasses, as if waiting for my beloved friend to spit on them – something he would never do.

Once my friend was lying on the table, arms outstretched and completely restrained, a curtain was closed between the witness room window and the execution chamber. We then sat in that sweltering room for the longest 35 minutes of my life. For those 35 minutes all we did was stare at the curtain before us without any idea what was happening on the other side. Whispered requests were made to find out what was going on behind that awful curtain, but it was clear that no one was going to be allowed out of the room.

I slipped my shoes off as I knew that it was holy ground that I was standing on and wanted to treat it as such. I opened my Bible, but I was having a hard time reading it. I flipped to Psalm 46 and read, “Be still and know that I am God.” I repeated it over and over again as a prayer for my friend and as a prayer for me as I stared at the evil curtain in front of me.

Finally the curtain was pulled back and my friend was asked if he had any final words. He said a simple, “Nope.” He had told me earlier that he felt like his words of regret, respect, and apology in a much publicized video before this dreadful hour best conveyed his feelings. I let him know that those words of sorrow were indeed enough. My friend tried to lift his head from the table.

Unfortunately, because the table was parallel to the ground and his body was so tied down, he could only lift his head up an inch or maybe two. Despite the sign that stated “Stay silent. Stay seated” which was prominently displayed above all of us in the observation room, I stood because I had promised to beam love on him until the very end. I had assumed that he was trying to find my face amongst the crowd gathered in the tiny observation room. However, he was only able to hold his head up for a second or two and therefore, I assumed that, sadly, he was unable to see me. Tears were forming in my eyes that I doggedly refused to let fall. And yet there was also a determination in my heart that I would do all I could to let him know that I loved him.

Everyone who was in the execution room with my friend was staring down at their shoes, only glancing over to see him every once in a while. There were two people manning two different phones that were speaking to whoever was on the other end. They were speaking in short phrases, with their silence making up the majority of their conversation. I was so angry that everyone was just standing there – expressionless – and yet witnessing the killing of my beloved friend. I could sense their humanity being drained.

As we all looked on, we had no idea when they started administering the lethal chemicals, as that was controlled from behind yet another curtain. The person pushing the drugs through my friend’s IV could do so behind that curtain of secrecy and shame. My friend started to sob, and I once again forced my tears to stay within my body. I heard a snore, and I saw my friend’s chest move up and down. After a few minutes, an officer pinched my friend’s toes and then took his slippers off of his feet. I am still clueless as to why this officer thought that these two things were so important to do.

I was repeating, in my mind, “Go in God’s love. Go in God’s love. Go in God’s love.” And yet in my heart, I felt like all of us were being tortured and wounded as we looked on at this killing of another human being.

The prison staff members around my beloved friend continued to look on with blank and unaffected stares. The officer who took off his slippers just stared straight ahead. The whole scene was absurd and devoid of any semblance of humanity.

We continued to hear snores and then watched as his chest no longer moved. It seemed like a very long time before the “doctor” came around the back curtain with his stethoscope in order to pronounce my friend dead. At 9:42 p.m. they finally told us that he was deceased. They pulled the curtain closed once again so I could no longer see my beloved friend. The proceedings were over. We all could stand up and make our way out of the prison.

It was then that several of the staff members left the witness room and walked behind the curtain into the execution chamber. Earlier that night, just after I arrived at the prison, I had asked for permission to say a few words over my friend’s body to commend his spirit to God’s all loving hands. My request was denied. So when these staff members walked into the execution chamber, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “THEY CAN GO IN THERE AND SEE HIS BODY, BUT I CAN’T COMMEND HIS SPIRIT TO GOD?! Are you freakin’ kidding me?!?!?” I was seething. I wanted to find a space to break down and sob the tears that were welling up inside of me, but I knew that I would have to hold them in and wait until I was finally alone.

Jesus, too, had to hand himself over to the soldiers and let them take charge of him. The truth of executions are that your body is no longer your own. Your body becomes the property of the state. Those in charge can do with your body what they will. The one being executed is told to comply with all of the orders of those in charge. And as onlookers you are told to stay in your place and just look on as the horrific happens in front of you. Only the state is in control, and they will maintain that control at all costs. Sadly, I can only imagine that this prison looked just like other prisons, and I assume that those who took part behaved just like other correctional officers and prison staff in this country who are given the task of killing another human being.

Those who watched this appalling drama play out in front of us did a lot of “cross watching.” And, by the way, I don’t think it is an accident that we execute men and women on a gurney that is in the shape of a cross. Just as Jesus experienced, some of us are sitting under the cross begging for a gracious God to end the suffering of one we love so much. And then, somehow, we try to deal with the fact that we are willing our beloved friend to die. How does one do that? Shouldn’t you be praying for them to somehow live?

And there were others who were “cross watching” in the room who were surely praying that my dear friend go straight to hell.  About a month prior to my friend’s execution, he asked for me to do the following: “Please pray for those who hate me and want me to die.” “Yes, I will, but what makes you think of that?” I asked. He simply said, “Well, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. I am afraid they are going to sin if they want me dead. I don’t want my execution to cause anyone to sin.” With tears welling in my eyes, I put my hand on my beloved friend’s arm and said, “Yes, I will do that. Of course I will.”

When we are a society that kills, we make even the most loving person who is opposed to the death penalty complicit with murder. We only inflict more harm on those gathered around the cross – those gathered around the prison – no matter which side of the death penalty debate they are on. We continue the victimization instead of putting an end to the victimization that has already occurred. Killing another human being solves absolutely nothing. Nothing. It only inflicts more harm on those of us who have looked on or who have stood vigil outside of the prison.

It also says that we do not believe in transformation. It says that your life stopped when you committed your crime. No hope for redemption. No chance for renewal. None. You are your crime and that is that. As a Christ follower, however, I staunchly believe that, in Christ, ALL can be made new – the old has passed away and behold the new creation is sitting right in front of me. I can easily believe this because I continue to have a front row seat at what transformation looks like – I see their faces – I know their names.

Forever, the tape will be playing in my mind of that horrendous scene of my friends’ execution. Forever, I will see and hear my friend on that dreadful gurney. Forever, I am inwardly marked by enormous grief. And yet, if you asked me to do it all over again, I would be there in a heartbeat. I was determined that, although the courts condemned my friend, he would know that he was loved unconditionally, not only by me, but more importantly, by an all-gracious and all-merciful God who claimed him and called him “my beloved son.”

 

Since When Is Vengeance Ours? – Thoughts On The Death Penalty

I don’t want to think about it – that was my stance, and it worked.  Till now.  The last fork in the road has me looking at terrain I never wanted to think about before.

I believe there have been people who were sent to live for decades on death row, and they were later cleared.  I believe there have also been people ‘railroaded’ on to death row when prosecutors needed to find a ‘killer’.  So – that makes me ask, what about those who were innocent, and never cleared?  Or those who were ‘railroaded’ and unable to afford a good defense?  Are they just collateral damage?

Okay, if I think further, I see a twisted irony in a planned, orchestrated, guests invited, mark the calendar ‘life taking’.

A group of people decide someone should die.  A court signs off on it.  Paperwork is filed.  People escort someone to their death.  Someone initiates the death.  Does that killing stain the soul of every hand involved?  I believe the act makes us less human.  I think it damages the people involved more than it heals the victims.  I still remember a baby bird I accidentally killed thirty years ago.

I have an opinion now.  I am going on record.  If anyone should ever harm me, I don’t want anyone to have a hand in taking their life.  To do that would make my life the cause of suffering. To do that would damage the souls of everyone involved.   Don’t do that in my honor.

Those are my thoughts on the death penalty.

Army Vet Dies While Jail Staff Ignore Pleas For Help And Cellmates Comfort Dying Man

Doug Edmisten was a ‘burly’ man, fifty years old, and a veteran of the United States Army.   He drove a motorcycle and made a living building sheds.  A simple man, it seems, not a man of a lot of means.   He did have a couple open warrants, though, for DWI and leaving the scene of an accident in which no one was injured.

His open warrants got him arrested in New Mexico.  After his arrest he was placed in the Cibola County Detention Center to await a trial.

The pictures of the pod he was housed in show bunks lining the walls, one against the other, cement floors, and picnic table looking furniture.  That’s where he lived for about three weeks before he died.

Doug, the man who served our country in the Army, became ill.  As they should have, the men living with him reported that he wasn’t feeling well.

That was at 10:14 p.m.   At that time, an employee recorded that Doug was ‘notably pale’ and his ‘skin also appeared yellow’.  He reported to the staff that he had vomited blood.   I am not a medical professional, but common sense tells me vomiting blood is a medical emergency.  If I were to witness someone vomiting blood, I would be concerned their life was in danger.  I did an internet search to see if I was unique.  ‘Is vomiting blood a medical emergency’ was what I searched.  Without exception – the results all reported that vomiting blood is a medical emergency.

Doug was taken to medical at 10:54.  While he was there his pulse was recorded at 144 beats per minute.   If the pulse did not concern the medical staff, Mr. Edmisten also vomited blood while he was in medical.

It was determined he should be sent back to his cell.  He was unable to walk there by himself, so he was held up by two guards.

The men he lived with were much more compassionate than the staff at the Cibola County Detention Center.  They not only pleaded for help for their cellmate, they also can be seen in video footage holding hands and conducting a prayer circle for him.  They can be seen trying to soften his fall when he rolled from his bed.  They are seen cradling his head and holding a bible.  The inmates tended to Doug Edmisten with compassion and care with all they had at their disposal, which was prayer and an offer of comfort.

It was 3:32 when prisoners reported that his condition had actually worsened.  If vomiting blood was a medical emergency, Doug was beyond that.  His ‘eyes were rolling back’.  When a medical professional, someone whose job it is to care for the inmates housed at the jail, arrived, she saw Doug on a toilet, defecating blood.  A decision was made to wheel him back to medical.  At this point, he was unresponsive.

What I would have seen as a man dying, was dismissed, and Doug was taken back to his cell after fifteen minutes.

At 4:21 a.m. a guard found Doug on the floor.  His head was on the lap of a fellow inmate.   Another man was reading from a Bible.  The guard left.

It is reported that the inmates told staff at 4:58 that Doug was no longer breathing.  He was determined to be dead by a staff member.

State police were called at 5:07 a.m.

At 5:26 a staff member checked Edmisten and detected a slight pulse.

Emergency services were finally called, about seven hours after Doug’s cellmates first reported that he was ill.  Doug Edmisten was dead when help finally arrived.

Doug, an Army vet, a United States citizen, a burly man who built sheds and rode a motorcycle, was in jail awaiting a court date for a DWI, and the staff at the jail allowed him to die under their care, as his fellow cellmates cradled his body, pleaded for help, and formed a prayer circle.

RESOURCES

Swenson, Kyle. “Lawsuit Alleges New Mexico Jailers Let Inmate Awaiting DWI Court Date Bleed to Death.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 12 July 2017. Web. 23 July 2017.

Sharing My Thoughts From Inside The Cesspool of IDOC Part II

We break the rules, not to be assholes that just want to get in trouble, but out of a need to be as comfortable as possible in such a lonely, cold, dark and very oppressive and restricted environment.

There is a rule for ‘trading and trafficking’ which is selling, trading, sharing, giving, letting each other borrow, use, see, hear and have anything we have, make, get. etc.  In the hole we are limited to only certain personal property items. In most holes you cannot have a TV or radio, so reading is a big pastime that helps.  Some prisons do not have libraries and the ones that do have a system that is a catch 22, more trouble and risk to use than not, so many guys find other ways to acquire reading materials. There are some non-profit organizations that will send free books if your particular prison allows it. Some prisoners are blessed and fortunate to have family or friends in the free world whom care and send them reading materials or money to purchase such items, but a lot of prisoners don’t have that.  We will share reading materials with each other, but this is against the rules.  We do it anyway.

Food is nasty in prison, and in IDOC we don’t eat any red meat or pork. We are fed a lot of turkey by-products and soy stuff that is not appetizing!  So, again, in the hole – where, for some reason, the portions of horrible food is smaller – grown men get hungry, so they trade food items. I might not eat something that someone else does, and visa versa, so we trade, which is against the rules. Those of us who are blessed and fortunate to have money sent to us, are able to buy food items off the commissary to make meals with. We are not all heartless bastards, as many think, and we share and give some commissary food items to buddies or guys whom do not have money to buy these things. We have all been there, and a little generosity goes a long way.  Sometimes, a lot of us will pitch in commissary food items and make a big meal together. We love making foot long burritos and cakes. But, again, these things are against the rules, and it can land us in the hole from 30 days to six months, but we do it anyway, because it’s a petty rule and not done with malicious intent, but rather part of trying to be as comfortable as possible.

Local churches, restaurants, organizations, etc., will sometimes donate food intended ‘for the prisoners’.  They may have excess, day old, or expired items which are real food items, generally the kind of things not seen or served in prison – things like pork, steaks, pastries, vegetables (not normally served), ice cream, drinks, etc.  But 99% of this food is not served to us. It is fed to the officers for their enjoyment, and even given away to them.  Leftovers that are not deemed enough to serve to the entire prison population will be, literally, thrown away – even though some good people were generous enough to donate it for the purpose of feeding the prisoners.

IDOC is not only corrupt, lazy and deceitful, but it is also wasteful. Millions of tax dollars are wasted and thrown away by the system on a daily basis.  A lot of prisoners in the general population will steal food from the kitchen and sell it to other prisoners.  Some of the officers and staff actually allow certain prisoners to take the excess food or make their own meals since they work in the kitchen, and they will even use the prisoners to make them a good meal. So prisoners will prepare great meals like steak with fries, real beef hamburgers with cheese and actual fresh tomato, lettuce, onions, jalapenos, and bell peppers (items we never get), fried chicken with seasonings, chicken quesadillas with onions, jalapenos, tomatoes, bell peppers, hot sauce, several types of cheeses, fried broccoli and cauliflower with ranch dressing, and even a real salad with lettuce, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, celery, cucumbers, cheese, mushrooms, yummy! (Something we never get). So guys will break the rules to wheel and deal, paying $3.00 to $5.00 for a special meal made that is against the rules – but, oh so, so worth it!!!

When I was in general population, guys liked my style of art and would commission art projects and they loved my cards which were in high demand, so much so that I was a bit overwhelmed and had to maintain lists and even then would only do business with certain guys.  I bartered my artwork for real food with a bunch of kitchen workers, too.  My last cellmate didn’t have any outside support, nor did he go to commissary, so I made sure he got to eat with me. This is against the rules, but it’s what we do to be as comfortable as possible, in a place where the officers get to enjoy the food donated to the prisoners.  It’s not right, so we do what is necessary for us to do to feel human in this oppressive, restrictive and dehumanizing prison system.

I mentioned how I’m good at making some creative cards that prisoners like.  Guys think about their kids and family, wives and loved ones all the time, and they want to send something nice to them.  They are willing to pay, trade, barter and hustle for it. There are many, many talented artists of all kinds in prison and many others who are creative in other ways. Guys make all kinds of beautiful artwork, paintings, drawings, cards, roses, models, paper jewelry boxes, bracelets, rings, necklaces, pillows and other cool items, sometimes, literally, out of nothing.  But other guys do not have such talents, and they will obtain art from other prisoners to send to their loved ones. Again, this is against the rules and it can land us in the hole anywhere from 30 days to a year, all for something petty, nonviolent, not malicious and done with only good intentions.

THIS STORY CONTINUES…. STAY TUNED FOR PART THREE……

 

Bullying Ends In Tragedy And Sends Seventeen Year Old Boy To Prison For Life

Louis Singleton

If you talked to some folks in Mobile, Alabama, back in 90’s, they may have told you that Louis Singleton was one of the best athletes to come through their town.  Louis had a bright future in front of him, and lots of promise.  He was born in 1976, the son of a brick mason and a high school teacher.  His parents were separated, but Louis, the youngest of two children, grew up in a middle class, stable home.   He had average grades in school, held a summer job, and participated in varsity football and basketball programs.

Louis was heavy into sports from the beginning.  He wasn’t an angel, but he wasn’t trouble either.  He was typical.  He got a speeding ticket once because he was running late to summer school.  He also got in trouble for disorderly conduct when he was sixteen, due to a fight.  But, for the most part, things were looking very good for him midway into his junior year of high school.  His eye was on being the starting quarterback for his high school football team the following year.   Yes, Louis had dreams – big ones.

He never made it to that quarterback position though.  The years of dreaming came to an end the night before his eighteenth birthday.   It didn’t start that night though – the trouble started almost a year before then.  Louis had no idea it was going to end up changing his life in an instant.  He never saw it coming.

The train started going off the track for Louis in the spring of 1993.  There was a girl.  She was known as Meme.   Meme had just broken up with her boyfriend, Kendrick Martin.  Derrick Conner, Louis’ close friend, began dating Meme.  Kendrick Martin didn’t like that.   Louis was involved by association.

The first time things turned physical was during an altercation at a gas station.  Louis and Derrick were there, and Louis went inside to pay for gas and pick up a couple snacks, leaving Derrick outside.   When he came back out, Derrick and Kendrick were going at it.  It was over Meme, and Louis remembers telling Kendrick, “Man, you tripping about one female, when it’s plenty of fishes in the sea.”  Kendrick didn’t take that well.

It wasn’t long before all their paths crossed again.  Derrick Conner and Louis were leaving a local convenience store when Kendrick Martin was pulling into the parking lot.  According to Louis, Kendrick got out of his car and began shooting at Derrick and Louis with a gun as the boys were pulling away.

Louis Singleton was shot at more than once by Kendrick Martin.  Nelson Tucker, the state’s own witness, testified that he was with Kendrick Martin and had shot at Louis Singleton with a gun that he obtained from Kendrick Martin.  Tucker also stated that he was present on two separate occasions when a pistol was fired at Louis.

By Louis’ account of that time, Kendrick Martin pointed a gun in his direction and shot at him on three different occasions, two of these incidents being confirmed by the prosecution’s own witness.   He also reported an incident where Kendrick Martin pulled a gun from a book bag and pointed it at his head.  There was another day in a fast food parking lot, when Louis was in a vehicle, and Kendrick was striking the car windows with a crow bar.

There is nothing that can be said about the tragic events that took place on January 11, 1994, that will excuse what happened that day.  A life was taken, and another altered forever in the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant in Mobile, Alabama.  Reading the transcripts, I take away that there was confusion in that parking lot.  There were a lot of people gathered after a high school game, and Louis perceived he was in danger after seeing Kendrick and his friends and hearing some things that were said.  No one can know exactly what was going on in anyone’s minds, and different witnesses said different things, but I think  it is fair to say that if there had not been months of bullying leading up to that day, it simply never would have happened.   Louis, the seventeen year old boy with so much promise, had a gun.  He felt threatened that night, as he had on many occasions over the previous months, and shot at Kendrick, Tucker and another man they were with, Johnathan Martin.   A pattern had been set leading up to that day, leaving Louis feeling the need to defend himself around Kendrick and his friends.  So when words were said and movements were made, he felt cornered and threatened, whether he was or not.  In his mind – he was.

Kendrick Jermaine Martin died from a gunshot wound to the neck. Johnathan Allen Martin was shot once in the neck area and was paralyzed from the waist down as a result.  Nelson L. Tucker was shot three times and was hospitalized for four days and released.

It’s twenty three years later.  The court transcripts described Louis as a boy who, ‘enjoyed a favorable reputation within his community’.  He was evaluated before his trial by the Strickland Youth Center, and they determined that he ‘did not appear to be a behavioral problem’.

Louis Singleton spent his eighteenth birthday in a Mobile Detention Center and has been incarcerated ever since.  In the twenty three years since then, he has obtained his GED, studied brick masonry, anger management and self awareness.  He has also worked with nurses in the prison healthcare system.   And he’s been incarcerated for well over half of his life.   Louis was sentenced to two life sentences and twenty years, to be served consecutively.

Louis didn’t want things to end this way.  Louis Singleton sought help long before that night, from parents, the police, and the school principal.  A seventeen year old boy sought help from the people who were responsible for protecting him.  He did the things he was supposed to do, but those in a position to protect him did not do what they were supposed to.

Louis’ Mom

What stands out from my conversations with Louis is what happened after he drove home that night.  This is what he told me, “My mind was racing with thoughts that I couldn’t even grasp mentally.  I just went home and sat in the house with all the lights out, scared to move, don’t know what to do nor to say.  My mom was gone to a choir convention in Mississippi during the time of the incident.  While I sat in our house quietly and somberly in the front room, my mother pulled up with no clue of what just happened.   When she came in the door, turned to lock the door, I was sitting there in the dark room.  I scared her out of her wits.  As a mother who knew her child, she instantly asked me, ‘Boy, what’s wrong with you sitting in here with all the lights out?’  I was so discombobulated I honestly couldn’t speak, it seemed like somebody had my soul…”

Louis’ mother never had a chance to have her son home again, and has since passed.  They were close, and Louis Singleton will live with the memory of sitting in that dark room and having to tell his mom what happened etched in his memory forever.  He has spent twenty three years in an Alabama prison reliving that day and the months that led up to it, hoping to wake up every morning and have it all be a dream.  He will spend the rest of his life knowing the impact he has had on people, their families and his own.  Nothing will bring back the man who died that night or heal the man who was paralyzed, but the burden of what took place that night should not have been placed solely on the shoulders of a seventeen year old kid who had never been in any trouble.   A seventeen year old kid went into prison after shooting at the man who terrorized him for nearly a year, sentenced to spend every breath for the rest of his life in an Alabama prison, until the day he dies, never knowing what it means to live free again.  How is that tragedy going to make what happened on that night in 1994 any less tragic?

Views From Inside

When I read this journal, I knew it had a place here, and I am grateful to the author for sharing it.  There are so many ‘words’ that we use – prison, incarceration, jail, etc.  None of them paint the picture though.  The picture can’t be painted in a word, and probably not even on a blog.  I mean no offense to those that serve our country and defend our freedom when I say that this is not the land of the free for so many – not when we are the most incarcerated nation in the world.  I honestly believe that the government is doing our servicemen and women a great disservice by turning our nation into one that is caging a large segment of our population and destroying hope and families.  Our country is worth fighting for, and we are so much more than this.  We have compassion and there is more strength in compassion than strong arming, any day of the week.  We ARE the land of the free, and as citizens we need to demand that our government remember that.

So, here’s to a new catagory on this site –Views From The Inside.  This is Part One from a journal by Gerard G. Schultz, Jr., titled, Sharing My Thoughts from Inside the Cesspool of IDOC.

Survival: The Necessity Of Breaking The Rules

People on the outside barely get a glimpse of the surface of what life is like in prison and all the things we must do to survive. Survive mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, educationally, socially, financially, and comfortably, as much as possible, under these circumstances.

Life in prison is a constant paradox, not always in black and white or truly understandable to people on the outside, and sometimes not even to ourselves. We are called many things, from inmates to offenders, detainees, wards, convicted felons, prisoners and convicts. Prison is full of convicted felons and criminals, which are not the same. There are innocent people in here, there are guilty people in here.   There are good people in here and bad people in here. Many have made mistakes and others bad decisions. There are good prisoners and bad corrections officers, and there are bad prisoners and good corrections officers.

Prison is a menagerie that is overcrowded, yet still a very lonely place. The daily life can be very monotonous, robotic and boring. It can be loud, chaotic, stuffy and scary. Gloominess, depression and the flu are contagious in here. We were punished by the courts to serve time in prison, but upon entering prison, we learn immediately that prison is full of additional punishments and restrictions that we are oppressed by. The conditions of our confinement are inhumane, the food is horrible, and every moment of every day is unpredictable. I’ve learned to live in the moment, yes, I have hopes, wishes, and dreams like anyone else, but in here, we learn that tomorrow and many other things are not guaranteed.

Survival is just not the physical dangers we face, but we must survive mentally, emotionally, spiritually and financially. Prison is a cash cow that milks us for every penny we are lucky enough to get. Many of those in society believe we have it good in prison, life is easier, that the government provides us this or that – which is just not true at all. The state put us in prison, so they are legally responsible for providing us some of the bare necessities that they have physically deprived us of the ability to obtain for ourselves.

By IDOC (Illinois Dept of Corrections) policy (though they bend, break and do not follow their own rules, policies, laws and procedures) we are supposed to receive three pairs of pants (not always new), three blue shirts with buttons (not always new), three white t-shirts (one time only, you must buy your own after that), three pairs of socks, three pairs of boxers, a coat during the winter time (if you come in outside of winter, but it is raining or cold, you are out of luck) and one pair of thin deck slip on shoes, which we call Gilligan shoes or Jan Brady’s. We also are to receive two sheets, one pillow case, one towel, one washcloth, and one wool blanket. We can submit a clothing exchange once every six months for new boxers, socks and shoes, everything else will be used.

There are seven days in the week, and only once a week do they do laundry, a communal service – you turn it in one day and get it back the next day or so. Three pairs of clothes is not enough for the week, so we must buy our socks, underwear, and t-shirts.  If you want warm clothing or maybe shorts to wear in your cell or to go out and exercise with, you must puchase them yourself.  You must purchase your own baseball cap, beanies, ear warmers, gloves, thermals, sweatshirt and pants, real shoes that last longer than a month, or boots to work in or to walk in the snow. The communal laundry service is once a week, on a designated day, depending on where you are at. We have a personal laundry bag, a mesh bag, that they also give us one time only. We put all of our dirty laundry in there, colors and whites together, tie it up, and they are all washed just like that. We must purchase laundry soap to wash our clothes by hand, and if our prison doesn’t allow or sell laundry soap, we must improvise by using body soap to clean our clothes. It’s better to wash by hand so your clothes don’t smell, make you itch, and don’t turn brownish grey as they do in the communal laundry.

It’s ironic they sell us laundry soap, because if we wash our own laundry by hand, we have no way to dry it. So we break the rules. Part of survival is to try to have some sense of comfort and normalcy, so we break the rules. Why is it against the rules? Well, in a lot of prisons, especially IDOC, we are not allowed to hang things in our cells, not even wet clothing. Most cells in IDOC are not set up with any storage shelving, tables to write on, shelves for appliances, hooks to hang clothing, etc., as some prisons do. So, even to hang and dry out wet towels and wash clothes, we have to hang them on a makeshift clothesline. We use a variety of things, from shoe strings, torn strips of sheets, or strings out of the waist bands of our boxers or socks to make clotheslines. It’s a risk we can get a disciplinary ticket for, anything from unauthorized property, destruction of state property, possession of dangerous contraband or even security obstruction. We can get anywhere from 30 days to a year in the hole, locked down in solitary confinement and losing all privileges, such as phone, commissary, contact visits.  It’s a risk we take just to have clean laundry. Prison is a very dirty place, yet we are forced to take risks and break rules just to do something as simple as our laundry by hand.

On that same note, locked in a small cell with another person, there is little room for privacy. Our toilet is literally right next to our bunks, six inches to maybe a foot away. We hang up sheets to block our view of the toilet whenever we use it, as a courtesy to the other person. This is against the rules for the same reasons as stated above, and carries the same punishment. But it is a necessary risk, because we are being respectful to one another.  We don’t want to watch one another use the toilet or wash up in the cell. This kind of respect for each other also stops any unecessary violence from erupting in that kind of situation.  We even do a courtesy flush every time you drop in order to lessen the linger of stink in the cell, and we never use the toilet when one or the other is eating.

Part of survival is breaking the rules, it is necessary to be respectful, comfortable and avoid violence.