All posts by kimberleyann

Andre Williams, Serving Forty Years Based On Court’s Acknowledged Error

“I just want to watch my grandkids grow up,” Andre Williams recently told a friend.  It’s not a lot to want, but for Andre it might be impossible.  Just as impossible as it was to watch his own kids grow up.  Williams is just over halfway through a forty year prison sentence.  It’s not hard to understand how he got to prison, what’s hard to understand is why they won’t let him out.

Andre’s beginnings were humble.  He was the last of nine children, born to a mother who struggled with addiction.  She’d fallen victim to the poverty of the world she lived in.  When Andre was born in 1970, he was brought into a neighborhood plagued with drugs, violence, and the hopelessness that comes with it.  Gangs and dealing drugs were a way of life.

Without the stability some people take for granted, Williams struggled in school and had a hard time fitting in.  There was one place he felt at home though, and that was in the care of his grandmother, Mary.  She ran her home with a firm hand, but also a sense of welcome and concern.  At fourteen years old, Williams lost the home she provided when she passed away.  Soon after, he quit going to school.   Andre wanted to support himself, and he began doing it the only way he knew how.  The most successful people in his neighborhood were dealing drugs for a living.

Drug dealing may have been the way Andre made ends meet, but his mother said he had a ‘sweet heart’ like his daddy.  His hard life had taught him compassion.  If he could avoid hurting anybody, he would.  Violence was a part of the lifestyle he lived in, but violence wasn’t a part of him.  He’d seen what the streets had done to too many in his family.  If somebody he cared about needed something and he could do something about it, he would.   He didn’t hold grudges, and tried to see the reasons why people behaved the way they did.   He would try to lift people’s spirits when he could.  He was a drug dealer because that is what life dealt him, but he was a drug dealer with a heart.  To this day, he is still known as a ‘good guy’.

There weren’t just drugs in the Chicago neighborhood Andre lived in. There were also crooked cops.  Too often, people who were supposed to be authority figures became just as much a part of the life.  Some officers would rather take their share of the profits than bring somebody in.   There are unethical people everywhere, and in a neighborhood where money is flowing back and forth on the streets, a badge doesn’t mean you are immune, and some officers had a price.   A drug dealer wasn’t really in a position to report a theft, and everybody knew it.  So, in 1991 when one officer began a four year investigation as a dirty cop – it wasn’t hard to believe.  They had seen it before.

Year in and year out, thousands of dollars and man hours later – the government had built a case.   It helped when a few of those charged chose to cooperate, saying whatever they needed to say to save themselves.  It happens.

Previous to this arrest, Andre had pled guilty to two unrelated drug charges in 1989 and been given probation.

When the dust settled after this case, Andre Williams was sentenced to forty years.  He was not the leader of the operation, but was often in contact with the ‘dirty officer’ for that very reason.  Twenty one people went to trial, and after this year, Andre will be the only one left incarcerated.

He shouldn’t be though.  At sentencing, due to an error in a report, Andre was labeled a ‘career offender’.  The judge who heard the original case knows about the error.  The government knows about the error.  The prosecutor knows about the error.  They all knew about the error at sentencing.  In an Order signed by Judge Robert Gettleman, the original judge, dated November 12, 2014 it states, “the court strongly recommends that the Bureau of Prisons, in classifying Andre Williams, take into consideration that he is not a ‘career offender’, and that the PSR incorrectly labeled him as such.”

There is a United States Brief, filed on January 7, 2015, outlining several of the actions taken on this case.  The important issues get lost among the legal terminology, but, among other things it makes the following points:

  • “Williams, along with other codefendants, stood trial and was convicted of the charges against him on June 7, 1996.”

In reference to the Presentence Investigation Report, used to determine Andre’s sentence, it states:

  • “The probation officer’s determination that Williams was a career offender was incorrect…”
  • “The court and parties became aware of the error several months prior to Williams’ sentencing on April 10, 1998.”

The brief goes on to say:

  • “The state court transcript reflected that Williams had only one prior conviction for possession with intent to distribute, and one conviction for simple possession.”
  • “The Circuit Court of Cook County later corrected it’s records to reflect the correct offense…”
  • “filed a motion… on June 29, 2007, seeking a reduction in his sentence as a result of the amended crack cocaine guidelines…”
  • “The motion was denied on February 25, 2009 because as a career offender, Williams was not entitled to relief.”
  • “On October 31, 2012, Williams filed a motion to vacate void judgment, arguing that the sentencing judgment of April 10, 1998 should be vacated, because the court was without jurisdiction to sentence him as a career offender and because the court lacked jurisdiction to sentence him as a career offender.”
  • “On July 5, 2013, the government responded that the district court did not have the jurisdiction to adjudicate William’s motion, even though he was correct that he was improperly deemed a career offender at sentencing, because it was a second or successive 2255 petition.”
  • “On November 8, 2013, Williams filed a motion in this Court, seeking an order authorizing the district court to entertain a second or successive motion for collateral review.”
  • “On November 15, 2013, this Court denied the motion, reasoning, ‘to obtain authorization, William’s proposed claim must rely on a new constitution rule… or new facts showing innocence… the parties knew about the mischaracterization of William’s prior conviction in 1998; it was discussed during his sentencing hearing… the scriveners’ error was discovered long before 2012 and it is therefore not a new fact.”
  • “On May 7, 2014, Williams filed in the district court a ‘motion to correct record…”
  • “He also sought resentencing without the career offender enhancement.”
  • The government opposed the motion as a second or successive 2255 petition for which he had failed to obtain the permission of this Court.”
  • “On November 12, 2014, the district court denied Williams’ motion, stating ‘it lacks jurisdiction to hear it,’ but noted in the order that it ‘strongly recommends that the Bureau of Prisons, in classifying Andre Williams, take into consideration that [sic] he is not a ‘career offender’, and that the PSR incorrectly labeled  him as such.”

Andre Williams was born into a life and neighborhood where drugs and drug dealing was a way of life.  For whatever failures we have all had in contributing to that – that is the way it was.  He was dealing drugs. He wasn’t a kingpin, and he wasn’t violent.  An employee of the government made an error on a piece of paper, of which everyone from the judge on down is fully aware and has been from the day of sentencing.

The grandfather who was born without opportunity just wants a chance to see his grandkids play outside.  He’s never wanted much, nor expected much from life.  The government won’t let him go.  It doesn’t matter how many papers he files or how many times the courts say he shouldn’t be there, they find reasons to not let him go.

There is a letter dated June 6, 2016 and addressed to the U.S. Pardon Attorney, written by Judge Robert Gettleman.  In it, the judge states:

“Mr. Williams was sentenced to 40 years of incarceration based upon what this court and the government itself has acknowledged was an “incorrect” criminal history indicating that Mr. Williams was a ‘career offender’.

“In fact, the career offender status was the result of a scrivener’s error in the underlying state criminal proceeding, which indicated that he had pled guilty to possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, when in fact he had pled only to simple possession.  Although both this court and the government acknowledge this serious error in computing Mr. William’s then-mandatory Guideline sentence, because the judgment had become final there was no judicial remedy to correct it.”

It went on to say:

“For these reasons, the court strongly recommends to the Pardon Attorney and the President that Mr. Williams’ sentence be reduced to reflect the fact that he is not a career offender and that the Presentence Investigation Report erroneously labeled him as such.”

Twenty three years later, Andre Williams continues to serve the forty year sentence that was the result of an error on a report that everyone is aware of.   One might ask, why does the United States government not simply do the right thing and correct the error, allowing Andre the opportunity to watch his grandchildren grow up – it’s not much to ask.

RESOURCES:

Bogira, Steve. “Criminal Justice.” Chicago Reader, Chicago Reader, 19 Jan. 2018, www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/criminal-justice/Content?oid=893735.

Bogira, Steve. “Criminal Justice.” Chicago Reader, Chicago Reader, 18 Jan. 2018, www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/criminal-justice/Content?oid=893791.

United States of America v. Andre Williams.  14-3570. 21 U.S. Court of Appeals. 2015.

Refusing To Say You Are Guilty Can Cost Your Life

If you are innocent of a crime and are offered three years in prison to say that you are guilty – what do you do?  In this country, you better think long and hard about the answer.  Three years in a prison and a criminal record – or your life.

It’s ‘the system’.  If you don’t take the time and punishment you are offered, the charges will be stacked so high, you won’t ever see the light of a free day again.  Messiah Johnson, among others, has learned that.  Some might say our ‘freedom’ is merely an illusion in America, and in this case, it would be hard to argue that point.

In 1998, nearly twenty years ago, Messiah was sentenced to 132 years in prison.  Hearing a sentence of that length, people assume things.  The first assumption is that at least one person must have been killed.  That didn’t happen.  Nobody was killed.  As a matter of fact, no one was injured.

In 1997 a robbery took place at a salon.  Messiah was offered three years to say he did it in a fairly weak case against him.  Three years became 132 years without parole when he refused to take the deal.

Today, Christmas 2017, Messiah Johnson is spending in a prison cell, as he has every Christmas and every day since his 1998 sentencing.  This has happened before and it will happen again.  Without reform of our Criminal Justice System, people like Messiah Johnson will be harshly punished for not agreeing to what they are offered and die locked up in the most incarcerated country in the world, without anybody ever being the wiser.

As it turns out – someone other than Messiah has confessed to the robbery in the salon.  Despite that, Mr. Johnson is spending another Christmas behind bars in the state of Virginia.   The Innocence Project has been on this case for five years.

RESOURCES

Green, Frank. “Man Serving 132-year Sentence for 1997 Robbery under Consideration for Clemency.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. N.p., 22 Dec. 2017. Web. 25 Dec. 2017.

A New Addition To The Library!

Travis Runnels, a man living on death row in Texas, recently sent me a copy of a book he authored, How To Survive In Prison.

I was hoping for the best when I opened it, but didn’t know what I would find.  I post Mr. Runnel’s work, but had never seen anything of this length from him.

Thank you, Travis, for coming through.  The book is a quick read, but packed full of practical information, and written with Travis’ no-nonsense, positive outlook.  Runnel’s writing is clear, easy to read and to the point.  He covers the things he can cover and also leaves the reader with pages of valuable resources and their contact information.  Everything from where to turn for penpals, to immigration resources.

I give Travis Runnels five stars for How To Survive In Prison.

“This book provides an inside view of what it is like to enter prison and survive. It guides you through the day to day activities, expectations and the mentality on how to survive. Travis shares from personal experience and provides insight into what prison life is really like.”

The Things They Teach Me

We learn from our mistakes, they say.

What of the mistakes of others?  My friends that live behind bars teach me every day.  They teach me about regret, and strength, and love.  They teach me about redemption, and forgiveness, and compassion.  They teach me that we all deserve a chance, people can change, and common decency can be lost in some places.

They teach me that after twenty years in a cell – you are no longer the person you once were.  Guilty or innocent or harshly punished – the people I know are no longer the people they were when they were incarcerated.

A few have taught me to toughen up.  A few have taught me not to be naïve.  A few have disappointed me.  But, most have taught me about what it means to be human.  Most have made me look at myself and what is important in life.  Most have made my life fuller through their friendship.

Some are innocent, some are guilty, some were punished far beyond reason.   But – they are all just as human as me.   Those that treat them less than human, are sacrificing their own humanity.

Beaten To Death By Deputies While Jailed For Drinking

Larry Trent was 54 years old when he was arrested on July 5th of 2013.  He lived in Kentucky.  The citation from the day of his arrest reported that Trent claimed to have had about four beers and some mouthwash.

So it was that Larry found himself in jail for operating a vehicle under the influence.  The story should end there, with whatever reasonable punishment Kentucky feels is suitable if guilt is established.  It doesn’t though.  His story isn’t big news, but it should be.  It is one more story that has become part of the fabric of a justice system that is in a shambles.

There is poor justice, and there is wealthy justice.  Those are two different things.  The system is set up that way.  Larry Trent did not have the funds to post bond, so he stayed in jail.  If Larry Trent were wealthy, he would not have remained behind bars.  Larry received the poor man’s justice.

Four days after his arrest, Larry was murdered by two deputies.   One of the deputies is reported as standing 6’6” tall and weighing over 400 pounds.  The indictment stated that Larry was killed by the deputies striking, kicking and restraining him while he was at the Kentucky River Regional Jail.  According to Ken Howlett, News Director at K105, Larry wasn’t only beaten down to the floor, one of his attackers stepped back into his cell to kick him in the head after he was left on the floor.  Medical attention wasn’t called in for about four hours, only after another employee discovered the body.

As reported in the articles below, the deputies responsible for Larry’s death were actually staff trainers.  These men coached other employees on how to behave at the jail.  After Trent’s death, the jail did not make note of any training failures or a need to reevaluate existing training.

A lack of accountability, the practice of turning a blind eye, and – as one corrections employee termed it to me – the good ole’ boys’ club are all a part of our corrections system.  Those are the things that led to a man who was too poor to post bond being beaten to death by jail staff.   It has happened before, and it will happen again.

We aren’t the first society to find a way to accommodate a population that encourages survival of the fittest, most talented, most graceful.   But – let’s call it what it is.  Acknowledge it.  It isn’t going to change unless people are aware of it.

It’s an election week.  I have seen commercials with politicians spouting how they will be ‘tough on crime’.  I had one actually knock on my door as he canvassed the neighborhood looking for votes.  It’s time they quit standing on a statement they think works – ‘tough on crime’ – and got their heads out of the sand.  A 54 year old man was murdered by deputies that were staff trainers while in jail on drunk driving charges.   It’s time to be ‘smart’ on crime.

REFERENCES

Downs, Ray. “Kentucky Jail Guard Sentenced to 10 Years for Beating Inmate to Death.”UPI, UPI, 1 Nov. 2017, www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2017/11/01/Kentucky-jail-guard-sentenced-to-10-years-for-beating-inmate-to-death/1941509584733/.

Dunlop, R.G. “Trouble Behind Bars: When Jail Deaths Go Unnoticed.” Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, 22 Nov. 2016, kycir.org/2015/10/05/trouble-behind-bars-when-jail-deaths-go-unnoticed/.Howlett, Ken. “Former Deputy Jailer Sentenced to over 10 Years in

Howlett, Ken. “Former Deputy Jailer Sentenced to over 10 Years in Prison for Beating Inmate to Death.” K105, www.k105.com/2017/11/03/former-deputy-jailer-sentenced-to-over-10-years-in-prison-for-beating-inmate-to-death/.

New Beginnings – Robert Booker, Sr., The Author

Prison shouldn’t only be a place that causes enough discomfort and pain to make people pay for their wrongs.  The system should be built from the bottom up with the mindset and goal of ‘change’.   Redemption.  New beginnings.  A system that is built to grow hopelessness and anger and solitude is destined for failure.

Somebody recently asked me if I wanted to see everybody set free from prison.  That is such a shallow question and was asked to be argumentative.   I didn’t let the individual pull me into a conversation that was clearly not going anywhere.

No.  I don’t think prison doors should be opened wide.  Absolutely not.  There are some scary people everywhere, and a lot of them need to be contained or monitored for others and their own safety.  But, that reality can’t be used to overshadow all the others.  Innocent people are sitting on death row.  That is a fact.  The guilt and threat of some can’t be used to overshadow all the injustice happening to the others.   It often is.  One serial killer or rapist or child abuser will be held up as  a reason to be ‘tough on crime’.  To those people using that argument I say – no kidding.  Sensible and fair and human justice does not include recklessness, so don’t use that as an argument to treat ten percent of our population like garbage.

People are incarcerated who will never threaten society and are there because our system is in a shambles.  One such person is Robert Booker.  In spite of over twenty years in prison, he has remained positive and has been working for a brighter future.    I recently had the pleasure of interviewing him for urbanfiction.org,  and I was moved by his positive outlook on his new beginning.

Mr. Booker will one day have it, in spite of an overly harsh sentence for a nonviolent crime.  At one point he was serving life, but after nearly 25 years, President Obama commuted his sentence from 38 years to 30, and he hopes to be free soon.   The time he spends now serves no purpose, but he is not wasting it.  Talking with him has been a pleasure, and I am excited to see where he goes with rest of his life and his new beginning.   You can follow Robert and his future writing accomplishments at Robert Booker, Sr. – The Author.

Did Texas Just Execute An Innocent Man?

This week while I was driving my kids home from swim practice, a man lost his fight to live.  He didn’t struggle during his execution, but he chanted, trying to make his voice heard and be a part of this place till his last breath.

Most of us are wired to try to save lives, I hope.   Preserve it.  People get paid to keep us safe, heal our bodies and minds, improve the length and quality of our lives.  That makes it hard for me to come to terms with a state strapping a person down and employing people to take their life – while they are immobile – while invited guests watch.  Some people call that justice – I call it barbaric.  I call it the ultimate irony.  I call it a lot of things, but justice isn’t one of them.

Some firmly believe Robert Pruett was innocent of the crime he was put to death for.  They were fighting and calling and praying until the end.  Texas can’t argue some of the reasons they believe that.

Robert grew up knowing what struggle was.  His dad wasn’t always around and was incarcerated for some of his childhood, while his mother tried to numb herself with drugs and moved from trailer park to trailer park.  There weren’t family meals shared around a dinner table, hugs when you needed them, and displays of unconditional love.  He never knew that life.

Stock Photo

When his father wasn’t in jail, the man was running from trouble with his family in tow.  He also taught his little boy how to get high when he was seven years old.  Robert was raised rough, and it was all he knew.  And when he was fifteen years old, he got into a fight with Raymond Yarbrough, a 29-year old man who lived in the same trailer park.  Things got out of hand when Robert’s father and brother got involved.  According to the prosecution and the state and everyone – Robert’s father stabbed Yarbrough to death, while Robert held the man down.  That has never been in question.

At sixteen years of age, Robert Pruett was essentially sentenced to life in prison, receiving 99 years for his participation in Yarbrough’s death.   A boy, who never received any guidance in his life and only knew abuse of all kinds, held down his neighbor while the authority figure in his life, his father, his role model, his guardian, violently killed the man.  Robert wasn’t wired to do anything less.  He needed intervention way before that day, he needed an advocate, a hero, somebody to rescue him – but he never got that.  Instead, Texas felt justice would be served by putting him in prison until he died of old age.

So the sentence began.  The story didn’t end there though.  When Pruett was twenty he was accused of killing a corrections officer.  Daniel Nagle was found stabbed, and the cause of his death was actually reported to be a heart attack.  Two years later, a jury found Robert Pruett guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to death.

It’s not that cut and dry.  Texas doesn’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Robert Pruett killed that officer.  Even if the cause of his death was bleeding from the stab wounds, which it wasn’t, there is doubt that the man Texas put to death this week even committed the stabbing.

Eighteen years after the officer’s death, Robert Pruett maintained his innocence.  What’s more, some of the inmates whose testimony was used to convict Robert received rewards for the cooperation.  Often times, in the world of prison, inmates testimony is excluded as ‘untrustworthy’ if it doesn’t benefit the institution, but if it can further their cause – an inmate’s testimony can send someone to the death chamber.   The jury didn’t know that the witnesses benefited from their testimony.

Outside of the inmates, there was no physical or DNA evidence to put Robert Pruitt at the scene of the crime.  In a crime that takes place in such close quarters, it seems logical to think Robert’s DNA would be found on something – the weapon, the torn up disciplinary paper next to the body, the body itself.  There was none.  There was nothing found on Robert’s body either.  Nothing.

I wasn’t on the jury.  I don’t know what they were thinking, but I’ve seen aggressive lawyers paint pictures.  The truth gets blurry – it can actually sometimes get obscured from view.  In a world of smoke and mirrors, should there be a death sentence?  Should death be decided based on ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’?

Corruption takes place in prisons all the time. There is story after story of officers going rogue.  They lose perspective.  According to one report, the officer that was killed had some enemies at the prison because he was trying to shed light on some corruption at the facility.

Everything I read about Robert Pruett leads me to believe he was a smart man.  In addition to the many questions raised in his case, I find myself questioning a man murdering someone who wrote him up and then tossing the torn up report next to the dead body.  It defies logic to try and stay so tidy that you don’t leave any DNA behind, but you leave a torn up note with your name on it.  Again – Robert’s DNA was not found on the note or the weapon.  And the victim’s blood was not found on Robert.

It’s pointless now to argue whether Robert Pruett murdered anyone.  People will continue to question it without me.  But, there is one thing there is no question about.  The state of Texas buckled Robert Pruett down and calmly injected enough poison into his system to end his life, with witnesses watching every moment of the process.  That we know.  We also know that Texas will continue to do that as long as the laws allow.

REFERENCES

Baptiste, Nathalie. “Junk Science? Unreliable Witnesses? No Matter, Texas Plans to Execute Robert Pruett Anyway Mother Jones – 2017-10-10T10:00:11.000Z.” Junk Science? Unreliable Witnesses? No Matter, Texas Plans to Execute Robert Pruett Anyway, Mother Jones, 10 Oct. 2017, dailyreadlist.com/article/junk-science-unreliable-witnesses-no-matter-tex-71.

Randall, Kate. “Robert Pruett, First Imprisoned at Age 16, Executed in Texas despite Questions about Evidence.” Dolphnsix Intelligent News Agency, www.dolphnsix.com/news/5430477/robert-pruett-first-imprisoned-executed-texas.

Robinson, Nathan J. “Texas Should Not Execute Robert Pruett Tonight.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Oct. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/10/12/opinion/texas-robert-pruett-execution.html.

“Texas Inmate Executed for Prison Guard’s Death.” Fox News, FOX News Network, www.foxnews.com/us/2017/10/12/texas-inmate-executed-for-prison-guards-death.html.

Free Novel by Robert Booker, Sr. – Incarcerated Author

On October 13 and 14 Robert Booker, will be running a two day promotion for his book Tales From The Yard: Volume One. This is his fifth novel, and Robert Booker’s work is urban fiction at it’s finest. From prison – authors can’t promote their work. So, he is offering these free kindle editions in the hope of getting some Reviews. Get a free copy, and if you like what you read – leave him a review! All of his books are available through Amazon.   Times running out – get it quick!

Click HERE for your copy!

A Brutal and Predictable Prison Cell Murder

In April of 2012 a twenty four year old man lost his life while in the care of the Department of Corrections.  His name was Ricky D. Martin.   Some might say he was still a boy, although he was the father of two.

According to Julie Brown with the Miami Harold, Martin had a rough start in the world.  His parents were murdered when he was two years old, and he and his sister were sent to live with their grandparents in another state – Florida.

Ricky was a bit on the small side all his life and had a hard time fitting in.  He was an easy target for the neighborhood bullies, and he turned to the wrong crowd looking for protection and got involved in gangs.  According to the Harold, he was in special education, and his academic performance was three years below his age.  He couldn’t compete in the job market when it came time for him to start earning an income, and he sometimes turned to stealing and reckless behavior to pay the rent.

The chips were stacked against him from the very beginning.  Having your parents murdered would be devastating, living with a learning disability is a struggle, being the victim of bullying is life changing – Ricky had all those things to contend with.

He was arrested nine times as a juvenile, mostly for burglary, grand theft and larceny, and also was charged with assault on a juvenile probation officer three times, according to the Harold.  His final arrest was for grand theft and armed burglary.  He broke into a home when no one was there and stole guns.  He later sold them.  In Florida, ‘stealing a weapon’ is classified as armed robbery.

While incarcerated Mr. Martin received 32 disciplinary reports, the majority of which involved cutting and tattooing himself and disorderly conduct.   There was also an incident with a fight and spoken threats.  Early in his incarceration, he gravitated towards gang members as a means of survival and for protection, but when he later tried to distance himself from that life, he became a target.  He also felt he was the target of staff members after reporting that officers were running a fight club.

According to the Harold, he would do what he could to stay in trouble after that in order to keep himself in segregation, which often meant cutting himself.  He even wrote to the administration, telling them he feared for his life.  As written in Ricky’s slightly shaky handwriting in a grievance to the Department of Corrections, dated November 18, 2011:

I’m filing this grievance cause I feel that my life is in Jeopardy.  In May 2010 I was transferred in middle of the night from North West Florida Reception Center on account of me telling on Officer Sittenberry about having a fight club in food services.  Well now I’m being housed at Holmes C.I. and there are several officers here that came from North West Florida Reception Center, such as Mrs. Rock, Sgt. Newberry, Mr. Meeks, Mrs. Jackson and the Warden.  They told me that I was a snitch and told inmates about the incedent.  Now I have inmates and officers after me.  I can’t check in cause officer will play with my food.  I’m in confinement at this time cause a officer set me up with a knife and the officers play with my mail, food, and religious material.  I’m trying to catch more Dr’s while I’m in confinement cause I’m safer in here.  I’m asking for help.  Please take this matter seriously cause my life is on the line.  I was transferred here to protect myself but this camp is to close to NWFRC.  So please look in to this, and handle it wisingly.  Thank you.

On December 11, 2011, this response was issued:

Your request for administrative appeal is in non-compliance with the Rules of the Department of Corrections, Chapter 11-103, Inmate Grievance Procedure.  The rule requires that you first submit your appeal to the appropriate level at the institution.  You have not done so or you have not provided this office with a copy of that appeal, nor have you provided a valid or acceptable reason for not following the rules.

Furthermore, if you fear staff, you need to file an informal grievance to the Colonel.  The Colonel should have the opportunity to address these issues regarding staff at the institution.  If you fear another inmate, contact the shift officer in charge for immediate action. 

Upon receipt of this response, if you are within the allowable time frames of processing a grievance, you may resubmit your grievance at your current location in compliance with Chapter 11-103, Inmate Grievance Procedure.

Based on the foregoing information, your grievance is returned without action.

G. Wellhausen.

A little over three months later, Ricky Martin was admitted to Santa Rosa Correctional Institution.

There was an inmate at Santa Rosa that had been there before Ricky, by the name of Shawn Rogers.  As anyone in corrections knows, officers and staff get to know the inmates they house and have a feel for their demeanor and how dangerous they are.  Shawn Rogers made it quite easy for staff though, as he was very vocal about his level of violence and never attempted to hide it.  As the department of corrections knew, he had an extensive record behind bars.

Mr. Rogers was serving a life sentence.  During his incarceration he often threatened staff.  His record as of December 17, 2014 included 107 disciplinary actions while in custody, including Disrespect to Officials, Disobeying Orders, Spoken Threats, Lying to Staff, Assaults or Attempt, Failure to Comply, Lewd or Lascivious, Unarmed Assault, Disorderly Conduct, Inciting Riots, Destruction of Property, Aggravated Assault Against an Inmate, Battery Against an Inmate.  I have not included all of the charges, and there were multiple incidents of the charges that I listed.

Rogers was 6’4” and weighed 260 pounds, in comparison to Ricky, who stood 5’4” and weighed 140 pounds.  That, in itself, is significant, as Rogers was nearly a foot taller and weighed nearly twice as much as Ricky.

The staff at a Florida prison placed Ricky Martin in a cell with Rogers, locked the door and walked away.   According to the Miami Harold, a witness in the neighboring cell said that he heard Martin ask an officer to move him. The witness also said that Martin was told by the officer to, “Fight or f….”  Other inmates testified to hearing the same response from the officer.

There was racial tension at the time Ricky was placed in Rogers’ cell, and witnesses reported that earlier, Rogers had loudly said he wanted to kill a white inmate.

The Harold reported that 53 inmates provided testimony relevant to what happened to Ricky in that cell after he was locked in.  When officers finally went in to check on him, he was unconscious.  He was in a pool of his own blood with his hands and feet tied.  He had bloody shorts on his head and fabric around his neck.  As reported by Julie Brown, there were bloody handprints smeared onto the wall.  His shorts were around his ankles.   The 5’4” twenty four year old suffered.  He endured a brutal death.

While Ricky was screaming for help, along with the inmates in the surrounding cells, there was no response.  In a prison, a place that is designed for surveillance and to supervise individuals, the screaming, torture and murder took place without interference.

At 7:01 p.m. prison cameras show an officer looking inside the window to the cell shared by Ricky and Rogers.  The officer kept walking.  There is then a shadow of another officer walking the second floor.  Then – at 7:09 a different officer looks into the cell and sees blood and Ricky’s body under a blanket.  Rogers told the officer his cellmate had been cutting himself.

Upon entering the cell, Ricky Martin, who was unconscious and never woke up again, was handcuffed by staff and had leg restraints put on before he was carried to the infirmary. It was reported he was so badly beaten he was unrecognizable.

After the death of Ricky Martin, Rogers wrote a lengthy letter to the judge in the case.  In it he said:

…it has been no military secret that I have been one of the most vicious and violent prisoners in the entire state of Florida.  My disciplinary history reflects numerous assaults, stabbings, slashings, fights and a blatant disregard for authority of any kind.

He continued to say:

Your honor I’m pretty sure that you’ve been dealing with the department of corrections long enough to know what goes on and what type of games get played.  On the day of the incident in question, I was moved out of a cell with a good cellmate that I was getting along with perfectly fine and put into a cell with Ricky D. Martin.  The people in charge knew that me and Mr. Martin was going to have a serious problem.  The last time I was at this institution in February, 2005, I had a similar kind of incident with an inmate named Noah Stancil. They moved him in my cell and I didn’t like him.  So I knocked him out, tied him up and almost beat him to death.

He then goes on to describe the crime and asks to be put to death, expressing he felt no remorse and he would do it again if he is allowed to live.

A slight, young man with a sad youth and a learning disability was in prison for burglary, with two years to go and two children and a wife to come home to.  He was locked into a cell with a man twice his size, who had stated he wanted to kill a white man, who had pages of violent behavior documented by the department of corrections.  Ricky Martin died screaming and pleading for help, joining the voices of the surrounding inmates.   No one in the tax funded Department of Corrections was held responsible for allowing this to  happen.

REFERENCES

All the documents used in this article were obtained through Julie Brown’s, Miami Harold.com article.

Brownjbrown@MiamiHerald.com, Julie K. “Was Killing behind Bars a Set-up?” Miamiherald, www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article5915970.html.

 

“If Someone Doesn’t Break The Law, Then They Won’t be Incarcerated”

Comments like that are why all comments require approval on this site.  In this little chunk of the internet – that’s not allowed.

I read those words today after I read an article about a man who was killed by his cellmate.  The victim was incarcerated for burglary.  He was not violent.  Yet, he was placed in a cell with a man that was 6’4” tall and known to be violent with inmates.  He was murdered, as the other inmates watched and called for help from their cells.  It was a tragedy, and it should have never happened.   The judgment of the guards was not questioned, no one was found at fault.

I could go on for hours about how heartbreaking, cold-blooded, tragic, pathetic, immoral, and disgusting what happened was.  Not today though.  This is about the commenter.   This is about the mindset that makes change so hard.  A mind that can read that story, and all they have to say is, “If someone doesn’t break the law, then they won’t be incarcerated.”  

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  When I have no words, the Bible is where I go.  And – I simply don’t have the words to combat such a coldhearted lack of compassion.  A man was killed.  He was murdered in a cage by another human being.  A man lost his life, screaming for help, surrounded by men screaming for help from their cages, all begging someone to stop the killing of another human being, a man – a man just as human and fallible and vulnerable and imperfect as me and as that commenter.

We – not one of us – is without fault.  Not one.  Not even close.  The comment itself is a testament to just how imperfect we are.  The lack of regard, the callousness of a comment that suggests that another individual who has made a mistake should expect to lose their life at the hands of another for making a mistake – that is sin.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

I sin every single day I breath.  I forget God. I forget what’s important.  I follow my own desires, without always regarding others. So does that commenter.  So did that dead inmate.  So does that man who killed him.

The corrections officers who allowed that situation to even be possible, all of them, everyone reading this, not one of us – not one – has a right to say, ‘you deserved that horror, you shouldn’t have been there’.  How dare he?  I want to scream with the fury I feel right now, that not only was this comment made – but I read comments just like this all the time.

Is a woman responsible for a rape because she was in a bar in a dress?  Is a child responsible for his or her abuse for being born?  Is someone who dies in a car accident responsible because they entered a vehicle?  Since when is someone who is hurt guilty because of their presence?

The prison system in this country is a sorry mess, and I pray for mercy for all those caught up in it.  Some of them aren’t even guilty. Some can’t afford the bail to get out.  Some are drug addicts.  Some have been victims their entire lives – who was there for them?  Would the commenter also think it was their fault for being abused at the age of three or four or five.  Some grew up in foster care, some grew up in the streets.  Some were just ignorant and immature and made stupid mistakes.  Not all, but for many, that is the situation. Once they get in the system, their chances of succeeding in the future aren’t that great.

In my heart of hearts, I know that God is closer to those without power, those broken and fragile.  Those hurt.  In my heart of hearts, I know that God cannot want us to throw stones at these powerless, broken people.  I know that, in my soul.

I pray that this fury I feel over that comment doesn’t ruin me.  As I sit here, I think of a friend of mine that shared a story with me.  He’s in prison, and he’s going to be put to death some day for his crimes.  I asked him about his earliest memories.  He told me what they were.  I promised not to share them without his permission, and I won’t.  What I will say is that his earliest memories are what nightmares are made of.  He was four years old.  He was just a fragile, vulnerable little boy.  Things happened to him that I can’t even think about without my heart breaking.  Things happened to him that no little boy should ever, ever endure.  He didn’t get help though.  His life didn’t get better.  He had no heroes.  Not one.  The world is at fault for what happened to that little boy and the consequences of how that formed his reactions to events in his life.

Until that commenter and every single commenter like him wants to live through what that little boy lived through – don’t say that any one of us deserves to be murdered or victimized or dehumanized for our location.

RESOURCES

“LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The Death of Ricky Martin.” Northwest Florida Daily News, Northwest Florida Daily News, 3 Sept. 2017, www.nwfdailynews.com/opinion/20170903/letter-to-editor-death-of-ricky-martin.