Category Archives: Prison Conditions

Let Us Break Men In Our Image

Most prisoners housed in solitary confinement for extensive periods of time, at some point, will see in the mirror an almost unrecognizable Dr. Frankenstein like creation.  Their own disfigured features are the result of the institution’s mode of dismembering faculties and a person’s natural resistance to being tortured.

Some choose suicide rather than be a co-conspirator in their own dehumanization.  The most atrocious part is not necessarily when we experience our intellect losing the battle with our instincts to preserve whatever fragile fragments of sanity we have miraculously salvaged.   Nor is it the pressure of our desire to make sense out of no sense crushing our conscience.  No, the most atrocious part may be the toxic chemical combustion of our hyper sensationalized reactionary parts, most of which are undetectable to the untrained eye until there is a violent explosion of highly flammable feelings. Including one feeling in particular I have discovered in which the source of the pressure, the desire to escape the inescapable fate that is my institutionalization, has evolved just as much as my necessity to breathe oxygen, drink water, or eat food.

It is a God like force we know as self preservation.  We each have immaterial faculties like our will, our reason, our emotions, and any inmate who is genuinely interested in rehabilitation cannot put his or her human nature up for ransom, even under the illusion that it is payment for a debt to society.  Not when this debt requires one’s agencies of independence to be traded for a politically induced state of permanent  dependency.

Let me be clear, as I want to leave absolutely no room for any misinterpretation or doubt about what I mean  by the title, ‘Let Us Break Men In Our Image.’  The Tennessee Department of Corrections, while acting under the official capacity of state law, demands at gunpoint that every aspect of my functioning be in full compliance with my own dehumanization.  The ultimate goal is to incapacitate my rights, incapacitate my mind, incapacitate my heart, and incapacitate my soul, until I have no power, until I have no will, until I have no reason, until I have no conscience, nor feelings, nor individuality.  Until I have no potential to survive the challenges of the day to day struggle to adjust and fit in outside these prison walls, nor even so much as love myself enough to care.

By the time some inmates are unleashed on society, after having long endured the post traumatic stress disorder like effects of extensive psychological warfare, it’s too late.  It’s too late when it takes the form of an impulsive, irrational, unprovoked criminal act because we’ve been left with nothing of our humanity but our instincts.

The majority of the institutionalized will end up back in state or federal custody, and in actuality, many will have never left.  The institution was designed, by its nature, to metamorphosis into a living and breathing replica of its own likeness.  You can call the system Torture and Dehumanization of Prisoners by State and Federal Design, or tough on crime, or you can even call it criminal justice.

As for me, I’ll just call what is left of the so called ‘department of corrections’ what it is.   I’ll just call it, this broken thing, that keeps reproducing these broken things…

The author, James Smith, has served nearly twenty years and will be eligible for parole in 2056.
James Smith #323820
MCCX/SMU
P.O. Box 2000
Wartburg, TN 37887

 

 

Convict Cuisine – Cooking In Prison

If you know how to cook, you can quit reading here – unless you’re having a bad day and just need a laugh.  If you don’t know how to cook, read on, let a convict teach you a thing or two.  Necessity is the mother of invention, they say.  You cook, you eat; you don’t cook, you go hungry.

As a ten year old boy I discovered that if you could make mac and cheese, you could control your destiny.  So, by the time I was 18, I could prepare almost any meal that Graham Kerr or Julia Child could dream up.

Then I went to prison.  When you enter this place, you enter much in the same manner in which you were born – naked, crying and hungry.  There’s not much to be said about prison food, though.  I will sum it up in one word—Ewwww!

Get ready for endless pasta.  There are a variety of entrees involving elbow macaroni.  All those dishes taste pretty much the same, except for the tuna casserole – coined ‘tuna massacre’.  When that is on the menu, I avoid the unit dining hall at all costs.  I also call this entre ‘Little Friskies’.  The chow hall smells like a feral cat gang bang, and I haven’t liked tuna since they removed the dolphin.

Then there’s Beef Noodle Casserole, Pork Noodle Casserole, and Chili Mac.  Whenever I see the Hamburger Helper van on TV commercials I get PTSD – Pasta Traumatic Stress Disorder.

You can count on at least one of the seven days in a week including pasta.  It’s cheap, readily available, and easy to prepare.  Boil noodles, drain, add meat.  Done.

Don’t get me wrong, I love pasta, but overkill, not so much.  I’ve received letters from folks commenting on our lunch menu—“Oh, you’re having fried chicken for lunch next Wednesday!” Don’t worry, Col. Sanders, your secret is safe (as well as you, Chef Boyardee).

Let’s talk about breakfast, shall we? The most important meal of the day, right?

In the 9000 days I’ve been incarcerated, I’ve eaten a minimum of 8000 pancakes. Those not familiar with my problem with pancakes—I’m diabetic.  Carbohydrates are not my friend, but I have to eat something. So I’m caught between high and low blood sugar.  Another interesting fact about pancakes – if you fry them at 2 a.m., and put them in a warmer until 4:30 a.m. when they are served, they can almost stop a bullet.

Let’s move on to what’s available in the unit commissary. More carbohydrates?  Yes!  Ramen noodles—the backbone and breadbasket of prisons everywhere.  Add water, cook, mix in other ingredients, and serve!

Out of the frying pan, and into the microwave we go. You can buy Spam, chili, mackerel, squeeze cheese, jalapenos, corn chips, tortilla chips, salt, pepper, picante salsa, peanut butter, crackers and pesto – and you can temporarily stave off a trip to pasta land.

Believe me, after 9000 days, a tossed salad sounds extremely good.  You learn to get creative though, which takes me back to necessity being the mother of invention.  I will share one of my personal favorites:

INGREDIENTS

2 Ramen noodle soups-chili
1 jalapeno pepper
1 packet ranch dressing
1 package of Spam (2 oz.)
1 package saltines or round crackers

Cook noodles until well done.

Dice jalapenos and Spam.

Chill noodles with cold water and drain.

Combine noodles, jalapenos, and Spam.  Add ranch dressing.

Serve with crackers.

Total cost  at prison commissary $2.55.   Serves 3

Now, parents, while this may sound very cost effective for the children, this story is for entertainment purposes only.  Cook those kids a hot meal. Lots of vegetables, greens and NO pasta. They’ll appreciate it, believe me.

John Green #671771
C.T. Terrell Unit A346
1300 FM655
Rosharon, TX 77583

 

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/.

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.

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……

 

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.

Henry’s Pleas For Help Were Ignored Before His Death

Henry Stewart was in jail awaiting trial for violating the terms of his early release on a shoplifting conviction when he scrawled the following words on an Emergency Grievance Form.

“I have black out two times in less then 24 hr.  I keep asking to go to the emergency room.  I don’t know what cause the blankouts. I do know that my tororance are low plus I haven’t had a meal that I come eat.  I can’t hold water down or food.  I don’t know many emergency grievance I have written with same reply.  Wait on your (me) appointment.  I know about what my blackouts leading to seizure.”

The paper is then signed, dated and followed by the words:

“I need emergency assistant right away.”

Those words are written more boldly than all the rest, as if Henry wanted them to stand out.

The form was returned to Henry Stewart the next day, August, 4, 2016, after being signed by Sgt. Whitehead.  It read the following:

“Mr. Stewart, not only have you been refusing your […] medication, but while conducting meal pass this morning, you were witnessed walking to the top tier and sitting on walk-way.  You’ve also been further evaluated off-site by specialists.  In addition, you will receive a follow-up by the provider.”

Henry Stewart died in jail on August 6, 2016.

The Hampton Roads Regional Jail made a statement after the death.  In it, the Jail Superintendent David Simmons said, “Typically, the inmates Hampton Roads Regional Jail receives have acute and/or chronic medical issues or significant behavioral issues.  Inmates are transferred here because they have pre-existing medical and mental health issues with little or no treatment prior to incarceration.”

The statement goes on to report on the professionalism and training of its staff, and how the “public should know that Hampton Roads Regional Jail has a huge medical mission and works daily to serve the complex medical needs of its inmate population.”

It was at this same jail that Jamycheal Mitchell died of starvation about a year prior to this death.  In that case, the jail investigated itself and cleared itself of all wrong doing.

The medical examiner in Norfolk reported that Henry died from a perforated gastric ulcer due to chronic lymphocytic gastritis, H. pylori positive – a complicated ulcer that created a hole in his stomach in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail.  The manner of death is listed as ‘natural’.

According to witnesses, the day that Henry died he collapsed and starting foaming at the mouth.  Inmates who saw that happen tried to get help from jail staff, but were told by an officer, “I am busy right now.”  The lawsuit that has been filed claims that Henry asked for help from as early as mid July, and his weight when he was received by the jail was 167 pounds, and it was 132 upon his death.

Henry’s mom was close to him.  She visited him regularly before he was transferred to Hampton Roads, and they wrote each other a couple times a week until a couple weeks before his death when his letters stopped coming.  After his death, she said “Don’t nobody know what a mom go through, honey, when she loses one of her children, and I done lost two.”

REFERENCES

Associated Press and Staff. “Jail Issues Statement about Inmate Who Died Days after Seeking Medical Help.” WVEC. N.p., 01 Sept. 2016. Web. 17 June 2017.

Daugherty, Scott. “60-year-old Died in Hampton Roads Regional Jail Because Staff Ignored Him, Family Suit Says.” Virginian-Pilot. N.p., 05 June 2017. Web. 17 June 2017.

Kleiner, Sarah. “Hampton Roads Regional Jail Inmate Denied Request for Medical Help Two Days before He Died.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. N.p., 31 Aug. 2016. Web. 17 June 2017.

Mechanic, Allison. “Family Files $40 Million Suit after Man Dies at Hampton Roads Regional Jail.” Azfamily.com 3TV CBS 5. N.p., 06 June 2017. Web. 17 June 2017.

Man’s Death After Ninety Minutes In A Hot Prison Shower Ruled ‘Accident’

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate on the planet.  That’s substantial.  It is ignorant to disregard and not oversee the system that houses that much of our population.  How we treat these people is a reflection of our humanity, and to discount a tenth of our population is going to breed a lot of resentment.

Darren Rainey was one of the incarcerated.  He was schizophrenic and in prison on a drug charge.  His death while in the care of corrections was ruled an ‘accident’.  There were no employees disciplined with regard to the incident.  The investigation found that the evidence, “failed to show that any correctional officer acted in reckless disregard of Rainey’s life.”  Emma Lew, the medical examiner, found that Rainey died due to a combination of his schizophrenia, heart disease and confinement in the small shower space.

Interesting.

The day this man died, he had defecated in his cell and smeared it on himself and his walls.  Mr. Rainey was then placed in a shower that could only be controlled from the outside, in order to prevent him from turning off the water.  The shower doesn’t allow for the water temperature to be adjusted from within the shower.

A Corrections Officer told Rainey that he wasn’t going back to his cell until he cleaned himself.  It is reported that Rainey began to clean himself, but then said, “No, I don’t want to do this,” and leaned against a wall within the shower.

Almost two hours after Rainey was put into the shower, officers found him lying face up on the floor in about three inches of water.  He no longer had a pulse and was not breathing.

After his death, an inmate at the prison, Harold Hempstead, reported that he heard Mr. Rainey screaming for help and banging on the door while he was in the shower.  He quoted Rainey as saying, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it anymore,” and, “I can’t take it no more.”  He also said that the banging seemed to slow down until he heard what sounded like Rainey hitting the wall and falling at 9:30.  His account of the events was discounted.  The Assistant State Attorneys stated that Hempstead, “did not seem to have an opportunity to see and know the things about which he testified; he did not seem to have an accurate memory; he has been convicted of a felony, and lastly, his testimony was not consistent with the other testimony and other reliable and undisputed evidence in the case.”

Of his appearance when he was removed from the shower, one inmate said that Rainey looked like a “boiled lobster”.  Several witnesses said that Rainey’s skin appeared to be peeled back in some areas, and one compared his curling flesh to a fruit rollup.

There was a paramedic called to the scene that night.  He wrote that Rainey, “was found with second- and third-degree burns on 30 percent of his body.”  Not only that, he also reported that the prison staff themselves told him that the, “inmate was found on shower floor with hot water running.”

A day after Rainey’s death, an investigator with the medical examiner’s office wrote that, “visible trauma was noticed throughout the decedent’s body.”

A health and safety inspector recorded the shower’s water temperature at 160 degrees two days after the incident.

The autopsy took three years to complete and another year to be released.  In that autopsy – only one skin sample was taken.  After receiving the autopsy results, the State Attorney decided that there would be no charges filed in this case.  Corrections staff were cleared of all wrong-doing.

REFERENCES

Brownjbrown@miamiherald.com, Julie K. “Graphic Photos Stir Doubts about Darren Rainey’s ‘accidental’ Prison Death.” Miamiherald. N.p., 06 May 2017. Web. 22 May 2017.

CBS/AP. “Prosecutors: No Crime in Death of Inmate Left in Hot Shower for Nearly 2 Hours.”CBS News. CBS Interactive, 20 Mar. 2017. Web. 22 May 2017.

Hawkins, Derek. “An Inmate Died after Being Locked in a Scalding Shower for Two Hours. His Guards Won’t Be Charged.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 20 Mar. 2017. Web. 22 May 2017.