Letters From Prison: The Price of Stupidity
by Frank E. Page Sr.
The first officer that any male who goes to prison in the state of Alabama will meet is known as “Michael Jordan.” This is not his real name, but the nickname given him many years ago as he looks like a shrunken version of the more famous basketball player. if he had had a stroke. Inmates in Alabama county jails know and warn first-timers about this officer. I have had personal encounters with him and I would like everyone to be aware of this 30-year “decorated” officer.
Kilby Correctional Facility has a no smoking policy in the chapel for any type of religious service, or when going to see the captain (whose office is located in the chapel). Each dorm would execute church call a little differently, but all inmates had to go through a checkpoint office to get to the chapel. Kilby keeps different types of inmates separated, so there are fences inside of fences, with checkpoints along the way.
This night in particular, Michael Jordan was working J dorm. This is the largest of the dorms, which the inmates have given the name of “Thunder Dome.” During my two stays at Kilby, I was not classified to go to J dorm. After I left quarantine, I was sent to K dorm on both occasions. K dorm is mostly made up of parole and probation violations. Honestly, I lucked out both times.
There was a long, fenced-in walkway that led from the exit of J dorm to the checkpoint to leave J dorm’s recreation yard. Jordan made the inmates that resided in J dorm walk single file and line up. Now in Jordan’s defense, he did warn the inmates before they left the dorm NO TOBACCO PRODUCTS. This includes matches, rolling papers, etc. Before letting the inmates proceed to the chapel, he approached three young caucasians and began to search them. Two out of three were clean, but one young man had an empty Tops package. This is what an inmate can purchase from commissary as their tobacco, but his package was actually empty.
Jordan pulled the empty package out of the young man’s pocket and began screaming at him. “Why would you be so stupid to bring that, BOY?” He spit at full volume. Jordan continued to bombard the young inmate with insults like, “I could’ve been yo’ daddy if I’d have had change for a five.” Myself and a few friends stopped in our tracks to watch Michael Jordan live up to his ugly reputation.
At some point in the verbal assault, Jordan must have spit in the young man’s face. The young man attempted to wipe off the saliva, using his right hand. As soon as his hand began to rise, Jordan saw his window of opportunity. Before the young man could wipe his face, Jordan had struck the boy. He slapped the inmate with an open fist.
Within what seemed like only seconds, the officer’s backup had arrived. While Jordan was still spitting out insults, the backup officers grabbed the inmate and shuffled him off towards the direction of lockup.
When they have religious services in the chapel, it’s the only opportunity inmates have to mingle with inmates from other dorms, and I had spoken to the young inmate a few days prior to his run in with Michael Jordan. The only dorm not allowed to go to church service is M dorm, as they are quarantined until medical test results are reviewed by medical staff (if you want to call it medical staff, but that’s another story).
When I spoke to him, he came off as a nice enough young man, though maybe a little scared, as most men are their first time in the joint. He had what I like to call “little man’s disease,” which is a lot of energy and the belief that no man was too big to tangle with. He was also very loud and outspoken. Not good traits to possess upon entering the Alabama Department of Corrections.
Three or four days after the incident, I saw the inmate walking to chow. “Hey Bro, what did Jordan do with you?” I asked. His eye was purple, his bottom lip swollen. “Did he whoop you good or what?”
He quietly replied, “He and two goons (riot officers) stomped on me in front of the hole and threw me in afterwards.” Getting a beating like that is something I could never imagine going through. I cringed at the thought of an officer feeling the need to be my judge, jury, and punisher as well. But what he told me next sent chills up my spine.
“I just got served a disciplinary for assault on a officer,” he whispered, while staring at a piece of paper.
When you meet another inmate for the first time, there are things you don’t ask about. I personally do not like asking about one’s children, being that you do not know that man’s personal situation, and my own children were a very sore spot for me.
Another question not to ask another inmate is, “What are you in for?” Older inmates will be upset and feel disrespected. Nowadays, younger inmates actually like to brag about their crime and sentence length. This young inmate fell into the bragging category. Because his was a first, and non-violent offense, he was classified as a level one security risk.
The security levels range from a minimum one to a maximum level six – which is death row in the state of Alabama. At a level one, the inmate would have been transferred to a community-based work center. At these work centers, everyday life is much more comfortable for an inmate than residing at a level four, medium security camp. At the work centers, inmates are allowed to wear “free world” clothes, and are also able to work a normal paying job in a nearby city or town. Once every other week, they take a trip to Walmart to buy food and personal items. Now the only food he would be eating would come out of the prison cafeteria or weekly commissary. He would not have a choice of blue jeans or khaki, print or flannel.
Not long after the inmate told me about his discipline he was transferred to another camp. I couldn’t help but think about the young man and what he might have to go through at his level four camp, without benefit of having a family visit during which you can actually hug your mother, or kiss your wife.
I think back on this story often, and have shared it with my teenage daughter. Her question to me was, “Did the officer handle the situation in the correct manner?” The answer depends on whether she’s asking about the manner of a ADOC employee, or the manner of a human being. They are not the same thing.
The inmate was on his way to church that evening. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention to the warning that was given by the officer before leaving the dorm. Maybe he believed an empty package would not be considered to be breaking the rules. I do not believe such physical punishment was necessary, nor should it ever be, for a minor infraction. The officer could have easily written him a disciplinary for not following a direct order, instead of a slap to the face and a disciplinary for assault. Whatever Michael Jordan’s real motivation was – there was absolutely no need to inflict his own hostility on that, or any inmate.