Daily Prison Life Series: Florida Prisoner Michael Henderson – Hypocrisy v. Positivity

Daily Prison Life Series: Florida Prisoner Michael Henderson – Hypocrisy v. Positivity

Photo by Altin Ferreira on Unsplash

Is it possible to quantify the amount of, or in the case of amerika’s prison industrial complex, the lack of positivity? Even in the comparative state, measured against the vast amount of hypocrisy, the lack of positivity equates to nothing less than a vacuous state of existence for the millions of men and women held in this country’s prisons and jails.

One example is when we were having conflict with a sergeant at another prison who thought it fell under his job description to shave all the prisoner’s heads on their way back from chow. While discussing the issue with the colonel, I asked if his hair cut was in compliance with what he was saying to me about what the rule states. His answer was a resounding no that he was not in compliance with their own rules. The statement was made without malice. It was to be taken as a matter of fact and not to be challenged. There is no discussion about issues. If you attempt to resolve a problem you’ll likely be punished rather than encouraged.

Of course there is no room for debate when it comes to the ambiguous nature of the language of the rules but looking at the realities of everyday prison life you can’t help but understand why the prisons and jails are full and expanding.

There is a massive drug problem in amerika’s prisons. How can that be, one might ask. Well there may be some coming in through visitors. Some. It’s a given that the prisoners are not taking furloughs out to drugs ‘r’ us. That leaves the source to be pondered. But not very long I bet. In the visitation park there is a poster with six or eight photos of presumably former corrections officers and their criminal exploits which include introduction of contraband, sexual misconduct, etc. At this prison alone there have been murders of prisoners by officers, gang batteries by officers that were surreptitiously recorded and went viral on the internet, falsification of documents to cover up these actions, and myriad other felonious acts, many that go undetected everyday. But let’s have a look at those messages that are conveyed on a much smaller scale.

For instance, smoking has been taken from prisoners as a general rule. There have been fiscal reasons cited for this prohibition – health care costs associated with smoking and so forth. Also the butts lying around, and other trash associated with smoking. But the rules put in place for officers are somewhat more obscured. It began that officers were not allowed to smoke while on the compound. They had to wait until it was their break time and walk outside the gates to smoke. Then, some prisons designated smoking areas inside the fences but away from prisoners. Now it appears there are no restrictions at all and officers are smoking within arms reach of prisoners while they are talking to them. What kind of health care savings could there be in propagating smoking cessation classes for the thirty thousand or so employees of FDC? But that’s just scratching the surface of hypocrisy.

Prisoners are not permitted to carry any food out of the chow hall. But most meals we are given less than five minutes to eat. I cannot remember the last time I was able to finish a meal. Such as they are. But one thing I do know is there are no provisions giving officers free reign of the kitchen for inmates to cook for them. I don’t know that there are overt promises made but you can bet there is some type of quid pro quo. This is commonplace in every prison I’ve been housed at. There is no doubt that when officers trade with prisoners they are breaking rules and laws but when officers trade chow hall food to prisoners that they have brought from the kitchen for favors or other products, there are messages that prisoners get, that lead them to believe something is only wrong if you don’t get caught. Or worse yet, if someone with some sort of authority lets you get away with something its OK. Did I forget to mention that we are permitted to keep food in our lockers that was purchased from commissary? Senselessness. For instance, we are able to purchase peanut butter from the canteen but we have no way to get bread for a sandwich. In the privately owned and operated prisons you can purchase these items, but not in the state facilities. So you cannot take bread or any other food from the dining hall. If you get caught, technically you can receive a citation of sorts but mainly you are made to throw it away. Imagine, throwing away food just so a person can’t eat it. I’ve asked a couple of officers about this and they are always speechless.

I have to wonder, will we ever get to the point where we will want our citizens to become better human beings after we ‘correct’ them? Will we ever provide an environment where that’s possible? We had better get on it because it’s going to take a very long wide turn to make the changes we need.

Three Hots and a Cot

Three Hots and a Cot

“You’ve got three hots and a cot, the state provides everything you need!” I’ve heard people say that on TV, and I’ve received letters in which people have told me that. But that’s a delusional belief. Let me show you. Number one, the state of Florida doesn’t provide deodorant, which is an absolute necessity! They don’t provide shampoo, Q-tips to clean your ears, nor dental floss. I saw the dentist last week, and he said “Your teeth aren’t getting clean, what kind of toothpaste are you using?” I said” AMERFRESH, the state toothpaste.” He replied “That’s garbage, you need to buy some Colgate.” So if we’ve got a dentist telling us that the toothpaste isn’t working, you can’t argue that the state is providing us adequate hygiene items. The bar of soap that the state provides is about one third the size of a normal bar, and this soap doesn’t have a good scent. It’ll work, but it’s not something you would choose to use, and you only get one bar a week.
Three hots … well about 70% of the time, the food’s going to arrive cold, and is either under-cooked, or over-cooked. Very seldom is it prepared in the manner it should be. If you read the menu, you would be like, Sweet! But then the tray arrives and you’re looking at something that doesn’t resemble at all what you read on the menu. For instance, “Fresh Fruit.” You get an orange, but it’s nothing like a fresh orange that you would get on the street. Our orange is shriveled up, bruised with brown spots on it. It’s rare to have a nice piece of fresh fruit. The apples are horse apples, or cooking apples. We haven’t seen a banana in forever! That’s the only fruit that we get back here. Now vegetables are all canned, and most of the time overcooked. Meats — well a chicken leg quarter is the only real meat we get. We get that once a week, and I’m always highly disappointed when it comes back here raw. This week we were fortunate, it was cooked perfect! The prior two weeks it was raw. Even raw, it’s better than the soy patties, which are really bland. If you closed your eyes and ate it, it’s got no taste. And the the off-gray color is nauseating. They’ve got something called “Southern BBQ,” which sounds good, huh? Well you see, it’s ground up mystery meat that resembles hamburger, but doesn’t taste like it. And the BBQ sauce smells rancid! If you put that in front of most animals, they wouldn’t eat it. The sloppy Joe is the same. It doesn’t look like something you would see in your mom’s kitchen. Its an orange-ish color that looks like a baby messed its diaper. These meals are not healthy at all!
To really be able to eat well, you’ve got to be able to supplement the meals with canteen. And the items are overpriced. You get a $50 – $100 bag, and you’re standing there wondering where the money went! We pay 65¢ for a Ramen noodle soup that cost 19¢ or less on the street. Oh there’s some serious price-gouging going on. And if you don’t have family and friends to financially support you, then you go without. There’s no paying jobs for us. They ban us from selling our paintings, poetry etc., for financial gain. So they’re ripping off our family and friends who help us.
Your cot… I’ve slept outdoors on the ground, and been more comfortable. Seriously! The mattress is no more than an inch and a half thick, if that! Oh if you’ve got a new one, it’s nice for about six months. After laying on it every day, probably 20 hours a day, for 180 days, it gets flat and hard. The steel platform this thin mattress lays on is slanted in a manner which results in back, hip, and shoulder problems. There’s nothing comfortable about this mattress.
Yes.. three hots and a cot, you’re surviving. They’re giving you enough to keep you alive, but that’s about it. And most people will say that’s enough. Just wanted to give you a little bit of insight into our world, and the delusion that the state provides everything we need.
God bless you.
More Government Chum

More Government Chum

Pinellas County Florida’s Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s complicity in creating a racial divide leading to constant strife, stress and physical fights among the prisoners at the county jail facility under his charge actually costs the taxpayers untold thousands of dollars.

Being one of those prisoners and having a firsthand account, I can tell you that if divide-and-conquer is the goal, the exorbitant costs thrown at this draconian method of imprisoning humans and leaving no hope for a second chance and the possibility of a productive life is completely unnecessary. Not to mention the fact that it is counter to any stated goal of making the community a safer place to live. When you create an environment that is in most cases worse than the one the person was plucked from, it only makes sense that the one that still exists on the streets is going to perpetuate itself. Long Live the King.

Let me cut to the chase. Jail is not a place where people are coddled. But some bureaucratic genius there at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office came up with the bright idea of allocating thousands of dollars for brand new 50” flat-screen TVs with remote controls. The jail pods cage inmates 24 hours a day in crowded conditions – in some cases with 6 and 7 men including the one sleeping on a plastic “boat” bunk on the floor, in a space the size of a bathroom. The most disconcerting part of that is the toilet is right in the middle of the space. But I digress.

The tensions run as high as the testosterone with the stress level being fed by practically non-existent legal help since the public defender’s sham is in complete collapse, but the fiscal hypocrisies abound. The conditions are a further detriment in an environment that already has such a negative draw on life and humanity.

Another bureaucratically genius decision was to award a huge contract to a  parasitic organization known as Trinity Services Group. Think about the implications of the play on words with a name that includes trinity in its title. This is one of the largest food service companies that feed not only from the taxpayer trough, but also from the broken families whose would-be breadwinners are imprisoned. Trinity runs the “company store,” a.k.a. commissary, charging outrageously high prices for staple items like ramen noodles at 75¢ per package, a product that retails for less than one third that cost outside the gates. The genius in that decision lies in the fact that even though the dietary intake of the prisoners is so atrocious that stray animals at the S.P.C.A. have a better nutritional plan, the officers are enticed by the fact that they get free, yes free, meals while at work. Why else work in such a degraded environment? Well, $21 per hour starting wage is not a bad perk either. Ah, but yet again I digress.

How does all this feed racial tensions and encourage criminal behavior while perpetuating anger, violence and hatred? Let’s start with the beautiful new televisions, complete with cable TV. There is a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality in here and not because of the racially disproportionate numbers of prisoners but because idle time is the devil’s workshop. The particular pod I’m housed in has 13 whites, 5 Hispanics and 8 African Americans. Whites have an approximate average age of 50, Hispanics 30, and African Americans 38. The problem stems from who controls what. Since the officers do their checks only once every half hour (by forced issue I might add after such a high number of incidences of things like unanswered inmate medical emergencies), the bullying and juvenile acts of a small number of prisoners prevail when they control of the remote. If you don’t like it you can fight because no amount of diplomacy seems to impact this mentality and any attempts to address the issue with staff as a mediator gets you labeled a “snitch.”

The attempted solution we proposed was that control of the remote would be designated according to the existing rotating cleaning duties assigned to each inmate. But because this remedy didn’t work for a couple of people who have an incessant need for control, or maybe an inability to see things from their limited perspectives, that it has become a battlefield again.

The bullies’ excuses for holding the beautiful new 50″ flat screen television hostage come in endless torrents, but as anyone who has ever been in jail or prison knows, divide-and-conquer is the mentality that keeps separation at the forefront of inhumanity. Unfortunately, the racial divide is the most efficient method to tear at the fabric of the under-educated, unprotected and underrepresented villains of amerikan society. The most devastating component of this attack on humanity is that it works.

So I’ll leave you with this question. Is it more cost efficient to tack 50″ flat screen TVs to the walls of jails and pump already stimulation-starved minds with 75 channels of cage-fighting, NFL, and Real Housewives of…outer space, than it would be to implement some real, cohesive, educational programs designed to halt the madness of mass recidivism, racism, hatred and juvenile antics that lead to the kill-or-be-killed-for-control-of-the-television mentality?

I guess we would have to ask Pinellas County Florida’s Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, since the taxpayers don’t seem to have any say as long as the fight isn’t brought to their living rooms. Yet!

Families Pay The Price

Families Pay The Price

We often hear of the exorbitant costs to operate prisons. State budgets are stretched thin and perpetually strained in order to incarcerate tens of thousands of people, for many years at a time. But other costs are absorbed by the casualties of incarceration that often go unreported. Yes, the families pay a heavy price to ensure their loved ones behind bars can have a “comfortable” existence during the years they’re incarcerated.

When an inmate is indigent (in the state of Oregon anyway), he or she will be provided baking soda to brush their teeth, a toothbrush, small bars of soap, and shower shoes. They are also given two envelopes per month to write family and friends. Obviously this is the bare minimum on which one can get by, but most inmates do not live this way.

I am grateful to be incarcerated in a state that “rewards” us (points that are converted into money because technically they can’t “pay” us) for working; however, the highest paying jobs (I have one as a GED tutor) yield approximately $75 a month. Most jobs average between $30 – $40 a month. Our canteen items are marked up exponentially. For instance, one of the highest selling items — instant Taster’s Choice coffee (8 oz) — goes for $9.83. Other staple food items such as Top Ramen soups ($.24 each) are also marked up. Our wages, after buying soap, toothpaste, deodorant, lotion, envelopes, etc., are rapidly depleted, leaving no money left to buy food, let alone electronic items (television, radio, mp3 player) to help divert our attention from our current reality. So who do we turn to?

Our families and loved ones often feel compelled to help us through our incarceration, especially in terms of financial expenses. They know things cost, so they do what they can to help, but their bills at home don’t stop just because we came to prison and now are unable to support ourselves the way we would like. So they send hundreds of dollars throughout the year to enable us to purchase commissary items (food, shoes, electronics) that will bring us a semblance of comfort and normality. But this doesn’t even factor in the expense they pay for the most basic need that we and our families have: phone calls.

The telephone allows us to maintain the most fundamental form of communication on a regular basis with our families and loved ones, yet this turns out to be the most expensive cost of prison for families. They are forced to pay thousands of dollars over the course of each year in order to talk to us. For instance, in Oregon we go through a company called Telmate. Our calls are $.16 per minute, and calls last thirty minutes, so a full call is $4.80. Calling once a day for thirty days amounts to $144. In a year this will cost a family member $1,728.

When inmates are written up for violations of institution rules, such as “disrespect” or “unauthorized area,” for example, there is usually a penalty fee assessed as well. The fee charged to the inmate can range from $25 – $200 (unless there are medical expenses incurred due to injuring another inmate in a fight, which can run in the thousands of dollars). If the inmate does not have adequate funds on his or her spending account, a negative balance will be reflected. Subsequently, if and when a family member or friend sends money to the inmate, the department of corrections confiscates half of that money to go toward the fines incurred by the inmate. The other half stays on the inmate’s account for spending, but if there is any amount remaining on the last day of the month, it too will be taken to go toward paying off the fine.

It pains me to think about how much innocent people are essentially forced to pay to keep in regular contact with their incarcerated loved ones and/or help them live more comfortably while here. As if life isn’t expensive enough, now they’re asked to pay even more in out-of-control fees imposed on them by the state and federal prison systems. One could make the claim that they end up paying two prices — the emotional, and the monetary cost of losing their loved ones for years.

Letters From Prison: The Price of Stupidity

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.