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.
We will be periodically publishing posts for this series from Michael Henderson, a Florida prisoner serving a life sentence.
Michael will be sharing about conditions of confinement, and the stressors imposed by an overwhelmingly failing bureaucratic behemoth.
Like today’s Sunday inspection because of some failed audit probably due to an administrative slight. So instead of focusing on the rampant and deadly drug problems in the system, FDC infracts a prisoner because his books don’t fit into the space (smaller than what it is supposed to be by their own rules). In other words, you can smoke all the poison you want but you can’t read too much. Just some thoughts I would love to be able to convey to the world what their tax dollars are really supporting.
Whether you are for or against inmates being able to receive stimulus checks like rest of the country, the choice was made by a judge who cited her reasons very logically and with compassion for why she believed it was justified. ”Why should an inmate receive such a windfall, they all going to waste the money!” cry out some who see only the worst in inmates. Let’s face it, most people in prison are there by their own making and the state provides what they need to exist. Yes the state provides the bare minimum of food, shelter, and healthcare, but nothing more.
Sometimes the bare minimum just isn’t enough — or even humane. When you have to make a choice between buying over the counter medication or hygiene on your $18 a month state pay, which do you choose? As there is very little in the realm of recreation provided by the state in general, many inmates often fall back into old and abusive behaviors for their own survival. Positive and entertaining diversions other than the state-sponsored schooling and programming, designed for nothing more than to give the illusion that the state actually cares about rehabilitation, are critical to the well-being of prisoners. Doing time should entail more than eating and sleeping. Having basic needs met and positive things to do to occupy the time reduces fights, theft, and use of illegal substances — which seem to flow as freely as rain from the sky.
In this article, I will attempt to show what the money is being used for behind the chain linked fence of one Ohio prison. Some of this is no surprise — but in my observations of other inmates, I was most pleasantly surprised. I would only ask you, Reader, to try to keep a open mind.
THE UGLY: Unfortunately when the first stimulus checks started to hit random inmates’ commissary accounts, the flood of drugs was as if a mad deluge of every possible type of narcotic found its way onto the compound. This fact in and of itself is rather odd as according to staff and ODRC, all drugs in prison come from relatives and friends who slip drugs to inmates during supervised visitation. The other way drugs supposedly get in is by people running up to the fence and tossing the contraband over. What makes these claims rather odd and unlikely is that when the checks started coming in, we were in the mist of the covid pandemic and visitations had stopped months before and only a small amount of inmates were allowed out on the yard at any given time and they were quarantined to a very small area and heavily supervised. On top of that, there are a number of armed staff members patrolling outside the perimeter in vehicles. Yet, somehow we were having as many as a dozen drug overdoses a day in the block of 140 men that I was in. Before the checks hit, the same block would have one to two overdoses a week.
THE BAD: Many inmates were able to pursue their chosen vices with great vigor. One inmate, we’ll call him Mr. S., was always getting high despite the fact he didn’t have a prison job at all. Having no support from his family on the outside, he would do any odd job, steal anything, and even trade sexual favors just to get high — an attempt to escape his misery and loneliness. Once Mr. S. saw the money on his commissary account, he made sure that the block drug dealers were aware of the money on his account. Suddenly he had unlimited credit and in only one month, racked up a $800 drug debt. Then Mr. S. got himself thrown into the hole and when he got out, he was moved to another block were he once again ran up a huge debt. He was eventually moved out to another camp for his own safety.
THE GOOD: Another inmate, Mr. L., was getting out of prison in just six months when the first of his stimulus checks hit. He paid off his court cost and the money he owed ODRC. Mr. L. was very frugal with the money and only spent part of his normal state pay at commissary. Upon leaving the prison Mr. L. owed no one and went to the halfway house with nearly a thousand dollars in his pocket and a plan for success. He left prison much more confident and without the burden of having to start over in debt and with only gate pay which is about $75. I’m sure he was not the only one to use the money in such a manner.
Mr. H. is one example that truly shows what an inmate with hope can do to make a difference with his money. Mr. H. was estranged from his ex-wife and children like so many of us are in prison. His solitude, like others, comes from the embarrassment that his family felt over his trial and conviction. His wife moved on after divorcing him and his children call another man father.
Mr. H. was able to have his mother to send his children, who were both in college $300 Walmart gift cards each for Christmas and the same for their birthdays with no strings attached. Mr. H., who hadn’t had any contact in over seven years with his children, expected nothing. It was just a kind gesture by a caring parent who had previously been unable to do anything for his children. He then spent some of the remaining money on getting himself a TV, a food box and such.
Six months later and out of the blue, Mr. H. received an emotional email written from his two children. They wish to be part of his life again. They explained about their anger at him over abandoning them at such an early age. They forgave him and gave their father a second chance.
Some people over-indulged in their own vices, while others used the money for a fresh beginning. And a few mended fences and made a small part of the world a better place for those they still cared for.
What did you do with your own stimulus? Did you chase a poison or did you heal a wound?
Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash.
Hello Everyone! I love that I get to learn something new every day no matter where I am in life or actuality. Today I learned that this topic (Hate Mail) is an ongoing series on the blog. Yea Missy!
Just a reminder, I’m still housed at the county jail facility, back from prison fighting for justice; and I say that to say this, the problems that we prisoners have sending and receiving our mail is endemic throughout not only the prisons, but also the jails. And not in any geographical or jurisdictional sense, this particular issue pervades the entire system at every level; local, state and federal.
How might someone in my position here in a county jail in Florida know this? Here in the Pinellas County Jail is a federal holding facility for the Middle District Federal Court in Tampa, and there are county-leased jails all over the country as it must be less costly for the feds and more profitable for the county jails; not to mention the federal cops will chase you down anywhere for placing a stamp cooked on an envelope. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration… maybe.
Let’s look at the most recent action of errant-ry. If a person is indigent, in this county jail, you are permitted four legal mail envelopes per month through the law library by application as they are guarding those priceless folded and gum-stripped sheets of wood pulp from nefarious and unscrupulous users such as myself. I used one of the said envelopes to communicate my grievance of an appeal that’s best addressed in another article. The envelope, which was addressed to the Colonel of the jail, the highest ranked officer of the facility, was returned to me three days after I mailed it because someone deposited twenty dollars on my account some time between mailing and vetting. Instead of simply forwarding the envelope via in-house mail delivery… across the parking lot, they consumed the hourly wage rate of the law librarian, which certainly surpasses the forty-nine cents it would have cost to process the letter through the U.S. mail, to return the letter to me with instructions to open and return the contents and then destroy the envelope. This begs the question: What?
It’s the spend a dollar to save a dime mentality that connotes the need to make sure that people in custody are feeling the full force of those who must believe it’s their job to mete out punishment by way of mail interrupt-us.
It does get funny at times, though. I mean really funny. I had my best person in the world go onto the Florida DOC website to send me a location finder for Florida prisons; an outline of the state with the prison locations, no roads, no highways, or byways or parkways or even driveways. Alas, it was returned because we are not permitted to receive maps; just in case we get out of the myriad of locked doors and miles of razor wire, they don’t want us to find our way around or through the armies of law enforcement. I informed the mail room this outline had none of the attributes of a map and this is available to DOC prisoners from the DOC themselves. Under my suggestion, my love returned it to me with “This is not a map.” written boldly across the top. Lo and behold, the paper came to me this time and has been the subject of a great many he-haws since.
I don’t know if that is topped by this fact, but it is in the running: Among the crazy list of do-not-sends is newspaper or magazine articles or book passages torn from a publication. I have not been able to get any answer at all why this prohibition is in place, and I have asked, except that it is because it is. However, all you have to do is – put them on a copier, copy them onto a plain white piece of paper and then send it in. It will get to you. And, oddly enough, I have sent others articles ripped from magazines with no issue at all. If anyone can come up with any guess as to what logic may be applied here, I’d be so relieved to know what even your best guess might be since I’ve exhausted more brain cells trying to figure this one out than all others combined.
So many people who become incarcerated have no idea that just because we are behind the fences doesn’t mean that we have no rights. One of the most important rights is that of communication. We can, for all intents and purposes communicate with our lawyers and loved ones, and letters to state agencies and media are also protected rights.
However, the penal system that has no oversight and has a culture attempted through the excuse of penalogical interests and even by power drunk staff can and does read and withhold mail that may incriminate those powers that be by simply rejecting or censoring incoming and outgoing mail. But it goes further when they use your mail against you under the guise of being a threat to the order and security of the institution.
If any of you are familiar with the Uniform Commercial Code and becoming a sovereign citizen of the United States, there are real patriots out there that have legitimate companies helping people with a myriad of complex filing issues. I had written to such an organization out of Georgia. I’m not aware of other state’s decisions on this but the Florida Department of Corruptions, with their statutorily given right to make their own rules, has by rule and threat of punishment, made it an offense to even possess the Uniform Commercial Codes. Not being as knowledgeable, I am curious, so I wrote to this organization. My letter was rejected and sent back under the fallback go to that I was “being a threat to the security of the institution”.
Something about pursuing any legal means necessary to expose them for the cruel culture that has been prevelant for so long buys you special attention. So I was called to the gang Sergeant’s office because I apparently became part of a security threat group seeking out information to help gain my freedom. I am 55 years old and have never been in trouble in my life, but now I am supposedly on an FBI watch list. Normally I would laugh this off but later, I applied to be placed in an honor dorm with mostly age-grouped inmates and was denied as being a gang member.
Is it overkill? Probably so, but beyond that it’s motivated by fear that someone may draw attention to the American plague that is our prisons.