Appreciation for Popsicles and Apathy

Appreciation for Popsicles and Apathy

Photo by Lanju Fotografie on Unsplash

RCW 72.09.010 – Legislative intent. It is the intent of the legislature to establish a comprehensive system of corrections for convicted law violators within the state of Washington to accomplish the following objectives. […]
(5)(a) Avoiding idleness. Idleness is not only wasteful but destructive to the individual and to the community.

Today the administration at MCC notified the incarcerated population that a “staff appreciation” event will be held on May 31, 2022. At the same time as this notice was being disbursed, the Twin Rivers Unit Associate Superintendent was going around the institution with a bowl full of popsicles and handing them out to staff.

The incarcerated population at MCC is furious by this shameless demonstration of “atta-boy” behavior — and here’s why:

While this event occurs, MCC prisoners will be locked down from 10:30 a.m until 2:30 p.m. Staff will be eating BBQ while we eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

To be fair, staff have gone through a lot during covid. With Gov. Inslee’s vaccine mandate causing major staff shortages, many MCC staff worked four double shifts a week for months. In addition, DOC struggles to keep new hires because it is simply an agency that doesn’t know how to be humane — either to employees or prisoners.

Whereas staff suffering at MCC has ended, the horrors of covid isolation for prisoners has never lessened — and in fact continues to worsen under the free hand administrators have to cause harm — all under the covid umbrella.

At Twin Rivers Unit the prisoners in both medium custody units have been removed from their jobs in all Correctional Industries operations besides the kitchen. This results in them being stuck in the housing unit all day. Milling around. Doing nothing.

Recreation has dwindled from four to six hours every day, down to a meager two hours — which is cancelled several times a week for a variety of reasons. Going to the yard on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings has disappeared completely.

Volunteer programs no longer exist. Twin Rivers used to have religious programs for all faith groups every single day of the week. Self-betterment programs such as Bridges to Life, Defy Ventures, Bridges to HOPE, Toastmasters, and recovery groups like AA/NA and Celebrate Recovery.

All gone.

Draconian covid protocols are imposed and aggressively enforced. Masks on at all times, maintain six-foot distance … completely ignoring the space limitations that do not allow “social distancing” — and the fact that we are sheltering in place when in our “wings.”

Visitation has been decimated — from four days a week for seven hours a day, down to three, 3- hour visits a month. We can drink bottled water now — but masks remain on with no eating food or kissing our loved ones. The argument against eating? Our masks would be down for too long.

MCC administrators must have found magic masks for the staff appreciation event — because surely they won’t be allowed to unmask and eat around one another. Ha.

Since March of 2020 this has gone on for us. During the covid outbreak that began in November when three maintenance staff infected their inmate work crews, MCC prisoners went weeks eating food that wasn’t fit for a dog. Many went weeks without a clean change of clothing. All were locked down for over a month. Over 400 positive cases and DOC never gave out a single cough drop.

Nobody has ever offered anything that resembles an apology to the prisoners at MCC. Certainly we’re not having a BBQ to acknowledge the way we continue to suffer. Our daily lives are fear. When will they take visits? When will they lock us in again?

I appreciate staff — and I only hope that they “drink the kool-aid” during their BBQ. Or was it in the popsicles?

A Meal

A Meal

There are just over 800 prisoners at the Twin Rivers Unit of the Monroe Correctional Complex, a medium custody institution located in a semi-rural area northeast of Seattle, Washington. The prison has four living units: A, B, C, and D, and each unit has three “wings” (A, B, and C) all with a lower and an upper tier.

On the morning of Friday January 21st, 2022, a man named Chandler M. was locked into his cell (on “quarantine status”) at TRU/B-Unit C-Wing (“C-Wing”) in order to undergo a symptoms test out of concern that he might have contracted c/vid.

Also on Friday January 21st, 2022, the Secretary of DOC Cheryl Strange put out a letter to families of the incarcerated that said, in part, “I know some of you have concerns about food and water getting to your loved ones at regularly scheduled times. In some cases, and some locations, meals are taking much longer to serve. Everyone in the facility is being given the opportunity to eat every meal.” Mr. M. had no knowledge of this promise from Secretary Strange — but it would be one that DOC fulfilled for him.

On Monday January 24th, 2022, while helping pass out commissary to the people in C-Wing, I took two very small bags to Mr. M’s cell. I would later discover that they contained Tylenol and other OTC products — no food items like chips, meat, rice, ramen noodles, or coffee. Just medications.

As I waited for the officer in the control booth to press the button that would unlock Mr. M’s door, I found out that his door lock was broken and could only be opened manually with a key. So I told him to slide his key under the door (yes, we have keys to our cells — like I said: this is medium custody) so I could unlock it for him. For some reason he balked and since I couldn’t understand him, I became impatient and moved on to give commissary to the next person on quarantine.

I was done in just a few minutes, and decided to go back and speak with Mr. M. Because he is very awkward socially I try and make extra efforts to connect with him — and it was a good thing that I did.

Mr. M. had not been allowed out of his cell with the other quarantined prisoners to shower and use the phone for the entire three days that he’d been locked down. He had also been fed one time in those three days — but as promised by Secretary Strange: he had the opportunity to eat his (one) meal.

Readers: please know that I promptly went out and read the acting unit supervisor, sergeant, and officers the riot act over Mr. M’s maltreatment.

Their response? “He should have said something.” Typical blame shifting by an abusive authority figure. What was he supposed to say — and to whom? All of our inquiries are met with either “I don’t know” or “that’s up to Incident Command.” More correctly called “Idiot Central,” I think.

They also told me repeatedly that he had never been on quarantine. Oops. His mistake — but with a broken door lock he couldn’t come out and he really has no friends that would say: “Hey! I haven’t seen Chandler today — let’s go find him!”

I was able to give him some food right away, and then was overjoyed to unlock his cell for him and let him out just before lunch on the 24th.

By noon Mr. M had been locked back into his cell. I stormed over and demanded to know why — “I’m not cleared to be out yet” is what he told me.

Huh. I guess he was on quarantine and not in his cell just because he didn’t have someone unlock his door. Looks like the blame-shifting didn’t hold up after all.

Mr. M is off quarantine now and moved into a cell that doesn’t have a broken lock — which I should add he was never supposed to be left in anyway.

But he did get the chance to eat his meal.

Daily Prison Life Series: Convoluted

Daily Prison Life Series: Convoluted

Photo by marianne bos on Unsplash

For all the world to see, Hello my fellow travelers in the A.I. Universe, I will be as plain spoken about about the issues concerning incarcerated persons as I can. Sometimes I may have to backtrack to clarify things because this environment gets so damn convoluted it’s hard to follow even from the inside. Convoluted: adj: marked by extreme and often needless or excessive complexity.

No better word exists to describe the daily life of a prisoner. To be fair that there are a number of prisoners who make life difficult for themselves and others. This number is nominal. Some of the idiotic actions by these prisoners are mind blowing. Like stabbing someone because of some perceived disrespect. Just like on the street this behavior should never be tolerated. However when an incident happens in the outside world you don’t punish the whole neighborhood where the offense took place. For some reason this blanket punishment has become a necessary component of a reasonable penological interest. Whatever that means. The only result of this type of mass punishment is that of a negative nature. In all its forms. For instance, the controlling mentality driving daily life is that an officer’s job is to punish the inmates even though the stated duties are care, custody, and control. Nothing more. Not judging a person’s charges and physically abusing them for that which they are being punished for already. Nor keeping them from a job or educational assignment they are eligible for as added restrictions just because an officer has the ”power” to do so.

When there is a physical altercation between two inmates, the entire dormitory is placed on some form of restrictions ie loss of recreation or canteen access. Or as in the events that took place two weeks ago that led to a weeklong lockdown. This brings me full circle to the censored article that I attempted to post two weeks ago. The reason given for the censor was simply ”weapon.” However my reference to the possibility that the phone call alleging the threat may have originated from a phone smuggled into the prison by a staff member is more likely the reason for the censorship. If all of this seems to be arbitrary and capricious from the outside looking in, imagine the sheer chaos that prisoners are forced to live in everyday. And they wonder why the recidivism rate is so high … or do they?

Peace and love. Namaste’.

PS. I never did get my socks back or even my grievance responded to. 🙂

Prisons Use Covid to Enhance Punishment

Prisons Use Covid to Enhance Punishment

We’ve heard a few stories about how prisons use Covid as an excuse to enhance punishment of their charges. We received this letter from the mother of a person incarcerated at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Washington Department of Corrections. We have reported this to the Office of the Corrections Ombuds, Washington State Representative Roger Goodman, and Washington State Senator Jeannie Darneille.

My son is an inmate at this facility. When they had their first deaths, my son’s pod was completely free of any known Covid patients. There are about 200 inmates in a pod. Gradually there were some positives and they were moved out to a different location .

They gave them a phone schedule for those times allowed out so I was still able to talk to him. As some of the inmates returned to the pod, there started to be some confusion. Soon they were taken back out of the pod and put to work cleaning the areas where those who tested positive were kept. They were still using the same pod as where they returned. Then the numbers started rising, the guards continued as though they, the guards, were not quarantined.

If you have IBS you are in pain the whole wait. If you can’t hold it then you have to go for a shower. My son had been given permission for at least a urinal bottle but was later told he did not qualify. They are now allowed only 25 minutes out of the cell a day and he can only call every other day.

It is completely inhuman to deny them access to water and toilets. These cells were not designed for a completely locked down situation. The facility does not return calls. I have no idea how to help him other than to try to at least maintain contact as much as possible. Thanks for listening.

<Name redacted>’s mom

The Pod he is in is a minimum security pod where bathrooms and showers are located in the day room. In a pod such as his, the doors to the cells are typically not locked, since access to a toilet is not possible otherwise. But Washington State prison officials apparently think that Covid is a good excuse to deny inmates access to showers and toilets, basic necessities that are their responsibility to provide, not when it is convenient for them, but all the time even if it is not convenient for them.

Jacob Schmitt – Empowering the Imprisoned: A Journey of Love

Jacob Schmitt – Empowering the Imprisoned: A Journey of Love

Our friend Jack Erdie produces and hosts a podcast called Plague Talk. The July 18, 2020 episode features Melissa’s husband Jacob Schmitt, interviewed from prison in Washington state.
Jacob Ivan Schmitt has spent most of his life locked up. Now he works to bring positive empowerment to the incarcerated and to thoroughly prepare them for “outside” thinking and successful reentry and community reintegration.


His is a story of the power of love and of dreaming being the bars that bind us. Even when we discuss the misery and losses for the incarcerated during Covid 19 lockdown squared, his vision is unwaveringly of internal and external freedom, autonomy, success and love.