Daily Prison Life Series: Florida Prisoner Michael Henderson

Continuing education in the Daily Life series would be incomplete without a lesson on the so-called health care that’s not provided in the Florida prison system. I know from reading extensively about the health care management companies that this issue is not unique to Florida, but this is where I am and this is what I can personally attest to.

I think it’s important to intermingle this issue with the fact that The New Jim Crow is alive and well in Florida. It’s very Kafkaesque, or maybe they are just expecting the prisoners will develop some form of Stockholm syndrome. Either way prisoners are forced into labor with absolutely zero recognition for their labors. Prisoners receive no pay for work in Florida.

I don’t mind sharing with you, my family, the bodily malfunctions my nearly sixty year-old self is experiencing. It completes the picture. I have, until coming to Columbia correctional, been equipped with dual knee braces and a walking cane. X-rays for the past six years or so have shown the arthritic deterioration of my knees, shoulders, neck, etcetera, etcetera. But lo and behold, a new health care management company and transfer to a different region, hallelujah I’m all cured!

A.R.N.P. Robinson decided that since the new company, Centurion Health Care, has changed their standards, all the previously prescribed apparatuses – canes, braces, wheel chairs and just about anything the Americans With Disabilities Act did absolutely not allow them to take, was recalled.

With the knowledge that the prison system is aging, the trick is to simply disavow that there is even the existence of a problem and you can claim plausible deniability. For instance, my medical file has been thinned three or four times and the previously filed work has been stored somewhere other than where it’s accessible. Sooo, the new A.R.N.P. says she cannot find where I have a hiatal hernia. Hence, she can deny giving me the medication that is needed to keep me from choking on my food and aspirating on my own upchuck. Let’s not even consider the suffering that comes with not being able to consume a meal in the three allotted minutes the officers are giving you to eat in the first place. But even worse is that the officers are trained to view every inmate as being a malingerer. A fake. Now even when someone is vomiting their meal into the grass, they must be faking it to some nefarious ends. This happened to me a couple of days ago when I had to step outside the chow hall to save myself from choking after literally the first bite. Sgt. Morris would not allow me to eat my meal and threatened me with confinement unless I left the chow hall.

This type of treatment is endemic in the prisons in this country. Why, because of Florida Statute 921.002(1)(b) which states The primary purpose of sentencing is to punish the offender. Rehabilitation is a desired goal of the criminal justice system but is subordinate to the goal of punishment. Florida, you are exposed. The question is will you look at yourselves in all your ignominy and start caring about and for your people?

I must again make clear, this culture of not caring for our people is not limited to Florida. It’s a condition that is destroying our people, our culture, and our chances of survival. So the next time you think incarcerated persons are taken taken care of by ”the system,’ ask any inmate if they are a better person because they spent time in the most deplorable conditions imaginable – in a country that is considered a world leader. You shouldn’t be surprised by the answers.

Peace and love to everyone. Namaste.

Correctional Industries: Valuing Profits Instead of Lives

Correctional Industries: Valuing Profits Instead of Lives

For those of you that do not know what Correctional Industries (“CI”) is, I’ll give you a brief explanation. If you’re a member of the community or legislature, CI is touted as a saver of money and savior for the thousands of men and women within the Washington State Department of Corrections. CI is supposed to provide services at a reduced price, with improved quality, and the benefit of training incarcerated people with marketable job skills.

The reality is that CI is none of those things. Every operation CI takes over has a dramatic dip in quality (whether it is food, laundry, commissary, or textiles and manufacturing), a dramatic rise in costs (for taxpayers), and offers virtually nothing in the way of marketable job skills that would provide a sustainable wage after release.

For the purpose of this conversation I want to focus on CI and the operation here at Twin Rivers Unit where they operate the kitchen that provides food to the prisoner population. At this point, everyone in America knows about COVID (and my having written that word in this email will now cause this message to be flagged and screened before being sent out — which may take as long as two weeks), and the risks involved with having close contact with someone who has the virus.

For anyone associated with prison, we all know that staff are the ones who will bring the virus into this environment and infect us. Also known by anyone associated with prison is that (1) we receive horrifyingly deficient medical care at the best of times, and (2) when believed to have COVID, we are sent to be housed in the hole — where staff are abusive and treat us inhumanely.

In many ways DOC has been amazing about COVID. I have not been pat searched for months, nor has my cell been searched. Even so, staff do not social distance — even when yelling at us: “SIX FEET!!” They sit in the offices and remove their masks, eating, drinking, talking — coughing and sneezing. They sit maskless while sorting our mail — which they then wear their masks while handing out…even though the virus can remain on paper for over 24 hours.

But the most egregious show of disregard for our lives has been demonstrated by Correctional Industries. Amidst this pandemic, with everything that we know about the spread of COVID — and the risk that outside personnel pose for the prisoners within — CI has had officers pat searching every prisoner who leaves the chow hall after working their shift. Without a change of gloves, one prisoner after the next.

Only to discover that one of those officers has tested positive for COVID. Now, we have 121 prisoners on quarantine — many aged and with with underlying health conditions that increase their chances of death if they contract COVID.

With this act, Correctional Industries has shown themselves (as both an agency and the individuals who operate it) to be the monster we have long known them to be. In order to prevent the possible theft of an onion, or maybe some cheese, CI has been having prisoners pat searched for months — and finally our greatest fear is realized: That person is COVID positive.

The mail Gestapo will almost definitely stop this message from going out — there will be an attempt to silence my voice and censor this information. Nonetheless, when you do read these words, please consider them when and if you hear DOC telling you how well they’re protecting us. An onion has more value than our lives.

My Reluctant Ministry* – Dan

When you finally acknowledge and really accept that you can do and be more than the limitations others have set before you, there are more worlds open to you, with understanding and growth that has no limits than you have imagined, right in front of you.

My Reluctant Ministry brings people into my life that I would not have otherwise been graced with and opportunities to help in ways I could never have guessed. When you think of ministry, you automatically think spiritual or religious. Here in America’s insides, people’s needs are a hands on effort because even those who seem to be caught in the maze specifically to be judged by the rest of us, are deserving of the grace that anyone deserves just by virtue of being a fellow human being. This effort sometimes requires me to focus more on legal, practical matters to help find ones’ way through the end of the maze. I have come across men who, in hopes to make it, will fake it.

My friend, whom I’ll call Dan, is someone I probably would have never met outside the gates. I’d like to try and fool myself into not having any responsibility for that fact, but the truth is we all have preconceived ideas about people places and things and we are sometimes caught up in our own maze of those notions. We’re motivated to change by things like fear, desire, need and sometimes imagination.

Dan came to me with the most sincere facets of all of the above and little direction on how to accomplish his goals. I was… well, reluctant. I have spent all my incarceration living in the law library and had accomplished some of my own goals and didn’t see being able to help this young man very much because of my preconceived ideas about the men I’m imprisoned with and my lack of vision for others. In the process of helping this young man learn how to defend himself from the treacherous penal system, I learned so much from him about myself that I actually consider Dan my friend. Something I would not have been able to do under any other circumstances because he used to be a racist. Self professed. He shared with me about the day he stopped being a racist. He was sent to medical by a Sergeant because of an infection that was oozing and painful. When he got to the clinic, there was a very sweet looking older grandmotherly type of officer as clinic reception and when he approached her desk she told him she didn’t care who sent him to medical that he knew he couldn’t come to medical without signing up for sick call and that if he didn’t carry his beggar black ass out of there she was going to hit the panic button and tell security he was coming after her, at which point he backed out and left quickly.

The very next day, the same Sergeant saw he was in the same condition and again sent him to medical. The same grandmotherly officer was there again but this time there was also a Practitioner there who saw the infection and immediately ushered Dan to the treatment area where he proceeded to treat him with utmost care and professionalism, tending his wound and making sure he had enough dressings and antibiotic cream to get him through the infection. Thankfully, Dan healed, in more ways than one, and he affected healing in me through the whole process.

You see, Dan is a black man, as was the grandmotherly officer that drove him away from the clinic in fear and humiliation the day before. The practitioner was white. Dan told me that day in November 2012, he stopped being a racist because he now realizes that the person behind the skin is what matters, not the skin.

When Dan came to me seeking help to understand the justice system, I was more than glad to help him learn, but I had my reservations. By helping Dan with his case, I was able to experience not only Dan’s learning and real heartfelt drive, but I realized the ugly truth was that I was more like the grandmotherly officer than the helpful medical practitioner and even though I never considered myself racist, that day I grew and healed and learned.

Even the fact that Dan and I have spiritual talks and share some reading materials, the true ministering came through in the practical hands on effort to help him learn worldly ways, while Dan taught me the ways of the soul. I now no longer look at a person’s outer appearance because I first am looking inside of myself to check my own place in the cosmos by ridding myself of those old preconceived notions. That may have been the day I truly stopped being racist too.

* With gratitude for Leah, who not only listens to me, but actually hears me, and suggested the title for my article – all my love.