We’re thrilled to congratulate our friend Martin Lockett on the publication of his second book, My Prison Life: A Blogger’s Insights from the Inside. I was honored to write the foreword, and so grateful to be involved in some small way in this project. You can find Martin’s book here on Amazon.
If you haven’t already read Martin’s first book, which I highly recommend, it is also available on Amazon.
Watch this space later this week, for a video of Martin, telling his moving and powerful story.
In 2013 Martin L. Lockett published his memoir, Palpable Irony: Losing my freedom to find my purpose. During his incarceration, he has earned a Certificate of Human Services from Louisiana State University, AA from Indiana University, BS in Sociology from Colorado State University – Pueblo, and an MS in Psychology from California Coast University. He continues to tutor in the GED program at the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem, Oregon, and co-facilitates an impaired driver victims impact panel. He aspires to counsel adolescents who struggle with substance abuse.
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.
It took several agonizing months of listening to cellmate’s stories before I realized that my innocence didn’t matter. At fifty-one, I’d had a pretty full life.
This 17-year-old African American boy, arrested in front of school merely because he stood next to somebody suspected of a robbery, was in real trouble. By all accounts, he won’t have a future. A felony will abruptly cut short his high school career, and possibly his life.
The police report he shows me rules him out as a suspect. The accomplice he’s alleged to be wears dreadlocks and has a good four inches and thirty pounds on him. Neither the police nor the prosecutor thinks this matters. He will likely plea out because he doesn’t have the resources to fight them. He’s just another defendant, a black one at that, to his court-appointed attorney. To the prosecutor: another notch in her lipstick case. The public doesn’t know and likely wouldn’t care if they knew his story. “He shouldn’t have been smoking in front of the school,” they’d probably say.
I spend hours on the phone at sixty cents per minute, convincing my sister to “sell it all.” She does, but can’t bear to sell my truck.
“I want you to have it when you get out of prison,” she says.
“It really doesn’t matter,” I say. “It’s just stuff.”
Nine months later, at the Holliday transfer unit, I’m in line for commissary when I see the boy from county. He signed for a year probation, violated, and was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary. I tell him I’m sorry.
“It doesn’t matter,” he says. I try not to cry.
My sister and I talk on the phone a lot. The rate is much cheaper than it was in county. It’s only twenty-one cents per minute. We decide to start an organization to help people like the young man I couldn’t help. We call it Adopt an Inmate. Dot Org. I talk on the phone and my sister does all the work.
“It doesn’t matter,” she says. “I think I’ve found my calling.”
Two and-a-half more years pass. I am on the phone with my sister.
“I have bad news,” she says. She draws out the story, hoping to soften the blow. This only increases the suspense. Turns out my truck is probably totaled. Her voice breaks. The accident is fresh.
“What about you?” I ask. “Are you hurt?”
“Well … I don’t know how but I seem to have hurt my pinky.”
A split-second later and she would be a no-answer.
I don’t care about the truck she cries for. She’s disappointed because she wanted to preserve just one thing of the life I had before. But it really doesn’t matter. God preserved what really matters. I and hundreds of adopted inmates around the country know what really matters.
Footnote: I vividly remember talking to my brother on the phone while sorting through his belongings, asking him what to sell and what to keep. Craigslist shoppers were traipsing through his house, looking for bargains. Most everything he had was sold or given away in our desperate rush to clear out his house in a few days – once we finally accepted that he was not going to be released anytime soon. We couldn’t afford to keep paying rent on his place in Texas. Then about a year later, the same with my belongings, when I decided to move from California to my mother’s house in Oregon, to be with family until the trial. It was easy to get rid of most of my stuff – except for a few loved items. I can still hear my brother’s voice, “You know what? You don’t need it.” Of course he was right. Sold!
His truck was totaled. We had just paid it off the month before, four years into the nightmare. My mom and I felt like warriors. For a week or so.
The good news is that my brother was just approved for parole. Also, my pinky is healing. Now we just have to figure out what he’s going to drive.
My brother lives in an old farm house in Ohio with this great front yard of plush green grass that in the heart of the season is carpeted with the most beautiful and brightest yellow dandelions you’ve ever seen. I remember when my son was about 5 and he commented, “Wow!” as his eyes lit up so brightly they could only be matched by the beautiful carpet of nature that lay before him, inviting the run he couldn’t wait to get started on.
It’s been said that if you come out of the penal system a better person than when you went in, it’s in spite of the system, not because of the system. One thing that I’ve been able to have a perspective of gratitude for through this whole experience is the awareness I gained through the deprivation of basically everything beautiful. This awareness has not come without effort though, and I have found practices like meditation and limiting myself of the few distractions that are afforded prisoners such as television sports, television movies, television series, etc., etc., etc.
But one thing that snuck in through the periphery of my self-imposed safety line, was a commercial about a weed killing product that targets only certain vegetation in a given area. The computer generated depiction shows this fellow barbecuing on his plush, green back yard and he gets annoyed at one, yes one lone dandelion that supposedly could potentially ruin his entire experience. Cut to the spreader throwing the killer chemical all over the yard and this one lone beautiful creation, no matter where you think the creation originated, catches the bulk of this toxin, withering it to oblivion so the man can get on with his barbeque in perfection.
This is particularly sad and disturbing because this method of fooling the human psyche works. It’s not that we shouldn’t strive to be better people, but being misled to believe that we can ever achieve perfection even close to the beauty and intricacy of something as delicate as a dandelion while we are poisoning the air with chemically treated charcoal, our bodies with preservative based ingredients, and drug filled meat that has altered the course of development of the human body, and, the very ground that all life is dependent on to every extent for survival.
My hope for mankind is not diminished over my life or even through the horrific experience of the Amerikan system of injustice, but may have actually increased the need to see through the ruse knowing that perfection is not something we will ever be able to create as we double our efforts at destroying the perfection that’s been blooming right before our eyes long before the merchant quest for power, comfort, and separateness.
Shake down Go ahead and take it from me Shake down In the middle of the night Shake down I’m sleeping here can’t you see Shake down it’s not alriiiiiight…
Although this sounds like a parody from weird Al Yankovic of a famous Tom Petty song, it really is, by definition, criminal behavior perpetuated by prison and jail guards worldwide.
I’ve used the comparison of seeing your child, while playing with another, strike their playmate — and then as punishment, you spank or strike the offending tyke. I think that most rational people would view this as a negative feeding a negative. You cannot draw something positive from a negative. The message to your little one is not that it’s okay to hit in certain situations, it is more apt to be black and white. It’s okay for someone bigger to hit someone smaller.
It applies not just to small humans because — even though our thinking process matures as we grow — there are basic universal laws which cannot be adjusted according to the whims of humankind. That being said, there is only one logical outcome of producing an environment that is not only negative in context, but petty in execution.
Let me define the term shakedown for those who aren’t familiar. It is a search of property for contraband. Now, picture if you can a structure more impervious than an ancient castle, combined with Fort Knox and The White House. The — we’ll call them residents — do not have physical contact with anybody except those who conduct the shakedowns. It ain’t rocket science to figure out how contraband gets into jails and prisons. But that’s not the focus of this essay. The law enforcement mentality places an assumption of guilt on the inmates, and a superiority complex on the administration. It appears that the main objective is to punish those who are in their custody and control. At every turn, most officials do whatever they can to dehumanize the prisoners. Shakedowns are a primary vehicle for that, and are routinely performed by 20 or more officers charging into the dorm in the wee hours of the morning, turning the area into a stadium of bright lights, screaming at the top of their lungs to agitate the prisoners, just in case they were able to fall asleep on the slab of metal called a bunk.
You would think that with all this effort the haul would be everything from weapons of mass destruction to sophisticated communications devices. I’m not saying that it never happens that a cell phone or a plastic bag with homemade wine is found, but it is the exception. The big score this last siege produced was some fingernail clippers that had apparently found their way into my legal work upon transferring from prison to county jail for some hearings. Had it not been for the incompetence of the officers performing the intake, the nail clippers that inadvertently ended up at the bottom of a very full file would have not made it to the dorm in the first place.
It goes to a whole new level of petty when generally all that is harvested from these maneuvers of dehumanization is some extra sheets and a plastic bag being used to keep a t-shirt clean so when you appear in court you can present yourself as somewhat human. But the level of psychological warfare is evidenced by the seizure of items as benign as a rubber band holding some notes in an address book, or a paper clip keeping things organized – which is most difficult considering all the confusing rules for adhering to legal procedures in the first place.
But there’s more. If you happen to be fortunate enough to be able to purchase a bowl and lid from commissary and it is found with food in it, they will dump the food and have sometimes been known to break the bowl itself. God forbid you save some bread from your tray for the peanut butter and jelly you purchased from commissary. It’s another tactic to dehumanize and punish. This is in a county jail where most are pre-trial detainees who have not even been convicted of a crime.
I have personally seen guards slinging property and legal documents everywhere and squirting toothpaste onto it as it lies in the sink/toilet, smashing purchased food, leaving what semblance of order you may have had in shambles. A pile of trash. The purpose of this of course is to remind you who has all the power. Who cares if it perpetuates and reinforces the negative energy that brings people to prison? This is the oxymoron of the department of corrections. The staff, being undereducated, falls prey to the big brother mentality while continuing less than ethical or professional behavior by retaliation through shake downs. Prisoners have very little, and there is comfort in having a few personal effects around them. It helps to maintain some sanity. Until bang! Everybody up, we need to see if you have any of the contraband that our fellow officers are smuggling in! If it weren’t so annoying, it would be laughable. So every night, you go to sleep wondering if this will be your night. Until you make up your mind to detach from it. That’s a measure of success.
I read that in the 1930s, law enforcement were running amok and instead of arresting those involved in criminal activity, they would just shake them down, taking whatever they wanted, and many across the country were arrested and imprisoned. This resulted in prisoners employing the same behavior with each other on the inside. You don’t shine the light on these shakedowns and risk being called a snitch. I believe not only is there a duty to shine the light but also point the proverbial finger. These doubly negative actions will not change until we change them. That begins with personal accountability and understanding the importance of change.
Prisons may have come a long way since the 1930s but God knows there is much room for improvement. Conducting searches with some semblance of care to find contraband supplied by those who are considered the ‘good guys’ is a start to treating humans humanely – one shake down at a time.