I Tested Covid Punitive

I Tested Covid Punitive

On January 23rd I took a Covid PCR test and, because of the absolute mismanagement of the Covid response in our prison, I tested “Covid Punitive.” I had been going to work, taking rapid tests to get in, for almost 2 weeks without incident (including the time of the PCR) and yesterday, my results were in… I was positive. I can remember a day last week of some sweats and a sore throat, but we had just had flu shots, so I assumed it was associated with that. So, in the prison’s terrible response to this, I was snatched from work, locked in my cell, told to pack everything I own in 15 minutes, chained and shackled, loaded up on a bus with 78 other positives, and taken to another prison without a clue what was happening to us.

There, I sat in a filthy cell where I could touch two walls at once, without anything to clean it with. It has open bars and all night I could hear others struggling to breathe, coughing and hacking. The “mattresses” we use are a pad about two inches thick on a hard metal tray bolted to the wall and it makes your arms numb in the night. We were told we will only have one chance to get out for a shower or a phone call — once a day. This prison is over 100 years old and this cellblock had been recently shut down. It’s disgusting. But it’s now the “Covid Isolation” unit. I’ve been stripped of everything — all the meager comforts I had — because it’s all now in storage (I hope) and get to deal with this 10-14 day knee in the back (or longer if people keep testing positive). Imagine if you had tested positive and had to pack up your home, hoped someone stored all of it, got harnessed like an animal and moved to some random, filthy house, halfway across town… and, like some here, do it all while you can hardly breathe.

There’s a logical, scientific, and humane way for this prison command to deal with sick people, but instead of seeing an opportunity for compassion, it’s a chance at kicking someone while they’re down. Everyone around here is terrified of the Covid tests. Not because of being ill, we can deal with that, but a Covid positive test result is really a Covid Punitive test result. If you think Covid can make you feel miserable, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet…

Daily Prison Life Series: Who Polices Whom

Daily Prison Life Series: Who Polices Whom

Edvard Munch’s iconic painting ‘The Scream’ 

Hello AI Family,

Have you ever been refused access to use the toilet? I mean without being held in a hostage situation like a bank robbery or a kidnapping. A very rare event. But even victims of those circumstances report receiving these basic humanitarian necessities. But not the victims of the white shirts of the Florida department of corrections.

These ”white shirts” as they are known, are any rank higher than a sergeant. Lieutenant, captain, major, colonel. Objectively, taking into account that there are people in the white shirts, and, at least ostensibly, they have reached a level of reasoning commensurate with the decisions they are required to make in order to maintain an already extremely stressed population of men, some of these folks still haven’t acquired the skill set to rationally make decisions to correct behaviors that are considered incorrect.

A description is needed here. In all prisons there are count times. Generally, the stock in these human warehouses are inventoried around five times during the waking hours of a day. The last waking count is known as a master roster count. We are allotted a ten or so minute regrouping period to retreat to our bunks for the count. This really seems like a never ending process some days. A couple of nights ago there was apparently a staff shortage and the white shirt on duty was in the dorm for count. I’m not sure that this particular night was one that required an extra minute to settle but all of a sudden the white shirt was screaming her lungs out, threatening to ”lock-up” not any offenders of her directives, but the neighbors of said offenders. Now remember that a lot of these men are here because they are unable to follow rules in the first place. So under a storm of vitriolic invectives these men are supposed to police each other. The end result could have very easily been a violent confrontation between any number of men — especially after the white shirt declared that we couldn’t use the toilets. Some tyrannical prison guards inflict this particular brand of power-wielding on their wards — either as in this case punishment for some perceived breach of their authority, or as a standard ‘I can do whatever the hell I want.’ At any rate, it can’t be healthy to keep someone from using the toilet. I would even suggest it falls under cruel and unusual punishment. But what I find even more striking is the perceived need to scream and yell threats of even harsher punishment for simple infractions at men who are already dealing with an almost impossible living condition.

According to the officer’s code of conduct, Fla. Administrative Code CH.33-208, this primitive coercive form of communication is strictly prohibited. As with primarily every other section of this code there is zero accountability. The ”professionals” are not held to their own standards of conduct, and yet, the wards are held to a heightened standard of not only their own conduct, but apparently the next man’s conduct as well.

The questions remain the same, ”Do you want your neighborhoods, your families and your loved ones to be safer? Do you want your incarcerated family and loved ones to reenter society better equipped to be a productive member of your community?” Our current modality of incarceration and non-accountability of the incarcerator will never achieve correction.

Much peace and love

Namaste’

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.

Excessive Noise

Excessive Noise

We live in extremely hard times. The last year was certainly one of the more daunting of my life. The theme of 2020 was “If it can be shaken, it will be shaken.” And the theme of 2021 may be “transition.” Yet, whether or not 2021 turns out to be a year of growth depends greatly upon perspective. Where you stand usually depends on where you sit. Perspective can become difficult to apprehend amongst excessive noise. Allow me to explain.

In March of 2020, the Education Department was shut down because of a really aggressive outbreak of influenza here at E.O.C.I. Finally back to work on June 5, and then the first cases of Covid-19 are detected at the prison, on my unit. My housing unit goes on quarantine for what turns out to be over 60 days. By the time my unit comes off of quarantine, we had all contracted the virus, myself included, and although two men died as a result, the majority of us recovered fairly well. However, the coronavirus outbreak had become so widespread at E.O.C.I. by that time that the Education Department had been shut down until further notice.

In September, my job, visiting, and virtually all recreational activities had been shut down for 6 months. Football season began, and I started playing fantasy football with some guys on my unit. That turned out to be an unwise decision that would shape at least the next year of my life, perhaps even longer.

On December 19, I was handcuffed and escorted to disciplinary segregation, placed in a cell by myself, where I stayed until after the new year began. They informed me at the time that I was under investigation for gambling. I heard nothing about what was going on for two weeks. Finally, on the 15th day, I was given a misconduct report. On January 6th I went to my hearing and attempted to explain, but the hearing officer determined I had violated the rule against gambling by playing fantasy football. My 18 years of clear conduct made no difference.

While I do feel the direct consequences were fair – credit for time served in segregation and release that same day, the indirect consequences were disproportionate, in my opinion. I lost my 18 years of clear conduct; I lost my job as a tutor, which I had been doing for 13 years; I lost my level and incentive housing, and I lost my access to automation for schooling. I am now on a regular, non-incentive dormitory-style unit, and given the Covid-19 restrictions, I’m unable to do really anything but sit on my bunk, although I do have school stuff on which to focus.

Where I am is a warehouse for discarded, forgotten people, and I’m adjusting to my new reality. The ignorance and distorted thinking patterns of those who surround me are staggering, but it is difficult to blame them. Virtually nothing is being done to help them rectify the situation – and you can’t expect people who have never known how to change to suddenly and spontaneously know how to be different than they have always been. These men have no direction, no guidance, no objectives, and no reasons. They are unmotivated. The unit is chaos, and the men are aimless. And while I am certainly responsible for the mistake I made – I chose to play fantasy football, which is against the rules – these aimless men see that my 18 years of clear conduct did not earn me a break or even a benefit of the doubt. They see that although I spent 13 years helping others by tutoring them in the G.E.D program, it made no difference to those in authority. What message does that send to an increasingly younger prison population? Noise.

When I sought leniency after my hearing from the administration here at E.O.C.I., the man in charge of Rehabilitation Services was cold, self-righteous, and unwavering, which surprised me, given his own moral failings. A few years ago, this man, while married to someone else, had an affair with his boss, who was the superintendent at the time. As a result, the superintendent was fired, and his wife devastated. Yet, not only does he continue to work for the Department of Corrections, he holds a merciless paradigm toward the incarcerated. I don’t care that he made a personal mistake – life can be complicated and we all make mistakes. I just wonder how he can make such an egregious mistake and yet fail to exercise any empathy at all toward people like me… a man who merely played fantasy football. Noise.

Yes, I made a mistake. I broke the rules. I acknowledge it, and I take responsibility for it. I just feel the punishment is disproportionate, and the people in charge who set the standards of discipline for those of us who are incarcerated seem to set different standards for themselves, which seems to fly in the face of any framework of rehabilitation. Sure, they extend us the respect of professionalism, to a point, and the appearance of due process, but they do not extend the respect of humanity – because acknowledging our humanity is to accept we will make mistakes. Allow me to provide an example of the difference.

While I was in segregation, certain officers would pass books, magazines, or even various food items from cell to cell when asked. Then, all of a sudden, they would no longer do it. Apparently, the staff had a meeting, and the head of security told the officers that they are not allowed to pass items for inmates. He told them that if they find it happening again, the cameras will be reviewed and those officers seen passing items will no longer be allowed to work in segregation. The respect of humanity, in this particular example, is that the segregation officers were given a warning by those in charge – because human beings get careless and make mistakes.

I had 18 years of clear conduct, had been on incentive housing for 15 years, had worked at the same job tutoring others in the Education Department for 13 years – earned a Bachelor’s degree in 2015, a Master’s degree in 2017, and I’m currently about 20 months from completing my Ph.D. program… yet, I received no warning. I was placed in handcuffs, and everything I had earned over the last 20 years was taken away from me… for playing fantasy football. Noise.

It becomes difficult not to get discouraged. I see how we are treated in here every single day – even when we are following the rules and doing good. I see how the standards are different for those in authority. I see how so-called leaders politicize the concept of rehabilitation and prison reform. I see those who have worked in the prison system for decades and done virtually nothing to change anything, but when the lights are bright and the cameras are rolling, the pretend to be advocates for reform. I also personally experience unrealistic expectations of perfection in order to maintain my institutional incentives even after I’ve earned them. Noise.

Let me be clear: I am not the victim. I am not whining or saying I am entitled to anything. Yes, I feel the punishment is disproportionate, but I can overcome. I can shut out the noise. I can be greater than my greatest excuse. I can work harder, do more, and be better. That is not my issue here. I am strong-minded, emotionally intelligent, considerably educated, and highly motivated. I will succeed and defeat the hurdles in my path. My questions are not about me. My questions are about the men around me, the men who are young, impulsive, under-educated, immature, and without purpose. As they search for meaning in this dark place, can they black out the excessive noise? When they see that two decades of doing the best an incarcerated person can do simply does not matter at all to those in authority, why should they try? What positive examples do they see? They already don’t know how to change. Now… they don’t know why they should. It’s just too much noise

Retribution vs. Rehabilitation

Retribution vs. Rehabilitation

What is the most effective approach to dealing with crime and punishment? Should the criminal justice system primarily be used to punish those who violate the law by sending them to prison for lengthy terms? Or should it rather serve as a mechanism for rehabilitation? This dichotomous question is a polarizing one that aligns people on opposite sides of this argument and has shaped our penal system since its inception.

When men and women come to prison, we invariably cost hard-working, law-abiding taxpayers across this country billions of dollars annually to feed, clothe, and house us. Our water, heat, medical and dental care are all paid for on the backs of hard-working Americans from all walks of life. Recidivism rates show that most of us who are eventually released will re-offend and return to these overcrowded prisons within three to five years, continuously costing taxpayers many more billions of dollars for our lengthy terms of incarceration. This bleak trend will, unfortunately, remain intact if prisons continue to be used to primarily warehouse inmates.

Statistics show the higher the education one attains while incarcerated, the greater the likelihood of his or her success in the community, leading to a lesser likelihood that he or she will return to prison. Subsequently, the longer he or she thrives in a productive role in society, the more he or she will feel like a member of a community and not a criminal outcast. Earning a college degree or becoming certified in a trade while in prison is the key to this radical transformation and reintegration into our communities.

Having noted these promising outcomes, I know it is also paramount that the individual who commits a violent felony pays for his or her crime by serving time in prison. The sensible thing to do is to ensure that prison doesn’t continue to have a revolving door that perpetually costs taxpayers and state budgets billions of dollars, but rather to educate prisoners so they can begin to contribute to society. Offer college and apprenticeship programs to prepare them for the ever-evolving technological and service-based occupations that comprise the 21st century economy. When people have more at stake to lose, they tend to think twice about risking it by doing something illegal.

Understandably, many would vociferously rebut this assertion by arguing, “So, we’re just supposed to reward criminals with a free college education?” My answer would be pragmatically blunt: “No, you don’t have to offer any education of substance at all, but either way you’re going to spend those same tax dollars — either on lengthy incarcerations for re-offenders or on education that would enable them to contribute to society in an economically and socially meaningful way.” Which scenario benefits society more?

I am dismayed that this country that offers abundant opportunity on one hand can simultaneously incarcerate more people per capita than any other nation on earth! We’ve become a state and nation that would rather warehouse human lives in the name of retribution than rehabilitate people for the greater good of our collective society. Ironically, every state in the Union includes the word “corrections” in reference to its prison system. The (fill-in-the-state) Department of Corrections sounds as though it is primarily designed to correct or rehabilitate its occupants — but how? This is paradoxical to say the very least.

Personally, I’ve been extremely blessed to have had the financial means and support from loved ones that have enabled me to attain a college education. When I started this journey in 2004, I’d made the decision to make the most of my time by getting a college education and becoming a substance abuse counselor. I didn’t know how this was going to happen, but I was nonetheless determined.

When I arrived at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in 2005, I began taking college courses one at a time for $25. After my father passed away, I used my portion of his life insurance policy to fund my education via correspondence. I began independently taking courses from other universities, earning a Certificate in Human Services from Louisiana State University, AA from Indiana University, BS in Sociology from Colorado State University, and an MS in Psychology from California Coast University. I was certified as a recovery mentor last year and recently as a substance abuse counselor. Good for me, but what about everyone else? It disheartens me when I think of the lack of opportunity for countless others in Oregon prisons because they have been institutionalized with no real opportunities to rehabilitate themselves and gain something tangible to show for it. Sadly, this deplorable trend will only continue if retribution over rehabilitation remains our state’s and nation’s motive for incarceration.