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?

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…

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.

Washington State: House Bill 1344, Emerging Adult Parole

Washington State: House Bill 1344, Emerging Adult Parole

In a state like Washington that has no functional rehabilitative motivators, House Bill 1344, Emerging Adult Parole, may be a step in a positive direction. Washington’s parole is limited in scope to juvenile offenders and sex offenses, with very few parole cases tied to a failed system from the 1970s and 80s that allowed hundreds to be simply warehoused in prison. With the movement of HB1344 in our legislative session starting January 10, 2022, many more youthful offenders can be moved to a parole system that will provide both a reduction of prison populations AND be a qualifier for meaningful rehabilitation. As brain science has expanded over the last several decades, cases before the US Supreme Court (the elimination of life sentences for juveniles), down to the Washington State Supreme Court (Personal Restraint Petition of Monschke, establishing 21 as the age of majority for culpability of crime in cases where “Life Without Parole” sentencing was given), have all agreed that those below a certain age, notably those between 18 to 21, are more impulsive and less matured and have a higher propensity for committing crimes, and should be handled differently than fully matured brains.

But those inmates grow up paying for those impulses, sometimes in the shadow of decades long exceptional sentencing, where a minute of youthful indiscretion leads to decades, or a lifetime, of imprisonment. HB1344 would move those under this youthful category to a parole system already in place for juveniles. A person at age 40 is distinctly different than at age 19, but the current design of our state’s system provides no recognition of that fact. But what if a thirty-or-forty-something grasps the true reality and gravity of their crime with maturation? For a country that demands a legal age for controlled substance usage, we seem to see the responsibility goalpost travel when it comes to crime. The brain science shows responsibility patterns are the same between an 18 year old, a 21 year old, and even for 15 and 16 year olds. Shouldn’t this also be accounted for equally in all aspects of legal findings?

HB1344 will require a younger offender to serve a statutory minimum portion of the sentence, but provide incentive room for that offender to capitalize on his maturity through positive rehabilitation. If a younger person can show significant change and qualify it to a parole board, he may be granted an opportunity at relief from the incarcerated portion of a sentence. And for a state like Washington that doesn’t do this for all categories of offender, it’s high time we start demanding the correctional system be held accountable for ensuring a quality product is being placed back into the community. Efforts like HB1344 would provide such accountability, while being backed by courts throughout the nation and tangible scientific findings.

As it stands, I know many people that entered this system as youngsters and will leave just in time to collect a social security pension they never paid into, and without a support system that was lost a lifetime ago. Is that the right answer? I suggest it isn’t. And as for victims of these offenders, remorse comes with a much heavier hand when one is old enough to understand the power of that remorse and the room to be responsible with it. Allow time to add that remorse to the benefit of your community and parole to ensure it contributes vibrantly post incarceration. Additionally, values and morality can be fostered through hard work and hope. For a system that currently replaces a young adult’s family structures with bureaucracy, it takes personal determination to learn them. HB1344 is the hope and a parole board will make sure the hard work is present.

Expanding parole is a meaningful step to fixing an expensive and failing system. Please show your support for this bill.