30 January 2017

X – Part Three

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If you’re new on the cell block, let me explain: this is the third of six parts of a short story (fiction or “alternate facts” for you politicos) I wrote while incarcerated. To see Part Two, last week’s installment, click here. To start at the beginning and read Part One of “X”, click here. Otherwise, the story below might not make much sense to you. Regular diary entries return at the story’s end.

As time went on and Caples rammed into more inmate pudendum and Stamper’s housekeeping tasks took more of his time and money, depression and self-hatred so pronounced themselves in everything he did that they occluded the real reason for his sadness. “This is a burn-out job,” Stamper had been told so many times, avuncular advice from older guards who tried to tell him that his interaction with the inmates broadened his opportunities for unhappiness. The real reason for melancholy was the same as any other prisoner’s: he had penned himself in to an unenjoyable dependence on someone, on that person’s willful amnesty. He only spent as many as eight to sixteen hours in Hampshire prison on his working days, but he imprisoned all of his thoughts and time by his own bad behavior and Caples’ capriciousness. Sure, he had keys and rested his head outside of the prison compound, but Dave Stamper was a prisoner just the same.

His depression grew so severe that he eventually had a hard time even speaking to the inmates; he was either so disgusted by them or so weary that he often lacked the words for the most cursory conversation and could barely upturn the corners of his mouth in one of those clearly forced pseudo-smiles in an attempt to render some polite response to their questions or comments. The politeness he wanted to project wasn’t borne of gallantry but rather self-preservation; when inmates believed that a guard disrespected them, they often returned the favor by causing some difficulty in the housing units or on the walkway. Stamper just didn’t want to hear it.

Even the new inmates, women previously unincarcerated, many with some pretty decent chasses, could earn appreciation from Stamper, but not his usual desire. His dick didn’t even flicker at the thought of bending one over because those thoughts didn’t come anymore. He took uncharacteristically resolute action to avoid inmate contact. Some other guards had this absence forced upon them involuntarily when the facility investigated them for misconduct but Stamper actually wanted to stop his daily dredge through the criminal element so he approached Rick Ralston about an assignment to the SHU, specifically to the in-house control unit, desk job in a housing unit that required only close monitoring of inanimate screens showing the camera’s catches. Once Ralston agreed, Stamper could work alone, avoid speaking to the ‘mates and fester in his own failure. When a fleeting good mood hit him he could always take his breaks with the other guards then retreat into a bubble of self-pity and anhedonia, watching cameras pointed at the inactivity of restriction.

Caples had run up the sidewalk that morning after his overnight overtime shift as Stamper headed towards the SHU for the first in a long string of day shifts.

“Stamp.”

Dave Stamper stopped but didn’t look around. He knew what was in the offing.

“Another?”

Caples nodded.

“Sherter told me that Ralston wouldn’t even let him look at the paperwork. He’s rollin’ solo on it. She’s coming in today.”

“OK.” What else can I say? he sighed inside his mind.

“The thing is… We never…. I mean we were gonna but she got called for a random piss test so I never … we never got a chance.”

“Then why are you worried? If nothing happened there’s nothing to investigate. Unless she’s lying.”

“I think, yeah. She is. I’m thinking that she thinks that the piss test was my idea or wasn’t really for her because when she got over to Admissions, they had no record of her being called over. She thought I made it up to, like, get away from her.”  Caples explained. “She thinks I rejected her.”

But you wouldn’t have if a state-mandated stream of piss hadn’t interceded, Stamper decided in his mind, anticipating superficial man’s worst adversary: a woman scorned.

“Her name is…” Caples tried to continue, to provide all details needed but Stamper stopped him, cut him off.

“If she’s coming in today, I’ll find her,” Stamper said and continued on to the SHU, at his back was the noise of unsteady, cheap plastic wheels bouncing across worn pavement. One of the workers from the kitchen, pulling an oversized meal cart, a sort of closet on wheels that kitchen workers load and stack Styrofoam trays for the segregated inmates who could not go to the chow hall themselves, leaned as far forward as she could without becoming totally parallel to the ground; in her post-drug binge emaciation, she hadn’t the strength to haul the cart easily.

“Jesus, you’re slow. Isn’t breakfast served at like 5? It’s almost seven,” Stamper asked her without offering any help or concern.

Breathless, the prisoner exhaled the new rule: “All. The meals. Have. To be served. On first. Shift. Now.”

Stamper held the door for her as she rotated the cart to the proper angle to propel it through the door and followed her into the unit.

“Just leave the cart ‘cuz you need to get back to the kitchen for count,” Ernie Scotland, the third shift guard yelled to the inmate. She stopped mid-step and left it right in the middle of the guards’ work area.

“I meant like ‘leave it where you usually do and don’t worry about unloading it’ not just dump it here, where I work!” Scotland boomed after her as she split through the door that Stamper had unlocked.

“This is breakfast, dude.  It’s almost seven, You gonna serve it?” Stamper asked him with his thumb authoritatively cocked toward the meal cart.

“Can’t. All meals served on first, now.”

“Breakfast, lunch and dinner all between seven and three? Why?”

“Some bullshit with Rosado.”

“Rosado’s post is in the Carolyn Lerner program. What’s he have to do with chow here?”

“Cameras caught him loading three cases of Otis Spunkmeyer’s frozen cookie dough into his car.” For months guards had raided the prison kitchen coffers like after-school teenagers: burgers for cookouts on the nearby beach, canned pepper strips, spices. Three cases of cookies that would never reach inmate mouths was hardly a big deal in Stamper’s estimation.

“The cameras caught him? Somebody must have told to make someone go back and look at the tape.”

“Not no more. You seen the memo? As of last week, digital cameras been turned on and someone in Springfield’s assigned post is to watch ‘em. All’a dem.” Scotland said, nodding with obvious regret.

Stamper felt a spark of anxiety that was immediately and automatically doused by relief. The emotional swing was so quick that Stamper had to backtrack his thoughts to decide why the camera news shook him so much. His own on-camera dalliance was what started this; his only blessing was that the film was held by private parties and not his government.

The Department of Correction installed an entire system of cameras, the tattletale infrastructure, three years prior. Little red nipples protruding from the ceiling covered multi-angle cameras that hadn’t worked after the cameras had been mounted. The state government spent millions on electronic equipment that not only didn’t work but no one wanted to work. Stamper’s theory on why they were turned on at all was that inmates had caught on that the threat from a guard I’ll roll back the tape and see what you did! was always hollow; if an inmate chose to fight a disciplinary report, she usually discovered that there was no cinematic evidence to bust her. No movies of misconduct on the guards’ parts were ever shown either, probably the best protection they ever had.

“So he took some cookies…  What does that have to do with breakfast in the SHU?”

“They found like tons of old trays in his trunk. He was using the chow hall like a takeout joint even though he got those meal allowances as senior staff.”

“OK. Still. Why is this here now?” Stamper asked pointing to the abandoned food cart.

“The memo said some shit like ‘All meals will be served under supervision of the captain. The Shift Commander will report to the dining hall on each shift. For those inmates who can’t’ … you know…. walk to the chow hall,  and something like ‘all meals will be served during the unit manager’s shift…’ which we know is first shift, you know and so on.”

“Jesus. Rosado didn’t find out where the blind spots were? They taught us that in the academy for Christ’s sake: every law has a loophole and every camera has a blind spot.”

“True dat. Ours is right there,” Scotland pointed to a small alcove containing the guards’ refrigerator, a counter and a kitchen sink; the words sounded funny coming from a man who was not at all urban, yet not interesting or self-effacing enough to be a redneck. He was a banal, chubby white man, donning ebonics like a size two dress.

“All right. Cool. I think I knew that but thanks,” Stamper said to him with a nod.

“No prob,” Scotland swung his backpack over his shoulder and headed for the door, asking Stamper as he passed: “Pop me out.”

Stamper went behind the control panel and pressed the button to create that springy, metallic bang of doors being unlocked remotely. The door was two inches from being shut when Rick Ralston’s left hand saved it from closing; his right was clasped around Alana Larkin’s arm. When he was inside the door, his left took Alana’s ID card from her left shoulder and he held it out for Stamper to retrieve it from him.

“Larkin. She’s going down to F-1” Ralston said flatly as he maneuvered her down a flight of stairs to her restricted cell, an oblique order to open the necessary doors so that Ralston and his female freight could pass easily.

“Oh. I’m in-house control,” Stamper declined by way of explanation.

“Until your partners get here, you’re on paperwork. Log her in and get me a magnet.” Large, rectangular, primary-colored magnets hung on the doors of every SHU cell in place of inmate ID cards which could be used for self-mutilation. Looking down a hallway in the housing for the most incorrigible inmates, one might harken back to kindergarten.

“Yes, Sir.”

Despite the swelling caused by desperate crying, Alana Larkin was not bad looking; Stamper understood why she would’ve tempted Murray. Naturally curly blond hair below the shoulder like Sarah Jessica Parker, light brown eyes beneath reasonably shaped brows, unlike so many women in prison who plucked their visages into perpetual surprise by creating a pronounced half-circle above the brow bone. Skin was good but dotted between the inner ends of her eyebrows with acne. Those blemishes, along with the ones that extended down from the corners of her mouth in lines like those on a ventriloquist’s dummy, revealed that Alana was not too far removed from her adolescence. Her youth – combined with the impulsive judgment that landed her in Hampshire for an assault on an elderly woman who held onto one handle of her handbag in a Super Giant parking lot when Alana tried to filch it – justified in Alana’s mind the act of making up a lie about Murray Caples. She also believed that embarrassing him in this way would shame him not only into wanting her again but wanting her so much that he would risk unsuitable physical fellowship with her while she was still in the prison.  A mature woman would know that opening her mouth would close all possibilities for close encounters in the future but Alana Larkin wasn’t mature; that was her allure.

As Ralston packed Larkin into her cell and made a few notes in a tiny spiral-bound pad he pulled from his breast pocket, Stamper pushed papers around looking for a magnet. Then he heard the sound of fists thumping on double-paned glass. Both other officers assigned to the SHU – Bruno D’Auria and Jerry Molski – with him were too tired from working the overnight shift to pull out their own keys to get into the building where they would work with him on first shift. Instead, they waited for Stamper to open the door remotely again.

“Morning.” Stamper called out to them. Both harrumphed back.

“I’m in the box…so… Ralston’s downstairs. He needs a magnet for this one,” Stamper updated them and tossed Alana Larkin’s ID card on the desk for them.

“So we worked all night and you get to nod off in that little hideaway?” D’Auria said.

“Well, I’ll probably be kept for second,” Stamper said.

“Yeah, but you’ll go home and sleep. My daughter has gymnastics at four and my wife won’t be home to cook dinner, which, yes, means I will be up until eight o’clock and have to leave my house at ten to get back here for third shift,” Molski said as he leaned back in his chair and disabused everyone of the notion that he might actually work or even be aware of the SHU’s happenings. Stamper headed to the in-house control bubble only to have Molski’s yawning syllables catch him.

“You can do all three meals since you’re so rested,” he said to Stamper and clasped his hands behind his head and leaned back.  “Brun, log it that Stamper served breakfast from 7:10 to 7:30.”

“Who’s going to do count?”

“It’s SHU dude. Who fuckin’ left?” D’auric asked and laughed because it was true; the SHU was so confining that there wasn’t even room for an idea that someone would escape.

With that, Stamper delivered the breakfast trays to each floor. He pushed a smaller squeaky cart on  to each door on every floor, where he pulled off his keys, opened the trap door – a thud that reverberated and dwindled – placed Styrofoam trays that whined on being pushed along the shelf made by the trap door, waited for each inmate to collect her tray, flipped the door back up, inserted the key again creating that metallic zipper in his ears and locked the trap door. He went to every cell. Squeak. Zipper. Thud. Thudthudthuth. Whine. Pause. Thud. Zipper. Click. He went through forty-seven doors on four floors, holding Larkin for last…

Click here to continue reading.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JANUARY 23 – 29, 2017

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The week in justice reform in three words:

Check the list. President Trump has issued an executive order called “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” that will require the Department of Homeland Security to post a list every week with the names of undocumented persons who commit crimes. We have these already. They’re called police blotters and they’re bullshit because they report, like Trump’s lists, only arrests and not convictions. Here in the United States, we have that pesky “innocent until proven guilty” albatross to deal with.  The list plan was announced two days before Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was Friday, the 27th and reminded us of other lists – Hitler’s, Schindler’s – and how good they are for humanity. Bad idea, DJT.

Follow the money. Donald Trump’s immigration policies mean millions for private prisons. Read about it in Vice.

Raise the Age. New York and North Carolina are the only two states who still insist that 16-year-olds are adults when it comes to criminal responsibility. There’s a movement afoot in New York to change this and Connecticut’s General Assembly is considering raising the age of adult criminal responsibility to 21 in 2017. For a look at a terrible story that has catalyzed the fight to raise the age in New York, try J.B. Nicholas’ story in the Village Voice.

 

 

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23 January 2017

X – Part Two

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This is Part Two of the short story “X”. Read Part One here first if you haven’t done so already.

Part Two…

Motherfuckin’ cell phones, Stamper thought.  Every prison bans cell phone entry for its guards. Not only do the facilities not want their employees working with their heads cocked permanently to the side, holding the phone against their shoulders as they call their bookies but they do not want any inmates bypassing the monitored collect-call only phones provided in the housing units that garner billions of dollars for one telecommunications company that had dodged anti-trust laws for the last ten years. They never enforce their rules here.  Don’t these fucking lieutenants see this? Don’t the rules ever matter in this fucking pig hole? Somebody needs get medieval on these assholes who bring in their cell phones, inflict some enforcement on them, Stamper had lamented to himself as he began dreading his consequences which was a new feeling for him.

“Look man, you know both Fannie Mae and Sallie Mae are fucking me right now…”

“Are their pussies tight?” Caples laughed and put on an air of deep thought, hand on his chin.

“I’m fucking serious. I barely have enough for my son’s soccer team… You know kids have to pay to play now. It’s not like when we were in school.”

“When the fuck did you go to school?” Caples asked.

“Ahh…like you…I graduated in ’90…” Stamper returned.

“Yeah, high school. Sallie Mae is for college. You, my friend, never went to college.”

“Neither did you!”

“Yes, but I am not fucking Sallie Mae, remember?” Caples asked.  “What college loans do you have?”

“Amber, Ok?” Stamper told him and sadness fell into his voice. Amber was his gold star, the tip-top branch of the Stamper family tree who had earned several athletic scholarships but chose a small, expensive, liberal arts college and asked her father to cosign her student loan applications. To her once-proud father’s astonishment, Amber Stamper had dropped out on the second day of classes of her freshman year and stuck her father will the bills.

However much Amber embarrassed her father, shame was not on the line in that confrontation with Caples months ago. It was almost as if humiliation never existed for the guards at Hampshire; they would say and do anything without shame.  More than unemployment, the ultimate penalty for sexing up a prisoner was time. The long arm of the law pulled out every dick that dipped into inmate flesh and sentenced the staff’s member to nine months of incarceration and a lifetime of modern nomadism as the guard moved from place to place to outrun his registration on the State’s Department of Public Safety’s Sex Offender website.

“Look, what do I have to do… How much do you want for the phone?”

“Not for sale. All of my numbers are in here you know…” Caples explained, still smiling.

“So… what… you’re gonna run to the LT’s office now? Really, Cape, what’s the game here?”

“Noo,” Murray bellowed. “I would never do that to a fellow officer.”

“So then what?”

“We can be mutual maids. I clean yours, you clean mine.”

“What’s that mean?” Stamper sighed.

“You know, if my alleged indiscretions,” Caples scrunched up his fingers in the universal sign for quotation marks, “Get out of hand, you fix ‘em. And I’ll fix yours. A team. You know, a partnership.”

Even though no other option existed, the offer was not that bad, Stamper had conceded to himself, especially since he was only two years away from retirement. Losing his pension after passing the 20-mile marker in the marathon that was a prison guard’s career would be plain stupid and his maid indenturement promised to cost him nothing.

“Deal.”  Guards knew better than to shake hands in prisons alongside inmates. The fist bump gained popularity among staffers because it was a public health protection and each man’s knuckles collided that November night to create a pact, a conspiratorial covenant that should, in theory, have helped both of them.

That was last November. In the intervening seven months, the deal detonated. Caples’ caper with his camera phone should have provided some warning to Stamper that things would not go as smoothly as the curves on Deja Dyson’s ass.

On that November night, Stamper could never have fathomed Caples could loosen his discretion as much as he did. Caples never just took risks, he stole them with aplomb; his risks were heists. Caples plumbed the depths of inmate flesh. Taequisha Banks, in for predictably robbing them.  Avery Baker, typical DUI WASP. Rocsi Danger unsurprisingly canned for prostitution, claiming her appellation was not a stripper name but a “stage name.” Olga Lugovitch, a shoplifter with Marfan’s Syndrome. For each of these women, Stamper monitored inmate gossip to protect Caples and keep his “family home” – his job – clean. Occasionally, he had to send $50.00 to the inmate’s trust account to fund enough purchases of junk food from the prison commissary to keep their mouths full if they couldn’t keep them shut. None of Caples’ dalliances with Banks, Baker, Danger or Lugovitch were even blips on the brass’ radar, so Stamper’s housework worked.

But then Caples grew sloppy in ways and with speed that left Stamper scrubbing furiously. His tête-à-tête with Janet Lin, a bookish Chinese inmate in for a criminal trespass on a fraternity’s property when the brothers found her naked and totally toasted after her first bender in her last year of college ran the highest risk. In her post-arrest friskiness, Lin had posted – via her mother because the prison lacked internet access – how cute she thought Caples was on her Facebook page. No one but Caples actually saw the post but when another inmate with whom Lin refused to share laundry detergent alerted the warden to discussion of the message, Janet Lin went under, correctional style: under investigation. Stamper squashed that by threatening to write to the admissions committee of every graduate school in the state and blackball any attempts at self-edification after her felony conviction. Then Lin went even farther under: underground with the truth about her inappropriate sexual contact with Murray Caples.

When Lin had been dispatched and then discharged, a Puerto Rican woman placed in custody on a civil mittimus for failing to pay child support had caught Caples’ eye. A civil mittimus for an inmate meant that, although she was detained in custody, the state had not filed criminal charges against her. For Lucasetta Ortiz, her penning in came about when a judge got tired of her civil contempt in her courtroom, namely ignoring seven separate judicial decrees to pay $20.00 every week to her mother, with whom she had abandoned her five children. Four dollars every week per child was all that Judge Judith Tandy – the real “Judge Judy”– had ordered her to pay but Setta Ortiz just never did it. Ortiz faced no criminal charges and appeared lily white next to black women whose offenses were acts like criminal trespass for walking across the lawn of their spouses’ mistresses to ring their doorbells and ask what they wanted with their husbands. In fact, when judicial marshals took Setta into custody at the courthouse per Judge Tandy’s highly miffed order, the rule requiring segregation froze them with Setta in their office; the Department of Correction’s transport officers could not seat her amongst women facing criminal charges.

The Administrative Captain had dispatched Murray Caples to bring Lucasetta Ortiz back to the prison alone in a state-owned, cranberry-colored van. Caples’ effeminate handwriting affirmed the trip at the bottom of Ortiz’s mittimus. What the mitt did not show was that Caples pulled over the cranberry van at a Sbarro rest stop and, leaving the door open, taught her what real contact with a criminal felt like when she spread her legs and tossed aside her Oye Chica! brand thong to receive Murray in the backseat.

Setta Ortiz was enough of a hustler to know to seek a cash payout – money that would never draw near any of her financial obligations – before she could even fasten her belt. Caples installed her at the prison with a promise that the money was forthcoming and found Stamper as he was buying a Coke from one of the vending machines in the officer’s union hall. He explained.

“Dude, I’m short and she needs like $500.00,” Caples said, Stamper’s assignment apparent.

“That’s a fuckin’ lot. I don’t have bills like that on me.”

“Then give her what you have and get the rest to her later.”

“What’s she gonna do with cash in prison?” Stamper asked.

“She’s going home later. Her ex is paying her balance so she can leave.”

“Why doesn’t he just give her the money? Besides, she’ll be gone anyway, so…”

“Because she knows she can get it from me…” Caples, explained, exasperated laughter tracing his words and demonstrating to Stamper that he still did not seem to get the game of sexual misconduct.

“Stamp, bring it to her house. Her address is in the computer,” Caples instructed him in a condescending tone. Stamper lunged at him, picking Caples up by his collar and jacking him up against a wall with a sign reading: “Break the Silence! Report sexual harassment by a co-worker!”

“To her house? You want me to go to that lowlife bitch’s house? What else, huh? Should I buy her a Spic-n-Span dress with rhinestones in the shape of the Puerto Rican flag?” He released Caples who had remained eerily stoic through the attack. Caples then pulled out his iPhone and, with a wry smile, started to fake dial a number.

“I don’t give a fuck. I’m done with this shit. Broadcast the video. What’s the worst? They transfer me?” Stamper backed up and turned out of the union hall’s door to the prison lobby, crashing shoulders with a man in civilian clothes. The inmates were locked in their cells for one of the daily headcounts so he wasn’t a visitor.

“Excuse me, do you know how I find Officer Christopher Arena?

“Ah, I think he works third shift,” Stamper recalled Arena, a tall rookie, Puerto Rican himself, who spent fruitful hours in the guards’ wellness center every week. Even devoting hours to lifting, he still avoided the lunkhead look and actually developed a sinewy, taught, perfectly proportioned body that caused other male guards to puff up and suck in their guts when they walked by him. Arena was quiet, always read a proverb from an open Bible on his weight bench between sets.

“Stamper. “How can I help you?”

“Well, I don’t know. Do you know where this officer works or what his new home address is? I’ve got three separate writs to serve on him – personal service it’s supposed to be…” Mr. Civilian Clothes unfolded a stack of papers and pointed to an area near the top of the first page. “…but I can fudge that if I just know where he lives – I’ll stick it in his doorjamb at eye level where he can’t miss it. I’m State Marshal Gene Abruzzi, by the way.” Fear usually darted up the spines of prison administrators when they heard the phrase “Service of legal papers.”

“Can I see them please?” asked Ralston, pointing to the papers in the marshal’s hand.

“Guess they’ll be public record soon enough, so OK,” the marshal acquiesced and handed them over to Ralston who flipped up the first page on three stapled sets of documents.

“You can find Mr. Arena at 600 Northern Lights Avenue in Rockfield,” Ralston told the marshal.

600 Northern Lights Avenue? That’s Kowalski Correctional Institution’s street address, Stamper mused.

“Thanks much,” said Gene the marshal and pushed out of one of the lobby’s glass doors.

“Arena transferred?” Stamper asked his captain. “I didn’t know why I hadn’t seen him in the gym.”

“No transfer. He lives there.”

“But that’s KCI’s address.”

“I know. He lives there,” Ralston said, self-satisfied at the puzzlement that wouldn’t drain from Stamper’s face.  “He was charged with Sex Assault Two for inappropriate contact with one of the ‘mates. He couldn’t post bond because his wife emptied all their accounts so they’re keeping him at KCI because they have the Protective Custody unit for all the CO’s who end up in DOC custody. The marshal can serve him there.”

“W -Wow,” a stunned Stamper stuttered.

“No, the ‘Wow’ is that he’s about to get hit all at once with a divorce complaint, foreclosure papers and a lawsuit from the inmate seeking $10 million in damages,” Ralston posited.

Stamper followed the marshal though the glass doors, lifted himself into his truck and drove to the closest Baxter Bank branch, the one with the drive-thru ATM and rolled down his window to push his debit card into the slot and punch his PIN into the keypad that was protecting his financial security in a way no banker would understand….

Click here for the next installment, published Monday, January 30, 2017 

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM JANUARY 16 – 22, 2017

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There’s a reason why Prison Diaries started running fiction last week, but I digress…

Trump administration officials are said to be planning to dramatically cut the Justice Department budget as part of an overall push to reduce federal spending. Among the targets are grants that help female victims of domestic violence and those that help hire and equip cops. This as President Trump changed the White House website within hours of being sworn in to say that he supports law enforcement.

Buzzfeed got over its bruising for publishing the Trump “Golden Shower” memo and ran some original reporting on how often cops lie in court. Until recently, “police officers were considered, by most judges and jurors, to be the most reliable narrators in a courtroom.” Body cameras, cell phones, and security cameras have proved that to be false. The story looked at 62 videos revealing police lied — and sometimes perjured themselves on the stand — and found that only 22 led to charges being filed. Nine have resulted in convictions. Less than 15% of cops who provably lie about a criminal investigation or evidence are punished for it. It’s good odds if you want to lie and screw a defendant.

Massachusetts’ highest court Wednesday paved the way for new trials (or the outright dismissal of cases) for tens of thousands of defendants whose convictions were tainted by the false work of a single crime lab technician, Annie Dookhan. The decision means 24,000 second chances.

 

 

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16 January 2017

X

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Prison Diaries is trying something new for the rest of January 2017 and the beginning of February 2017. As readers know, every post was written behind bars and reflects daily life in a women’s prison. But I wrote something other than essays behind bars: a lengthy short story. Even though it’s fictional, I think it’s pretty representative of life in a modern women’s facility. It’s a lie that tells the truth.

I present to you “X”.  It’s a story that  will be delivered in six parts, one section per week for the next six weeks, so you’ll have to return to read the whole thing.  See how prison taught me to manipulate people? Regular diary entries will return after the story.

X

“Some girls kiss and tell, some kiss and don’t tell but this one, she misses the kiss but still tells,” he angled his head and warned the empty room as he rummaged papers for the magnet.

The recent deposit into the SHU had arrived minutes before, hucking and hiccupping sobs, the ones so deep she exhaled to the bare bottom of her ribcage after each head jerk and hick to prevent herself from hyperventilating.  Operations Captain Rick Ralston had escorted her in himself without guards, lieutenants and cameras as witnesses, a deviation from which was the standard procedure for taking women already in custody into even more custody. The camera memorialized any injuries, attacks or lack of them.

Ralston had rolled solo on this one, such a notable exception that it was easy to identify that morning which prisoner had reported having sexual relations with Murray Caples, technically a senior officer having put in eight years at Hampshire CI. The incident paperwork accompanying any inmate “SHUED” in for allegations of sexual contact with staff reported only “Placed on Administrative Detention Status pending investigation,” and never detailed the names of the inquiry’s targets.  Unless it was already in the gossip pipeline, the identity of who was in hot water remained unknown.

Usually, all it took for him, Correction Officer II David L. Stamper, to get the news was a little flirtation and a Fruit Coolata for one of the warden’s secretaries, Wendy, the one whose front tooth was turned a good 45 degrees and thought that heavy teal eyeliner under the eyes worked anywhere other than a Helmut Lang runway. It wasn’t Stamper’s good looks that seduced flawed women, but his good luck.

What made Officer Stamper different was that nothing set him apart. The son of a Sicilian butcher whose family sliced off the –elli off of Stamperelli and a Welsh home health aide, one would have expected some dark ethnicity to exude from David Stamper. Rather, he was the archetype of the American standard. Brown, non-descript hair, brown eyes, a body in exact proportion. He had gained a few pounds since he turned 35 but even those were evenly distributed and in keeping with his typicality as a now-starting-to-age white man. Other than that, Stamper lacked the usual targets to ridicule: no bumps on his nose, acne pits, cowlicks, surgical scars, hirsuteness, brown or crooked teeth. In some ways, Stamper was flawless yet his appearance was nothing close to perfect.

Growing up, when the usual adolescent self-consciousness catches otherwise self-possessed children, Stamper felt left out and he never understood why.  The reason for this feeling of isolation was that, unlike his peers’, Stamper’s confidence never waned.  What should have been a boon to David Stamper ended up being a liability since he never learned how to compensate for any flaw. The fat kid became funny to attract positive attention, the plain girl morphed into a bookworm in pretension that she couldn’t care less about looks. Without anything to compensate for, that ambition to inclusion never developed in the only Stamper child. He hadn’t the will – or even the need – to make himself anything other than average.

This became a problem for Stamper when he hit his teens because un-special people receive un-special attention. Differentiating himself, if only to get into a girl’s pants at a local house party, required something, so Stamper learned to hone in on what he lacked – defects, incapacities, blemishes. He would find another person’s Achilles Heel and the commit the interpersonal counterpart of driving a grocery cart into that heel, disabling people as they went about their business and making that assault look like he was simply going about his.

Stamper knew exactly how to make Wendy spill the pill immediately; he would refuse to drag his gaze away from that rotated incisor, making Wendy think that he longed for her lips, for a kiss that would never come. Not that he would ever tell her that; Wendy’s lips and twisted chopper always ended any dearth of details for Stamper.  When he saw that hopeful, keep-it-cool-because-he’s-going-to-ask-me-out-any-second-even though-he’s-married-because- he-likes-me-that-much half-smile he thought to himself Good, now the gore will start to gush.

But Stamper wouldn’t need to go to Dunkin’ Donuts the next morning.  Inmate Alana Larkin’s being brought in by Captain Ralston without his goon squad told the tale by itself: this was the bitch that could take down Caples.

Like Stamper, Caples was married but, in the rest of their existences, they were opposites. While Stamper was the equivalent of a simple gold wedding band, Caples was a chunky rendition of the ring, overdone with tracery, misplaced filigree and failed flourishes of faux jewels. Where Stamper did not know how to compensate, Caples overcompensated. Stamper was lackluster flawlessness and Caples was dazzling disaster. Despite desperate attempts at attractive maleness, Caples would always remain a vision of revulsion: five feet five inches tall and 263 pounds of pure adiposity, clouds of Axe cologne followed him like Peanuts’ Pig Pen and his dirt, so much that people around Murray Caples often pulled their shirt collars over their noses to block the waft.

Although of unidentifiable nationality, Caples hair was thick, black, curly and sprouted, it seemed, from every pore, getting caught inside a heavy gold chain with a medallion dotted with red, blue and yellow-colored cubic zirconias, custom-made in the likeness of the Department of Correction seal.  Instead of adopting the traditional high-and-tight crewcut preferred by correctional ranks, Caples improvised his cut by going Kid-n-Play but instead of the sarcastic four inches of afro sported by the rapper, Caples kept a mass of curls that, like its owner, never reached much height. With the gloss of Clinique for Men Moisture Surge cream painted like egg wash over his ruddy facial pudge, he looked like a tomato topped with a toupee, all with a single stud earring in his left ear, one he would borrow from his wife’s jewelry box. Once he strutted about the compound with a dangling pearl on his ear. A 27-year-old man who looked 42-ish, Murray Caples was more omega than alpha male.

Like most other people, Stamper never really liked Caples that much. He annoyed almost everyone with the pseudo team ethic he tried to ply with the other guards. When Caples was around, high fives went all around, even for routine chores like searching a cell or taking an inmate to the SHU.

“High five. Let’s get’em,” he would say to the other guards like they were about to take the field. Stamper always thought that the bunker mentality was fine when it caused guards to protect each other; the ‘us versus them’ mindset never bothered him as long as the ‘u’ and the ‘s’ in ‘us’ never got too close. A lot of the other guards viewed the corps of officers as a family especially after the son of a guard at a nearby men’s prison was killed, shot execution style in the head at the highway exit that led to Hampshire. No one at Hampshire knew the guard, much less his son, but they acted like their own nephew had been killed, that he was lower-case ‘f’ family. And Hampshire’s corps of officers was a family, a trunk and limbs of complete artifice, people with low self-esteem like leaves, feeling like they belonged until shorn from the taproot of state employment.

Stamper had to admit that, as much as Caples and his rah-rah bullshit irked him, he had his back that one November night before real video surveillance coated the prison compound.  In the rawness of mid-evening in mid-autumn, Stamper had led inmate Deja Dyson into the facility’s greenhouse, pulled her elastic waist jeans over that sprinter’s ass of hers – glutes built not from any Track and Field event but from evading the city of New Windsor’s 5-0 – pushed her nappy neck down and thrust inside her several times. Dyson had been laid down – by the courts – about nine months before, not enough time to stiffen the Kegel’s and just enough time to contract them to perfect pressure.  All it took was three Marlboro’s, a king-size Kit Kat and the last half of Stamper’s Pepsi Big Gulp to reel Dyson in.

That night, he knew she came, maybe even twice, because he noticed her breathing changed and sweat dewed the skin of her back as she wiggled her elastic waist back over her Flo-Jo ass. Deja made no noise but inmates experienced in the art of staff seduction knew that cries of passion always attracted brass. “Instead, they just bite their lips as their clits explode,” his partner told him during his orientation as a guard years before.  Most of the time, orgasm was an unintended benefit for inmates and Dyson knew that. Stamper knew that she would never tell.

But that sprinter’s ass proved inimical. Her glutes were so taught that when Stamper’s key ring bumped against it with each grimacing push towards his own orgasm, the key ring opened. The Okay’s Key Safe belt-loop key holders the guards wore were designed like carabineers; they required someone to press down to open the clasp so that no one could just grab a prison guard’s keys and make off with them.

Deja Dyson’s maximal gluteus had knocked the clasp open and pushed the key ring up.  Stamper’s key’s fell to the lawn-covered greenhouse floor; the protection of the greenhouse kept the grass green, springy even when the ground froze and the drop of his keys was a minor touch, rather than the metallic crash to a sidewalk that prompted guards to look behind them when they heard it.  Stamper never noticed that he dropped his keys until Caples sauntered up to him.

“Lose something?” Caples smirked.

“No,” Stamper answered assuredly until he felt his right waist. Unit keys – check. Van keys – check.  Storage keys- where the fuck are my keys?  He panicked despite the fact that his keys hung off of Caples’ bulbous fingers in front of him. It should have been good news, but, in a prison, what once was lost but now is found can still cause a well of problems.

Losing keys in a prison is like leaving a loaded gun on a kindergarten playground. Prisoners use them to escape, to lock up the guards.  They hold the round ring in their palms and thread the pointed key ends between their fingers to make barbed fists that they can swing with a little more oomph at the state’s wards or at the state’s employees. Looking for a lost key in a prison is like looking for a match in a tinderbox – any move you make to find it sets the whole fucking place ablaze. Stamper’s not having to report his lost keys was a godsend.

“Jesus.  I didn’t even know I lost ‘em. Thanks. Where the fuck were they?”

“Greenhouse,” piped Caples.

“Oh yeah… I… toured through there on my break… no one’s ever in there… make sure everything’s OK…” he trailed off.

“Stamp…” Caples nodded his chin at him. “Her pussy tight?

Half of being a correction officer is managing facial expressions. Prisoners catch every flinch, every fuck up, every eye movement.  They’re cagey, super-sensitive to these cues so that they get away with things.  A wide-eyed look of surprise telegraphs to the inmates that they have gone beyond the expected, that the guard’s guard was down.  Smugness of satisfaction indicates that the guard is ripe for requests for the forbidden.  “Just give me one piece…” the girls ask an officer whose son just won the Class M soccer finals when they see him eating microwave popcorn or a guard who just came from his divorce lawyer’s office after receiving news that he had not worked long enough in the prison to have to hand over half of his pension in alimony to the woman who dumped him for an accountant. But inmates never see fear on officers’ faces. They don’t need to; that, they can smell.

After eighteen years on the job, Stamper learned how to trample the incoming soldiers of surprise and his face remained barren of any emotion at Caples’ perversion.  At first he said nothing but squinted his eyes in puzzlement and cocked his head in that Am I supposed to understand this? pose.  Caples just leveled his gaze at him.

“Is what… I mean… what?” Stamper asked.

“No b.s. brother.”

“What? Me… that I? No. Hell no. I don’t get near those tuna farms. No fucking way.”

With that Caples withdrew his smartphone as if he were in a commercial, the screen posed perpendicular to his torso.  A swipe on the screen revealed a video of Stamper’s genital collision with Deja Dyson that Caples had filmed from the greenhouse window. Stamper had assumed that the windows were too dirty and fogged for anyone to see through, much less engage in cinematography….

Click here for the next installment…

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JANUARY 9 – 15, 2017

disabled

Prison are sending inmates with physical disabilities — including those who are deaf, blind or quadriplegic — to solitary confinement instead of providing them with the care they are entitled to under the Constitution and federal law according to a new ACLU report.  Sometimes they isolate disabled prisoners to save them from other inmates. Other times just to put them out of sight. Maybe it’s just because there’s no set procedure with how to deal with them…because many of them shouldn’t have been sentenced to incarceration anyway. How bad does a transgression have to be for a judge to sentence you to being a sitting duck among potentially violent people and little access to protection from law enforcement?

Why were black Americans (especially in South Carolina) against the death penalty that was imposed upon Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof this week? It’s a rejection of retributive justice, according to this oped by Ellis Cose.

With the inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump coming at the end of the week, are we headed to an era of “dehumanizing repression”? Decide for yourself here.

 

 

 

 

 

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9 January 2017

Om

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image

When I watched the news coverage of attacks on guards at a men’s prison – and subsequent lockdown – a few years ago, more than a few inmates made comments like “That’s what those guards get” or “Inmates ain’t no one to play with.”

It makes perfect sense to resent the authority who restricts your freedom, so we need someone who will step between us, purify the environment, set positive vibrations. A neutral arbiter. An ombudsman.

An ombudsman’s official duties are traditionally defined as investigating any government action that may infringe on people’s rights. It comes from the Swedish for “commission man.” I mean, who do the Swedes piss off?

imageI guess Connecticut DOC. We had an ombudsman until July 1, 2010 – one I didn’t even know existed until late 2008 – when the Connecticut Correctional Ombudsman’s contract with the state expired and wasn’t renewed or replaced by an alternative.

In the few times I worked with them, they never took sides and always searched for reasonable and amicable solutions to my problems.  I can’t say they were successful all the time because I don’t know; I never got to see anything through with them before the office got the axe.

We know that building pressure inside a closed system needs an outlet and those outlets are very resourceful and will create themselves if no one does it for them. Without an ombudsman, inmates can’t access constructive problem-solving and will resort to the destructive to get their point across. I predict more attacks.  [Author’s note: this essay was written in 2012 and there were severe attacks in 2014 and 2015. I was right.]

At least with the ombudsman’s services, we had a dedicated mailbox in the dining hall so even less literate inmates could scratch out something as simple as “want 2 talk 2 u” and the ombudsman representative could investigate and assist them.  Now, without our commission man, this simple effort isn’t an option and the sword has become mightier than the pen because we ain’t no one to fuck with.

It’s doubtful that inmates who struck officers would’ve re-thought their impulsive actions if a telephone receiver connected to the ombudsman’s or a complaint form had been shoved in their faces.  But when inmates seethe at what they view as mistreatment, merely knowing that viable alternatives exist for them to register their dissatisfaction might make them less likely to throw punches. Maybe simmer down. Chant ‘Om’ and summon a non-partisan force. I can’t understand how the DOC would want inmates knowing that no help is on the way. Clearly inmates don’t mind resorting to attacking the staff rather than battling frustration, filing out forms that will get them nowhere.

toilet
Deal with it, Bozelko.

Like when I wrote to the counselor to complain about the fact that our toilet seat was broken in our cell. One of the hinges was totally cracked and when my cellmate or I lowered our cracks onto it, we would slide to the side, seat and all. I ended up on the floor once because of it, bare-assed, but I’m the only one who saw that, I think. But people heard it: no ‘Om’ but “Ow!”

“Winky, what the fuck happened?” my neighbor yelled through the vent.

“Nothing, I just fell off the toilet,” I answered.

“Oh,” she responded, because people crashing off the john is totally normal.

I got the request form back today, half-assed folded in half and shot under the door towards that Slip-N-Slide commode. The counselor wrote back that I should contact the ombudsman.

She didn’t even know that the problem-solver’s been gone for two years. What does that ignorance even indicate? Either the ombudsman wasn’t very effective, at least not enough to send warnings through the staff ranks. Or they were good at their jobs and the counselor’s answer was a “fuck you” to me since they’re going to continue to infringe on my rights for as long as the O-man is gone.

Indefinitely.

NEXT WEEK PRISON DIARIES IS TRYING SOMETHING NEW. CHECK BACK AND SEE….

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM JANUARY 2 – 9, 2017

chicago-teens-arrested

I think everyone has heard by now: in Chicago, four teenagers kidnapped and assaulted a young, disabled man who hopefully recovers soon from his injuries and trauma. And they went live with it on Facebook. CNN called Facebook Live the new eyewitness. President Obama called the event “despicable” and he’s right. This is a justice reformer’s worst nightmare. By itself, this heinous crime makes the case for a purely punitive system.

charlesmanson2014People Magazine reported that, after famed murderer Charles Manson was hospitalized over the weekend, he’s caught over 100 tickets or disciplinary reports in the 48 years he’s been incarcerated. That averages out to only 2 per year. To compare, I caught four in six years or 0.75 per year. Given that he’s a high-profile inmate with a swastika on his head and convicted of murder, I would have expected it to be more. Recently, he’s been caught with contraband cell phones (who would smuggle them in for him?) and attacking a guard. I’ve seen inmates be accused of assault on corrections staff when they haven’t done anything; it’s an excuse to wail on a problematic or unpopular prisoner. I’m certainly not a Manson fan but I’m not entirely convinced that he’s as poorly behaved as they make him out to be.

judgeAR courts and corrections are crazy AF. Another Arkansas judge resigned amid a sex scandal. After one was already busted for making male defendants pose naked for pics for leniency, this one allegedly swapped sex and pills with female defendants in exchange for freedom or reduced sentences. The nuttiest part about the story? The fact that the Daily Beast and other outlets report that he called women in jail to arrange this commerce. You can’t call an inmate directly on any of the phone lines that are recorded; those are call-out only. If he called, those conversations had to be connected with his victims (yes, they’re victims) by prison personnel. I assume he lied and said he was the inmate’s attorney and then told the inmate who he really was. In which case, why are there recordings of these calls if they were potentially privileged communication between lawyer and client? And was no one monitoring them?  There are too many oddities in the story for an insider like me. This is why we need more formerly incarcerated journalists. They know what questions to ask to clear up the confusion and get to the truth. I don’t know what it is, but there’s more to this story.

 

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2 January 2017

Bet Against

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Stacks of Chips

FOMO takes hold, especially at the holidays.

The only time I don’t feel left out of the rest of the world, when I felt like everyone was on the same page, is when we’re all on the first page of a calendar. January is the great equalizer. To hell with death and taxes.

Because New Year’s resolutions convict everyone who makes them of some sin, the self-assessment that people go through at the end of one year and the beginning of another is how prisoners feel all of the time. It’s the one time of the year when literally everyone’s looking to for ways to avoid recidivism.

And all of us feel bet against. Because the world expects ex-cons and resolution-makers to flop.

Eighty-eight percent of all resolutions end in failure.  Criminal recidivism rates – which aren’t as bad but still range from 47% to 62.5% – aren’t measured in the binary of whether you succeeded or not, but in how long it took you to fail: one year, three years, five years.

rouletteFor all of personal rehabilitation, failure’s not an if, it’s a when. For both people leaving prison and those making New Year’s resolutions, it’s assumed you’ll falter. Everyone just wants to see how long it takes for you to lose your grip and plunge down like a losing contestant on American Ninja Warrior.

The reason why so many resolutions fail is that they include the impossible plan to “be a completely different person” in the New Year, at least according to all the psychotherapists who’ve been quoted in sidebar sections of ‘holiday stress’ articles in the old women’s mags we have lying around here. Rather than changing a behavior, we gaze from afar on how our lives will be different in the future as a new person. Someone who we are not. At least not yet. Probably not ever.

Prisoners suffer from the same thinking. Courts, prosecutors, even the friends and family inmates say they miss so much at the holidays conflate our behavior and our identities. When the behavior is prosocial and good, the mixture yields pride.

When the behavior is bad, you find yourself coated in a grimy shame and your identity becomes like a used car; you just want to trade up.

The message that society sends to incarcerated people is that they’re inherently bad. When you’re told that you’re a bad person, implicit in that is that, to become a good person, you have to be another person altogether. A “new you” is the only acceptable version. To succeed, you have to reject who you are.

Becoming the person who goes to SoulCycle every day is very different from becoming the person who doesn’t boost a pair of jeans from Old Navy. Refining habits can’t be directly compared to deciding not to break the law.

But when we’re talking about a new you, we’re talking about a person who’s inauthentic. We want to believe that our idealized self is the authentic one, but that’s not true. Your true self is the sum of your humiliating fumbles and screw-ups. What other people call baggage – something that can be abandoned along the route to the new you – I call backstory and I can’t leave it behind. I won’t. That’s fraud. That’s the old me, according to everyone else.

Proposition bets (R) for Super Bowl XLV are posted at the race and sports book in the Las Vegas Hilton in Las Vegas, Nevada January 27, 2011. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers will compete in Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas on February 6. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL) - RTXX6B3

This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with reinvention. A longitudinal study of women throughout their lives at the University of California at Berkeley – called the Mills study because it followed women who were recent graduates of Mills College into their old age – found that reinvention is not only possible but more likely when its approached gradually and not as a change into a new person but as a return to the person you were and always knew you should be.

Indeed, our country’s entire penal system is based – at least in principle, if not in practice – that time and a controlled environment can cause personal and moral revolutions in people. Yes, long terms of incarceration sometimes work.

When I leave here in 74 days – well after at least 36% of people dropped the resolutions they made last month – I’ll get a tabula rasa myself, not because I’ll be a different person but because I’ll emerge more myself than I’ve been for a long while, having erased my screwy sense of entitlement and the delusion that I am owed anything.

Part of my ability not to feel like a walking, talking crapshoot is that I got away from thinking that I am flawed when the defect is really in how I handled things. There’s no “new me” when 2014 comes, it’s the same me every January, just doing some things differently, managing those flaws rather than internalizing them to the point that I have to morph into someone else to keep them from interfering with a meaningful life.

And if you’re a C/O searching my stuff, looking for what I’m going to say about all of you when I leave this year, there’s nothing wrong with you, either.  There’s something wrong with how you’re doing things. Find that and fix it.

betting shop

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM DECEMBER 26 – JANUARY 1, 2017

ct-mall-brawls-20161227

The Bureau of Justice Statistics released its latest counts of people incarcerated in state and federal prisons and in local jails, and offered some good news. During 2015, the state and federal incarcerated populations declined by 2%, more than it has any year since the Bureau started tracking annual change in 1978. The bad news is that most of that decarceration came from President Obama’s one-off’s with clemency and early release. Probably won’t happen again any time soon.

Teen brawls broke out in malls across the country the day after Christmas. When I was in prison in 2013 and the Fox Series The Following aired, I used to wonder how it didn’t inspire more bizarre, flash mob-type crime. I guess I was just premature. It’s finally happening. The Following has come to life, juvy-style, without blades, thankfully.

Starting January 1, 2017, the vast majority of people arrested in New Jersey will be released without having to post bail. Those who are remanded because they can’t afford to pay a bond will be tried within six months. I really want this to work. If it does, it will push reforms in other states. If it fails, it will be hailed as the reason not to let anyone out of custody. This is why new ideas in reform can be dangerous; if they flop, then people blame the principles behind the plan, not its design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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