18 September 2017

Oh, Sandy

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Sandy’s wrath in Connecticut.

“Yo, Patriots, don’t we gotta be evacuated or nothin’? Go back to our cells?”

Hurricane Sandy was thrashing everyone else in the state – and the seaboard – but if you didn’t have access to a TV or radio in here, you’d never know, even though York CI is almost beachfront property. At least on the maximum security side, there aren’t many trees to lurch and spasm in the wind. To me, right now, [Hurricane] Sandy looks like heavy rain.

“Prison is the safest place you can be during a hurricane…” Patriots assured us. He fills in for Bengals on Friday mornings and he might be right. When society shifts into every-man-for-himself mode during a disaster, inmates are some of the few people who someone’s looking out for, mostly because we can’t – and no one want us to – flee. We’ve already taken cover in an impenetrable bunker when we were sentenced. Generators wait for years to be called into action to keep our ‘home’ humming. My life – crappy as it may be – was totally un-interrupted by Sandy. Even though I couldn’t move, I still escaped the storm. Don’t let anyone tell you there isn’t an upside to incarceration.

We were lucky to work but Patriots might have the Freaky Friday curse. Man-made disaster has struck every Friday he’s come in when Bengals was off.  One kettle broke as it was stirring 200 gallons of American Chop Suey. I had to run alongside the kettle, back and forth, with a piece of cardboard to catch the Chop Suey castoff so it wouldn’t pile up on the floor cause a worker to slip and bust her ass.

Another Friday morning brought with it a broken pump machine that sprayed a steady stream of 212-degree black-eyed peas into a black inmate’s eye. If I made up a story like that, people would say it was over the top; it was almost like someone set it up.

Now, in a natural disaster, he came in to cover for Bengals again to supervise us as we made 1000 gallons of chicken tetrazzini.  If I were him, I wouldn’t have tempted fate.

But this Friday morning was calm. Three kettles rotated silently, spinning chicken and green pepper strips in sauce made from dry milk and butter. No other creature in the facility was stirring. Food Prep probably was the least-disrupted, smoothest-running place in the state.

“Bozelko, can you pull out two racks of chicken and prep ‘em?”

“Sure,” I agreed and went inside the walk-in cooler. I pushed the metal rack on the cooler door, cleared the vinyl curtains and had just come through when:

THUNG! THUNG! THU..THU…THU…THU…NNNG!  rang out at 20 decibels, followed by an inmate voice from some far recesses of the kitchen:

“Some shit is broke.”

And the kitchen went dark.

Power usually goes out without a sound. It’s the silence from deleted TV screens and extinguished fluorescent bulbs that helps alert you that something happened. Not this time. No one lives to describe the noise of Armageddon but I’m guessing it sounds like this.

“RECALL! Everyone back to their units!” Patriots boomed. “Bozelko, back that chicken back in.”

“How’re they gonna force an evacuation of the tetrazzini?” I asked him. “You have three kettles to pump and chill.”

“Bozelko, we don’t have power. No pump machine, no chillers.”

What Patriots meant was that 600 gallons of a hot, creamy meat-and-vegetable concoction were going to crust over in their containers unless he scooped it out, by hand, into the garbage. Another disaster. I felt really bad for him but I had to trudge back to my housing unit like everyone else, for the opportunity to hide from the storm with my cellmate and not move for days. That’s how Sandy finally struck me.

I was looking more glum than usual when I walked to Mr. K’s desk in the unit. Before I could even say anything, he shot instructions at me:

“Quick, quick shower. PTA only [inmate-speak for ‘pits, tits and ass’] and you gotta get back in your cell fast.”

“Have I lingered before?” I asked him. Storm or no storm, I always scurry inside.

“No, seriously, Bozelko. Because the fuckin’ back-up generator blew, all of the doors are unlocked. Scaring the shit out of me.  You guys can come out and do anything.”

“I thought prison’s the safest place during a hurricane.”

“Not for us it’s not.”

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM SEPTEMBER 11 – 17, 2017

harvard sucks

1. Van Jones wrote an op-ed this week for CNN blasting correctional administrators in Texas and Florida for failing to move prisoners during the recent hurricanes. But it is also worth considering how many more prisoners were properly moved this time around  than during previous hurricanes. The New Republic and Houston Press reported what happened to inmates s during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, respectively, but those stories didn’t appear for months, years, while this time many news outlets ran stories of evacuations, or lack thereof.

2. So, basically, Harvard University doesn’t like felons. Last week included two stories of the Number 2 school in the nation rescinding offers to women convicted of felonies because of their crimes.

The New York Times and The Marshall Project broke the story of Michelle Jones, a woman who served more than two decades in an Indiana prison for killing her 4-year-old son. While behind bars,  she became a published scholar of American history, which is almost impossible. Her academic work was so good she was accepted into Harvard University’s vaunted doctoral program in history — until two American Studies professors raised questions about whether anyone who had committed her crime deserves to be admitted – and whether Fox News would drag them for accepting her.

Then the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government decided to take back an invitation to former prisoner and Wikileaker Chelsea Manning to become a Visiting Fellow because Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, flaked on an appointment to speak at the school and criticized the decision.

And in case anyone needed a reminder, here’s the scoop from Business Insider on why Princeton is really better than Harvard.

3. If you’ve got a warrant out in your name or are undocumented, Motel 6 will drop a dime on you, at least to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Phoenix New Times reported this week. The irony in this story for me is that Motel 6 knows it’s not family or luxury lodging; many people who stay there probably have a real need for privacy, and not just because they might be cheating on their spouses. In short, if Motel 6 keeps out the “riffraff” they’ll lose their clientele.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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11 September 2017

8:46

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At 8:46 AM, the minute the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, York CI holds a moment of silence, a minute to honor people who died on this day. I thought the place was unfeeling enough not to conduct a memorial like this at all, much less include the inmates in it, but they do. I suspect it’s because the C/O’s compare themselves to the brave souls we call “First Responders” and feel some comity with them even though denying a confined woman a tampon – or even giving it to her freely – doesn’t really compare to running into tons of melting, burning steel that are about to collapse on your head, just so you can free someone else who’s been imprisoned by it.

If I haven’t heard the 8:46 AM announcement on the overhead in, then I hear it from the kitchen supervisors’ belts; their radios announce when it’s time to pay our respects. The control room transmits the request for one minute where

no

one

talks.

And the 1000+ women here haven’t been able to pull it off once. Ever since I’ve arrived, the 60 seconds of silence gets hijacked and driven into some foolishness.

2008:   “Yo, the TV gotta be off for it to be silent?”

2009:   “I don’t give a fuck about no planes. I’m gettin’ my shit [commissary].”

2010:   “Is medical [building] open?”

The ten-year anniversary should be different, I thought. Advance notices that this shut-the-hell-up moment was coming, I decided, might minimize the interruptions. Because prison is noisy, silence might be jarring for some women in here if they don’t understand why the human sound that surrounds them the other 525,599 minutes of the year has vacated the space around them. Especially if they’re PTSD’d out, any change in the atmosphere might trigger their hyper-vigilance, panicking them, causing the careless decision to open their mouths at an inopportune time.

“Okay, listen, listen up. It’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11 this year, remember? And we do a moment of silence at 8:46 to honor the people that died. So, around that time, let’s pay attention to our surroundings and, if everyone’s being quiet and not talking, then let’s not say a word until we know that moment is over, right?” I announced to the other food prep workers. The kitchen’s been under renovation for months and we were just sitting around.

Amongst the vacant stares and less than diligent nods came:

“Somebody always fucks that shit up.”

“I know, but I think it’s because they forget that it’s coming if they haven’t heard the announcement. So I’m announcing it now, ahead of time, so that people remember: don’t interrupt the silence.”

And I interrupted their conversations three more times with reminders.

“Remember: no talking.”

And when the minute-hand lapped the stubby hour-hand and stretched straight out to the “9” on the clock, I prepped people again with a one-minute notice, until that thin sliver of a second- hand did its round.

Then I held one hand to my lips and the other up in the air like I was asking for help, which I was. Please show me you can do this.

And it worked for about 25 seconds until Tracey, the “new” lady who’s been here twenty times, came in from the hallway.

“What’s going on?”

When fifteen sets of glaring eyes set upon her, she realized.

“Oh, it’s that thing she was talkin’ about?”

This, for me, wasn’t about the tragedy of 9/11 or the fact that people perished for no reason other than criminal masterminds, full of rage, beat the United States aviation system at its own game. It was about our potential. It’s really no wonder we can’t get any respect. We’re incapable of honoring anyone’s valid instruction, memory or humanity. This realization telegraphed itself from my pursed lips and rotating head. But I still never said shit.

“You tried,” [Kitchen Supervisor] Bengals said, reading my disgust, only after we’d firmly hit 8:47.

“If they can’t shut their traps for one minute, when they get multiple advance warnings from a pain-in-the-ass like myself, how likely do you think it is that they’re going to have the willpower to stop using drugs, not beat the piss out of someone or just generally rise to the challenges of being a good citizen?”

“It’s not likely at all,” he conceded.  “But you already knew that.”

 

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM SEPTEMBER 4 – 10, 2017

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Inmates evacuated after Hurricane Katrina.

Prisons and hurricanes are a bad combo. Check back next week for a diary entry on what it was like to be in prison during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But the storms are upon us now, causing some serious problems.

The New Yorker ran a pretty interesting piece about inmates in Texas during Hurricane Harvey, using the inmates’ own words. Note that prison locks don’t work when the power is out and people were excited to have Port-A-Potty’s delivered…so they could eat again.

Grady Judd, the sheriff of Polk County, Florida, threatened to take into custody anyone with an outstanding arrest warrant who sought shelter from Hurricane Irma’s path. Most of the warrants in the county east of Tampa stem from unpaid traffic tickets and other low-level offenses and the people who would be pulled in on them posed no danger for anyone in the hurricane shelters. Given the fact that state and local authorities are at a loss of how to evacuate all the prisoners who need to be moved, I think it’s safe to say that Sheriff Judd is less concerned about public safety than he should be. Taking someone into custody when you may not be able to guarantee their safety isn’t a decision to be taken lightly.

Seven thousand prisoners in Florida had to be relocated in buses and vans from unsafe facilities that likely couldn’t withstand Hurricane Irma’s forces. The Connecticut DOC can barely handle transporting about 100  prisoners per day, and only to court and back to confinement. I can’t imagine what it is like for the Florida inmates going through this. They have to be shackled and cuffed and ride in vehicles with no shocks, probably for hours, only to arrive at a place that will, necessarily, be overcrowded with little space for them to sleep. If I had the choice between prisoner transport or having my roof  blown off, I might just stay put. Seriously.

And, even though it’s an older piece, it’s worth reading Alex Chemerinksy’s article on how Louisiana lost 6,000 prisoners from the Orleans Parish Prison during Hurricane Katrina.

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4 September 2017

Shade and Freud, Part Four of Four

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To start from the beginning, click here. It’s best read that way.

To read last week’s section, click here.

After I did the five-minute shuffle back to seg in dawn’s cold, I crunched up on my bed for hours, even slept a little through the next night, with no sheet still, like a bum.

That new C/O came around for count. He’s been here only a few months and he’s already looking women up when they get out, at least that’s what people are saying. I believe it. He asked:

“Ma, don’t you want to put that sheet down? Might be here for a minute.”

Only in prison would the word “minute” come to mean a long time. He wasn’t being nice.

In a York minute I found out I wasn’t going to be there long when another C/O, Reeger, came downstairs. Supposedly he asks the inmates to flash him.

“Let’s go, Bozelko. You’re moving,” Reeger told me, muffled through the glass in the door. I stopped caring about whether he’s a pervert or not.

“It’s count time, isn’t it?” This was confusing.

“What? You wanna stay?”

“Nope, no, here I am,” as I jumped from the top bunk to the floor.

The move to the medical unit – also the ‘overflow’ unit when they don’t know where to put you – was too fast, occurring during the last count of the first shift of the last day of the workweek.  Wardens and captains wouldn’t be in for the next two days. Something else was happening.

They let me go to work from the medical unit which usually wasn’t allowed. I didn’t mind. Gino was working and he’s always serving up some levity.  When I walked in without a uniform, Gino asked:

“You alright?” He heard what had happened. I wonder what he believed.

“Yeah, I’m fine. It was just a mush.”

“A wha?”

“Nevermind.”

The next few days were busy and buzzy. I worked doubles to avoid the medical unit where I was stationed. There was more activity than usual. Many captains walking around, even plainclothes investigators going into Building 6, the administration’s site. Rumors kept seeping into the kitchen. Keisha’s telling people that I had told her I had sexual contact with the C/O we were allegedly supposed to kill in her cockamamie fantasy. Reports like that get you thrown in seg, too.  So I went to Gino and told him. I needed preventive help.

“Geen, I don’t want to go back to seg,” I was pleading with him to intervene.

“Don’t worry. You’re the least of her problems,” he advised.

“Well, yeah, true, but I’d rather pose low risk to her from out here, not in there,” I explained to him, pointing to the restricted housing unit which was just across the walkway.

“Don’t worry, you’re never gonna see her on this compound again.”

“Unless she comes through the line and threatens to kill me over an extra egg,” I pointed out.

“Don’t worry. It’s covered. Go about your business.”

Which I did, lugging garbage to the dumpster in the back of the kitchen as my friend, Monica, walked past on her way to a medical appointment.

Monica is the personification of the War on Drugs’ failure. Her surgeon mother and professor father (Yale School of Public Health – he helped found Connecticut’s hospice) couldn’t save their daughter from an opiate addiction. She worked as a news camerawoman in New York, shooting on location with the likes of Dan Rather. She had enough money to fill a suitcase with heroin for a vacation on the Connecticut shoreline – all for personal use – before she boarded Metro North. Where she got busted. That was in the 90’s. She’s been cycling in and out since and always felt it was her responsibility to bring me up to date on the language and the ways of the streets, since she knew neither one of us ever inhabited them. Monica is one of the few true inmate mentors I’ve had.*

“Oh my God, are you alright? I heard all about it on the news,” she said as she passed the kitchen.

“The news?” Is this what they’re calling inmate.com now?

“NPR,” and then she went into announcer mode. “Keisha D, an inmate at the York Correctional Institution for Women is facing two charges of sexually assaulting fellow inmates.”**

“When the hell was this?” I asked. I thought she relapsed.

“I dunno. Couple days ago? When you were in seg.”  Everyone knew. Inmate.com operates on high-speed internet.

As she continued down the walkway, Monica turned back, just in case the lesson had been lost:

“You know that was meant for you?”

“Yeah. But all I got was a mush. That’s what they call it, right?” I checked.

“Yes, it is,” she called back as I rushed inside for confirmation. I didn’t know if I believed what I just heard.

“Geen, did you say [Keisha] won’t be on the compound because she’ll be classified to seg because she sexually assaulted two inmates?”

“Yeah.”

“So you’re telling me that these guys were so anxious to get Keisha to rape or kill me that they set this whole thing up and it backfired on them? She attacked other women instead of me?” I had to get this straight.

“Yep.”

“Is that why everyone’s all in a frenzy and captains and state cops are walking around? They’re investigating what she did to these other women?”

“Yes.” Gino jokes around a lot. When he’s serious he has to stop and be still. Eliminate his smile. Which he did.

But I burst out laughing.  That two women had to suffer even four minutes of Keisha’s deafening presence because they were caught in the crosshairs of the Bozelko Beef was unthinkable. The fact that they underwent God-knows-what violation of their will or bodily integrity is serious and a total abdication of the facility’s responsibility to keep its wards safe. It’s incomprehensibly irresponsible and totally traumatizing to these poor women. It was a horrible situation that, quite frankly, thrilled me. Not because two women were hurt.

The fact that Booz et al. were feeling heat for it was hilarious. Even Gino could see how I got some getback without even knowing what happened. He started laughing, too. I need to be clear here; neither I nor Gino thought that it was funny that women were assaulted. We recognize how devastating it is. We were laughing because the seriousness of the matter was falling at the feet of the proper sinners and they deserved it for being this callous and craven with the human bodies they get paid to protect. And the fact that they missed their target was even richer.

“Listen, c’mere,” he waved me toward his desk. “They told Booz he better leave you alone, too!” and he pointed toward the back of the dining hall. On the other side of that wall, the administrative offices of captains and deputy wardens hummed above industrial carpet and around intentionally bland décor, now facing the proof in a local courthouse that they’re incompetent.

“She’s gonna kill someone some day!” Gino laughed.

“I heard she already has!” I squealed.

“I heard you were gonna help her with the next one!” Gino screamed.

And our heads were thrown back in guffaw, laughing in a time when correctional staff actually devoted their workhours to gerrymandering the general population for the sole purpose of harming me. I hadn’t realized before this how important I am to these people and how pathetic this proposition is. Do people in here know that their lives are in danger over imagined personal conflict with me?

Days after I learned about this, I saw Booz on the walkway when I was walking back after work. Before this mess, he used to give me the stink-eye but now, nothing. He wouldn’t even look at me. I could be wrong, but I think he quickened his pace. And I swear, I swear he saw me smile.

When people get nervous and ask me what prison is really like – the marshals at court have asked, lawyers, newbies in lockup – I need to tell them what it is: a see-saw of schadenfreude. Whenever someone in the facility faces a personal problem, there’s someone nearby who delights at their predicament. At least until her fortunes take a dive. Then someone’s laughing at her.

It’s why inmate.com thrives so vibrantly with such sad – and even false – stories. That web of judgment and ridicule supplies us with the bad news about others that keeps us going.

We could, if we chose to do so, level ourselves out with empathy since everyone in here, every member of the staff included, is suffering in some way. I heard through the grapevine that one of the good C/O’s has a severely disabled son and she does this work for its stability and benefits. Booz was losing his house and that can’t be fun. Inmates are separated from their children. They get news that I dread: that one of their parents has passed.

Instead of empathy, though, there’s always someone smug with satisfaction at that suffering… until it’s her turn.  If we were empathetic then it wouldn’t be prison anymore. Everyone on the same, elevated moral plane? Nah. Not here. What do you think this is? A government facility dedicated to rehabilitating people?

I started to laugh again. Out loud. By myself. Walking to my housing unit on the walkway.

As I reached the double doors, I realized how humbling this epiphany was. I am a sick fuck. Just like everyone else here.

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*Monica passed away from pancreatic cancer in May 2015 in the hospice founded by and  named after her father.

**I’ve never been able to verify that these events appeared in the news, nor have I been able to ascertain that they were never reported in the media. I did verify that Keisha D. was charged with two counts of sexual assault on February 23, 2010 in Geographical Area 10 of the Judicial District of New London. On July 28, 2010, after she had been released from York CI, she pleaded guilty to one count of Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree for whatever happened to those two women and was sentenced to three months back at York CI, the scene of the crime.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE FROM AUGUST 28 – SEPTEMBER 3, 2017

Shown is a witness gallery inside the new lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010. While court righting continues over resumption of California's death penalty, state prison officials conducted a media tour of their refurbished death chamber designed to meet legal requirements. The new facility cost $853,000 and the work was performed by the inmate ward labor program. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

The State of Nevada announced that it will use fentanyl – the opiate that dealers have been using to cut their heroin to make kill bags – in its lethal injection protocol. Because it’s a first, no one really knows how effective it will be, even though it proves quite effective in the streets every day. If that isn’t a statement on where opioid addiction will land you, I don’t know what is.

The next time someone tries to look merciful by suggesting that a defendant should “just get probation” should read the report released Monday Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Researchers found that probation contributes to mass incarceration contributes as much as incarceration itself. Wondering how that’s possible? For-profit probation.

At the publication devoted to covering gun violence, The Trace, reporters found that two-thirds of gunshot wound victims aren’t insured. Medicaid, hospitals cover much of the costs, but the most is paid by victims themselves. Either this is a fact unacceptable in a country that claims to be concerned about crime victims or it shows how much drug gangs make if they can afford to self-pay for the bullets their members take – at least $20K per hospital stay for a gunshot wound.

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