20 March 2017

A Working Theory

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pregnant orange

It’s mid-shift in the food prep unit. HOPE is standing at the large window in the food service workers’ empty dining hall. She watches as another inmate walks past the plate glass and stops to speak with a C/O. Flirtation and cutesy interactions ensue between the two of them.

HOPE:

(speaking to no one in particular)

How the fuck does she get away with this shit? Aren’t we locked down until…whenever because some judge is here, walking around and they don’t want any of these bitches talking to her and telling her what’s really goin’ on up in this place? I mean…if I was just wandering around I’d be cuffed and stuffed.

CHANDRA walks up and observes. Her expression says what she’s witnessing is common.

CHANDRA:

 My working theory is pregnancy.

HOPE:

Who’s pregnant?

CHANDRA:

Now? No one. But Adrienne was, I bet.

(Wondering who Adrienne is? Click here.)

HOPE:

(mulling it over)

Adrienne was preggo. Mmmm…

CHANDRA:

Well, I’m not 100% on it. But it’s my only theory now. I mean, if I were in court, I would be careful and say that it is my personal opinion, given what I’ve observed, that she was probably pregnant but I have no direct knowledge of her condition. You get me?

HOPE:

I still think she witnessed something real bad. Serious. Like criminal. Like a C/O beating someone.

CHANDRA:

Can’t be that. It’s not enough of a threat. If she reported something she saw, they’d just call her a liar, crazy.  The usual delusional.

HOPE:

Maybe she witnessed something and can tell the cops exactly where to look for it on the cameras. That’s evidence. Or maybe she has some paperwork.

CHANDRA:

Nah. They’ve searched her shit so many times, someone would have confiscated it. The guilty party or his friends…

HOPE:

Maybe it’s paperwork she sent out. I mean, just playing devil’s advocate here.

CHANDRA:

No one to send it to. Her husband’s doing time and her family doesn’t speak to her after what she did.

HOPE:

Maybe a lawyer?

CHANDRA:

They open legal mail. They’re not supposed to but…

(CHANDRA gives HOPE a knowing look.)

Would’ve confiscated it that way, too.

HOPE:

Maybe it’s not papers. Maybe she smuggled it out like the chick who smuggled out her toothbrush after she gave the guy [a C/O] a blow job?

CHANDRA.

(shaking head)

I’ve done my due diligence on this. She doesn’t get visitors so she can’t pass anything out. And if they open legal mail, they’ll definitely open an envelope that looks like it has a toothbrush, especially after last time.  It’s evidence she alone can control.

HOPE:

Like something inside her, like a baby.

CHANDRA:

Like something that’s guarded by HIPAA [Health Information Portability and Accountability Act]. Remember medical is UCONN, not DOC. They should have no access to her medical records.

HOPE:

So the evidence is in her chart. Okay, that works.

CHANDRA:
Except it’s not in her medical chart here. They’d break the law and Watergate the hell out of the medical records room to save their asses.

HOPE:

So, wait. It’s not in her file?

CHANDRA:

Here. Not in her file here.

HOPE:

I don’t. I don’t get it.

CHANDRA:

Abortions go to the local Planned Parenthood and their doctors don’t calculate the fact that she might have been in custody at the time of conception. They only care about the beginning of pregnancy to make sure they’re in the right trimester to do it. As long as they’re less than – what’s it 20, 24 weeks? – in, they don’t care about the beginning of pregnancy. They’re all about the end. And they might’ve fudged her DOC entry date when they took her over there.

HOPE:

That’s not in her chart here?

CHANDRA:

Nope. Because no one asked for it to be sent over. The OB here knows the deal and she’s mandated to report. Can’t report what you don’t know about.

HOPE:

Why don’t they just try to destroy the records or delete them there [at Planned Parenthood]?

CHANDRA:

Do you know how many pro-life nuts harass these people at Planned Parenthood? People shoot abortion providers and women who get the procedure. Planned Parenthood’s security is better than it is here. No one’s hacking their system or raiding their offices at night. Believe me.

HOPE:

But why would they bring her to a place where they have no control?

CHANDRA:

The best option. At least no one else can access it there either. No third parties gaining access to it. It’s in a vault with one key: her word. So they kiss her ass, let her get away with outrageous shit.

HOPE:

No, here’s the problem. She has no money. There’s no reason for her not to sue them. I mean, having sex with an inmate, getting her preggo, is rape. She’d clean up.

CHANDRA:
She has, like, 20 years to serve. Anything she’d win – and she’s not a sympathetic victim – would get eaten up by the cost of her incarceration. She’d end up with no money and nothing to hold over their heads. This way, she still has no money…but she gets whatever she wants. Still keeps the knife at their necks.

HOPE:

You really think a C/O got her pregnant?

CHANDRA:

C/O. Lieutenant. Captain. Warden. A fucking male nurse. Someone. We’re talking about is objective evidence, off prison grounds, and Adrienne is the only person who can pull the ripcord on it. And whatever it is, it’s serious, as in lose-your-job, lose-your-freedom, register-as-a-sex-offender serious.

HOPE:

I dunno.

CHANDRA:

Think about it. Only Adrienne has power over it. Off grounds. Undeniable evidence. Serious crime. Someone knocked her up in here. I’m telling you it’s pregnancy. At least, like I said, it’s my working theory.

HOPE:

Think it’s mine now, too.

CHANDRA

I’m telling you. That’s what it is.

Supervisor GREEN BAY walks into the dining hall and raises his hands in an open question after he sees his two employees watching essentially nothing very intently.

GREEN BAY:

Bozelko! Brooks! We’re pumping! Let’s go! Is this a parade or work?

CHANDRA:

Sorry, Green Bay. I was explaining my working theory for extreme favoritism in this place.

GREEN BAY:

Well, let’s try this on for a working theory: just work.

image

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM MARCH 13 – 19, 2017

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As if the reporter read Prison Diaries’ game plan, this week Vice News reported how hard it is for a woman to terminate a pregnancy while she’s incarcerated. There are no formal procedures as to how this gets accomplished in at least 20 states. Read the report here.

On Pi day, 3.14, the Prison Policy Initiative released its yearly “Whole Pie” graph of incarceration in the United States. “The American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 76 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories,” the report said. They also found that 641,000 people leave prison every year. If they all stayed out…we’d solve this prison crisis quickly.

How much is a year of your life worth? If you’re wrongly incarcerated in Texas, you get $80,000 in compensation for every year you spent in prison. In Wisconsin? $5,000 per year. Michigan pays $50 K for every 365 days on the inside.

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19 September 2016

See How They Run

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transparent-radiotransparent-radio

transparent-radio

transparent-radio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A. CODE PURPLE                                 ____ 0 M.P.H.  Always simulated. Thank God.
(SUICIDE/ATTEMPTED SUICIDE)

B. CODE BLUE                              ____ 8-12 M.P.H., panicking, hyperventilating, often
(INMATE FIGHT/ALTERCATION)              crying.

C. CODE GREEN                           ____ Never seen one. Stopped at ORANGE.
(ESCAPE/ATTEMPTED ESCAPE)

D. CODE YELLOW                         ____ “I don’t run no matter what color they are.”
(HOSTAGE TAKING)

E. CODE ORANGE                         ____ 8-11 M.P.H., unrelenting waves of guards 
(ASSAULT ON D.O.C.                             inundate the area, each additional one is
PERSONNEL)                                        useless, waiting to who gets dragged out.

F. CODE RED                                 ____ 2 M.P.H. Circles, back-forth-back, shrugging.
(FIRE)

G. CODE WHITE                            ____ 5.5 M.P.H. One from every unit because
(MEDICAL EMERGENCY)                        someone needs to bring the camera.

H. CORRECTION OFFICER              ____ 3 M.P.H. Except for guard who sprints from  
(250 lbs.)                                             Disciplinary Board, beating everyone else.

ANSWERS AT BOTTOM

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM SEPTEMBER 12 – 18, 2016

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The country’s largest prison strike has turned to riots and it was revealed on Friday that a correction officer at William C. Holman Correctional Center in Alabama was stabbed – before the strike – and died. Tell me again how prisoner insurrection is about solidarity. That’s like saying gang rape is good teamwork.

Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri released study results that demonstrate the total cost of incarceration for one year –  when we figure in social costs like lost wages ($70 billion), reduced earrings of formerly incarcerated persons ($230 billion), shortened life spans ($63 billion) increased crime ($285 billion) and other costs – is one trillion dollars.

Jay-Z released a video about the war on drugs. Nice effort, but the reports about how many people with drug convictions fill our prisons and jails are wrong. Read why here.

 

ANSWERS

F

A

D

H

C

B

G

A. CODE PURPLE  (SUICIDE/ATTEMPTED SUICIDE) – 8-12 M.P.H., panicking, hyperventilating, often crying.

B. CODE BLUE (INMATE FIGHT/ALTERCATION)  – One from every building because someone needs to bring the camera.

C. CODE GREEN (ESCAPE/ATTEMPTED ESCAPE) – 2 M.P.H. Circle, back-forth-back, shrugging.

D. CODE YELLOW (HOSTAGE TAKING) – Never seen one. Always stopped at ORANGE.

E. CODE ORANGE (ASSAULT ON D.O.C. PERSONNEL) – 8-11 M.P.H. Unrelenting waves of guards inundate the area, each additional one is useless, waiting to who gets dragged out.

F. CODE RED (FIRE) – 0 M.P.H. Always simulated. Thank God.

G. CODE WHITE (MEDICAL EMERGENCY) – 3 M.P.H. Except for guard who sprints from Disciplinary Board, beating everyone else.

H. CORRECTION OFFICER (250 lbs.) – “I don’t run no matter what color they are.”

 

 

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12 September 2016

Omnia Vincit Riot

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riot1

Prison fights creep up on us general pop-pers. They’re actually kind of quiet, no cluster of shouts like you see on TV and in the movies. In fact, they’re so silent that you can usually hear that fist-to-cheekbone swap! that’s buffered by only a thin stretch of facial skin.

So when things lulled on the other side of the dining hall when I was waiting in line to grab a tray, my first suspicion was fisticuffs. I was right.

In my peripheral vision, I could see the entire train of prisoners waiting for their meals and no one in line stepped out of it. But there must have been an energy shift from turned heads, the line’s directing its attention at the dustup, that two lieutenants noticed because that realization of threat and its wide, unfocused tension came across their faces. Their knees bent and their hands stretched out in “Stop” position, palms at right angle to their arms. They were really scared. The word “shitless” came to mind.

“STAY BACK!…DON’T MOVE!…DON’T FUCKIN’ MOVE!…STAND BAAACK!….STAY BACK NOW!” they each shrieked to a collection of women who were stone still but not because they were following instructions. They were confused.

“Da fuck?” someone asked.

“Aint nobody goin’ nowhere,” another said in that tone that reminds staff members that they can’t really see what’s unfolding before them.

In being warned not to move, the other women assumed they meant not to exit the chow hall. But these weren’t direct orders, these were pleas for safety.  I saw that a vulnerability so foreign to them had intruded on these lieutenants, like an unwanted, unannounced finger in their rectums; it zoomed right inside them and no matter how hard they resisted or pressed back, the only way it would vacate was on its terms, not theirs. And no one was even doing anything to them.

I looked at the ragged zig-zag trail of grey fleece sweatshirts and tattered denim legs leading to the serving line. Counted the tables; six women a piece. Calculated.  Right now it would be 8 to 1 when I factored in all the C/O’s who were working before the goon squad zoomed in to break up the fight. And I realized, as I never had before, a potential that has persisted for centuries that inmates don’t even understand in themselves.

Holy shit. We can take this place.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM SEPTEMBER 4 – 11, 2016

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STRIKE – A nationwide prisoner strike was planned for September 9, 2016, the 45th anniversary of the Attica uprising. Mask Magazine (which I had never heard of before researching the strike, so I can’t vouch for its reliability) tried to update people here on what was happening but it looks, to me, like the strike was a flop, which I expected, because, for the most part, inmates like their jobs.

THREE – The Guardian and the Marshall Project teamed up for a three-part series on public defenders this week. The first report, found here, contains links to the next two. There are actually no new revelations in any of these reports.  They squawk to reporters ad infinitum, but stipulate to ineffective assistance of counsel on the record? Never. That might be effective.

YOU’RE OUT – Dallas, Texas District Attorney Susan Hawk stepped down on Tuesday, citing her need for treatment for her mental illness. This report by the Dallas Morning News shows how dysfunctional the DA’s office in Dallas really is. And no one is even mentioning whether certain decisions Hawk made while she was ill about who would be prosecuted and who wouldn’t should be examined to see if her illness contributed to someone else’s injustice.

 

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29 August 2016

All Things Being

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MakeQuickDecisionstoKeepPaperPilesUnderControl

When the notices went up in such decisive words, they scared us.  “Inmate Property Audit” they read.  Guards and counselors usually mumble announcements in the housing units.  We muttered to ourselves as we read the signs with ceremonial language like “excessive” and “cubic.”  This was not a search, nor a simple inventory nor  a form-filling exercise; this was an audit.  It involved numbers, measurements and calculations.  In a world that depends on the qualitative to have an effect, we were about to get quantitative, and know about it ahead of time rather than get traumatized when the event was sprung on us. It was a switch.

imageBecause one inmate so exceeded the property limits  – like instead of 10 CD’s she had 60, instead of four books, she had 26 – the sum total of each inmate’s property was to be reduced, distilled, condensed and purified into six cubic feet of a contraband-free space.  That meant that a prisoner’s pillow, hairdryer, work uniforms, regular uniforms, socks, underwear, shoes, toiletries, towels, pajamas, books, magazines, radios, CD’s and CD players, stationery supplies and legal paperwork had to fit into a space slightly larger than the size of that area in your trunk that houses the spare tire.  Anything that didn’t fit would be tossed.

“How can this be fair?  It is not fair to make us live out of six cubic feet!”  This became a mantra on my tier, because women who have lived here for a long time and expect to live here for a long time more want to make themselves as comfortable as possible.

propboxShorter-term prisoners struggle through their six month sentences without these amenities. Because they own barely one cubic feet of property so they would fall safely within the audit’s parameters.  But most women in my unit had much more property than could be packed into six. They buy all of the commissary’s electronic equipment like CD players and CD’s; magazines subscriptions pile up in our rooms and we buy a lot – a lot – of undergarments to stave off feeling totally funky during a long lockdown when we might be denied showers.

The age-old philosophical debate about justice – whether we achieve it through fairness or equality – comes alive every day in here.  The rule in prison is equality, that each inmate receives the same.  Guards cloak prisoners in equality when they issue uniforms; we all wear the same one – a burgundy T-shirt and a pair of jeans – unless we pose an escape risk and then we wear DayGlo yellow scrubs.  We receive the same sheets, shoes, and socks.  We are equal in all things.  Or at least we are supposed to look that way.

IMG_0455-300x225If we ask for something that no one else can have – like an extra piece of cake when only twelve pieces remain in a room containing seventeen inmates or one lone sweatshirt containing pockets discarded by a discharging inmate – staff members tell us:  “Sorry.  I can’t give it to you if I can’t give it to everyone else.  Everyone gets the same.”

On a Tuesday morning, like it was some kind of emergency, my supervisors ordered me to leave work to submit to the property audit which took place in a housing unit so tightly locked that no one could squeeze out her contraband with the hopes of re-squeezing it back into their six cubic’s after the audit.

Two nosy, yet emotionally detached female guards stood at the door of my cell and barked:

“Do you have a radio?”

“Panties!  How many?”

“White T-shirts!  How many?”

“How many is too many for us who work in the kitchen?” I asked.  Because beef broth, baked beans and brown gravy cover every stitch of clothing we wear, kitchen workers receive (gasp) special treatment because some prison crisis (like a non-functioning clothes dryer or a lockdown forcing us to return to work after we changed out of one kitchen uniform) might force us to don another set of clothes.  Besides, we stink from the food we prepare; everyone around us wants us to change our clothes multiple times a day.  Limiting kitchen workers to the same number of T-shirts as inmates who don’t work in the kitchen makes wearing clean clothes impossible for us so the administration usually allows us to keep extra clothes; that’s only fair.

strong_style_color_b82220_prison_strong_metal_strong_style_color_b82220_bunk_strong_bed_001_heavy_duty“Same as everyone else!” squawked one of the inventory buzzards.  I live in cell A-1, the first cell searched.  I wondered if she was going to be better or worse to the subsequent search-ees or would she treat them equal bitchery.  I handed one guard the three excess white shirts I’d just purchased only to see all three go into the garbage, equally.

When we came to inventory my legal papers, I had already filled my six cubic feet.

“They need to be sent out,” said one woman, a wizened guard notorious for her Google-stalking of inmates’ charges and criminal cases. Everyone thinks she’s nice. I don’t.

“I can’t send them out.  I need them for court proceedings,” I told her.

“I said send them out as in store them!” she screamed.  I was about to tell her she should have said “They need to be stored” but I remembered that I am not her equal and bagged up the papers for her to cart them to the property office.

imageNow, whenever I need to do legal research, I must write to the property office and pick up a few envelopes of documents.  Then I exchange that set of documents for another pile of – you guessed it – equal size.  Usually, any legal work in prison takes ten times longer to do than it would take outside the facility. I’ve been defaulted more times than I even know about because of the delays in getting documents in and out of here. But with this new equal property arrangement, equal has become excessive and it takes ten times longer than before, even with the property officers’ consistent cooperation and kindness. I don’t see how I can compete anymore in court, much less win, with all things being equal.

Limited to the equal-across-the-board property rules, my six cubic feet without my papers make me equal to other inmates.  But other inmates – 99.5% – don’t represent themselves like I do and therefore don’t do their own legal work. To people in a minority, equal isn’t fair.  Quite a lesson for the privileged, little white lady who’s outnumbered.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM AUGUST 22 – 28, 2016

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Ramen is the new dough, according to a study released at this week’s American Sociological Association’s annual conference. It’s replaced cigarettes as currency in prisons and jails because of correctional tobacco bans. I’ve eaten a few ramen, but never smoked a cigarette. Cigarettes might have been healthier. Everyone thinks this news is, well, news. Anyone who’s done time knows that anything can become currency behind bars.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed more than twelve justice reform bills on Monday, including one that helps released prisoners get the occupational licenses they need for certain types of employment, the first law of its kind in the United States.

And on Thursday, Judge Aaron Persky, adjudicator and sentencer of the infamous Brock Turner has decided to stop hearing criminal cases because the Brock-Backlash has affected his ability to appear impartial – and go on vacation in peace. In many ways, this is a sad turn of events because defense attorneys swear that Persky was one of the judges who was most fair toward indigent defendants.

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13 June 2016

Spumoni Fashion and Other Nice Happenings

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image

“They must get a rate on them,” I said to myself as I watched the warden saunter down the walkway. I rarely take breaks at work, but August in a kitchen with no air-conditioning pushes me outside for air with the inmates who are dodging responsibility, while they’re here in prison taking responsibility for something else.

Become-a-Prison-Warden-Step-1
The following graphics are from the WikiHow, “How to Become a Prison Warden” Step One: Earn a High School Diploma or Equivalent.

He was wearing a salmon-colored shirt. In the almost three years that I’ve been here, every warden has had a spumoni-inspired wardrobe, dress shirts that would be laughed out of boardrooms. There’s no Brooks Brothers blue oxford cloth here, as far as I can tell. Instead: Pistachio. Pink. Turquoise. Goldenrod. Aubergine. Royal. Red. Outside of a Christmas party, what man wears a red shirt to work with a tie? I’ll even stretch it to Valentine’s Day, but only two occasions wouldn’t cause me to buy clothes just for them. No, I take that back. I would. But I’m a girl and I don’t oversee a paramilitary workplace.

And I’ve seen them wear long leather jackets over them like blazers. It’s so common that I’ve made myself the official sentinel to their fashion. No one except for me even cares but, believe me, a pattern has emerged with the solid-colored shirts, a pattern whose significance I can’t understand unless the shirts come free with the promotion to top correctional dog. Or they get a rate on them. Or the new position puts their taste buds in their assholes.

Become-a-Prison-Warden-Step-3
Step Three: Have a Clean Background

Becoming a warden is like reaching the pinnacle of a pile of shit. Except it’s not so much a climb as it is an endurance test. You start as a C/O, climb the ranks and, when no one else is left and your soul is calloused, someone from DOC headquarters tells you: “You’re on.”

There’s nothing glamorous about the job, no caché that gains you admission to exclusive events. You work in a filthy, feces-coated, menstrual blood-smeared location. You’re essentially on call in case of an emergency, which will necessarily be an act of violence or an instance of serious illness or danger. Or an escape. I peg the pay to be about 150K, which is good money but not enough to work in a museum of failed social policy and human heartache.

Become-a-Prison-Warden-Step-4
Step Four: Be Drug Free.

Sometimes I feel bad for the warden, whomever it happens to be at the time (this one is the third in three years) because they’re like the Rodney Dangerfields of justice.  Society values lawyers and judges unnecessarily. Unions celebrate C/O’s and lieutenants like the globe can’t spin without them. The Commissioner is a political appointee who has the governor’s ear. The warden? The warden has the unfortunate privilege of overseeing a collection of people who are addicted to breaking the rules. And he oversees the inmates, too.  And he gets no respect.

Sure, C/O’s and other staff’s spines grow ramrod straight when he’s around. They jump out of chairs and turn off the TV’s that descend from the ceiling when they seem him through the window, heading towards them on the sidewalk.  For the most part, very few listen to him.

Become-a-Prison-Warden-Step-5
Step Five: Have the Qualities of a Prison Warden

If the staff did respect him, then they would obey the rules all the time and not just when they think he might tour the compound.  They think when they snicker at or tease an inmate and call her fat that the harm rolls only downhill. Sure, they’re  disrespecting us. But they’re also openly revealing that they don’t respect the warden, even if he never finds out. If he never finds out and they pretend like they’ve never done this, then they’re lying to him. No respect. No respect.

If they held him in any esteem, they’d follow his rules, make him look like he’s convinced them that obedience shouldn’t be the road less traveled. Of course, many of the staffers here would make him proud. But a lot of them would embarrass him, do embarrass him.

image
Step Six: Gain 15-30 Years of Experience

My first tango with the current warden came when he was a deputy warden – same shirts! – and the dental office wouldn’t give me a teeth cleaning because I was sentenced to less than nine years. I made the mistake of having Tina [my lawyer] write to the warden and ask for a cleaning.

“Her teeth are perfect and beautiful and need to be cleaned,” she wrote to him. I’m sure the warden thought I had wailed to her over the phone: “My teeth are perfect and beautiful and they won’t clean them!” when what I really said was “Can I just have them not rot out of my head before I leave?” Tina did me a disservice with everything she said while representing me.

I had to meet with the current Warden, then deputy, and the administrative captain to explain that the dental hygienist wouldn’t give me a cleaning but the conversation veered over to my substance use history.

image
Step Nine: Work Your Way Up to a Management Position

“You’ve never done drugs?”

“No.”

“None at all?”

“None.” It was true.

“Not even drink?”

“Not really. Binge drank in college. Only occasionally now,” I answered.

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Step Ten: Apply to a Position as a Prison Warden

“Like, when do you drink?”

“Weddings, I guess…maybe…what does this have to do with my teeth?” I asked.

“You can get a cleaning, Bozelko, but I had a scaling recently and it is no fun.”

“Thank you. I’ve had my teeth scaled before,” I explained.

He paused.

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Step Eleven: Maintain a Positive Relationship with Your Staff

“You must have if your lawyer says they’re perfect and beautiful,” he said, revealing that he had read the letter Tina sent to the warden. The fact that he made her unprofessional letter an issue in a non-humorous way made me lose respect for him then. That and the fact that he turned what should have been a simple approval for a medical procedure that didn’t require meeting with me across a huge conference table into a weak mini-inquisition. Come on, Deputy, if you’re going use the teeth cleaning to ask me questions you think will embarrass me, go big. And demonstrate that you have no respect for yourself or your boss. Still, I winced when he said it because it was an obnoxious request to keep my teeth white and I knew Tina’s words – and his perception of me – would color every day I would spend in this place.

image
Step Twelve: Have a Respectful Relationship with Inmates

And it has, now that he’s in charge.

Despite the fact heat would hit your face with such a force that you’d step back at the kitchen door, I stayed and worked a double that August weekday I watched the Warden swim by in a salmon shirt because we needed to get ready for Ramadan meals. One of the second shift supervisors went to the lieutenants’ office and came back with a piece of glossy cardstock.  Clichéd clip art decorated the page. “Happy Birthday” and his name appeared in 24 point font above:

May your day be filled with sunshine and nice happenings.

“What is that? It’s your birthday today?”

“No, it’s not today. The Warden gives one to everyone who has a birthday this month,” he explained.

“It sounds like someone translated a birthday card into Chinese and then let the Chinese translate it back to English,” I observed. The ‘nice happenings’ made me think of the John Hughes movie Sixteen Candles and the character Long Duck Dong. What’s happenin’ hot stuff? Nice happenings, hot stuff.

He chuckled, shook his head. And dropped the card in the beige, nondescript, plastic pail that holds the garbage.

Become-a-Prison-Warden-Step-18
Step Eighteen: Maintain a Safe Operation at All Times

 THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE/REFORM FROM JUNE 6 – 12, 2016

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Before the Orlando nightclub shooting, the biggie of the week, obviously, was whether Brock Turner, the Stanford University swimmer who was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman behind a fraternity house dumpster, received sufficient punishment for his crime when he was sentenced a week earlier to six months in a county jail facility. There was only one article that identified who’s really responsible for this mess: the probation officer who made the recommendation that the Hon. Aaron Persky (incidentally a judge that other people have described as extremely deferential to indigent defendants before him) followed when he imposed sentence.  Self-promotion alert: I wrote it.

A total of eight – five on Tuesday and three on Friday –  Rikers guards were convicted of various crimes related to the 2012 beating of inmate Jamal Lightfoot in which Lightfoot broke his teeth, nose and eye sockets.  Riders guards don’t like being called guards because they see themselves as correctional professionals, not mere guards. Instead, they prefer to be called “officers.” No one will ever call the convicted guards “guards” again…because they’ve been canned.

NORM! The day after the first round of the Rikers’ guards’ convictions, Norman Seabrook, the president of the New York Correction Officers Benevolent Association – i.e. the prison guards’ union – was picked up by FBI agents at his Bronx home for allegedly funneling union pension funds to a shady hedge fund in exchange for kickbacks. Seabrook has never been able to interact with the press without saying that inmates – every single one of them – are dangerous thugs. He once attempted to prove his point by showing up at City Hall in a coffin. Now he may get to live with those thugs. And reform might actually start at Rikers, according to the New York Times. Good luck, Norman.

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15 June 2015

Code Green

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“Bozelko, name and number.”

“Well, Bozelko’s name is Bozelko and her number is 330445,” I answered without even turning over. It was one of those 2 AM name and number counts, simulated emergencies.

“Savino, name and number…actually, know what? Both of you get up!”

Shit, did I piss her off with the name comment? Name and number counts in the middle of the night were not totally uncommon but pulling us both out of bed was.

“What the fuck?” Savino mumbled. I knew better than to delay so I jumped down. Savino crawled off her mattress so we could both stand at attention in our PJ’s. It was a female C/O, backed up by the gay guy from third shift.

“Ok, so again, name and number,” she said.3ring-binder

“Bozelko, 330445.”

“Savino, 123456. Why did you make us get up for a name and number?”

“Have to see your face,” the female C/O said and the third shift guy came forward  with the three-ring notebook that holds all of our bed assignments along with our ID pictures. They only drag that binder out when they want to make sure everyone is here. The last time I saw one was when they emptied the dorms for the fire and they had to make sure everyone got over to the cafeteria safely. When the three-ring comes out, there’s a three-ring circus happening somewhere on the compound.

“Someone’s missing,” I told Savino. And the female C/O confirmed it by nodding.

“Again?” I asked and she nodded. Again. I was shocked, not that someone escaped but that someone who worked for the prison would admit it to us. Guards can jam themselves up pretty seriously if they divulge security secrets to the inmates. That’s undue familiarity right there.

imageWe had an escape three months ago when two women walked away from the compound, caught a ride to Hartford where they smoked crack and dyed their hair before the cops nabbed them. It was the first escape in years and it happened when they new warden had been on the job for approximately a month. Now he had been on the job for four months and he had another escape, another occasion for the three-ring. People who live around the prison were pissed and scared last time. I can’t imagine the bitch fits they were going to throw at the second escape.

“What happened?” shouted A-3. Any search or investigation starts with us in cell A-1 and our neighbors know that.image

“Code Green!” I yelled back as I scaled the bunk bed.

The female C/O dipped back toward our cell.

“Bozelko, you’re not supposed to know that!”

“Did she not just tell us that someone escaped?” I asked Savino, who raised her voice: “You just told us!”

“Well, keep it to yourselves. And you’re not supposed to know what a Code Green is,” the C/O warned. Too late.

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We can hear these emergencies announced on officers’ radios. Then we see them run to the crisis. But we’re never supposed to know that something’s going down. If we do figure out that something’s happening, we’re not supposed to know exactly what it is. But the emergency color chart is easy enough to figure out: Code Green is an escape, as in green light, go, get the hell out of Dodge; Code Blue is a fight between inmates (think black and blue); Code Red is a fire; Code Yellow is an inmate taking a staff member hostage (think yellow ribbons and the Iranian hostage crisis); Code Purple is an attempted suicide (think the color of a strangulated face); Code White is a medical emergency (think doctor’s lab coat); Code Orange is an assault on a staff member (I think of traffic cone orange, a line that separates us from them).  It’s not like not knowing what a Code Orange is makes you less likely to clock a C/O.

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They think they protect the safety and security of the facility when they don’t tell the inmate what’s going on but I think the whole fakery is actually bad for rehabilitation. For every lie an inmate has told, she has received three in return, bum checks written out to reality. Yeah, I paid the rent… I did file that motion for you…I love you, baby… I’m here to help…We’re coming to visit. Women keep lying to correct the negative balance in their trust accounts which only overdraws them even more.

Women – people – behave when they trust their environment. Part of trusting the environment is knowing what the hell is happening. Besides, in the absence of accurate bulletins, crazy rumors buzz around and people lose trust even more. That must be why the Town of East Lyme did reverse 911 calls to all residents in the area after each escape. The upright neighbors deserved the truth: that the new warden lost another one who might be in their backyards. No one warns these people when women walk out the front gate, unrehabilitated, even more dangerous than someone who’s lamming it. An inmate doesn’t need to escape to be a public threat. But the public isn’t supposed to know that.

imageThat morning, I tried to go back to sleep, not knowing how long the prison would be locked down as they looked for the escapee. I could hear Savino cry softly. The last escape lockdown was hard for her because it caused her to miss a visit with her son who had traveled from Illinois to see her. He was turned away at the gate, his visit cancelled, because the two women who had escaped were still on the run. She hasn’t been able to see him since.

A few weeks after the second escape, another emergency popped up while we were working. Green Bay got up from the supervisors’ desk and pulled down the sliding garage door, one that stays open all the time. Something was up. Women who don’t trust don’t miss a thing; everyone noticed. Then it becomes a game to see who can squeeze the real story out of a staff member. Whenever this game unfolds it’s like we’re feeling around for something solid, that we can believe, that we can rely on.image

Merc, my second-in-command, came to me to do her feeling for her.

“Chan, ask one of them what the fuck is going on. Steven’s bringing my son today. If we get locked….” Tears welled up in her eyes. Merc hadn’t seen her son in over a year and her ex wasn’t all that excited about bringing him up. Being turned away at the gate would give him too much of an excuse to keep the child away. Another way to make a promise that he would come and then renege.

“I can’t ask Giants; he’s a vault.”

“Ask Bengals.”

I usually meander around the supervisors’ desk to see what I can overhear, but Merc’s anxiety called for a direct hit.

“What’s going on?” I asked Bengals.

“No idea,” Bengals said and tapped the cases of broccoli that were waiting to be opened.

image“Okay. I’ll get Merc on those,” I told him and walked back to the rest of the workers.

“What did he say?” Merc asked.

“Nothing. He’s not saying. But we have to open the broccoli for the stir fry,” I said, snapping on plastic gloves.

“I already opened them,” Merc said.

“Well, does he know?” I wondered.

“Doesn’t really matter. They’re done. I just don’t…please don’t make me miss my visit,” she said to no one.

“I know, kid. I’m sorry. I’m sure it’s nothing and you’ll get your visit,” I reassured her. And she knew I was lying as we pawed through broccoli that had started to smell with its thawing since it had been opened a day before. We then kept working like nothing was happening until Merc nudged me and pointed to Bengals.

“Any word? Merc is worried about a visit….”image

“Nope,” Bengals said and knocked the broccoli cases again.

“Yeah, oh, those are open,” I informed him. He knocked them again.

“Oh, wait, are they not totally done? I’ll check them again right now,” I promised and started opening the cases when Merc came up.

“What did he say?” she asked, nervously picking at the broccoli. “We opened these.”

“He doesn’t know,” I told her. I could feel her anxiety.

“Bengals, please, if we’re going to be locked down…let her know because…”

“GREEN, GREEN, GREEN! I’ve been trying to tell you they think its an escape!” He had been knocking at the broccoli to clue us in to the color of the code all along. We’re so used to not being told the truth that neither of us had pieced it together.

“Another one?!? Again?!? Oh, we are fucked…” I despaired and Merc started to cry at the thought of her missed visit. As if on cue, Green Bay opened the sliding door, signifying that the emergency was over. Merc ended up seeing her son later that day as I reviewed every communication I could remember with anyone in the prison to see what other cryptic messages I had missed. Code Broccoli. Bengals’ telling me the truth in a way that wouldn’t get him in trouble made me trust myself even less. I should have caught that, I thought to myself like I have so many times in the past, only when I had been lied to.

As it turns out, someone was walking very close to the other side of the fence and the warden thought another escape was in the offing and he wanted to get a jump on it but it was just two idiots – law-abiding citizens – lost in the woods. But I’m not supposed to know that.

 

READER POLL

mat and sweat

From newsweek.com: New Details Emerge in New York Prison Escape

Richard Matt and David Sweat are still on the run after escaping over one week ago from a maximum-security prison in upstate New York.

Do you believe that surveillance started under the Patriot Act has completely ceased?

View Results

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9 March 2015

Make Love to the Camera

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“You got the camera?”

In prison, pulling out the camera means only one thing: someone’s going down.

Lieutenants always have a guard carry a video camera to memorialize the custody and transfer of an inmate to solitary. If they unsheathe nets, lasers, restraints, club or even guns, then you have a chance of survival. But when they draw their camcorders, you’re done. And you don’t even need to be an inmate.

imagePictographic evidence brings down many a correction officer, and not necessarily does eye-in-the-sky surveillance produce this proof. It can be Instamatic, disposable or even Polaroid. I’m not sure which type the deputy warden used when he snapped stills of his affairs with inmates at a local motel. First, the deputy warden would approve their furlough applications and then he would drive the ward-ettes to a dive motel where he would drink with them and fuck them. And, like any gathering of high school mentalities, these bashes generated plenty of party pics. The photos were actually the last slides of the presentation that was the deputy warden’s career but they were never even needed to bust him. One of the inmates accurately described a mole of his lower abdomen before Monica Lewinsky made the genitalia memory game a government staple.

When they film those “Dumbest Criminal” programs, the show’s subjects are not supposed to be law enforcement-types but, with prison staff, the badges don’t reflect enough light to prevent cameras from bringing them down. After the deputy warden’s demise, a female food supervisor’s bikini-clad image was found in an inmate’s cell. She went down.

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Hello Officer!

Then another supervisor [Author’s Note: none of these food service supervisors ever worked with me; my supervisors were upstanding people] had an affair with a prisoner. When an inmate tested pregnant, lieutenants swooped her up thinking she was the food supervisor’s Tender Roni. But the real Roni sat in her cell fingering a photo most incriminating of the supervisor (think mole locales) while the wrong Roni sat in seg. Eventually, everything cleared up and the Ronis switched places but the Roni-go-round provided enough evidence of a botched investigation for the supervisor to beat the charges of statutory sexual assault pinned against him. But getting ready for his close-up cost him his studio space at the prison.

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What else could you say to the woman with the botched crotch shot?

Then, at a neighboring men’s facility, yet another female food supervisor found herself in a compromising pose with a male inmate, a live shot. To protect herself, she accused him of assaulting her. After charging the inmate with rape, administrators moved him to a higher security facility where he was harassed, I’m sure, and fought the charges from the inside.

Actually, he trounced the charges from the inside when the woman, caught in flagrante with a second inmate, accused the second inmate of sexual assault just like she did to the first flagrante. As state police drew near to cuff and charge No. 2 and deposit him with No. 1, he said “Wait up!” and produced from his property a selfie of the supervisor laying naked on her kitchen table, lens pointed directly at her lower lower lips. Investigators would have glossed over it as one of the many anonymous crotch shots they used to allow into the facility before July 1, 2012, when an official directive was enacted banning pornographic “pictorial depictions” (redundant?),  except for the fact that the supervisor peeked from her prone position and the photo caught her head poking around from behind the rest of her. That’s what happens when you don’t check your aperture before you take a snappy of your own aperture.

When the photo collages of staff sexual misconduct are pieced together, the one with the badge is both the dummy and the criminal. I bet the staff here have some rockin’ scrapbooking parties.

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This is a 21st century version of the control room I saw, a collection of old black and white tube televisions blinking fast enough to induce a seizure.

All of the portfolios were shot well before I zoomed into the place but even years after these memorializations, the photos that needed to be taken – surveillance of dangerous women – were almost an afterthought. When I saw the grey box cameras angled in corners, I thought: These are a little rinky-dink for watching premenstrual murderers. But they weren’t rinky-dink; they were flimsier than that. I realized this only after catching a split-frame sight of the control area – the seat of a prison’s operations- when I delivered milk to the guards working inside. On a bank of screens, I watched quick flashes of distant areas slide into other quick flashes of other locales in the prison, flashes too quick for the watching guard to catch anything meaningful.

 

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Now, they look exactly like this, except the black circle is white. Before they were from the 1990’s.

Halfway into my stretch the Department of Correction sank millions into a new camera system: red bulbs in the same corners where the grey boxes once froze. The big bucks bought not better cameras but a system that stores the film-feed offsite where no one can tamper with or delete it. Whenever they try to solve a problem, DOC only highlights the problem’s existence which is why corrections doesn’t correct much.

The off-site download signaled to us what we suspected: guards used to delete scenes not fit for law-abiding audiences. The kinky kitchen selfie and the Prison Poon Party pics? Those they keep. But the films of things like a guard dropping an inmate to the floor so hard both of her eyes were eggplant-colored holes for a week? Those they delete. The guards need to take some instructions from the inmates, clearly the intelligentsia of criminals, us women with souls like darkrooms: you should have deleted them all. Camera surveillance is the new Goldilocks game; it’s rarely just right. Either there’s too much or there’s not enough, depending on which side of the lens finds you.

imageThe ever-present surveillance on the compound never bothered me because cameras clear as often as they condemn. When your nose and the lens are clean, cameras are friendly. But when an unusual shaped mole south of your belt sullies the view, cameras can get you. I feel almost safer knowing that my environment makes a record of my activities because cameras can’t fib. It’s probably the one way in which I have become institutionalized; I now expect that objective cinematic evidence of my disinfected deeds exists but, on the outside, eventually, I will have to defend myself, something that I am not often able to do.

I tried, though. I kept promising every lawyer who represented me that the prosecutor’s promised evidence at trial – a videotape of my signing for packages not intended for me and purchased illegally – did not exist.

The-Videotape-Shuffle
Every single Prison Diaries reader is on this tape doing something dirty. You just can’t see yourselves.

“But they have a tape.”

“I didn’t sign for anything so I’m not sure how they do,” I would protest.

“Why would they lie?”

“Because…they’re lying.” What I said made no sense but was still true.

And the camera never perjured itself during my trial. There was a videotape but I was not on it signing for anything, just as I had promised. The prosecutor’s photo tag “She’s on the tape signing but you just can’t see her” brought new meaning to the phrase ‘caught on tape.’ Apparently you can get caught on tape without actually being on tape.  It wasn’t a frame up, it was a frame-out.

imageMaybe there was a director, a set designer, a gaffer and a best boy that we couldn’t see in Mr. Mole’s money shots or in the supervisor’s sick selfie or the bikini photo-op. These state employees did nothing wrong because the photos were contrived, framed up for correctional kicks. I’ll believe that when I appear on video signing for  those packages. Until then, what you see isn’t what you got; it’s all you got.

 

HOW DOES PRISON DIARIES ATTRACT THOUSANDS OF READERS EACH WEEK AND FEWER THAN TEN OF THEM VOTE IN THE READER POLL? FELONS DID NOT LOSE THE RIGHT TO VOTE HERE!

READER POLL

imrs

Just this Friday, another police shooting of an unarmed individual happened in Madison, Wisconsin

From USA Today: Peacefully Madison Processes Police Shooting

From the Washington Post: How Many Police Shootings? No One Knows because local police forces are allowed to self-report these incidents

Are police shootings on the rise?

  • No. Witnesses are recording them now with smartphones, making it hard for police departments to cover up these incidents. (75%, 3 Votes)
  • Of course. There's at least one a week these days. (25%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 4

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