27 April 2015

Errata

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“I can’t find my sneakers…Did you ask someone to clean up all the shoes again?”

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A gleaming example of the “skippy,” what female prisoners wear.

Every couple of months, one supervisor would order one of the workers in the food prep unit to round up all the black rubber workboots that members of the food proletariat hid so no one else could wear them on another shift. The gathering always included a few unintended inclusions, namely the Reebok “Classic Black Running Shoes” that circumstance forced me to buy from the prison commissary.

“No. Look again.”

“I already looked again.”

“Again.”

Again.

“I can’t find them. They’re not there.” Walking back to my cell in my rubber work boots was not allowed. Either I found the Reeboks or I would be sentenced to wearing a pair of used white canvas Keds with zero arch support – “skippies” the inmates call them – and the ultimate sign of inmate indigence as skippies were the sole footwear option for inmates who couldn’t afford the $30.00 sneakers I was searching for at the moment.

“What do they look like?”

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I wore these, exclusively, for years.

“They’re black Reebok running shoes,” I said as I looked down, a little ashamed that I had to admit owning such footwear. When I bought my first pair in 2008 to relieve my feet from walking on cardboard-thick, texturized rubber that qualified the soles of skippies, I was practically giddy about the Reeboks. My elation apparently transmitted itself through the phone as I told my sister I got new kicks.

“Oh. What kind are they?” my sister asked with relatively genuine interest since she had worked in the fashion office of Saks Fifth Avenue and for New Balance. I described the suede and nylon upper, the foam platform, white as chalk.

“Oh. Eww. I’m so sorry,” she said, the condolence in her voice so complete. She knew that, even if my feet felt better, drier, I was still sloshing through fashion’s underworld. I heard more sympathy in her voice at my sneakers revelation than when I told her I lost my appeal.

“Oh, them Reeboks? You didn’t give them to the blond butcher?” inserted Skinny Marie, a nosy one who always offered to wash the floor because she could stand nearby with a mop when others were talking a pretend to work when she was really ear-hustling. I know the Gospel of Matthew’s instruction is to give your tunic as well as your cloak when pressed but neither Matthew nor Jesus ever walked a mile in my skippies. If they had, they would have kept their tunics, cloaks and sandals and told the blond butcher to fend for herself which is what I was thinking at that moment. I wanted my Reeboks back.

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This is how you feel when you’re shoeless in prison.

“No, I didn’t give them to anyone.”

“Well, she put them on and walked out. I seen her,” Skinny Marie said, pointing to an area with wet streaks on the floor, proving she had been in there surveying.

Before Skinny Marie had the words out of her mouth, I noticed Green Bay’s pressing the phone receiver to his ear, calling the blond butcher’s housing unit.

“Yeah, hi, it’s Food Prep. Can you send Plinsky back to work and tell her to bring the sneakers that everyone watched her steal? Thanks.”

Within minutes, Plinsky the blond butcher appeared, clad in Reeboks, and underwent a brief interchange with the supervisor. She walked to me, blushing.

“I am so sorry. Someone who left yesterday –  you know Glossy? She works second shift here?” Plinsky asked me.

“No, I don’t know who that is.”

“Well anyway, Glossy left yesterday and someone told me she left me her sneakers so I thought these were them. I’m really sorry. I had no idea they were yours.”

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At least wear your own shoes when you make a mistake.

“OK. No problem. Mistakes happen.” She slipped them off and I put them on as she scavenged for the pair of skippies she had abandoned behind a stainless steel sink. Giants snuck up on her as she foraged.

“Did you get your sneakers?” Giants asked me.

“Yeah. I got ‘em. Everything is back to normal,” I assured him as he squinted at Plinsky shoehorning her skippies on with her forefinger.

“You mistook black running shoes for white skippies?” he asked her incredulously.

“I thought someone left them for…” she started but he cut her off.

“Either way, you’re outta here. Come to my desk to sign the paper before you leave.”

The “paper” is the rock that prisons use to scissor apart an inmate and her job. Supervisors never formally fire anyone anymore with a ticket.  Instead, the bosses ding an inmate with a poor work evaluation that lacks the traditional sanctions of discipline – loss of commissary, loss of recreation, loss of phone privileges – but would cost Plinsky her job and the chance to earn time off her sentence for months. Her unofficial sanctions would be loss of freedom and loss of feeling worthwhile.

“Please, no…” Plinsky pled.image

“Nope. Sorry. You’re done,” Giants told her and with a head heavy with “What did I just do?” she followed him to sign the paper that would punish her for what appeared to be an honest mistake. I felt that acidic plunge of regret in my stomach and, to relieve it, I did what every typical inmate would do, I sought to play one person with power against another.

“Green Bay, Giants is firing her for the sneakers. I never wanted that. I don’t think she knew they were mine.”

“She did seem sincere about it…” Green Bay agreed.

“So… does she really need to be fired? I mean, she wasn’t stealing-stealing. She just thought they were left for her.”

“That’s Giants’ territory. She’s his worker. It’s up to him.”

imageBut Giants wouldn’t budge and he was right. Plinsky knew the shoes didn’t belong to her. She thought they might belong to her as a gift but she didn’t know for sure. So she guessed and got it wrong.  And thus the blond butcher got axed for this mistake.

Mistakes carve a wide swathe in criminal justice as if the description as error covers all offenses. Stabbing a child to death? I made a mistake. Persistently stealing from CVS for fifteen years? I’ve made some mistakes in my life. Setting a house ablaze with someone inside? I don’t deny it was a mistake. “Mistake” is probably the most frequently used word before the parole board. We act like crimes are just like forgetting to carry the seven on a math test or spelling the word robbery with only one ‘b’.

Everything anyone does wrong is a mistake; the difference is whether it’s a capital ‘M’ MISTAKE like murder or a lowercase ‘m’ like misspelling. But for the most mistaken among society – convicts – no one tolerates innocent mistakes. It’s as if the people least likely to be perfect must be flawless in all that they do. I think some of the people whom I’ve pegged as lazy must just be frozen, fearful that a false move will always be considered a fraudulent move. Rather than suffer misinterpretation of their actions, they do nothing. And we wonder why ex-offenders fail. They’re not allowed to make mistakes so they end up making MISTAKES.image

When we use the word ‘mistake’ when we talk about crime, usually we mean that it was an abberation in the person’s life, something they can correct or have corrected in them. But we end up taking the intentionality out of crime with this language. Sure, crimes are mistakes in judgment, but they are also very often completely planned. As in not accidental, not mistakes. In fact, for something to be a crime for sure, it can’t be a mistake at all. I didn’t realize that I understood this – despite all the language around me – I heard another inmate talking about how her and her husband murdered an elderly woman who let them stay in her house and then murdered her son when he came by the house to check on his mother after he had not heard from her.

“We made so many mistakes,” she confided in someone as I stood seven inches away. “I would have done everything differently.”

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SOTP making mistakes. Somehow I believe a prison work detail did this. If it’s not that type of mistake, we’re in trouble.

I hope she meant she would have done everything differently, as in not ever stayed in the woman’s house, not hurt anyone, maybe would have gone to school, married someone different, but I have the feeling she regretted mistakes within her MISTAKE, not the MISTAKE itself. I hope I am mistaken.

I think I made a mistake even saying anything to the supervisors. I never intended to turn Plinsky’s mistake into something it was not; I just wanted my shoes.  Knots formed in my stomach when I looked at the Reeboks. If I had a spare pair, I wouldn’t have cared or asked where they were when I couldn’t find them. Because so few women here can afford even these crappy shoes, I always gave my old ones away when I bought new ones. I wonder if I should stop doing that so that the next time someone makes a mistake and takes my shoes, I could just forget about it and wear my spares. This must be what they are talking about when they use the phrase “generous to a fault.” I gave my shoes away and now all of this was my fault, my mistake.

imageWhen I put the Reeboks on, I noticed the treads had worn flat, incapable of those trails of sand pebbles that lodge in the crevices that trace the instep. I came back to my cell and checked off a new pair on the commissary form, this time the instead of the Reebok I chose the New Balance, a grey, black and white running shoe, so I wouldn’t remember how made the MISTAKE of killing someone’s job with her mistake. Sneaker-buying takes a while but when my waiting period reached four weeks, I asked the guard at the commissary window about my order.

“Have they come in yet?”

She licked her thumb and paged through the orders and located mine, without an accompanying box of shoes which meant that no one filled the order.

“No. No one ordered them yet,” she told me as she pointed to the line that should have contained “330445” – my inmate number – in my handwriting but was blank. “You made a mistake on the form.”

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READER POLL

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From kicksonfire.com: Remaining Defendants Plead Guilty for Stolen Nikes Worth Over $680,000

One of the plea bargain agreements requires a defendant to turn over all the names of people who bought the sneakers and how much each buyer paid.

Why is the prosecutor seeking the names of the sneaker buyers and the amounts they paid for the stolen Nikes?

View Results

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20 April 2015

Get to Steppin’

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Prison management is just reinventing the wheel while letting the rest of the wagon rot, rust and cake with debris.

Sfety requires that staff never introduce any object – food, reading material, clothing, cosmetics – into the facility that hasn’t earned approval for inmate distribution. No one can share a kernel of popcorn with us or lend us their copies of the Norwich Bulletin. Much less can they bring in lip gloss, perfume or, the worst: gum.

When found in an inmate’s dirty little hands, the Smartfood, the newspapers and the makeup might see an investigation unfold. But finding gum ignites such an inquiry that lieutenants may come running. image

In a prison, a stick of Big Red is more dangerous than any food or beverages that mask the smuggling of drugs, or any periodicals that enlighten an inmate to something she should not know about her victims or any L’Oreal Colour Riche lip color in True Red that changes an inmate’s look so that she no longer matches her ID photo.

Anyone can impress a dropped key into chewed gum and make (through accomplices on the outside) a copy that can aid an escape once someone smuggles in the key duplicate. Gum is downright dangerous in a prison. A stick of gum gets good civil servants fired.image

Because of the perpetual state of high alert on gum, I assumed that the Department of Correction would axe the guard – a married, Born-Again Christian man (I called him BAD for ‘Born-Again Dude’) – who was  handing out Bibles containing sticks of gum between the pages. First,  a Bible from the outer environs, unapproved by the chaplain’s office, is contraband. Second, the gum was dangerous contraband. And the third, screaming no-no was how the guard asked the inmates who received the gum-laced Bibles to don white T-shirts, braless, with nothing covering their bottoms but their underwear and dance for him. Actually, their panties never really covered their butts because he asked the inmates to fold up the six-inch side panels of the state-issued panties so as to convert them to bikini-style bottoms.  Nothing promotes “Love Thy Neighbor” more than bikini-style drawers because the devil wears granny-panties.  While inmates pranced about their cells in the white tee-bikini combos, the guard regaled them with a tour of his tattoos and the stories behind them. And everyone chewed gum.

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It’s tame on the outside, but this is a party on the inside.

BAD’s folly looks innocuous but it’s not. For one, white tees, much like the gum, carry a very different significance inside a women’s prison than they do outside. In here, white Hanes short-sleeved shirts are, technically speaking, underwear. Once I wore my white tee outside my cell with a bra underneath – and no maroon uniform shirt on top of it – and a guard acted like I had streaked through the housing unit; he banged the glass window and screamed “Get the fuck back in your room!” Watching a female inmate at York in a white tee and underpants is scandalous, like toms a’ peepin.’

Many women in prison come here because they were victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment, sometimes even sexual slavery. Numbing the pain caused by the abuse with drugs often starts their cycles of crime. This guard’s objectifying inmates in this way threatened more than just facility security; it further endangered inmates’ concepts of self-worth because their trauma histories taught them – incorrectly – that their only value in this world is for sex, stripping or gratifying men. To protect the women in the facility, this guard needed to go, as in be fired.image

An investigation commenced into BAD, but the lieutenants dragged their feet and were more intent on implementing the new rule on inmate movement. Rather than going from one destination to another, like from an inmate’s job at the prison laundry to the library, all inmates would not have to walk back to their housing units and check-in/check-out to their next destination. When they left the next destination, they would have to return to the housing unit to check-in/check-out again. Even if only ten yards span the distance between the laundry and the library and the inmate’s housing unit is four football fields away, it did not matter; every inmate has to tag home base before going anywhere or risk being called out of place. Foot traffic on the compound has grown exponentially.

As they usually do, inmates exploited this new rule to serve their own purposes. Prior to the new rule, meeting another inmate on the walkway had been relegated to chance. But now, because both prisoners use the same sidewalk for these required homing missions, the two plan and time their trips so that both would be returning to their housing units simultaneously. I hear them plotting, agreeing to pass skeins of yarn surreptitiously, or toss each other a double-A battery when their paths go parallel to each other.

imagePrison safety and security should minimize contact between the state’s wards and, by extension, limit penal travel opportunities because not only contraband passes between the women when they intersect; they trade barbs, exchange punches. The increase in traffic resulting from the new check-in/check-out rule brought with it more traffic accidents, incidents, allegations. Less safety, less security.

“Bozelko, go to Property before your legal visit,” came the order at my prison job, located approximately 50 yards from Property. Inspired by BAG, I decided to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and abide by the new rule. Food Prep → Housing Unit → Property → Housing Unit→ Visits → Housing Unit → Dining Hall→ Housing Unit. No crows fly here at York because the shortest distance between two points has been threaded through the housing units.

Another day, a return to Property, I marched the sequence. Food Prep → Housing Unit → Property →…Fight between someone leaving her unit for her methadone dose and someone returning to that same unit….Housing Unit→ Food Prep. I was walking in planned palindromes. Food Prep→ Unit→ School → Unit→ Dining Hall→ Unit→ School→ Unit→ Food Prep. The voyages were often perfectly symmetrical unless something disrupted the pattern, something like waiting against a brick wall while a guard busted a kitchen worker for stealing frozen cookie dough and handing it off to her friend as they passed each other on the walkway. One Saturday: Housing Unit→ Outpatient building→ Housing Unit→ Church→ Housing Unit – despite the fact that the church is right across the way from the outpatient medical building.image

One Tuesday I clomped from my job. Food Prep→ Housing Unit (passing Commissary) → Commissary → Housing Unit → Food Prep. I wasn’t traveling in circles but K-turns. Jesus, take the wheel and pass the Juicy Fruit.

The new kinetics brought more friction. Our direct routes “back in the day” – September 2012 – were much safer and rarely overwhelmed the guards posted in the housing units because each inmate’s usual check-out/ check-in never turned the housing unit doors into turnstiles. Now, the guards beep into the cells, unaware of who is coming or who has gone.

“Bozelko, are you in there?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. I didn’t check you back in.” If it happened to me once in a month, then it happened twelve times. The new security travel rules have made it so that the staff doesn’t know who’s in or who’s escaped with a key they formed with BAD’s Bible gum.image

Meanwhile, news descended on the walkway that the Department of Correction had transferred BAD to a men’s prison where he can drop Doublemint to the male inmates of Connecticut. By his own admission, this is BAD’s fourth transfer in three years. I hope their white tee-shirts are clean and ready to go. If they don’t have white Tees, then maybe they can wrap themselves in the red flag that BAD has been carrying for years.

I heard about BAD being transferred at the exact same location where I had heard, years before on April Fool’s Day, that my favorite guard had been fired for misconduct much tamer than BAD’s. I thought it was a bad joke at the time but it wasn’t. The joke was that BAD was considered a better officer than my favorite, Plucky. Apparently, BAD followed the rules whereas Plucky had not.

“What, Mr. K.,  they transfer this fuckin’ Bible thumper but they had to fire Plucky?” I asked my new favorite as he was posted on the walkway, which was now a thruway.image

“Bozelko, the problem is that DOC doesn’t follow their own rules. They just make more,” he conceded.  Plucky was my favorite because he would bring me piles of my mail that the other officers had tossed into a file cabinet rather than do their jobs by delivering it to me. With magazines slipping sideward out of large stacks that filled both of his arms, Plucky would ask me: “You want this mail, right, Bozelko?” as if there might be a legitimate reason for storing two months worth of correspondence in one of the housing units’ filing cabinets.

“You’re right, Mr. K. It’s not management by attrition, its management by addition, adding more rules until the new rules cancel out the old rules. Pretty soon we’ll all be walking around like there are no rules…”

“You already are. Chewing gum…” Mr. K continued.

“We already are.” I said and he nodded. “Soon someone will make a key…”

“And get the fuck out of this place.  I know. We’re going backwards.”

And from that point on the sidewalk,  I continued to head forward→ Housing Unit→ Outpatient medical building →  Housing Unit → Food Prep → Housing Unit → School → Housing Unit→ Property → Housing Unit→ Food Prep→ Housi- . My footfall felt something cushiony, uneven on the ground. A wad of gum the size of a hamburger bun, probably Wrigley’s because the grey of the gum blended so perfectly with the pavement.

A Jamaican accent came from behind me.

“Who da fuck stupid enough to spit out dey gum when dey lucky enough to get it?” The woman watched me inspect my sole and then trailed behind me as I limped to our unit to prevent the gum – an especially unwieldy wad – from fusing with my sneaker.

“I don’t know,” I sighed. “But whoever she is, I’m sure she has a stack of Bibles six feet high.”image

READER POLL

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FROM CNN.COM (VIA WQAD.com): What Prison Life Will Be Like for Aaron Hernandez  Because he’s famous, Aaron Hernandez’s life might be different than that of other prisoners

Should prisons have special management plans for high-profile inmates like Aaron Hernandez?

  • No. The saying "Do the crime, do the time" means do the time like everyone else. (100%, 3 Votes)
  • Yes. Any inmate can make a name for himself/herself by raping/maiming/killing a celebrity or high-profile inmate. Even famous prisoners have a right to stay safe and unharmed. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 3

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13 April 2015

Likewise, I’m Sure

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hello im inmate

imageMy roommate and I felt sorry for Reba when we met her. A CPA/soccer mom in her 50’s, Reba landed in the assessments unit on the inside of the prison right as her son graduated from high school on the outside. Crying, she would flip photos of her children, freckly permutations of Reba. She posted on her cell wall shots of her daughter playing lacrosse like I did, wearing age-appropriate tank tops that were so different from the metallic miniskirts other inmates’ daughters wear in their photos, bent over, exposing the backs of thighs that should never see sunlight because of their youth and their dimpling. Pictures of Reba’s son were similarly dissimilar to the other inmates’ sons’ pics; Reba’s son wore UnderArmor shorts while others’ boys donned teal tuxedos beneath patchy facial hair, aside “pimp sticks” they carried to school dances. Unlike so many others at York, Reba had a decent, upper-middle class life with a husband and healthy, successful kids.

Until police arrested her for sexual assault on a minor for having sex with a 14 year-old boy.

imageReba swore to me and Sally that she didn’t do it, that the boy had assaulted her. From personal experience I know that police are seldom right. When others tell me that all in their arrest warrants is not as it appears, I give them the benefit of the doubt. I felt terrible, though, about the impact of her case on her children regardless of its truth. And I worried about what York would do to Reba. Being upper-middle class and white in a state prison paints a perfect bullseye on an inmate’s back. Mine has almost worn off because each hit flakes a piece away. But Reba’s was wide, pristine and vibrant practically to the point of fluorescence. Sally – a nurse raised in Farmington, a wealthy enclave outside of Hartford – and I both tried to prep Reba as much as we could while she lived in our unit. Eventually she moved on.????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

“Reba, is everything OK? You’re all right?” I would ask her when I saw her and she would smile and say:

“Yeah, I’m OK. Don’t worry about me.”

“I’m worried about her, ” I told Sally when I got back to our cell.

“We’ll just time our lunches with her unit and we’ll keep eyes on her,” Sally said, somewhat resigned.  She knew that our line of vision into Reba’s unit wasn’t that clear.

But then gossip bulletins started running themselves in to us. Reba had her first kiss with a girl.

“No. A fifty year-old mother of three is not going to start kissing women in jail. Wait… Did someone force herself on her?”hello im lying

“No. She kissed her roommate, Dullman.” Dullman is HIV+, here for murder and uses both of those facts to manipulate people: “I’m on my last T-cell. Wanna be on yours?”

“No. Come on. That is not true,” I chided the gossip reporter whose only retort was:

“I’m just sayin.’”

The reporter was, in fact, sayin’ the real dirt on Dullman’s easy seduction of Reba. As Sally and I kept eyes on her, Reba had flings with other inmates and eventually landed herself a steady, Sienna. Sienna, too, has been convicted of sexually inappropriate behavior with a four-year-old. I assume that it had to be that commonality that drew Reba and Sienna together because Sienna looks nothing like the 14 year-old boy who is Reba’s victim.  Sienna looks like an 11 year-old boy. At 24, she has zero breasts, no hips. If you saw her you’d expect that she’s foreign to bikini waxes because she never sprouted public hair. She looks that young.amoral predator

Involvement with Sienna is legal because she’s in her twenties but involvement with Sienna undercuts any of Reba’s claims that she did not intentionally fuck that little boy. If Reba were innocent, she wouldn’t be fucking around like that in here. She makes the case against her after she’s been convicted and sentenced.

Everyone thinks that because you’re forgotten when you’re in prison that you’re not also in the spotlight. Prison isn’t a grave; it’s a stage. And the action goes on after the characters are introduced. The disbarred lawyer who denies that she manipulated her boyfriend to kill her brother-in-law? She claims she’s innocent yet one thousand women and hundreds of C/O’s watch her manipulate other inmates every day. The only method of interaction she understands is manipulation. Whatever faults there are in her case – maybe there are many – shrink next to the guilt of her behavior in here. When  you meet her, she presents a different story, a different person entirely, like her introduction is her identity. I’ve learned that guilt doesn’t come out during a trial; it comes out during the punishment.

Sex offenders are penal piñatas; everyone loves to get a whack at them and see what comes out. I suspect that they suffer more in a men’s prison than they do here. Women and C/O’s, even the allegedly even-tempered counselor, toss scorn at them rather than throwing punches.hello im dangerous

I can’t blame them. Some of the female sex offenders’ stories are severely twisted. One put her younger brother out to stud to try to impregnate her girlfriend. Another older woman performed oral sex on her five year-old grandson.

But other stories are less perverted than they are perversions of justice. These cases show up the hypocrisy of the criminal courts that leverage the strict liability of statutory rape laws. One sex offender here had intercourse with a fifteen-year old boy (age of consent in Connecticut is 16) who worked with her. A strapping young lad, he drove himself to work – alone – in his family’s car and lied about his age, so she reasonably understood him to be 18.

hello i am a predator

But after their liason, he left his cell in the car he drove illegally and his nosy mother read the sexts he exchanged with his perp. The mother then reported the tete-a-tete texts to the police claiming that her son had been “deflowered” when only females get plucked when they get first fucked. His mother also predicted to the court that he would never be able to handle a relationship with a woman. She left out of her report the fact that her lamb had been out, at age 15, drinking and tooling around in her Prius without as much as a learner’s permit, lying about his age. The future of his relationships wasn’t so hot before he met his plucker but now she’s a sex offender inviting ridicule and contempt wherever she goes, even though all signs about him pointed north of the age of 18. This situation does not seem fair to me.

But Reba’s does. No one’s background excuses her from responsibility for her actions nor does anyone’s pedigree incapacitate her from making bad choices. Even though she’s had dalliances with other women, Reba’s been with Sienna for years now, exerting a repugnant maternal-sexual control. Reba’s family has money and sends her some of it while she’s down and takes care of Sienna, fostering a dependence that allows her to pucker up with other inmates without infidelity’s usual fallout. Even with no pimp sticks in her kids’ pics, Reba keeps her pimp hand strong.

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And it will grow stronger once she leaves because Reba learned how to manipulate entire systems in here, rather than just individuals. She usually does it to reverse the separations that squeeze between her and Sienna. Either Sienna will act up and go seg, landing herself in a different housing unit or a guard, realizing exactly what he is witnessing in the Reba-Sienna entanglement, moves Sienna out of Reba’s building. Like a homing pigeon, Sienna always flies back to the nest Reba created by having sex with a child. Her flight path is usually drawn by a unit manager who has been nagged to the point of his own sexual confusion. No rehabilitation takes place for either woman.

It’s not entirely the inmates’ fault. Sex offenders require specific treatment that targets distorted thoughts about sex, anger and a lack of empathy, the triune behavioral curse that is aid to make pedophiles. But, to my knowledge, this treatment is unavailable here. In fact, a counselor once told a cellmate of mine that the “Sex Offender Class” that constituted her Offender Accountability Plan was offered on the outside, not in the prison because “there just [weren’t] enough,” sex offenders to justify running the course. I know of five here right now and I took a seminar in college that contained three students. There’s enough enrollment here to run the class already but they don’t do it, almost like their disgust for female sex offenders makes them leave them in their sickness, like their crimes are also their punishment. Maybe this is why sex offenders’ recidivism rates are so high.image

Besides most sex crimes are not borne of the offenders’ wonky brain chemistry but really just disregard for other’s rights and a focus on one’s own immediate desires. The way that this prison handles Reba and Sienna – allowing them to live together in the same unit, permitting a consequence-free environment to cushion each of their transgressions – only hurts them and their victims, past and future.

Today when I saw Reba with Sienna I realized that I never met her at all.   I have lived in cells with almost one hundred different women and I walk a tiny patch of land with another thousand women every day. I probably haven’t met one of them.

 READER POLL

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FROM ABC NEWS: Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau twenty years after their illegal affair, married with two teenaged daughters

Is Mary Kay LeTourneau a pedophile?

  • Of course she is. She had sexual intercourse with a minor child. (71%, 12 Votes)
  • Well...her behavior doesn't really match the pattern of a pedophile but she did get pregnant with a teenager's child. (18%, 3 Votes)
  • Not really. Sometimes love doesn't fit society's definitions. They are happy and their family is intact. We can't choose the people we love. (12%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 17

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6 April 2015

Resurrection

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imageI looked around the Discharge Planner’s office. A collection of your standard-issue, public health announcements about HIV/AIDS, suicide prevention, Department of Social Services hung on the walls. On the bulletin board behind the computer was a list of what I guess are re-entry programs. New Life Ministries. New Beginnings, New Start. Fresh Start. New Creations, New Horizons.  Everything new was new to me.

Take a good look, Red. You'll never see them again, even if you want to.
Take a good look, Red. You’ll never see them again, even if you want to.

“Bozelko, finally you’re about to go,” she said without diverting here eyes from her computer screen.

“Yeah. It’s the Easter of the my life, all this newness of going back to my old life.”

“Easter is after you get out,” she told me.

“Yeah, I know. It’s just all these ‘new ‘ programs,”

“Nah, they’ve been around for a while,” she said, as she pulled out a file drawer.

“No, I mean like…all these programs have ‘new’ in their names. Everyone leaves here older than they came in but they leave new.”

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Someone just went home.

“I guess that’s one way to look at it. You each have your own little resurrection,” she nodded. “Do I need to sign you up for food stamps?”

Even the inmates who leave are on death row because, ideally, every departing inmate dies to the institution and never returns. Her resurrection and afterlife keep her away from this place. I console other women about other inmates’ discharging all the time. “Don’t worry she’s in a better place,” I tell them like we’re seated before a casket.

It’s probably why so many people find God in prison. Faith and re-entry promise not only a resurrection but an afterlife if you’re good.

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Not something you want when you leave prison.

Just like earth after you die, his isn’t a place where you might stop in and see how everyone is doing after you leave. Sure, I can write to people but they might not write back. And I can’t call.  An inmate will have to call me. Regardless of what our contact is, I will never see many of these women again because they will never leave.  I can’t have contact with people who leave everyday like the C/O’s or anyone who works here. I can’t call them nor can they call me.  In fact, I was never really supposed to connect with anyone who works here at all. You can’t remain friends with someone who was never your friend in the first place. And your stuff? You can’t take it with you. You can but you won’t. Discharge is definitely death.

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Don’t forget.

I loved working for the prison kitchen supervisors every day for four-plus years. Through occupational osmosis, they know about my appeals and my habeas corpus trial. I know about one boss’ vacation to Italy. That another fought with his ex-wife for lightly slapping his son when he was out of control. That new guy’s was taking airbrush painting classes. The warden would spin in his ergonomic desk chair if he knew I reminded a supervisor to buy gummi cheeseburgers for his children’s stockings every Christmas. I wasn’t supposed to know he had children at all.

A few weeks ago, when the warden decided that inmates who had worked in the prison library for a long time might have developed undue familiarity with the librarian,  he axed them. None of it was a big deal. The workers knew that he had a dog. That he had seen a movie the night before. That he graduated from a small liberal arts college in New England. From just these few facts, a “Familiarity Overload” sign flashed in the warden’s mind. Instead of acknowledging that the superficial familiarity was effortless and inevitable for people who had worked together for eight years, the warden made sure that the library workers died to the library. They were resurrected at the gym and other work assignments.

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It’s fine with me as long as I get to go right back.

When I heard the fate of the library workers and feared that my unbroken attendance record might be cut into, my outlawed closeness with the supervisors severed, I ran to one of them.

“Fire me. Please.”

“And why would I do this?” he asked with one eyebrow raised.

“Then I won’t have continuous employment on paper. Just hire me back and my work assignment will start again. Officially, next week I will have worked here for only a week, not four years. On paper, I’ll be new,” I explained what happened in the library.

“Bozelko, you’re not going anywhere.”

“But they’re reassigning workers who worked in anywhere for more than two years,” I insisted.

“We know. We got this.  Don’t worry. You’re staying.”

I cried relief in my cell after work that day. Having to die to my prison job and my supervisors would have been the worst abuse I could have suffered. I can’t put my finger on how or why, but the supervisors were my salvation while I’ve been here. Stacey, one of the other workers in food prep, probably said it best when she said:

“When I’m here working for them, I feel human.”

imageThat’s basically it but there’s more to it for me. I died a million times before I got here. I am dead to so many friends, my schools, my plans. Then when I got here I died a million times more, losing appeals and other cases, swimming in a sea of women I never wanted to know, accepting my first million deaths. The only thing that kept me alive was working for these people. Maybe it was because I had value to them. Maybe it was because they were consistent and kind mentors to me. Or maybe the daily details that divulged themselves in close contact developed a certain intimacy in spite of state-mandated reserve. Human connection may be prohibited but it can never be prevented. Stacey was probably right.

And now, as I go home I am going to have to die to them, too. And they to me. I’m sure that if I blocked my number and snuck in a call, they would talk to me, maybe even secretly chuckle at the chance to catch up with me. But it would be awkward.  I just have to accept that we will be people we used to know.

My resurrection, the event I have fought for, waited for, prayed for and stayed for, is going to make me sad. I think everyone who gets resurrected is a little lonely without their old life nearby, regardless of what that life was.

READER POLL

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FROM NEWSWEEK: Recent Prisoner Escapes Have One Common Factor: Hospital Visits A majority of prison breaks occur when the inmate is already off the prison property.

Is there a good reason for inmates to leave the prison?

  • Yes. They need to go to hospitals and other places because the healthcare is so poor in there. If the escape risk bothers people so much, then prisons should provide more and better healthcare. (50%, 2 Votes)
  • Yes. Funerals and memorial services for deceased family members but that's it. (25%, 1 Votes)
  • No. Their punishment is staying in prison, not leaving it. No trips outside, period. If they need something, going without it is part of the punishment. Tough. (25%, 1 Votes)
  • No. There is no reason why all services cannot be provided behind prison walls, particularly with advanced technology. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 4

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30 March 2015

Don’t Stop the Soap

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“Are you scared?” wins first place for all questions asked of prisoners. “Is the food spoiled?” comes in second. “What are the showers like?” lands the third spot consistently.

ganag showerPossibly because of it’s association with the perpetual prison punchline and correctional well-wishing – “Don’t drop the soap!”- a shower in prison intrigues people who have never been inside. They picture gang showers, virtual tiled auditoriums with fifty separate shower heads marking off every couple of yards, condensation-filled coliseums where naked inmates rape and kill  – or worse, size each other up for future connections – while blood mixes with bathers’ runoff and trickles down an 8-inch diameter drain.

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This is cleaner and has shelves, but it is the type of shower I used in prison.

I disappoint them when I tell them that my shower setup is just like theirs. After undressing in a drape-protected vestibule, inmates shower in a private, while tiled, cheapest-one-you-can-find-at-Home-Depot fiberglass tub, behind plasticized burlap shower curtains.

Because she had already asked me the first two questions months before, my lawyer asked me the shower question because, when I met with her in a tiny room for a visit, I smelled so bad from not bathing that I sickened myself. I had been in seg for twenty seven days,  nine showers and three clothing changes (seg inmates shower once on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only and change their shirt and pants once every Friday). Eight showers, actually, because one shower day had been sacrificed for a fruitless trip to court when Tina didn’t even show up.

The seg uniform. Imagine changing your clothes once a week.
The seg uniform. Imagine changing your clothes once a week.

“I know I reek, ok, Tina? Do the math: three showers, one uniform change, no shaving. It adds up to that watery feeling that collects in your jaw when you are about to puke. I know.” I generally hate Tina anyway because she is dumb and a liar, but the timing of her visit threatened another one of my three weekly showers because they had just started the shower brigade that morning and had not reached my cell when I was marched over to another building to meet with her.

“Well, as long as you know,” she said and babbled on, not even bothering to try to request a shower because of her visit (“I can’t do that – that would be special treatment for you!”) or whether I can use my own supplies like soap, deodorant and shampoo in seg (I can’t) or whether the state supplies anything effective while you’re in seg (small bar of soap and mini shampoo but they ran out of the ineffective deodorant). “You can’t take a bath in here, can you?”

“You mean like sit in the tub? No one ever sits in the tubs.”

“Yeah, I was going to tell you not to sit in a dirty tub.”

“Thanks for the advice, Tina but if you won’t get me access to the shower, how would I sit in a tub?” I asked. Tina always misses the point.

imageAnd the the reason we don’t sit in the tubs isn’t the fact that the shower is trafficked and forever filthy, with greasy, grey sludge around the rim. We need to stay on our feet to dodge falling debris when the ceiling caves in from steam build up from 30 showers every day. Overuse weakens the overhead sheetrock or sometimes heavy snow falls through. I have actually bobbed my head under canary-colored “Caution” tape stretched across the shower and stood under a ragged hole in the ceiling to catch a double dose of drips – some from the shower head, some from the roof – along with a few mysterious shards. For me, the biggest danger in a prison shower isn’t getting raped; it’s the actual shower itself. I still charge right in.

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That’s right: ignore that soap and stay under the water while you have the chance.

When you are denied the chance to bathe, rape, assault or being crushed by a falling beam are not scary things. I risk all of those things to shower in here because safety and security trumps certain human needs like bathing; no inmate is guaranteed a daily shower even if she’s not in seg. On a normal day, theoretically, we can shower as many times as we want during the rec periods. But when some irregularity (fights, dangerous objects or even inmates going missing, emergency weather) happens and it always does, the prison teaches the inmates just how much an indulgence washing your pits really is. When we get locked down, sweat-coated, stained victims of menstrual accidents must stay as we are and funkify and fester in our cells. The fact that rapes happen in prison showers shocks me because I can’t see any prisoner wasting the chance to bathe on sex or an assault.

I remember reading something about an inmate at Angola who had been made a sex slave, regularly raped. To prevent people from wanting any physical proximity to him, he refused to bathe and earned the nickname “Stinky Dunn.” But the smell wasn’t enough of a deterrent; someone tried to rape him and Dunn ended up killing his assailant. He now serves a life sentence that is punctuated only occasionally with showers for him to wash the blood off his hands.

imageWhen a guard from seg came to pick me up from visits after Tina finished her pointless rant, he had to cuff me behind my back and the movement at my shoulders released a waft of body odor.

“Sorry, Magruder.” The smell was so bad and so obviously emanating from me that I couldn’t ignore it.

“It’s OK,” he said with little compassion.

“Did my tier finish showering yet? Please tell me I didn’t miss mine.”

“I think they…well, I don’t know. Let’s just get back to the unit and see what’s going on,” he said as he grasped the underside of my upper arm, his hand right near my pungent armpit, and led me out of the visiting building.

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When I’m dirty, I’m down for any shower.

Magruder wasn’t the type to screw around with inmates; he hates us too much. But I wondered how far I would go with one of the more unscrupulous guards to get this shower. I would probably let them do any dirty deed (as if they would want to given my fragrant state) to my smelly, hairy dirty parts just for the chance to rinse those dirty parts and pretend that they’re clean. From not bathing, I now understand why the Nazis would keep concentration camp prisoners from bathing regularly; twisting about in your own fleshly mud induces such self-hatred that you end up not expecting abuse but accepting it, even wanting it if you can scrub up after the encounter. On that trip down the sidewalk back to the seg building, I finally figured out what complete desperation was because my first and only question was “What do I have to do to take a shower?” Whatever it was, I would have done it.

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Reader Poll

From The Winnipedg Free Press: The new Will Ferrell/ Kevin Hart movie “Get Hard” includes jokes about being raped in prison showers.

Why are "Don't Drop the Soap" jokes funny?

  • They aren't funny. They are played out. Writers who use those jokes are hacks. (75%, 6 Votes)
  • Because they depict the utimate retribution and punishment and people feel smug and satisfied at extra-legal punishment. (13%, 1 Votes)
  • Rape is just naturally amusing. (13%, 1 Votes)
  • They are funny to people who are homophobic, no one else. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 8

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29 March 2015

Don’t forget that Prison Diaries is five different blogs

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Prison Diaries' new logo

Prison Diaries posts a new entry every Monday but we offer unique content across social media platforms: cartoons on tumblr, quotes on twitter, memes and other funny stuff on Instagram and Flickr (each platform has different material). Of course, you can like us on Facebook, too. Each Monday’s post on the other blogs includes a link to that week’s new story. That’s five different ways to take in the diaries. Try all five. We won’t disappoint you.

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23 March 2015

Dooker Lookers

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imageMy father told me never to shit where I eat. I can’t take the advice in here because I live in a bathroom.  It happens to include a bunk bed for the bathroom’s two inhabitants but it is a 9 x 12 foot bathroom with a counter where I eat, prepare snacks, write, fold clothes and sometimes read if I haven’t finished the article on the throne.

I once refused to poop in public bathrooms like those in restaurants, stores and rest areas.  The stalls never afford enough privacy and the sounds and smells always travel.  It was an expensive practice, burning gas to drive home every time I had one in the chamber, but it was my routine nonetheless.  I haven’t been home in five years so I broke the habit.

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Notice the proximity of the bed to the dooker.

The habit would have broken itself when I saw the prison cells.  If my cellmate and I are locked in together, I poop exactly one yard away from her.  Sometimes the honesty and the intimacy prove to be too much so I try to save up big discharges for times when my cellmate is out, but Nature times herself and I end up defecating a few feet away from another woman while I eat a slice of humble pie.  Then we switch places.

If crapping right in someone’s face were not embarrassing enough, a window in every cell door allows the guards to see us on the bowl.  Safety and security, the catch-all excuse for any violation of prisoner rights, allows them to see in to see that we are alive, not fighting, un-escaped and possibly mid-turd.  I once heard a guard open a squatting woman’s cell door, throw clear garbage bags into her room – the accepted inmate suitcase because no one can hide anything in them as they tote their belongings during a facility move – and tell her “You’re moving Rodriguez.  Push the other half out when you get to One South.”

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A few times, when a guard was coming, I pulled my pants up after pooping without even wiping – leaving the toilet like this for a few seconds until I could lower my pants and clean up – just so he wouldn’t catch me mid-rat or mid-wipe. Disgusting, I know but it was better than being watched or witnessed.  Thankfully there weren’t too many of them because I had to shower and do more laundry after each of those episodes.

Every time I need to poop, I go to the door and look to see if either guard’s tour of the unit is impending.  If I see him coming, I pinch it until he’s gone.  I would rather suffer abdominal pain than endure the humiliation that I did when I was sitting on the toilet as one of the guards whom I respect circuited my tier.

“Mr. Wall, I’m on the toilet.  Can you stay away from the door?”  I should have been embarrassed just by being caught hanging a rat but instead my extreme vanity took over.  Does this toilet make my ass look fat? I wondered because that was a vision of myself I hadn’t experienced yet; we have only 4 x 5 inch mirrors and a reflection of the toilet – and my ass – could never fit in those tiny rectangles.

“Bozelko, I have worked here for sixteen years.  Do you know how many cheeks I’ve seen on toilet seats?” he shouted from down the hall.

“I’m sure it’s a high number sir, but I’d like to keep it reduced by two,” I called out from my porcelain perch.  He walked past my window anyway and, although he never told me, he could see if the toilet made my ass look fat.  Eventually I got over it and apparently, he did too.

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Although no one I knew ever did it, there is a backlash to forcing inmates to shit where they do everything else. “Shit-bombing” a staff member happens when a bag is close to an inmate when she’s using the toilet. She craps in the bag, places the bag’s opening in the crack under the door and then steps on the bag as someone passes her cell. Otherwise, sometimes inmates just throw it like one did in “The Shawshank Redemption.”

Another time, when my cell held up the far end of the hallway and it was futile to look out my door’s window to catch an upcoming tourist guard, an officer who was delivering mail backed into my room while speaking to another inmate.  I was peeing, mid-stream, when he walked fully into my cell, a big no-no.  He should have turned and left when he realized that he had walked in on me in flagrante but instead he froze, staring at me as if he never knew that women in the facility pissed occasionally.  The freeze lasted a few seconds too long.

“Dolenz… you need to leave,” I had to remind him.  I had already bunched my toilet paper and was poised to go in for the wipe.  He could have placed the mail on the bed or even kept it with him until another delivery round but instead he dropped the stack of mail directly on the floor where he stood.  He seemed almost angry, as if it were my fault that I expel liquid waste.

Usually the C/O’s get pissed about catching women on the commode only when they believe that the inmate is purposefully exposing herself to him.  For the most part, the open-toilet policy forces the guards to treat poop as what it is:  an inescapable part of incarceration, the true-life version of getting the shitty end of the stick.

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If they can’t put up walls, something like this would have protected my modesty.

Some low-lying wall that exposed her face and torso yet blocked an inmate’s lower half when she sits on the toilet would not so disrupt the order of the facility that we shouldn’t have them in all of our cells.  It’s true that people and things hide easily behind barricades, but the prison allows little partitions to protect the new admissions to the prison in their cells in the inpatient medical unit.  If little dividers work safely in these rooms, then they shouldn’t be dangerous in other cells.  I guess that, because new admissions to prison are famous for the incessant puking and diarrhea associated with heroin withdrawal, the guards probably petitioned for the walls in that housing unit  to censor the more grizzly scenes.

I assume that the guards think that the rest of us don’t need the walls because once a prisoner has been here for a year, she develops a routine that limits her exposure time in her lavatory and her exposure time to him.  Of course, a few depraved guards are known to like to catch the inmates on the bowl, but those degenerates are rare as well as well-marked; inmates warn each other when one of them works in our housing units.

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Yes, inmates sit on the shitter totally naked and wave to the correction officers who pass by.

Humiliation seems to account for an unreasonable proportion of rehabilitation in here.  Remedies for the ill-behaved must include humility, for sure, but not necessarily degradation, which is what public pooping is for me.  Surely, the male guards know that even women who want to become ladies take an occasional shit.

The open squat policy is bad because so many women in this facility struggle with boundaries.  Some, like me, want walls all the way around them; we never feel safe unless ramparts surround us.  Others have no shame and no control on how much they expose; they flash the guards, detail gynecological issues to strangers and expect other inmates to feel equally comfortable when they prance around naked or hug them from behind, by surprise.  Every time the facility erases yet another border around acceptable behavior, the exhibitionsts’ confusion only grows and the inhibited inmates like me end up feeling violated.

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“I’ll go get you some!” Although not always, a lack of toilet paper was sometimes a god-send because one inmate could run to fetch a roll for the pooping prisoner. Not having T.P. could save a bit of embarrassment from entering two women’s lives.

“Bunkie, you see this thing here? It got a white head? The nurse say that means it a herpes,” one cellmate asked me as she was defecating, pulling up her shirt and asking me to perform clinical analysis of her front end.

“Not…put it away. Put it away! I’m not looking or answering that question,” I yelled and stared at the wall near my bed.

“Yo, I can’t put nothin’ away when I be shittin’, ya know,” she said as she wiped.

I couldn’t argue with her. No one can put her ass away when her ass gets put away. Without washing her hands, she proceeded to write to the nurse who had given her instructions to look for herpetic heads of white. When I got off the top bunk I couldn’t help but watch her do that, too: “Der Miss, I think I have hairpies…” And unfortunately, the open toilet policy allowed each of us to know that the other one had a hairpie from lack of shaving. At least my hairpie had no herpes.

imagePreparing inmates for re-entry into society involves more than just job training; it should teach prisoners how to live functionally on the outside which includes an understanding of boundaries, social limits.  Part of any transgressor’s psyche is that no limits exist for her; it was her disregard for limits that reeled her into prison.  Some boundaries fade by necessity when 1,100 women with behavior problems (at least alleged behavior problems) live within an area smaller than a tiny strip-mall.  But after the penal experience erases certain borders in the name of safety and security, discharging inmates need to know how to redraw those lines.  In short, rehabilitation should teach prisoners to minimize the chaos in their lives, not immortalize it. Thus shitting-in-front-of-everyone should keeps chaos alive.

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When there is a tour of new guards, you can have an audience this size to your squat.

At least in my opinion, women run straight into dysfunction when they are released, not because of their convictions, but because they are unable to discern their edges from others’.  They make mistakes like sharing too much personal information with coworkers, asking strangers to inspect their genitals or sleeping with their bosses and the relationship’s rockiness shakes their workplaces.  Because of the lack of boundaries, they lose their jobs when employment is a condition of their release; being fired costs them their freedom.  They then return to prison and explain why the halfway house staff remanded them back to York while they stare at me when I move my bowels.  This scene has replayed itself so many times in the last five years that I have lost track of all the audiences to my pooping.

Formal toilet-blocking walls might be too much of an investment in this prison since I seem to be one of few who are bothered by public poop. But an etiquette class might help, a little assistance in handling the most chastening scenes of our lives with some class.  But no one in here gives a shit to start such a program.  “Parenting Skills…” they say, “is what you should enroll yourself in…or Anger Management.”  Maybe I will sign up those classes so I don’t have a shit fit when one of the guards passes by my cell, that place where I eat, and finally tells me: “Yeah, Bozelko, that toilet does make your ass look fat.” I know one of them will say it eventually.

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READER POLL:

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FROM RADARONLINE.COM: Teresa Giudice reportedly sits on the toilet seats in Danbury FCI. Other inmates are flabbergasted at this. Are you?

Is it really that shocking or important that a Real Housewife sat on the toilet seat in prison?

  • I don't really give a shit what she did. Those women in prison are some bored, catty bitches if they actually watched Teresa on the toilet and talked about it. (100%, 3 Votes)
  • No, of course not. Because she took care of her own house she expects that women already in prison clean the big house. Shame on them for leaving the toilets dirty at all. (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Yes. I would expect her to shkeev everything in there or at least act like she did. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 3

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16 March 2015

Bucket O’ Piss

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photo (26)

“Don’t say anything too loud and talk like this,” Francine told me with her lips together, unmoving.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because we’re not alone.”

“There’s no one here but you and me, Francine.”

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Shhhhhh…

“They’re over there,” she said and cocked her head in the direction of a patch of grass, empty except from a few geese.

“Who’s over there?” I asked her.

“Don’t move your lips!” she sounded through her closed mouth. “They’ll see what you’re saying.”

“Who? The geese?”

“No, the people who rigged up the camera and the recorder on the geese,” she pushed through her closed lips like a ventriloquist.

“Camera and recorder? What the hell are you talking about?”

She relaxed her lips to make a point. “People in my case –  and probably people in your case – have put cameras and listening devices around the geeses’ necks to spy on us in here, OK?”

“You mean that black and yellow tracking device? No, that’s to track and study their migration patterns, I’m sure. It’s like the Department of Agriculture or some local nonprofit who wants to see where…” I was explaining.

“It’s not! It’s recording our every move and sound!” she protested.

“OK, E.F. Hutton, I have to go. Is this what you wanted to talk to me about?” I was tiring quickly.

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You’ve got mail.

“No. I wanted to warn you to look closely at your legal mail. They dipped mine in a bucket of piss.”

“A bucket of piss?” I asked. She exhausts me but Francine probably tires of our conversations too because I parrot everything she says back to her with a confused look. Geese? Cameras? Recorders? Bucket of piss?

“Yes. They’re literally dipping my legal documents in a bucket of their own piss. It’s harassment.”

“Well, thank God they’re not using our piss instead of their own. But how do you know it’s a bucket of piss? Maybe it’s a plate or even a shallow roasting pan.” I laughed hysterically at my own joke. Francine just stared at me.

“One staff member who I will not name confirmed to me that they have a large bucket of piss that they dip people’s legal mail in.”

Francine was neither lying nor mistaken, I’m certain a guard did tell her about a bucket of piss to soup up more persecutory delusions in her head.

“Confirmation of the bucket of piss, huh? Well, I hope they’re storing it in an appropriate place. Like the Hospitality classroom.” I started screaming laughing again.

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ROLL CALL

“Look, all I’m trying to do is warn you.”

“I don’t even get all of my mail. Do you think it’s still soaking?” Hysterics.

“Forget I said anything,” she huffed and walked away.

Francine gives way too much credit to her persecutors. She accuses prosecutors and judges of accepting bribes to convict her. She claims correction officers are paid to harass her. I’m the only one who tells her the truth: they’ll do it for free.

I know for a fact that no Bucket o’ Piss hides somewhere on this compound, waiting for a C/O to dip writs and letters into it with plastic tongs like an amateur photographer uses a darkroom. If the Bucket o’ Piss did exist, inmates would know because we would be the people to move, wipe, seal and fumigate the Bucket o’ Piss. The guards would never curate their own Bucket o’ Piss. No way. The Bucket o’ Piss theory is beyond the pail.

imageI’m the only one who puts a hole in the Bucket o’ Piss theory because most undereducated inmates distrust government so much that stories of pee-pee pots seem plausible. Another inmate promises that millions of dollars in cash changed hands to secure her convictions. Others swear that the C/O’s receive a twenty-dollar bonus for each disciplinary report they write. When I hear all of this, I don’t know if I should be flattered or insulted that prosecutors/judges/prison staff continue to screw me for nothing.

These theories are more than just crazy; they’re dangerous because they cloud legitimate, meritorious complaints about misconduct. Inmates think that if they amp up their grievances with these wild theories, then the complaint will be taken more seriously and investigated more thoroughly. Instead, their complaints wash down the chute of dismissal. Nothing gets remedied and buckets of piss tip onto our heads Carrie-movie-pig-blood style.

imageThe Bucket o’ Piss theory pisses me off the most when I see dipsticks running the system who need to be wiped out. Even the people who are supposed to defend us shit all over us. As I waited in court for a lawyer who would never show up, I watched another lawyer accuse his client of stalking and following him. Instead of doing what he was supposed to do – report his suspicions to the police of appropriate jurisdiction and then bring the report number to the court as justification for his withdrawal to a conflict of interest in a criminal investigation – the attorney requested that the judge release him because he feared his client. The asshole judge turned the motion to withdraw hearing into a mini-trial of the stalking charges, crimes for which the client was never arrested. I watched forty-five minutes of questions from the bench. “Were you on Elm Street yesterday, ma’am?/ Were you on Orange Street?/ Where were you going?/ Did you have an appointment with Attorney G?”

Ultimately, the judge kept the attorney on the case but issued a re-arrest warrant on the client for failing to show up for her last scheduled court appearance even though she was right in front of him at the moment. Apparently she wasn’t following the attorney too closely otherwise she would have stalked him right into court that day. Because she had been remanded back to York for the failure to appear, not the alleged stalking, she rode in the bus with me back to the prison so I told her what I thought.

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Because the inmates riding with me had just been through a courthouse battle, the bus was my office.

“What he did to you was improper. He should not have handled it that way.” I advised.

“But I can’t do nothin’ about it.”

“Yes you can. File a grievance. Fuck him. He totally put you in a bad light. You think you’re going to get a fair deal from that judge now?”

“You can help me?” she asked.

“Oh, can I.”

And I drafted the grievance for her. She filed it. Weeks later, she flapped the response letter in my face.

“Explain this to me!”

I scanned and read the attorney’s written defense “I am not a homosexual and even if I was…” “this is when she said I threatened to shoot her…

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CORRECTION OFFICERS’ TRAINING CAMP

“Gina, where did you get this? Who sent you this?” I asked her.

“The guy.”

“What guy?”

“The lawyer.”

“What’s all this about shooting and being called gay?” I was totally confounded.

“Oh yeah, I added that part myself.”

Oh yeah, right into the complaint I wrote, Gina inserted sentences that the lawyer threatened to shoot her and that the attorney was gay because she saw him talk once to a bail bondsman who was gay, two allegations that sucked up all focus and attention of the inquiry. Again, piss-poor thinking eclipsed the real misconduct. Being gay is not misconduct and threatening to shoot her… well, … threatening to shoot her became understandable as I got to know Gina. But her lawyer still screwed her and got away with it because a Bucket o’ Piss-type allegation spilled onto the legitimate report of his throwing his client under and into the prison bus.

As one would expect, Francine did equal damage to a legit complaint about a federal judge. She was pursing some type of medical claim against UCONN Medical Center when an article appeared in the Connecticut Law Tribune about how the judge assigned to her case in the local district court had enrolled in an experimental drug trial at UCONN to treat his recently-diagnosed Lou Gehrig’s disease. He received treatment from the same legal entity as the defendant before him in Francine’s case. Do I need to say that he continually ruled in UCONN’s favor?

“I’d ask him to recuse himself or grieve him. It’s clear conflict of interest,” I instructed her.image

And Francine did as I advised. When she came up to me flapping the judge’s response to the shot taken at him, I sniffed it for urine and read something about bribery evidence… lack of…

“Did you accuse him of taking bribes? Didn’t we talk about this? That you shouldn’t say that anymore?”

“I never said anything about bribes. I just said he went into UCONN Medical to receive treatment and illegal cash payments,” Francine said in her defense.

I have no idea if Francine’s medical claims have merit and no one else will either because the judge with the clear conflict of interest threw them out. I am so tired of watching other prisoners piss into the wind when they complain about the mistreatment and misconduct that tracks through the system. With fanciful allegations woven into every genuine gripe, we will remain at the bottom of the barrel. Or bucket.

“What? Just tell me what I should write in reply,” Francine pleaded with me but what could I say? You blew it? You’re bonkers? No one needs to spend one dollar in illegal cash payments to get you because they’re already won?

“I don’t want to say, Francine. You know… they’re listening.” I pointed to the ceiling and she nodded, knowingly.

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Over 41,000 readers in almost six months and none of them will rock the Prison Diaries Reader Poll vote.

READER POLL

From the New York Times: Three Attica Guards Resign in Deal to Avoid Jail

Three guards from Attica beat a black inmate, gang-style, breaking his leg and his eye socket. They pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in order to receive probation as their sentences. The prosecution was the first time in the history of the State of New York that a guard was arrested for a non-sexual assault of an inmate.

What would their sentences be if three white inmates assaulted a black guard gang style?

  • 25 years consecutive because it's inmate-on-guard crime. (50%, 3 Votes)
  • 5 years concurrent which is bullshit because anyone who assaults gang-on-person style should be sent away for a long time no matter who they are, what their race is or what they do for a living. (50%, 3 Votes)
  • 10 years concurrent because it's white-on-black crime. Should be more. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 6

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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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2 March 2015

High Holiday Horseshit

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A PETA ad.

 

Forget in-like-a-lion, out-like-a-lamb. In prison, every March comes in with fish fryin’ and goes out without ham.

It’s always Lent during March and the dietary restriction of “NO MEAT” on Ash Wednesday and Lent’s Fridays switches up the menu. During these forty days, Catholic inmates become meticulous about what enters their mouths even if they never monitor what comes out.

Before Ash Wednesday, each Catholic inmate completes a form to declare that she needs “common fare” meals on Ash Wednesday. “Common fare” is just vegetarian. I’ve asked about the origin of the phrase but no one knows what it is. The best guess is that “common fare” is fare for commoners; i.e. people who cannot afford meat, so no meat in common fare. On Ash Wednesday, chicken salad gets swapped out for egg salad if Catholic inmates fill out the form and send it back to Deacon Dolan.

imageDeacon Dolan is as pro-practicality as he is pro-prisoners’ rights, positions that often clatter against each other. He dutifully collects the slips and turns them over to Food Services but even the Catholic chaplain thinks this procedure is unnecessary and the replacement protein needless. “Look,” he says, “if there’s meat on your tray on Ash Wednesday, just don’t eat it.”

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Especially me.

Mixing food and religion in a prison is always a recipe for abuse. Years ago in a federal prison, inmates started the Church of New Song (abbreviated CONS) and tried to flex their First Amendment muscle to get their religious practices – a weekly steak and wine dinner – approved.  Women here declare that they’ve converted to Islam so they can get the bags of Frosted Flakes distributed to Muslim inmates before daybreak during Ramadan. The few Jewish inmates actually get wine, a contraband alcoholic beverage, in a small container to bring back to their cells during Passover because grape juice isn’t referenced in the Torah.

I stopped eating the chicken salad a long time ago so the food-religion mashup doesn’t really affect me but working in food service I have watched supervisors plan the Frosted Flakes distribution and the kosher meals weeks, even months, in advance because one fuck-up can be a constitutional violation. As inmates unpacked the special shipment of matzoh and butter (where is that in the Torah?) for Passover,  a high holiday I will miss because I’m out in a few weeks.

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Great for Muslims. Off limits for everyone else.

“You know, this is horseshit. I won’t be here another Passover so I’m saying something. I saw one of the Jewish inmates give her wine to a little Catholic lady who’s an alcoholic.”

“You snitchin’, B?” laughed Fowler.

“No. I’m just saying that this is not about religious practice, it’s about seeing what they can squeeze out of the system.”

“Stop, it’s their right,” Bengals warned me but I knew he agreed with me.

“It’s not their right to induce a relapse. The lady is convicted of murder.”

“Even the ones who murder, Chandra, get to celebrate Passover.”

“No. The little Catholic lady is here for murder.  A murder she committed when she was drunk in a relapse,” I announced with my arms wide to show how right I was.

“So what are you saying?” Bengals was laughing at me because he knew I was spot on.

“I’m saying that grape juice is fine for women who kill people when they’re drunk.”

“You’ve spent some time thinking about this, I see,” Bengals observed.

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I could defend the Ramadan breakfast if it were healthy.

“Of course I have,” I conceded. “And what’s the deal with the Frosted Flakes for Ramadan? What, Allah doesn’t like his children eating the plain cornflakes the rest of us eat so they get some with unhealthy sugar on them? Can’t face east to pray without a white confection in your stomach?”

“Bozelko, go load a kettle. You’re making me want to convert,” Green Bay waved me away.

“It’s horseshit, Green Bay,” I informed him.

“Who’re you tellin’? I’ve said that for 26 years,” he said. “Now load the goddamned kettle.”

imageOf course, litigation alleging First Amendment violations always follows food in prison. It was one of the reasons why Congress passed the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) in 1996. Inmates were filing 250 lawsuits a day, many times about these food-based religious practices,  and they thought something had to be done, so they enacted a law that basically makes it impossible for an inmate even to file a federal civil rights claim. What are the chances of winning one of the suits if it can even get filed? Don’t make me laugh. I have cornflakes in my mouth.

I can name about 50 inmates who have written to outside agencies seeking assistance with a number of serious prison problems: lack of medical care, harassment, erroneous classification, and each received a form letter explaining that the agencies – ones allegedly devoted to helping prisoners – do not accept individual cases. I’ve seen it happen so many times that whenever an inmate says she will write to the ACLU, NOW, Amnesty International, I just tell her “Don’t even waste the envelope.”

The reason why they don’t take on inmate civil litigation is that it’s a losing game since the Prison Litigation Reform Act. If an inmate makes one mistake in exhausting his internal remedies (a requirement courtesy of the PLRA), then the case is as dead as the little Catholic lady’s victim. No lawyer will touch it no matter how much merit it has or how much the inmate needs assistance.

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Shhhh…don’t say anything. It’s very sensitive.

Over in one of the Connecticut’s men’s prisons, Corrigan-Radgowski, Inmate Howard Cosby can’t just not eat the meat. After sexually assaulting someone and receiving a nineteen-and-a-half year sentence for it, Cosby is now a practicing Buddhist committed to non-violence and cannot eat meat. When the kitchen services fish (lunch and dinner twice a week) Howard cannot eat it because fish have thoughts and feelings and are, therefore, meat.

And the real piss in this soup? An outside agency is representing Howard in his meatless quest.  PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is helping him sue the Department of Correction for a civil rights violation under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act to replace his fish with a meat-free alternative. He is receiving help with this ‘problem’ that no one else gets.

Even though all of these advocacy groups deny that they accept individual cases, Howard Cosby seems like an individual case to me. Like his fish’s, Howard’s thoughts and feelings seem to matter more than female inmate’s whose civil rights undergo daily butchering. Aside from my question of who has interviewed fish to discern that they have thoughts and feelings, I would like to ask “What makes Howard so special?”image

If Howard were a true Buddhist, a religion opposed to any conflict including litigation, he would already be practicing some humility, regardless of the menu’s offerings. But his insistence that his fish find replacement in something else gives off a strong aroma of arrogance. You’re not that special, Howard. Like Deacon Dolan said: just don’t eat the goddamned meat. Or fish. Or fish meat.

I am the head cook for most of the meals that are served statewide to prisoners. I wish they would call me as an expert witness in Cosby’s trial about what gets served to prisoners in Connecticut. My left hand on the bible, the book of roasted goats and bread on backs, I would attest to the fact that the fish in prison contains almost no fish, the fish patties contain barely a thought, maybe half a feeling; they are all crust, just like Howard Cosby.

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Veggie patties. Made ’em myself.

Furthermore, I would continue to say that the only viable replacement for the fish is a veggie patty, which Cosby eats a couple of times each week anyway. Somehow I know, if he wins this case and he’s served veggie patties six to seven times a week, that he will complain that his common fare is too common, too routine and he has a constitutional right – no, a human right – to a diet that is less re-run and more refined. And some asshole advocacy group will take his new case while other prisoners hobble in pain because they can’t get their ACL’s repaired or are denied parole because of a clerical error on DOC’s part and miss their son’s graduation and no one helps them. And when Cosby’s attorneys win that case, they will learn that the only way for Howard to feast on a varied diet is to start eating meat again, like the cheeseburgers the Kosher inmates scarf down.

imageSubstandard food is an essential ingredient to punishment. Undoubtedly prison diets should include more fresh vegetables and fruit, but they never will while the government devotes its resources to defending suits like CONS’ and Cosby’s. Prisoners try to re-write the recipe all the time, manipulating religion after sneering “I don’t eat that” at the meals, taking Deacon Dolan’s advice in the wrong amount. If they won’t eat it and they don’t eat it, then they shouldn’t eat.

imageIt’s always the inmates who cannot afford much commissary that “just can’t eat” the standard issue meals and find some type of God. One three hundred pound homeless woman who lives in a cardboard box across from the Green in New Haven refuses to eat prison meals each time she’s been incarcerated during the last twenty years. She must have left a tin foil tiara back in the box because her princess performance is so perfected it must have been honed in a place where she can eat whatever thoughts and feelings she wants. She harasses everyone to buy her essential foodstuffs like “Whole Shabang” flavor chips (salt and vinegar plus barbeque flavors, together) and taco meat in a little metal bag because she “just can’t handle the chow hall food.” To get better food, “What religion I need to be?” she asked me.

imageI do not suggest that disadvantaged people deserve swill or to have their religious rights abridged but I doubt that her cardboard box has a cardboard stable out back to house a high-horse. If it did, PETA would take her case because of the fucking horse.

No inmate is too good or too pious to eat prison-prepared meals. Not me. Not the princess from the high-rise air conditioner crate, not Howard. All they need is to do like I do: avoid the food or plug their noses, choke it back and pray to God it doesn’t come back up.  I did it at dinner tonight when they served a “veal patty.” Veal – in prison, no less -that not only contains no veal, but contains no meat. I guess the fish patty has more meat in it than the veal patty which is an absurd thought. Just hope I didn’t hurt the patty’s feelings.

READER POLL

From the Huffington Post: Death Row Inmate Steven Hayes Loses Fight For Kosher Food

Do you think Steven Hayes was trying to get better food or he was fighting for a precedent on kosher certificates for prison food?

  • Neither. He is either losing his mind or trying to piss off everyone. (43%, 3 Votes)
  • Better food. (29%, 2 Votes)
  • Precedent on kosher food in correctional facilities. (29%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 7

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