16 January 2017


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lose something?” Caples smirked.

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

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

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

“Greenhouse,” piped Caples.

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

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

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

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

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

“No b.s. brother.”

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

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

Click here for the next installment…



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

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

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






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9 January 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deal with it, Bozelko.

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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


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2 January 2017

Bet Against

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Stacks of Chips

FOMO takes hold, especially at the holidays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

betting shop



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

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

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








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26 December 2016

Baby, You’re A Rich Man

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Bad human behavior is irrational. Even highly once;ontrived crimes like murder or Madoff-inspired systematic fraud. We like to think that crime is rational so we can continue to think that well-thought out strategies will combat it, but crime is emotional in its soul. Psychiatrist Thomas P. Malone said that he could sum up every abnormal human behavior: it’s someone screaming: “For God’s sake, someone love me!

We impose logic and numbers all over lawbreaking as if crime has some calculus hidden within it. We speak of crime in financial terms as is people are as predictable as market forces. We use phrases like “paying one’s debt to society” and “reparation” and “getting one’s due.” We rely on the mathematical certainty of talion – one eye equals one eye and one tooth exchanges for one tooth; correction is just reconciliation of existential accounts. But the solution to society’s problem of crime appears on no ledger; it’s no debit that can be counterbalanced with a policy-driven credit.

imageAn experiment by graduate students at Harvard and MIT called GiveDirectly gives cash transfers to the poor in Kenya without any qualification as to how the money can be used. Instead of squandering it, Kenyans used the money to repair their homes with durable, cost-saving materials and to invest in small businesses. A totally free gift with no expectations or conditions caused the Kenyans to behave more responsibly than if they had been yoked with more responsibility. Go figure.

GiveDirectly’s inspiration came across the border from Mexico, a country that has distributed cash transfers since the 1990’s to more than six million Mexican citizens. When cash transfers replaced food subsidies – Mexico’s version of ‘food stamps’ or Basic Needs – every economist looking on feared the worst: that the money would be used for legal vices like alcohol and tobacco and that domestic violence would spike as families fought over what to do with the cash. The economists had their charts and tables turned on them when no one fought or drank away the money. Studies proved that the children of families who received the cash transfers – and could have spent it on anything – were healthier and better educated than the kids from families who received food subsidies – and didn’t have a chance to squander it, it made no sense. Everyone expected that grants of cash would fall prey to the worst in human nature.

One explanation offered by GiveDirectly’s founders is that people know what they need. When they have the resources to meet those needs, they take care of themselves responsibly. When they don’t get what they need, they squander absolutely everything they get. Only when someone feels secure do they act secure.

Within this explanation is a final answer we don’t want to acknowledge about how to prevent crime. For God’s sake, just love us.

imageIf we just outrightly grant love – and forgiveness – to the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the least lovable, the least worthy of love among us, they will act responsibly with it. They will become trustworthy only when trusted, dependable only when depended upon, respectable only when respected, considerate only when considered, careful only when cared for, forgivable only after they’re forgiven, noticeable only after they’re noticed, valuable only after they’re prized. It makes no sense, t





t it’s empirically true.

Whatever it is, it’s not new. The chaplain always teaches the prisoners that: “…When you’re loved, you’re good…” meaning that people who feel loved behave well. Anyone can see this lesson in daily life: kids whose fathers take time off from work grow up to be more stable. Employees who feel valued don’t squander their time on Facebook.  Ladies who feel safe in their fiancé’s love don’t carp and complain about what happened at their betrothed’s bachelor parties. Someone who feels slighted gets rowdy. Someone who feels cheated on grows sneaky and clingy. But someone who’s loved? She’s good.

“But why should someone who broke the law get treated better than everyone else?” a Prison Diaries reader wrote to me before they canceled the column. I never got to reply to that woman directly.

If I had, I would have said that the simple answer is that they shouldn’t. They shouldn’t because everyone should be treated with respect, and lovingly, as galling as that is. We have to love the unloveable, treat discards like face cards out of pure self-interest because not giving, not loving, not trusting enough leaves everyone in torment. That’s all crime is, the unloved tormenting the rest.

imageBesides, that’s balance-sheet style thinking that doesn’t work to improve anything. It is totally unfair that people who never broke the law, never did much wrong, are the ones who must front the capital of love, trust and care to underwrite long lines of unsecured interpersonal credit to felons, societal deadbeats, who may have paid off some of the principal of their debts to society behind bars but who still wade in interest and penalties called untrustworthiness and being burdensome. Rationally, you might not lend money – or love – trust or concern – to someone who cannot repay you but emotionally you might have to and and it looks like being unwise might be how to solve problems of social justice.

imageMy sales pitch may sound strong but I don’t use my own product. I’m the worst spokesperson for this problem-solving of emotional problems. From being hurt, betrayed, cheated so many times I harbor such anger that it is inconceivable to me that I can, much less should, open myself or make myself more vulnerable. To me, it’s putting the other cheek even closer to the other person’s fist with the caveat: “Now don’t exert yourself when you hit me again.” But as I cling to the rationality of the pain response I remind myself that I risk being wrong if I open myself too much but I risk living in chaos, in torment, if I don’t open myself up enough. The anger I feel is the result, not the cause, of not opening myself up enough of not trusting people because I think they’re untrustworthy and forgetting, that, by trusting them, I can make them so.

I need to practice more irresponsible interpersonal accounting and reckless charity and write off all of the uncollectable debts I accumulate in my heart. If I become less an emotional moneychanger, then I can be a game changer and change the game in a responsible way.

Imagine: the $212 billion prison industrial complex and 2.3 million people in chains, completely erased by one Beatles song. It will never add up, yet somehow it works.




Everyone but me got something good:

President Obama commuted the sentences of 153 more nonviolent federal drug prisoners. He also issued 78 pardons to men and women who have served their sentences on December 19, 2016.

Florida Supreme Court invalidated hundreds of death sentences. The Sunshine state’s highest court found that death sentences decided by a judge, not a jury, were unconstitutional. More than 200 inmates are affected by the ruling, which only applies to sentences imposed since 2002. That means more than half of the people on death row will get re-sentenced. Read the decision here.

The Obama administration Tuesday unveiled a new regulation that allows incarcerated parents to reduce their child-support payments while they are in prison. Currently support payments pile up and, upon release, parents face accumulated debt and the temptation to return to crime. They’re off the hook for a little while, at least.


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19 December 2016

Getting Carded

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Every year, at least one inmate gives or sends me a card at Christmastime. Notably, very few of them have any reference to Christmas – most don’t even use Christmas colors. I don’t know if that’s because there’s no Christmas mood in here – or out there for that matter – but I’m always impressed that women take the time to make something for me or send a card into me. Below, a sample of inmate holiday wishes from each and every Christmas I spent at York CI.

I know they’re hard to see. Click on the card for a bigger, clearer picture.



Click to enlarge and focus.

I had been here about 2 weeks. My cellmate, a realtor who came in with me on December 7th and left on the 11th, made this card for me on her computer.  She did 4 days on a 14-day sentence. The stars and hearts over the faces are mine. To protect the innocent.



Click to enlarge and focus.

Another cellmate who left. I don’t know if she loved me or the year 2008 since it’s when she got sprung. Zetta learned to be pithy in prison. And then came back a couple of times. Given that her life is rule by poverty and drugs, the fact that she secured a card, addressed it and mailed it to me makes it one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.



Click to enlarge and focus.

Perhaps my favorite Christmas card from someone on the outside, this one promises me money, informs me that a working Boost phone has been purchased for me and that I’m going home in 2 months – February 2010.  The return address said “Anthony Hall” with an address on Park Street in Hartford. Maybe someone should deck him to make it a real Christmas card. To this day, I have no idea who I’m “Baby Momma” to. I feel like I should know that.



Click to enlarge and focus.

After serving a lot of time and reducing her risk level through good behavior, Mari moved to the east side of the compound and sent through this over inmate express to me on the maximum security west side at Christmas. Note that it’s a baby shower thank you card and she admits to allegedly having a contraband cell phone – in writing. When I finally ran into her in the medical building three months later, I asked her where she got the card and she admitted she stole it from a counselor’s office. Rehabilitation.



Click to enlarge and focus.

My former cellmate left in August but she mailed this ditty in as a Christmas greeting. I’m still shocked the mailroom let it through. They must have been in a holiday mood.



Click to enlarge and focus.

Referenced the actual holiday and put Hello Kitty in a Santa hat and ballet tutu.

“A Nutcracker Hello Kitty! That’s great!” I thanked her. I was impressed with the Christmas layers to the card.

“What that is?” she asked. Never heard of the Nutcracker Ballet.



Click to enlarge and focus.

I guess “I may have looked calm but in my mind I’ve killed them three times” and “Tell them all to take a flying leap!” and “What I know for sure: it’s ok to be a fruit loop in a world full of Cheerios” is York CI’s version of “God Bless us, everyone!” From the Tiny Tim of Zero South.

Merry Christmas.



Dylann Roof was convicted of 33 charges for the shooting rampage in a Charleston, South Carolina church last year. He’s rejecting a mental health defense for the penalty phase of the trial and is, for now, back to representing himself.  Not for nothing, I don’t blame him. What would a psychiatric defense do at this point? The jurors would use it to decide between letting him die in prison…as opposed to killing him in prison. He’s going down either way and he’d rather go down as a racist than a nut. It’s his choice.

A consortium of California newspapers followed up on prisoners who were released under Proposition 47 – the policy that reduced drug possession felonies and most small thefts to misdemeanors voted into law by Californians at the polls in 2014 – and they’re not doing well at all. Homelessness, poverty, petty crime. Whether it’s intended that way or not, the article makes the case for better reentry planning and slower decarceration.

This Christmas will mark 20 years since the murder of mini-beauty pageant contestant JonBenet Ramsey in Boulder, Colorado. No one has ever been charged with the murder of the 6-year old. The Guardian has a good write-up of some facts I didn’t know. Did you know that a few months later a 9-year old girl was assaulted by someone who broke into her house in Boulder in the middle of the night? She went to the same dance studio as JonBenet Ramsey. I don’t believe in coincidences. The police screwed up this investigation and someone who killed a child has walked free for 20 years. Typical.






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12 December 2016

Broken Sorter

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I cringe when I hear post-Sandy Hook plans, plots and promises about mental health treatment: expanding access’ and ‘removing barriers’ and ‘stricter laws involuntary commitment.’ I shudder at the phrase ‘treatment-based approach.’ That’s the worst. That shit scares me.

My parents have committed me involuntarily to psychiatric hospitals on seven occasions. Each time I was admitted, I posed no danger to myself or others. My parents even concede this now even though they pushed for the admissions at the time. They were trying to wring out a mental health defense from my situation – one I never wanted.

On the one occasion I was a danger to myself – the despair of fighting the charges made me so despondent that I wanted to die – no one referred me for any treatment.

bfscorridorI didn’t really understand how broken the psychiatric sorter was until Selly moved into my room. She was serving an 18-year sentence for stabbing her boyfriend 38 times after being released from a psychiatric hospital – over her parents’ objections that she wasn’t safe to leave.

The requirement for someone to be hospitalized involuntarily is dangerousness – to oneself or to others – and clinicians’ ability to assess it is notoriously bad, as my and Selly’s experiences demonstrate. Even the Supreme Court of the United States has acknowledged shrinks’ inability to know who’s dangerous.  In 1983, in Barefoot v. Estelle, the Court wrote  that even the American Psychiatric Association hadn’t conceded  “that psychiatrists are always wrong with respect to future dangerousness, only most of the time.”

Hospitalization isn’t about medicine and care; it’s about power. How else can anyone explain a system where people who want treatment don’t get it and people who get it don’t want it?

psychiatric-hospitals-or-wards_230_160_100On those occasions that I sat in the Yale-New Haven Hospital’s emergency room as a vestibule to the locked hallway of the hospital, New Haven’s most esteemed psychiatrists unlocked the doors for others – usually men – who days later would appear on the news for some violent altercation, usually a robbery. From the hospital, I would recognize their mug shots, their necklines decorated with different collars and colors than the pale blue, patterned gowns we all wore after we were forced to fork over our clothes. I had to keep my gown, whereas others who traded their johnny-coats for sweatshirts and jeans left to hurt people who ended up in the same ER that had just certified their assailants as safe.

A bearded man whom I watched walk out of the psychiatric emergency room holding area ended up seated on the couch next to me, finally admitted as a danger to himself after he tried to slit his own throat. A choker of black, spiny sutures spanned his neck in an area that ER nurses had shaved to free the surgical field for doctors to save his life.

Until he actually hurts someone else, a patient’s propensity for violence relies mostly on self-report or someone else’s telling on them. People who report others for potential violence might have an agenda in seeking someone’s psychiatric admission. My parents ratcheted up my ‘symptoms’ with little to no regard to how these experienes would traumatize their daughter and invite scorn for the rest of her life.

Others fear stigma so much – Nancy Lanza might fall into this category – that they actually become reasonably wary of psychiatry. They minimize and downplay symptoms – I can just see what would have happened to me if I refused to leave my bedroom for weeks and asked for a gun for my birthday – and these people don’t see the inside of a psych ward…and then they go off and hurt someone else.

img_0689Besides, who’s going to believe someone who walks into a hospital and says he’s planning on mowing down some second graders? I’ve watched these clinicians. They would have sent Adam Lanza home with a diagnosis of histrionic personality disorder and attention seeking behavior. No one who’s going to do these dastardly deeds announces it beforehand. They con the nurses and the docs into buying their stories of stability so they open those sliding glass doors leading to the sidewalk and opportunities to explode.

Increasing the number of psychiatric admissions, either through passing new laws or striking fear in the hearts of psychiatrists will likely increase the number of people like me whose doctors hear amped up reports of illness and we will take up space in hospitals, edging out the entry or stay of patients whom doctors really need to keep against their will in order to prevent violence.

teenage-psych-ward_art-300x225We try to medicalize violence after these national tragedies as I have taken special notice since I’ve been here – the Tuczon Safeway supermarket shooting or the Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre because gun laws’ loopholes circle, curl and coil around reality. The only thing that ‘expanding access’ will do is return to us the mirage of control, the illusion that these doctors who can’t sort the sick from the silly, the dangerous from the slightly damaged are going to keep us safe. They can’t even keep the right ones in the building.

Since December 14, 2012, I’ve wondered what the psychiatrists would have done if Adam Lanza appeared in the ER beside me. Would I have watched his back as he walked out, clad in the colors of death while I remained?




He’s back in their arms again: Dylann Roof decides he wants counsel for the guilt phase of his trial for shooting and killing which included the introduction of a videotape where he straight-out confessed to police. Probably could have handled this part himself.

I don’t know which is worse: the fact that it took 13 minutes to kill someone who coughed and heaved in what is supposed to be a fast and painless death or the fact that the state of Alabama allows its judges to overrule juries that decide on life in prison without parole. That’s what happened last week.

The New York Times ran a great piece inspired by a new report released Friday by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law on how decarceration efforts will never work unless they embrace people convicted of violent crimes  – ones who are rehabilitated, of course. The piece examines the sentences of four real crimes and has an interactive component where you can weigh in on how much time you think a particular defendant/prisoner should get and see how many respondents agreed with you. Try it here.




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5 December 2016

No Returns Without a Receipt

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Rehabilitation isn’t like baking or roasting because there’s nothing that pops, no external indicator to signal when a prisoner’s had enough heat and is ready to come out. If there were some test that could assess with certainty that correction has taken and an offender has learned what she did wrong and how to do right, then recidivism would be zero because judges, wardens and parole boards would never let out the ones who are underdone.

The typical assessment of rehabilitation is self-report by the inmate:

“No, ain’t never coming back here. I got me forty certificates [of completion of ineffectual self-help groups] and I got no tickets for six months. I know that boostin’/fightin’/robbin’/rippin’ and runnin’ [drug use as a career] ain’t worth it.”

revolveThat one always comes back in about two months, certificates in the wind. Some can’t stand the heat anywhere. They will say anything to a parole board or the warden for early release. In fact, parole means “promise” in French. It’s just words. No evidence or guarantees.

Many objective evaluations are just as unreliable. Staff members – whether they’re work supervisors, group leaders, guards or other administrators –  rarely see everything we do. Often they have us pegged all wrong.

“She’s such a nice girl,” an older female guard commented about a woman who was popping Valiums snuck in through the visiting center, drinking nips a guard smuggled into the facility for her (which she promptly booted into a Fluff container) and forgoing notes from one staff member to another to assure that she was the only worker in gym, alone with one of the C/O’s for something inappropriate. She continues her swallowing exercises at a halfway house now but she shall return because she needed more time on the rack.

Me? You can tell I’m done with the oven light off.

But there’s a definitive, acid test for rehabilitation, objective evidence of someone’s growth: her commissary receipts.  Just like a store employee checks your receipt at Costco or Best Buy before you walk under the red EXIT letters, someone needs to check receipts before they let inmates go out. That list of itemized purchases will tell you if she’s responsible or not.

ltra-brite_burned-2Frequent purchases of toothpaste, dental floss sticks and tartar rinse show she takes responsibility for preserving her health and preventing illness as much as she can in her current circumstance. The same goes for buying omega-3 fish oil capsules or vitamin C.

Purchasing envelopes, writing pads and pens means she maintains a network of people on the outside who can help her cool to room temp when she gets out. Even colored pencils yarn and art supplies prove that she fills her time with something creative and relatively productive.

Shelling out for a Nintendo DS system can go one way or the other. Either she wastes time on video games instead of working or attending school (not ready) or she found another way besides TV and music to drown out the chaos around her (this one’s done). Even excessive shampoo buying means she’s a clean freak, using the liquid soap to wash every surface around her. At least she’s doing something.

receipts2Receipts that come in devoid of any purchases of envelopes or Lever 2000 soap or pencils or Ultra Brite toothpaste mean that the inmate shifted responsibility for her basic needs onto her community. My cellmate, hailing from Bridgeport with another misdemeanor conviction for prostitution, just paid for pepperoni, chips, iced oatmeal cookies, sugar, cappuccino mix and ramen soups.  But she didn’t buy the bath soap, hairbrush, nail clipper or laundry detergent she needs so much that she just told me she needs them, as if the announcement of her lack was all that was required for me to supply it.

I have two choices now; tell her “sorry” and live in a closet with someone who doesn’t bathe or use deodorant or wash her clothes, or give in to her to make my life easier. Either way, she’s committing a new offense before she leaves: holding me hostage. Need keeps social programs mushrooming in the hopes that they will choke out crime but they never do. If we don’t supply them with food and necessities, we fear that economically oppressed people will victimize us. Their receipts for cigarettes tell us they’re going to do it anyway.

Mostly junk food for Suge Knight. And he reoffended.

Of course, inmates who deserve assistance because they don’t have any money will have no receipts. They need soap like everyone else. I learned in here to take living with people who have next to nothing as a privilege because it keeps me humble and affords me the honor of doing what every decent person does: helping a neighbor. I am supposed to do that and I forget.

But a lack of receipts should pique the warden’s interest, too. Just like on the outside, the person with no discernable income still eats, bathes and clothes herself so the warden would be wise to ask these inmates:

“How’d you survive with no money?” If she hustles by making greeting cards and crocheting other peoples’ yarn into blankets for them, then she’s industrious, ready to come out. If she’s prostituting herself to other inmates, she needs a little more time. If she’s stealing, then she needs to stay in a lot more. An inmate’s accounting reveals her accountability better than anything else.



Charleston church shooter moved to represent himself in a death penalty trial and, as of Friday, wants the attorneys to handle the “evidence” part of the trial. In the United States, it’s either self-rep or covered by counsel. There’s no in between. Hybrid representation isn’t allowed…but it should be, if only for judicial economy.

A new Department of Homeland Security report made public Thursday recommends that immigration officials continue to use private prisons to house immigration detainees. The surprise: The recommendation then was rejected by a DHS advisory board. If that doesn’t scream… I don’t know…disorganization? waste of taxpayer dollars? Right hand talk to the left hand?  Decide on private prisons once and for all.

Feds announced major changes within Bureau of Prisons designed to ease re-entry for the men and women housed in federal penitentiaries. They’re building a “semi-autonomous” school district within the BOP to better educate prisoners, paying for state-issued identification cards for inmates, and requiring new standards for federal halfway houses to ensure better care once ex-offenders are released.  But the Trump administration and presumptive attorney-general nominee Jeff Sessions could scrap those plans.

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28 November 2016

Tooth Wisdom

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It sounded like a candy clattering on a counter. I was sitting at one of the six-man dining tables and a latina woman with a complexion that made her look Indian was laughing across from me. Embarrassment would have overtaken me in that situation and my cheeks would have been bleating and pink with blood flow. And maybe it was for her, too; I couldn’t tell if she was blushing. I’d seen her around before. She’s in and out of here. Crack-induced anorexia, beautiful, perfect black hair and rotted teeth.

rotting-teethThat’s what had fallen onto the tray. One of her teeth. They were so decayed that one was pushed loose when she was eating. Prison food is pretty soft – hard items can be used as weapons – so the tooth was barely inside her gums. Knocked out by liquid Shepard’s pie.

I’m obsessed with choppers in here. More than anything else, I’m worried that I’ll lose one of mine or get a cavity that requires a noticeable filling that I won’t be able to cover up. The toothpaste in here seems like it wasn’t good enough for the shelves of major retailers. My teeth feel fungal even after I brush.

I talk about dental problems in here all the time and those conversations are the times I’ve had the most conflict with other inmates. I’m sure there’s a better way for me to address it but I – the one here who knows biostatistics and p-values and public health – take the issue more seriously for them than anyone else has in their lives.

“Why do you always comment on how no one has any teeth?” Liz asked me in Wally’s class. She has all her teeth.

“I never said ‘no one has teeth.’ I said there’s a real problem here with dentition and the only way you can understand it is that I’m gossiping or putting someone down, but I’m not, okay? That’s how you talk – and think – about people,” I retorted.

But I do admit that I’ve never seen so many people in one place whose pearlies are so, well, gone. Many inmates in their thirties get fitted for dentures. If their parents were caring for them properly through the age of 18 and seeing that they brush, then all of their teeth rot out in about 12 years.

rotten-kids-teethAnd they’re the lucky ones. The rest of them have to walk around with what looks like the grey and brown sections of the paint chip samples at Home Depot between their rosy lips and become a target for the guards.

“Brush your tooth!” they yell when we lock up for the night, headed for bed.

That’s why teeth are have grabbed my focus in here so much. The condition of the mouth speaks so much about what we are doing in society, in medicine, in providing services to vulnerable populations.  So many women in here have children, which means they were once pregnant. I don’t know how an obstetrician could have spoke to them as patients and seen their mouths and not intervened, referred them for extensive dental work.  Called a fellow alum from medical school. The risk of infection is so high. Most sockets in here are festering still.

But the problem I’m staring in the mouth is that they didn’t get prenatal care. And their parents didn’t make sure they brushed. All social problems – inadequate health care, lack of education, poor parenting – culminate in women’s mouths.  Pow. Right in the kisser.

teeth3Not only is the mouth the center of a woman’s visage, it’s also how she communicates. Women with dental problems want to hide them for cosmetic reasons – understandably – so they keep their mouths closed. They say nothing, which means they don’t speak up, complain, offer opinions, laugh freely. This is how we silence women. To get to the root of the problem of female disempowerment among the masses, we have to stop extracting teeth – because we made sure they’re healthy and cared for like the mouth and face that house them.

At least that’s what occurred to me when I heard societal neglect clinker into a molded prison tray.


In this photo provided by the Library of Congress, President Abraham Lincoln, seated and holding his spectacles and a pencil on Feb. 5, 1865. (AP Photo/Library of Congress/Alexander Gardner)

An additional 79 more prisoners granted clemency. Now it’s over 1000 people who’ve been freed by President Obama. I feel bad for people whose applications didn’t or won’t get acted upon in time. They may never leave prison because of a bureaucratic backlog.

The wrongfully convicted are entitled to tax relief but many of them don’t know it. President Obama signed a law last year making it clear that men and women who had been compensated for years of wrongful confinement could not be taxed on that money. But there’s a deadline for seeking a refund — December 19th — and a push to contact old exonerees who have no idea the law’s been changed in their favor. If you know someone who’s been exonerated, tell that person.

Hill might be off the hook. President-elect Trump said that investigating and prosecuting her would be very divisive for the country.  I don’t like seeing anyone get caught in criminal crosshairs,  but I can’t deny that having a woman who would’ve been Commander in Chief get jammed up with charges would prove just how far mass incarceration has grown. Some would support it and others oppose her being investigated, much less charged, but everyone would know that no one is safe from taking a collar.



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21 November 2016

Dry Up Your Drip

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“Out!” Lieutenant Thrower shouted as he threw open the cell door. The doors swing in, so the universal symbol for “get out here” at York CI is a male staff member, spreading his legs wide to keep one foot on the door’s edge inside the cell while keeping his body outside the cell and within a camera lens’ striking range.

It was the night before Thanksgiving and I was already asleep. My cellmate Elsie was still awake, ripping up magazines to make a collage card for her girlfriend. That’s contraband because she’s ‘altering’ the magazines so I figured they wanted to wreck that for her. I got up and walked out of the cell in my pajamas.

“Get the fuck back inside! You know better than to come out here in pajamas. They’re fuckin’ white!” (i.e. not the jeans-and-burgundy-tee uniform).

“Are you ordering me to change?” I asked. He knew he couldn’t order me to change clothes in front of him and I was obeying the last order issued which is what I’m supposed to do.

water_dripI noticed a maintenance C/O in his grey uniform behind the lieutenant, glaring at directly at me. I get that sometimes so it wasn’t a big deal. But then he muttered under his breath:

“[Something] the likes of your fuckin’ crazy ass,” as he carried his toolbox into my cell.

“What did you put a work order in for?” Elsie asked me. She was pissed at me because her artwork was in danger of confiscation.

“Nothing. I can’t write a work order. I’m an inmate.

The maintenance man came out.

“This one’s not even fuckin’ leakin’,” he told Thrower.

And I knew.

“They published it, right?” I asked the lieutenant.

“Yes, they did.” He couldn’t stuff any more hatred, disgust into one sentence unless he cursed me out right there.

In One North, we had a Forrest Gump faucet. It ran ceaselessly across the terrain of our brains, yet without encouragement.  Neither my cellmate nor I could sleep. The metallic gurgle could have been generous and acted consistently, thereby making itself white noise. But no.

Instead, the rate of dripping, the weight of drops seemed to change up in an intentional effort to keep us vigilant. But vigilance comes at a cost: sleep. We were both bleary-eyed from the constant running.

4-8-11-1bWe tried paper towels on the drain which created a slap-splat noise, which I guess we could call splaps. We tried wedging a shampoo bottle between the drain and the torn mesh that should filter the water for us. It was too tall and the only way it would stand up was on an angle and, as soon as enough water filled it, it toppled, spilled and became an empty drum for droplets to beat upon.

We told the C.T.O. that our sink was broken.  She looked at it and told us:

“It’s only broken when water don’t come out.”

We tried every sock we had and finally one of mine, a singlet with a hole in the heel, was light and long enough to stay on the faucet and barely tickle the drain so the water just traced down the terrycloth and went down the pipes soundlessly.

And they moved me out of the cell that day.

But while I lived there in E4 in One North and couldn’t sleep, I stumbled into the library one day because I couldn’t focus on writing in a classroom down the hall.

“I’m really drifty because of all the noise abuse in my cell,” Francine told me.

“Snoring?” I queried.

“No. My sink keeps running.”

“Mine too,” I admitted as I sat down and put my cheek on the table.

Terry overheard us and came over.

water-bag“Listen, one night I couldn’t sleep so I stayed with a garbage bag and collected all the water that was leaking overnight. Know how much water was in it in the morning? We needed three people to drag the fuckin’ thing outta the room,” Terry pointed at me to make her point.

The sinks were leaking heavily everywhere on the compound.

“You know there’s an agreement between the town and the prison that the reservoir in town can’t be drained unnecessarily. That’s why they limit our showers in the summer when we need them the most. This violates the agreement,” Francine explained. She’s been here sixteen years and she’s from this shoreline area so I believed her.

“So let’s expose them,” I said in tone a bit too downward to rally them. I was too tired to be excited about the ideas of change and improvement.

“How? How the fuck do we do that?” Terry asked.

“Letter to the editor.”  I rubbed my eyes.

“Where the fuck do we send that?”

“To the editor of a newspaper.” I thought that was obvious.

“You’re a journalist, Chandra. You need to write it for us,” Francine told me, thinking flattery would get somewhere. Journalist? I’m an inmate. 

“Take a letter, Maria,” I told them. I fully expected them to take dictation while I put my head down for a few minutes.

Blank stares.

“The song? And send it to my wife. Say I won’t be coming home? Gonna start a new life?”

drip2“I didn’t know you were gay. You don’t seem…” Terry said and looked puzzled.

“I’m not. I have no wife. And no pen. Get me a pen,” I told her as I scratched my head all over. “Why does a lack of sleep make you itch?” I asked them – and no one – as if any of them would have an answer. And wrote the letter. It took 4 minutes. Francine insisted on typing it and mailing it out. Despite her lack of sleep, she had the energy. Of course she did. She doesn’t work.

The next news I had of the letter was when the lieutenant appeared at my door the night before Thanksgiving with a maintenance man who was being held for overtime before a major holiday so he – and colleagues – could check every single sink on the compound for leaks. And fix them. Because someone in town read the letter and made a call about all the water wasted on us inmates.

The next day presented me with gratitude from almost everyone. Apparently the maintenance men bitched about me by name at every stop. Imagine a Thanksgiving where everyone around you is grateful – and truly so – for your presence. I never would have experienced this at home. I was a hero walking down the walkway to our holiday feast.

“You fixed my sink,” a six-foot tall drug dealer acknowledged.

“Yes. Yes, I did.” I wasn’t lying.

“Go Winky! I couldn’t sleep until that motherfucker came in and wrenched something,” another yelled.

When I walked into the dining hall, each staff member turned to look at me. I wasn’t acting out and calling attention to myself. I don’t look good enough to get heads to turn like that.  Instead, I have power, maybe more than some of the people who work here. And I’m an inmate.


Author’s note: read the letter “Money Is Wasted by York’s Leaky Faucets” in The Day here.



Republican Senator from Alabama Jeff Sessions was asked to be Attorney General and he said ‘yes’ to President-Elect Trump. Read what he can do to justice reform efforts here. Rudy Giuliani would have been better. Remember how his daughter Caroline took a collar in 2010 for boosting $150 worth of merchandise from Sephora? I’m not sticking her out – the story’s been out for six years – but it’s a reminder that ‘law and order’ has a few dents in its armor and maybe it needs to chill out sometimes.

The Associated Press published a reported piece on how defendants in criminal cases are encouraged to plead guilty. Of 157 people who were exonerated last year, 68 of them had pleaded guilty. Innocent people plead guilty all the time. Take that criminal conviction that someone discloses to you with a grain of salt.

The federal Bureau of Prisons does a lousy job of placing released inmates in residential reentry centers and home confinement said a report issued last week by the Office of the Inspector General. The upshot? We don’t use home confinement enough, most likely because only an electronic monitoring services company profits from that. Placement in a halfway house makes money for the workers who run it, the places that supply the house with food and other necessities, the company who manages it.  Everyone’s cashes in on incarceration, even when it’s decarceration and letting people out to halfway houses.


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