I sat in court limbo, waiting for my attorney, in those clackety, chocolate-colored wooden chairs that weigh about 50 pounds each. The New Haven courthouse’s historic preservation prevented the installation of the sinners’ pews in more modern courthouses. Of course, the chairs, like their inhabitants, were flawed. Ecru lines, scrapes, and scratches ran up and down the legs, on the sides of seats, either because of the violence of a defendant or the carelessness of a marshal who had to align them each night for the morning, all facing a blank wall because the bench and the parties are off to the left in this dogleg room, an L-hole, that was never designed to accommodate growing ranks of the criminally accused.
By the time I got there the chairs were already screwed up. Tilt here. Moved to another row there. Nothing wild but defendants making sure to deposit some disorder before left the courthouse. It made my rectitude even harder in those high-backed chairs. I didn’t bother turning mine so I was slanted toward a public defender – one whose real-life friendship with Attorney Betty Anne Waters played out in matinees in the movie Conviction, the story of a woman who went to law school with the sole goal of freeing her innocent, wrongly incarcerated brother – urge her client to admit violating her probation.
Her client had failed to pay restitution, even though the defendant couldn’t afford to pay it as she subsisted only on Social Security disability checks. If this defendant had taken her public defender’s advice, all the money she had received and lived on would have been considered an ‘overpayment’ that she needed to pay back. From representing people in this situation myself, I knew how the Social Security Administration gets overpayments paid back: they let the beneficiary collect disability in legal status only; every check gets reversed to the government. On paper, you look like you’re receiving benefits – and become ineligible for other entitlements – but you’re not getting the actual benefits. You get no money from any source. You’re unable to live because your checks are held until you pay back all you owe.
This lawyer was setting her client up to be liable for restitution on two fronts when she hadn’t been able to keep up payments on one front. That’s why she was in the courtroom that day. The attorney, in defending a client who was unable to afford her restitution orders, essentially doubled what she owed. It made no sense. It was typical. Abandon all hope, ye who need counsel.
I can ask my gynecologist about an earache. She’ll refer me to an otolaryngologist eventually, but before I leave her office, she will tickle in the inside of my ear with one of those black cones to see how serious my problem is before she’s done with me to make sure I’m not a walking emergency. She can do this because the practice of medicine requires baseline competence. The practice of law doesn’t.
Public defenders don’t take the time to understand the administrative law that governs the collateral consequences of the convictions they shove their clients into. As criminal defense counsel, they think they’re specialists who deal with only one type of problem. What they don’t get is that specialists are just general practitioners with more training; doing criminal defense doesn’t excuse you from knowing about other policies, especially when working with an indigent population whose lives are affected by administrative law (health benefits, entitlements), civil law (lawsuits), family law (termination of parental rights) and probate law (mental competence).
Suddenly the court had to adjourn, probably because the courtroom marshals were needed in lockup for an emergency or something so the client didn’t get to admit to anything. I walked right up to the public defender as she headed for the courtroom exit, her arms loaded to her chin with folders of cases she had already handled that day.
“Listen. Don’t let her take that deal,” I said and pointed back to the bench she just stood before to double her client’s debt. “She’ll lose her disability to an overpayment. You know overpayments? She won’t get any cash for months. Even years. Are you not going to use Bearden v. Georgia [the Supreme Court case]? It says she can’t violate her probation or a restitution order if she didn’t have enough money to pay it,” I explained to the attorney.
“Who are you?” the attorney asked me, a reasonable question. She saw me come over from defendants’ purgatory and my situation markedly reduced my credibility so I didn’t know how to respond, how to justify why a criminal defendant could give sound advice to a licensed attorney.
I dont know how Dante Alighieri thought all of the levels of hell could be limited to 9. There’s at least one more depth, a special place for the prideful. People who insist on showing off all they know – people like me – endure there in the Tenth Circle. They’re filled with knowledge but the power to use it is stripped of them. They chase after people with almost no knowledge who have all the power. The educated people, because they’re powerless, can’t convince the people with power to do things differently, can’t teach them anything. The Tenth Circle is powerless omniscience running after ignorant omnipotence and it’s torture. This is the only time in my life I’ll be a 10 and stay one for good.
Souls in circles one through nine have all the fun pushing boulders back and forth, standing against gale-force winds and other punishing games. My penance is never seeing a public defender take into account the multi-faceted problems that their clients face. Not once. I’m in the last, forgotten circle of hell watching this unfold every time I go to court, knowing how much people lose when they’re supposed to be protected.
“I’m nobody. But I know what I’m talking about,” I explained to the lawyer. She nodded, backed into one of the wooden doors with her hip to open it and walked into the hallway, the Ninth Circle, icy lake of Treacherers, to locate another client who wouldn’t have a meddling wannabe like me monitoring her proceedings, achieving nothing.
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM FROM FEBRUARY 20 – 26, 2017
As of Thursday, the federal government will start using private prisons again. Attorney General Jeff Sessions became the Wayne to former Assistant Attorney General Sally Yates’ Garth after she called “Car” and moved the private prison contest to the side of the beltway when the Department of Justice decided last year not to pursue any more contracts with private management companies. Game on. Party time…Excellent for these businesses on the NYSE.
Novelist Michael Patterson took an Alford Plea – meaning he maintained his innocence but conceded that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict him of killing his wife – to a charge of manslaughter in Durham, North Carolina on Friday. His murder conviction was overturned in 2011. Peterson said making an Alford plea in the death of his wife 16 years ago is one of the most difficult things he’s ever done because he gave up the fight. I know the feeling because I’ve done it myself. It’s the classic choice between being right or being effective. Why is that even a decision that has to be made when we’re talking about justice or someone’s untimely death? It shouldn’t be.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court sided 6-2 with Duane Buck , a Texas death row inmate whose own expert witness told jurors that Buck would be more dangerous in and out of prison because he was black. This constituted “ineffective assistance of counsel,” according Chief Justice Roberts in Buck v. Davis. “The law punishes people for what they do, not who they are,” he wrote. Justices Thomas and Alito dissented – shocker. In some ways, this is huge victory because courts almost never find that a defendant received ineffective assistance from an attorney. In other ways, it’s a tragedy. Duane Buck had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to get a court to say that you were harmed when your attorney hires and calls an expert witness who testifies why you should get the death penalty. It seems like a lower court should have said this earlier.
It’s the last set of alternative facts, Part Six of Six of “X”, a short story. It’s the tail end of the tale, so if you’re peeking into the diaries for the first time or haven’t been here in a while, you can start reading from the beginning here, or jump back to where you left off: Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, or last week’s Part Five.
“Look, do you wanna like, talk to like, a captain? Would that make you feel better? You know, maybe he can send you to mental health or…” Stamper asked, pretending like her torment wasn’t real. He knew it was; he manufactured it.
“I don’t need mental health. I need clean food.”
“You get clean food.”
“No, I don’t. GET THE FUCKING CAPTAIN!” Larkin shrieked.
“OK. Right. You got it,” he assured her and waved the captain down to the housing tier. Ralston looked annoyed but made extended strides to reach Stamper quickly.
“What’s the problem, Stamp?”
“Captain, Ms. Larkin here wants to speak to you. She claims were poisoning her food.”
“I didn’t say you were poisoning me. I said you were spitting in my food or fucking with it,” she replied to Stamper while looking directly at his supervisor.
“Either way, Captain,” he broke in, matter of factly, “She won’t eat.”
“What’s the story Larkin? Why won’t you eat?”
“Because they’re doing something to my food,” she explained, pulling her loose curls into a twisted bun unaided by the sock scrunchie.
“You saw this?” Ralston queried.
“No, but all my trays are marked.”
Ralston turned to Stamper and asked: “Marked?”
“Some come from the kitchen with an “X” and sometimes she gets one.”
“You fucking liar! You told me they were marked because they were mine!”
“Larkin, calm down!” Ralston raised his voice. “Did you see anyone tamper with your meals?”
“No. …Well, I saw… someone saw him eat part of mine and then throw it out. Look at your cameras!”
“This true, Stamp?” Dave nodded.
“And he gave you the food from the garbage?”
“No,” Stamper interrupted. “In a completely foggy brain I threw out a meal and then replaced it as soon as my mistake was brought to my attention by a fellow officer. That will be clear on the cameras.”
Ralston queried. “When was this?” to Stamper. “Did he bring you an extra, another meal?” to Larkin.
“Yes but what?”
“I know he’s messing with my food. He did this to me!” she screamed and pointed to the back of her hand, elongated grape blisters still registering topography on her hand.
“Captain,” Stamper said softy and subtly put his chin in one hand and tapped his forehead with a forefinger. Ralston watched, waited and asked the door, refusing to look in the inmate’s eyes:
“Ms. Larkin, are you on any type of medication?” Ralston asked.
“Would you like to speak with someone about getting some?”
“No, I would like to speak with someone about getting this asshole away from my food. Actually…no…I want to speak with someone who can get me out of the SHU.” She leaned toward the door and, looking at no one, said: “I know things,” an implicit promise of more information, an empty one since Ralston already doubted her credibility because she wasn’t giving him enough to bust Caples and wasn’t closing the case for him either by denying a sexual relationship. Ralston now doubled-down on that doubt after witnessing Larkin’s erratic behavior.
“Well, Larkin, that’s me and that’s not happening. You and me, we already discussed why.” She had already turned to the sink to get another cup of water. She’s smart, Stamper admitted to himself. Keeping hydrated without the food.
“Well then, fuck you too,” she exhaled after sucking down another eight ounces of the only thing besides oxygen that was sustaining her life. Ralston rolled his eyes and walked away.
The next day, after the same Why the X? routine happened again over a tray containing two sealed bags of cornflakes and an apple, Stamper returned to his desk and looked up the maintenance officers’ extension number.
“Maintenance. Buon- rmmph – figlio.”
Why can’t this fucker ever swallow his snack before he answers? Always eating on the phone, Stamper mused. “Bonny, my boy, what’s up?”
“Who is this?”
“How’s the wife?” Stamper tried to warm him.
“She died a year ago.”
“Oh. Sorry. Well. Listen, I’m over here at the SHU and we got a real wild one in Room One. She blocked up her drain and sat on the pressure faucet button to flood her cell and the whole housing floor.”
“I didn’t hear anything about that.”
“Well, we cleaned it up because we know how busy you guys are.”
“Oh,” Buonfiglio said, semi-surprised since staff summarily shunted even minor malfunctions to his office.
“Yeah, so… can you send someone to turn off her water?”
“Turn off the water to her cell?’
“Yeah, so the cock-sucking bitch can’t do it again.”
“But she needs water. Even the cocksucker bitch needs to take a shit.”
“Oh, the toilet, the toilet stays. I would never do that to her. Just the sink.”
“Doesn’t she need to wash her hands after she pisses?” Buonfiglio asked.
“Yeah, and I can let her do that if you really want me to page you to wet-vac the basement floor of the SHU when she does it again. I mean it’s up to you. I’m leaving early today so…”
“Oh, alright. Culpepper’s free right now, ain’t ya?” he called away from the phone. “Just finished his ham and egg on a bagel. He’ll be there as soon as he can unplug his George Foreman grill.”
Culpepper arrived, the outside of his fingers still glossy from grease from his breakfast sandwich. Apparently maintenance doesn’t need running water to wash their hands either, Stamper guessed to himself silently as he intercepted the handyman in the SHU’s lobby.
“Just Room One?” Culpepper asked.
“Just Room One.”
With that, Culpepper walked into what was essentially a passageway, a special door leading to the SHU’s electrical and plumbing guts. Culpepper emerged seconds later.
“Thanks dude. Owe you one.” Stamper held up his fist in solidarity and Culpepper contorted his face in confusion and left Dave Stamper to wait for the next meal delivery.
“Larkin, Lunch. Chicken pattie.” The satiny finish of the Styrofoam depressed where a lame yellow highlighter had been pressed hard as it crossed one diagonal on the tray lid and then another.
“Where’s my water?” Alana Larkin asked, one toe pointed and one arm akimbo.
“What water? Milk for breakfast and lunch and juice for dinner. You know that.”
“Fuunnny!” she yelled and pounded several times in the pressure faucet button. Metallic reverberations sounded through pipes but not a drop fell into the porcelain shell of the sink.
“Did you try the other one?”
“The other sink? Even funnier.”
“No, the other button, you fucking wise ass. You’re only pressing cold. Press hot.”
BOOM. One hand descended with a thousand pounds of pressure on the engraved H in a circle on the faucet but produced no water.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Larkin.”
“I’ll die without water. Is that your plan?”
“Now I’m trying to kill you? Larkin, for real, you need help. You’re fucking paranoid.”
“I’m not paranoid. You fuck with my food, probably poisoned it but I outsmarted you and never ate it and that made you mad. Now I have no water. What does that look like to you?”
“It looks like a psycho who forgets that she’s in jail where shit breaks all the time. You didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, you know. I’ll put in a work order.”
Larkin began to cry, not surprise’s sobs, the ones she hiccupped on her way into the SHU, but a dog whistle of tears, her despair so deep it was silent yet changed the energy of the room.
“Look, I’m calling mental health to get you a consult,” he told her in false assurance and compassion but she was crying too hard to hear him. He knew she knew this so he continued: “Actually, you tell me when you want to talk to someone. You’re having a hard time right now so I’ll wait for you to tell me,” speaking directly into the crack of the doorjamb, so close he could have been kissing it.
“X” marked the three daily meals for the ensuing five days; Stamper was so committed to his plan of torture that he agreed to work overtime just to make sure than no one else inadvertently fed Alana Larkin. He knew she caught a few gulps during her thrice-weekly showers but she would still scream that she had no water, no food. Guards on other shifts disregarded her as the head-case she was becoming.
After working nine days straight in the SHU, the novelty remained intact but Stamper was just tiring out. Once he forgot to write the “X” on the tray so he just ended up scratching it in with his thumbnail. Thinking as quickly as he could for an explanation for the inkless “X,” he appeared at her door and noticed one leg stretched out behind her and one knee bent up close to the bowl of her toilet; her head seemed to hang into it, lifeless. At first, Stamper wondered if she had suffered a stroke, burst a blood vessel while vomiting but soon remembered she had nothing to vomit up.
Letting her face fall into the toilet water to drown? he wondered. It would be a method most extreme since all of the essential suicide supplies were left in the cell with all SHU inmates: sheets and a stable metal beam that once served as the arm of a TV stand back when SHU inmates were allowed to keep their property with them. If she wanted to die, Alana Larkin had everything she needed. Usually, when SHU-mates acted a little squirrelly, they were taken out of their cells for exactly that reason.
But then a curl twitched and a head bent back, exposing a chin slippery and wet after dunking itself into the toilet water. With eyelids closed so tight that they shook wrinkly convulsions, the head lowered itself back almost autonomically and Stamper could hear faint ripples of water again porcelain… wiiip…wiiip…wiiip. Alana Larkin had turned her commode into a dog’s dish, finding her only sustenance on her weak knees on cold, industrial linoleum tile. Stamper laughed but had to, grudgingly, grant her some respect. Alana Larkin was a survivor, tougher than all the scarred gang-bangers and 350-pound lesbians in the joint.
“Did you lose your collar?’ Stamper hooted through the door’s crack. He opened the trap door and dropped the thumbnail-marked tray to the floor. A sharp thwap sounded because the tray was full. Stamper knew it would stay that way.
He bounded off Larkin’s floor to the one above and found the cell directly above hers, used his key and flung open the door telling the two occupants: “Get out.”
“Why?” asked one.
“Gladly,” said the other.
“Wait, give me a shirt.”
“Why?” came again.
“Because I said so. Where’s your other… here. I got one,” he said, checking the size tag on the oversized green scrub shirt, the uniform for true incorrigibles, the inmates slated to stay in the SHU for their entire sentences because of non-stop disciplinary infractions. The shirt was an “L” even though it looked like a “XX” large.
“This one looks like a Dos Equis to me,” he announced to no one and snickered, twisting the stiff cotton like he was making a noose. One of the inmates outside the cell’s door noticed the apparatus he was fashioning, went bug-eyed and stepped back.
“It’s not for you,” he assured her and pushed the shirt down into the toilet’s nether hole and pressed the recessed flush button above the toilet on the cell’s cinderblock wall. Inexperienced vandals would expect for water to rise and the shirt to lodge itself in the toilet’s chute leaving a balloony-end of the shirt waving around the swirling water but Stamper, versed in correctional reality, knew that all prison toilets had such superior suction that they would swallow even this tent of a shirt. The shirt slunk out of sight, down the shit sluice and a muffled thump sounded behind the concrete bricks of the wall, followed by the trickling hiss of the shirt and water crashing into a wet mass of feces and toilet paper.
“Excellent,” he said as he watched it work on the first try. Then he turned to the two women he had displaced, one of whom had just stared at him incredulously and the other was attempting an unauthorized phone call now that she had been loosed from her cell. “Don’t worry, I’ll get you two moved.”
“Andressen, move those two. Their shitter just shit the bed,” he told the rookie behind the panel and headed back to his inside control post, out of which his breathless laughter could be heard all over the SHU until dinnertime.
When the dinner cart arrived that afternoon, Stamper dipped into Captain Sasmogino’s office. “Do you have a pink marker?” he threw out nonchalantly.
“A pink marker?” Sasmogino asked and poked through her pen cup and came up with a lone Crayola marker, the white ones painted to look like a crayon with the squiggle decorations and handed it to him. Stamper stepped out of her office, cap in teeth again, and drew a big heart on the top of a tray containing that day’s last meal, turkey a la king, and re-capped the marker.
“No problem darlin.’ Just don’t tell me why you needed that.”
Stamper laughed a lightheaded, manic laugh. For a while he had forgotten Caples, the reason for this plan. He derived such pleasure from these games that he lost his goal, forgot his endgame. Before he even reached Alana Larkin’s cell, the putrid fecal scent hit him. Looking through her cell door’s window, he saw a mélange of stool – yellow, black and a Pantone-worthy collection of browns – all swimming in an orangey syrup on her toilet’s seat and around its base, a mess made by the excrement burp that emerged from her toilet when he flushed the green shirt into the pipes of the cell above hers.
“Now was it worth it to lie like that, Larkin? Really,” he castigated her and threw the tray, filled with gelatinous gravy across her floor, the tray’s leaving withered peas, red peppers hard like trapezoidal rubies and jagged-edged carrot cubes in a milky sauce where it slid. Stamper closed the door, surprised at how severely Larkin’s lips had chapped without water in such a short time. She had gone, what, only six hours without it?
But it was all she was living on. Small pieces of white vellum curled up in small triangles on her lips, her pallor was simultaneously yellow and gray and she sat with her back leaned against the wall next to her bunk, eyes no longer registering despair but succumbing to strength’s vacation. She tried to lick her lips but her mouth was so dry that her tongue’s only accomplishment was to tug at one corner of the feathery skin so that a small red slash of blood rose up on her lips, both she and Stamper knowing that she would think twice before using them to kiss – or tell – again.
Real prison life returns next Monday, February 27, 2017.
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM FEBRUARY 13 – 19, 2017
Well, at least one felon has a high-paying job. Jeremy Meeks, the “Hot Felon” whose mug shot everyone oohed and aahed over in 2014 when he was arrested on gun charges, walked in the Philipp Plein show during New York Fashion Week for Fall 2017. It resurrected a debate of style over substance, the substance being the bad character assumed of anyone who’s “justice-involved.” Why should he get that opportunity just because he’s good looking? people have asked me, like anyone else besides good-looking people land modeling gigs. What the “Hot Felon” story shows is that the pool of qualified and talented people for any job will contain some members with criminal histories. Are we willing to ignore talent and qualification in the name of some Puritanical falsehood that no imperfect person should be able to earn a living? As far as I’m concerned, if you have what it takes to do a certain job, you should be allowed to do it without concern for your past.
The first “Dreamer” was arrested. I.C.E. arrested a 23-year-old Mexican immigrant in Seattle who was granted temporary permission to live and work in America under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (D.A.C.A.) program. I.C.E. says the man is gang-affiliated but he has no criminal record. I was suspected once of being gang-affiliated when I was in prison so I know how inaccurate these gang labels can be. I have been around the dangerous in society for some years now and I wonder if this guy is who we really need to round up. I am aware of some U.S. citizens here in Connecticut who would make better targets. Just sayin’.
Here’s an idea: “Make a commitment to real accountability for violence in a way that is more meaningful and more effective than incarceration.” That’s what Danielle Sered, director of Common Justice, an organization that operates an alternative-to-incarceration and victim service program for serious and violent felonies, wants to do. She wrote a report for the Vera Institute of Justice that came out last week that devised a way to honor the wishes of victims of violent crime while still looking for alternatives to incarceration for the perpetrators of those acts. The only problem? Common Justice doesn’t work with the crimes of murder or rape. The biggies have been left out of the conversation…and the solution.
You can’t handle the truth. So here’s some fiction.
To start from the beginning and read the “X” all the way through to this installment, click here. To read last week’s section, Part Four, click here.
“Stamp. I did,” now came the voice through the crack in the door from Cecelia Negron.
“What’s your prob?” he asked her.
“I’m hungry,” she whimpered, echoing a chronic complaint in the SHU where none of the inmates could bring their personal property, including ramen noodles and peanut butter, oatmeal crème pies and mackerel filets to supplement the high-calorie, low satiety prison menu. SHU prisoners often tried to cajole an extra apple from a guard or even ask for a piece or two of the Orville Redenbacher’s microwave popcorn they watched him toss into the countertop model in the kitchen area of the unit. In critical times, they requested another tray of the chow hall’s food, deigning to drag a spork through either the liquid lumps of the chicken stir fry that was neither stirred nor fried or the matte patina of the mucous-resembling gravy that accompanied the country fried steak, mashed potatoes and green beans. Only pregnant inmates and ones wasting with AIDS or end stage renal failure were approved for extra portions, so even the most desperate inmate was usually shit outta luck if she were hungry.
Years before, another SHU inmate, Mariangela Locobella, figured that she would empty her tray and then complain that she received an empty tray to new guard recruits who would worry that they would be grieved for not providing a meal to someone in close custody. Unlike other inmates, women who lived in the SHU could not just find a lieutenant or a captain on the compound to complain that one of the guards had given her just one chunk of her chicken salad and the like. Usually the new jacks ran to the chow hall and scurried back to the SHU with a new tray to stave off any problems until the reporting of empty trays grew into a phenomenon whereby these green officers needed to return with numbers of replacement trays that exceeded the SHU’s overall body count. Locabella had turned the inmate population on to a full-on scam that prompted captains to march around, bellowing to any officer in the SHU that they needed to inspect the contents of every tray before sliding the Styrofoam through the trap door. This new millisecond requirement invited a salivary backlash – guards’ spitting into the food once they had gone to the trouble of opening the tray’s lid. Even though several guards had been caught red-tongued doing this, no discipline ever came their way because, as one captain challenged to the air: “So what’s the complaint? They got extra.” Still, presumption favored the distribution of full trays and guards summarily dismissed complaints of empty or incomplete ones.
“Come on, Negron, it’s like the oldest one in the book,” he exhaled and threw his head back.
“ I can take a tray and a little more…” she retorted and pushed her tongue into the inside of her cheek, the universal sign language proffering oral sex, but Stamper wasn’t even interested, even flattered anymore. His emotions, his libido, were so flat he had practically become smooth.
“No fuckin’ way,” and he turned to leave the housing floor when he wished that Larkin had been the one to ask. It would be misconduct – Providing False Information – for any prisoner to say she received an empty tray when she received a full one, especially in such a bald manipulation to get more food, something to which she was not entitled. A warm flush, the one that rises after a half of a beer has sailed down your gullet, appeared in his neck and chin. It was the heat of new strategy, the antidote for stale thinking, a thaw for people frozen in ineffective patterns. e chucke
He chuckled at the prospect of gaslighting Alana Larkin with truly empty trays; no one would ever assume she was telling the truth. He laughed even harder and did not even care as the other guards looked at him askance, thinking he might be disturbed, especially at how he laughed so uncontrollably when the lunch cart arrived for his distribution.
“What’s for lunch today? I might have to partake myself,” Stamper announced out loud, opened the cart and popped open a tray. “Oh, these McRib things. NOT bad.” He pulled out the tray, placed the meat molded into the shape of ribs on some wheat bread and ate it with one hand as he emptied the rest of the trays onto a smaller cart he could wheel around the tiers of the SHU. “But baked beans and kraut are not my thing,” he said and dumped the remainder of the meal out of its white Styrofoam housing. This will be Larkin’s tray, he thought.
He watched it bounce with emptiness when he landed it on her open trap door. When she had only touched it, didn’t even pick it up yet, she knew it was empty already.
“Fucker! You threw out my food!” she screamed as Stamper closed the trap door.
“No, I didn’t. I ate it, you bitch,” he called back to her as he rounded the rest of the cells with his meal deliveries.
When he finished and returned to his control desk, Bruno D’Auria knocked on the doorjamb.
“Stamper? Uhh… we got a problem.”
“Why? What happened?”
“Well, Barando, in Room Three of F level? Well, um, she yelled down to Larkin that she saw you eat out of a tray and then give that one to her. I guess Barando heard Larkin screaming and then she got under the door and told her.”
“How could Barando even see that? That area is as tight a blind spot as they come.”
“Well, it’s not a blind spot to cell three down there,” D’Auria told him. “So… now…Larkin wants an LT to tell him that she didn’t get a meal.”
“So go get her another tray. I can’t. I’m in here.”
“Yeah, Stamp, I would if there wasn’t this new thing about the missing food and all the stealing.”
“You think they’ll bust you for one tray? Tell ‘em it spilled.”
“Alright, Brun. I’ll go. Cover me,” Stamper told his partner as he grabbed his DOC jacket from the back of his chair and headed for the door for the fifteen second walk to the prison kitchen.
When he arrived at the kitchen, Nicky Salvano, a cook whom one of the local casinos fired for sexually harassing the cocktail waitresses, was working. Stamper recalled another inmate downloading him on Salvano when he came to work at Hampshire. Stamper remembered overhearing one of the mental health counselors crowing about him on the prison walkway: “Any guy who actually gets canned these days for sexual harassment with all the receding shades of “hostile environments” really knows how to cross a line.” Nicky Salvano fit in immediately.
“Salvano, I spilled a tray. Need another one.”
“Take whatever you want,” Salvano said, nodding toward a stack of extra trays.
“With all these extras, what the fuck is the big deal about counting meals and all that bullshit?”
“Just another way to bust our balls. You already knew that, Stamp.”
“Tell me about it. I’ll take three if you don’t mind, save me a trip in case of a new admit to SHU.”
“Like I said, take what you wish.”
“Thanks,” Stamper said but turned to Salvano’s desk before he left. “You have a marker here?” he asked.
Salvano pulled out a fat black Sharpie from his breast pocket. With his hands full, Stamper stuck it in his mouth, the cap end between his teeth so he could pull the ink base away to draw an “X” on the top of one of the trays.
“Thanks Sal,” Stamper nodded toward him as the older man chuckled.
“I know what game you’re playing, Stamper.”
“What game?” Stamper laughed hard.
Stamper returned to the SHU and placed all three trays on the delivery cart designated for Larkin’s floor.
“You need a cart for three trays?” D’Auria asked and rolled his head Stevie Wonder style, body language for You’re ridiculous, so ridiculous that I’m turning away from you.
“I thought that you became a CO because you knew that state employment was the last place a lazy person could hide,” Stamper taunted him in return. He rolled the cart to Larkin’s door, opened the trap and lowered his head to its opening.
“The maitre’d tells me you were dissatisfied with your meal. Is there something more I can get you?”
“Leave me alone!” she screamed. “You’re fucking with me! Why do you keep fucking with me? You dumped my fuckin’ tray…”
“Listen. Chill out. Minor fuck up. Nobody dumped your food. You have a tray right here. You won’t starve, OK?”
With these words he picked up one of the trays and placed it on the trap door’s opening. Alana grabbed it and flipped open the tray’s lid.
“Wait! Larkin, I am so sorry. That’s actually not yours …” Stamper said reaching into the door’s opening.
“What’s not mine?”
“That tray. This one’s yours,” he said and held out the tray marked with the “X” through the door for her to take it.
“Why is that my tray?”
“Don’t know. It just is.”
“Why am I not getting the same as everyone else?”
“Uhhh… I think that…you are,” Stamper suggested tentatively even though he knew full well that the trays were identical. He reached his other hand down to open the tray’s lid, displaying the contents “Price Is Right” style.
Larkin opened her tray and examined it, looked back at the marked tray.
“What’s the difference?” she asked.
“The difference is…see, now you’re pissing me off…that there is no difference. They’re the same, OK? You just want to complain. First, the food’s not there. Now it’s not right. You want another tray, another tray. I mean, what the fuck?”
“I just don’t understand why there’s an “X” on it.”
“Who gives a fuck why it’s an “X”? You want a “Q”? A triple “X”? How about a bar code? Will that make you feel better? Either take it or don’t.”
“Alright,” she said and traded her unmarked tray for the Styrofoam decorated with its inky “X.”
As Stamper closed the trap door, he watched her raise the tray to her nose and crinkle her nostrils in a smell assessment. Before he left the door, she placed the tray on the counter at the back of the room and inspected it closely, bending her knees to level her eyes with the tray. Stamper could read her mind: Something must be wrong with this. What did they do?
And Stamper smiled to himself and sauntered back to his desk to wait for collection time, the occasion to beg Halloween-style for inmates’ trash. When the time arrived, he walked past the desk where D’Auria and Molski sat and grabbed a clear plastic trash bag.
“Time to make the ho-nuts” he told them to riotous laughter. He smirked back at them as he entered Alana Larkin’s floor.
“On the door with your trays!” he bellowed as he sashayed to each cell door to use his skeleton key to open the traps.
“Larkin, get up. You don’t want to keep a dirty tray in that room. They smell, even if you don’t have a bunkie,” he called to her.
Lying in her bed, she got up, grabbed the tray from the counter and made a heavy drop of it into Stamper’s garbage bag. Burnt sienna sauce of institutional baked beans swelled into the bag’s bottom seam.
“You didn’t even fucking eat? You made me get you another tray that you knew you weren’t going to touch?
“I’m not hungry.”
“Well, un-hungry people don’t make other people run all over hell and gone to get them more food. You might not be hungry but you’re a piece of shit. Don’t think I’m gonna be your fuckin’ maid,” he said and immediately harkened back to his deal with Caples – mutual maids. I may not be Larkin’s maid but I am someone’s…full time with shitty benefits.
“Stamper, LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!”
“You’re on your own then,” he promised her as he threw up the little trap door and even surprised himself at how well – and how quickly – his plan had eased into routine.
When the cart with all the dinners arrived, Stamper sprang from his desk.
“All right, let’s pass these things out,” he announced as he withdrew a pen from his pants pocket and criss-crossed a ballpoint “X” on the top of one tray and raised his pen like Moses’ staff. “Let my people eat!” he boomed.
“I thought it was ‘Let my people go’ no?” asked Molski.
“It is. But we can’t do that here because it’s a prison. I gotta jet so I’m gonna get these out ASAP,” he shot over his shoulder, headed again for Alana Larkin’s tier where he beelined for her cell.
“Larkin. Dinner.” He dropped the minor entry to the cell and held out an unmarked tray. “Shit. Jesus. I gotta remember. These are for you,” he informed her as he switched the unmarked for the “X” tray.
“I don’t get this. What is the “X” for? I’m not diabetic,” she repeated as she looked down at the tray, arms crossed behind her back.
“I think they’re regular trays.”
“If they’re regular trays, then why do they have “X”s on them?”
“I have no idea. I’m custody staff, not food service.”
“Yeah, I know that. But the “X” has to mean something. I mean if they’re putting them on there. Is the kitchen putting them on there? Why don’t they just put my name on it?”
“I’m not on a special diet.”
“I never said you were.”
“So it doesn’t make sense that I get a certain kind of tray…does anyone else get a tray with an “X”?”
“Don’t know. Don’t think so.”
“It just…it doesn’t make sense,” she marveled to a closing trap door after the gingerly lifting the white foam geometry containing her meal. Again Stamper watched as she opened her tray and raised it on the palm of her hand to eye level to squint at her food, to scrutinize the Cajun sausage, mustard, mashed potatoes and cabbage’s surfaces. She slid in her sock-clad feet to the door and spoke to the window.
“What’s wrong with this cabbage? It’s kind of blue. Bluish.”
“Ahh. It does not look blue to me,” Stamper said, peering through the window at the tray. “Maybe the green of the cabbage mixed with the yellow of your mustard to make it look blue.”
“Yellow and green don’t make blue. Blue and yellow make green,” she sneered at him condescendingly.
“And why does this Cajun sausage have little black specks all in it?”
“Probably those little black specks are Cajun.”
“Yeah, but it looks like too much, you know? Like something is wrong with it.” She was searching for some agreement from him, confirmation that her suspicions were spot-on. As Stamper walked away, her face said she made no conclusions about food safety at all, and moreover, the “X” remained a big question mark.
For days, permutations of the same exchange played out at every meal. Larkin, this one’s yours/ Why do they keep putting an “”X on mine? / I’m not sure; I think they’re all the same/ Does this look weird to you? / Not at all / This whole thing with the “X”’s just seems weird. Because it was.
But David Stamper could see with each day her cheeks grew more diagonal, bones protruded a little more, collar bones rose higher and jaw’s contours more pronounced. Weight fell off her because of her paranoia-induced anorexia. After ten days, slate blue crescents ringed her eyes.
“Larkin, your tray.”
“Just keep the fucking thing. I know what you guys are doing to it.”
“Larkin,” he said to her, raising his right hand into the small window’s area. “Hand to God. No one’s doing anything to your tray.” It was the truth.
“Oh, like you would tell me?” Larkin’s delivered her last two words choppily while she downed an eight-ounce cup of water from her tap and filled another. “I know what you’re doing and it’s not working.”
“What are we doing that’s not working?” he asked, thinking Oh, but it is working. I don’t have to starve you. You’ll do it to yourself. “Look, I can’t really make you eat.”
“No, you can’t.”
“Is this some type of hunger strike, Larkin? ‘Cuz there’s a form I need to fill out for that if it is.”
“No, this is me not eating your saliva, your piss, your pus, your boogers, your shit, your cum. Whatever you’re putting on my food.”
“Look. I have no idea what you’re talking…” his continued avowal of pure food was interrupted by flashes of blue and gold in the SHU’s lobby. More gold than usual meant another lieutenant or a captain in the unit, their uniforms gold emblazoned navy. It was Rick Ralston in the SHU for a purpose other than Larkin.
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM FEBRUARY 6 – 12, 2017
Donald J. Trump signed three executive orders this week on criminal justice. He wants to resurrect mandatory minimum sentences for people who harm law enforcement officers.
Recommended Buy: In his new book, “Locked In,” Fordham law professor John Pfaff tells us the real cause of mass incarceration: prosecutors.
This Bloomberg-Businessweek story is a great look at how police departments fail to take advantage of the information available on unsolved cases and to see potential connections across jurisdictional lines. For me, this problem is not just about leaving crimes unsolved. It’s about a refusal to accept that these myopic investigations put innocent people behind bars.
Sick of #alternativefacts yet? Good, here’s Part Four of the fictional “X.” Find out what comes before Part Four (One, Two and Three) by reading the sections of the story that lead up to this. Start at the beginning here. Part Two is here. If you missed last week’s installment, Part Three, click over here.
Squeak. Thud. Thudthudthuth.
“Here’s your French toast,” he said before the Styrofoam could whimper. “What’s going on? You look upset. Do I need to call crisis for you? I don’t wanna tour and find you swinging from a green sheet,” he told her, referencing the prison’s sherbet-colored linens.
“Get the fuck away from me you motherfucking rent-a-cop!” she shrieked. Still crying, she was heaving now. She had pulled the elastic cuff off of one of her socks and used it like a cheap ponytail scrunchie; thin white thread protruded off the elastic at wiry angles.
“Rent-a-cop” was an oft-used insult that inmates lobbed at guards that they laughed right off. “Mall security doesn’t get my pension, have their kids’ tuitions paid for or full comp when you respond to one of these whores’ fights,” his partner told Stamper years ago, when he was a new buck and still on probation, lacking the guards’ flimsy fabric badge.
“Oh, I see you got a slick mouth. C’mere. Give me that hair-tie thing you have, that thing that you think no one can tell you ripped off your sock.”
“Nooooooo! Fuck youuuuuuu!” she shrieked again.
“That’s destruction of state property right there.”
“Whaaat?” she sobbed.
“Those socks. They’re not yours. The state loans them to you while you’re here. Ripping them is like… like… ripping out someone’s mailbox.”
“Heeeerreee!” she cried at high pitch and pulled the socks off each foot, rather easily too because, the cheap shit they were, they ballooned around her feet. She threw the socks at the door with all of her strength as if that mattered when tossing a sock.
“Nah. Too late. State property’s already destroyed,” he said flipping her French toast tray onto the floor inside the cell door. “That’s a Class A ticket. Seven more days in here after your …ah… Uncle Rick finishes with you,” he said to her, testing her to see how much undue familiarity she would admit to. He closed the trap door and dragged the cart so as to avoid the squeak but still make noise loud enough to rattle and rouse inmates who had nothing else to do but sleep. He heard low tone from down the hall, a mouth close to the space under the door in its attempt to soothe Alana Larkin.
“Don’t worry baby girl, it ain’t no Class A ticket. They gonna know you ain’t got no case of socks. It’s Class B for the hair thing, no seg time. You all right. You gonna be fine.”
“Hey!” Stamper screamed. “I decide what the offense is, OK? Mind your business! Worrying about what someone else is doing is probably what got your dirty ass here in the first place!” he continued to no response. “I know how to do my job, thank you!” he screamed again as he marched up the stairs and into the in-house control room. His skin, fiery with anger, shone in the blue-gray light of the monitor screens. One hand brushed against the wheeling, curling cord of the phone in the bubble which made him think of how much the prison resisted wireless technology, almost like a punishment for the employees and the inmates alike. He didn’t care. Just the concept of wireless made him shiver, remembering that November night that the little Napoleonesque Murray Caples flipped out his smartphone. He grabbed the receiver and looked around for the extension list. He would call the warden’s office and find out what post Caples would be assigned and confront him at the door, in front of inmates and staff alike. He no longer cared.
“I’m the one being blackmailed?! You fuck with complete impunity – scrape between the legs of the most barrel-bottomed skanks. You’re sick to make me the slave of your sex! I fucking hate you. I hate these women. I hate myself so profoundly right now that my brain feels like pudding sloshing behind my eyes. My head…
But his eyes crossed visual path with the extension number of the property office. He dialed.
“Milano, you got an invoice there for a case of socks?”
“Why? Who needs it?”
“Why do you need an invoice for socks?”
“For a ticket.”
“Yeah, a ticket, a disciplinary report,” Stamper continued, stepping up the tone of his voice to professional guile. “I was here, ah, writing a DR for an inmate who stole a case of socks and I need to know what the box is worth, you know, to see if I’m looking at a Class A or not.”
“A whole fuckin’ case of socks? Musta had someone in A & D help them. Anyone search Spanzanno’s cell? She’ll lift anything. Nobody ever has the balls to stop her.”
“Tell me about it,” Stamper huffed to Milano, realizing now that Inmate Giulia Spanzanno was one of the inmates who had taught him by example that arrogance is the backbone of any misconduct, but bravado is its legs, sauntering past him with a bucket of peanut butter stolen from the kitchen. Some would walk down the prison walkway with eighty pounds of cubed chicken stolen from the kitchen without any attempt at hiding their spoils, look Stamper right in the face and say hello. He never stopped these women or asked what he was really thinking: What’s the deal with all the chicken you’re carrying? because their brazen nonchalance said any question he posed would meet with a legitimate-sounding answer that was a lie but would still make him look foolish. The ones who downcast their eyes, fidgeted and walked unadroitly because of the steel wool they stole from the supply truck? Those women Stamper pounced upon. If fortune ever favored the bold, then it was because no one confronted them.
“I think I have one. A gross is like… wait; it’s in here… ha! $102.58 after state and municipal discounts. Looks like we’re looking at a Class A, Stamp. Good job, brother.”
“Milano, I could kiss you,” Stamper laughed over the phone.
“You tried, remember? At Pocatello’s retirement,” she let him down.
“Oh. Yeah. Right,” he mumbled as he fumbled and felt over the files on the desk until he found one with typewritten-typed label “DICSINPLARY REPPORT S” and pulled out an empty form that would keep Alana Larkin for at least seven additional days in the SHU regardless of what the investigation revealed. He couldn’t even wait for the ticket to be processed. He hung up on Officer Milano without even saying goodbye. With more vigor in his step than he had employed in some time, Stamper stepped across the SHU’s main lobby with the kind of confident spring in his pace that usually comes from those terrycloth insoles on the inside of new running shoes. He bounded down the stairs to Alana Larkin’s floor found her cell and twisted the disciplinary report in the door’s small window.
“See, I can write the tickets I want to. You didn’t just rip the elastic off one sock. You stole a whole case. See? It says it right here.”
“I didn’t,” Larkin protested.
“Rule Number One of being an inmate is that nothing you say matters. If I say you killed Orenthal James’ wife, then you did.”
“If I killed or what someone’s wife?” Larkin asked, totally confounded. It was the mark of youth nowadays. No knowledge of the trial of the century, of Lance Ito and why guards laughed when they fought with their wives and joked ‘Go and get the Bronco out.’ OJ and his trial were so pivotal to criminal justice that it changed the lexicon and the perception of reasonable doubt for anyone born before 1981. For people born after that date or in the 90’s – Millenials, Stamper had heard them described on Dateline or Nightline, some nightly line of news – People v. Simpson was like the 1929 stock market crash for Gen X’ers; they had a fuzzy grasp of the historical facts but never applied the event’s lessons to their daily lives.
“OJ Simpson, you idiot bitch,” he glowered at her. “That means power stays with people who have it even when they don’t behave.”
“People like you, huh? I know Deja from home,” Larkin smugly referred to the living skeleton from Stamper’s closet with her arms crossed against her chest, head jutting from side to side in that inner-city indignation bob that says I know about your indiscretions and that gives me power.
“Who’s Deja?” He tried to feign ignorance but his anger flattened his intonation and he sounded guiltier for his half-assed attempt at evasion. Deja told someone?She wouldn’t tell. Could she tell? he wondered, panic fluttering inside him as he calculated the amount of time and money – that flurry of bills – he had divested from himself as part of his housekeeping duties for Murray Caples to keep a secret that had already slipped out the flip side. Deja Dyson had been out on parole for only about six weeks at that point and Larkin had been in for about a month, leaving only two weeks for Deja to tip out the tale of their liaison. Stamper might have expected her to tell someone years from now, only when Deja felt completely comfortable that the person in whom she invested this secret would protect it as much as it needed to be protected. The thought of ‘How well do these two know each other?’ converted itself into ‘What did she do?’ Tell fucking everybody?
“Some girls kiss and tell, some kiss and don’t tell but you, you don’t kiss but you still tell, huh? Wanna be a wise ass? I’ll bring you to the Unit Manager. We’ll see how wise you are in front of Sasmogino,” he threatened and ordered her to put her hands through the trap door, signaling that he was about to cuff her to take her out of her cell.
He grabbed her arm. The standing order to all guards about to move inmates in the SHU remained the same: cuff them through the trap door. Never, ever open the entire cell door. An open cell door was an open invitation for the confined to throw feces, punches, epithets punctuated with huge wads of spit. SHU inmates were of the ‘bad to the bone’ breed, even when they were powerless.
One cuff would and should close around the inmate’s wrist but the trick, should it be employed, was to angle the cuff and close it around the back of the hand, so that wine-colored blisters would rise immediately and the pinch would hurt, at least as far as Stamper could tell when he did it occasionally. He clicked blisters into the slightly sun-burnished skin on the back of Alana Larkin’s hand.
“OWWW! What the fuck are you doing? Get the fuck away from me!” she screamed.
“Don’t worry. I am,” he told her as he took the cuffs off just as quickly and roughly as he had put them on to let her know that the sole purpose of the exercise of cuffing her in the first place was to cause her pain, not to transport her out of her cell anywhere. Not that bringing her to Ria Sasmogino, the SHU’s ball-busting unit manager, would have mattered because he could tell that Alana Larkin knew that part of the deal in confessing someone else’s sins is putting one’s own on the table; it was probably the first time Stamper knew that an inmate was not going to press the issue and retort: “OK, yeah, let’s go talk to the Unit Manager!” He closed her trap door and headed to exit the floor only to hear the shout of his name muffled by prison acoustics.
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JANUARY 30 – FEBRUARY 5, 2017
They call it a “Code Yellow” in Connecticut – inmates’ taking a staff member hostage. We used to laugh about it because, unlike so many other offenses – hitting a C/O, starting a fire, getting into a fight, escaping from the facility – a Code Yellow was so outer-limit that it wasn’t even considered by the worst inmates. Who would even get away with that for 15 seconds? I would ask other inmates and we would laugh. Impossible!
Until Wednesday, February 1, 2017 that is, when Sergeant Steven Floyd, Sr. lost his life in a hostage-taking standoff at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, Delaware.
I would never have expected that the prisoners in a state like Delaware – not rife with gangs, not on the Mexican border – could pull off a hostage situation…and then be so goddamned foolish as to take the life of a sergeant. I am disgusted at the actions of the inmates responsible for this tragedy – which, I should remind everyone is a very small group and most prisoners are just as upset about this as I am. If you know of someone who is incarcerated or formerly incarcerated who justifies this homicide by claiming that prison conditions are deplorable, then get the hell away from that person ASAP. They’re dangerous. No amount of shitty food, neglect or abuse excuses this.
I have three ideas that people need to consider seriously in the aftermath of this event:
To the justice-involved population: We need to support measures that pay corrections officers more. This idea is especially unpalatable with inmates and formerly incarcerated people but we must face the fact that attracting talented and honest men and women to work inside prisons is the only way to keep ourselves safe. Because the pay is so bad, Delaware saw such attrition in the ranks of its officers that the prison was understaffed. I believe the understaffing contributed to this disaster.
To the correctional staff population: When corrections officers are paid more, you must agree to higher accountability. The fact of this tragedy in Delaware does not justify inhumane treatment of any inmate anywhere. Sometimes the biggest opponents of a higher paycheck for corrections staff are the officers themselves with their folly and hate toward people who are in the worst living situation – having lost their freedom. You can’t expect a mere high school degree and leaving yourself on “bullying” mode every day to bring you a salary of hundreds of thousands of dollars, yet that’s what many of you are going for. You want big bucks? Cut the shit – the insults, the assaults, the denial of medical care, the teasing, the disdain. If it’s that important to you to abuse other people – so important that you work for less than $20.00 per hour – you shouldn’t be employed anywhere. Get it together or get out.
To both of these groups: The only people who can really reform prisons are the ones inside – staff and inmates. The constant bickering and violence between these warring factions is just plain fucking stupid, at least as I saw during my time at York Correctional Institution. Now that stupidity has turned deadly for at least two people, since whomever is charged with this officer’s death will face the death penalty. No one wins in these situations. Stop playing losing games.
If you’re new on the cell block, let me explain: this is the third of six parts of a short story (fiction or “alternate facts” for you politicos) I wrote while incarcerated. To see Part Two, last week’s installment, click here. To start at the beginning and read Part One of “X”, click here. Otherwise, the story below might not make much sense to you. Regular diary entries return at the story’s end.
As time went on and Caples rammed into more inmate pudendum and Stamper’s housekeeping tasks took more of his time and money, depression and self-hatred so pronounced themselves in everything he did that they occluded the real reason for his sadness. “This is a burn-out job,” Stamper had been told so many times, avuncular advice from older guards who tried to tell him that his interaction with the inmates broadened his opportunities for unhappiness. The real reason for melancholy was the same as any other prisoner’s: he had penned himself in to an unenjoyable dependence on someone, on that person’s willful amnesty. He only spent as many as eight to sixteen hours in Hampshire prison on his working days, but he imprisoned all of his thoughts and time by his own bad behavior and Caples’ capriciousness. Sure, he had keys and rested his head outside of the prison compound, but Dave Stamper was a prisoner just the same.
His depression grew so severe that he eventually had a hard time even speaking to the inmates; he was either so disgusted by them or so weary that he often lacked the words for the most cursory conversation and could barely upturn the corners of his mouth in one of those clearly forced pseudo-smiles in an attempt to render some polite response to their questions or comments. The politeness he wanted to project wasn’t borne of gallantry but rather self-preservation; when inmates believed that a guard disrespected them, they often returned the favor by causing some difficulty in the housing units or on the walkway. Stamper just didn’t want to hear it.
Even the new inmates, women previously unincarcerated, many with some pretty decent chasses, could earn appreciation from Stamper, but not his usual desire. His dick didn’t even flicker at the thought of bending one over because those thoughts didn’t come anymore. He took uncharacteristically resolute action to avoid inmate contact. Some other guards had this absence forced upon them involuntarily when the facility investigated them for misconduct but Stamper actually wanted to stop his daily dredge through the criminal element so he approached Rick Ralston about an assignment to the SHU, specifically to the in-house control unit, desk job in a housing unit that required only close monitoring of inanimate screens showing the camera’s catches. Once Ralston agreed, Stamper could work alone, avoid speaking to the ‘mates and fester in his own failure. When a fleeting good mood hit him he could always take his breaks with the other guards then retreat into a bubble of self-pity and anhedonia, watching cameras pointed at the inactivity of restriction.
Caples had run up the sidewalk that morning after his overnight overtime shift as Stamper headed towards the SHU for the first in a long string of day shifts.
Dave Stamper stopped but didn’t look around. He knew what was in the offing.
“Sherter told me that Ralston wouldn’t even let him look at the paperwork. He’s rollin’ solo on it. She’s coming in today.”
“OK.” What else can I say? he sighed inside his mind.
“The thing is… We never…. I mean we were gonna but she got called for a random piss test so I never … we never got a chance.”
“Then why are you worried? If nothing happened there’s nothing to investigate. Unless she’s lying.”
“I think, yeah. She is. I’m thinking that she thinks that the piss test was my idea or wasn’t really for her because when she got over to Admissions, they had no record of her being called over. She thought I made it up to, like, get away from her.” Caples explained. “She thinks I rejected her.”
But you wouldn’t have if a state-mandated stream of piss hadn’t interceded, Stamper decided in his mind, anticipating superficial man’s worst adversary: a woman scorned.
“Her name is…” Caples tried to continue, to provide all details needed but Stamper stopped him, cut him off.
“If she’s coming in today, I’ll find her,” Stamper said and continued on to the SHU, at his back was the noise of unsteady, cheap plastic wheels bouncing across worn pavement. One of the workers from the kitchen, pulling an oversized meal cart, a sort of closet on wheels that kitchen workers load and stack Styrofoam trays for the segregated inmates who could not go to the chow hall themselves, leaned as far forward as she could without becoming totally parallel to the ground; in her post-drug binge emaciation, she hadn’t the strength to haul the cart easily.
“Jesus, you’re slow. Isn’t breakfast served at like 5? It’s almost seven,” Stamper asked her without offering any help or concern.
Breathless, the prisoner exhaled the new rule: “All. The meals. Have. To be served. On first. Shift. Now.”
Stamper held the door for her as she rotated the cart to the proper angle to propel it through the door and followed her into the unit.
“Just leave the cart ‘cuz you need to get back to the kitchen for count,” Ernie Scotland, the third shift guard yelled to the inmate. She stopped mid-step and left it right in the middle of the guards’ work area.
“I meant like ‘leave it where you usually do and don’t worry about unloading it’ not just dump it here, where I work!” Scotland boomed after her as she split through the door that Stamper had unlocked.
“This is breakfast, dude. It’s almost seven, You gonna serve it?” Stamper asked him with his thumb authoritatively cocked toward the meal cart.
“Can’t. All meals served on first, now.”
“Breakfast, lunch and dinner all between seven and three? Why?”
“Some bullshit with Rosado.”
“Rosado’s post is in the Carolyn Lerner program. What’s he have to do with chow here?”
“Cameras caught him loading three cases of Otis Spunkmeyer’s frozen cookie dough into his car.” For months guards had raided the prison kitchen coffers like after-school teenagers: burgers for cookouts on the nearby beach, canned pepper strips, spices. Three cases of cookies that would never reach inmate mouths was hardly a big deal in Stamper’s estimation.
“The cameras caught him? Somebody must have told to make someone go back and look at the tape.”
“Not no more. You seen the memo? As of last week, digital cameras been turned on and someone in Springfield’s assigned post is to watch ‘em. All’a dem.” Scotland said, nodding with obvious regret.
Stamper felt a spark of anxiety that was immediately and automatically doused by relief. The emotional swing was so quick that Stamper had to backtrack his thoughts to decide why the camera news shook him so much. His own on-camera dalliance was what started this; his only blessing was that the film was held by private parties and not his government.
The Department of Correction installed an entire system of cameras, the tattletale infrastructure, three years prior. Little red nipples protruding from the ceiling covered multi-angle cameras that hadn’t worked after the cameras had been mounted. The state government spent millions on electronic equipment that not only didn’t work but no one wanted to work. Stamper’s theory on why they were turned on at all was that inmates had caught on that the threat from a guard I’ll roll back the tape and see what you did! was always hollow; if an inmate chose to fight a disciplinary report, she usually discovered that there was no cinematic evidence to bust her. No movies of misconduct on the guards’ parts were ever shown either, probably the best protection they ever had.
“So he took some cookies… What does that have to do with breakfast in the SHU?”
“They found like tons of old trays in his trunk. He was using the chow hall like a takeout joint even though he got those meal allowances as senior staff.”
“OK. Still. Why is this here now?” Stamper asked pointing to the abandoned food cart.
“The memo said some shit like ‘All meals will be served under supervision of the captain. The Shift Commander will report to the dining hall on each shift. For those inmates who can’t’ … you know…. walk to the chow hall, and something like ‘all meals will be served during the unit manager’s shift…’ which we know is first shift, you know and so on.”
“Jesus. Rosado didn’t find out where the blind spots were? They taught us that in the academy for Christ’s sake: every law has a loophole and every camera has a blind spot.”
“True dat. Ours is right there,” Scotland pointed to a small alcove containing the guards’ refrigerator, a counter and a kitchen sink; the words sounded funny coming from a man who was not at all urban, yet not interesting or self-effacing enough to be a redneck. He was a banal, chubby white man, donning ebonics like a size two dress.
“All right. Cool. I think I knew that but thanks,” Stamper said to him with a nod.
“No prob,” Scotland swung his backpack over his shoulder and headed for the door, asking Stamper as he passed: “Pop me out.”
Stamper went behind the control panel and pressed the button to create that springy, metallic bang of doors being unlocked remotely. The door was two inches from being shut when Rick Ralston’s left hand saved it from closing; his right was clasped around Alana Larkin’s arm. When he was inside the door, his left took Alana’s ID card from her left shoulder and he held it out for Stamper to retrieve it from him.
“Larkin. She’s going down to F-1” Ralston said flatly as he maneuvered her down a flight of stairs to her restricted cell, an oblique order to open the necessary doors so that Ralston and his female freight could pass easily.
“Oh. I’m in-house control,” Stamper declined by way of explanation.
“Until your partners get here, you’re on paperwork. Log her in and get me a magnet.” Large, rectangular, primary-colored magnets hung on the doors of every SHU cell in place of inmate ID cards which could be used for self-mutilation. Looking down a hallway in the housing for the most incorrigible inmates, one might harken back to kindergarten.
Despite the swelling caused by desperate crying, Alana Larkin was not bad looking; Stamper understood why she would’ve tempted Murray. Naturally curly blond hair below the shoulder like Sarah Jessica Parker, light brown eyes beneath reasonably shaped brows, unlike so many women in prison who plucked their visages into perpetual surprise by creating a pronounced half-circle above the brow bone. Skin was good but dotted between the inner ends of her eyebrows with acne. Those blemishes, along with the ones that extended down from the corners of her mouth in lines like those on a ventriloquist’s dummy, revealed that Alana was not too far removed from her adolescence. Her youth – combined with the impulsive judgment that landed her in Hampshire for an assault on an elderly woman who held onto one handle of her handbag in a Super Giant parking lot when Alana tried to filch it – justified in Alana’s mind the act of making up a lie about Murray Caples. She also believed that embarrassing him in this way would shame him not only into wanting her again but wanting her so much that he would risk unsuitable physical fellowship with her while she was still in the prison. A mature woman would know that opening her mouth would close all possibilities for close encounters in the future but Alana Larkin wasn’t mature; that was her allure.
As Ralston packed Larkin into her cell and made a few notes in a tiny spiral-bound pad he pulled from his breast pocket, Stamper pushed papers around looking for a magnet. Then he heard the sound of fists thumping on double-paned glass. Both other officers assigned to the SHU – Bruno D’Auria and Jerry Molski – with him were too tired from working the overnight shift to pull out their own keys to get into the building where they would work with him on first shift. Instead, they waited for Stamper to open the door remotely again.
“Morning.” Stamper called out to them. Both harrumphed back.
“I’m in the box…so… Ralston’s downstairs. He needs a magnet for this one,” Stamper updated them and tossed Alana Larkin’s ID card on the desk for them.
“So we worked all night and you get to nod off in that little hideaway?” D’Auria said.
“Well, I’ll probably be kept for second,” Stamper said.
“Yeah, but you’ll go home and sleep. My daughter has gymnastics at four and my wife won’t be home to cook dinner, which, yes, means I will be up until eight o’clock and have to leave my house at ten to get back here for third shift,” Molski said as he leaned back in his chair and disabused everyone of the notion that he might actually work or even be aware of the SHU’s happenings. Stamper headed to the in-house control bubble only to have Molski’s yawning syllables catch him.
“You can do all three meals since you’re so rested,” he said to Stamper and clasped his hands behind his head and leaned back. “Brun, log it that Stamper served breakfast from 7:10 to 7:30.”
“Who’s going to do count?”
“It’s SHU dude. Who fuckin’ left?” D’auric asked and laughed because it was true; the SHU was so confining that there wasn’t even room for an idea that someone would escape.
With that, Stamper delivered the breakfast trays to each floor. He pushed a smaller squeaky cart on to each door on every floor, where he pulled off his keys, opened the trap door – a thud that reverberated and dwindled – placed Styrofoam trays that whined on being pushed along the shelf made by the trap door, waited for each inmate to collect her tray, flipped the door back up, inserted the key again creating that metallic zipper in his ears and locked the trap door. He went to every cell. Squeak. Zipper. Thud. Thudthudthuth. Whine. Pause. Thud. Zipper. Click. He went through forty-seven doors on four floors, holding Larkin for last…
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JANUARY 23 – 29, 2017
The week in justice reform in three words:
Check the list. President Trump has issued an executive order called “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” that will require the Department of Homeland Security to post a list every week with the names of undocumented persons who commit crimes. We have these already. They’re called police blotters and they’re bullshit because they report, like Trump’s lists, only arrests and not convictions. Here in the United States, we have that pesky “innocent until proven guilty” albatross to deal with. The list plan was announced two days before Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was Friday, the 27th and reminded us of other lists – Hitler’s, Schindler’s – and how good they are for humanity. Bad idea, DJT.
Follow the money. Donald Trump’s immigration policies mean millions for private prisons. Read about it in Vice.
Raise the Age. New York and North Carolina are the only two states who still insist that 16-year-olds are adults when it comes to criminal responsibility. There’s a movement afoot in New York to change this and Connecticut’s General Assembly is considering raising the age of adult criminal responsibility to 21 in 2017. For a look at a terrible story that has catalyzed the fight to raise the age in New York, try J.B. Nicholas’ story in the Village Voice.
This is Part Two of the short story “X”. Read Part One here first if you haven’t done so already.
Motherfuckin’ cell phones, Stamper thought. Every prison bans cell phone entry for its guards. Not only do the facilities not want their employees working with their heads cocked permanently to the side, holding the phone against their shoulders as they call their bookies but they do not want any inmates bypassing the monitored collect-call only phones provided in the housing units that garner billions of dollars for one telecommunications company that had dodged anti-trust laws for the last ten years. They never enforce their rules here. Don’t these fucking lieutenants see this? Don’t the rules ever matter in this fucking pig hole? Somebody needs get medieval on these assholes who bring in their cell phones, inflict some enforcement on them, Stamper had lamented to himself as he began dreading his consequences which was a new feeling for him.
“Look man, you know both Fannie Mae and Sallie Mae are fucking me right now…”
“Are their pussies tight?” Caples laughed and put on an air of deep thought, hand on his chin.
“I’m fucking serious. I barely have enough for my son’s soccer team… You know kids have to pay to play now. It’s not like when we were in school.”
“When the fuck did you go to school?” Caples asked.
“Ahh…like you…I graduated in ’90…” Stamper returned.
“Yeah, high school. Sallie Mae is for college. You, my friend, never went to college.”
“Neither did you!”
“Yes, but I am not fucking Sallie Mae, remember?” Caples asked. “What college loans do you have?”
“Amber, Ok?” Stamper told him and sadness fell into his voice. Amber was his gold star, the tip-top branch of the Stamper family tree who had earned several athletic scholarships but chose a small, expensive, liberal arts college and asked her father to cosign her student loan applications. To her once-proud father’s astonishment, Amber Stamper had dropped out on the second day of classes of her freshman year and stuck her father will the bills.
However much Amber embarrassed her father, shame was not on the line in that confrontation with Caples months ago. It was almost as if humiliation never existed for the guards at Hampshire; they would say and do anything without shame. More than unemployment, the ultimate penalty for sexing up a prisoner was time. The long arm of the law pulled out every dick that dipped into inmate flesh and sentenced the staff’s member to nine months of incarceration and a lifetime of modern nomadism as the guard moved from place to place to outrun his registration on the State’s Department of Public Safety’s Sex Offender website.
“Look, what do I have to do… How much do you want for the phone?”
“Not for sale. All of my numbers are in here you know…” Caples explained, still smiling.
“So… what… you’re gonna run to the LT’s office now? Really, Cape, what’s the game here?”
“Noo,” Murray bellowed. “I would never do that to a fellow officer.”
“So then what?”
“We can be mutual maids. I clean yours, you clean mine.”
“What’s that mean?” Stamper sighed.
“You know, if my alleged indiscretions,” Caples scrunched up his fingers in the universal sign for quotation marks, “Get out of hand, you fix ‘em. And I’ll fix yours. A team. You know, a partnership.”
Even though no other option existed, the offer was not that bad, Stamper had conceded to himself, especially since he was only two years away from retirement. Losing his pension after passing the 20-mile marker in the marathon that was a prison guard’s career would be plain stupid and his maid indenturement promised to cost him nothing.
“Deal.” Guards knew better than to shake hands in prisons alongside inmates. The fist bump gained popularity among staffers because it was a public health protection and each man’s knuckles collided that November night to create a pact, a conspiratorial covenant that should, in theory, have helped both of them.
That was last November. In the intervening seven months, the deal detonated. Caples’ caper with his camera phone should have provided some warning to Stamper that things would not go as smoothly as the curves on Deja Dyson’s ass.
On that November night, Stamper could never have fathomed Caples could loosen his discretion as much as he did. Caples never just took risks, he stole them with aplomb; his risks were heists. Caples plumbed the depths of inmate flesh. Taequisha Banks, in for predictably robbing them. Avery Baker, typical DUI WASP. Rocsi Danger unsurprisingly canned for prostitution, claiming her appellation was not a stripper name but a “stage name.” Olga Lugovitch, a shoplifter with Marfan’s Syndrome. For each of these women, Stamper monitored inmate gossip to protect Caples and keep his “family home” – his job – clean. Occasionally, he had to send $50.00 to the inmate’s trust account to fund enough purchases of junk food from the prison commissary to keep their mouths full if they couldn’t keep them shut. None of Caples’ dalliances with Banks, Baker, Danger or Lugovitch were even blips on the brass’ radar, so Stamper’s housework worked.
But then Caples grew sloppy in ways and with speed that left Stamper scrubbing furiously. His tête-à-tête with Janet Lin, a bookish Chinese inmate in for a criminal trespass on a fraternity’s property when the brothers found her naked and totally toasted after her first bender in her last year of college ran the highest risk. In her post-arrest friskiness, Lin had posted – via her mother because the prison lacked internet access – how cute she thought Caples was on her Facebook page. No one but Caples actually saw the post but when another inmate with whom Lin refused to share laundry detergent alerted the warden to discussion of the message, Janet Lin went under, correctional style: under investigation. Stamper squashed that by threatening to write to the admissions committee of every graduate school in the state and blackball any attempts at self-edification after her felony conviction. Then Lin went even farther under: underground with the truth about her inappropriate sexual contact with Murray Caples.
When Lin had been dispatched and then discharged, a Puerto Rican woman placed in custody on a civil mittimus for failing to pay child support had caught Caples’ eye. A civil mittimus for an inmate meant that, although she was detained in custody, the state had not filed criminal charges against her. For Lucasetta Ortiz, her penning in came about when a judge got tired of her civil contempt in her courtroom, namely ignoring seven separate judicial decrees to pay $20.00 every week to her mother, with whom she had abandoned her five children. Four dollars every week per child was all that Judge Judith Tandy – the real “Judge Judy”– had ordered her to pay but Setta Ortiz just never did it. Ortiz faced no criminal charges and appeared lily white next to black women whose offenses were acts like criminal trespass for walking across the lawn of their spouses’ mistresses to ring their doorbells and ask what they wanted with their husbands. In fact, when judicial marshals took Setta into custody at the courthouse per Judge Tandy’s highly miffed order, the rule requiring segregation froze them with Setta in their office; the Department of Correction’s transport officers could not seat her amongst women facing criminal charges.
The Administrative Captain had dispatched Murray Caples to bring Lucasetta Ortiz back to the prison alone in a state-owned, cranberry-colored van. Caples’ effeminate handwriting affirmed the trip at the bottom of Ortiz’s mittimus. What the mitt did not show was that Caples pulled over the cranberry van at a Sbarro rest stop and, leaving the door open, taught her what real contact with a criminal felt like when she spread her legs and tossed aside her Oye Chica! brand thong to receive Murray in the backseat.
Setta Ortiz was enough of a hustler to know to seek a cash payout – money that would never draw near any of her financial obligations – before she could even fasten her belt. Caples installed her at the prison with a promise that the money was forthcoming and found Stamper as he was buying a Coke from one of the vending machines in the officer’s union hall. He explained.
“Dude, I’m short and she needs like $500.00,” Caples said, Stamper’s assignment apparent.
“That’s a fuckin’ lot. I don’t have bills like that on me.”
“Then give her what you have and get the rest to her later.”
“What’s she gonna do with cash in prison?” Stamper asked.
“She’s going home later. Her ex is paying her balance so she can leave.”
“Why doesn’t he just give her the money? Besides, she’ll be gone anyway, so…”
“Because she knows she can get it from me…” Caples, explained, exasperated laughter tracing his words and demonstrating to Stamper that he still did not seem to get the game of sexual misconduct.
“Stamp, bring it to her house. Her address is in the computer,” Caples instructed him in a condescending tone. Stamper lunged at him, picking Caples up by his collar and jacking him up against a wall with a sign reading: “Break the Silence! Report sexual harassment by a co-worker!”
“To her house? You want me to go to that lowlife bitch’s house? What else, huh? Should I buy her a Spic-n-Span dress with rhinestones in the shape of the Puerto Rican flag?” He released Caples who had remained eerily stoic through the attack. Caples then pulled out his iPhone and, with a wry smile, started to fake dial a number.
“I don’t give a fuck. I’m done with this shit. Broadcast the video. What’s the worst? They transfer me?” Stamper backed up and turned out of the union hall’s door to the prison lobby, crashing shoulders with a man in civilian clothes. The inmates were locked in their cells for one of the daily headcounts so he wasn’t a visitor.
“Excuse me, do you know how I find Officer Christopher Arena?
“Ah, I think he works third shift,” Stamper recalled Arena, a tall rookie, Puerto Rican himself, who spent fruitful hours in the guards’ wellness center every week. Even devoting hours to lifting, he still avoided the lunkhead look and actually developed a sinewy, taught, perfectly proportioned body that caused other male guards to puff up and suck in their guts when they walked by him. Arena was quiet, always read a proverb from an open Bible on his weight bench between sets.
“Stamper. “How can I help you?”
“Well, I don’t know. Do you know where this officer works or what his new home address is? I’ve got three separate writs to serve on him – personal service it’s supposed to be…” Mr. Civilian Clothes unfolded a stack of papers and pointed to an area near the top of the first page. “…but I can fudge that if I just know where he lives – I’ll stick it in his doorjamb at eye level where he can’t miss it. I’m State Marshal Gene Abruzzi, by the way.” Fear usually darted up the spines of prison administrators when they heard the phrase “Service of legal papers.”
“Can I see them please?” asked Ralston, pointing to the papers in the marshal’s hand.
“Guess they’ll be public record soon enough, so OK,” the marshal acquiesced and handed them over to Ralston who flipped up the first page on three stapled sets of documents.
“You can find Mr. Arena at 600 Northern Lights Avenue in Rockfield,” Ralston told the marshal.
“Thanks much,” said Gene the marshal and pushed out of one of the lobby’s glass doors.
“Arena transferred?” Stamper asked his captain. “I didn’t know why I hadn’t seen him in the gym.”
“No transfer. He lives there.”
“But that’s KCI’s address.”
“I know. He lives there,” Ralston said, self-satisfied at the puzzlement that wouldn’t drain from Stamper’s face. “He was charged with Sex Assault Two for inappropriate contact with one of the ‘mates. He couldn’t post bond because his wife emptied all their accounts so they’re keeping him at KCI because they have the Protective Custody unit for all the CO’s who end up in DOC custody. The marshal can serve him there.”
“W -Wow,” a stunned Stamper stuttered.
“No, the ‘Wow’ is that he’s about to get hit all at once with a divorce complaint, foreclosure papers and a lawsuit from the inmate seeking $10 million in damages,” Ralston posited.
Stamper followed the marshal though the glass doors, lifted himself into his truck and drove to the closest Baxter Bank branch, the one with the drive-thru ATM and rolled down his window to push his debit card into the slot and punch his PIN into the keypad that was protecting his financial security in a way no banker would understand….
Click here for the next installment, published Monday, January 30, 2017
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM JANUARY 16 – 22, 2017
There’s a reason why Prison Diaries started running fiction last week, but I digress…
Trump administration officials are said to be planning to dramatically cut the Justice Department budget as part of an overall push to reduce federal spending. Among the targets are grants that help female victims of domestic violence and those that help hire and equip cops. This as President Trump changed the White House website within hours of being sworn in to say that he supports law enforcement.
Buzzfeed got over its bruising for publishing the Trump “Golden Shower” memo and ran some original reporting on how often cops lie in court. Until recently, “police officers were considered, by most judges and jurors, to be the most reliable narrators in a courtroom.” Body cameras, cell phones, and security cameras have proved that to be false. The story looked at 62 videos revealing police lied — and sometimes perjured themselves on the stand — and found that only 22 led to charges being filed. Nine have resulted in convictions. Less than 15% of cops who provably lie about a criminal investigation or evidence are punished for it. It’s good odds if you want to lie and screw a defendant.
Massachusetts’ highest court Wednesday paved the way for new trials (or the outright dismissal of cases) for tens of thousands of defendants whose convictions were tainted by the false work of a single crime lab technician, Annie Dookhan. The decision means 24,000 second chances.
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….
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JANUARY 9 – 15, 2017
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.
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?
I 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.
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.
NEXT WEEK PRISON DIARIES IS TRYING SOMETHING NEW. CHECK BACK AND SEE….
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM JANUARY 2 – 9, 2017
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.
People 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.
AR 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.
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.
For 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.
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.
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM DECEMBER 26 – JANUARY 1, 2017
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.
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.
An 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.
If 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.
Besides, 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.
My 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.
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM DECEMBER 18 – 25, 2016
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.