20 April 2015

Get to Steppin’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bozelko, are you in there?”

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Jamaican accent came from behind me.

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

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

READER POLL

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

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

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

Total Voters: 3

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Posted April 20, 2015 by chandra in category "Prison Conditions

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