Sunday, October 16, 2016
Notes From The Prison Diary
Hurricane Matthew made his presence known here last weekend, even though this prison [Columbia Annex in Lake City] is a fair distance inland from the Atlantic coast at Jacksonville. On Wednesday evening, October 5th, an official came into our housing area and told us about 200 prisoners from Tomoka C.I. (Daytona Beach) would be evacuated to this prison, near Lake City the next day, but it would have no effect on our dorm. Visits on Saturday would be cancelled, and possibly also on Sunday. Emergency conditions. Sorry.
The next day, Thursday, October 6th, guards came in and announced we had 15 minutes to pack all our property and bedrolls, we were moving across the compound to T-Dorm. So much for being unaffected by limited evacuees. Now the figure was 1,000 prisoners from Tomoka were en route. The only problem was that T-Dorm was already full, it’s two-man cells housing “close custody” prisoners, those facing lengthy imprisonments, disciplinary problems, and gang memberships, requiring them to be locked behind steel cell doors at night, in contrast to the “open dorm” I live in, medium/minimum custody, mostly short-timers on good behavior.
Upon arrival at T-Dorm, we found out that we would be joining the two-man cells, making them three-man cells. I dumped my narrow mattress on the floor by the toilet/sink combo. The two residents weren’t happy about it, and neither was I, but it was an emergency situation in which you adapt, get along, or go to lockup.
Later on the guards moved out the previous cell residents and moved in two of my fellow medium custody residents from Q-Dorm. It seems that “close custody” prisoners are not supposed to be in the same cells as “medium custody.” It didn’t matter to me. After 38 years in 20 prisons, I can live with grixxly bears and rattlesnakes and get along. The reason they emptied the medium custody dorms on the east side of the compound was so they could keep all the Tomoka prisoners together, to avoid more conflicts.
Friday came, and Saturday ushered in Hurricane Matthew to Florida, after hitting the Bahamas hard. The TV was “All Matthew, All The Time.”
In 2004, I was at Tomoka C.I. during the period when three powerful hurricanes criss-crossed Florida in a six-week period, each one hitting Daytona Beach. I watched trees get blown down from my cell window. Power off, no showers, toilets wouldn’t flush, we ate cold cut sandwiches and peanut butter three times a day, but we stayed put. No evacuation. This time, the FDC erred on the side of caution and evacuated a number of prisons near the Atlantic coast of Florida to interior prisons, like Columbia C.I.
I’m not a cheerleader for the prison system, but in this case, I must give the FDC due credit. Faced with a massive evacuation of thousands of prisoners, they did it, packing rickety prison buses full of coastal prison inmates and rushing them to interior prisons hours inland. It was an amazing transfer feat. No one missing. Also amazing, here at Columbia Annex and Main Unit, everyone got fed hot meals three times a day and were allowed to make canteen purchases. And they got them all back a few days later, to their proper prisons.
Negatives — besides being cramped in three-to-a-cell, a few weak elderly and younger prisoners were robbed by the supposedly more dangerous close custody inmates in T-Dorm, threatening them with violence if they turned them in to the guards. I had no problems — when you’ve served this much time, and experienced so much, younger predators keep their distance in most cases. Those who don’t, I growl at and they go away. One old man had just gotten a package from home and lost everything, even down to his last pair of socks. You have to toughen up if you want to survive imprisonment. The elderly are preyed upon by the merciless young.
On Saturday, we heard that we’d be stuck in the crowded, loud T-Dorm possibly until Thursday, October 13th. Daytona Beach had power failures and flooding. Great! People get crazy in crowded confinement, and I dreaded to think what might happen in the days ahead. A few days we could deal with. A week — frayed nerves and mentally-challenged prisoners boded ill for a peaceful outcome. High winds and rain continued through Saturday and into Sunday. Men nervously watched the TV weather reports and worried about family members in Matthew’s path. St. Augustine, St. John’s County, and Atlantic Beach looked hard hit. At least the phones worked, and we were reassured by loved ones’ reports.
Early Monday morning a confinement orderly came in and told us the guards had ordered the Tomoka prisoners there to pack up. Two wings of solitary were filled with visitors who’d been confinement at their prison. Despite the “inmate dot com” rumors that we weren’t moving back, I rolled up my mattress and bagged my property, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. My two fellow cellmates, inexperienced short-timers, followed my lead and rolled up their bedrolls, too.
Other men looked in our cell and asked if we’d heard anything. I told them, “No, we’re stepping out on faith, with the belief that we’re moving back to Q-Dorm soon.”
“What if we don’t move?” one asked.
“Then we’ll unroll our mattresses until tomorrow.”
Follow the leader — some got ready, some didn’t. After lunch, the guards announced that we were leaving, to pack up. I was the first one out the door.