Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"I Won't Lie To You, But I'll Lie On You"

"I Won't Lie To You, But I'll Lie On You"
Dateline October 8, 2008

Winston Churchill, I believe it was, said something to the effect that you can tell what kind of government it is by how it treats its prisoners. Some people don't think it matters how badly prisoners are treated, espousing the view that since they broke laws, they don't deserve the law's protection or guarantees any more. That view is fairly common with people who are employed in the "corrections industry," another neutral euphemism designed to take the "humanity" out of the imprisonment process and turn it into a faceless factory of numbered objects, like an assembly line of coke bottles racing along, getting filled, capped, and packaged, then loaded onto trucks for delivery to the warehouses and stores.

Fortunately, not everyone in the prison system feels that way, or things would be much worse than they are.

Years ago D.O.C. Secretary Louie Wainwright brought in David Brierton from Illinois as an educated, enlightened (translation in Southspeak: YANKEE!) corrections professional to straighten out some serious problems at Florida State Prison (FSP), home to some of the most notorious and dangerous prisoners, and also the residence of the electric chair, "Old Sparky," and Death Row. He went on to become the Inspector General in Tallahassee.

I'll never forget something David Brierton said in an interview, referring to changing the mindset of the prison guards - "People are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment."

That greatly impressed me, the philosophy, at the time, and I had high hopes that in all their training sessions, that message would take root and grow in the behaviors of the guards. Alas, that message has apparently been lost in translation somewhere, or the papyrus roll it was written on got eaten by bugs, like those lost books of the Bible.

In the past two weeks we have seen imprisonment at some of its worst. I mentioned before about the ill-fated and poorly-executed so-called escape attempt discovered Sunday morning, Sept. 28th, a ragged, braided sheet rope thrown over the inner perimeter fence near my housing area by an alert woman sergeant. (Promotion to lieutenant a given - you heard it hear first). How it got out there, and who put it on the fence has been a subject of conjecture. Life for the rest of us has been miserable ever since.

I don't know how tight Dick's hatband is, but the security in your 21st century Florida close custody prisons is indeed tighter. Unless Spiderman, Harry Houdini, or some ninjas show up, nobody's leaving here until the push the button and let you out the front gate. Forget about climbing fences - that is so passe, like the 1980's and '90's. You should have invested in the razorwire stocks about twenty years ago - you'd be hanging out with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett now.

During the shakedowns and ransackings that were suffered through by over 200 prisoners that Sunday morning, a number of men were cuffed and carried off to confinement. The consensus is that most likely none of them were involved, but that doesn't matter. When this happens lots of people are going to jail. Makes it look like those in charge are getting to the bottom of it. "We locked up twenty!" Good job. That wasn't the end of it.

Monday lockdown again. Everybody. Over 200 prisoners. This isn't "Hogan's Heroes," is it? When they came to ransack your cell, as they did yesterday and today, they weren't really "searching" so much as "getting back," getting even, teaching everyone a lesson, exercising authority, whatever you might call it. But don't call it reasonable or justifiable.

Open your locker. Step outside your cell. Strip search. Bend over, spread your cheeks. Find anything? No. Dump out every article in the locker. Rummage through it. Throw some things in the hallway, for the garbage bags. Dump out every legal envelope. Mix them up with you cellmate's papers. This is fun. Legal vandalism. All that's missing is a can of spray paint. Find anything? No. Nothing good. Strip off the bed sheets, toss things around. You don't like it? Hands behind your back. You're going to jail. What for? Doesn't matter. I heard one say, "I won't lie to you, but I'll lie on you." At least he's honest.

Tuesday - locked down again, all day. What's curious to many is that when the woman guard was murdered that Wednesday night in June, we were only locked down all the next day, Thursday. Friday everything was back to "normal." Now extreme measures, and no one is missing.

Wednesday - lock down again, all day.

Thursday morning - lockdown over, for the time being.

Wait! Now it's Friday! At lunch they locked up at least three more suspects, skinhead types who lived on the second floor, all on one wing. Next thing you know, a little later, the guards are on the roof, and we are locked down for the night. They got the right ones this time, they say. The suspects are all snitching on each other, so it must be true. At least we're allowed our visits on Saturday and Sunday, scant respite for what is to come.

Monday, October 6th, after the 6:45 AM breakfast, the water is cut off, Uh Oh. Bad sign. Definite indication of an impending mass shakedown. No water in the sink, toilets won't flush. You can't flush your gun.

A few months ago we suffered through weeks of the water and sewer lines broken, toilets foul and overflowing, finally we could flush once or twice a day, then the water was cut off again. They finally brought in coolers of water. Not this week.

This building I live in is fundamentally 114 small bathrooms with a steel window, steel door, and steel bunkbeds, a toilet and a sink. Your smallest guest 1/2 bath in a modest home on the street is about the same size, except it doesn't have two grown men living in it, locked in together for long stretches of time.

When 114 little bathrooms holding over 200 grown men have the water supply cut off, it gets funky = fast. Nature calls - and calls - and calls, over and over again. The toilets fill up - all 114 of them, and the odors become overwhelming. No water to drink. All day. Let you out to go to chow, come back, dump another hundred loads or more into the already filled toilet bowls. The stench hangs in the air and stifles you. There must be some law against this, the health department, the feds, the laws of human decency.

The "squad" came in, and spent all day ransacking the 57 cells on the second floor. All day. How long can it take to ransack men's meager belongings, time and time again? I told them, the fruit from this tree was picked a long time ago, then the leaves, and all that's left are bare branches. But there's really nothing to find, it's just meanness and "get back.' Keep pushing until some of these mentally deficient, pitiful cases snap, then they can pull out the industrial size pepper sprayers.

Tuesday - early - water off again. Here they come - lockdown. The stench overwhelms again. We're locked in for hours before they get to our wing. Chow time. Everybody out. Come back to find all our meager belongings scattered and co-mingled. Some can't take it. "Psych emergency!" Take them away.

Wednesday - Oct. 8th - no lockdown. Get out, got to work, out, out, out. The building next door has the honors today. Their turn to get ransacked. Heard a couple guys had plastic bags of fermenting prison wine in their lockers, got spilled, stunk the place up. Rumor has it they will be shipping men out Thursday, then Friday a large squad of shakedown specialists are coming in to really tear the place up! Can't wait. The innocent are punished over and over again.

That's life in prison. Take my word for it - you don't want to be here. neither do I.

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