Corona prisoner

Watterson, Randy A.



-1- Submission For APWA 7/26/20 Corona Prisoner Imagine a country where every ten minutes, one of its citizens are being introduced to its broken and polarized criminal justice system. Imagine a country where everyday a black, brown, or underprivileged poor white person is arrested, ticketed, beaten or killed by a narcissistic police officer. Imagine a country where every ten minutes one of its citizens are being intimidated into accepting a plea bargain that he or she doesn't fully understand by a mean spirited apathetic vindictive prosecutor, and then over sentenced by its judges. Everyday in the United States our governors, legislators and elected Republican and Democratic representatives create and implement harsher laws, penalties and policies that make it easier to arrest, convict, and incarcerate its citizens into violent government sanctioned institutions that neither rehabilitate its prisoners or benefit society as a whole. In fact, these incarcerated citizens who are fortunate enough to have a release date are returning from these draconian barbaric war zones of psychological torture in worst shape with PTSD than before they ever committed any crime. Our country has continued to spiral downhill as the direct result of the former Clinton administration‘s tough on crime policies that have somehow survived more than two and a half decades which obviously care about the economy of punishment over an economy of care and rehabilitation. Anyone with hindsight can see that our cities and rural communities as well as their morality are falling into slums and their dreams are becoming ashes as America's national wealth is being redistributed into building more jails and prisons and for the mobilization and militarization of police to strengthen fascism instead of being used to combat poverty, homelessness, recidivism, drug addiction, racial inequality, illiteracy and mental illness. American Society has become bankrupt in its empathy for others as the proximate result of government created journalism and government created entertainment glamorizing shows like Cops or Live PD or filmmakers like Dick Wolf who through fiction demonize criminals portraying them all as violent sexual predators. All televised broadcasting designed to brainwash its citizens and to psychologically program us to be in tune with their tough on crime policies. This is called the weaponization of criminal behavior and clearly demonstrates how, through the subconscious power of suggestion, we are all manipulated, preprogrammed, and influenced without our own independent choice or knowledge in the matter, to adopt the belief system upon the neologism of racism and ideology of our government through what we watch on our televisions. For decades, American capitalism and those we have elected into power have kept us all divided by shifting our focus from the misdeeds of police, their courtrooms, and prisons to one another based on our sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, or alleged crimes committed by the status quo of criminals. -2- In fact, the majority of law breakers are sorry for the crimes they committed and spend years ruminating over what they did wrong. Statistically, virtually all crimes were committed out of anger, drug or alcohol addiction, loneliness, poverty, illiteracy or mental illness. All issues that proven early intervention could have prevented through some form of rehabilitation and treatment. Ironically, America now faces a COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 159,000 of its citizens and forced businesses to close and government sanctioned stay at home orders. As a result, people normally distracted by their work days, now layed off, had more time than ever in the 21st century to spend on the internet or information or watching the news which has led to their zeroing in on the police killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor because they weren't distracted by their work schedule, bars, recreation and social engagements. Like waking up from a long sleepy state, our hearts and conscience opened up like Biblical scales falling from our onced blind eyes like in the days of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden when they each ate of the forbidden fruit of knowledge and hid their nakedness from God when they first realized sin revealing a permanent shift in human values as those who have worn the badge of a bigot in our current modern courtrooms are being exposed for the very first time. Prior to this COVID-19 pandemic and public awareness of systematic racism and police brutality, policing has been America's primary response to most of our societal ills which simply cannot be solved by harsh punishment by applying the same standard rigid legal formula to everyone. Homelessness, loneliness, violence, poverty, racism, bigotry, addiction and mental illness are all being fed into America's prisons and these issues aren't being addressed in any meaningful way. In N.C. there are no outside community based rehabilitation programs for violent offenders to teach them empathy by connecting them to victims of crime from the community to hear how criminal behavior affected their daily lives which would not only benefit the offender, but would benefit the community and promote future public safety because it would provide a community based forum where victims of crime could be heard and enable them to heal. There are no meaningful academic educational programs to give prisoners the proper skill sets upon their release to secure gainful employment to combat the issues of poverty and homelessness. There's not enough state sanctioned mental health training for the correctional officers who police the prisons. There's no meaningful employment opportunities to pay prisoners living wages to enable them to make financial restitution to their victims of crime, support their families, or hire meaningful post conviction attorneys to help them with legal issues or to prepare them for release. There's not enough financial assistance being allocated to the prisons in order to fund more rehabilitation programs designed by psychologists, psychiatrists, teachers, counselors and community based social workers to combat all of the issues faced by offenders that led to their breaking the rule or law in the first place. -3- All needed and essential services that would aid and contribute to the rehabilitation of prisoners and their living conditions while at the same time, would boost the public economy while promoting a happier healthier public safety model. Unfortunately, our current tough on crime policies work against rehabilitation and the transparency of our nation's prisons. Moreover, I am one of thousands of an example to prove this. When I first came to prison my children were facing all sorts of crises from the opioid pandemic as well as a financial crisis. Had I been allowed to earn living wages during my incarceration I could have sent money out to maintain a home for my children as well as saving what little I could to help me hire a post conviction attorney to get a retrial because I am innocent of the crimes I have been convicted of. I also live in poverty while in prison because there are some days I have to sell my food trays to other prisoners just to purchase a stamp once I have exceeded the state ID indigent stamps per month allowance. Because I could not provide assistance to my children, three of them resorted to selling drugs in order to provide a roof over their heads and each one has since been caught and sent to prison. In fact my youngest son Jacob is in prison right now. I've written innocence projects, attorneys and the courts to no avail. All of my idle time could have been spent helping my children avoid prison. I was convicted of an alleged violent crime 13 years ago as the result of a bad break up and false allegations made by my ex spouse 25 years ago. Now, after spending all of these years in prison without any ability to help my children or myself, I have become a corona prisoner psychologically damaged. Not from being infected by the Covid 19 virus but from being exposed to the virus of constant gang violence, solitary confinement, perpetual mistreatment, injustice and harsh conditions of confinement. Just recently I was stabbed in the back nine times by a violent gang member with an ice pick at the direction of prison correctional officers because they were angry over a national grievance petition that I drafted up and published in the San Francisco Bay view. [“North Carolina Prisoners Plan Grievance submission to USDoJ on May 7, invite others to join them”] There are approximately 191 other prisoners housed in solitary confinement with me at Pasquotank CI. Like thousands of other men, women, and children locked in these cells, I am drowning within myself. There's constant noise from the reverb of walkie talkies, thundering unintelligible intercom announcements all day every 15 minutes, non-stop echoing voices, handcuffs, keys and chains constantly rattling. In my cell block 24 metal food slots open and slam shut three times a day which is like a sledgehammer to the mind. Men are always screaming, crying, arguing with each other like pirates, kicking their cell doors all hours of the day and night begging C/O’s to use the phone to check in on their families because of the Corona Virus but we can only access them once a month if we have money to purchase phone time. Many of us sell our food trays also for phone time. -4- Periodically men lose their minds and have resorted to throwing feces, flooding their toilettes, hunger strikes and are seeping deeper and deeper into depression as the weeks turn into months as the news of public citizens being shot with rubber bullets, high powered water hoses and arrests of Black Lives Matter protesters are being reported in the newspapers. We are all reeling from hearing stories like the one involving Richard Nicoletti, a Philadelphia police officer charged with assaulting three kneeling non-violent protesters by spraying mace into their eyes for engaging in protected conduct. All of these reporters and innocent people standing up against tyranny, racism and oppression being assaulted with batons, tasers and mace are analogous to what prisoners have been facing on a daily basis for over a century. We are all in solidarity as best as we can be but no one seems to be interested in mainstream media as we continue to be hidden behind an iron curtain from the public and the constitution. Many of us are in bad shape. Our prison psychologist Dr. Lanaville is overwhelmed by her growing caseload and spends most of her weekends and holidays at the prison bending over backwards to help us maintain our sanity during this pandemic. Spending 45 minutes with her unloading all of our pain and suffering to someone who actually cares about the mental health of others is like a cool drink of water on a hot day. It soothes in the moment and for a little while but once we are back in that cell and the steel door shuts, it's back to reality. We can't see outside due to the thick metal wire mesh and the dirty cloudy plexiglass windows. We have no t.v. to watch to occupy our thoughts. Most of our books and mail are rejected by our pci mailroom supervisors N. Fennell or Ms. Pitzer on the grounds that our books or correspondence violates prison policy or security, or has an unknown smear, smudge or substance on the pages. But all in all most of us know someone in the mailroom put those smears on the pages out of retaliation for writing grievances and the legitimate smudges are the result of the fallen tears of our loved ones that struggled forward while writing to us and splashing onto their scarlet letters we will never receive. There’s no use complaining because our words fall upon deaf ears. The mail rejections and harsh censorship practices are just one of the many forms of psychological torture that prison officials perpetuate upon us. Additionally, there have been 9 suicides by my count at PCI since 2018, and many ongoing attempts. Since the corona virus pandemic there have been 2 suicides here and dozens across the state in other prisons. One man had less than a month remaining on his sentence and hung himself during the first week of July. The other occurred in April 2020 involving my 23 yr old Latino friend. I cant -5- get the image of his lifeless eyes and his body hanging from a torn sheet tied to a vent in his cell out of my mind. The C/O's could have saved either one of these men had they answered the emergency calls of prisoners within those cell blocks. Again it goes back to being a daily routine for us to be ignored by prison officials. You see, the gears of incarceration operate alongside its policy makers smoothly like a well oiled machine functioning on the principle of deniability, sovereignty, and circumvention. As an example, the other day our new director over all N.C. prisons visited our unit which is solitary confinement. Since everyone had prior notice, we all waited in anticipation for him to come into our cell block so that we could inform him on all that's been going on at PCI. So Captain Baker realizing this fact, and as his tour guide, quickly ushered him past our cell block and into a control booth to avoid being exposed. PCI prison officials even went so far as to feign the elevator, which is in front of our cell block was broken thus necessitating the need to go down the stairs on the opposite side of our cell block. As usual, we were out maneuvered again by correctional professionals who specialize in psychological torture and subterfuge. It's ironic because this same captain onced placed me into a holding cell with no running water or toilette after I informed him of my urgent need to use the restroom. After several gut wrenching painful hours of holding it in, I was forced to defecate on the floor in front of everyone in humiliation like an animal. As prisoners, we are used to our new normal of being shot with rubber bullets, tasers and pepper spray for the smallest incident. We are used to being put in choke holds and punished severely for peaceful assembly and protesting our harsh conditions of confinement. We are used to being confined to cell blocks 23-24 hours a day which is not only more punitive but are analogous to the public stay at home orders during this coronavirus pandemic. All of the current police brutality being perpetrated on the public against the Black Lives Matter protesters which is shocking to the conscience of Americans, is only a microcosm of a prisoners daily life behind bars. No one knows what's to come in the days ahead of us during this pandemic. But one thing is certain to all of us who have become politically conscious, and that is that, we as Americans no longer live in a civilized country because our nation's prisons are a hyper-intensified reflection of the conditions of our society as a whole. In the same way that we see how the conditions of the prison environment is contributing to degrading morality and empathy in our prisons, this is the case for the whole of our nation. Unlike Scandinavia or South Africa with their super low crime rate as the result of fair sentencing and humane policies, or Iran who remarkably released over 70,000 prisoners during this pandemic, we live in a cut throat unforgiving merciless overly punitive draconian state and country. This is why in all of my humility, anguish, pain, and long suffering I stretch out my hand and reach out to every corner of America with my pen beyond my cell door where the river is, where the roads are, where there is still freedom and democracy to -6- warn you because all of you reading this are just one beer, one bad break up, one silly offense or domestic fight, one false accusation or just one curious and isolated mistake from being arrested and torn from the tranquility of your daily lives and thrown into this nightmare of hopelessness, death, violence, and where there are no access to social media, facebook, chatlines, or the warm embraces of a significant other. Where there is no rest or peace day and night for the corona prisoner. In sum, you as society will have to choose between mercy and punishment, between reason and lunacy, sanity and insanity, between hope and hopelessness for us because those of us who are awake realize that if our economy collapses as the result of this pandemic and Martial Law is declared, the government will euthanize those of us serving sentences in excess of 15 years. Prisoners lives matter too, and we want to live and I want you to realize that the punitive choices we have made in the past have failed and any form of slavery or involuntary servitude is wrong. They continue to hurt and haunt us and to shape our communities as we try to move forward. This virus is intent on infecting and killing us all. It does not care who it infects or kills. It does not care about our politics or how we define good or evil, crime and punishment, guilt or innocence, love or hate, right or wrongs. We can't punish or change the ways of this virus but we can change the way we punish and treat law breakers in society through compassion, understanding, intervention, rehabilitation, love and humanity, and by appealing our best qualities to the ideals of our American founders who established that we all have a right to freedom and the pursuit of happiness. This means that we must put an end to sentences resulting in death by incarceration where no life was taken. We must also step up and join hands with the Black Lives Matter movement to teach the misguided, the bigots, as well as one another empathy and the true value of all human life. If we push the government to expand education, rehabilitation, diversion, intervention, social justice and mental health services to the community and the imprisoned who can be rehabilitated opposed to spending the rest of their lives behind bars, only then can we become a civilized country again and return to baseball, bubble gum, apple pie, and good old fashioned honesty. All comments/letters welcome. By: Randy A. Watterson 527 Commerce Drive Elizabeth City, N.C. 27909

Author: Watterson, Randy A.

Author Location: North Carolina

Date: July 26, 2020

Genre: Essay

Extent: 6 pages

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