"Oh My Goodness"
Let me start this story by telling you how the title came into existence. About 5 minutes ago, I was trying to figure out what I was going to name this story... I figured out a lot of possible names, none of which were too appropriate to enter into an essay competition at a reputable college. I was wracking my brain, I mean, what do I call a story about such an institution as Yazoo City in Mississippi? You have no idea what this place is like, as far as prisons go. and it is almost impossible to tell you everything about it in one essay, so I have to ask myself, "Self, What do I want to write about, the shoddy medical care, the inferior education department, or how about the joke of a factory we call UNICOR?" Well, I will probably address a little of everything, because you should know the reality of the institution, but back to the name. I was, as I said a few minutes ago (yes, I am a slow typer), pondering the name of this story, when a fellow inmate came and sat down next to me at one of the ancient typewriters. I looked at him, knowing he has a sense of humor (not quite like mine, but he has one), and I asked him, "If you were going to write a story about this place, what would you call it?" He looked at me like I was crazy and just said, "Oh my goodness!!" There you have it, and how appropriate it is!!
I do not have a unique writing style except for one thing, I do not write a rough draft, nor do I pre-write anything. As I am typing this story, I am doing the writing as well. I am at the aforementioned education department sitting in a small cubicle that can barely house the Swintec 7000 typewriter, using a ribbon that has been used already once, but it was "turned" so I could get another use out of it (they charge $8.50 for the ribbon, $4.00 for the correction tape and $19.40 for the typing wheel), as everything here at the commissary is horrifically overpriced, before I go into that, let me tell you about education.
First of all, let me warn you, this will be full of sarcasm, as I am a very sarcastic man with a sadistic sense of humor to go with it, so I hope you like raw, blunt and off the wall remarks, because that is what you are going to get. Monkeys could run this department better!! (ok, this is true about the entire prison, but, I had to say that anyway.) The staff here is lazy, they can't, or won't do anything without prodding from the inmates. When they teach class (and that is a BIG when), they do not stay with the same curriculum for more than a few days. Just when the students (who are FORCED to go to school when there are several on the waiting list who want to attend) are beginning to understand a subject, Mr. Ducky (names will be changed, or modified, to... well, you get the idea, they will know who they are) will change the subject because he is bored with it, therefore, depriving these students to learn it in class. The inmate tutors do all the teaching anyway, the program is a joke the way they run it as they want to, inmates must depend on other inmates if they want to get their GED certificate.
The Adult Continuing Education (ACE) and Release Preparation Program (RPP) are inmate taught classes that are designed to help students better prepare for their release... HA!!! I tell you what... I have learned more about drugs, women and crime from these classes than anything else, and the cool thing about it is that I have certificates to prove it. Drugs 101 = Small Business; Bank Robbery 2010 = Checking and Savings; Money Laundering = Entrepreneurial Skills, you get the point? Overall, this department gets the rating of: 3 out of 10 (They got a 3 due to the fact that they have educational media & a computer class).
Now, about the prices in the commissary... I know the economy is not in good shape out there, but HELLO!! Why make us pay for it?? We pay $2.35 for a box of .99¢ saltine crackers, we pay twice the price on many items that you could go to Wal-Mart and get, especially on clothing items and shoes. They make a killing on these items... I mean, $39.00 for a $20.00 watch. Then they sell you something and take it away from you if you do ANY modifications to it, can you say "Racketeering"? What a JOKE!!!
Ok... where to next? Oh, I know, lets talk about the UNICOR factory!! This is one of my favorite topics because the factory is such a disgrace that it is funny to tell people about it. Our factory manager, Mr. Echelon (Similar, but not his real name) has run this factory into the ground in the 2 plus years he has been manager. We are a textile factory that makes bullet proof vests for law enforcement and the military. Under the old factory manager, there was always work, and there were NEVER any lay-offs to speak of. I am typing this story at 1:00 pm on Monday, July 12, 2010, when I am supposed to be at work, but alas, I have no work, as the other 98% of the workers don't either. This is due to his lack of management skills, and or his people skills. I have been laid off for almost 2 months straight now, and this is on the heels of the last lay-off that lasted about 2-3- months for some of us. But that is ok, because even if I was working, I would not be making much much money, because the factory manager is a... ok, wait, I will just say he doesn't quite like me, but I will address this later when I discuss the "Professional" staff.
Next, lets try vo-tech. Even though it is an extension of education, it is a different department, but under the same supervisor. Mr. Batcher. vo-tech is run by Mr. Madams, who is an able man, who knows how to run his department to achieve what he wants. This man is a good Christian man, and he will tell you so if you ask him... but his actions mirror those of the devil himself, you know who I am talking about, Lucy Fur (again, name changed, don't want to upset the warden devil). This man hires based on religion (most of the time), if you are not his faith, you most likely won't be hired by him. I could go on forever on this man, but I won't in this forum. I will address staff professionalism in the second half of this story.
Food Service is always fun to talk about, but it certainly is NOT fun to go to eat there. The food here has gone back and forth in the quality and portioning of the food. Right now, it is towards the top of it's performances since I arrived here over 3 years ago. Prison food has a reputation out in the free world, as most of you already know. For those of you reading this who are currently in prison, eating prison food, you will appreciate this a lot more. Here in Yazoo, we have experienced a lot of changes in the food service and the quality of the food served here. We get served whatever the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) happens to get donated to the food service department, and at times, there will be an accident on a freeway involving a tractor-trailer, and in that truck, there may have been a bunch of frozen fish (just an example) in that truck that, due to the wreck, was thawed too much to be sold, so it was donated to the BOP to give to the inmates, since it is not acceptable to be fed to "real" people. I don't know this to be 100% factual, but staff members tell us this kind of stuff all the time. I was witness to a load that came into the prison from the distributor that included a bunch of chicken leg quarters. On the boxes that the food arrived in, it told quite the story. The chicken was shipped over to russia at one point, where it was refused, and sent back to its original place, it was clearly stamped on the box, "NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION". This is not a joke, I saw this with my own eyes. The chicken had expired over 2 years prior to the BOP delivering it to us here. Now, this is not an isolated case mind you, a large amount of the food we receive here is past the expiration date by the time it is prepared and served to the general population.
We went through a phase where the food was DISGUSTING!! I guess that the BOP was given a great deal on some ground turkey, that must have been made by using sick turkeys. They must have got at least a full semi load full, because everything that was prepared for us that would usually be prepared with ground beef, was made with ground turkey. This meat smelled so bad, that when you entered the chow hall, it made you want to puke your guts out, I actually saw one guy do just that. Everything that was prepared with that meat was ruined, but they continued serving the food with the bad meat. I lost over 20 pounds during this time. I have found rocks in my food, bugs as well, and when you address it with the staff in the kitchen, they don't do anything about it and the food that was bad is not pulled from the serving line, they continue serving it to the other inmates. The menu is on a five week rotation, and you learn when to go to chow and when to eat out of you locker, which gets quite expensive if you don't go to the chow hall that often.
The sanitary conditions of the dining hall is awful! When you go in to sit down to your meal, you will not find a clean table to sit at unless you are the first unit to eat out of the 12 units, and even then, clean is very subjective when you see a dining hall worker wipe a table down with a filthy rag that he just dropped on the floor. 80% of the glasses (plastic) are dirty, they have spots all over inside of them, the trays have food on them from the last meal, and when you ask the inmates that work in the return area, they tell you that there has been no soap for the machines for several days. The soap that they do use is so sub-standard, that it doesn't clean properly anyway.
The environment in the dining hall is nothing you would find in any other cafeteria that I know of. This is the only place I have experienced the need to fight of so many flies in order to eat my meal. The disgusting part of this is that there are fly traps hanging up all over the chow hall, so no matter where you go, you experience the wonderful view of these fly traps as you eat your wonderful cuisine... yum yum yum!!!
Ok... now, since I am talking about the chow hall, I will address the air conditioning, or lack thereof. This is actually a problem all over this prison, the air conditioning either is out, and we are made to suffer in sweltering conditions, or they turn in on SO HIGH, that you have to wear sweat shirts and pants in order to sleep at night or to play cards or watch tv, but then you go outside to get to another department, and the weather is 100°, and humid to a fault. So you keep on having to go from extreme cold to extreme hot in the span of 10 minutes. It is no wonder that we get colds here so often, I am surprised people are not dying of worse things due to this problem. And because of the lack of air at times, the floors get REALLY slippery due to the moisture that is not curbed by the air conditioning, I have fallen several times on the wet floors due to this problem. I have seen summers where it is off for 3-4 weeks at a time, and believe me, in Mississippi, you need air conditioning with the summer weather. One good note, the air conditioning usually always works in the winter months... for some reason, the problems exist mostly in the hotter months.
Lets now discuss the units. The units are where the inmates are housed to do our time. Since I am in a low, which is supposed to be considered a privilege, I will discuss this place to you, all the while comparing it to a medium that I have served time in, just so you can see the benefits (haha) of a low security prison. You are going to need to use your imagination in this chapter of this story, so pay attention. If you have experienced federal prison, then sit back and enjoy the ride.
Imagine yourself at work, sitting in your cubicle with 150 other co-workers doing the same thing. Now, imagine that you have 1 or 2 co-workers sharing your already small cubicle with you. Now imagine once again that you are having a conversation with one or both of your co-workers, and the other occupants of the surrounding cubicles are also engaged in conversations at the same time. You can imagine that it would get quite loud at times, with everyone having to yell to be heard above all the others. I suppose that you would be looking forward to going home to the peace and tranquility of your quiet abode, to escape the noise and the rat race called work.
Ok... got that? Now, imagine if that was your home, imagine that you had to stay at work all the time, and you had to sleep in your cubicle at work, as well as all the others, that you were locked in your office with all 150 of your co-workers, all the time, with all the different sleeping habits, dealing with the night owls, the partiers, the really loud workers that just can't keep the noise level down if they tried. Now, imagine if there were no microwaves or any cooking devices, but you wanted to cook something, but the office was locked and the cafeteria was closed for the night. You would find some way to cook, right? So imagine the others were in the same situation as you, and you were all hungry and willing to do anything to cook some food. Let me give you an idea as to how you can achieve this feat.
First of all, you must go out the cord off of an electrical appliance, the one on this typewriter will do just fine. Ok, now that I have had to replace the cord, I can continue. Attach a metal plate to the wires, and now you have the first step completed. Now you need to go empty your garbage can in your cubicle, wash it out, and put some water in it, now take it to one of the cubicles that have an extra electrical outlet by it, most likely one that is in the hallway since the others are being used. Now, take your "stinger" that you made from the cord, and submerge it into the water in the trash can that you filled with water... now, plug it into the wall, don't worry about the old wives tale about water and electricity not mixing...you'll see!
Now gather your ingredients, such as the onion that was smuggled out of the kitchen down some inmates underwear, the pre-cooked rice, a turkey log or some mackerel, some refried beans (instant), some Ramen noodles. Now, put all of those items in an old chip bag with some water, and throw it in the trash!! Make sure it is the trash can that has the water with the stinger in it, or you have just wasted a $15.00 meal. Let it cook for about 30-45 minutes, add cheese and chips, and presto-magico, you have dinner that even a homeless man would love, which is usually better than what is served in a prison chow hall.
Now, imagine that you office has a few washers and dryers, let say 3 of each for all 150 employees to use, and you have to do all your laundry for the week here at work... good luck getting a washer when you need it, and once you do, guard it good, some employee may steal your shorts when you are not looking. Want to watch some television? Your boss has provided your office with 8 tv's in one room, but you will have to take your office chair in if you want to sit down to watch one of the programs. Now, due to equal opportunities, two tv's must be on spanish channels, two must be on sports, one for the news, one for the BET channel, one for movies that you may or may not want to watch. That leaves one other for the rest to choose from... good luck watching your program that you want to (unless you are a good fighter named Bubba).
Ok... how are you enjoying your job so far? Well, this is the every day life of a low security inmate at Yazoo City, Low. No respect, No privacy, No peace and quiet, No respect, No choice, and did I mention No respect? But I forgot to mention one thing you do have here, that is a communal bathroom with 5 urinals, 6 commodes, and 16 (only 10 or so good ones) showers, none of which are very clean because there are 149 other inmates that think their mothers are there to clean up after them.
Lets move on to the recreation department, shall we? Not much to say about this place except that it is the one place that you can go to think, and to spend time with the person that you like the most, yourself! There is a ½-mile track in fair condition, volleyball, basketball, softball, handball, bocce ball, foosball, soccer, football and table tennis and pool tables. If you have a fear of balls, this is NOT the place to be! They teach wellness classes and they have a music program for those who are aspiring musicians. They have holiday tournaments and different leagues you can join. This is the best department for the inmates if they want to enjoy what little they can of their prison experience.
The medical department is a complete JOKE!!! I don't know where they find the doctors that they have on staff here, but these people have NO bedside manner. If these doctors were to be in private practice, they would never get repeat customers because they would scare off the patients before they could get the help that they needed. I remember one doctor from another institution at South Carolina, lets call him Dr. Jerk (you'll see why in a second). This man was ex-military, and his demeanor was that of a drill sergeant, he was the one doctor who was the rudest "professional" that I had ever met. He would come outside of the door in the morning, 2 minutes before sick-call while we were lined up to go in and tell us to go away, that it was not yet 7:00 am and that we were to come back at 7:00 am. Well, it is 6:59 am by the time he is done yelling at us, and he is on the radio calling the compound officers, telling them to run us off until 7:00 am. Needless to say, the compound officers already know what is up, so they tell him ok, and then laugh about it after he is out of ear-shot from him... they told us not to worry about it, he is harmless. He was so rude, that while I was awaiting a urinalysis result with the lab tech, he walked in and saw me, asked what I was doing in there, when he saw that she was doing this test, and he hadn't ordered it, he was livid! He was yelling, "I didn't order this test, why is it being done?" She explained that there was the appearance of blood in my urine, and due to my current health concerns, she felt it necessary to check it for me. He yelled at her right in front of me, he told her she was out of line, as well as other stuff I won't repeat. End result? I had severe gallbladder issues and required emergency surgery to correct it, the lab tech quit over the issue, I sued the doctor and the BOP, and lost. It was by far, the worst year of my prison sentence so far. Imagine going one full year in extreme pain (you know what I am talking about if you have ever had a gallbladder removed) and having a medical team over 4 different prisons basically ignore the problem, or just go through the motions of addressing the issue. On the street, I never would have returned to him after the first visit.
The Psychology department here is not bad, it often goes understaffed for a while, but when they have the staff, they usually do a good job. I am a warped and demented guy, so it only seems natural for me to go see a shrink on occasion. I really have a lot of respect for these professionals, they have to deal with the emotional issues of thousands of prison inmates. As you can imagine, we carry quite a bit of baggage. My psychological make-up can only be tolerated by a select few, and when I find thoses select few, I must try to retain them in my little circle of aquaintenances [sic]. I have experienced more than my share of problems with the staff here in the BOP. There is one place I can go to vent and express my anger and disappointment with these people without repercussions, and that would be Psychology. I can go in and talk to my psychologist, and she will listen, offer me advice, and she will keep all the information to herself, as to help me avoid any problems with the offending staff members. It is a good way to document an ongoing problem that you may be experiencing with a staff member, so if something serious were to happen, you can prove that there has been an underlying problem prior to their retaliatory actions against you. This department offers a lot of self help classes and material for inmates to help themselves, unfortunately, not to many inmates will admit they have a problem, nor do they want their friends to know that they are going to see a shrink, let alone even step foot into the psychology department. It is considered a weakness for some of these "macho men" to go to ask for this kind of help. These are the same people that go to the SHU (The Hole) for stupid stuff that could have been avoided if they would have addressed the issue properly. Overall, I believe that this is the most valuable department in the BOP. Dr. Brantly and Dr. Lawson, who have been my heros here in the BOP, are the best part of my stay in the BOP... They currently work together at the same South Carolina prison (though I was seen by them at two seperate prisons) and those men should feel privileged and grateful to have both of them at their disposal, I am jealous.
Next, I will address the SHU... by far my most FAVORITE place to do time in the prison system (in case you missed it, the sarcasm was thick in that last statement). This department should be shut down, because it is on the borderline of cruel and unusual punishment (although the BOP will say it is not unusual since it is the norm for them). I could go on for hours and pages on this area of the BOP, but I will keep it short. Once you are in the SHU, you are considered animals, and so, you are treated as such. You are kept in the cell (cage) 23 hours a day, 5 days a week, and 24 hours a day the other 2 days. in that 24th hour, you are taken out of the cell, put in handcuffs (leash), and taken out to the recreation cage (dog run). You cannot go anywhere without being on the leash, and you have no physical contact with the humans that feed you through a small door within the door (cuff port), and the trays (dog bowls) are pushed through the ports so you can have your 15-20 minutes to eat before they remove the dishes from your cell. God forbid if you have any serious type of problem in your cage, because you most likely will die before the proper assistance is given to you. There is a call button in the cell, and in case of emergency, you are supposed to push the button and the crypt keepers will come running to your aid. Well, in reality, this process has been so abused by the inmates, that the button is ignored, and once they do come on the range, they rudely inquire as to why the button was pressed, then they make idle threats if you do it again outside of an emergency situation.
So, since the button is out of play in an emergency, what do you have to do to get their attention? As a dog barks, an inmate must yell! Because that doesn't work in itself, you must also BEAT on the door for a sometimes long period of time in conjunction to the yelling. Now this isn't a sure bet that they will come to your aid, it might just piss them off and they will ignore you instead. So, I hope you believe in God, because that is the only way to be saved in this situation, short of luck!
The chapel is a place to go if you want to experience closeness to your God, no matter who it is. The chapel offers services to any religion that so desires a time to worship. Now don't think that this place is like an ordinary chapel that you would find in the free world, because it is quite different. The chaplains do a fine job, I couldn't do their job, it would drive me nuts in a very short time (since I am almost there anyway). Try dealing with 20 different religions amongst 500 different inmates, and making sure that they coordinate within the posted hours of religious services. It may seem impossible to do, but somehow, these chaplains pull it off. Now don't get me wrong, this department isn't without its flaws, such as religious assignment. If you claim Hinduism as your religious preference, so be it. Now if the chaplains happen to be hindu, you will get favor over the other religions, I am not saying that it is right, it is just fact. Chaplains Tupperware and tigger here at this prison are WONDERFUL people, but they are also guilty of showing one faith (Protestant and Pentecost) favor over the others, mostly the Protestant faith. I believe that all faiths should be awarded the same time to have their worship services in any given week, The Protestant faith is given many extra hours of worship than the others. They have 2 hours on Sunday evening, and an extra 30 minutes of prayer that afternoon. They have a two hour Monday night service, cleverly disguised as a Bible study (in title only), and both of these services have volunteers at them most weeks. Throughout the week, they have several other small times of praise as well. Now, I am not hating on this religion, I happen to be part of it at times... I am a Christian by faith, which encompasses many religions here, including that one. Overall, the chapel is a great part of the prison system, one of the few things that they got right.
Lets now discuss the overall operations of the prison, to include the way the staff interacts with the inmates. This is my favorite part of this story! This prison is by far the most UNPROFESSIONAL prison I have ever experienced!! I have been to several different prisons in my prison "career", to include a few state prisons. The staff here at Yazoo far surpass any other in the way that they mistreat, abuse, disrespect and demean their inmates in their charge. I have seen staff members strike inmates, publically humiliate inmates, mentally abuse inmates, demean inmates and treat inmates like 2nd class citizens. I don't know if it is because this is Mississippi and that is how they train the staff to treat inmates, after all, Mississippi has a poor reputation for just about anything you can think of, maybe it is because of their poor education in the state. I think it is because this is a hateful place to work and live, so they come to this place and take out their frustrations on us inmates. I am in favor of closing this place down!
There is one staff member that I know of here that has gone so far as to break the law in order to retaliate against an inmate that wrote him up at an earlier date, this was so bad that the inmate had to go to outside agencies to try to address the issues, then he was sent to the SHU in order to try to hinder his ability to proceed with his complaints. He was placed in the SHU for 94 days, and then released without explanation or a shot, but he had already lost everything that he had built up over his stay. I believe that he is still trying to get something done, but his support has lessened due to the show of retaliation by staff to the other inmates involved.
I need to move to the next order so I don't get too upset at what I was just writing about, I am currently writing a book that includes everything in this essay, but in a much more detailed way, I will plug the book now, it will be called, "This Ain't No Country Club", I will be looking for a publisher in a short while.
The operations of this prison is not like any other low I have heard about, it is run just like the mediums that I have experienced in the past, at times, it is run worse than most mediums, let me expound on this for you now. I have been to several mediums, they encourage you to do good things in order to lower your points while in a medium, so you can earn low status, and go to a less restrictive prison. Here in Yazoo, the low is more restrictive in most ways than the mediums I was at. At a low, there is supposed to be unrestricted movements after 4:00 pm count, as well as on weekends, this means that the units and departments keep their doors open and you can come and go at will, between 7:30 am and 4:00 pm, you are restricted to 10 minute moves (usually only 5-6 minute moves, these people don't know how to tell time apparently) on the hour, every hour. This low also has "out of bounds" walkways, which means you cannot pass a red line painted on the sidewalk, most lows do not have so many, maybe 3 of them to keep inmates away from the front gate, this one used to have it so that you had to all converge in the middle of the compound, the go to your desired location from there, like the mediums mostly do, they recently took some away, but left one so if I want to go to recreation, I have to walk 5 times as far to get there than if the line was not painted, at times, I cross the line anyway... call me a rebel!!
You are subject to random pat searches in the middle of the compound, if you want to smuggle something back to your unit from any department other than medical or rec, you can pass an area where there used to be a red line, and go past all the police with your contraband safely. The consistency only exists in the fact that they are inconsistent. One staff member will enforce a rule, where another one won't, one staff member will give you a shot (write-up) for an infraction, and the next person who does the same thing, he will do nothing to him, or just give him extra duty. It all depends on the mood of the officer at the time, whether or not he feels like doing the paperwork.
Well, it looks as though my time is short, and I am at the limit of the length this is supposed to be, so I will leave you with a few closing remarks.
Yazoo City, Low, in Mississippi is probably not the prison you want to transfer to... when shopping for a prison, look for the finer points that that prison has to offer, which is pretty much the opposite of what you have read in this essay. I must say, that the BOP system as a whole is not that good to be at anyway, but if you have to go to prison, and you can't go to a state prison, than STAY AWAY from Yazoo City, Mississippi!! For your information, the BOP is in the process of building a new camp and a new USP here in Yazoo City, so don't think you are safe from their grasp... they will find you and they will send you to Yazoo City Complex on a fill order. I am from the west coast, and they have me all the way out here, when I try to get a transfer closer to home, I am told that as soon as there is room, they will transfer me. I have been on the east coast and here for almost 5 years now.
I hope that this story convinces you to stay out of prison, and for you current inmates... you DON'T want to transfer here if you can avoid it, the only reason you should come here is if it will get you the closest to your home and your family will come see you often. Well, enjoy the rest of your day, enjoy the rest of this book, and I may see you one of these days at Yazoo City, or in the free world after 2019.
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