One veteran’s perspective from the wrong side of the bars
One Veteran's Perspective From the Wrong Side of the Bars
I don't think anyone can truly understand a society until they've spent time on both sides of the bars. A few years back, I served my country by working in a prison in Afghanistan. The military liked to call it a "Detention Center", but for all intents and purposes it was a prison. Especially when an Afghanistan judge came to pass sentences. The thought had crossed my mind that Operation Enduring Freedom was more of a knee-jerk reaction to the 9/11 attacks than it was to ensure lasting freedom and protection for all Americans. Hell, even I wanted some retribution, and I had not even lost a family member or a friend in that attack.
I remember watching those Taliban members and thinking, "If I were a member of the Taliban I probably would also fight the Americans if they were occupying my country." Prior, those 9/11 terroristic actions had made it easy for me to choose to defend America as a soldier. I was a Native American warrior so the transition to soldier was an easy one for me. So I watched those "Talibs" and I thought, "They got off easy." I knew if someone had built a bomb or participated in killing an American soldier or civilian in America they most definitely would not have only recieved a sentence of (7 to 15) years. I also knew that most Talibs were only kept in "detention"
3 for one to three years and were then released to the control of their village elder. I was and am a strong supporter of the military, but it made me wonder if the families of those American soldiers' killed in the warzone, know how cheaply their loved one's lives had been traded. Then, I had been subtly threatened by more than one Talib that this conflict would not last forever and there was a chance they would see me in America. I used to keep a tactical .45 caliber pistol in my headboard at home. Now, the sad reality is that I'm more in physical danger from
4 some ignorant American than I ever was from a Talib. So I worked OEI diligently, day-in day-out in that prison watching those Talib members, and not knowing that in just a few years I would be the one sitting on the other side of the bars. Except, these bars are a maximum security prison in Texas.
Coming to prison I didn't know what to expect, although, I didn't think it was going to be a vacation. I was a career soldier so that was the extent of my experience. What I didn't expect was the disrespect and emotional abuse from the officers!
I have always believed in, "Treat others the way you want to be treated." I guess someone forgot to tell the officers that. I know it wasn't too many years ago where officers got away with beating or even killing prisoners, but I'm glad that the justice system saw fit to make a few changes. I still think there are quite a few changes that need to be made. I am saying this as I try not to panic and drip sweat onto this paper. Have you ever gone into a sauna room and then found out you could not leave? That is what it is like being confined to a cell in this Texas
6 heat. Yesterday, Officer Davis passed out on the three row run most likely due to a heat injury. I checked to see if the officer was still breathing then I offered my service as a former emergency medical technician to the sergeant who came runnings up. The Sgt. told me to move away so I did so. I watched several officers approach the fallen officer and it was obvious they didn't know what they were doing. They didn't treat for shock or likely heat injury. I find it sad that these correction officers would not use my experience. I also knew that had I touched the fallen officer, the
7 good state of Texas may have charged me with assault on an officer. I would gladly trade-in my bronze star for a summer of respite from this heat, because it is not worth anything to me being in prison.
Do you know slavery is still legal? Slavery for prisoners is the only exception to the 13th Amendment of the Bill of Rights. You wouldn't know that until you are on a hoe squad turning soil in the Texas heat
8 with an armed officer on a horse and Stetson looming over you. The only difference is they no longer use a whip or bat on prisoners. Due to the medication I take I work in the kitchen. During the lock-down or other certain days one could expect to work 12 or more hours a day. The other day I was suffering from a headache and dizziness due to the heat and I chose to leave work after 8-hours. I believed I
9 was recieving a disciplinary case from the kitchen captain for refusing to work. I'm still waiting to see if the case went through, because I had volunteered to work on my day-off that day. A case during a lock-down automatically turns into a major case. Seem unfair? Thats par for the course in prison. By the way, I don't get work time or good time. So, I can be a model prisoner and not able to get out any sooner. Because the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
10 considers my crime to be aggravated even though it was not. No-one was hurt or killed during the commission of my crime. Most people have committed a crime in the United States, but have not been caught. That makes them no different than me. It may sound as if I'm trying to justify my crime, but I am not. I am guilty and deserve to be in prison. I just don't think I should be punished for the rest of my life. I also don't remember
11 the judge sentencing me to hard labor or a life of abuse. There is a grievance system, but I think it is as useful as teets on a bull. The grievance officer always takes the side of the officers, and claim there is no evidence to support the accusation. Sometimes, prisoners don't get a response back so maybe it was lost if there was evidence against an officer. Who knows?
Rehabilitation is something I don't see. TDCJ only focus on a treatment plan for prisoners within a year or two of release. The Geneva Convention laws A.K.A Nelson Mandela laws requires basic rights for prisoners. American soldiers are held to these laws and are inspected by the Red Cross and others for compliance.
Prisoners in America are supposed to have the same rights, but these rights are violated on a constant basis by the officers. You may think I exagerate, but I have no reason to do so. I claim that; if all the walls fell down, the razor wire fences fell down, and all the officers went home; I would still not run away.
Has it ever crossed your mind, "How many prior-service, service members are in incarcerated in prison?" I can tell you it is over 10%. There are over 300 veterans at this prison out of 3,000 prisoners. You might ask yourself why? It is because we veterans make mistakes
13 and we are human. Many suffer from Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder (PTSD) like myself. When the woman responsible for the deaths of three of my daughters, I did not seek retribution, because I know she made a mistake and she is human. We are no different than the Vietnam veterans who died in prison and from alcoholism after the war. Like those veterans we also do not get treatment for PTSD, because we are prisoners. We do not get treatment for health problems, because the healthcare in prison is substandard. We have many geriatric prisoners here at this maximum security prison. We are losing a few to the corona virus, essentially, the sentence turned into a death sentence. God keep their souls!
Don't you believe the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests are out of control? I believe they have a right to protest, but I do not condone the looting and the violence. The radical left will ruin it for all gun owners in the United States if they keep it up. Don't you think brown lives matter? Native Americans have the mother of all grievances you know with being subject to near genocide and most of their land being taken away. What I like even better is the slogan, "All Lives Matter." I think the families of prisoners definitely think prisoner's lives matter. Family members of prisoners are punished too with a sentence passed down to prisoners. I have sacrificed
15 much in my 17 years in the military. Do you think I could use a second chance? A chance for healing from the brokenness and not for punishment? Suppose we are neither completely guilty or innocent? Suppose we have done something wrong, but might not be what we are sentenced for? Might not be what we are punished for. In the end, society would all accept the injustice
16 and provide a rationale for it. Does it seem too much to think the justice system is unjust? After all, Texas doesn't seem to have a problem convicting people without any evidence at all. If a society can be judged on it's fairness by looking at how it treats it's prisoners, then have you looked at how America does lately?
By Kenton Haase
If you are working on an APWA-related project, please let us know how you plan to utilize the Archive. We hope to share information about your work with our readers and, whenever possible, with relevant APWA authors.
APWA is an open access archive. We encourage use of the writings for research, course planning, and projects engaged in examination of the criminal legal system. Reproduction of essays in their entirety infringes on author copyright without their explicit consent from the writers. Please contact us if you plan to reproduce entire essays; we will do our best to put you in contact with the authors for consent, and their compensation for any project that is profit making.