Recently, I read something in a newspaper that said that there were around two and a half million incarcerated in all of the jails and in all of the prisons across the United States. That staggering sum makes it one of the largest metropolitan populations in the United States and has easily surpassed the combined prison populations of Iran, Cuba, and North Korea. Of those 2.5 million inmates roughly 6%, or about 175,000 will never go home.
I am one of those 175,000 and I am locked down in an elderly concrete and brick prison where construction first started in 1867. Conditions here can be harsh, sometimes brutal, and I find myself wondering why is it okay for the state (in the name of the people) to subject humans to these inhumane conditions yet if an animal is kept in the same condition, animal owners are arrested for animal cruelty.
During the summer, the heat is merciless because the ancient stone and crumbling brick used to build this prison soaks up the murderous sun like a dehydrated camel inhales water. Here, outside temperatures can reach 105 degrees with heat indexes reaching 115 degrees. Using a thermometer borrowed from work, I saw temperatures inside my cell over 120 degrees.
This oppressive heat just hovers and smothers like some desperate, dead miasma because this functionally obsolete cell block only has about 12 industrial sized fans to circulate all the stale air in an ancient building that's about 250 feet long by about 60 feet wide by about 40 feet tall (inside dimensions). Not all of these fans work and most of them don't oscillate. There's supposed to be an exhaust fan working, but you can't tell. I'm lucky enough to own an 8" personal fan in my cell yet I still sweat like I'm the River Nile, even at night. When I didn't have one, I perspired like I was Niagara Falls.
We get water, but it's not cold. During the summer the showers are so swelteringly steamy there's no relief from the relentless heat. Up until about two years ago, the prison used its own water system taken from the river next door. Before switching to city water, there had been a flood that had contaminated the system, causing the water to taste like sewer water and be undrinkable. The prison forced us to cook with it, shower with it and drink it. The staff was provided with bottled water and we weren't. What stopped a major riot was some water was was smuggled out by a visitor and tested. The results were sent to outside agencies and to local TV stations. After that, we were provided with bottled water. Even today and with city water our water has black particulates in it.
Here, ice is more precious than gold all year 'round, so precious that the industrial ice machine is locked up and ice rationed. A C/O has to escort the porters as they pass out ice. Why? The ice machine's water is filtered and softened so the water is good. Also, there is only one machine for 150 inmates. Even in winter, there is not enough ice and during the summer, fights break out over ice. At times, rationing is so severe that our six pack sized coolers are filled with one scoop of ice. That is only half full at best.
The chow hall is vented for A/C, but the A/C's never used, so there's not even that brief respite from the deadly heat. I have been at this godawful prison for more than 8 years and in the last 5 years at least one inmate per year has died as a direct result of the remorseless heat.
The state realizes that what the situation the inmates face is grievously inhumane because for the C/O's and civilian staff, they provide A/C. For the C/O's this means that they crank the A/C so high that the office windows start fogging. It also means that all they do is sit in there and do nothing but gab like old ladies gossiping in the nursing home. Even 'man down' calls are ignored.
My cage is no wider than the outstretched wingspan of my arms, my fingertips grazing cream painted walls that fry the brain and crack the paint in the stifling heat.
Walking from front to back take a mere 3.5 paces on an unyielding concrete floor painted with at least 5 layers of prison made paint that cracks and peels at the slightest touch. At least one of those layers is old enough to be lead paint and within those unsightly cracks I have unwelcome house guests that live in apartments. They are cockroaches and no matter how much I clean and peel away, I cannot evict them.
The luxury furnishings in my humble abode include a cream painted steel cabinet that threatens to crash down on you every time a door is opened. Accenting the cream decor are tasteless designs done in black marker and bare rust.
In addition to the stylish cabinet there is a matching desk, yet there is no chair to sit in because in its infinite wisdom the prison took them all away. I've gotten all kinds of cramping pains in my neck and back trying to use the desk for anything from writing to playing solitaire. This is because the only place to sit is the steel bed anchored into the opposite wall leaving no way to bring the bed and the desk closer together. By the time that I enter the long dark night of eternal sleep, that freakin' desk will have turned me into the new hunchback de Notré Dame.
I feel uncomfortably cramped in this cage, but I am lucky. For now, there is a court order preventing the state from turning this one man cell into a two man cell. Someday it will be a two man cell with two men living in the space of a bathroom. Living like that would give me claustrophobia. In New York state, the television showed a prison cell of my size with 3 men living in it in violation of state law. The United States Supreme Court ruled that the practice could continue because that set up was not cruel and unusual punishment. If the Supreme Court won't enforce the law, who will? What does it say about us as a society that we allow humans to be treated worse than animals?
Since 1996, there have been 3 prison wide food strikes here, all directed against 2 different for profit food service providers. We were getting 3 hots but the food quality was worse than what's found found in a used baby's diaper. Now, it has deteriorated now to where we can't get fresh fruits and vegetables unless we buy them from the current provider. The same is true for meat. For example, the fish is processed from about 30 kinds of fish including octopus. 90% of the rest of the time, the meat is processed mechanically separated chicken mixed with soy. Real meat can only be bought from the food service provider in a special program. The prison gets a kickback from this. I know this because part of my job working with the current food service provider was to create possible meals to sell in this program and cost them. Included in the cost figures was a kickback. Dog and cat food now have real meat and fresh vegetables. Why can't we?
In addition, the commissary gouges us like we were Christians being ripped to shreds by lions. The state decided to consolidate all prison commissaries under one provider. The deputy warden here hand held an almost unknown supplier from California through the bidding process until this company got the contract. Our prices jumped moon high and the now former deputy warden works for this company getting a six figure salary and perks.
In addition to the food service and commissary scams we are bled dry when we buy televisions and music. A 15" flat screen is $250 and one MP-3 song is $1.99. I don't know about phone rates because I haven't called someone since 1999. It takes an arm and a leg to send money in.
The state is our bank and makes money from using our money and collecting interest on it, and paying us a pittance of that interest. They were not satisfied with that so they rewrote the trust fund rules and regulations to stop paying interest to inmates. How is it okay for a bank to not pay interest on deposits but the state doesn't have to? Who is the bigger crook: the guy who robs from a convenience store or the state and their contractors?
I have seen death here. Three people that I have either worked with or have casually crossed paths with have taken their own life. Sadly, this place is more depressing that a Donald Trump presidency and a lot more than a few more have killed themselves, but I didn't know them.
One committed suicide because the parole board had denied him parole and had passed him for 10 years. He was in his sixties and with his parole denied coupled the length of time until his next board, he gave up. He was from Cuba and hadn't seen his family for decades.
Another killed himself just a little more than a month before going home. There was no note so none of us really knew why so we guessed that after some twenty years in the hoosegow he was going home and he was afraid. That made sense since we all knew people who would escape from minimum custody right before going home. That escape would add five years to their sentence at the hard times cafe.
The death of the third, a pretty good basketball player I played with occasionally, is listed officially as a suicide, but the actual cause was autoerotic asphyxiation. When it happened, I was just down the run from him. At first I thought that what was being said was a cruel rumor so I asked a C/O, whose burger I had cooked the next day, and he confirmed it. I can still remember that the facility did not have the decency to place him in a body bag. They wrapped him in the blanket and dragged him out across the floor and down the run.
All too regrettably, there have been other suicides. It is a fact of life, just like breathing is, that prison is extremely harsh on the psyche and on the body. In prison, suicide is as real a threat as murder is and there is an unforgivable lack of caring because of the unconscionable failure of the facility and medical staff to educate us in the services available to help us or in educating us in how to spot symptoms in people around us and get them help.
Across the sea of years two people I knew died in their sleep. They passed unremembered because they had no family to mourn them and the facility did not allow us to remember them and honor their life by allowing us to hold a memorial. When it is my time to travel on, that will be my fate as well.
Television does not lie. Prison is a hyper-violent place and, more unfortunate than Lady Gaga having a music career, there was a murder on my block. I did not know either person involved and it happened just before I came back from work. A man died because of respect, he died from multiple kicks to the head delivered by someone who had just passed an anger management course.
There is another form of murder here and it is a legal way to commit murder. It is for profit healthcare but not like what is available on the streets. I like to call it healthcare 2.0 and this is what president Trump and his gang of thieves want to unleash on America after decades fine tuning it in prison.
What it is is simple. Take the level of health care someone in congress gets and compare it to the level of health care someone on Medicaid gets. When compared with the health care available to prisoner, Medicaid looks down right presidential. For a few to make megamillions, many have to go without health care.
What has happened to me I consider an assault and battery. Coming from jail into the system, I was on blood pressure meds. The system stopped that medication because my blood pressure was normal. Within six weeks I had had a mini-stroke that left me with permanent double vision.
People I know have had bones improperly set and didn't get a physical therapy. One is now wheelchair bound. An inmate customer of my cooking had to wait 18 months for carpal tunnel surgery. The short order cook I took over for was diagnosed with bone cancer in his hip. For the last four months that I saw him he had no treatment. That is assault and battery. The con who made my leather belt had a course or treatment ordered by an outside hospital, a treatment that was proscribed by some reference manual as being the standard treatment, stopped because the drug regimen was too expensive and not in their formulary. He died without those meds and to me that is murder.
The U.S. Supreme Court does not agree with me. They say that "some care" is all I deserve. It doesn't have to be the right care and it doesn't have to be sufficient care. In other words, I could get two aspirin for appendicitis and when I die the company can say that some care was delivered and all is right with the world. That is not tolerated in the free world so why is it okay for me?
This outrageously despicable condition lives far beyond my little prison. This demeaningly deadly heartlessness infects the entire penal system all the way down to the local jail. Go to www.humanrightsdefensecenter.org and www.prisonlegalnews.org and find out how to access a database built up of court cases, news reports and scientific research that tells the real story.
I laughed until there was no tomorrow about all the 2012 hoopla end of the world caca. It took a little blurb in some book I had read just after that to see that maybe the world needs to end in some fashion in order to make things better.
That little blurb said that since time immemorial there have been rich and poor and that there have been governments set up to ensure that the rich get richer at the expense of the poor and our country was no different. The founding fathers were businessmen first and patriots second and the government they founded was founded on the idea of a benevolent rich ruling the masses. The only problem with that is that the rich are not so nice.
In my experience, the state pays millions to an international corporation for me to eat yet I can't get fresh fruits or vegetables. Families of men I know as well as families I have never met can't get enough to eat yet food rots and corporations make megamillions. If the vision of the founding fathers, all men are created equal, is to be realized, then as a whole we need to free ourselves or apathy and greed and say that each and every one of us, no matter our circumstance is entitled to enough healthy food from going hungry, period.
The same should be true with water. In my experience, water has been so bad that it was unfit for anything. Families of men I know as well as missions that I don't either have had their water turned off or have no water or their water is so bad it's toxic. That is unbelievable and we need to tweak our thinking and our system of doing things to say that everyone has clean water and it can never ever be turned off, period.
In my experience I had a stroke for want of a pill so I'm scared to death to get seriously sick. For the families of men I know and the millions of families that I don't, the situation is far more dire. In a country such as ours, that should be inconceivable. Each and every one of us has to have health to be able to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness so we need to tweak our outlook and our system in order to guarantee everyone the decent health care we need not what some accountant says we get.
In this forsaken pit where dreams have died, it's far easier to move Mt. Everest than it is to live a life free from the grim reality found here that in the name of the people I am a slave of the state and in in their name I was tortured and will be tortured until I die.
There are restless spirits that haunt these unholy halls. I am not good enough with words to be able to convey the empty loneliness that I'm burdened with because I have morphed into a living ghost to my family and friends nor can I fully express my resigned exhaustion and latent fear towards the very visceral threat of sudden and vicious violence that has victimize me and which permeates this unforgiving place like some malevolent fog. I simple don't have the skill to explain any of the other real emotions that rage within me like a rampaging EF-5 tornado.
These are my experiences living in prison, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Compared to most of the other inmates in most of the other prisons across the United States, I've had it easy.
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