Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Fostered Neglect, Part One

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By Jedidiah Murphy

I have long wished to do something about the Foster Care situation, having been a product of it myself; yet finding the proper avenue is something of a gamble. I have discussed the issue many times, but never really had a will to talk extensively about it for personal reasons, and sometimes simply because of time constraints. I have a limited amount of time with which to do something positive, but the time has come for me to talk about what I know the system to be and the results of inadequate care at both the emotional and physical level. I am no savant, nor do I have any real skill at preparing and writing well-rounded articles. I am a high school graduate and nothing more. So when reading this don’t hold me to a high standard because I am simply a normal guy with an extraordinary story that I think will help people to see another dimension to the whole topic.

The perils of Foster Care extend far beyond what most people realize when they think about the issue. I have seen behind the curtain through two generations, and know the dark corners of what some would like you to believe is a "chance" for someone without anyone. There are several types of chances when you think about it. There is a chance that you will get the flu at some point. There is also a chance that you will win the lottery. The chance the state gives to foster kids is closer to the latter. For some people involved it is just that; however, for you to define the systemic failure of the program as a whole by the success of a few you would have to look past all the broken bodies lying in the wake of the few who “made it.” There are always success stories, just as some skydivers who have a parachute malfunction on the way down survive to tell the tale, there are some people who make it out before real damage can be done to them. You would hardly call that skydive a success, but the state would have you believe that the few people who hit the ground had a real good time once all the bones mended. Their view is that of fantasy and jaded by the fact that for them to make money that sustains their life, they have to sell something that is rife with abuse and corruption. 

Before I get too far into this I want to make something completely clear. There are some really good, dedicated people in the foster care system. It takes a special person to take a child who they seldom know much about at all and "try" to establish some semblance of normalcy into a tragic and often emotionally shattered young boy or girl. These are children who have often-times had terrible, unspeakable things happen to them and are difficult at the best of times. A lot of them are underpaid and really under-educated about the emotional impact it has on them and the child. The reason that most stop doing it is because seeing the hollow eyes of damaged children with nowhere to go hurts. It hurts everyone. Noble ideas are often the reason they join, but those are hard to realize most times. Who among you would not want to ease the suffering of a child who has lost everything? Only to lose them to the routine removal time and again. The merry-go-round is anything but merry for the people with skin in the game.

Having said that, there are people that are after nothing at all but a paycheck and will do little to nothing for their ward. They don’t care for them or feed them at times. They will chase a pet out the door in a frantic moment of panic, worried that it will get hit by a car, but won’t get off the couch if a child that they were responsible for ran out that same door. I wandered alone all over when I was a child. I would come back and eat and most of the time just be alone. I would be cleaned up for presentation when the case worker was coming, which was great because it usually meant that they would cook something good for me to eat. I learned the trick was to tell them the things that you liked most to eat and they would make it when the case worker came to see you. I learned that from other wards like myself. It worked more times than not. You do what you can to get the creature comforts that so many take for granted when you have to fend for yourself. You learn to essentially make the most of a bad situation.

Just for statistical minded 2012 roughly 650 Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) positions went unfilled. (These stats come from a lawsuit filed by Children’s Rights Inc. on behalf of my daughter Alyssa who is herself a ward who will age out July 31st at 18. I will discuss her as we go along but anytime I speak of facts about the program it will be from direct filings in Federal Court on her behalf.) Likewise in its budget request to the Texas Legislature, DFPS expressed a need for additional staff lest caseloads "increase.” They say, and I quote: "Without additional staff, caseloads would increase, which results in significant child and adult safety issues.” 

There are eight stages in the processing design of the program. They include: Intake, Investigation, Family Preservation, Child Substitute Care, Family Substitute Care, Foster and Adoptive Home Development, Kinship, and Adoption. The average caseload in 2011 was 20.59 children. A child could be in multiple stages at one time for processing purposes, so the average "stages” per caseworker ranged from 1 to 100. That range is the rule rather than the exception. So how could they possibly track their wards with any reliability when they have so many lives in their hands? Many times they simply cannot do what is being asked of them on any given day, and even though they are dealing with children and LIVES, people slip through the cracks. My story is about a few who did and the results that followed.

My story begins in Kaufman County, Texas. There were ten of us living in a three bedroom house. My father, my mother and grandparents, along with three half siblings that my mother had previous to the marriage to my father, and three more after the fact. I have one full brother and one full sister. My grandparents were great people and worked hard their whole lives. My grandmother was a registered nurse and my grandfather was a heavy equipment mechanic for a construction company for many years. My mother was a nurse and my father worked for the same construction company as my grandfather. My days consisted of running around with my brothers and sisters and just living the life of a country kid with no real limits on adventure. My father was a chronic alcoholic and a violent abusive monster at times. He beat my mother relentlessly, and it was very hard to see your hero and father become something that you wished would die. I prayed that he would not come home at all anymore so many times because it was scary to watch him knock my mother out. As a child you don’t understand what unconscious is. You see your mother fall and you think immediately that he killed her. I could not process the violence or the reasoning behind it, but I understood what dead meant. The thought of him killing my mom would send all of us into a pack mindset and we would attack him to get him to stop. At five, that is a lot to deal with and none of us did it that well at all. He often did this when my grandfather was out of the house or away on a job, so there was no one to help us defend against the assault. Everyone got their share and we did our best to deal with it.

That all changed the summer of 1981-82. My mother took us to town and we had Coke floats and spent the day with our mom. As we came to the road the little house was on, my mom asked the three children that belonged to my father to get out and she drove away. She abandoned us that day, and I watched her drive away not really understanding the situation for what it was, yet still knowing that something had changed forever. Shortly thereafter my father died of complications from alcoholism in his early 40's and my grandparents passed away as well. We were taken to Buckner Homes in Dallas, Texas. For those reading this and are curious about the system internally, I will tell you that Bucker was top notch back then. I don’t know what it is today, but then it was the best, considering the situation. Arriving that day, I was awake but part of me was so numb I was practically in a coma. Everything about it was terrible. Everything was lost, the disconnection of being in the wrong place, with the wrong people, wore me down into a silent, slightly disoriented, funhouse mirror version of my old self. It is hard to be that age and be around so many strangers, without the comfort of knowing any way to get back to where you feel safe. My brother and I were kept together but he was just as scared as I was, so neither provided much comfort to the other. He was 17 months older that I was and I tried my best to hide behind him and disappear altogether, to erase myself to become a shadow no one paid any attention to at all. Beyond the studies people have done throughout the years and the changes they have installed into the charade, there is no way to make this "okay" for any child. It damages a soul in a way that no amount of "talking it out" could ever hope to mend. I would wake repeatedly from dreams thinking, "am I home,” only to then realize a second later, "no, Jebediah, you will be home again,” over and over again. To be so lost in yourself that at times, from grief and confusion, you forget to even blink or even breathe until by virtue of being a mammal in need of oxygen you gasp while silently wishing you hadn't.

I was so young then I don’t remember a lot about the time, probably because of all the processing that I had to adjust to just to be able to function. What I do remember is a conversation I had with a man who worked there who forever changed the way that I thought about myself and the world. I was standing looking out the window as the man approached me and asked me what I was doing: I said that I was looking for my mom because she was going to come and get me. Without thinking about it (I would at least hope), and without missing a beat, he told me the following: "If you're good your mom WILL come back and get you.” I don't know what made him say that to me but to find out I could change the situation for myself and for my brother made me determined to not make so much as a wake in life at all. It is hard not to feel the sudden disruption, the end of the familiar, when it is so stark in front of you, painted in vivid colors of hopelessness and pain. Despite the pain involved, or precisely because of it, I found not only my saving grace, but the ticket back to a time of "once was" instead of "what is to be.” Months later I would rethink my time in Buckner and replay every instance of disobedience that could have derailed what was once so bright in front of my brown eyes. Out of shame, out of the impotence and grief, something was born. Something which I believe today was the desire to be different: that is to say to be able to know what it is to mourn, to have been left alone and really understand what it means to be orphaned. Wondering if I had eaten too much or been sick or cried at some point, and in doing so, slipped past the point of no return and into the reality I was doing my best to reverse. I failed at doing what was necessary to prove to my mother I was good enough to return for, or so I told myself. It hardly matters what is statistically true when you are alone and silent in your critique of yourself. This cold understanding, the nights without sleep, became bricks I would use to build fictional houses within my mind, filled with shadows, and unresolved pain in the face of uneasiness and loss. I learned that day to hide in myself and not trust or believe anything anyone told me again. I don’t know what happened to that man but the marks he made were etched on every failure I would ever suffer, regardless if they were real or imagined. I would never be good enough. I took full responsibility not only for the event that we found ourselves in, but the abandonment that led us there. I had the perfect reason to hate myself for the rest of my young life, provided by someone who was ill-trained for what he was doing and through ignorance and good intent...broke the heart of a boy he knew but for a moment, broke what little I knew of trust at all in the blink of an eye. I lost part of me that day when I realized what was supposed to be a "break" was what would become a new normal for myself, my brother and baby sister who I had not seen at all since we had arrived.

You would think that at some point there would be some counselor who would enter the scene and make some positive impact and change, but when you deal with children adrift all the time you tend to become numb no matter your "passion" for the job. I was simply another kid and we had to figure things out for ourselves. We become a name but something less than human. My brother and I left Buckner to be injected into the stream of children in the foster care carousel. We were bounced from place to place, sometimes together and sometimes alone. We were not parted that long because it had such a tragic response: we would be mute to the prospect of anything but fear, broadcasting the dull stares of someone not quite alive and certainly not living anymore as a child. The curious thing that happened to my brother and I during this transition was that I became quiet and he just the opposite. Before we were removed from my grandmother's it was exactly the opposite, with me being the most curious kid of the bunch. I was constantly asking questions to the point of being teased about it from my siblings. I was curious about the world and "why" things without explanations were in fact without definition. After this whole tornado wrapped itself around what cherished most and obliterated any sense of belonging a curiosity I simply stopped caring why things were the way that they were. I knew only one thing that trumped them all...I fell from the living to the surviving. So that is what I set my focus on. I stopped asking the adults anything because I spent my time absorbing things around me I thought I needed to know.

When I was placed the first time I was so shocked that I could come and go as I pleased without getting into trouble. I was in a small town in East Texas and learned a lot of things from magazines. I could read and though I did not know all the words in the magazine I knew most of them so if I saw something I had read about in a magazine I felt like it was worth investigating. Without my brother around I was scared to be alone in someone's house. So I spent as much time I could away from enclosed places. I had seen kids my age at Buckner that had been assaulted and abused and I talked to quite a few of them. They would talk to one another and I would think to myself that I did not want to be one of those kids when all along I was one circumstance from being exactly that. Funny how at times you're at your worst you seek out someone doing even worse so that you can say to yourself, “hey at least I am better than that.” It is little consolation at the end of the day, but anything that elevates your position, even if it is in your mind alone, is worth something. It is not that you will say anything to anyone, but it gives you something to cling to because if you know that you're one rung up then you know that you have something to lose, and you will do more to be wary of the situation that put you at the bottom looking up. We swapped knowledge with one another and tips for getting the things that were not offered to us freely. A kind of fraternity of street urchins from some dystopian, end of the world society made of children with a vast amount of solutions to problems no child should be aware of at all.

I knew kids under ten that you could set free in a big city and they would be fine. They would fend for themselves and operate as they were born to some feral form of parent that had the child and immediately after their 5th birthday wandered off to bigger and better things. We would teach one another the skills that it takes to be part of that life. The first time I was educated about stealing anything was from a girl who took to me and she was incredible to me. She could play you right out of your shoes and play roles that would stun a Hollywood lifer. I was terrified to steal anything because my grandmother was a Christian woman who was easy to love but if you stole something she would make sure she got your attention at the end of a switch. She caught me sneaking things a number of times and she finally got her fill of that and the way that I would cry my little brown eyes out to get out of trouble. She whooped me for stealing cookies and I tell you that I still don’t eat sweets much at all today. I don’t like them. So to steal something represented the highest form of severe punishment and this time it would be administered by some stranger who did not love me like my granny did. So I did not want any part of that, but I would watch her because who doesn't want to see something done with so much confidence and skill and especially when it was mastered by a girl who could whoop most boys. She fascinated me then and I still smile when I think of her. I wonder what happened to all the people I knew then, much the same way you would wonder what happened to some friend that moves away. So when I was out on my wandering, I would pick up anything and everything. It did not matter if it did me any real service. I became adept at melting into the background.

While in that small town I saw the Alamo. Set back from the street was an adobe house built like a mission, and it set off every alarm I had in fact read about that in magazines. I walked right up to it and never saw the owner working in the flower bed in the front yard. I stood there looking at it thinking what are the chances that I found such a place, with no help at all when I was pretty sure that Davey Crocket got lost trying to find it. The lady who owned it was curious who the hell I was and I was curious how the hell I missed her when she scared the crap out of me by walking up on me. I ran away like a skittery fawn and I mean sheer panic because I was with a stranger who was so sneaky that she got right next to me without my knowing anything. So clearly she was some phantom from the war, and that rake looked an awful lot like a rifle to me. I bounced off no telling how many trees, running like a crazy drunk on his way to the soup kitchen. In time, I would get to know that lady and she would make me things to eat. I ate tacos and drank Kool-Aid and things I don’t know the name of at all. She knew I was an orphan because I told her. I had no idea what else to say when she asked me about my life. So she looked after me. I would stay there all the time even though I was not supposed to be away from the foster parent’s home. I would go back to see the case worker when she came and eat my special meal but otherwise I was with her. Time goes by and as with everything else it all came to an end and it hurt me to leave there. It was another loss and this time I learned that it was not good to attach yourself to anything because you're not going to be there, and as nice as people are they don’t want another kid to look after. When people stick together they come to rely on one another to survive. I had to do the opposite because I was alone and if anyone let me down, it would be me. 

The first adoption took place in that town and I, along with my brother, were adopted by a family that were well respected as good Christian folk. These were times that I would like to forget about, and though I have come to accept things for what they are and for what they were then, I don’t feel the need to detail that time. What I will say is that initially it was a great place and when things were finalized it switched to something altogether more violent and aggressive. My brother and I stayed there for four years and I came out of that house a shell. What people have to understand is that in the early to mid-80's things were not what they are today regarding parental treatment and punishment. You could beat a child to a pulp and get by with it because the police considered it a "family matter.” You could get away and run for your freedom to a neighbor’s house and beg for help and the police would come and take you right back to the place you sought to flee. Imagine what it is to see a police officer who sees you’re scared to death and you are telling of things that you have been suffering, and what does he do...he takes you back. Someone your whole life you are told that is to be respected and they will save you if you're being hurt, or in need of help, and they do the exact opposite and you know why? Because people label you a “troubled child,” for no other reason save the fact that you were adopted. You're still not quite important enough to protect and be believed when the chips are down. If it was bad enough to run away from, then imagine what awaited us when we were returned. My brother was the recipient of more than I was, because he was the type to come to my defense no matter the cost. If he heard me there were no limits to what he would do to get to me. For doing that, he would get double what I got and I grew to hate myself for being responsible for the punishment he received. I saw my brother kick through a bedroom wall into the room beside it when they locked him in there to separate us. He was 8. It is beyond comprehension the strength you command when your loved one is being hurt, but as much as I wanted to do the same for him, I simply could not do what he could do. I felt so guilty at being so weak I could not kick through a door or wall to protect him. I tried many times and I simply was not strong enough.

I won't go into things that happened, but I will say this: people have asked me at times how that officer could see us all beat up and take us back. Well, not all injuries are so easily spotted. Suffocation leaves no mark at all and it will erase the barrier from the fear you have of the dark to something a million time greater. It will break any sense of reality and a displacement will set in that will not altogether stop ever again. Standing at the margins, the distance from normal to abnormal grows shorter and easier to cross. It’s hard to measure the social destruction wrought by someone that starves another person of the things that keeps us all connected to this reckless and unnatural environment...oxygen. The marks you’re looking for are on the bones of the soul blackened by the devious sense of breaking and rebuilding, breaking and rebuilding, until the foundation crumbles and falls away leaving just the patch of ground scarred by something that used to be. Perhaps it is fundamentally human to be awed by the things that you had in front of you that you never realized. If so, it’s a tendency that has repeatedly allowed kids in a hostile environment to remain unseen while standing right in front of you pleading for help. If you don’t trust anyone anymore, how can a child trust you with a secret that big, when even police officers need evidence of scars no one but you can see? Those seeking to understand abuse and neglect on this level must do so from the equivalent of just a few pieces from a picture comprising tens of thousands of shards. So they miss, which is utterly human. Sad but true.

As a child I was in awe of super heroes and seemingly ordinary men who could do amazing things then revert to something as common as a newspaper reporter or short order cook. When this whole scene unfolded on top of my brother and me, I would pray that one of them would come and save us and take us someplace safe far, far away. I learned that nobody was going to save us the hard way. My opinion, and that of the courts at several points, is that CPS as a whole is a broken system. What seems like cold calculation that privileged salaries over lives was also an example of institutional ignorance that has as much to do with management as it does with human values. At CPS, the consequences or separate divisions and a competitive culture inhibit communication. Why is it that CPS is unable to adapt to a challenge that many in the organization have seen coming for years? Think about this...I was in that system 30+ years ago when there were far less children in CPS custody and look how we fell through the cracks. Today CPS is bloated, wasteful, at times malicious and an unforgiving bully who covets money and power over lives. At least that has not changed that much in the last 30 years.

During our time in that house I learned what a panic attack was. I felt that I was having a heart attack and I did not know what they were either but I felt that it would be better to die than to ask for help. I could not breathe and understood that it happened when I thought they were coming to get us. I cannot explain the fear that made me break into cold sweats and paralyze any sense of fight I had in my young mind and body. I was broken. The only relief I could get at times when the whole world seemed ready to get me was to rock myself side to side with my face on the floor. I would tuck my knees under me and rock slowly side to side and it would take me someplace else. It happened without my planning or input. Some primal sense of the solution happened to me as much as for me. I would lose myself in that simple motion and disappear into some dream-like state that obliterated all the walls I built around myself and allowed me for a time to be something else, somewhere else. I had to hide between the bed and the wall to do this because if I was seen I would be punished for being "retarded.” It made it perfectly clear that I was not normal and though I knew that none of the other kids did what I did, the understanding of how different I really was pushed me that much farther from what they wanted to call normal. It’s tough on a boy my age to think that I have passed some barrier into a land of misfits and unwanted throwaways and to think that you have some mental flaw that you can do nothing about.

What happened to us in the end is that my brother and I destroyed that house in a moment of just, pure hatred for all the things they did to us over the years. We banded together and busted out of that house and ran away. We ran to a neighbor’s house who did what he always did. He called the police while we hid under his bed in his room. I will never forget the guy that helped us that day. That day the police removed us and a decision was made that I could stay but my brother could not. I was shocked that they could think that I would stay without him, I refused, but to tell you the honest truth about that time and the emotion involved...I tried to leave because as much as I hated it, it was at least SOMETHING. I knew what boy’s homes and foster situations were like and I knew that for us to have been adopted and removed once, that it would never happen again. I was scared wondering what awaited us around the corner but I know that if I stayed there I would go crazy or die. So away we went.

My brother suffered something that changed him to this day. I lost a part of my brother in that house and though he is functional and a member of society and has had kids of his own, he is not the same person he once was. I won't go into details but it is something else that they took from each of us. They were not prosecuted for anything and they got into no trouble at all for what they did to us. They disputed the whole thing and who would you believe? Two throwback, unwanted orphans or respected members of society? We gained nothing at all from telling people what happened to us so why lie about it? The fact is that my brother and I never talked about that house ever again nor the things that took place there. I was with a girl for years who found out about it at my trial. Same for my biological mother. I did not tell my defense in this case until my brother came forward with it. It shocked me then that he did that and still does today. It is simply something that we don’t talk about and I decided that it was a part of my life that I would like to forget about all together. The reason that I am doing this now is that I wrote all this down when I got to prison and learned that it had a kind of healing effect or release. So I talked about it to some people that I knew would understand because their lives were mine and vice versa. This is not some rare occasion that takes place from time to time. This is commonplace, and the children that suffer this end up telling their stories from prison cells much the way that I am. I don’t blame my mistakes on my childhood and never will. I don’t have an excuse but without people to teach me, I did not have any real “chance.” I did the best I could and failed. Tragic and horrific failure would be the wing of the museum in which my life is featured to say the least. 

When we left the home that was anything but we landed in another boy’s home. At this point I was 11 and my brother 12 ½ or so, and things were easy to understand at this point for the both of us. We knew what to expect. We had boys and girls our age that we could relay things to and they could relay information to us about our situation going forward. These were rejects as well, and we all banded together into a Lord of the Flies like band of thieves and schemers who could steal a car and go to Vegas, rob the place blind, hit Toys ‘R Us on the way home and no one would be the wiser. At least in theory. It was better than the nothing that I thought it would be. I went to public school just a few miles down the road and my brother was with me. I was a loner and my brother and I stayed within reach of one another, but I did my best to make some friends with what I thought of as normal kids. Nobody knew that I was a retard that still rocked from side to side. I say that with no disrespect as it was the word that was used in connection with my habit and I realize the offensive nature of it because I LIVED it. So please don’t take offense to my use of it. I played the trombone which they let me take to the orphanage and I thought it was the best thing in the world. I knew nothing at all about it but it was fun pretending I did. During recess someone saw that I looked like a teacher's son and actually called me his name. I thought it was a crazy person and did what I always did in those situations...ran for my life!! I did not know what it meant to be thought of as some other kid because what if he was a bully and smoked cigarettes? I could not think of a single good thing that would come of that so I flew away. Ironic that I could not think that maybe they thought I was a GOOD kid who people liked. It just was not something that I would ever really think about myself. That one misidentification led to a series of amazing things that tumbled around me with incredible speed. Abuse can tear down your confidence, leaving you sad and confused and I did not have anywhere to put that. You can find healing pretending to be just another kid, acting out other kids' lines and playing out other peoples' lives, yet a playground is a terrible place for therapy. I did what I thought kids my age did, though in truth I found little joy in that anymore.

When I found out that someone was coming to see me at the orphanage I was lost as to what the move was. I sought out people I knew would be able to tell me and learned that this was a pretty regular thing. Like test driving a car you're thinking about buying if it doesn't burn too much oil and doesn't have too many whiskey dents in it. If they only knew all the dents I was hiding they would have seen they were getting something akin to a golf ball instead of the Easter egg they thought they found. They told me that the family wanted to take me for the weekend and I asked them if Donnie could come. They told me no and I told them NOPE too. I mean at this point I did not care to go anyplace. I was with him and that was what I wanted more than any house with more strange people. When I told them no, they had to huddle up because this was clearly not something they planned would happen. It was my brother that changed my mind. In another example of his love for me, he told me that I should go and just check it out for the weekend and if I did not like it, then at least I got to go someplace different. So I went against my better judgement, and it was an awesome thing to a child who had nothing at all to see. They had a three story house like the show Webster and he was adopted too so that is why I knew about it. I mean I had never been in a swimming pool and I was about to have the freedom to stay in that thing all day long. They had a son that was my age and they wanted another son to be able to grow up with him because his brother had died some years before. At this point I did not know any of that because this was to be just one weekend of eating things I had never heard of before and swimming in a pool that did not cost me a dime...which I did not have anyway. I remember the first thing I ate…it was pears with lettuce and cottage cheese with some shredded cheese on top of it. I was what the hell is that? I knew what pears were, but I had never had cottage cheese in my life, and who mixes all that together but some crazy people, but the whole time I was nodding like a used car salesman trying to sell a junker to some suckers. Hey if I have to eat this weirdo rabbit food for a weekend to swim in that pool then hey...BEST THING I EVER ATE!! :) I had this whole lie prepared to tell them how good it was and blah blah but a curious thing it WAS good. Maybe these weirdos were on to something here, and I must have ate four plates of that before I stopped. 

I had a good weekend and went back and told my brother all about it because he has been to some people’s house too. He went with the principal home and they had a good time too, so as scary as it was to be separated at least we got to do something. When they came back and wanted me to stay for an extended period of time I was officially scared because I wanted my brother to go with me. I had been so low at times and scared that I had a mental shift. I became aware of what it was to feel you're going to die and it was like I had a new pair of eyes that gave me this veil piercing understanding that not all things are what they seem from the outside. That they could take me and not bring me back or possibly kill me was real. The damage done to us by such an ordeal is far more profound than what can be captured with statistical data. In reality, the most vulnerable kids, particularly the weak and orphaned, are hit the hardest and helped the least and I was painfully aware of this. So for someone to want to make a "next step" no matter what kind of rabbit goodness the food was...really scared me. My brother and I received no treatment for what we have been through whatsoever. No counselors came and talk to us about what we should do and how to process the four previous years, and then all of the sudden five months later I was potentially going to a more dangerous place. I was not the same wide eyed kid that I was before that happened to us and though I acted and functioned like a child my age I was anything but a kid. I was suffering inside from a displacement and distrust of society as a whole. PTSD was not an official diagnosis back then but I have little doubt that my brother and I both suffered from it. We were devastated, psychologically.

Imagine walking outside and seeing all your dreams dead all around you. How do you get over that? I never figured that out. Who can say what might have been had we got some professional help after the fact, but it is just another what if with no answer. Looking back though it is clear to me that there were cracks already forming in what was to be my complete undoing. I was still a kid who could not sleep without rocking himself and who kept all of his treasures on his pockets because they were all I had left. I could not change who I was at that point. Amazingly, I went back with my brothers' blessing and was adopted again. I don’t know what the reader knows of the system but to be adopted at 12 was highly unusual, but to have been adopted TWICE was even more so. My brother was being fostered by a man not too far away so we both left the orphanage together, going different directions. I settled in and did the best I could to fit in. 

To be continued...

Jedidiah Murphy 999392
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Turn Out

A Story by Samuel Hawkins

Note from Author: Please allow me to begin by saying that some of you may be offended by what you will read. That is not my intention. I also do not want you to misinterpret my first person style of writing. This is not a personal story. Although I have witnessed this, and been party to the stories of others involved in these acts. But this is a vivid, though some may say depraved, look at prison life. Those are the stories that I tell well. I hope that this does not alienate you from my writing.

The chow hall is where I got my first look at him.

When the "chain" arrived, the "fish" walked down the center aisle of the massive chow hall in bright orange jumpsuits on display for everyone.

This was a weekly spectacle.

This is where I waited each week looking for my next opportunity. Today he was a young kid, 20 or 21. When he walked in he looked around, but there was no recognition, no one called to him, or acknowledged him. He approached the serving line, and I left my seat and approached him, from an angle. I said excuse me, as I reached across him for a cup. I looked him directly in the face, so that I could see his eyes. My face showed not even a hint of kindness. It was too soon for that. I searched his face for fear. It was there, I knew it would be. I could see it, even though he tried to hide it. I laughed to myself. I filled my cup with juice, intentionally moving slow enough for him to catch up to me. Then I turned and walked back to my table. I sat down and watched as he slowly made his way down the aisle looking for a place to sit. His eyes made contact with others, looking for an offer to "sit down and eat." None came.

The other fish spread through the chow hall, searching for their own place to eat. Some had friends, or had been here before. Not this one. He was unsure, lacking in confidence. He moved closer to my table, and I stood up and offered him a seat. The line was cast. With nowhere to go, he quickly sat down, gratefully.

"Thanks" he said.

I shook my head. Took another bite of food and looked across the table at him. "Where you from?" I questioned around my food.


"How long you got?"

"Seven years."


I never asked threatening questions. Nothing challenging. This was just small talk. Get him comfortable with me. There were enough threats just walking around with scowls on their faces. This whole prison was a threat to a young kid, fresh off the chain. I knew that he would need a cell to move in to. That would be mine. So would he.

I looked at him more closely.  Outside of prison, girls would think he was cute. His family would call him a handsome young man. To me, he was "pretty." "Boy/Girl" pretty. Brown eyes, long eyelashes, pink lips, caramel complexioned, long hair, in braids, thin body (athletic), small hands. Not feminine, but neither a look of masculinity.

He had questions for me. When could they use the phone? He still grouped himself with the rest of the people on the chain with him. I knew he was alone. He didn't want to be. Where is the yard? When would he get out of the 'pumpkin suit'? I had answers, and we shared some small talk. I showed an interest in him. It equated to acceptance. He asked my name.


I told him that we had yard in about half an hour. I would look for him out there. I got up and picked up my tray. As I expected, he followed close behind. We dumped our trays and walked out the door. I knew there were eyes following us. Others knew my play. They would watch and laugh. We would laugh about together later. Some of my partners would want the play-by-play. Others were making their own plays, in their own ways.

When I was in my cell, I brushed my teeth, and washed my face. I sat back on my bunk watching a college basketball game on ESPN. My mind was racing. I was excited. The prison loud speaker announced, “signs out for recreation.” I got up and put my coat on, put a fresh pouch of tobacco in my pocket, and grabbed a handful of hard candy. Tools of the trade.

As the loud clang of cells opening crashed against the walls, I stepped out onto the tier, headed for my destination. This is what we call “fresh work” in prison. I was greeted by a sea of prisoners flooding into the prison yard.  This is where everything happened. Drug deals, fights, stabbings, future plans were made, and past exploits were relived. This is where problems began, and problems were resolved. This was also a hunting ground, where weak inmates were approached, accosted and picked off. Separated, isolated, preyed on, and played on. This is where I would go to work.

For me, tonight I only had one thing on my mind. I spotted him before he saw me. It was easy to identify him in his bright orange jumpsuit. But I purposely let him find me. He was looking for me. Perfect, I thought to myself. He called my name, “Jay.”

I turned and looked at him, even though I had seen him all along, I acted surprised.

“Hey.” I said.

Together we maneuvered our way to the track, and even though we were side by side, I led the way. As we walked, I pulled out the tobacco and offered him a cigarette. He accepted. As we walked around the yard familiar faces spoke to me.

"What's up, Jay?"

I was at home here, while he was still in awe of this old relic of a prison. There were many faces, none familiar to him, but they spoke to me with friendship and relish. I stopped and talked to a couple of friends, and introduced the “fish” to them. They shook his hand, and smiled a conspiratorial smile at me. They knew, even if he didn't know. This too was a part of my play.  My status amongst the rest of the population. After a few laps we sat down against one of the famous walls of Walla Walla, Concrete Mama. The Washington State Penitentiary.

I had the hook on the line, and now I would put some bait on the hook. I rolled a couple of cigarettes, and we smoked, and talked. I paid close attention. Listening more than talking. I wanted him to reveal himself to me. I listened and learned. I knew that anxiety and fear pulsed through the veins of many prisoners that arrived here. I counted on it. I would allay some of those fears. I was trust. Someone to grasp on to. Even though I knew his name, I thought of him as my “boy.” A piece of candy offered, and accepted. Trust.

We spent three hours on the yard that first night. A first date. My explanations of what to expect and what he would encounter took away some of the fear. Having a friend took away some more of the fear. His need to trust was what he should have feared. We would meet again tomorrow at yard. As we walked back to the units, I left him with the rest of the pouch of tobacco, and candy. When I got back to my cell I was smiling to myself. It was apparent that I had a successful excursion. The whole prison knew. They had seen me at work before. This would not be the first time, or the last.

I knew that the “chain tier” would be the last to go to chow for breakfast, so I waited before heading there, so that I would arrive just before he did. After picking up my tray, I went to my table and greeted a friend of mine who was already sitting down eating. When the chain tier came, my boy looked in my direction and smiled. I kept a straight face, allowing a brief nod in return. When he arrived at the table with his tray and sat down, I introduced him to my friend. He nodded, then quickly finished the rest of his meal and excused himself, leaving me and my boy alone.

My boy asked me about the schedule that day. I told him that he would get his clothing this morning, and then we would have lunch followed by yard. I let him know I would see him out there again. I also let him know that he could sit at my table, even when I wasn't there, and if anyone questioned him, tell them that Jay said you could sit there. I didn't go to lunch that day.  He did, and he sat in my seat.

When the afternoon yard movement was called I headed out again. As soon as I got through the gate and began to cross the track, I heard my name called. I knew who it was, of course. Once again we began walking around the track. This time I stopped and did some dips and pull ups on the exercise bar. He joined in. Having been in prison for as long as I had been, I made it look easy. When his strength waned, I put my hands on his waist, boosting him up to help him eek out a few more repetitions. This allowed me to gauge whether he was comfortable with physical contact from me. He was. I did a few extra sets of pull-ups just to demonstrate my superior strength. Then we sat down against the wall again. We picked up our conversation where we left off the day before.

"What did you do to get locked up?" I asked.

"Robbery." There was no pride in his voice. It was just fact, nothing more. A bad decision.

"What did you do?" He asked.


Another statement of fact. I didn't elaborate, and he left it at that. He did, however, want to know more about prison. I answered all of his questions. I even gave him some insight into the real me during our conversation. As to my real intentions, I gave away nothing. After three more hours, shared together, the yard period was over. We got up and walked to the gate to leave. As we stood in line, I asked him if he needed anything else over there on the chain tier.

"Some soap."

I told him that I would bring him some at dinner.


I waited for my boy at dinner and gave him not only a bar of soap, but also some deodorant and toothpaste as well. There was a question in his eyes. I answered it.

"Don't worry, you don't owe me anything." Then I told him I would see him at yard.

When we got to the yard again and sat down, he said, "I need to find a cell." I knew this was coming. Guys on the chain tier have one week to find a cell to move in to. Otherwise they can be dumped anywhere, not knowing who lives in the cell or what the living arrangements are. Usually these cells are the equivalent of a drunk tank in the county jail. But it could be better or worse. I didn't offer to let him move in my cell, not at first. Instead, I questioned him about who he could possibly move in with.

"You're the only person that I really know here," he said. I knew this already. He was nibbling the bait. All I had to do now was sink it in, with a little jerk. I paused as if I was in thought-- the picture of serious contemplation. Then I told him that I would talk it over with my cellie to see how he felt about it. He looked relieved. He'd bit. Time to reel him in.

Three days later my boy moved in while I was at work. When I came back to the cell he was sitting on the footlocker reading a book.

"Why didn't you turn the TV on?" I asked him.

"I didn't want to touch your stuff without permission."

As he stood up to move out of my way, I put my hand on his shoulder and said, "I'm not tripping on shit like that. Watch TV, or listen to the radio whenever you want. Make yourself comfortable, you live here too." I opened the footlocker that he had been sitting on, revealing cases of Top Ramen, rice, meat, beans, and other snacks. "You're welcome to eat too." I said. I had all of the comforts one could have in prison for him to enjoy. He was in a gilded cage. I would do everything short of violence to keep him there. I spent hours each day playing cards and chess with my boy, getting to know him better. We were bonding. This was an essential part of turning him out. He still didn't know it, but it was happening.

At his age horseplay was perfectly normal. When we wrestled and our bodies touched, my erection would rub against him. As I grabbed at him, my hands would graze over his buttocks. It was innocent only to the blind eyes of innocence. These activities were shared by us alone, mostly when our cellmate was at work. We stayed up at night while he was asleep. We stayed in the cell when he went to work or yard. Our time together became intimate. We ate with one another, and soon he learned how to prepare the meals I enjoyed. In no time, my boy began having a bowl of food waiting for me when I came back from work.

It was almost time.

I took a shower and came back without my shirt on. I asked him to put some lotion on my back. He did. No questions. No hesitation. When he took his next shower and returned to the cell, I told him to sit down on my bed. When he did, I took his shirt off and gently pushed him forward onto his stomach. I squeezed some lotion onto my hands, then began to rub it on his back. Gently, I moved from his back up to his shoulders, then on down to the top of his buttocks. There was no resistance from him. I extended the massage longer than was necessary to merely apply some lotion on his back. I didn't want to go too far though. While there was no sexual contact, this was definitely a sexual act. I stood up and put the lotion away after a few minutes, and he sat up from the bunk. "Thank you." he said. With that I knew I had broken down a major barrier. When I sat back down after putting the lotion away, I told him that we needed to talk.

"What we do in the cell stays in the cell. Do you remember when I told you that? When you first moved in?"


"Some things that we do in here are just between us. And that does not include our cellie."

"Okay." He responded.

I looked at him closely and saw that he understood.

As the days went by we shared these massages after our showers. He had never seen me do this with our cellie. This was just between us. It was not something that we would do when he was in the cell, ever. In this prison of cement and steel we had found a little comfort.

I had been quiet for a few days, and when my boy asked me what was wrong, I told him that I was fine. It was obvious that I wasn't. He could see it. I made sure that he took notice. After the third day of this he tried to give me a massage when I came back from the shower. I rejected this, and he was hurt. I could see it. Had he done something wrong? Why was I displeased? I saw the question in his eyes. I sat on my bunk and told him to come sit down with me. When he did, I turned to face him, looking in his eyes.

"You know that I care about you. I don't want to do anything that would hurt you. But I think that my feelings for you have grown deeper than I thought they could."

He just looked at me, and listened.

"I want you to do something for me. Something that I wouldn't ask you to do unless I thought that you cared for me as much as I do for you. I trust you that much.”

He just looked at me. I reached over and hugged him, pulling him close to me. He didn't pull away. Our mouths opened there on the prison bunk. My hands ran down his back, caressing him, and as my lust increased my erection poked free. I reached over and took his hand, guiding it to me. I pulled my shorts down and he did what was natural and unnatural at the same time. When he was done I thanked him.  He just smiled at me. I told him that "this meant a lot to me. This is something that we can share together and I won't tell anyone." "I trust you." he replied. I knew that all the barriers were down.

Our relationship lasted almost a year. When he got transferred to another facility, I felt empty inside. Drugs could not take this loneliness away. It was five long weeks before I saw something that caught my eye.

The chow hall is where I got my first look at him. He was in an orange jumpsuit, looking around for a friendly face. As he moved toward the serving line, I left my seat and approached him from an angle.

Once again it was time to make my play.

As the years have passed me by, I have seen this cat and mouse play many times. This is more often the case, than outright rapes. At least that I have witnessed.  Mind you there is a stigma in prison to many people who engage in homosexuality. But there is a greater stigma, to the young men who become "turn outs."  But often no one alerts them to their fate, because it is not their  business. Interfering in another’s affairs is frowned upon. Even to the point of being a silent witness.

Samuel Hawkins 706212
Washington State Penitentiary
1313 N. 13th Avenue
Walla Walla WA 99362

Thursday, November 12, 2015


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Dina Milito

By Michael Wayne Hunter

Embracing mid-morning March sun, gentle warmth caressing, I contentedly ambled ´round and ´round the exercise yard´s asphalt walk track while watching busted men playing hoops, soccer, or just like me enjoying a tranquil day. As I strolled, I absently tried and failed to calculate the miles walked, the shoes worn through logging lap after lap during my eleven year Pleasant Valley Prison chapter of my thirty-three locked years.

My annual review was due any day, my game plan was to transfer south to San Diego out of the heat and smog of California´s Central Valley.

Passing the handball wall for the fourth or fifth time, I idly decided to get in at least one more quarter mile lap before returning my somewhat pudgy fifty-something body back to my desk in the program office where I was the captain´s clerk.

Sensing rather than seeing movement to my left, I started to flick my eyes when a crushing blow hammered the left side of my nose, knocking off my glasses. Off balance, half falling, I caught myself with my right hand and left knee, cutting both on the sharp, jagged edge of the asphalt.

“I´m getting old,” flashed through my cranium, as my eyes dazedly focused on my twenty-something assailant. “No way that should´ve hurt that much!”

A second blow caught me just above my left eye.

Lurching forward, I awkwardly grappled with my attacker who broke free and fled.

Shakily, eyes dimmed from blood, I groped on the ground for my glasses, clutched, and stumbled toward my office.

“What the hell?!” a yard guard blurted as I approached the door.

Walking past without answering, I went to the janitor´s room and blotted my face with a rag which almost instantly soaked through. Collapsing onto a chair, I hazily noted my shoes were blood spattered. Fearing they´d be taken as evidence and I´d never get them back, sixty dollars gone, I gave up on my face and cleaned my shoes. Blood continued to river soaking my blue shirt.

Moments later, two guards showed, took photos of my face, and gaffled me to the Correctional Treatment Center.

Chained, locked inside a telephone booth-sized cage, my vision grayed and I feared I´d fall out.

The watch commander who I had worked for several years when he was assigned to my facility asked me what happened.

“Really not sure.”

Escorted to the triage examination room, I saw myself in a mirror. My face was a mask of blood, the left side of my nose was gone, chunked off like a split log.

“Were you hit by a baseball bat?” the doctor asked.

“Just a fist.”

“No way,” she said firmly.

What had happened? I wondered. Why?

X-rays revealed a fractured nose. After multiple sutures I was wrapped like a mummy and dropped into the hole.

Locked in another holding cage, I changed out of my bloody clothing into a jumpsuit. I could hear prisoners in cells calling to each other, “That´s Hunter, the Captain´s clerk.”

“How can they recognize me under all the bandages?” I wondered. Mystery. I had done these men´s lockup orders and now I was locked among them.

A Sergeant read me a lockup order that asserted I had battered an unidentified prisoner resulting in serious bodily injury.

Confused, I couldn´t understand how I could be charged with battery, and if the other prisoner was unidentified how could they know he had serious bodily injury. Baffling coldly, the Sergeant stated this was his house and would tolerate zero friction from me.

I nodded and the Sergeant went away.

Locked solo in a freezing cell, I was issued a fish kit that contained two indigent envelopes. I wrote some incoherent words to people in the unbarred world who care about me, shoved the envelopes outside my cell door and went unconscious.

The next few days were a blur of hours of sleep interrupted by bandage changes. The Asian woman registered nurse was extremely kind to me. She advised me to keep my injuries very clean and gave me extra bandages and ointment. She noted I was losing weight and encouraged me to eat more, but I just wasn´t hungry.

“Will I have a nose?”

“We´ll do our best,” she said pleasantly. But that wasn´t what I wanted to hear.

Two investigators pulled me from my cell, and we reviewed a grainy, blurry black and white yard surveillance video. A young man stalked my blindside, striking me twice with a gloved right hand. I didn´t recognize him.

Quizzically, I looked at the two investigators and asked, “Why does my lockup order have me as the batterer and not the victim?”
The two investigators exchanged glances and then one answered, “We wondered the same thing, found out you´ve done all the lockup orders for the past few years since you were…unavailable, the Lieutenant wrote it himself and…” his voice trailed away.

“He just cut and pasted on his computer from old orders.” I finished the sentence.

“Yeah, he messed it up. You´ll get a new one.”

Not only lockup orders, notice of unusual incident reports, who is doing my work?! I worried about the paper flow for a moment. Shrugging, I realized it wasn´t my work anymore. That part of my life was over.

“You´re not going to be allowed back on the facility,” the other investigator stated flatly, confirming my thought. “Where do you want to transfer?”

“South to Donovan in San Diego.”

“Fine,” he nodded and wrote it down. “We received multiple kites saying a clique wanted you removed from your position, so they could get in a new captain´s clerk, one they could control. We hit their houses and found these,” he showed me a pair of gloves with metal sewn in pockets across the knuckles. The gloves were spotted dull red with my blood. “We figure it´s one of the two guys in the cell, but the video wasn´t good enough to ID him. Can you pick him out?”

The investigator laid a six-pack of photos from ID cards on the table. I looked them over and shook my head.

“He´s not there?”

“I don´t know. Maybe. I just can´t ID him.”

“Fuck the prison code of silence,” the other investigator said harshly. “Pick him out.”

I never saw the guy until after I was hit on the nose with a fist inside metal gloves. My glasses had been knocked off, my eyes filling with blood, and I had been dazed and pumped with fight or flight adrenaline. I could not ID him. Oddly enough, I was mildly grateful it hadn´t been worse. The blurry video clearly showed I´d been slipping, I allowed someone to creep on me. If he´d come with a sharpened, metal flat and stabbed me in my blindside, I´d be done.

I shook my head. Interview over.

Day thirteen, two guards came to my cell and asked, “Are your stitches out?”

“Yes. Yesterday. Why?”

“You´re transferring to Sierra Conservation Center.”


They nodded.

Not five hours south to San Diego, but two hours north into the foothills of the California Gold Rush country, but out of the heat and smog of the valley.

“Let´s go.”

Chained, escorted to a van, we motored over to receiving and release to pick up my property. The shoes I had cleaned of blood were in the box.

I thought we were gone, but we stopped again at the correctional treatment center.

My registered nurse weighed me, ten pounds lost in thirteen days. She took off the bandages on my face to study me, and I could see in the mirror although my nose was deeply scabbed, it was mostly whole again. I suspected I´d be scarred, but was grateful to have a nose again.

“I shouldn’t let you go yet,” she said softly, thoughtfully. “But maybe your weight loss will stop if you´re out of the lockup unit. Do you want to go?”


Off I went to see what would come next.

-The End-

Michael Hunter C83600
Sierra Conservation Center
5150 O'Byrnes Ferry Road 3C-149L
Jamestown, CA 95327