By Mwandishi Mitchell
Being incarcerated in a maximum-security penitentiary is a very dangerous thing. One is surrounded by dangerous inmates who have committed some heinous crimes. But I don't judge anyone based on what the state says an individual did. I myself have been convicted of a crime I didn’t commit, and I'm not naive enough to believe I'm the only one this has happened to.
As it stands now, I have ten years in on a life sentence. The psychological pain and stress is so damaging, that I'm not able to express it through words. Unfortunately, my writing just isn't that good yet. But in these ten years I have seen things that would break the average person. Guys have been stabbed in front of me, their faces have been slashed, heads bashed in with forty-pound dumbbells, and even worse, killed and taken away on a gurney. Every few months the entire institution gets locked down because of these incidents.
I'm an easy-going person who is friendly with everyone. But that's not a characteristic that is openly accepted in here. As I would soon find out, it left the door open for a sexual predator to approach me. I had six years in and still didn't know all of the signs of a predator. I smoke cigarettes - it's a terrible habit that even now I haven‘t been able to overcome. My stress level is just so high from day to day that I crave the relief cigarettes provide.
One day I was out of cigarettes, and being that I'm broke in here with minimal financial support, I asked for an advance on a pack of Newports until I got my $14 pay for a month's work.
The tiers on the block I was on are two football fields in length with two levels. My man Chuck, who lends out two cigarettes two for one, lived all the way in the back. That's the way the barter system works here in prison. If you borrow one thing you pay back two, two things, pay back four and so on.
When I got to Chuck's cell he was sitting on his bed watching television. I knocked on the cell door and entered.
"Hey, Chuck. You think I could borrow a pack o' Newports 'til next week?" I asked him.
"You're shit outta luck, Mitch. I jus' loaned out tha last pack about five minutes ago."
"Damn!" I said slamming my fist into my flat palm. "Who else haz a store?"
"Check eighty-nine cell, dough. Dev said tha dude Steward iz runnin' a store," he answered quickly trying to get back to his television show. He hadn’t turned his face from the television the whole time we had been talking.
This guy, Steward (we'll call him this for the purpose of anonymity), had moved onto our block after getting out of the R.H.U (the hole). He hadn't been on the block a month, and already opened up a barter store.
Being that I needed a cigarette, I went straight to his cell and knocked on his door. He was engaged in a conversation with another individual.
Steward is a skinny guy of about 130 lbs. at the most, with a brown-skinned complexion and graying hair. There was a young white kid sitting next to him, considerably close, but I thought nothing of it.
"Excuse me, but Chuck said ju got smokes two for one?"
"Yeah, I do. Whut do you need?" Steward asked.
"Jus' one pack, dat'z all."
Steward leaned over and opened up his footlocker, which was filled with Newport cigarettes. He grabbed one pack and handed it to me.
"Thanks, I'll have two for you when my payroll gets on my books."
“Naw, don t worry 'bout it. Jus' cum' back and see me in a couple dayz," he replied in a calm manner.
"Oh, a'ight," I answered in a puzzled fashion. Cum' back and see him? Whut tha hell doez dat mean? I asked myself internally.
A few days went by and I stopped by Steward's cell. I looked in his cell and he had nothing but his boxers on. I was going to keep walking but he waved for me to come in. I did, but I didn't feel that comfortable being in his cell while he had nothing but his underwear on.
"Have a seat," Steward said, patting his flat palm on his bed, indicating for me to sit next to him.
"If you don't mind, I'd rather stand," I replied. "You asked me ta cum' see you about tha cigarettes I borrowed. Dat'z why I'm here."
"I don't want the cigarettes back if you could do sum'thin' for me," his hand was now rubbing his crotch.
"Do sum'thin' like whut?"
"You know, give me a little head."
Right then and there I wanted to smash him. I mean, beat his brains in something awful. Who the hell did he think he was, even asking me a question like that?! I held my anger in and let it ride.
"Sawry, man, I don't get down like dat. You got tha wrong guy, family. I will give you your packs back az soon az I get my payroll," I said, then walked out of his cell.
I have to tell you, I felt like a coward. The old me would've hurt that guy really bad. But I was also proud that I was changing into a better person by restraining myself. I was a person who understood that Steward was disturbed, and you can't blame the patient for being sick.
Within the next few days I received legal mail from the court regarding my case. Prisoners have time constraints to answer motions filed against us by the prosecutor. So I answered the brief and sent it out immediately. The only thing, though, was that the postage put me in the negative. Which meant that as soon as my payroll was on my books, the institution would deduct those funds for the legal mail I sent out. Which meant that I wouldn't have Steward's packs for him.
I went to Steward's cell and tried to explain to him that I wouldn't have his cigarettes because I had to send out legal mail, but he wasn't trying to hear what I was saying.
"You're goin' ta have my money, or I'll see that you get gang raped!" Steward said with venom.
I didn't know what to do. Who could I turn to? Now, Steward and a few of his bigger, stronger, booty-bandits were making threats. Then a light bulb turned on inside my head. I went to my inmate handbook and found the answer. There it was under, A. Abuse Allegations (DC-ADM DOI): 1.) The Department does not allow any inmate to be subjected to abuse. Any alleged abuse will be thoroughly investigated. Abuse includes: c.) A verbal or written threat to inflict physical injury directed toward you. 3. Allegations of abuse may concern: a.) All persons who are employed by the Department; b.) All inmates.
I immediately grabbed a request form, addressing it to the security lieutenant, which said:
Dear Security Lieutenant,
I have been receiving threats from inmate Steward #AB1234 in 89 cell. I believe you already know of his sexual predatory nature from his psychiatric file. He gave me a pack of cigarettes I guess expecting some sexual favor in return. Now he’s threatening to harm me physically if I don’t give him the cigarettes back. Please help me. I believe I may be in danger.
I thought by sending that request form to the security lieutenant, that the Department of Corrections would come to my aid. Boy was I wrong! Not a single staff member asked me about my request, nor was it investigated. That was in August of 2009.
On September 16, 2009, at 8:30 p.m., I came onto the block after returning from the law library. Unbeknownst to me, Steward received a DC-141 (misconduct) for testing positive for marijuana use. That offense was a double-lock feed-in offense, which meant that the officer who served Steward his misconduct was supposed to log it in the log-book, with the time it was served to Steward and double-lock him in his cell to restrict him from other inmates, per Department of Corrections policy. The officer served Steward his misconduct at 11:30 a.m., and failed to follow the D.O.C. protocol and lock Steward in his cell, as was ordered by the shift commander. The ball had been dropped.
Upon entering my cell and putting my law books away, there was a knock on my door. It was Steward.
"Hey, man, I don't want no trouble. I told ju I'm goin' ta get chu your packs," I said to him.
"Naw, neither do I, Mitch. But I got sum'thin' for you down at my cell. Jus’ ta let chu know it'z all good," Steward said convincingly enough.
"A'ight, give me a second so I can put my things away," I replied. A minute later I was walking towards Steward’s cell. What was odd was that all the lights were out. His cell door was wide open. In my mind 1 knew something wasn't right. While I stood at the door, I heard his voice.
"You don't got my money, but chu got dis!"
Steward had preheated water to a temperature of boiling using a "stinger" that was sold in the institution. It is a water immersion heater. The water had been boiling in a plastic Folder's coffee container prior to my arrival. After he made that remark, he threw the boiling water on me.
When it initially happened, I didn't even know I was burned. It happened so fast. The next thing I knew, the skin on my right arm was pink! There was no skin! Then the pain shot through my body after it registered that it was injured.
By the grace of God, two correctional officers saw the whole incident go down. They quickly rushed to my aid. Steward was placed in handcuffs and taken to the R.H.U., while I was taken to the prison infirmary.
When the nurse saw my injuries her first remark was, "Oh my God!”
At that point the pain was intolerable. "Please, give me sum'thin' for tha pain," I begged.
I was given two Tylenol 3 tablets as they cut my T-shirt off with scissors.
Security officers came and took pictures of my injuries, as burn cream was applied to them. I had received second-degree burns on my right arm, both shoulders, abdomen and face. My skin had been burned off me where the boiling water hit me. When my wounds were wrapped the security officers took me down to the security lieutenant’s office where I told him what happened.
"I told ya'll sun'thin like this wuz goin' ta happen! If you would have investigated my request, this wouldn't have happened!" I explained as tears rolled down my face.
"We're sorry Mr. Mitchell. Do you want to press charges?” he asked wit a sly smirk.
"You're damn right I do!" I answered fanatically.
I stayed in the prison burn unit for fourteen days. They kept me isolated in a room by myself for fear of my wounds getting infected from other patients in the prison infirmary. While I was in the infirmary I found out that Steward had received the hot urine misconduct for drug use. If the officer did his job, or if the security lieutenant had done his job and investigated the threats made against me, I never would have been viciously assaulted by Steward.
The Commonwealth pressed aggravated assault charges on Steward and I testified to the events on and before September l6, 2009. Steward took a deal for two to four years running consecutive to the time he was already serving. He has been subsequently transferred to another institution.
I filed a grievance, but the institution acts like nothing happened. They use terms like, "when you were allegedlv assaulted." As if there aren't medical and court records that prove what happened.
My struggle goes on. My burn scars on my body are there for life. Every time I look at them, I relive that horrible event all over again. Four years after the fact, I continue to have nightmares, waking up in cold sweats as I imagine boiling water being thrown on me.
Not only am I an innocent man in jail for life, I'm permanently scarred for life as well.
Mwandishi (in brown) with his cousin
Mwandishi Mitchell GB6474
P.O. Box 244
Graterford, PA 19426-0426
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