By Mwandishi Mitchell
All of us, at one time or another in our lives have heard the expression, "You break it, you bought it." Picture the scenario of walking into your local Bath, Bed & Beyond and eyeing a lovely vase for your coffee table. This is so lovely, you think to yourself while turning the vase around in your hand looking at the intricate pattern on the porcelain. However, suddenly you're startled by a loud noise or whatever--and the vase slips from your hands, shattering into a thousand small pieces onto the store floor. In most cases, a store like that will have insurance and the store manager will not ask you to pay for the broken merchandise. So, the cost of the accidently broken vase will be taken care of. That's the way things work out there in the real world--not for an inmate in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections!
Those of you who have read my essay, Just One of the Consequences of Writing (The Wrong Things), know that I was administratively locked down on November 27, 2013. I was taken from my housing unit at SCI Graterford with all of my personal property still in my cell and put in the RHU (Restricted Housing Unit). All for writing some not so appropriate things that were posted online.
A few days later I received a DC-153, which is a property inventory sheet that lists all of the property that was packed from your cell while you were in the hole. Immediately, I noticed that property was missing (commissary and sneakers), so I filed a grievance. Due to the fact that I keep all of my receipts, I was able to prove that I had bought commissary and had purchased sneakers some time ago. Without these receipts I would've been up Shit's Creek without a paddle. On July 25, 2014, at my new home, SCI Houtzdale, I received a response from the Superintendent of Graterford concerning my grievance:
“It should be noted that I needed a time extension on this grievance to adequately investigate this. This shouldn’t be held against the inmate when or if he wants to appeal this response.
This grievance was denied in accordance with policy. It is untimely.
However, inmate does provide documentation to support his claim. Staff also verifies his claim that he had at least one pair of sneakers. Inmate should be reimbursed the amount for both sneakers.
I consider this matter resolved."
I felt a little relieved after receiving that response. I mean, out of all the grievances I've filed over the years, that was the first that was ruled in my favor! My property was stolen, through no fault of my own, and the superintendent got it right. Rarely has that ever happened for me. But, there was another incident that had to be addressed, and the attitude of the institution taking responsibility for their actions was not there.
On May 19, 2014, I was brought from my RHU cell at Graterford, to the property room early in the morning. I knew that I was being administratively transferred, but I didn't know to where. The purpose of bringing you to the property room is to make sure all of your property is there and packed properly for your transfer. The property officer plugged in my television set and saw that it worked. He also plugged in my typewriter and saw that it worked properly as well. I may have been in there for forty-five minutes, making sure my property was packed right. The officer marked that my T.V and typewriter "worked" on my transfer inventory sheet.
The next morning I was on the transfer bus.
After arriving here at SCI Houtzdale, I was called to the property room on June 02, 2014, to pick up my property. My television was plugged in and it worked. However, when they pulled my typewriter from the box, I noticed that the plastic cover had come off. This was minor, as I saw I was able to put it back in place. To my dismay though, the print drive was propped up in a position that I had never seen it in. I plugged in the typewriter and the print drive wouldn't come back down into its normal position. Not only that, the keys I typed printed letters other than the letters I was pressing!
"My typewriter is broken, man!" I say, disgusted, looking at the property officer.
"Let me see that," he replies, as he walks around from his counter. He walks around the counter to where I'm at and operates it, and sees I'm telling truth. "You're right, it's broken," he finishes with a shrug of his shoulders.
Now, I'm livid. "What are we going to do about this, sir?"
Quickly, he grabs the property inventory sheet to check it. "It does say here that it was working when it was packed at Graterford. They're responsible by policy for property that was shipped here."
"So, what do I have to do now?"
"File a grievance, Mr. Mitchell," he says lastly. And that was the end of that conversation.
On June 06, 2014, I filed the grievance to Graterford asking them to reimburse me for the typewriter they broke during my transfer. I didn‘t get a response until July 25, 2014, from the Initial Review Response Officer:
"It is, in fact, by policy the receiving institution is responsible. However, in this case the property was sent via FedEx. A claim should be put in through them. Inmate was present while the property was packed and saw that his property was packed properly.”
Here, was another example of the Department not accepting responsibility for their own actions. The broken typewriter had nothing to do with me. It was in their hands. I appealed this initial review response to the superintendent of Graterford on July 11, 2014. Like the stolen property grievance, I was sure he would rule in my favor. Instead, on October 17, 2014, I received his answer:
“You indicate you were present when the typewriter was packed and it worked. You fail to substantiate that the damage was caused by staff at this facility. You were instructed to file your claim through the shipping company.”
Fail to substantiate! It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the typewriter was broken in their care. I definitely had no control over who shipped it and the care with which they treated my property. Come to find out, there was a thirty-day time period to file the claim. Not only that, the claim had to be filed by the customer--who is the Department of Corrections!
Being a writer, besides my dictionary, my typewriter is my most important tool. And a costly tool at that, to someone who has little means. It was only by a miracle that I was able to come up with the funds to obtain one in the first place (I had used an advancement of royalty money from the first book I wrote to purchase the typewriter). I didn't and don't have any family support and it makes it much harder on you when family members abandon you.
What gives these people the right to break one’s personal property, and not compensate the individual for it? To them, we are viewed as mindless drones that are soulless and deserve to be trampled upon. We are disrespected and taken advantage of, and there is nothing we can do about it. It's like, we have no rights because we are ostracized from society. Don't get me wrong, I don't believe there should be some sort of tous frais faits concerning inmates in prison. But, I do believe that if your personal property is damaged and it's through no fault of your own, you should be compensated for it. It's only right. Anything less would be uncivilized, and we're supposed to be a civilized society, right?
I humbly appeal to the supporters and readers of MB6 to donate funds for me to purchase a new typewriter. I know times are hard with the economy and everything, but if I could get everyone reading this essay to donate a small amount, I would have the funds in no time. The supporters of MB6 are my last and only resort. Without your help I won't be able to get a new typewriter and my writing will be put on hold for the foreseeable future. I hope supporters empathize with my plight and find it in their hearts to help me. Those that do, have me forever in their debt and my utmost gratitude.
Mwandishi Mitchell GB6474
P.O. Box 1000
Houtzdale, PA 16698-1000
Funds can be sent directly to Mwandishi through JPay or via MB6 at the following address:
Minutes Before Six - MM
2784 Homestead Road #301
Santa Clara, CA 95051