By Mwandishi Mitchell
"That which does not kill you, only makes you stronger.”
Friedrich W. Nietzsche
Every so often we have to take a fall from grace. One day I was on top of the world--and in the next instant I was cast down with the Sodomitesl The event I'm speaking of is my expulsion from SCI Graterford. For administrative reasons, I was kicked out of the plantation that I've called home for the past nine out of eleven years of my incarceration. Allow me to explain the sounds and thoughts I experienced on the way to my new home--SCI Houtzdale.
The guard tapped on my door in the hole of SCI Graterford at 1:00 am.
"Mitchell, you'll be rolling out in about a half hour," he says.
I wiped the hardened rheum from my eyes, "I'll be ready, Champ" I replied.
From there I began the regular grooming process of washing my face and brushing my teeth. I was excited about it. Getting on the bus and onto the road to see different people, cars, homes, shopping malls and trees. I hadn't seen a tree in nine years behind the wall!
When I got into the holding tank there were three people I already knew. They were getting transferred, too. Two were going to SCI Rockview, one was going to SCI Frackville, and one to SCI Dallas.
"Mitch, you finally gettin' out of here, huh?" asks Player. Player was a block worker in the hole until somebody threw shit on him.
“Yeah, after six months. Where they sending you to, Player?"
"Awe, man, they sending me to Rockview. Whut about chu'?"
"Houtzdale. Eva' been there?"
"No, but I heard it'z nice there."
Everybody knows his destinations. They call you to the property room to pack up all of your stuff the day before. I hadn't realized how much stuff I had accumulated over the years. Over half of it, I threw away. The state only pays for your T.V. box and two record boxes of property. Anything extra and they'll ship it to the jail they're sending you to--at your expense! So they're charging me for four record boxes to be sent to me. But these were important things that couldn't be replaced and which held sentimental value. I couldn't part with them. My legal paperwork-- transcripts, appeal briefs, and motions-- take up two record boxes by themselves!
We wait no longer than thirty minutes in the holding tank before we're told that the transport van that takes us to Assessment is here. I take my last look at the place where I was held in Administrative Custody for the past six months and sigh in relief that it's finally over.
I get onto the van and I see Brother Shareef! A good friend of mine who made me smile upon seeing him. He smiled, too, as we shook hands in handcuffs. We were still handcuffed because "officially," we were still ad seg. Brother Shareef was the head minister of the Nation of Islam. The same people who were having me transferred were responsible for having him transferred as well. Shareef, had been in Administrative Custody for eight months!
"Mwandishil Peace my brother, praise be to God. You're gettin' shipped, too?"
"Yes," I say while still shaking his hand, "please tell me that you're goin' to Houtzdale wit' me?"
"Nope, I wuz already kicked out o' there. Dat place iz Klan central!"
"Really?" But it's what I expected. "Where they sendin' you then?"
"Coal Township. Haven't been there yet. Heard it'z not dat bad."
"Sum'body told me tha same thing about Houtzdale," I say while cutting a dart at Player. Player casts his gaze to the floor.
When we get off the van and get into Assessment we're told to strip out of our orange jumpsuits for yellow transport jumpsuits. There were three guys who were in Disciplinary Custody, and they had to keep their orange jumpsuits on. Before we put on the transport jumpsuits we had to all be stripped and searched for contraband. None of us had any. After that, they brought the guys down from the general population blocks who were being transferred. All together there had to be twenty-five of us getting on the bus.
The breakfast bags were passed out and we ate and sat around for the betterment of three hours. When the bus was ready, the officers brought in the chains and shackles to put on us. They have this device called, "The Black Box," which they put over the locking mechanism of the handcuffs. It's designed so that a person can't pick the lock or insert a hidden handcuff key. The drawback is: that your hands are reversed in an awkward position, which can be painful during a long ride.
Shareef and I got on the bus together, and I offered him the window. He gladly accepted and I sat next to him. From the outside it looks like a regular Greyhound bus--but on the inside--it's nothing like a Greyhound bus! The seats are hard as a rock. There are three cages behind the driver. That's where they put the guys on Disciplinary Custody in the orange jumpsuits. They have to be locked in there per Department of Corrections policy.
At exactly 5:30 a.m., we pulled out of SCI Graterford. I took one last look at the forty foot wall that surrounded me all of those years. I then saw the construction of Phoenix I and Phoenix II--the new plantations they're building outside of the walls of Graterford. I wondered, when will this philosophy of lock 'em down and throw away tha key eva' cease? Then, reality hit me: It’ll never stop, because there's too much money to be made off of mass incarceration.
Once on the road I was like a kid in a candy store. I loved the new cars that were driving beside us on the highway. I marveled at the different housing developments and beautiful homes I saw. What did they do to afford them? What kind of jobs did they have? Did they have large or small families? With all that wealth--were they happy? And inside I felt sad. I felt sad because I could've taken another fork in the road. I didn't have to sell drugs. I didn't have to do the negative things that came with living the street life. But, I chose to; and because I chose those things--I forfeited my life! I could've just as well been living in a half a million-dollar home, with an eighty-thousand dollar car sitting in my garage or driveway. I damn well could've and should've. For me, that would've been, "The Road Less Traveled." I felt the irony of Robert Frost's classic poem.
At 8:30 a.m. we pulled into the State police Barracks for a bathroom break. Mind you, we are still in restraints. I didn't have to urinate but Shareef did. I then scooted over and took the window seat. There was this skinny kid who said that he had to defecate. The guards told him that once we were on the bus, they weren't allowed to take off the restraints. ,
"Whut do you want me to do? Shit in my pants!" he screams.
"Do whut you gotta do," the guard answers, with no sympathy.
The person sitting next to the kid made him take the seat in the front of the bus. The whole bus was clowning this kid. I felt bad for him. The guard told him to hold it for forty- five minutes until we got to SCI Benner--which is the transport jail across from Rockview. He had a strange contorted look on his face. Then, about twenty minutes into the ride from the State Police Barracks--he let go! Now, the jokes are really coming. He was going to SCI Frackville, and I know that the guys who were going to Frackville with him would never let him live it down. He would be the butt of jokes for the rest of his time in the penitentiary.
At 9:15 a.m. the bus pulls in at SCI Benner and I couldn't believe the size of the place--it was huge! There were racks with all the names of the state penitentiaries in Pennsylvania. The guards opened the luggage doors at the bottom of the bus, and started putting people's property on the racks of the institutions they were being transferred to. Shareef and I had been talking the whole time. We laughed at the good times we had. And we expressed our sadness in the fact that the institution had succeeded in separating us--he, I, and our brother Supreme Captain, Benny-Do. Three positive minds, who struggled and prayed for the uplifting of our people--splintered, just like that. At the drop of a dime!
"Okay, who's the shitter?" the Sgt. asks, once all of the property was loaded onto the racks.
The kid gets up--and holy crap! No pun intended. But you can tell he's wearing briefs and not boxers. There were big clumps of excrement packed in the seat of his pants. The bus was in an uproar! Poor kid. That's a helluva thing to have hanging over your head.
We were all split up once we got to SCI Benner. They gave us lunch bags and we had to wait in humongous holding tanks that had the names of the institution of where you were going. Houtzdale was the last tank and Coal Township was next to last. Brother Shareef and I said our goodbyes and I went into my tank. We hugged one another because they had taken off the restraints once we got to Benner. We were the first bus there, so there was only another guy and I in the tank. We were the other two from Graterford that were going to Houtzdale. Houtzdale happened to be the guy’s jail. He was down on writ at Graterford. He basically told me what to expect once I got to Houtzdale. He explained to me that compared to Graterford--I was in for a rude awakening.
"It'z crazy," he says. "tha majority of the population are young. There iz a big war goin' on between tha Bloodz and tha Crips. It'z gangland."
Bloodz? Crips? Whut tha fuck iz going on? I thought to myself. When I was a teenager Bloodz and Crips were a California thing. Now, it has found its way to the east Coast. Hearing that deflated me, and with it, my hopes for the younger generation. What a waste.
Two more people came in, an older gentleman by the name of Phil, and a younger guy who had gotten kicked out of boot camp. This made our total four. The Houtzdale van didn‘t get there until 12:30 in the afternoon. Once again, we were put into restraints and loaded into the van. The Houtzdale guards were wearing bulletproof vests and had huge Glock 40's as their side arms. They looked very intimidating!
The ride to Houtzdale from Benner was only about forty-five minutes to an hour. We went through the small town of Houtzdale and I wondered who was the Dutch or German settler this town was named after. When we got here all I saw was a huge fence with bubble razor wire going across the top of it. No wall, at least I could see trees!
We stopped at the sally-port in between the gates where the guards had to check their vests and side arms. Out of the sally-port came a guard with sunglasses on, his mouth packed with Skoal. He opened the side door and said in the most country voice I have ever heard in my life:
"Well, lookie here! These are four handsome specimens we have here--truth be told!"
I pondered, Whut tha hell have I gotten myself into?
After we came through the sally-port we came to R & D. I don't know, nor did I ask what R&D means. I'll take an educated guess and assume it means: Receiving and Departures. Because I DIDN’T HAVE ON AN ORANGE JUMPSUIT, I didn‘t expect them to put me back in the hole. After the R&D Sargent did the inventory of my property, he informed me that I was still listed as ad seg in the computer. So they took the property that came with me on the bus and put it in the storage room of the R&D. My hopes were downtrodden gust when I thought I was going into the general population. About a half hour later, guards from the hole on H-Block came to get me.
The hole guards took me to the strip tank and locked me in there. It was a clear Plexiglas tank with a camera mounted in front of it. I just stood there for every bit of two hours. I was so tired. I had been up since one in the morning and I had to fight the urge to lay down on the strip floor and go to sleep! Then, the lieutenant came in and told me that the reason why the process was taking so long was because they didn‘t have anywhere to put me. I am a Z-Code, which means I'm on single cell status because I don't have a cellmate. He informed me that he was thinking about putting me in the medical department, which was fine by me. The lieutenant left (I'm assuming to discuss the dilemma with the Day-Captain-- who told him no way) and when he came back he came with the sergeant. and two officers to begin the strip search. In no way am I new to strip searches--but this strip search takes the cake! The officer gave me the command to take my index finger and run it around my top and bottom gums! In eleven years that was a first. Another first was pulling back the foreskin of my penis?! Who in the hell would put anything there? After that, I really began to overstand how diabolical these people were…
From the strip tank I was taken to H-A018 cell. When we came through the doors the noise was deafening. Two guys were yelling obscenities at one another while they were locked behind their doors. I noticed that the size of A Pod was a little smaller than the wing I was on at Graterford. Eighteen cell was the first cell at the top of the steps. After I was locked in the guard reached through the wicket to remove my handcuffs. Once he took one handcuff off, I went to turn (to give him easier access to release the other cuff-this is a common practice at Graterford) he gave me a sharp command:
"No, do not turn!" he said, while having my arm hemmed up.
Now, I was really aware of exactly where I was!
To my surprise the cell was very clean. The institution as a whole is very clean. Houtzdale is only fifteen years old, which is fairly new compared to the old prisons like Huntingdon, Rockview, Dallas and Graterford. All the doors are electronically operated and there is central air! Can you believe that? They actually have air conditioning! The summer months at Graterford were brutal. I guess air conditioning is one positive thing I have to say about Houtzdale.
So, as I’m standing at the door of my cell, I happened to look across the tier at the cell opposite me--when I see Randy!
"Mitch, whut tha fuck? Whut‘re you doin' here?"
I smiled and laughed at seeing a familiar face. "Awe, man, Randy--dey kicked me out, cuz! Damn, I wuz wondering why I hadn‘t seen your face. I thought you had went home?"
"Guess again, Mitch. I had three dirty urines and they kicked me out around two years ago. Man, you're not goin' ta like dis place! Compared to where we were, it‘z like tha difference between heaven and hell."
"I'm beginning to see dat," I say, with a chuckle.
"Are you AC or DC?"
"I've been on AC since Thanksgiving when dey ran down on me."
"Shit, you‘re outta here, then. You'1l have to see PRC on Thursday and they'll cut chu' loose. All they're goin' to say is keep your nose clean and don‘t put your hands on anybody--especially the guards!"
"I already know an ass whipping comes wit' dat--so I'm not goin' there."
"I wuz gus' in that cell. Dey moved me in here with him to make room for you 'cause you're a Z-Code," Randy says, pointing to his cellmate.
“Sawry 'bout dat, cuz.”
"It ain‘t 'bout nuffinl Yo. holla back at me once you get situated."
"Sure thing, rand," I said lastly.
I made my bunk and hopped up on it laying back. Don't ask me why, but I‘ve been sleeping on the top bunk for years. Another oddity of mine. I'm a creature of habit. 1 thought about everything that was taking place. I wondered if Houtzdale might turn out to be different from what I was experiencing? Maybe it was only a few guards who were prejudiced assholes and not the majority? I found it highly unlikely, though.
The next day it rained all day so I didn't sign up for yard. The cell gangsters were at it again. All day yelling- -back and forth, back and forth. A black guy and a white guy named Serano.
"Aha nigger! You're a nigger--you‘re dirty and you stink!" yells Serano. "Bye nigger! Bye nigger!"
"And you're a rat. Ser-rat-no! Hey, doez anybody have any cheese? Ser-rat-no iz a rat!" says the Black guy.
I found myself putting my head under my pillow for the majority of the day. It was hard to believe that two grown adult men--were carrying on back and forth like children. I spent that Wednesday cursing myself for putting myself in this situation. I was surely paying the price for the mistake I made at Graterford.
At around 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning, two officers came to my cell door and told me that they were taking me to see the security lieutenants. I was handcuffed in the front this time, and taken through a maze of corridors until we came to a door marked: Security. One of the guards knocked on the door.
"Bring him in," said a voice from inside the office.
I entered and sat down, while the guard left me alone with the two lieutenants.
"How in the hell do you say your first name?" he asks, with a look of curiosity.
If I had a penny for every time I've been asked that question in life, I'd be a millionaire. "M-wan-dishi."
"How about that? Just the way it‘s spelled," he replies.
Eureka! No wonder why you're wearin‘ tha white shirt wit' tha silver bar on your shoulder!
"We‘re going to be frank with you, Mitchell. The computer doesn't tell us why you were transferred from Graterford, and we really don't care. All we want to do is make sure you don‘t make any problems here at Houtzdale. Does that seem acceptable to you?"
I ain't writin' shit about none o' y'all! "Yes, that seems fair, sir."
"Good, we're going to give our recommendation to PRC to release you, alright?"
"Yes, thank you, sir."
"Alright, he‘s good to go," the lieutenant yells for the officer to come in and get me.
The weight was lifted from my heart. After six months of Administrative Custody, I was finally going to be released! I wanted to jump for joy. Although, I didn't know if it was going to get any better; compared to what I had experienced so far in my two days at Houtzdale. I still had faith that things might get better.
A few hours later I was called into PRC where all of the big shots were--Deputy Superintendent, Mayor of Unit Management, H-Block Unit Manager and H-Block Counselor. They gave me the exact spiel that the security lieutenants ran down, and agreed to release me from AC status. I thanked them all and was escorted back to my cell.
Later that night at around 6:30, I was released from the RHU and escorted to C-Block, A Pod, in the general population. There are thirty-two cells on the second and bottom tiers. My cell is the second cell right by the telephones and control panel, 1002. I was finally out of the hole!
But everything couldn't be as sweet as roses--there was a drawback. It seemed they had kept the property I came with at the R&D! So, I was in the cell naked. No T.V., radio, just the set of browns they gave me when I came out of the hole. I had to borrow a pen and some paper just to send out a few letters. I type everything I write and loath writing in ink because my handwriting is horrible! Then, Monday is Memorial Day, so I'll have to wait until Tuesday--and who knows if I'll get my property then? I'm going to miss the Memorial Day marathon of Band of Brothers! That's my favorite!
Already, I've had to check a guard. One of them asked (or ordered rather) for me to do something and added, "Buddy." I told him to address me as, Mr. Mitchell, and in no way was nor would I ever be his "Buddy." he didn't like that. But I don't give a shit about what they like. Stay in your lane and I'll stay in mine. I hate to even talk to rednecks. I don’t say anything to them unless it's absolutely necessary! If you talk to me with respect then you're going to get respect back from me. If you talk to me like a nigger--well guess what, pal? The nigga will come out of me!
I don‘t know how long I'll last here, my friends. I'm scared. I'm scared I'll hurt somebody if they push the wrong button. And I'm soared they‘1l probably kill me if I do. My greatest weapon is: out of sight. out of mind. who knows? maybe this will be a new beginning for me? All I have is my faith in the Supreme Being that He'll keep me safe.
That's all I need--because with that. I have nothing to fear.
|Mwandishi Mitchell GB6474|
Houtzdale, PA 16698-1000