Thursday, September 8, 2016

Hunger Games

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By Jeremiah Bourgeois

My hands were cuffed tightly behind my back, hurting my wrists. The shackles were also biting into my ankles. Five minutes before I was being harangued by the Sergeant. Thirty seconds later I was punching him repeatedly. Ten seconds later I was being tackled to the ground by his subordinates. Now I was being dragged backwards to segregation. As my heels scraped the concrete, I had no idea how much suffering awaited me.

The torment began the following morning. "Mainline," the officer's voice boomed, signaling prisoners to stand at their door if they wanted to be fed. I had just finished brushing my teeth and went to the yellow line that indicated exactly where to stand. The two officers delivered the trays one-by-one, with one officer pushing the cart and the other opening the slot to pass the food through. I could smell the eggs as the cart moved closer. After the officer handed the guy on the right side of my cell his tray, they bypassed by cell, handed the guy on the left side of my cell his tray, then continued down the tier.

They never looked in my direction. They never said a word. I stood there in silence for about a minute. Fuming. Then I went and made my bed. That done, I paced the floor, stomach grumbling all the while. Lunch arrived four hours later.

"Mainline," the officer's voice boomed. I was on the far side of the cell when I heard him yell, and I rushed to that yellow line as if they were only feet away from the door. There I stood for several minutes until they arrived with the food cart in tow. Once again, the guy on the right side got his tray as did the one on the left. Once again, I didn't get shit. This time I couldn't help myself and asked sarcastically, "I can't get a tray?" They never looked in my direction. I felt like a fool. I shouldn't have said a thing.

As I listened to the wheels on the cart squeak as the food moved further away, I laid down on the bed. Furious. Not only because I wasn’t being fed but because I had shown weakness. They want to hear me scream and beg. To complain and request grievance forms. To feed off my reaction. I vowed not to react from that moment forward. My expression would remain devoid of all emotion. I would give nothing.

As I lay in bed throughout the afternoon all I could do was hope that the officers on the next shift were not in cahoots with this crew. Then I’d be able to eat dinner. I nodded off at some point and awoke when a different voice boomed, “Mainline.” I jumped out of bed, rushed to the yellow line, and waited. The guy on the right side of me got his tray, then the officers stopped in front of my cell. I couldn’t believe it. I was so glad that these guys were now on shift as opposed to the other two. When one of them opened the slot in my door to pass me the tray I felt so relieved. My relief turned to rage when he shoved the tray so forcefully the food flew all over the floor. The slot then quickly closed and the two continued passing out meals as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.

I ate that spaghetti right off the floor, and scraped the applesauce off the wall with my hand, licking it off my fingers. Of course I waited until my tormentors left the tier lest they get to enjoy bearing witness to the spectacle. When they returned to pick-up my tray, I handed it to them as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. My face showed no emotion. I said not one word.

This day replayed itself twenty-one times. No breakfast, no lunch. Dinner eaten off the wall and the floor. For twenty-one days I was never let out of that cell. No shower. No telephone. There was nothing I could do about it.

Who knows why they decided to start feeding me? Maybe it was due to their fear that my health would deteriorate to such an extent that it could lead to a medical emergency, thereby arousing suspicion amongst medical staff and raising questions that the officers did not want anyone to ask. Maybe the sight of my gaunt features evoked pity in one of them and compelled him to intercede on my behalf. Who knows? What I do know is thirteen pounds had vanished from my already slight frame. When I stepped on the scale on my way to the shower after having eaten breakfast for the first time in three weeks, my weight had dropped from 158 to 145 pounds.


Fifteen years later, I was imprisoned elsewhere. Years had passed since I was involved in any serious disciplinary incident. My days of punching officers in the face were long behind me. I had come to terms with the fact that I was going to spend the rest of my life in prison. I might as well make the most of it.

One morning I awoke to find that the prison was locked down. Nothing was moving. As I turned on the local news, I wondered how long we would be stuck in our cells before normal movement would begin. When I saw the lead story, I knew nobody was going anywhere.

The newscaster was reporting from right outside. Hours before, an officer had been found slain in the prison chapel. I was stunned. It was inconceivable to me. When the slain officer’s photograph was shown, my face froze. I passed this woman almost every day as she stood outside the chapel checking prisoners in. She worked inside during her shift. She was professional. Polite. Never bothered anybody. As the image on the screen cut to her quaint home with a horse in the back, my shock turned into sadness. She was only thirty-four years old, the newscaster said. That was only a year older than me. Her life snuffed out just like that. It was a tragedy.

Tears started to form in my eyes by the time the image on the screen cut back to the prison. The newscaster then explained that a convicted serial rapist was suspected of committing the murder. He was now being held in segregation. When I heard that, I suddenly thought “Those officers are about to fuck him up in there.” As I envisioned the countless ways they could go about it with him, I vividly recalled how they went about it with me. As I remembered those weeks of starvation, long buried emotions flooded over me. Anger. Depression. Hate. Self-pity. Loneliness. Fury. I couldn’t focus on the television anymore. I laid down and eventually fell asleep.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over what they did to me. To forgive, to let go, is truly a hard thing. I wonder if my victims also experience such emotions suddenly. Because of me. Because of what I did to a husband. A father. A friend. I doubt they’ll ever forgive me. 

Jeremiah Bourgeois #708897
Stafford Creek Corrections Center
191 Constantine Way
Aberdeen WA 98520


Anonymous said...

I don't comment very often. I'm not very good with words, but I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your story. It touched me. It was short, but it shows the prison environment and mindsets vividly, and also shows your growth as a person.

A Friend said...

The following comment is from Jeremiah Bourgeois:

Anonymous: I appreciate your comment. Hopefully, the parole board will also recognize my growth when I go before them next year.

Ars said...

It's honestly sad to think that the criminal justice system hasn't followed medical science on the teenage brain. I don't know that they will ever catch up to any science, though, seeing how they over do what they consider justice. I hope the parole board sees the improvement you've made. I know the rest of us do.

A Friend said...

The following comment is from Jeremiah Bourgeois:

Ars: Thank's for your comment. While changes to criminal justice policies in light of medical science related to juvenile brain development have not happened that swiftly, changes have been made. It is the very reason that I am now eligible for parole and am no longer serving life without the possibility of release. I hope that others will one day have the opportunity that I have, and that the changes they have made will be taken into consideration. I know many prisoenrs who I believe deserve a second chance.