Please make a donation to support Minutes Before Six
By Craig B. Harvey
Say world, as you can see, I'm back working my pen. My goal this year is to write more. I was motivated to do so when, while doing some research in the library, an old timer shared with me this African proverb: “Until lions learn to write books, history will always glorify the hunter.” In other words, I will never be given credit if I allow my enemy to write my history. I must write my own.
The irony in struggling to be heard from behind walls is that prisoners are society's castaways, yet society is entertained and intrigued by criminal life and drama. On television any given night, crime and punishment shows abound: Law and Order; CSI; Rosewood; Forensic Files; Cops; Lock Up; Jail and How To Get Away With Murder (Wow! What a name!). Even the first 10 minutes of primetime news sensationalizes murder, rape, robbery etc.. Society condemns us for living a life we were conditioned to live but gives awards (Emmys, Oscars, Golden Globes) to creators, writers and actors of shows that allow the viewer to live vicariously through us on screen. In essence, condoning the entertaining aspect of criminal life.
The “entertaining” world of prison is a unique environment to mature in. On average, we enter IDOC between the age of 17 and 24 (in my case 13yo), with an overwhelming majority of us having some sort of substance or alcohol abuse problem. A problem more social issue than criminal. Most of us will remain emotionally stuck at that age or younger. Prison was built to house young men. Policies are designed to punish and restrict NOT rehabilitate young men or give proper medical attention to ailing old men.
Many will grow old with no sense of responsibility, spending a large portion of our lives being told what to do or not do, and when to do it. Many of us have never worked a 9 to 5 job, never learned how to communicate with a woman. Hell, many were never taught how to wash clothes, clean our bedrooms, or maintain proper hygiene. And prison is not a place these habits are learned without brothers of great compassion teaching them.
Administrative rules are designed to perpetuate ignorance, dehumanize and humiliate able-bodied, strong-willed, young men. A few days ago, while I was handling my early morning “business,” I reached back to give the toilet a courtesy flush and it didn't work. My first thought was damn the toilet broke. The disappointing smell of the non-functional toilet hit me along with the realization of what was happening. I tapped the bunk and said, “Cellie, wake up, they on their way.” Because of the smell and him being locked up 32 years he knows what “on the way” means.
The hot water was still on so I took a hurried bird bath in the sink and brushed my teeth. My heart was racing, my stomach bubbling like I needed to finish my morning business but couldn't because before I could I heard the thunderous roar of 300 plus officers. Dressed in neon orange jumpsuits, black bullet-proof vests, black combat boots, black helmets and red mace canisters strapped to their legs, they yelled “GET UP, TURN ON THE LIGHT!” All while clanking three foot wooden sticks against the bars.
In front of each cell two officers instruct both occupants to strip nude: “open your mouth, stick out your tongue, run your fingers through your hair, lift your nuts, turn around, lift your feet and wiggle your toes, now bend at the waist, spread your cheeks and cough”.
After they search our blue pants and shirt we're allowed to get dressed. Just blue pants and shirt and flip flop shower shoes. No socks, boxers, coat or regular shoes. This is the attire, no matter the weather, rain, hail, sleet, snow and 10 degrees. We are then handcuffed and escorted to the chow hall where we'll sit from 8am to 2pm. Although I've been through this close to 20 times, and it's something I can never get used to. I have experienced the strip search procedure hundreds of times because it occurs before and after each visit. This entire episode is referred to as a statewide shakedown. Officers throughout the state are selected to search our persons, living space, and property. Really they destroy and confiscate approved items as a way to provoke and control, establishing order out of chaos.
Please pause for a second and imagine how you would feel? If someone you loved endured this, would you still be entertained? Some find it difficult to feel compassion for prisoners. The lifestyle that led us here may not be your experience, the path of a very small percentage that lives a thug lifestyle. Selective enforcement of law allows officers to feel comfortable shooting Black men and women, or tossing around Black school age girls, a system created with no compassion for the small percentage of us who insist on thuggin' and trappin'.
Until the community develops compassion for the so-called “thugs,” the guilty, the innocent will continue to be gunned down. Why? Because society views all Black people, that look or act in a certain way, as being guilty. What is compassion? It is defined in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as; “Compassion – sympathetic consciousness of others distress together with a desire to alleviate it” Do you have compassion? With compassion our social ills would be healed. Until next time, peace.
|Craig B. Harvey R15853|
Stateville Correctional Center
P.O. Box 112
Joilet, IL 60434