Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Dialogue of the Deaf

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By Thomas Bartlett Whitaker

I've been known to occasionally play Chicken with the universe. Crazy game, Chicken. It definitely gets your heart going, mostly because I have always intuited that it's the most irrational player that has the advantage. No, seriously, I figured out how to prove this, so bear with me. You know the rules: you are in car A, a Camaro, say. Your opponent is in car B, a Mustang. You both peel out and careem towards each other at a high rate of speed and the first to swerve out of the way is the loser, the "chicken." Of course, there's quite another way to lose if neither of you swerves; then the coroner gets to spend his day off picking pieces of you out of the dashboard of that fancy Camaro with a set of tweezers. What we might call the "cooperative" outcome happens when both of you swerves: you and your opponent come out alive, even if you are both called pathetic by your friends. The payoff table would look something like this for the game of Chicken:

Here the numbers represent arbitrary points: zero is the worst outcome, one for the next to worst, and so on. This is a very different kind of game from a Prisoner's Dilemma, which I have written about way too many times to be in good taste. In a PD you lose when you cooperate (keep your mouth shut) while your opponent defects (rats you out). Mutual defection hurts a little, but much less than when you cooperate, which entails the greatest risk. (This changes during an iterated PD series in really interesting ways, but that is an entirely different tangent within a tangent, so I will spare you.) In Chicken, on the other hand, mutual defection is the worst outcome because, well, you die. A smart player in a one-off game of PD will always defect, so it's easy to plot your own move. You can't do that with Chicken, where you have a really huge incentive to pick opposite of your opponent: if he is going to swerve, you want to drive straight; if he is going to drive straight, you definitely want to swerve. In game theory terms, Chicken has two Nash Equilibrium points (the positions in the table with the 3s and the 1s); these sorts of games infuriate logic dorks, which tells the smart player that this is the sort of situation you want to stay the hell away from. Barring this, the logical player will always swerve, always "cooperate." It's the "maximin" solution, the best of the worst. Only the irrational, the suicidal, or the idiotic drive straight.

I'm not sure which of these adjectives best describes me; it probably depends on the day in question. There is something about daring the Other to swerve, to prove that they are exactly who they claim to be, that I have found appealing at various junctures in my life. I wasn't like this when I was young. I just wanted to get along back then, so I would believe pretty much anything anyone told me, even when it was obviously a fantasy. This is something I learned to do once I realized that the world was fundamentally populated by two types of people: those who are (wilfully or otherwise) ignorant of the masks they wear, of the uncertainty that lies behind identity and personality, and those who have learned to use these masks for their benefit. People think that they know what they believe and why, but they usually don't, not really, neither the beliefs in principle nor the long-term implications of these beliefs. You have to detonate their world to force them to look inward for a glimpse of the Heideggerian unspoken, background, and unchallenged frameworks upon which their reality is hung; once these comfortable little delusions are smashed into a thousand million little bits, you finally get to see who they really are, and why they believe as they do. You finally get to say: ah, there you are: I see you, and really mean it. People generally hate having this done to them. I hated it when it was done to me. But there really is something about that moment, this brief transcendent nova of clarity that is as priceless as it is painful, even if it means you are going to be forever strange afterward.

As epistemological schemes go, Chicken leaves a lot to be desired. For one thing, it's exhausting. For another, it really only works on assholes. It also tends to be really messy, especially when the Other doesn't swerve because they actually turn out to be as crazy or brutal as they projected. This whole business doesn't attract me like it once did. The older I get, the more time I spend in this place, the less I seem to care about finding out the subjective truths of other people. Science, yes. History? Sure. The reason why my neighbor can simultaneously believe that he is loved by the Lord and remain a hyperaggresive asshole prone to banging on his door when he doesn't get his way? Pass. More and more often, I seem to be prioritizing a desire to simply be left alone. I'm sufficiently self-aware to recognize that a desire for the atomization of the social world is major sign of depression; I also recognize that people who have basically given up on humans in the abstract are not terribly gifted activists. What can I say? These places have an effect. I'm not completely monadic yet, not entirely lost in the solipsist's maze, just saying that I've been living for some time within the tension of both caring deeply about truth and not, both interested in the Other and not. More and more, Lew Welch's line "Maybe / a small part of it will die if I'm not around / feeding it anymore" seems weirdly apposite.

I live deep in Trump country down here, and most of the COs are members of his cult. I have been surprised at how lacklustre my confrontation-drive has become of late. The responses are right there on the tip of my tongue, but so far I haven't fallen into that trap. Maybe I've given up on "saving" them. Maybe I've just learned some modicum of wisdom about which battles are worth fighting. Or maybe, just maybe, I've decided that their continued ignorance and all of the frustration that this brings them is the best revenge I could levy upon them. I hope I'm not that low. But this wouldn't be a completely honest portrayal if I didn't include it as a possibility.

And so it is that I approach with some ambivalence a pair of comments left in the wake of my essay "Eritis Sicut Deus, Scientes Bonum Et Malum." I usually look forward to responding to feedback. I enjoy nuance, the opportunity to dig down deeper into the topic in question. Alfred North Whitehead once wrote: Seek simplicity, but learn to distrust it. I say: Seek complexity, and learn to understand it. Comment responses usually give me the opportunity to indulge in this pursuit, because - no matter what anyone might say to the contrary - no essay or article is ever the final word on a subject. Everything I write is a first move in a long game, one usually tempered by the fact that I've often been criticized for being a touch long-winded, a bit too windy or prone to tangents. You wouldn't believe what I leave out of these articles in order to make them more approachable (and I happen to believe that circling around a subject a few times gives you a chance to approach it with a fuller appreciation for the depths of the problem, a sort of parallax approach, to steal a term from Zizek). And yet, in this instance, as I feel my way towards a correct response to these comments, I just feel exhausted. It seems like I've traveled this ground before, about a million times. I'm going to come off as shrill, I just know it, unkind and pedantic and maybe even a little ridiculous. And yet -andyetandyetandyet- my little bullshit detector is going berserk, and I feel the weight of responsibility to speak for those who cannot pulling me onto the field. I understand that for all of you reading these words my experiences are abstractions, just little dancing pixels that you use to entertain yourself when you want to waste some time at work. I get it, I really do. But this is my reality. If I reach out to my right, I touch crumbling concrete. If I reach out to my left, stainless steel. The state really is preparing to inject me with a deliberate overdose of barbiturates. I have never altered any of this for effect - things are bad enough without any need to dramatize or amplify anything. So when someone comes along and attempts to deflect my critiques of the system, it's more than a simple conflict of discourses, more than one "story" verses another. They are killing people here, and they are lying to you as they do so. This isn't an argument for me. It's war. I try to be kind about how I wage my battle, but if you call me a liar or attempt to use clever rhetoric to cast doubt on my "version" of events, I'm going to call in the airstrikes. Why? Because I know of no other way to be moral. Silence would be an indictment of my inability to change, as would any alteration or manipulation of what I report. You want to defend this place? Fine. Bring your data, or I'm going to sink your battleship, because I've got mine. I've done my homework. I live this.  You are tourists.

At any rate, here are the comments that have caused all of this ambivalence:

"I no longer think it is normal for anyone to want to work here." I must take this moment to explain why I work in a state jail. At first, the pay was better than the " free world". So were the benefits. I am a member of the medical team and really don't have to see the same prisoners day after day. Why do I still work in a state jail? Am I that abnormal that I really enjoy helping the cast outs of our society? I saw a patient go home the other day who was with us for almost a year. He never had any problems except towards the end when he was about to be released; he had no place to go after he left and he voiced suicidal thoughts that got him sent to lockdown at Jester. Some times I have to wonder what was really so bad about the old style state hospitals that while they warehoused people they at least took care of them. Jesus hung out with the tax collectors thieves and hookers of his time, "the scum of the earth". Are you Thomas faulting me for doing the same?
Lady p
"I commend you, Lady P, for being the hands and feet of Jesus. Thank you for reminding us that Mr. Whitaker presents only one side of a multi-faceted story." Anonymous 

Okay, Lady P, fair enough. You felt I was being critical about your choice of profession and sought to defend yourself. I'm not even sure I would have felt what you wrote needed a response, were it not for Anonymous's two cents. Somehow, he (it feels like a "he," doesn't it?) seems to think you in some way rebutted my essay, and that my "version" of the “story” was debatable. In fact, what Anonymous is really saying is that I intentionally haven't given the full story, which is tantamount to calling me deceptive. What would the "other" side be, I ask? Why, the one told by the state, as if they don't  already broadcast their version all day, every day, using billions of dollars of your tax money. Their side is the dominant one, the one I'm struggling against. The one, I added, that just attempted to cudgel the first amendment by preventing inmates from being able to post content online. At any rate, I think you might want to reread what Lady p wrote, Anonymous, because I don't think it says quite what you seem to think it did. I will return to that momentarily, but first let's take a look at what I actually wrote when I said that it wasn't normal to want to work here:

Most of the people you'd call "good" leave, either to a completely different occupation, or at least out into the general population buildings. I know there are some terrible officers out there, too, but the real problem I'm discussing deals with ad-seg, the prison within the prison. I was going to include my usual disclaimer here about how the majority of guards are "normal people, just working a job," but I think I have been doing a disservice to the reform community with my attempts to be civil. I no longer think it is normal for anyone to want to work here. I'm not saying they are all evil, but there's something . . . narrow . . . about these people. They know so little of politics, or culture, or even the state they call home. They have all of these blinders on towards stories on exonerations, or movements in blue states to rehabilitate prisoners instead of constantly demonizing them. To learn of such things would puzzle and shock them. It's sad. 

What does abnormal mean to you? I think it's pretty clear that I was talking about something that deviates from the normal, i.e., the stuff in the middle of the Gaussian bell curve. I stand by that. Go to any city in America and ask 100 random people if they would consider working in an incarcerated setting if they lost their current jobs, and I guarantee you that you won't find more than a handful of people willing to give it a shot. How do I know this? Because I've lived through the worst economic downturn in the global economy since 1929, and the TDCJ still couldn't get over the 70% employment level here. Because thousands of positions are still open, in the middle of Texas, even as the oil and gas industry haemorrhages workers. Because officers leave here weekly, sometimes in the middle of their shifts, sometimes saying things like "fuck this shit." And because most of you reading this, right now, are thinking: no way I'd ever work there. If you are one of the few who - for whatever reason - chooses daily to walk through miles of razor wire and countless steel doors just to be able to clock in, then, yeah, simple math tells me you aren't "normal" in at least a few respects.

I'm not even certain why you felt the need to defend yourself. In the section above I was very clearly referring to correctional officers that work in an ad-seg environment within a maximum security prison. You aren't any of that, Lady p, though you either missed that or intentionally glossed over it in order to take a shot at my essay. I suspect the former is more likely; if fact, I'd guess you really are a well-meaning person who tries to do right on a daily basis. Maybe I'm a shmuck, but that's where I'd put my money. But let's not pretend that this is a simple disagreement between two people. Try to see that we are in the midst of a war of ideas. I stand for prison reform. Everything I write is geared for this purpose. Whether you meant to or not, you have placed yourself in opposition to this view, and at least one person seems to have taken what you wrote and attempted to build on its premise. Who is that person? I have no idea. But I do have the ability to see all of the IPs that visit this site, so I know that my opposition regularly comes by to see what I have in the fridge. Whoever you may be, I have to treat anyone who attempts to buttress the system as exactly that: my opponent, the person in car B.

If I were to take that position, if I were to play the role of culture warrior, I might say that it could be perceived as dishonest that you omitted an explanation to our readers about what you meant by the term "state jail." I'm fairly certain that this is foreign nomenclature for most people, and I'm willing to bet that most everyone assumed that this term was synonymous with "prison" or "penitentiary." Not so. A state jail is a facility designed to hold offenders who have committed the lowest class of felony on the books, the sort where the absolute maximum sentence is two years. State jails are not prisons, and the sorts of officers that work there are of a different species altogether from those that work in a max-class prison. State jails are basically the "time out" corner for adults, usually adults who enjoy smoking a certain plant that's going to be legal everywhere eventually anyways. Every single one of these offenders will be out in the near future, certainly long before the memory of a certain officer doing something foul could fade away. You see my point? There is always going to be a check on state jail employees, something that keeps them "good": the fear of running into a certain offender in the Walmart parking lot in just a month or two. You have much less of this in prison, especially in seg, the place where society divides by zero those humans it wants to forget about. Every single officer here understands that it is highly unlikely that any of us will ever be free, ever be in a position to have rights or to demand the protection of the law, rather than the heel of its boot. These people know that they can do whatever they want, because the Extraction Team will always have their backs, no matter what might have actually taken place. The people I was aiming my critique at are not even in the same penal solar system as you, a nurse in a state jail. In effect, you were defending people that you don't even know, people you wouldn't want to defend if you did. That's irresponsible, to put it lightly, but none of the above was apparent to the average viewer of this site. Intentional or not, your comment was packed with latent meanings that damage my cause.

You state that you continue to work there because you enjoy "helping the cast outs of our society." Again, fair enough. But a person might be skeptical of that claim, since you admit that you initially took that job because of the pay and the benefits. This same person might argue that you have fallen victim to exactly the sort of socialization and cognitive dissonance pressures I wrote about in my article. You understand that these dynamics make you feel you are doing right, even when you aren't? They supply you with the needed justifications to be able to continue looking in the mirror and to convince yourself that you aren't just another random functionary in a totalitarian system content to work in a pit of misery because you enjoy the pay too much to take a truly moral stand. You think any of the secretaries that worked in Berlin in 1943 thought of themselves as evil? Of course not. They thought they were the moral ones, the ones doing right.  Do you think that the doctors who sterilized Carrie Buck in 1927 believed that they were evil?  No, they thought that the roughly 5000 "morons" they rendered incapable of fostering progeny per month needed to be stopped, and they had thousands of "experts," lawyers and judges (including the entire Supreme Court) backing them up, all of whom were convinced that they were acting righteously.  All of these people were trapped inside of an ideology by bars they couldn't even see, and the questions and comparisons they might have asked or investigated didn't even occur to them. That was what I was trying to do with my piece, to spark that thought-train. The reason I am suggesting dissonance might be involved in your case is because of the way you structured your comment. You never really explain in detail why you work there, despite saying you are going to do exactly that. You make a brief allusion to some sort of moral or ethical calculation/motivation, but you don't really delve into this the way one might expect, or explain the road to Damascus moment that it implies, given your initial reasons for working there. In fact, in the space where you might have done exactly this, you supply us instead with an anecdote that would seem to indicate that the facility you work in is just as toxic as the ones I describe regularly in these articles. More, it suggests that you are aware of that fact, at least on a subconscious level that intrudes occasionally on your more ordered, conscious mind. Read what you wrote again. Instead of telling us about some positive reasons for remaining employed by the system - and surely, you must have at least one story of something good that you did, that you feel positive about - you wrote about an inmate that was free from problems when he arrived, but who in less than a year developed such psychological distress that he had to be "sent to Lockdown at Jester," a mental hospital for the criminally insane.

Nowhere in this anecdote do you explain how you helped this person. That seems a little strange, that you would argue on the one hand that you work there to help the least of these, while then not taking the opportunity to show how you put this ideal into practice. Neither do you mention what exactly made this inmate suicidal. Hell, I know, and I suspect you do too, but the people reading this site don't know anything about the brutal reality of life behind bars. You end this story by wishing for the "old style state hospitals," because they actually "took care of them," the obvious implication being that they were better than what we have now, i.e., prisons and state jails. You see how this sort of undercuts your defense? You continue to work in a place capable of driving healthy people insane in less than a year. Does any justification you can offer negate this? I submit that it does not, and that in fact your continued employment merely promotes the status quo.

Now, your question for me was, am I faulting you for this? Yeah, I guess I am, though really I suppose it depends on how you conduct yourself on the job, and if you have a definite set of lines you know you will not cross. Let me ask you this: how often do you walk past something and think, hmm, that really shouldn't happen, but protocol prevents you from doing something about it? How often do you think: if we were in a real hospital, we would do A, but here I can only do B? Anonymous seems to think that because you mentioned the name of Jesus that this grants you automatic credibility, as if history wasn't replete with tyrants and charlatans that sought to cover up their evil by wrapping it up in the easy cloak of religion. (Ask any prisoner in the South and they'll tell you that the worst officers are always deeply religious, that their view of themselves as the Elect is exactly what makes them so capable of the worst evils, and that this has been constant in our nation since the first prisons were built in the 19th Century.) By stating that my article only reveals "one side of a multi-faceted story," Anonymous implies that what I wrote is tainted by my experience, and that there must be another narrative stream where modern prisons are full of good people acting as "the hands and feet of Jesus." Really? What planet do you come from? Excuse me while I disabuse you of that fantasy.

Medical care at the Polunsky Unit is provided by the University of Texas Medical Branch, the very same employer that Lady p would have to work for if she is in fact a nurse at a state jail. By "medical care," I mean something quite distinct from what you receive when you are sick or injured. Here is a simple if graphic example of what I mean by that. I lived in constant pain for nearly two years thanks to a shattered humerus; you can read more about this here if you want more details. Have you ever experienced bone pain? It's not something that you can really ignore, merely endure. It took me more than a month to get an x-ray, despite the shards of bone sticking out at perpendicular angles from where a normal humerus ought to be located. Once I had the x-ray complete, it took them another month to inform me about the results, at which point I was lied to and told there was nothing wrong with me aside from a touch of tendinitis. I was accused by Dr P- of attempting to swindle him out of some Advil 800s, as if that were actually a drug that could be abused. I had to file and win two separate federal lawsuits in order to have my arm operated on. The second suit became necessary because the initial surgery was conducted by medical students, a fact that I never approved and was not told about until afterwards. This surgery was an abysmal failure, but UIMB refused to do a second surgery, because they argued - to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees - that the initial court order requiring the operation did not state anything about producing "an excellent outcome." Having lost a second time in court, the surgeons then opened up my arm like a book, 

even though they had the means to fix the bone orthoscopically. I had 51 (or 52, I forget) surgical staples in my arm when I returned to the unit. I was also in possession of orders from the hospital to the medical staff at Polunsky to change my dressing once a day, and to remove the staples after two weeks. The lawsuits I filed cost one of the quack doctors his job and the head administrative nurse - a nurse C - decided to get some revenge by issuing an order not to change my dressings, ever. She also wrote in my file - I have a copy - to let the hospital remove my staples themselves, when I returned for a court-ordered check-up after 60 days.

I didn't know about any of this at the time, obviously. I submitted increasingly urgent sick-call forms regarding my obvious need to have my wound cleaned. I spoke to more than twelve nurses and pill techs, though I forget the exact number after all of these years (I kept records at the time). On the 26th day after my operation, an LVN working the night shift had me taken to medical at 3:00am. It was her last week on the job (she was one of the "good" people I spoke about in the article), and was ignoring nurse C's orders. By this point, the staples were healed completely into the skin of my arm, so when she started ripping them out, they bled. A lot. It was making her sick, so I asked if she would take a ten minute walk. The two escort officers undid my handcuffs, and I ripped something like 46 or 47 staples out of my own arm. By the time I was done, my jumpsuit was more than halfway covered in blood.

This same nurse C killed an inmate named Santos Minjares in January of 2012. He was suffering from hepatitis C, and had been for years. While drugs do exist that could have saved him, they are extremely expensive and only given to inmates when they are right at death's door. Unit physicians are supposed to carefully monitor these inmates, and then send them to John Sealy once their situation becomes critical. I submit that such a policy is on its face inherently evil, but the situation was made worse by the fact that at the time of Santos's death, we had no unit physician here at Polunsky. Doctor Z was forced to leave over a malpractice suit, and his replacement, a Dr Shamsee, left because he felt he was not allowed to do his job (he was another of the good ones, probably the best of them). Since we had no physician or PA, nurse C ran the unit. One morning in early January, the officers found Santos unresponsive in his cell. Nurse C didn't send anyone to evaluate the situation for nearly six hours. When the report came back that he couldn't stand, she came to look him over. By "look him over," I mean exactly that: she stared at him lying on the concrete from the opposite side of a solid steel door. I was in the dayroom, and witnessed this whole incident. When Santos told her he was dying, she said, "Yep, you are," and walked away. Her response to his critical situation was to approve his possession of a "sanitary bucket," so he could vomit without having to crawl to the toilet. He died a week later, alone, in his cell.

Nurse C was finally fired last year, when she stuck a gloved finger up an inmate's anus. This was her way of determining if an inmate's seizures were genuine or not. She'd done this before, to the extent that it had become something of a joke with the medical staff here. This time, however, the unit's new FNP reported it. This FNP left last year, too. Interesting story: she was so pissed at the limits they put on her, the week before she left, she came around several of the pods and asked many of us what drugs we wanted. She wrote about a gazillion scripts. They didn't realize she had bypassed management until all of these meds started hitting the unit. For about six weeks everyone actually got something approaching normal medical care.

I could go on, but I think you get my point. Stories like the above are so typical, so well-reported on by both prisoners and the mainstream media that I simply will not brook any absurd claims regarding alternate "stories" about prison care. I understand that some of you may not want to believe these horrors, that you still want to pretend that prisons are all about "just desserts" and that your society would never permit things like the above to take place, but that's on you. That's your moral cowardice, your refusal to see what is right in front of your face. They really did kill Santos. They really did taunt the mentally ill Selwyn Davis until he killed himself. They really do regularly execute men with flimsy legal arguments that wouldn't hold water if it weren't for the fact that people like you keep voting in conservative assholes that care more about stability than right. These men are dead. There is no other “story" for them, no other “facet:”

I had to walk away from all of this for a bit.  It’s strange, how I come off in these essays sometimes.  How is it that the “written me” is so different from the human being people confront in person?  When I write I feel this terrible responsibility to be a spokesman, to be someone that stands for ideals and principles and has Important Thoughts, when in reality I am a person who seldom feels certain about much of anything, a person who recognizes the ambiguity of the Real.  The more I learn, the more aware I have become of just how much I don’t know.  And yet I have to pretend otherwise in these pages, because everything is so broken and the system has arranged itself so that only the foolhardy dare to post anything on the internet.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were a people that actually addressed problems when they started to go wrong, rather than a people that always wait until they’ve gone thermonuclear before even deigning to notice.  Wouldn’t it be remarkable if speaking to the better angels of our nature actually made a difference?  How do people ignore the things they don’t want to see?  I honestly think this is the root of everything that is broken in me, that I’ve never been able to figure out how to do this.  I more or less understand what happened to me that made me this way, though it wasn’t until later on that I realized this wasn’t a normal way of being.  I used to comfort myself that even if I were miserable, at least I was honest.  Foolish, I know.  The trick is seeing enough of the truth of things to understand one’s obligations while still being able to ignore enough of our inherent brokenness that we can still be optimistic and kind to the Other.  Clearly I have failed in this, because failure is pretty much all I see from this cell.  Maybe I shouldn’t even say that.  I was like this long before I came here.  Here is my dilemma.  I don’t want to have to pull people down into the muck just so that you will learn to see that the muck exists in the first place.  This sort of thing takes a toll on me, having to take a stroll through the sewers of our collective nonsense every time I pick up a pencil.  I’m listening to the soon-to-be eliminated classical station (no HD radio, alas).  I’d much rather have a conversation with someone more knowledgeable than I am about why exactly everyone seems to prefer Stravinsky to Schoenberg, or why pieces like Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no 6 in B Minor or Schubert’s String Quartet in C Major seem to resonate with me now that I’m nearing the end of my appeals.  I’d really love to talk about Charles Taylor’s cultural anthropology and what it means for my understanding of secularism and “substraction stories,” or why I’ve always thought Euler’s identity was a sort of beautiful thing, or why I think that line from Finnegan’s Wake about “three quarks for Muster Mark” would be the funniest political be the funniest political slogan ever. I've written about 150 articles on how screwed up this place is, and yet I keep having to do it because some people refuse to simply see what is quite obvious to everyone else. I feel like I shouldn't have to do this anymore, and yet I clearly need to, because we can't build on this land until we have dredged it. I keep thinking that at some point you will wave your arms to get me to stop dunking your face in the mud, that you will sit up, wipe the sludge from your eyes and go: oh shit, this is a mess- Where'd all this come from?

I used to believe that the easier information became to access, the more responsible we would be. Old traditions would fall, efficiency would rise, and we would finally start living up to the potential of our species. You see this in some places, some people. Others, however, barricade themselves up into hermetically sealed communities, where they are seldom if ever confronted with realities, facts, and truths that run counter to their own experience. Knowing this, I seem to collect certain trivia that seem useful for popping these bubbles, such as the tale of Mathias Maccumsey that I included in my "Eritis" article, They're toxic things, but that's the point. They hurt. They shock. They're supposed to make you take a hard look at your assumptions, to realize how much distance we still have to travel. We cannot begin to locate the Good until we realize that we aren't already good, you understand? The complacency of the supposedly righteous does more evil than every sociopath ever born. That's why I thought the themes of my original article might be important. I thought they would give some of you pause. I honestly don't know what to do if they don't work. No one should be that empty.

You know what would make me believe you, Lady p? Two things. First, go spend a few hours studying how other advanced nations approach the concept of criminal justice. (Hell, just go look at how blue states in our own country do it.) Just a few hours, nothing too onerous. I think that is all it would take to open your eyes a little to what is actually considered "normal" by global standards. Ask yourself this: what are we, the citizens of Texas, actually getting for all of these billions of dollars, all of this misery? Because we are alone in how we are trying to solve the crime problem, and I submit to you that the prison and the supporting philosophical justifications for the prison create more crime than they ever solve. So, do your little investigation, and when you are done, start documenting some of the more troublesome events you witness on a daily basis. I know you see things regularly that you would like to change, things that you feel shouldn't happen, Gather all the data that you can without imperiling your employment, and store it away. One day, you are going to leave - everyone does eventually. When you do, send this file to The Texas Tribune, The New York Times, Senator Whitmire, the DOJ, and anyone else you can think of. You can do so anonymously, if that makes you feel better. Be the moral human being that you claim to be. Then I will believe you.  And may I suggest to the rest of you that if you are “troubled" by the things I describe but continue to vote Republican, all of your concerns aren‘t worth a dammed thing?

The title of the article that spawned all of this was, in retrospect, more of a gamble than I had realized, more akin to a message in a bottle that I tossed hopefully out past the breakers. It's from the Bible, from the creation myth found in Genesis. The snake-cum-Devil-cum-theodicy evasion attempt tells Eve that if she eats the fruit of a certain tree, she will be like God, understanding good and evil. I actually wasn't intending it to be ironic. I foolishly hoped that we had arrived at the point where - when it comes to mass incarceration and solitary confinement, at least - we could now recognize the difference between right and wrong. Irony, I see, will not be denied on the internet.  Maybe this is the hell that the Universe (or whatever) has chosen for me, that I would finally come to understand what it means to be deeply good, then be unable to make others understand me when I try to write about it. I have this fear, this creeping shadow of a thing that I feel stalking me from my youth. It whispers that the discourse of morality is the language of sheep, that when the pleasant fantasy of the flock is riven by the sudden rush of fang and claw, there is no "right," no "wrong," only power: those who wield it well, and those who do so poorly. If I listened to this rumor, if I thought that all hope for a better world was pointless, I'd be tempted to mash my foot down on the accelerator, throw the steering wheel out the window, and then let you decide whether to swerve or not. I know in my heart that there can be no victory in such a decision, only mutual defeat. I know that the only way to win this game is to make sure that we both swerve. Better yet: to make sure that we never get into the cars to begin with, because Chicken is what happens when the rationality of the Prisoner's Dilemma falls apart. The problem is that I don't know how to convey this message to the man in the other car. He is so addicted to the concept of a zero sum game that he can't even begin to imagine an alternative, a place were everyone gets to heal. How does one confront such a man in a way that does not convert you into him? What is a good man to do when the good ceases to matter?

Thomas Whitaker 999522
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Legal Trip

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By Michael Wayne Hunter

A pass slid under my cell door ordering me to report the next day to my counselor for “outside agency.”

What the hell?

After breakfast, walking toward the prison industry sewing factory, I raised my eyes to the Sierra foothills surrounding Jamestown to gaze at the oak, maple and pine trees.  Frequently, my eyes would find deer as well, but not today.  I reached the door, clocked in, checked out my tool belt and strode the assembly line to my sewing machine.

At Pleasant Valley Prison I had been the captain´s clerk, and I had been offered a similar assignment here at Sierra Conservation Center.  I wanted to try something outside my comfort zone, so I applied for an entry level sewing position.  I absolutely struggled when I started a year ago, but improved each day and ultimately found a deep satisfaction sewing precise lines.

After a while I set aside the Cal Trans (California Transportation) vests I´d been sewing and reported to my counselor.

“What ‘outside agency´?” I asked.

“A deputy attorney general wants to speak with you.”

From 1984 to 2002, I´d occupied a cell on California´s Death Row at San Quintin.  The attorney general had used its considerable resources to try and place my body in the execution chamber but failed.  I was now sentenced to life without possibility of parole.  However, friends of mine had been executed.

The counselor handed me the phone, and a woman said softly: “I´m calling about Mr. Edwards’ lawsuit.”

“I don´t know what you´re talking about.”

“Mr. Edwards has filed a lawsuit in the Fresno Federal Court claiming he was beaten by guards at Pleasant Valley Prison in 2012.  The incident occurred inside the Program Office in holding cell number four.  You were the lieutenant´s clerk and worked the shift.  Mr. Edwards claimed that after he was beaten you approached the holding cell and advised him to sue and volunteered to testify.”

I had worked in the Program Office from 2009 to 2015 and typed thousands of reports, including attempted murders and riots.  Mr. Edwards´ incident four years ago was not in my memory.  One thing was absolutely clear to me, I had never spoken to a prisoner locked in a holding cell.  Not once – ever!  Mr. Edwards´ assertion simply was not true.

“I don´t remember Mr. Edwards.”

“The next day you and the other two clerks, Holden and Gomez, who worked the shift, were interviewed by Lieutenant Wilson.  All of you stated you were working in your office which is around a corner and down a hallway from holding cell number four and you didn´t hear or see anything.”


“Fine.  You will be receiving a subpoena…”

“What? Why?! If I go to court, I´ll lose my job, my income.”

“Mr. Edwards asserts you´re a voluntary witness, so the judge ordered the subpoena.”

“I´m not a voluntary witness.  I don´t even remember Mr. Edwards.”

“There´s a conference call on Monday for pre-trial motions, I´ll ask the judge to address this issue.”

While returning to work, I tried to sort it out.  I had testified in Federal Court in the mid-90´s. A guard had fired his rifle three times, crimson mist had air burst to settle gently, hideously, onto a prisoner´s shattered skull, gray brain matter spread across off-white concrete. The prisoner´s children were awarded money.  The guard was fired, not for shots fired, but subsequently after, he was arrested for stalking and breaking into the house of his ex-girlfriend.  I vividly remembered the shots, body down, all the red blood.  I did not remember Mr. Edwards at all.

On Monday I was back at my counselor´s office to hear, “Mr. Edwards insists he needs you as a witness.”  The judge would not withdraw the subpoena.

I wrote Dan, my Federal Attorney for the past twenty five years, and he obtained Mr. Edwards´ handwritten pleadings.  Apparently, Mr. Edwards was representing himself.

I signed a declaration stating I knew nothing about Mr. Edwards or his alleged beating, and Dan filed a motion asking for the subpoena to be quashed.  In the event the judge refused, we asked him to allow me to testify by streaming video from Jamestown saving the cost of transporting me and I would not lose my job. 

The judge ordered streaming video testimony, and the Jamestown litigation coordinator confirmed.

Eight days before the trial, I was notified I´d be transported the next day to Corcoran Prison to remain until I testified.

I phoned Dan but didn´t reach him.

Strip searched, changed into a paper jumpsuit and rubber (made in China) flip-flops, I was chained hand and foot and planted on a hard plastic bus seat.  We rolled out of the green foothills to the dusty Central Valley south on Highway 99.  The bus passed by the Fresno Federal Court and went right on past Corcoran Prison stopping at Kern Valley Prison, North Kern Prison, and then further south to Wasco State Prison end of the line.  Sitting in a holding tank, I stretched sore muscles, inhaled dinner, my mouth desperate for toothpaste it would not receive.

Nearing 9 p.m. I was issued a sheet, blanket, and directed to a housing unit where I was stuck outside in the cold.  Shivering in my paper jumpsuit, I became numb after a while and stopped shaking, and thought hard about rolling in my blanket and sleeping on the concrete.  Unit door finally opened, and I moved into cell 129 with Nolan, a Los Angeles homeless guy, who in thirty days would be kicked out to find a cardboard box suite under some random freeway overpass.  The cell was filthy, black mold spotted the toilet, it just stunk.  But so did I, after hours on the bus.  I soaped in the sink, dried with my sheet, wrapped the blanket around and fell out.

Pulled out of the cell at 3 a.m., back on the bus, this time north on Interstate 5 to Avenal Prison, Pleasant Valley Prison where Mr. Edwards´ lawsuit was centered, and then over to Highway 99 South yet again, but stopping at Corcoran State Prison.

In receiving, I asked if Holden and Gomez, the other two clerk/witnesses, were there and received a shrug.

“Hunter,” the receiving sergeant broke the news, “You´re in the hole ´til you testify and then return to Jamestown.”

The infamous Corcoran Security Housing Unit. Damn!

Locked up, locked down, at least I was celling solo and able to brush my teeth for the first time in 36 hours.  You would think all alone in a cell with no TV, no radio, virtually zero property, the space would feel huge, but oddly the walls press in.  Even hard core guard in the SHU (Segregated Housing Unit) will give you a Bible, so I scored one, started reading Apostle Matthew awaiting the 120 plus hours to pass until it was time to appear in court.

The week trudged by, never seeming to come to an end. Finally, two guards came and planted me in a van.

Settled, chained, in a Federal Court holding cell, I carefully thought through my testimony strategy I´d been contemplating the past week.  Although I knew Mr. Edwards had lied, at least about our conversation at the Program Office holding cell that had never taken place, I could not find it within me to champion the attorney general.  I decided to testify in a numbing, low energy monotone, almost catatonic, and in a minimalist manner simply repeat over and over, “I don´t remember,” and “I don´t recall”.  Although largely true, I suspected my answers would frustrate Mr. Edwards in his quest for litigation lucre, lawsuit for dollars, but it was the best he´d get from me.  I was not happy with this testimony path but could not find a better one.

“Have they picked a jury?” I asked the guards when they left the court room and approached my cell.

“No, but Edwards released you from the witness list. You won´t be testifying.”

Gomez had been released as well.

Holden had not been released and would be testifying, however the bus that had brought him from Donovan in San Diego had dropped him like me at Wasco Prison where he was still housed two hours away.  Frantic arrangements were in motion to retrieve him, so he could testify in the afternoon.

“Come on, Hunter, we´re taking you back.”

“Jamestown?” I said hopefully.


In the van, I felt great relief I didn´t have to testify intermingled with anger that I´d been forced to lose my job and come to court for nothing.

Sighing, I sat back, locked out the van window, as the last bit of world flowed by, ´til it was time to sit in the claustrophobic cell and wait and wait for yet another bus.

Locked in Corcoran´s hole, a week slugged by and I received in the mail the court order releasing me from the witness list dated four days before I´d been transported from Jamestown to Corcoran.  I never should´ve been on a bus.

I wrote my counselor, asking when I´d go back to Jamestown.  He replied that in 90 days if I was still at Corcoran he´d re-endorse me for Jamestown.

Trying/failing to keep from going nuclear, the counselor didn´t seem to understand I didn´t need to be endorsed for Jamestown, I was already assigned there, I just needed a bus ticket.

I wrote to Dan and sent along what my counselor had sent me.

I was pulled into classification. Dan had e-mailed the litigation coordinator at Jamestown and Corcoran and the deputy attorney general. I´d be ticketed on the next bus to Jamestown.

I received a letter from Dan.  He had received the court order cancelling my court appearance, so he didn´t know I´d been transported to Corcoran until he received my letter.  Dan added that Mr. Edwards had lost every aspect of his lawsuit.  That made me happy.

Twenty three days of the hole before I was planted on another bus to Wasco where this time I spent the night in the hole.  Four a.m. the next morning I was pulled out and went to North Kern and finally to Jamestown.

“You´re going to the hole until you go to classification,” the receiving sergeant told me.

“For what?”

“You came from the hole in Corcoran,” he told me, “You have to go back until you´re cleared by classification in a week or two.”

Operating on a grand total of about seven hours sleep over the last two nights, wiped out by two days on the bus, I tried to hold it together.

“My lockup order from Corcoran clearly states I was housed in the hole, not for punishment.  I was on ‘out to court’ non-disciplinary status and return to Jamestown.”

“That´s not the way I read it,” he said indifferently, “sign your lockup order.”

“No,” I shook my head. “Document that I refused to sign.”

“You have to sign.”

“Sergeant, I worked in the Program office at Pleasant Valley for six years.  I crafted more lockup orders than you´ve ever read.  If I brought a lockup order like this to my lieutenant he would´ve fired me. You can only lock up prisoners for an offense that could lead to a security housing term, safety concerns, investigation, or threat to institutional security.  You have none of those reasons listed here.  I´m not signing and when I go to the captain´s review I´m going to embarrass you.”

“I´ve done plenty of lockup orders.”

“No, your clerks wrote them for you.  I´m not signing.”

Locked back in a holding cell, I heard alarms in the distance.  The receiving guards responded to an inmate melee and all movement was suspended.

Hours passed, a new shift came on, and a sergeant came in and asked, “Who´s Hunter?”

“I´m here, Sarge.”

“I saw your lockup order; it´s nonsense.  You´re going back to your cell.”

Feeling light headed with relief, I went back home to try and reassemble my life and regain my job after my legal trip.

Michael Hunter C83600
Sierra Conservation Center
5150 O'Byrnes Ferry Road 3C-149L
Jamestown, CA 95327
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Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Box

By Craig B. Harvey

When you think of a box, what comes to mind? I asked ten people this question: men and women; ages ranging from 16 to 55 year old; five prisoners and five non-prisoners. The most common answer given by prisoners was: cage, confinement, cell and property box. The most common answer given by non-prisoners was a cardboard box. I shared the same perspective as prisoners and non-prisoners until I began working in Stateville Correctional Center´s Personal Property Department.

The personal property building is located on a left turn at the intersecting above-ground tunnels at the infamous State and Madison.  Like its namesake streets in downtown Chicago, State and Madison divides North, South, East, and West within the institution. Still, today old-timers “boxed” in time can be heard orating folklore about how dangerous it was walking through the tunnels back in the 70´s through the 90´s. Surely the danger in a maximum security prison is always lurking around the corner.  However most of the loud mouths telling their tale are like journalist Brian Williams who, while present during battle, saw nothing but heard everything, embellishing their reports.  While veterans who battled and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (P.T.S.D.), find solace in silence, grateful to have survived.

All incoming prisoners are required to visit personal property to receive their property boxes.  If a prisoner is transferred from another institution, officers at personal property will inventory his property to affirm or deny that all allowed property was received.  Prisoners transferring in that are on segregation status (segregation, or what prisoners and correctional officers (CO’s) refer to as “seg,” is where individuals who receive serious disciplinary infractions are housed, isolated from the general population) receive a small portion of their property.  Namely hygiene products, a few books, and legal paperwork.  Once released from seg, a prisoner is escorted to personal property to retrieve the remainder of his property.

Personal property is also where electronic items purchased from the institutional commissary are engraved with the prisoner´s name and I.D. number such as: T.V.s, book lamps, fans, and Walkman’s (that´s right, cassette players!).  The prisoner must sign and finger print a contract of receipt and approval.  He then receives copy and the carbon copy will be placed in his file.

The exterior of the building looks like the ruins of any metro area suffering from economic depression, which is familiar to majority of the prison population, who are natives of such economically depressed areas. The structure is one level, extending a little over one quarter of a mile north to south, or the length of two city blocks.

The building is broken off into sections. From north to south is: the soap industry, the gymnasium, the mechanics and maintenance shop, an abandoned power-house, clothing room, then finally, personal property.

When you arrive at personal property, there are bars on the outside windows are to prevent prisoners from escaping.  The pastel blue and white struggles to conceal the gray concrete, camouflaging the boxed doorbell to the left of the front entrance.  Like the building´s losing battle with time, and the lost souls housed in Stateville, their history is revealed from the inside out.

To gain entry, a set of glass doors and a padlocked gate must be unlocked.  As the doors open, imagine entering an abandoned Meineke Muffler (auto-mechanic franchise).  Immediately you hear, see and smell its industrious past.  Pipes clank and whistle, as steam escapes through a tiny hole.  The sounds enhance the ambience, adding to the building´s mystique.

The décor is simple: brown concrete floors, white walls with black base trim water pipes, electrical conduits, fluorescent lights, and gray institutional box fans supported by suspiciously weak chain links, all hang overhead.  The ceiling is dome shaped with vents ducts and smoke stained windows rising 20 to 25 ft. high.

From the doorway to the back wall is a massive foyer area stretching approximately 80 ft., nearly the length of a professional basketball court.  From left wall to the right wall is about 16 ft.  To acquire these measurements I used the elementary method of counting my size 8 foot steps from heel to toe.

About 20 steps in, there’s a regular wooden door with a wide red window.  To the left there´s another steel door with a fenced opening at the top and bottom.  The left door leads to the CO´s office, which is about the size of a high school classroom.  Inside are a couple of desks: one for each officer; filing cabinets where prisoners´ files are stored, such as electronic item contracts and inventory slips.  Also, paperwork is processed there for items that are being mailed out and inventory sheets for prisoners´ property.

The steel door across the hall secures a room about the size of a 2 car garage.  Inside are 11 school desks and a bench.  This room is where prisoners sit while they examine and rummage through their excess legal boxes.  Prisoners are allotted a minimum one hour each visit to property.

With the exception of prisoners in segregation, all prisoners are issued property boxes.  It´s gray and measures 3 ft. X 2 ft. and is one foot deep.  Prisoners are required to store all items purchased from commissary in this box, such as: clothing, hygiene products, food, etc…, except T.V.s, fans or radios.  For those with excess mail or legal documents, they have the option of being issued a smaller correspondence box.  Like the property box, it´s gray with a sliding lid, one foot deep, and 2 ft. X 1 ft.

Excess legal boxes come in the form of property of correspondence boxes, and cardboard boxes.  Due to cell compliance requirements, excess legal boxes are stored in personal property.  Cell compliance is a departmental rule that regulates what items are allowed outside a prisoner´s property box when he is not in his cell.  No curtains hanging in the cell, no laundry lines allowed, no pictures on the wall.  Each prisoner is allowed to have the following items outside of his property box at any given time: 1 bar of soap in soap dish, 1 toothbrush, 1 religious book, 1 T.V., 1 radio/Walkman, 1 fan, 1 mattress, 2 sheets, 1 pillow, 1 pillowcase, 1 towel, 1 lamp, 1 pair of shoes.  That´s it!  When cell compliance is enforced, items not in compliance are confiscated then stored in personal property.  The prisoner has the option to file a grievance, request that property be destroyed, or mailed home if the items aren´t considered contraband according departmental rules.

As we walk through the building, obstructing sections of the pathway are lid-less empty property and correspondence boxes.  To the common eye, the boxes are scattered.  However, the floor is marked so the boxes are in position to catch the water that leaks through the roof when it rains.  Passing a desk with two log books (one for incoming property and one for outgoing property) 66 steps in the main foyer breaks, turning right, extends another twice as long.  To the left is a cage that serves as a waiting area for prisoners when the first room is occupied.

On the back wall hanging overhead is a sports history lesson.  The smallest basketball shorts and jerseys I´ve ever seen in real life are on display.  The shorts remind me of the little shorts Isaiah Thomas played in.  To an 80’s baby, such as myself, who was a teenager in the 90s, the era of baggy fit clothes, it is comical to imagine so-called hardcore killers and robbers playing ball in shorts so petite with a team logo Stateville Bulldogs.  Although the sports equipment is safely stored in a personal property, the teams are now defunct and are only spoken of when some old timer with a limp; no athleticism, living vicariously through the youth observes a good play and recalls when he was able bodied young man.  That is before the heroin and day-to-day prison life began to double team and attack his organs.

Proceeding forward a few steps to the right is a table standing two and a half feet tall and six feet long with stacks of inventory slips.  The table sits against a five foot tall wall.  On the other side of this is about 400 square feet of area that contains a urinal, empty fan boxes, and empty digital flat screen T.V. boxes.  We commonly refer to this area as the alley.  At first glance these empty boxes seem to be useless seven foot wall of cardboard.  However, the boxes are used to protect the fans and T.V.’s, reducing the probability of damage during transfer.

When prisoners are transferred to different facilities, their property is loaded into a U-Haul type of truck.  While journeying, each bump in the road causes the items inside to flip, slide and collide, dancing to the cadence of destruction for hundreds of miles.

Across the hall, walking through a set of perforated steel doors is another massive room that has the real look and feel of a three, maybe four, car garage.  I can imagine four hydraulic car lifts with cars all waiting tune-ups.  Instead this room is filled with an assortment of property boxes, fuse boxes, and more pipes.  Pipes perforate the ceilings and walls at various angles some with yellow labels tagged: acetylene gas, and green labels tagged: oxygen.

The fuse boxes along the right wall are elevated no higher than six feet tall.  I´m 5´9 ½” and the boxes are mounted around that same height.  There are eight rusty gray fuse boxes big enough to fit Shaquille O´Neal´s Gucci loafers inside.  Next to those eight is one behemoth of a box from head to toe.  It´s my height and the width of the average doorway.  

A few feet ahead there´s a huge red compressor.  It resembles a gas pump minus the nozzles.  Next to it are three five feet tall oxygen tanks.  Behind those tanks are 12 more fuse boxes, not as big as the first eight, however, Michael Jordan could fit his personal Jumpmans inside.  Warnings to wear protective headgear hide beneath debris on the walls.

The property boxes stored in this room are those of guys in segregation.  A room so rich with history is now a box, a warehouse for prison misfits.  This room was once a classroom, part of a welding program.  Today we store seg boxes in here, and inventory the property inside those boxes.  Taking inventory on a person´s property tells a story – a unique story about what this person is, or who this person has grown into since being placed in prison.

For example: There was a guy on a seg-to-seg transfer and at first glance one might think the paperwork in his property was clutter and junk.  I noticed he saved over 50 Final Call newspapers and a lot of miscellaneous paperwork.  The papers scattered throughout his box were actually notes from lessons he studied.  Rough crafts of civil suits and criminal appeals.  Then neatly wrapped in a beautiful velvet rug with gold, burgundy, green, burnt orange and royal blue designs was a Holy Coran.  There were also a few more books in pristine condition.

I quickly learned this guy is a Muslim.  What appeared to be a box full of junk were his thoughts, his lessons, his passion, his treasure, and instruction on how to get closer to his God.  Therefore, I was compelled to pack it as such.  Every Final Call and chicken scratch-filled sheet of paper I handled with care.  Knowing that when it all arrived at the next institution, staff will probably toss it in the trash, because it will be impossible for him to get in cell compliance.  Nevertheless, everything was neatly packed into cardboard boxes.

Across the hall, the next room we journey into sits on the corner of the opening that leads to “the alley.”  The outer appearance is unique.  What looks to be a wall of tic tac toe squares are actually windows painted white.  This wall of windows is the exterior to what we call “the dead man´s room”.  Although it has a near panoramic view, I observed that while every other room was well lit, this one was always dark.  Entering the room gave e goose bumps.  It reminded me of an episode of Lisa Line´s “This is Life” on CNN, when she visited L.A. County Coroner´s Office.  The coroner´s office had a similar room that contains the deceased unclaimed property.

My third day on the job, I helped inventory a dead man´s property.  This experience gave me a reality check.  This man had several thick religious books, and composition notebooks filled with his thoughts.  Although I was curious to see what he wrote, I couldn´t bring myself to look inside because it felt like an invasion of his privacy.  I suppose my sensitivity concerning privacy is because in prison we have absolutely no privacy.  No matter where you are in a maximum security prison, a prisoner is never alone.  Even when no one is watching, someone is listening.

The dead man also had several paintings dedicated to his House of Yaveh religion.  This was his life´s work only to be placed in a cardboard box and stored in a room with over 100 painted windows hindering the sun´s attempt to shine on his memory.

The last stop on our journey, next door to the dead man´s room, is a room where all excess legal boxes are stored.  There is an assortment of boxes, cardboard boxes, property boxes, etc…, 1282 total.  Each box contains someone´s thoughts, hopes, and dreams of someday being released from this place.  The prisoner´s whose items are stored in these boxes, are “physically” alive yet their hopes and dreams are concealed in the same manner of a physically dead man.  Why?

Many of us incarcerated, physically or mentally, have hopes and dreams but we lack the proper knowledge of what it means.  Therefore, we don´t know how to hope and dream properly.  For example: I often hear people who claim they have hope, say, “I´m not trying to get my hopes up too high.”  This statement is contrary to the definition in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary Eleventh Edition: Hope – to cherish a desire with anticipation, to desire with expectation, to expect with confidence, trust.

The definition of hope instructs us to desire, anticipate, expect, be confident, and trust.  Sounds to me like the only way to hope is to have “high” hopes.  Anything less is not hope.  To hope is to trust. The etymology of trust² means to be faithful/true.  Therefore, our hope has to be rooted in truth.

In the same dictionary, dream means: Dream – an object seen in a dreamlike state: vision, something notable for its beauty, excellence, or enjoyable quality, a strong desired goal or purpose, something that satisfies a wish ideal.

The definition of dream instructs us to have vision of beauty, excellence, quality, a strongly desired goal, purpose or a wish.  To dream is to be ideal.  The etymology of ideal means idea/vision.  Therefore, to dream is to have a vision or strongly desired goal.

To have hopes and dreams means to have a true vision.  Our hopes and dreams aren´t manifesting because our way of thinking is too conventional, and conventional thinking of this world is not rooted in truth.

For example: the English language is very deceptive.  When you research the etymology of a word often it doesn´t have the same meaning.  Let´s see Merriam Webster´s definition of box: Box – a rigid typically rectangular container with or without a cover, an open cargo  container of a vehicle, coffin, the contents of a box esp. A measure, a quantity, a box or box-like container and its contents, predicament, fix, a cubicle building, the limitations of conventionality.

According to this definition, our journey through personal property provided several examples of different boxes such as: the architecture of the building, the enforcement of petty institutional rules, property boxes, etc….  The etymology of the word box comes from a late Latin word boxis, meaning tree.  Do you see the deceit? So when we talk about a box we could also mean being rooted into something like a tree.

Most of us have heard or used the expression “you know a tree by the fruit that it bears.”  In other words, you know a person by their works/deeds.  Ask yourself what type of fruit do I bear? Am I planting seeds of good or evil?

We also refer to our genealogy as a family tree, and when a child has similar characteristics of his or her parents, we say, “the apple doesn´t fall far from the tree.”  Within a family, traditions are passed down from generation to generation.  Whether or not those traditions are rooted in good or evil is reflected by the results of that tradition.  

Regardless of your religion, majority of you reading this know of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden eating from a forbidden tree bringing evil and death to a world of utopia.  Could it be the limitations of conventionality keeps us in a bad predicament or fix because we´re eating from the wrong tree?

The limitations of conventionality has the world thinking, hoping, and dreaming inside of a box.  Hopes and dreams should be without limits, especially when rooted in righteousness.  For those of you at home reading this, hope and dream beyond your environment, beyond what you see on T.V.  Create a vision rooted in truth far beyond your job or school.  Once again, the limitations of conventionality conditions us to go to school, get a job, get married, pay bills, have kids, retire, and die.  That´s life inside a box.

To all prisoners physically held captive against your will, get your hopes and dreams out of that box.  Think of creative ways to obtain your freedom.  Think outside the box.  Share your voice with the world.  If not, you´re no better than a dead man.  You´re a non-active memory.

In conclusion, I ask, when you think of a box, what comes to mind?

Craig B. Harvey R15853
Stateville Correctional Center
P.O. Box 112
Joliet, IL 60434

Who am I?  To the state of Illinois I’m a thug, killer, convict, simplified #R15853.  To my family and friends I’m a loving man.  I am human, and like all others, represent the world in which we inherited as a creative balance of positive and negative energy.  All my writings are a humanitarian effort to find and maintain that balance.  I’ve also written essays for Prison Neighborhood Arts Project (P-NAP).  They can be found at  

Thursday, July 7, 2016


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By Samuel Hawkins

I had run away from the group home where I was living at. I had been gone for a few days. I was having fun, running around the streets, missing school, going to arcades, stealing what I wanted to, riding the public transit buses and exploring the city. I spent the nights alone, sleeping in emergency rooms of hospitals, or at the airport. To me, at 10 years old, these were safe, well-lit places in which no one would bother to question my presence.  

Being alone meant loneliness, sadness. Sometimes this was expressed in tears. To be so young and unable to go home, not wanting to go back to the group home, yet wishing I had a warm place to go; a normal home, people that loved me, made me envious of children and families I saw around me. But even still, the streets were better than the group home. I hated that place. I ran away as often as I could. 

I was in the Terrace and it was late and dark and the community center had closed. Other kids had gone home, and this was the worst time for me; the time when my thoughts forced me to face my reality. I had a few dollars in my pocket. Maybe 10-15, which was a lot back then, especially to most kids my age. went to the mini-mart on the corner, right outside the projects. I bought a hot link sandwich, and some jojo potatoes. I ate these as I stepped out and looked around. Where was I going to go?

I knew behind me was Juvenile Hall, nearby, but they wouldn't be looking for me. They would only keep you after you got caught. I knew there were a few hospitals in that direction. But just to be safe, I went across the bridge, to the V.A. Hospital. It was around 10pm when I got there. I walked through the parking lot, looking for the Emergency Room. It was unusually dark. The hospital looked like a castle, sitting on the side of the hill. I had never stayed here before, but I figured that all big hospitals were the same.  

When I found the entrance sign I was looking for, I entered and was shocked to see an almost empty waiting room. It wasn't as bright, or crowded as the other Emergency rooms that I had stayed in.  Nevertheless, I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. So I asked the nurse at the desk where the bathroom was. I did this because in my mind, once she had seen me she would think I was there with someone, since I had walked up to the desk. She pointed me in the direction of the bathroom, but didn't even smile at me. I went to the bathroom, but was a little nervous about the nurse. When I came out I sat down in the waiting area, and watched TV for a little while, before drifting off to sleep. I woke up to someone shaking me. It was a security guard and the nurse was standing next to him. They were both looking down at me.  

"Who are you waiting for?"

I was still half asleep. I just looked at the guard. I was going to get up and leave, but he told me to sit back down. I was too tired to argue or run. He spoke into his walkie-talkie, and in less than five minutes the police werethere. They escorted me to the police car, and put me in the back seat. I sat there looking out of the window, as the police talked to the security guard, and the nurse.

When they were done, the police came back to the car and got in. They questioned me about who I was. I was tired, and just wanted to go to sleep.  I told them my name, and they called it in and determined that I was a runaway. I thought that they would take me back to the group home. I knew that meant I would have to go through the process of 'shadow' and 'sight' sanctions. Shadow meant I would have to follow the staff around, being a shadow for a period of time: usually a week, followed by another week of being on sight. Shadow was the worst, because I couldn't talk or sit down, so my feet hurt a lot. Oh well, I knew the routine.

I sat back in the police car and looked out the window as we pulled out of the hospital parking lot, into the dark streets. I watched as we passed the streets I had just been on. We passed the Terrace projects, and the corner store where I had bought my last meal. I was still full, that was a blessing. The police car began to slow down, and I paid close attention, as we stopped and the turn signal came on. We were at the juvenile detention center.

I was caught between two emotions. I was happy, and scared. I had heard about this place from other kids that had been here. But they were older than I was. And I had never been here. But I was also happy that I wasn't going back to the group home.  Maybe they wouldn't want me back. Then my moms could come and get me. I thought of everything. What if I got beat up here? Or worse? I knew what they said about little kids in juvie.  I would call my moms and tell her where I was at. She would come and get me. This was jail, for kids, so I would get a free phone call.

The car had turned into the driveway, and we were stopped at an electronic fence, waiting for it to open.  I was sitting up, alert, watching as that electronic fence opened. I didn't know it then, but that gate had swallowed up many children, and didn't spit them out until they were old enough to be kept, behind the bigger and stronger gates of prison. Everything you needed there... you would learn here.

The police car rolled through, and stopped while the gate closed behind us. Then we pulled up along side a door that had writing on it and windows that were tinted. The officers got out, and walked up to some mailbox-like compartments in the wall. They took their guns off and put them in them, and locked them. They returned to the car, and opened the door. I got out, small, scared, and began having regrets about running away.  I had no idea what was on the other side of that door. 

The police escorted me to the door and we stood there waiting for someone to open it. I looked up at a camera watching us. I was startled by the loud cracking sound of the door as it popped open. One of the police reached forward and opened it. He stepped to the side holding the door and I knew that was a sign for me to go inside. I stepped through the door. It was bright, and I looked around, taking in my surroundings.

 A short older woman walked towards us and asked the police if I was Samuel Hawkins. They said, "That's him, all ten years of him. Kinda quiet." I just watched as I was being discussed as though I couldn't speak for myself. 

The lady told me, "Come with me Samuel." I followed her, and we turned down a hallway. There were doors on both sides, and they had little squares with fences in the middle.  She told me to take my shoes off. I didn't know why, but I did. I saw other shoes by the doors, and then I saw faces looking out. The lady opened the door, and there was a number 6 on it. I stepped inside, and it closed behind me. 

I heard the door lock behind me. I was in Juvie. This was jail for kids. I looked around the room, still too young to call it a cell. There was a bench with carpet on it. Names scratched on the walls. But before I could investigate further, I heard voices. They were talking, calling me.

"Hey, you, that just came in."


What's your name?"

"Sam. Who are you?"

"Will. What you here for?"

I wasn't sure what he meant, but I thought he wanted to know what I was in the juvenile for. "What you mean?"

"Aww man, what did they get you for?"

"I got caught for breaking in a house."

"Aww man, you gonna be here til you go to court."

I asked Will, "What are you in here for?"

"Aww man, they got me for car theft and joyriding."

It was funny. Will always said “Aww man.” 

I asked him, "If I have to stay here, will I stay in this room?"

"Naw man, this is “admissions,” like intake. You will go upstairs, to one of the other units. Jr. Boys, Alder North, Alder South. Or down to Spruce East or Spruce West." Then he asked me, "How old are you?"

Before I thought about what I said, I replied "Ten."

"Aww man, you just a baby, they gonna put you in Jr. Boys."

"How old are you?" I asked.


Then Will said to me, "You might get out, if you got somebody to come pick you up."

I didn't know what he meant. But he said I might get out. "What do you mean if I got somebody to come pick me up?"

"Aww man, you know, your moms or dads, whoever your guardian is."

Again I didn't know what he meant by “guardian,” but that didn't matter. I Knew my moms would come pick me up; at least I thought she would. My feet hurt from standing up, but I liked talking to Will. I was learning about this place, and it was better than sitting here by myself. I wanted to know more about this place. I asked Will, "What's it like upstairs?" 

"Aww man, it's awright. In Jr. Boys, that's where they gonna put you, they let you go to the gym in the morning and at night. And in the afternoon you go to school. At night they give you a snack."

I didn't believe him about the snack, but I didn't say nothing. He was still talking, but I called his name. "Will, how many other kids are up there?"

"Aww man, usually like twenty or thirty."

"Do you know anybody up there?" I asked.

"Aww man, my little brother is up there right now. My other brother is here somewhere too."

I wondered if they always said 'aww man' before they said something too. Then I thought that it was sure messed up that all of them were in here. But instead of saying any of that I asked, "What's your little brother name?"

"Aww man my little brother's name is C.C., and my other brothers name is Cris. If you see C.C., tell him I just got here today and I am probably gonna get 'sent up' this time. Tell him I said to get out and stay out of trouble too."

I didn't know what sent up meant. "What do you mean you probably gonna get sent up?"

"My probation officer told me if I get in any more trouble I'm gonna get sent up to the institution. That's like prison for kids. I was already at a 'camp', but got out last year. I'm still on probation for that. So this time I'm goin big time, probably to the 'Lane' or the 'Hill'."

Camp sounded like fun, but I didn't want to go to the hill. Prison for kids. I would go to prison if I could go where my pops was. But if I couldn't go be with him, I didn't want to go any place like that. Will, told me he would talk to me later. He was going to go lay down.

I looked around the room. There were names and dates written on the walls. I read them all. Some I had seen on the buses, written on the windows. They had special writing. Symbols like crowns, and faces with bandannas tied across them, and hand holding spray paint cans.  I didn't know what it all meant but the same things were on the walls here.  I finally went over to the bench and lay down. It didn't take long and I was asleep. I didn't know how long I had been asleep when I woke up.  Someone was knocking on the door. "Are you ready to go upstairs?" a voice said. I jumped up, and heard the door unlocked, it opened, and the staff, a really tall dark skinned man told me to grab my shoes. I picked them up. There were two other kids waiting along the wall. I didn't think either of them was Will. Then I heard Will say my name.

"Sam, man, don't forget to tell my little brother what I said."

"Put your shoes on, you can't carry your shoes around," said the staff. I looked at him, squatted down and slipped my shoes on. He turned and pushed a button by the door. It popped open, and he began walking through the door. The last thing I heard was "Aww man". Will must have been talking to somebody else. I followed the other two kids, who were whispering to each other, as we all followed the staff down a hallway. I was looking around noticing everything. There were a lot of doors, and hallways. We passed a room. The lights were out but I could tell it was a library, because of all the books on shelves. Finally we made it to the end of the hallway. We stopped at another door. 

Another button was pushed, and it popped open. We were in a stairwell. As we went up the first flight of steps I saw a camera, with a red light watching us. Then another flight and we were at another door. This one popped open without anyone pushing the button. They were definitely watching us. We exited the stairwell, and were in another hallway. A short distance away were two doors and we stopped there. I could see down the hall there were more doors. A lady and a big man, like a football player, came out and took us in the door. This must have been Jr. Boys, I thought. They made us sit down on another bench with carpet on it. They went in a little booth, and sat down. The other two boys were talking to each other again. "Have you been here before?" I asked them.

One of them said "Yeah." 

The other one said "Nah."

I looked at the one that said he had been here before and asked, "Is this Junior Boys?"


The lady called out the door, "Yarborough."

The boy who said he hadn't been here before got up and went to the office. I didn't know what they said to him, but he went down a hallway, and the lady was right behind him.

"Where are they going?" I asked the other boy who was left sitting on the bench with me.

"To get his clothes, and take a shower. Then he will get his blankets, and go to his cell."

This was the first time that I thought about being in a “cell.” I was too young to understand the implications of what this meant. What it would do to me and how it would change me. All I thought about was being able to tell my friends that I had been to juvie. They would all want to know what it was like. None of the kids at the group home had been to juvie, and they were mostly older than I was by at least a year or two. I thought about Tyrone and Jerome. They had beat up a staff at the group home and I knew they’d come to juvie.  I wondered if they were still here, or maybe they had got 'sent up' like Will said.

"Andrews,” said the other staff who came out of the office closing the door behind him. “Back again huh?"

"Yeah, for a probation violation. I was out past my curfew. I'll probably get ten or fifteen days."

He was still talking, but I couldn't hear what he said. He turned down the other hallway with the big staff. I sat there looking around the room that I was in. I could see a door with a window in it, then I looked the other way. There was a little room, like a phone booth with a phone; it didn't have a door though. We had walked past it when we came in. Then there was the booth where the staff had been. I was still looking around when I saw the lady staff come back out of the hallway. She looked at me, and said, "You must be ready to go.” I just looked at her. I didn't say anything. She looked over at me and smiled at me as she asked me if I wanted to sleep out here.

I said "No."

"Then let's go. You get to take a shower and then change clothes." 

I got up and walked towards the first hallway. She had stepped inside the office and wrote something down, then came back out. I was standing at the entrance to the hallway. She walked past me. "Come on." We walked halfway down the hallway and stopped at a door. I was looking up and down the hall and there were doors like in 'admissions' with small square windows but instead of glass they had metal grates in them.  The lady had opened the door and said, “You look like you need a small. What size shoes do you wear?"

"Four." I answered.

She handed me a rolled up towel and a pair of thongs. Then a black bag. "Put your clothes in here, they will wash them for you. Put your shoes in the pocket on the outside."


"Go take your shower now."

When I turned around, the boy that was with me when we’d come down this hallway was standing there holding another big black bag like the one I held. He had on a jumpsuit that was dark blue, and looked like the ones the people at the gas station wore sometimes. There was a zipper in the front, and a pocket on the chest. On the pocket was written in ink marker a big "S". I looked at him and then walked past him to take a shower.

I stepped in one of the showers, the second one, because it was dry. I began undressing and putting my clothes in the black bag. When I was standing there naked I looked at the shower, and there were no handles, no 'hot' or 'cold'. Just a button, so I pushed it. The water came on. It was warm and I was standing under the water, happy that I wasn't at the group home, thinking that it wasn't so bad here. When the water shut off, I picked up the towel roll and unrolled it. When I did, a pair of underwear, t-shirt and socks fell out. I hurried to pick them up so they wouldn't get wet. I put them on and then put the jumpsuit on. It was too long. My thongs didn't fit well with my socks on. I reached back into the shower and picked up the towel that I had stood on to get dressed. I carried the bag back to the little room where the lady gave my clothes. The door was closed. I walked down the hallway and saw someone in the window of a door. 

"You just get in?"


I stopped at the end of the hallway. The lady was in the booth, writing something. "Hawkins, come here." I walked to the booth door. I was still carrying my bag. My jumpsuit pant legs were under my thongs. "I'm going to put you in cell 10, tonight. That has two other boys in it. Okay. If you want a cell by yourself they can move you tomorrow."

"Okay." I said.

The lady asked me if I had my clothes. The bag with my clothes in it was still in my hand. I handed it to her. She put it in the office, next to the other two bags. Then she handed me a blanket that was rolled up. We were in the hallway and at the first door we stopped. She looked inside, and then she went back to the booth.  The door popped open. I stepped inside and shut the door. I looked around the room. There were two people in the beds; both of them had been asleep. "I just got here,” I told them. “They told me I'll only be here for tonight." I didn't know why I was compelled to say this. Probably for waking them up. 

One of the boys sat up. "Where you from?" 

"What do you mean?" I answered.

"Like where do you live?"

"I stay in a group home right now, but my moms lives in Renton."

"How long have you been here?" I asked.

"A couple of weeks now. But I was only out for a few days. I just did thirty days."

"Do you know C.C.?"

"Yeah, I know him. He is down the hall, in six house."

"I just saw his brother in admissions. He told me to tell him he was probably going to get 'sent up'."

"We'll see him when we come out for breakfast." 

"What time is that?" I asked.

"We get up at six forty five, and go to breakfast at seven thirty. What time was it when you came in?"

"I got arrested at ten thirty. But I don't know how long I was downstairs.” 

He got out of bed and went to the window. He looked out and said, "It's almost one o'clock." I put my blanket roll on the bed when I came in. Now I unrolled it. I still had trouble making my bed, so I just rolled up in my blanket. I lay there for a little while thinking before I fell asleep. This place wasn't so bad. But I had just got here. It was better than the group home. But I really wanted to be at home with my moms. I missed her. I wanted to cry, but I didn't want anyone to hear me. I rolled over and covered my head. The tears were there. Even though I tried to control them they still found the freedom that I didn't have. That was how I went to sleep, that first night in juvie. I didn't even know my roommates names.

Samuel Hawkins 706212
Washington State Penitentiary
1313 N. 13th Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362
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