The Degree of Civilization in a Society

October 27, 2014

by Crane-Station

On March 17, 2013, Christopher Lopez took his last breath at 9:10 AM, stripped and shackled, face down on a cement floor, while his jailers joked and made chit-chat. During Mr.Lopez’s videotaped death, which began at 3:30 AM, guards subjected him to a forceful ‘cell extraction’ even though he was unresponsive. When they placed the spit hood over his head and shackled him in the disciplinary chair, he slumped to one side and had a seizure. Without performing any assessment whatsoever, they returned Mr. Lopez to his cell, placed him face down on the cement next to the toilet, and injected him with two psychotropic drugs.

“Is it lunch already?” the guard asks, followed by inaudible conversation.

“He could swallow his teeth, I don’t care…”

A guard proclaims, “He didn’t even piss on himself, so he’s not seizing.” “What’s he doing now?” a female supervisor asks. “Smells like he peed all over the place,” a man replies. “Is he still on the floor?” “Yeah.” “He likes it on the floor.” “I like him on the floor.” “Yeah, he likes it alright when he’s on the floor.” Laughter ensues. “Isn’t that terrible?”

While the staff makes fun of him, Mr. Lopez’s breathing changes to that of a fish out of water. When his breathing stops and he dies, a guard talks to his body from outside the cell door, saying to the window, “I can see you breathing.” She also tells the corpse to “Open your eyes,” and then she says, “Good.”

The only thing missing from Mr. Lopez’s horrible and lonely death is the pepper spray, but that was not really an oversight. He would have been pepper sprayed prior to the forceful extraction procedure, but the staff was short that day, the lawsuit describes:

“He actually wants to respond, but he can’t,” Gutierrez-Gonzalez told someone, then called out, “I understand you have some medical condition, but you have to work with me so I can help you.”

Gutierrez-Gonzalez then told Lopez if he didn’t cooperate, there would be a forced cell entrance, during which he would be pepper sprayed.
More than an hour after they noticed Lopez on the floor, a six-member team assembled to mount a forced cell entrance. Before going to the cell, they were told that because of a lack of personnel, gas wouldn’t be used.

The guards entered the cell dressed in riot gear and dragged him out. They told him to stop resisting, though he appeared limp.
They stripped him, then chained and cuffed him to a wheeled transport chair, and pulled a black spit mask over his head.”

Prior to Mr. Lopez’s death, he lived in solitary confinement for more than nine months, but since he suffered from schizophrenia, he could not act as his own advocate, speak up, file a grievance, or call his family to raise outside help.

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“I went to Walmart this morning,” said one of the guards, as Mr. Lopez lay next to the toilet, dying.

Mr. Lopez’s situation is not unique.

In Michigan, mentally ill inmates at Huron Valley were “denied water and food, ‘hog tied’ naked for many hours, left to stand, sit, or lie naked in their own feces and urine, denied showers for days, and tasered,” according to witness letters to the ACLU of Michigan.

Who is in charge of health care for the mentally ill? One private contractor is Corizon. According to its website, Corizon is:

Clinically-focused. Patient-centered. Evidence-based.

As the correctional healthcare pioneer and leader for 35+ years, Corizon Health provides client partners with high quality healthcare and reentry services that will improve the health and safety of our patients, reduce recidivism and better the communities where we live and work.”

Corizon has landed a 100 million dollar contract in California,  with Fresno County jail, the latest contract in a long list. Corizon Health, “the nation’s leader in correctional healthcare solutions” invites us to browse the website to see their “Our people, practices and commitment to success.

Corizon has been sued 660 times for malpractice over the last half-decade. The ACLU adds that “As long as Corizon is motivated by its bottom line, there will always be a perverse incentive not to provide treatment. And Corizon is doing very well. The company makes $1.4 billion dollars a year off sick prisoners. Just last week, Corizon inked a new five-year, $1.2 billion contract with the state of Florida. This means that Corizon is now getting taxpayer money in 29 states. And they’re vying for more.”

Corizon is being investigated in Arizona, for taking taxpayer money designated to provide inmate healthcare and doing nothing or being so egregiously negligent that mentally ill inmates are dying.

New York City has contracted Corizon to provide health care for its inmates for more than a decade, previously under the name Prison Health Services, according to a report. In spite of a contract with New York City that pays $280 million for medical care and a $128 million for administrative support, fifteen have died at Rikers Island jail including:

• A 36-year-old man with a severe seizure disorder who died two days after he was placed in solitary confinement and denied his medication. Witnesses said they heard him screaming for his medication.

• A 59-year-old drug addict who wasn’t properly assessed for a common side effect of methadone — constipation — and died of complications from an infected bowel.

• A 32-year-old man who died of a bacterial infection in his stomach and intestines after days of bloody stools. He received treatment only after fellow inmates staged a protest.

• A 20-year-old man who died after an artery in his heart ruptured. A fellow inmate said that he heard the man complain countless times over two days of chest pains and difficulty breathing

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In Florida, where Darren Rainey was scalded to death at the hands of guards at Dade CI, George Mallinckrodt, a psychotherapist who was working for Corizon, blew the whistle on the behalf of Mr. Rainey and others. At our site, he commented:

I’m George Mallinckrodt, the only former staffer at Dade CI to come forward publicly about the egregious behavior of guards in the psych unit called the Transitional Care Unit. As a result of the stories broken by the Miami Herald’s Julie Brown, it is comforting to know I’m not alone anymore in bringing the abuse, beating, torture, and murder of inmates to the attention of the public. Almost two years ago, after I answered my phone with a typical “Hello,” my former coworker blurted out, “They killed him!” Ever since, I’ve been trying to get people to pay attention to the murder of Darren Rainey. I contacted the FDLE, FBI, Miami Metro Homicide, and the ME’s office to no avail. When Julie broke the story Sunday, May 18, 2014, there was no doubt in my mind that I would come forward. I may not have been able to change much when I was working in prison, but now it appears I have been more successful on the outside. I’ve got to give the inmate, Harold Hempstead, a massive amount of credit in coming forward as he did. As we all know now, really bad things happen to men in prison.

The complaint I lodged with the Dept. of Justice in DC may now receive the attention it deserves. No doubt one of thousands of complaints filed every year, perhaps as a result of recent publicity, it may move up a bit in the line. Of course, I’d like to see it go straight to the top.

We need a change of heart in this country. When Russian Novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,” he aptly described the treatment of America’s incarcerated mentally ill in tandem with complete disregard for the Eighth Amendment and basic human decency.

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Christmas in Prison

December 26, 2013

Christmas in Prison

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy

card from prison commissary

Christmas card from prison commissary that I sent to my family for Christmas, 2008.

Blue Jay, Prison art

Partially completed Blue Jay, prison art. I was not able to complete this drawing, because of the poor quality of the made-in-Indonesia colored pencils from prison commissary. The pencils broke, and the colors were not what they were labeled to be. It would not have mattered anyway; the prison stamped the drawing as you can see, to indicate that this was “Inmate mail.”

KCIW PeWee Valley, Christmas, 2008

While families across the country gather to exchange gifts, attend services, and enjoy the lights, food and decorations, we are gathered and silent, in the day room of Ridgeview Dormitory, waiting for our names to be called so that we can receive our Christmas gifts.

The gift is a Christmas card, handed to us each personally by the Ridgeview House Mother, Mary. Everyone receives the same card. For many, this is the only Christmas gift they will receive. We are thankful for this card.

Some women who trick write, will receive financial gifts from sugar daddies.

Christmas in prison is Christmas ruined because the pain of family separation is magnified. Women miss their grandchildren’s first Christmas, or their parent’s last Christmas, as was the case with my friend Sarah, whose father committed suicide two days after Christmas.

We miss our families. But what do we miss, exactly? We miss the innocence and awe of our childhood Christmases, I think. We chase and chase this rose-colored-glasses version of happier times, until we stop. Because it will never be that way again.

Many choose to continue the fantasy of family reunion. Of childhood excitement. Of joy. Of sleds and snow and kitchen baking smells, and opening presents early on Christmas Eve. We chase and chase the fantasy until we are too tired to chase it anymore and we must accept that we are unwanted. We must accept that it is possible for family love to stop. Even if we cannot understand, we must accept it.

Others widen the chasm from the outset and extend the geography and psychological valleys of separation because not to do so is too painful. These are the realistic women, I think. They are able to accept the end of love and move on to something else.

How does one accept the unacceptable? “You cannot live in here and out there at the same time,” other inmates tell me. “Do the time and do not let the time do you.” The women who tell me these things are wise women, I think. They are wise because they have let go of something I cannot turn loose of: regret.

When I was a child I loved snow globes. I broke one once, but I refused to believe that it was broken. I squeezed my eyes shut tight and prayed for it to magically come back. Each time I opened my eyes, the plastic globe remained broken on the floor, the liquid spreading. That is what Christmas is like in prison. No matter what you do, no matter how much you pray, no matter what you do not do, your life is still in shards. One time in my adult life I was within a mile of my childhood home. I kept on driving. Because to stop would have broken the fantasy that you can go home again and things will be the same.

When my name is called, I thank Mary for the card. But I cannot stop longing for my snow globe.


Noah Got Drunk

December 23, 2013


by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account in Kentucky.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Inmate names are changed.

Cell 107, McCracken County Jail, Winter, 2008

Breakfast this morning was strange, because to me, just listening, it sounded like locusts devouring a biblical country. Jail eating is not normal. Inmates gobble, hoard, smack, belch and fart. We yank and choke down food, slurp, slobber and grunt. We eat with a single hard plastic utensil called a spork, a hybrid between a spoon and a fork that is engineered to bend on impact, making it useless as a shank. There is much trading, spooning, shoveling, hoarding and handing back and forth sporkfulls of food. The binge symphony is punctuated with the words, “Are you gonna eat that?” The meal lasts for ten minutes until guards and working Class D males pick up the trays.

Binge and sleep, binge and sleep, occurs three times a day, not including commissary days. On those days, some inmates binge before the binge.

For the women of this jail, there is absolutely nothing to do except eat, watch TV and sleep. Only five Class D (ie, non-violent, mostly petty drug crimes) female final-sentenced state inmates are allowed to work a job, and none of the female jobs involve outdoor or even hallway work. The remaining Class D final-sentenced female inmates are nothing more than revenue units for the jail. The state of Kentucky pays money to the county for each state inmate because this facility is really good at providing the appearance on paper of being a ‘Class D’ facility for women. That means jobs and activities for women. In reality it’s nothing more a cement cage for women.

For these women, the days turn to months and then to years, and then they are released from the cement cage into the community and the street, with nothing to show for the time spent but massive weight gain and the thousand-yard stare.

Many of them will return.

I am seated at a steel table wearing a terry cloth towel equivalent of a tin foil hat on my head, looking at some papers. The first one is a Kentucky Jail Ministries (US 42 Florence KY 41042) church handout. It says:

I once read: God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called. The world might say there are many reasons why God wouldn’t want to use you or me, but don’t worry:

Moses stuttered
Mark was rejected by Paul
Hosea’s wife was a prostitute
Amos’ only training was in the school of fig tree pruning
Solomon was too rich
Abraham was too old
David was to young
Timothy had ulcers
Peter was afraid of death
John was self-righteous
Naomi was a widow
Paul was a murderer
So was Moses
Jonah ran from God
Miriam was a gossip
Gideon and Thomas both doubted
Jeremiah was depressed and suicidal
Elijah was burned out
John the Baptist was a loudmouth
Martha was a worry-wart
Samson had long hair
Noah got drunk

Things go from bad to worse in the cell. We are already on ‘double secret probation,’ and are without phone and TV. We lost these things because Ruthie was on Sirkka’s bunk getting her hair curled for her mother’s funeral the next day. We lost these privileges for longer than we did that time when the whole cell got busted smoking cigarettes.

Sirkka becomes progressively more infantile, manipulative, sexual and annoying, until finally she and Joyce get into hurling verbal insults at each other. Sirkka writes a note to the guards asking to be moved out to a suicide cell. They move her. We do not know if she will return or not; she is running out of options and will soon have on her list of past addresses, every female cell in the jail.

I am relieved for the temporary quiet. While I do not want to attack her personally, because I like her and think she has a good heart, some of the things she did enraged me. Her food binges, for example. She would start grabbing at, asking for, and hoarding food until she had a sick amount of food in front of her. Meat patties; four, five or six slices of bread; two, three or four helpings of mashed potatoes; mounds of cake and pudding. I had not thought of my own struggle with bulimia in years, but having someone binge-eat in front of me several times a day, bothers me.

She also ate and drank everyone else’s commissary, and weaseled people out of phone time, stamps, envelopes, paper, and anything else she could get. If you were away from your bunk, she took your blankets, or worse, demanded that you take your blankets and cover her up”like a baby,” and rub her back until she falls asleep “like a baby.”

Sirkks’a latest love interest on the outside is a crack-smoking married guy with four or five kids, whom she had been sleeping with for drugs. Inside she he walks around the cell half naked, screaming, yelling, giggling, and showing tits, ass and crotch to the Class D men working the hallway.

We suspect that she came to our cell during a manic phase of a bipolar cycle. She was unmedicated. We dealt with her situation the best we could, and tried to remain kind while she was here, but we couldn’t handle her and welcomed the quiet after she left.

All psychiatric medication is prescribed by a social worker, if it is prescribed at all. Perhaps an MD or ARNP is signing off on the prescriptions, but these people never lay eyes on the inmates, nor do they perform a single assessment. Given this deficiency in medical care, I have little hope that Sirkka will ever receive proper medical intervention during her stay in this jail.

I adjust the towel on my head and make my selection from the church handout before me:

Noah got drunk.


Kitchen Job In Ricky’s World

December 13, 2013

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy
sunset

Sunset, jail art: magazine ink, colored pencil, ink. cranestation on flickr.

Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account in Kentucky jails and in prison in 2008 and 2009.

The name Ricky is real. Others have been changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Ricky’s World, Fulton County Detention Center, Hickman, KY, August, 2008.

Tonight I dress strategically for my job in the kitchen. I have arthritis. This privately owned jail charges one dollar per tablet for canteen Advil. So I put on a sports bra. A sports bra will accommodate packets of sweetener that I plan to smuggle from the kitchen. This will right a tiny wrong, at least in my mind.

So, I have the right clothes on.

Penny, Jesse, Linda and I head to the kitchen for work. We are the jail’s designated prep crew, evening shift. We cut vegetables, fill butter and jelly cups and make KoolAid.

Turns out I am really, really good with knives. I cut vegetables like a manic Cuisinart. This makes Penny crazy. She absolutely hates, and I mean she cannot stand that I am really, really good at cutting. And I’m fast. And so, Penny spends a good deal of the evening trying to slow me down.

It goes like this:

We get to the kitchen and I check out two knives, both pieces of shit but, between the two I usually get the job done. I grab a cutting board and say to the others, “I use two knives. You guys need to check out your own knives.”

Two more knives are checked out. (Not enough for my vegetable-cutting World Cup, I might add.)

“I’m cutting,” I say.

Linda peels off from the pack to make fifty gallons of KoolAid.

Penny with the first shot across the bow: “I’m going to have you rinse all the cucumbers, and I’ll get started cutting.” Like she runs the place.

She wants a head start.

But that does nothing to my work product, so then she predictably wants one of my knives. I have prepared for this. I give up my piece of crap yellow-handle filet knife, and keep the Farberware semi-serated, plastic handle, butcher-knife sized, made-in-China yard sale knife. Penny wants this also, but I refuse to give it up.

Then Jesse wants my knife, to cut butter, of all things, a job I could have completed from start to finish with time to spare, in less than ten minutes. I refuse. She wants my cutting board. I give it to her. Penny gives Jesse the knife that I just gave Penny, the filet knife with the yellow handle. Penny gives me a piece of crap slab of wood cutting board that inmates have used for so long that there is a trench the middle, so the board looks like a boat.

I turn the board over.

My productivity is yet unhindered even though my handicap includes an instrument that somehow passes for a knife, although I doubt it would kill anyone (I’ve pondered it); to cut butter you have to run the knife under hot water first.

Penny goes nuts. She says, “You can’t use the back of the board!”

“Why not?”

“It’s…It’s…got…mold.”

There is no mold on this board. I say, “Where?”

“Right there!” She points to wood.

“On the back side?”

“Yeah, you can’t do that!”

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Penny by now, without knife and board, is not cutting. Actually she is eating. And annoying me.

I turn the board back over.

Penny is a nut farmer, of course, but I say nothing because it’s not worth it. This is not, as they say, the mountain I want to die on. Besides, my productivity remains unhindered.

After cutting something like a billion cucumbers and a whole bunch of okra, I have a good case of arthritis in my shoulder and wrist. My hand will be swollen.

The guard comes in and takes her share of vegetables for home and remarks that she should bring her entire garden in for us (me) to process. The guard is sincere, and this is meant to be a compliment, and that is how I take it.

We are supposed to make sixty-three cents a day for labor, full time (about twenty dollars per month). I have worked like an animal since May, and saw my precious twenty dollar check for the first time, in August.

I return to the cell, to the hate. I make a note to get new earplugs because the old ones have worn out.

There is much excitement in one corner of the cell, screams, yelps. A mob of inmates have found a spider and they are torturing it. Tearing off its legs, spraying it with bleach, beating it. There was a time in my life when I questioned the presence or absence of evil, but I no longer do.

I say a prayer for the spider.

Author’s end note: I saw a lot of these sorts of incidents. They broke my heart.





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