Prison Blog #29 (Newsletter #5) - The madness continues
February 8-14: On January 6, Warden Booker told me I was to be reinstated to my job in the law/reading library. After three weeks of waiting and going to the library daily in any case, I saw on the call-out sheets (daily assignment sheet) in late January that I was assigned to pick up garbage on the compound in the afternoon and evening. Considering any inmate can do this job but only 4 or 5 English speakers in the entire population can do the paralegal/secretarial work I was doing on behalf of the 1,500+ Hispanic inmates here, this new assignment was clearly an attempt by someone here to thwart the warden and humiliate me.
About 7 days ago I saw the warden and brought this to his attention. He remarked, “I’m a man of my word,” and proceeded to make a call on his cell phone to correct the ‘error’ on the call-out sheet. I left him to do that, and 7 days later, 30 days after the warden said I was reinstated, I am still unassigned but still available in the law library. We shall see what happens. [Note from Jodie Emery: Marc has since been reassigned and now works Monday through Friday in the library.]
I would get paid 12 cents per hour to do either job. What I can’t understand is how a private corporation like Geo Group can legally hire all these “deportable aliens,” none of whom have visas to legally work in the United States. Have they received a special exemption from the Federal government that allows a for-profit US corporation like GEO Group to do what no other US business entity is allowed to do: hire illegal aliens to work in their factory/business/enterprise? Many of these ‘illegal aliens’ here were undocumented workers doing labor for US businesses and they were incarcerated for doing precisely that. So by what political or legal alchemy can these same illegal “workers” be hired by GEO Group to essentially maintain this ‘industry’ here at D. Ray James Correctional?
And this business of 12 cents per hour: if you don’t concede to work on the assignment given to you, you can be put in solitary confinement. So a private, for-profit, US corporation, answerable only to shareholders, can put any inmate here in a lonely dungeon for 23 hours per day if they refuse to be a slave? The Thirteenth Amendment abolishes slavery “within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” So either GEO Group seems to be illegally hiring illegal aliens, or employing slavery, or both, but I’d like to know what law permits a for-profit US corporation to do either.
Meanwhile, GEO Group has cut back on the hours of many of its employees here. Many Correctional Officers (C.O.’s) have had their hours cut from 40 to 32 hours a week. This was an unhappy bit of news for them because most, if not all, full-time workers cannot easily readjust their lifestyle and obligations with a 20% cut in pay. One extra unpaid day off in this economically depressed area is not something anyone who works here needs. One C.O. drives 52 miles a day to come to work here at D. Ray James, that tells one story of how difficult jobs are to come by in south Georgia and north Florida. The collapse of the housing market and the reduction of tourism from the recession and the Gulf oil spill have turned south Georgia and north Florida into one of the areas of highest unemployment in the United States. A competently run prison would be a benefit to the inmates here AND the local population so desperate for gainful employment.
More and more I am concerned about the quality of the water we are drinking here. The staff largely drinks bottled water, which is not available to inmates except in the visiting room, but staff have been buying all of the visiting room water bottles. That’s why the machines are often out of water for visitors on weekends. The water that we inmates have to drink is yellow when put in a white cup, smells, variously contains debris, paint flecks, etc. The water tower that recently was embellished with a massive GEO Group paint job has never had a filter changed within it, if it even HAS a filtration device within it all.
Ominously, the subcontracted group responsible for our very poor food diet, the Canteen Corporation, is about to get replaced by GEO Group’s own food services. GEO Group ran Rivers C.I. in Winton, North Carolina, which was closed down by order of the NC legislature, and many inmates from Rivers are here. All uniformly agree the food at Rivers was the worst they had ever encountered in the Federal system. So, incredibly, it’s possible what is already a monotonous and repetitive diet deficient in vitamins B, C, calcium, potassium, essential fatty acids and so much more, plus high in starches, sugars, and protein, is about to get even worse!
It would seem very few people running the show here are qualified to do so. The psychologist on staff has no degree in psychology or psychiatry; he’s a drug and alcohol counselor of some kind. The welding teacher has no credentials in welding. The recreation director has no credentials in health, fitness or physical education. The library does not have a certified librarian (it usually has no one supervising at all, to save money), and the director of education has no degree in education. The chaplain does not have a Masters of Divinity. Not a single Corrections Officer has ever worked in a Bureau of Prisons facility before; therefore they have no experience with federal regulations of federal prisons. Many of the staff here worked at the state D. Ray James prison, but state regulations are substantially different than federal regulations, and that results in a fair bit of confusion.
Most B.O.P. minimums and lows have an outdoor visitation area. D. Ray James has, according to the D. Ray James Procedure Statement, an outdoor visitation area. I sure hope one is planned because thus far, it’s not available. I will be asking the warden if one will be provided here, consistent with his statement SEC-014.06, which was signed by him only a few months ago: “Visitation may be conducted in a designated outdoor visitation area if approved by the Shift Supervisor. Only inmates who have had clear conduct for six months and have no security issues within the facility will be allowed to have visitation outside.”
Occasionally the visitation staff tells the inmates and their visitors not to hold hands, even though it is called a ‘contact visit’ and from my understanding, every federal minimum, low and medium security federal prison in the B.O.P. system permits handholding. The staff in visitation are otherwise good.
I’ve been reading ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do (The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country).’ This is a marvelous book by Peter McWilliams. Peter was stricken with AIDS in later life and after Proposition 215 was passed in California, proceeded to participate in a marijuana garden (with Todd McCormick, who spent over 4 years in jail) and was convicted under Federal law for growing marijuana. Peter used cannabis to stanch the nausea form the cocktail of AIDS medicines his doctors prescribed him. The Federal judge had forbade Peter from using marijuana for his nausea, and days later Peter McWilliams died in his bathtub choking to death on his own vomit. Peter was an author of many books on positive thinking, emotional survival and personal wealth (titles include ‘Surviving the Loss of a Love’, ‘You Don’t Have the Luxury of a Negative Thought’, and ‘Wealth 101’). I decided to re-read Peter’s great literary contribution to law and philosophy, ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do’ when the online curator of Peter’s legacy [click here] sent me a gift copy to inspire me here in jail. The book is truly brilliant and wonderful, at once straight forward and easy to read, and I’m learning so much; when you’ve been an advocate for 31 years, sometimes you think you can’t learn anything new about liberty, only to be proven delightfully wrong.
I found McWilliam’s discussion of relationships illuminating. “The idea behind laws against consensual activities is that if some people are in a bad relationship with something, then that thing should be banned. The problem is, that solution doesn’t solve anything: the problem doesn’t lie with the thing (or substance) itself, but with some people’s relationship to it. Yes, there are some things with which it is easier to be in a bad relationship with than others. Cigarettes practically beg for a bad relationship. But then, they were designed that way. For the several centuries prior to the Civil War, tobacco’s use was primarily recreational: people would inhale it, choke, get dizzy, fall on the floor, roll around. For the most part, people used tobacco (a botanical relative of the deadly nightshade) once or twice a week, and that was it. After the Civil War, the south needed a cash crop less labor intensive than cotton. A special strain of tobacco was developed that allowed people to inhale deeply without coughing. This let people smoke almost continuously if they liked it. It also resulted in almost immediate addiction. Almost every tobacco smoker is addicted. While there are many ‘social drinkers’, there are no ‘social smokers’. Smokers begin from the time they wake up to when they go to sleep… Addiction is a sure sign of a bad relationship.”
Sex, food, caffeine, gambling, religion, marriage, sports: all of these and virtually every other substance, activity or opportunity has the potential in all of us to be a good or a bad (or neutral) relationship.
Halfway through the book I’ve re-learned much about the US Constitution (and how, tragically, myself being a case in point, the United States has abandoned the Bill of Rights and other restraints on government), the history and ideas and strengths in the separation of church and state, and the separation of society and state. Peter makes it all fun too. I was being educated on every page with what seems like no effort.
The book I finished before Peter’s was ‘The 10 Cent Plague – The Great Comic Book Scare of the 1950s’. This recounting of hysteria that surrounded comic books causing ‘juvenile delinquency’ from 1949 to 1956, putting 80% of all comic books out of business by municipal, state, and in Canada in 1949, Federal laws. There were huge public bonfires of comic books in dozens of communities, and a frenzy of indignation blaming comic books for all manner of crime and youth corruption. The US Constitution was no more an impediment on the US Government committee that hounded the comic book industry with scurrilous hearings, nor was the Bill of Rights any defense against state and city laws that saw sellers and producers arrested, fined, and even jailed. Over 800 people lost their jobs in the comic book industry and never got them back, as it took the comic book industry 15 years to recover. The hysteria resulted in censorship that drove out of business all the best comic books and left only the innocuous to survive.
At various times in US history, movies, television, more specifically horror movies, marijuana, racy pulp magazines of the 30’s, gum cards (Garbage Pail Kids), rock and roll records, religious “cults”, dance crazes, and more have all been subject to local or even state censorship, but none of the whipped-up furors ever had the destructive effect on free expression as did the 1949-1956 anti-comic book crusade. At its peak, comic book publications issued in 1952 totaled nearly 100 million copies monthly, by 1958, laws were passed, distributors, printers, producers, newsstands, intimidated, distribution was down to under 17 million copies monthly.
Sometimes censorship is disgusting on the smallest scale. The reading library here at D. Ray James Correctional is kept as useless as possible. No current books of the last 10 years, virtually no educational texts in math, English, science – nothing at all for a student to learn. No contemporary books like James Patterson, Stephen King, etc. Just beat up old library books from 10-40 years old, of no use to anyone. No magazines had been ordered since D. Ray James opened 4 months ago. Then one magazine arrived today, a Hispanic magazine, ‘ALMA’. It’s a terrific publication, and while it’s in a language I can’t read, it made me wish I could. It contained articles and interviews with Noam Chomsky, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jean Michel Basquiat, Orson Welles, and Ryszard Kapuscinski. There was a series of famous photographs by the “Three Giants of Photography” Stieglitz, Steichen, and Strand. The quality of all the magazine’s photographs is very good, the material very elegantly laid out, and it was clearly all very intellectually superior material.
Dr. Davis brought the magazine into the library, and before our very eyes scrawled in thick black marker “D R J C F” (the prison name initials) across every one of the 112 pages of the magazine. The reason given was that the Halle Berry photos were too lascivious, and that marking up every page would deter theft. I copied a selection of 16 pages of the defaced ALMA to highlight the experience of seeing a beautiful magazine defaced, while knowing the perpetrator is head of Library and Education Services. This one act describes the desperate and hopeless situation facing anyone here who wants to see the library here function with the noble purpose of knowledge and enlightenment.
I will admit I’ve been depressed over the most recent 8 days since Jodie’s visit on January 29 and 30. My daily life is full of frustrations and aggravations, but I can usually try to forget these hassles of D. Ray James life and move on. But as happened to me around Christmas for 10 days, sometimes a darker, more pervasive malaise sets in, and this makes each day an ordeal. My property should have arrived within 30 days of my arrival. But it hasn’t. It was sent to Taft where I was supposed to end up, but at the last minute I was somehow sent here instead. I miss my Sony radio, Koss headphones, and nighttime book light, my photo albums of Jodie. I’ve only had a half dozen to a dozen photos of Jodie in the 3 months I’ve been here. Jodie’s most recent letter to me did not arrive. One sent to me eight days ago from Alabama has not arrived. (Jodie was emailing letters to our friend Loretta who printed them up and mailed them here, usually it takes 2-3 days to arrive, as is typical of all US mail to me, vs. 6-8 days for a letter from Canada). Originally Jodie was going to try to send me a letter every day, once we no longer had “Corrlinks” email like at Sea-Tac FDC. In 5 months at Sea-Tac, she sent me approximately 500 emails and I sent her over 1,000 emails in that time (she saved every one of them). But Jodie is very busy, so in December I received only three letters and in January only one letter. Her letters are usually 4 to 8 typed pages full of wonderful detail and I treasure them above all others, but I am crestfallen at her sending me so few of them lately.
Today, when I went to the post office to mail Jodie a Valentine’s Day gift, the post office was arbitrarily closed. It is only open for one hour on Tuesday and Thursday, from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm, so when they close like that, with no explanation, it is very frustrating, as I have waited since Saturday to mail it (it’s in a home-made tube and needs weighing and a customs document to ship by mail), and if I had been able to mail it today, there was reasonable hope it would arrive by next Monday on Valentine’s Day. Of course, the obvious thing would be to hand it to her myself this weekend when Jodie visits me on Saturday February 12, and my birthday Sunday, February 13, but of course, here at (‘We Put the “D” in “Dysfunctional”’) Ray James won’t allow that.
Exercise of any kind, sit-ups, push-ups, jogging on the spot, walking around the pod, has been banned and inmates have been threatened with insubordination write-ups if they continue. All inmates are now ordered to exercise out in the yard only. To do sit-ups in the yard would be cold or muddy or dirty or uncomfortable, but that’s the rule, whether it’s raining, cold, hot, or humid. Currently we only get outside 5 to 6 hours daily tops, but are awake and in our pod up to 18 hours daily. There is no explanation for this enforced prohibition on stationary exercise. My sleeping has been disturbed for four nights in a row, usually I sleep soundly and without interruption, but these last few nights I am awake much of the night, shuffling and shaking. Most of the English speakers I know are fatalistic and sad or certainly resigned. I am more annoyed with the shrill whistling, yowling, yelling, and repeated childish voices that some of my Hispanic dorm mates persist in doing (reminder: we don’t have cells, we’re put into dorms with 64 bunks beds). Not all of them are annoying, mind you, but just enough to make me rue at the thought of three and half years of this depressing place. All these things and the additional daily frustrations are getting to me, I fear.
My eyesight is getting weaker. I need new prescription for glasses. I have no confidence in the medical services here. If I did get a new optometric prescription for my lenses, I’d mail it to Jodie and she’d send me a new pair of glasses. My request for a dental cleaning 7 weeks ago has thus far been ignored. I was assured that I was put “on the waiting list”. I haven’t had any dental work of any kind since I was put in jail last May.
I had written to my wonderful supporter and friend Catharine Leach asking her if Rhode Island had an initiative process, so cannabis legalization could be put on the ballot. The voters of Rhode Island voted for one in 1996, but the legislature did not pass an initiative process bill into law. There was also proposed legislation in both the House and Senate in 2010 to pass an initiative process and no vote was ever taken, thus the bills died. So that was disappointing, as we both wanted to get a legalization initiative mirroring Washington’s on the ballot in 2012. I think Rhode Island voters would approve legalization into law by the ballot if they had the chance.
A Maine state legislator, Diane Russell (Democrat), has made the news by introducing a legalization bill in the statehouse there. While 40-55% of New Englanders may support legalization, legislators who represent that view are still virtually non-existent. This is also the case, perhaps even worse, in Canada’s provincial and federal governments. That is why I was so excited to believe (mistakenly) Rhode Islanders could go through an initiative process.
Malcolm MacKinnon of High Times made an attempt to interview me here at D. Ray James for a feature article, but owing to High Times’ stated support of marijuana, the warden here turned down the request. So Malcolm submitted 16 questions to me and my expansive and candid answers should show up in an issue of High Times out in May or June. Jodie will also have some comments regarding her perspective on coping with my incarceration.
I would like to thank four people, none of whom I know, who put $50 in my commissary account here at D. Ray James, over the past two months: Martin M. (twice!, on Feb. 7), Lawrence J. (Feb. 1), Matthew W. (Jan. 4), and Ashley N. (Dec. 20). That helps relieve the pressure off my wife Jodie to send me money I need for commissary, phone calls, photocopy machine cards, photographs, and more. [Note from Jodie: You can send Marc money through Western Union now! Go to www.FreeMarc.ca for details.]
A special thanks to Paul Maverick of Massachusetts who sent me 34 books over the last 8 days. 11 I will try to read, the remaining 23 I’ve distributed around the pod for anyone else to read. Many of them are on spiritual matters, U.G. Krishnamurti in particular, which isn’t really my interest, but two books by Paul’s father Maury (a columnist for Texas newspapers) and 9 books of historical nature I’m going to try to tackle.
By Sunday, February 13, my 53rd birthday, I will have served 335 days on this 1,825 day sentence, with 235 days good time credit. That’s 570 days from my total 1,825 to be served, meaning there are 1,255 miserable days to go if I get stuck in this American gulag for foreigners. (July 7th, 2014 is my US release date). If I get approval from the US government in June for my transfer to Canada, and the Canadian government approves the application in the following months, I could be home by early next year. Please continue to write letters and make phone calls for my transfer to be approved – the addresses and details are at www.FreeMarc.ca.
Marc Emery #40252-086 Unit Q Pod 2
C.I. D. Ray James
PO Box 2000