Prison Blog #31 (Newsletter #7: “Post Lockdown Edition”)
February 19 to 28 - In this issue: Warden Booker leaves the prison; GEO Group Vice President of Regional, Mr. Zenk, takes over as Acting Warden (he spoke with Jodie Emery by phone on February 10); a disruption in Q Building on February 22 (9 inmates go to SHU, solitary confinement); and a confrontational visitation on the long weekend of February 19-21.
On Tuesday this week Hispanic inmates initiated a boycott of the larger Chow Hall at lunch while GEO Group Vice-President of Regional Management, Mr. Zenk, was here. The timing was deliberate. Inmates are frustrated and increasingly intolerant of the seemingly willful management indifference to regular and routine “low” security protocols that occur at B.O.P. and even other GEO Group and CCA facilities. Rules here are invented daily that follow little rational thought or Bureau of Prisons procedure/policy.
Later that day, it was announced Warden Booker was moving on, leaving DRJCF in any case, and V.P. Zenk would be Acting Warden for a period of weeks. I have already had a conversation with him and he’s a good listener when I recited a brief catalog of grievances. But action is what the inmates are measuring, and there is little to point to here in the way of actual results. DRJCF has been open 5 months now and very little progress is evident; indeed, in many areas (visitation, food, quality of the yard), it has gone backward.
Some critical areas of inmate dissatisfaction:
- Food is nutritionally inadequate and monotonous. Surveys will circulate by the staff next week to sound out inmates’ desires on the food in Chow Hall. But action is what is in short supply.
- Numerous essential and other items so far have been denied to us at the commissary, including hats, sunglasses, calculators, fresh vegetables, alarm clocks, bathrobes, sleeveless undershirts, digital language translators, thermos, sweatbands, sewing kits, tennis balls, knee wraps, and other items we are allowed to posses, but cannot get (unless they arrive from our previous prison property).
- Two televisions are inadequate for 60 – 80 inmates and there are numerous altercations over them already. An additional TV is promised for each Pod in April. The wait is so additional electrical outlets can be installed.
- The tap water here tastes very bad, yet no bottled water, juice or soda is made available to buy. Vending machines have been promised but have yet to arrive. [Note from Jodie Emery: Since this was written, vending machines have been installed.] Inmates cannot posses or use cash so the purchase procedure will invariably take weeks or months for DRJ to put into play, which brings us to…
- MP3 players have been promised for over 3 months but have yet to be put on sale in the commissary. The better MP2 player, a prison issue one called “Secure Media Systems”, will cost $100.00. Downloading songs will cost $1.60 per song.
- Remarkably, over 500 handballs have been rendered unusable by the looping razor wire that is on every fence throughout the compound in the five months DRJ has been in “business”. The volleyballs being used are lopsided because of lacerations from hitting the razor wire. Basketballs and soccer balls are very worn, yet DRJ doesn’t spend money to replace them. This razor wire was recently reinstalled at this facility even though “low” security federal prisons are only supposed to have razor wire atop of a perimeter fence. The previous state prison that originally had this excessive razor wire installed was a medium-security prison housing some generally bad dudes.
- The visitation room seats only 26 inmates and their guests out of a prison population of nearly 2,000 now, causing visits to be terminated early to make room for arriving visitors, and hand-holding between inmates and their spouses/mothers/family has been inexplicably banned.
Later on that Tuesday the Associate Wardens were dispatched to all the pods to make promises on these and other areas, but inmates simply put no credibility on the word of management. The so-called ‘town hall’ that afternoon reeked of desperation and disingenuousness.
It has been hot here for weeks now, and it’s only February. When the wind blows, a sandstorm blows across the compound. All the grass that was here when we arrived is long ago dead and what little remains is rooted to sand. The entire place lacks topsoil for grass to root, so for 6-8 months there will be sand blowing about, getting in our eyes and mouths. Mosquitoes and sand fleas will be here soon. We are surrounded by the United States’ most famous swamp, Okefenokee (pronounced O-kuh-fen-O-kuh).
Last Sunday I was bitten on my left buttock by something that put two holes in my skin and I’ve had a painful swelling and infection since, making sitting and sleeping painful and difficult. I’ve been applying ice-packs to it at night and taking ibuprofen but it hasn’t subsided yet. The C.O. did give me an emergency permission to visit medical Wednesday night even during lockdown, and the nurse and doctor at medical moved quickly to examine it, gave me the ice-pack and antibiotics, which has had a very good effect of reducing the pain, swelling and infection by Friday afternoon, which is good because Jodie visited this Saturday and Sunday and I had to sit on it for 5-6 hours each day! Thanks to the nurses and doctor in medical! It started weeping Saturday, and now is drained (what a mess!) by Monday. I still continue to take the antibiotics and put fresh bandages on the area. After one week I can now sit comfortably. [Note from Jodie: Marc was bitten by a brown recluse spider, one of only two toxic spiders in North America. More details in Jodie’s videos at www.YouTube.com/PotTVNetwork and in Marc’s upcoming blogs.]
Across from the law library, the ceiling caved in, a huge mess, as water from broken pipes above the ceiling was leaking for weeks with no correction from maintenance until the light fixtures and ceiling came crashing down. Inevitably, the air conditioning in various units will break down. The inmates feel aggravated plenty now; 6 or 7 months of unrelenting hot and muggy weather will fray tempers further. It took DRJ 3 weeks to fix the heat for Pod 2 in Q building back in December. There was no heat but nothing was done until temperatures dropped below freezing and it became a liability issue for DRJ.
The inmates’ photographs ($1 each per print) started being done against a wall in the yard. After lining up for several hours on Sunday and finally having their pictures taken, Coach Williamson, in charge of the photo program, somehow deleted all 150 photographs taken that day, necessitating all the inmates to line up once again in the hot sun to have their photos redone. When they received them the following week, at least half of the prints had the inmate’s head cut off at the forehead. They had the option of lining up yet a third time in the hot sun for yet another photograph! At DRJ, even the simplest of things gets bollixed, and when these aggravations happen daily, it drives the inmates nuts, and they are always talking about the latest aggravating DRJ fuck-up.
Along with photographs I have taken every visit with Jodie, last weekend I had 5 photos taken of me in the yard. One of me and my friend Peter (Mennonite, with 9 children), one of me and another friend Bradley (a great fellow from my area at home), one of me in my khakis, one of me holding the clutch of envelopes I routinely carry to and from the library, and one of me wearing a khaki ball cap, sunglasses, and a pen clenched in my teeth, channeling the Hunter S. Thompson or General Douglas MacArthur, my alternate persona on the yard here.
I heard that visitation last weekend was tense. Eight women who came to visitation wore open-toed or open-backed shoes. They were ordered to buy closed-toed shoes at the only nearby store in tiny Folkston, a dollar store, before they could be admitted to visitation, as the visitation area was now considered a “construction” site due to painting – which, of course, makes no sense at all. Hand-holding is still forbidden, yet permitted at all other GEO Group and B.O.P. “low” security facilities. Guards have been standing right beside inmates and their guests instead of standing in the guard area at the front of the room. Several inmates and guests got into shouting matches with guards standing closely adjacent to visitation tables.
Vending machines, the source of lunch for visitors and inmates, are frequently empty or dysfunctional. The staff, apparently, purchase bottled water during the week from these vending machines so that by visitation days on Saturday and Sunday, there is no bottled water left in the vending machines for inmates and their guests! This has been true for numerous food items too. The following weekend, February 26 and 27, Jodie and I had a wonderful visit, but not being allowed to touch each other’s hands – or anything at all – for the 7-hour visit is very irritating and upsetting.
I did the paperwork this week (before I was locked down Wednesday and Thursday morning) for the inmate who has been trying to get GEO Group to replace his dentures that they lost last June, and have refused to replace with the excuse that since last June, the inmate has had less than a year remaining in his sentence (he is scheduled for release mid-June 2011), so they don’t want to spend the money. This despite that GEO Group or Federal Marshalls lost the dentures in transit and this fellow’s guns are swollen and bleed with most meals!
On Tuesday night, February 22, there was a noisy display of disruptive behavior in Q-2 Pod (my pod) when I was in the law library. At 7:00 pm I saw an inmate having some kind of seizure in Q-2. Two inmates went to the pod door leading into the sallyport where typically there is a C.O. There wasn’t one at this time – and, in fact, it would be 10-15 minutes (disputed) before a C.O. appeared to respond to the inmates pounding on the door. The emergency buzzers in each pod have been disabled, as my friend Bradley found out when he complained two weeks earlier (see Attachment A) “because a C.O. is always on duty” in the sallyport! The C.O.’s first remark, I heard it, was “If y’all didn’t cry wolf so often I would have responded sooner.”
The fellow was taken away, and then brought back 30 minutes later, where he had another seizure. This time the C.O.’s responded promptly, but took him out to the sallyport and laid him on the floor and held his head, which probably the correct response for a seizure or seizure-like situation. Quickly after this, however, inmates in Pods 1, 2 and 3 all got rowdy and threw objects at the guard observation window that towers above the door to the sallyport, made noise, and were rebellious. No one was harmed or attacked; it is really an expression of disgust with how every aspect of this place is aggravating and frustrating to the inmates. GEO Group receives $1,008,000.00 a WEEK to operate this facility, but it is very slow to spend any of it on amenities that are common at all other GEO Group Federal Prisons and B.O.P. Federal Prisons.
After the inmate required medical attention the first time, I was in the law library, where I was held until 10:30 pm and then returned to the Q building, which was locked down all through Wednesday until Thursday morning, when we were allowed to go outside and to work. Nine inmates from Q building were put in solitary and may get a disciplinary transfer to a medium-security prison, which nonetheless, might be a step-up in terms of living conditions compared to D. Ray James Correctional Institution.
If I were there in Q-2, I would have tried to discourage what I regard as futile and foolish over-reaction. It made a mess of our pod, got 7 people from Pod 2 in solitary, and had us locked down for 36 hours. I tend to believe venting and writing complaints to management and officials is painstaking, but ultimately more effective than disruptive behavior, which virtually forces the institution to take retaliatory action. But I am fairly alone in seeing that point of persuasion and communication, and DRJ makes it very challenging for most inmates to find satisfaction using the exasperating grievance process to motivate institutional change and improvement.
It’s probably just as well I wasn’t there because I might have been regarded as a traitor for speaking out against it, plus I am only one of few English speakers and without speaking Spanish I probably would not have prevailed.
On Wednesday, I received about 25 books in the mail, half in Spanish, about 7 magazines, and 3 catalogs, so they were distributed around to the inmates who needed some calming activities during lockdown. The timing was good for those books! Many of these books arrive with receipts from ABEBOOKS, Thriftbooks, or Amazon.com among others, but no clue as to who paid for them or sponsored them. Peter Maverick of Massachusetts has been a HUGE contributor of books, over 50 so far about spiritual matters, in Spanish and English, history, fiction, biographies.
Brand new books I received include #7 & #8 in the #1 Ladies’ Detective Series, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and The Fountainhead, four new books by Herman Hesse (Demian, Narcissus & Goldmund, Steppenwolf & Siddhartha), Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, a Biography of Henry Ford, Mark Twain’s Autobiography Vol. 1, and American War Machine, which I wrote of in “Injustice & Cruelty As A Laughing Matter”, my editorial on Canadian and American politicians who laugh off the marijuana question. (Read that editorial in my previous blogs at www.cannabisculture.com, with a wonderful over-the-top painting of me nailed to a cannabis crucifix in ‘The Garden of Weeden’, juxtaposed as a sacrificial Jesus straddling the US and Canadian borders. Lady Liberty licking the blood flowing from the nails in my feet is quite the touch. I look forward to comments about the painting and the editorial it is paired with. The painting was done by Chris Wright of London, Ontario, Canada, someone I’ve known since he was a youth, whose work I truly admire and love.)
While I personally have enough reading material for a month, I still won’t discourage my supporters and friends from sending books and magazines in Spanish because the need is huge, especially in the infirmary where sick inmates can’t get out of bed. Books in English are greatly prized by the few other Canadians here. All the many magazines I receive get circulated to dozens of inmates each until I lose track of them. I even received, from Cindy Sleeman of North Vancouver, copies of Hispanic newspapers from the Vancouver ‘Latin American’ community of my hometown. Cindy has sent me a slew of great books, magazines, Spanish, English, including four from Alexander McCall Smith.
Thank to Mary Dague and Jimi Lawrence of Farifax, Virginia for books they sent. Mary sent Cutting Stone and The Longest War and the biography of Henry Ford. Jimi sent me some #1 Ladies Detective books and a 100 years of the GPO (Government Printing Office). Jimi has worked at the GPO for almost 30 years now, and is proud of his work there.
I very much appreciate the flood of books and magazines. I supply them to the infirmary, particularly Spanish magazine and books, as well as the inmates throughout D. Ray James. Today I had a ‘Santa Claus’ bag of new books that I simply will not be able to read (I have 20 lined up in my ‘Must Read’ box) so I supply the 12 other Canadians here and other English speakers I know who need books. Randy got my History of Black Sabbath because he’s a professional musician (and a delightful person), Grant from Montreal chose The Trial by Franz Kafka, and Short Stories by D.H. Lawrence.
I received some excellent books on Mexican folklore, histories of each Mexican State, in Spanish. The Mexican inmates relate to their state (Sinoloa, Chihuahua, etc.) and even have gatherings with food in the yard. It is a bonding thing, but also a bit of a mutual protection if the need arises. My friend, Peter, who is Canadian but was raised in Chihuahua state in Mexico until he was 13, is considered one of them, so Peter has 85 amigos here who hail from that state. Peter says this protects me too, as Peter and I are known to be best friends; we always eat and hang out together, as Peter is in pod 2 with me. I don’t need any protection as I have no enemies among staff or inmates, but it may one day be handy to have.
Thanks to Chris Goodwin and Erin Gorman for sending many wonderful Facebook pages of comments and political debate (which I really enjoy, so encourage people to send), and their frequent personal letters. Chris and Erin are setting up a downtown Toronto retail store and activist center for freedom called Freedom Culture Headquarters, or The Freedom Store. It will be a retail store selling libertarian, anarchist, anti-government, pro-freedom t-shirts, stickers, books, buttons, DVDs, magazines, posters, and all manner of product that speaks to liberty. Another part of the building will be used for Freedom Music nights, Freedom Debates, readings, lectures, even Freedom Comedy. Another part of the complex will be used as the Freedom Party of Ontario recruiting and campaign office.
Freedom Party is a pro-freedom registered political party in the province of Ontario, Canada that was founded by Robert Metz and I in 1982. It is now headed by a brilliant man, Paul McKeever, who did the remarkable video documentary of me called “Principle of Pot”. I have actually never met Paul McKeever in person, but we have a wonderful correspondence while I’m in jail. Paul is brilliant and I recommend his writings and blog as genius. Paul is a national treasure on the threshold of discovery by the people of Ontario and Canada. My great friend and a man I have admired for 32 years as a staggeringly lucid thinker and advocate for individual freedom is Freedom Party’s President, Robert Metz.
Chris Goodwin currently heads up Ontario’s famous Vapour Central, a marijuana consumption lounge in downtown Toronto, 667 Yonge St. Chris was inspired by me in 2003 to open ‘Up In Smoke’ in Hamilton, Ontario, where baked goods were sold and marijuana consumed on the premises until the final visit after over 300 police visits put it out of business, and Chris was sentenced to jail for 4 months. Then Chris headed up Vapour Central in 2006, and has made it an incredible success. Chris and fiancé Erin will jointly be running both Vapour Central and Freedom Culture Headquarters.
The name is meant to be a tribute to me as co-founder of FREEDOM Party and Cannabis CULTURE HEADQUARTERS. I love this project and name. It is a retail project I have dreamed of doing myself and think Chris and Erin are perfect for doing this even better than I could. I can’t wait to see the “Jefferson is my homeboy” t-shirt and others by Bureaucrash at the Freedom Culture HQ. They will stock Free Marc t-shirts and all manner of FREE MARC material too. Chris and Erin expect to be open by mid-April; the location is the old Toronto Art Glass location at 2B Dundonald St, Toronto, Ontario, right off Yonge Street, and the website is www.FreedomCulture.ca (it will be online in the coming weeks). Naturally, repeal of prohibition and legalization of consensual activities will be a priority of this unique retail activism store, and I wish them all the best.
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