Prison Blog #32 (Newsletter #8)
Randy Clarke from New Westminster, BC performed Johnny Cash’s song “Folsom Prison Blues” for me in the prison music room, using one of the three guitars they have there. However, it’s been adapted for this prison, and is now called “Folkston Prison Blues” – you can listen to it online!
Adam Bowen of the BCMP Lounge at the Marc Emery’s Cannabis Culture Headquarters in Vancouver performed at the Tuesday night “Jams in the Key of Green”. Randy is going to adapt other popular songs with lyrics that speak about our life here at D. Ray James, so look forward to more songs online performed by Adam with lyrics by Canadian inmate Randy Clarke of The Mojo Stars, his band when he was back in BC.
Folkston Prison Blues
Music by Johnny Cash, Lyrics by Randy Clarke
I see the Chow Hall comin’
It’s rice and beans again,
And I ain’t tasted real food
Since I don’t know when
I’m stuck in Folkston Prison,
And time keeps draggin’ on
Here’s a bat and ball, boy
You go have some fun
We walk around the ball park
And joke about C.O.’s
The Rec Yard it’s a dirt track
With Nothing much to do
We’re stuck in Folkston Prison
Stay out of the SHU
We gotta get movin’
They just yelled ‘open move’
In winter we got m’skeeters
In summer it’s sand fleas
Beware of getting MRSA
It’s the prisoners’ disease
We’re stuck in Folkston Prison,
And we got no email
And don’t you dare complain boy,
What do you expect, it’s jail
We’re standing up at 4pm
They’re messin’ up the count
Been standin’ for an hour,
You better not sit down.
We’re stuck in Folkston Prison
And they can’t count past ten
We’re heading to the Chow Hall
For rice and beans again
If they let me run this prison
We’d make some changes fast,
Another microwave and TV
And volleyballs that last
We’d have chicken, pizza, burgers
No more rice and beans
It’d be the sweetest prison,
They have ever seen
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The song really doesn’t do justice to the geography where DRJ is situated. At a health and safety meeting in the library, we were warned of the dangers of the blazing sun and humidity from February to October. My left buttock spider bite is in its 12th day (as of Friday, March 4th) and still weeping pus and blood. This nasty wound will take another 15 to 25 days to fully heal, so the health and safety meeting warning about spider bites, especially from the local toxic Black Widow and Brown Recluse, was too late for me. Other insect dangers include mosquitoes that carry Dengue Fever, avian (bird) flu, and swine flu. Fire ants have huge ant colonies in the sand here. There are no-see-ums, little tiny bugs that swarm and bite, and sand fleas in the sand that covers most of the terrain here.
All of these proliferate because we are beside a massive swamp area called Okefenokee (O-Kuh-Fen-O-Kuh, from the Seminole Indian meaning ‘swampland of misery for white man’). Oh, and then there are venomous and dangerous rattlesnakes that are here too. They advised us that sand and brick reflect the sun (of course, it’s ALL sand and brick here, plus razor wire and fencing), increasing the risk of sunstroke, eye damage, heatstroke and sunburn – but they don’t sell or provide sunglasses or hats! DRJ’s advice is to drink lots of the very bad-tasting water that comes out of the taps here, or consume beverages with electrolytes (such as Gatorade).
Acting Warden Zenk, who is GEO Group’s Vice President of Regional Operations, is determined to make an impact here. Today he made a commitment to have an additional microwave and television in every pod by April 10 – that’s 5 weeks away. That has somewhat mollified the dissatisfaction among inmates, so they are optimistic but skeptical that this will come to pass as promised.
As of today, visitation is now allowed on Thursday and Friday in addition to Saturday, Sunday and Federal holidays, which will ease over-crowding. At some point they will institute limits on the number of days you can have a visit in a month (possibly no more than 8 days of 16 – 20 visitation days a month). Jodie can choose to come see me on less-crowded Thursday and Fridays, or, if she is feeling indulgent, Thursday, Friday, and part of Saturday. Still no movement on the hand-holding ban in visitation, so that remains to be rectified. [Note from Jodie Emery: As of March 26th, visitors are allowed to hold hands with inmates again thanks to new policies. This is HUGELY important and sincerely welcomed!]
Six beverage vending machines will be going outside in the yard and recreation areas. They will dispense soda and power drinks (like Gatorade) for $1.50, and bottled water for $1.00. Once a week, an inmate can buy a $15 chit that the vending machine recognizes. So for me that’s 15 bottles of cold water a week, which I will appreciate. My only concern will be adequate stocking of the machines. With 2,000+ inmates and unrelenting heat, the machines will run out daily, I suspect. These machines will be operational in the next week with cards for sale in the commissary.
I put my order in for the 4 GB MP3 player, which can hold up to 700 songs out of a catalog of five million songs. At $1.60 a song, I’m going to be limited to 5 songs added each week, or 20 a month ($32.00 monthly), that counts against our $320 monthly spending limit. I already reach $320 by the third week of every month because I buy a lot of food like spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, salmon flakes, tuna, mayonnaise, etc. and that adds up. The $106 for the MP3 player however does not count against the $320 monthly limit. I believe the beverage card is also debited from the $320 monthly limit, so it will be a lean final week at the end of every month for me. Good thing photo copy cards and postage stamps are not deducted from the $320 monthly limit or I’d be screwed. [Note from Catharine Leach, who transcribes Marc’s newsletters for sharing online: In a letter to me dated March 8, Marc writes: “I just discovered that we inmates are being ripped off by having postage stamps applied to our $320 monthly spending limits. In my case, this is devastating as I spend $100 a month on postage stamps, which so far had not been deducted from my $320 spending, but while I suspected they were incorrectly deducting it from my totals, now I have receipts that prove they are screwing me and every inmate on our spending limits.” The prison has acknowledged this error but cannot refund the money taken so far from inmates.]
I should get the MP3 player around March 25. Choosing my first 5 songs to load will be a fun challenge, when it happens. They’ll have to be songs I can play dozens of times, over and over and over! [Note from Jodie: The money for MP3 players has been debited from accounts, but no players provided yet; also, the satellite is broken because they placed it where baseballs and other sport balls hit it, so for now, downloads aren't possible even if inmates had MP3 players.]
The property department said my property from Sea-Tac FDC that went to Taft CI, my original destination, was shipped here on February 18, twelve days ago. R&D (receiving and dispatch) said they are tracking it and hope to have/find it soon. Property is due to arrive within ten days after an inmates’ arrival. As of today, it’s been over three months for me without my personal belongings.
Evening of Wednesday, March 2, in the Law Library
Dr. Davis just confiscated Z Magazine and The Economist, my magazines being read by two inmates in the evening law library session. She also confiscated tattoo magazines that an inmate was photocopying designs from. I was able to get my magazines back from the Captain on duty and the other inmate recovered the Tattoo magazine, but was told can’t photocopy it because of copyright reasons.
When a number of inmates complained that not a single English Language magazine has been ordered for the law library in 5 months, and they said they wanted National Geographic, Dr. Davis reiterated her assertion, in front of 20+ inmates, “We’re never going to subscribe to National Geographic, it’s way too sexually explicit!” That nearly set off a riot, as inmates were all thunderstruck by that classic Dr. Davis remark! They got all rowdy and irate, and followed her out into the hallway to voice their outrage at being treated like children. I’m interested to see how Acting Warden Zenk deals with the anti-intellectual Dr. Davis, because she suffocates the law library and the reading library. Not one new book or magazine in English has been put in the law or reading library. She has forbidden me from donating “unauthorized” magazines like National Geographic and The Economist to the reading library. There wouldn’t be a single law book or legal periodical in the law library if it weren’t for me. There wouldn’t even be a Spanish-English dictionary in the law library if it weren’t for me. I broached this to Dr. Davis in front of the other inmates “because you won’t order any magazines for the inmates in the 5 months DRJ has been operating.”
What complicates matters is that Dr. Davis actually owns the land the prison is built on. Why Dr. Davis has this pull is inexplicable to an outsider, but according to locals who work here, her family is the political power in the community going way back. Yet the Folkston community is largely in economic ruin, so they haven’t been particularly good stewards of the community for all the “influence” the Davis clan must have. Everyone wonders what the deal is in regards to Dr. Davis working here on land she leases, presumably for 50 or 99 years, to the state, the Federal Government, or GEO Group.
Thursday afternoon, March 3, Law Library
In the library today I found myself in the unusual position of explaining to a particularly despondent cynical inmate, who is very upset about being designated here, the few advantages of being sent to D. Ray James. He is still in the “I can’t believe they sent me to this awful place” phase. I like this fellow, he’s clever and wryly funny in his assessments of this forlorn gulag, but he doesn’t have intellectual activities to keep himself busy and contented. He is bitter and brooding. I summarized 3 distinctly good things about this place:
1) We’re safe here. All inmates here are ‘deportable aliens’, so very few have ever been in a US jail before; if they have, they are certainly here for illegal re-entry, which can net 4-5 year sentences for a third or fourth illegal entry. Most have jobs and family in the USA and are highly motivated to return to the US despite the extraordinary potential prison penalties. These inmates have neither a criminal mind, nor an institutionalized mindset (a “convict mentality”, as it were). There are no prison politics here in any way like there is in a US Federal prison for Americans. In a BOP (Bureau of Prisons – i.e., not private prisons) facility for Americans, you have white supremacists, chicano gangs, black gangs, all the various urban gangs, Hell’s Angels, crackheads, tweakers, and lots of yard politics. You are far more likely to be knifed, raped, or sexually assaulted in a BOP Federal prison than in these Immigration designated federal prisons. A US state or federal prison has numerous race, ethnic, and other cliques and castes. It’s very much a segregated and tenser scene. Here there is no tension between inmates, no gang issues, no race problems; in fact, there is a great deal of unity in our non-Americanism. We are all grateful to not be among American inmates even as we complain about receiving inferior amenities than American inmates. Inmates here cooperate seamlessly regardless of language, race or social status. There is no violence or sexual intimidation of any kind in the 4 months I’ve been here. Compare that with ANY state prison or most US Federal prisons that house Americans.
2) The second distinct positive is that NONE of the Correction Officers (C.O.’s) are jaded or hostile to the inmates, as is the case in the BOP facilities for Americans or in state prisons. The C.O.’s at D. Ray James are just mostly local people trying to do a job under virtually identical conditions as inmates for 8-hour day four or five days a week. I have not seen any examples of abuse of inmates with prejudice, meaning any injustice or unfairness has been a result of institutional incompetence or dysfunctional procedures and policy, not a vindictiveness or mean-spiritedness by a C.O.
3) The third plus is that inmates here get far fewer ‘shots’ or disciplinary write-ups than are given out in BOP or state prisons housing Americans. American prisoners are far more into the prison drug scene, the moonshine scene, the prison politics of race and dominance. Those vices or attitudes are virtually non-existent here. Considering there are 2,000+ inmates, many housed 64 to 80 in a dorm, that is truly remarkable. I have never seen or even heard of any illegal drug here, not one cell phone, not one act of assault. Those vices and acts are rampant in prisons housing Americans.
At Sea-Tac FDC, eight inmates in one day were found in possession of and high on marijuana AND methamphetamines. All were sent to solitary. I knew of several inmates that failed u/a’s (urine analysis for illegal drugs), and all were American. One group of inmates produced a fruit based batch of cider each week. When it was discovered we were locked down for two days. Three inmates in my unit were extorting one for thousands of dollars in commissary or else this victim of extortion would get beat up. The victim’s PSR (Pre-Sentence Report) had indicated he was a ‘confidential informant’ for police after his arrest in order to get a lower sentence. Inmates who are found to ‘cooperate’ are usually beat-up or extorted, but this was a uniquely American thing.
The repellent white supremacist I wrote about briefly in my SeaTac FDC blogs would punch, assault and intimidate this slender, small 20 year old boy from Alaska in what I thought was a kind of sexual intimidation, but it was ostensibly because the delicate young man was playing dominoes with my black friend Robert. The 20 year old was told to fraternize less with blacks and more around whites like the white supremacist, who terrorized him unrelentingly. I witnessed first hand the young man get sucker punched in the side of the head by this thug, knocking the young man right out. On another occasion the 20-year-old walked by the white supremacist and just got punched in the thigh viciously spontaneously as part of daily intimidation and terror. These events I couldn’t write about while I was at Sea-Tac FDC, because those inmates could receive my blog comments in their Corrlinks email and, without question, would have punished me with violence if I reported (“ratted”) them out.
When I was at Oklahoma City FDC for one week prior to coming here, the most frightening week of my prison sentence was listening to these skinhead, heavily tattooed 10+ years-in convicts explain all the violence, politics, fear, suspicion, and cliques I would have to familiarize myself with, even at a ‘low’ security federal prison. Because they were all American, they had no experience in an all-foreigner prison like D Ray James, and described no doubt a fairly accurate portrait of the tension that exists in a US federal prison for Americans. They thought that they were doing me a favor, but they just succeeded in scaring me more than I have been, before or since.
While most, if not all, of us are grateful not to be among that kind of American prisoners, most of the inmates here have lived in America for 5, 10, 20 years or even all their lives since age 3 or 4 when their parents brought them to America. Many have ‘green cards’ or ‘permanent resident’ status and some have never been to the country of their birth since they were a child, and have no ties at all there, but will be deported to their birth country anyway.
I told my disillusioned fellow-inmate that while I, especially, understood his frustration, there are indeed circumstances to be grateful for, even if it is only in the absence of violence, intimidation, and mean guards. For me, however, I have to say I am grateful for my American friends, virtually all strangers to me – many of them mothers, in fact – who send me books, put money in my commissary, and write me genuinely caring and uplifting letters. My great wife Jodie has received enormous help from Americans in coping with our forced separation.
So I am blessed to have two paradoxical spheres of security and safety while incarcerated; I am in prison with non-Americans, and I am indebted and grateful to my loving American supporters. I especially salute my great helper Catharine Leach of Rhode Island. She has done incredible work on my behalf, including rallies in Washington, D.C. and Providence, Rhode Island. She sends me research, each Canuck hockey game summary, even gets me in her local newspaper. She writes me incredible letters every two or three days, all the while looking after two children and her husband, and a demanding full-time job. Many other mothers, not all but mostly American, have made it one of their duties to help Jodie return to me to Canada and be of whatever help they can to me. I will never forget the nation that incarcerated me is still the greatest source of inspiration for me. So it goes, the paradox of my relationship with the United States is one of my lifelong themes.
On March 14, I will have served one year – 365 days – on this 1,825-day (5 year) sentence. With a good time credit of 235 days, that is 600 days of 1,825. So I have 1,225 days in my sentence to go if I get marooned in the US gulags; July 7, 2014 is my release date if my transfer application to Canada is refused. As of March 16, my application for transfer will have been at the US Department of Justice for two months. Between April 16 and May 20, I expect to receive my response. If approved, the process moves to the Canadian government, where the norm to decide applications is 4-6 months.
That means by September through November 2011, the Canadian government could approve my application, and within 3 months after that, I would be back in a Canadian Federal prison. Under current law I qualify for full parole after November 16, 2011. I have included ‘Attachment A’ to show the criteria involved in treaty transfers. I qualify in the affirmative on all 26 criteria, so under the rules as outlined, there is no grounds to deny my transfer at the American end, nor under the criteria set out by the Canadian government.
My property arrived! Most prized are my wonderful photos of Jodie! Oh it was sweet to see them again. How gorgeous and lovely my incredible wife is! – sigh – Other items use are my Sony radio and my Koss headphones. The radio is powerful and can pull in more stations more clearly than the one that was issued here, so that is an improvement. I have my book light and even a replacement bulb. My autobiographical book chapters, notes, and political writings arrived also. Next week I’ll finish an editorial about Stephen Harper and his war against “change”, “the 60’s culture” and the contemporary representatives of this “culture” – the cannabis culture.
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