Prison Blog #33 (Newsletter #9)
March 9-15: This past Wednesday was extremely odd because I didn’t get a single ordinary sized letter. Odder yet when I didn’t get any letters on Thursday. Or Friday. Normally I get 8 to 10 letters a day. So today, Monday, March 7, I discovered that SIS (Security), led by Mr. Lindsay, is taking my mail from the mailroom after it has all been inspected and cleared of contraband, and then taking my letters to their office and reading each one.
I wouldn’t mind that so much but they are holding letters up to 5 days so they can read them, then I finally get them. None of my incoming letters are a security risk, threat or concern, so it can only be for titillation purposes, although I have never, alas, received a single letter I would consider licentious.
So letters I would have received last Wednesday, I’m receiving 5 days later. My outgoing mail, which in a low security facility is sealed by the inmate and is generally not opened by the facility, is taking a longer time to reach their destinations, so I can only assume security is going the same with my outgoing mail and reading it also, and delaying its posting. I find it remarkable that GEO Group never has enough money to provide fresh vegetables or fruit in our diet, or extra soccer or volleyballs or guitars, but can pay the security men here to read hours of my mail, and to no particular end that I can determine other than to upset me.
I was put on the CIM list two weeks ago, Controlled Inmate Monitoring. I did not realize that meant all my mail was now going to be detained, delayed and read. Since I have posed no threat to this facility, and in all valid assessments am a model prisoner, I find this ‘special’ treatment aggravating. I was able to pose this situation to the Acting Warden Mr. Zenk today. While he casually acknowledged I’m on CIM and my mail is being monitored, he said he would talk to security and see if the turnaround time could be lessened. I will be asking Security what they expect to find in my incoming or outgoing mail that justifies their time, effort and blatant interference in my correspondence.
Newsletter #7 was discussed with me line by line by Security when I issued it 10 days ago, which I did not mind. I was happy to have their input. I gave #8 to Security as soon as the final version was off the photocopier. I have obviously nothing to hide and consider my newsletter a window on the world of DRJ from the perspective of an inmate. In many ways, I do this facility a favor, at no cost to them, of telegraphing the problems of inmates before the problems become critical mass/crises. Many of the staff, families of inmates, and certainly SIS read this newsletter. The B.O.P. liaisons here read it. They have used my comments in their interactions with the GEO Group/D. Ray James staff.
Reading my mail and holding it up several days I regard as a betrayal of trust. I’m living up to my obligations to report fairly, truthfully and behave in a polite manner. What happens to me, matters to hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people to in North America and the world. I don’t exploit that in any way. I don’t tell people to bombard DRJ or GEO Group in protest at the inadequacies here I have regarded of egregious. But there is a quid pro quo at work whether DRJ acknowledges it or not. If I am going to be targeted for harassment, which is what I consider this mail screening and delay to be, then I am being disrespected. Mail in the United States takes only 2 or 3 days at most to get here normally, so when I see letters today that are postmarked Feb. 28th and March 1st, I know my mail is being detained unreasonably for no purpose related to the security of this facility.
Along with DRJ’s perfidious blockade of my incoming mail and the snooping of my outbound mail for obscure purposes, I have discovered a systemic error in the Keefe Commissary computer that is ripping me off as well as every inmate here. As an inmate, I have a limit on spending on commissary of $320 a month. I buy a lot of my food I eat from commissary as the food served by DRJ is monotonous, lacking in Vitamin A, B, C, calcium, potassium, essential fatty acids, Omega 3 and 6, and is really just a regurgitation of carbs, fats, sugars and protein day after boring, tasteless day. I spend my limit usually the third week of the month, so for the last 7 to 10 days I have next to no food items to eat. I couldn’t figure out why this was so. Postage stamps and health items are supposed to be exempt from the $320 monthly limit. But I’ve checked my commissary records and that of numerous other inmates and found that I and all other inmates are having stamps deducted from our $320 monthly limit!
For me this has been devastating, as I buy $21 to $26 in stamps each week (the weekly limit is $26.20). The net result of this admitted error is that I am cheated out of being able to buy $100 worth of food a month, because my postage stamps are being subtracted from the $320 spending limit. This is cruel punishment that is inexcusable. In the DRJ Inmate Handbook it clearly states that the $100+ limit on postage stamps is above the $320 monthly limit. So over 4 months I’ve been cheated of $400 on my spending limits. This has affected hundreds and hundreds of inmates as running shoes were also erroneously debited from the $320 spending limit, messing with inmate spending budgets, along with postage stamps. This is unforgivable but I have the statements from Keefe to show they are deducting expenditures on postage stamps from the $320 monthly limit, so we shall see how long it takes this crooked outfit to rectify their previous errors (if they ever will) and stop ripping us off week after week.
So much mail sent to me here has never gotten to me, and numerous letters sent by me here are interfered with and do not arrive. Along with hijacking photographs and letters I send out, they cheat me of photographs that are taken that they don’t give me. My hand is on my wife’s buttock, so they say in denying me the last photo; before that it was a similar complaint. But they don’t show you the photo nor do they refund your $1, so you have to believe their warped interpretation of things, which, considering my experience here, they are completely unbelievable. Hopefully one day you will be able to see my photographs I’ve paid for and had taken of me at DRJ but I have my doubts. [Note from Jodie: The only photographs that had failed to arrive in the mail from Marc when he wrote this finally showed up in my mail on April 1. The photos were taken February 12 and 13.]
I’ve taken to listening in on Randy and Jon’s guitar sessions. Randy is from New Westminster, BC, vocalist of the Mojo Stars, and Jon is from South Africa. I sit in on their 90 minute sessions where they play about 20 songs, from Eagle’s Hotel California to Helplessly Hoping by Crosby, Stills & Nash, Helpless by Neil Young, Under the Boardwalk (Drifters), Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison), House of the Rising Sun, the parody of life here ‘Folkston Prison Blues’ (the Johnny Cash song Folson Prison Blues reworked) and a few beautifully done original tunes as well. I’ve taken to sitting in and throwing requests at them, and filling in a few blanks in their recollection of lyrics. I did a rock and roll trivia board game in 1987 with 6,000 questions and answers, and from 1989 to 1991 had a Billboard Top 40 retrospective show on radio playing songs from 1955 to 1973 with history of the artists and the song.
While there are now up to 6 guitars for inmates to play available there is no sheet music, songbook or access to lyrics. So I asked Jodie to send me some songbooks I could lend the musicians, and she obliged by sending me sheet music of The Eagles, Sting, Tom Petty, and Neil Young. I mailed her a letter asking her to look up the lyrics of about 30 songs, including American Pie and Vincent by Don MacLean, The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot – as ubiquitous a Canadian song as you’ll ever hear, though it is about an American freighter ship plying Lake Superior (“the big lake they call Gitchee Gumee”), numerous Dylan songs, Joni Mitchell, and Cat Stevens.
If any one of my readers has any extra guitar songbooks lying about their homes or studios that you could part with, it would be greatly appreciated here. [Note from Jodie: mail cannot be sent to D. Ray James from this point on, as Marc is being transferred.] There are some songbooks that have an assortment of classic songs in them, with titles like 200 Classic Songs of the 60’s and 70’s, and that sort of thing, that would be of tremendous use here. Beatles, Bob Dylan, Talking Heads, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young (Harvest, After the Gold Rush, etc.), Arlo Guthrie, Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Hank Williams, Sr., Merle Haggard, any blues, western, pop and rock classics in guitar playing notation and lyrics (songbooks) would be appreciated.
Adam at the BCMP Vapour Lounge will be recording ‘Folkston Prison Blues’ next week, live, before an audience, and then it will be put on YouTube shortly afterward and linked to these newsletters. [Note from Jodie: The video and lyrics can be seen in Marc’s blog #8, posted here.] Our next parody song, “It’s D. Ray James As We Know It (and we’re doing time)” – REM song ‘It’s the End of the World As We Know It’ being the source song, is being worked on now for Adam to record after we perform it here. I’ll be part of the vocal chorus in our performance of ‘It’s D. Ray James As We Know It.’
I was pleased to hear that Tommy Chong was in Vancouver at the Rio Theatre doing a fundraiser for my best friend Dana Larsen who is seeking the leadership of the New Democratic Party of British Columbia, the party currently the opposition to the governing Liberal Party. The fundraiser was Monday, March 7, and the next night Tommy jammed with the house band at the BC Marijuana Party Vapour Lounge, helping raise another $1,500 toward Dana’s leadership race. The entry fee to run for the leadership was $15,000 into the party coffers, and Dana was accredited as a bona fide contender. The voting for NDP members to choose the leader of the BC provincial party is April 17. Follow Dana’s leadership campaign at www.VoteDana.ca. Naturally, repealing the prohibition of cannabis is central to Dana’s platform.
Thursday, March 10:
The D. Ray James business office spoke to me today to acknowledge that they have been improperly including postage stamps and health products in the $320 inmate monthly spending limit. The result of this for me is that I order $90-$100 in postage stamps monthly, these are supposed to be exempt from the $320 monthly spending limit; that has, in fact, been debited from my spending limit each month so far. So I’ve only been able to order $220 worth of food, which only lasts me 20 days of each month. I should be able to order $320 worth of food AND $100 in health care (ibuprofen, antibiotic ointment, etc.) and postage stamps per month. So for four months I’ve been cheated out of my full spending limit.
From the point of view of Keefe Commissary, they too have ripped themselves off of tens of thousands of dollars because inmates have been unable to spend their full limits. With 2,000 inmates, it could be hundreds of thousands of dollars of purchasing power negated all due to a computer inputting error! You’d think one of the Keefe or D. Ray James paid staff would have caught on before I had to alert them into making the correction. There will be no credit or compensation for our/my lost purchasing power, but at least I can take credit for correcting an egregious flaw here. The Business Office assures me that this has now been rectified for all future inmate purchases.
My spider bite on my left buttock is still getting a daily medical department look, and both I and they are pleased it is healing rapidly now, the draining having stopped three days ago after about ten days of blood and pus weeping out of the wound.
Monday, March 14 marks 365 days – one year – in prison so far on my sentence, including all of the time that I spent in North Fraser Pretrial Centre up in Canada before being extradited. My treaty transfer application has been in DC for two months, the decision is due to be made in the next 4 to 6 weeks.
Peter Maverick has appointed himself as a one-man books-for-prisoners resource. Peter has sent over 50 books in Spanish including a 25-volume history of each state in Mexico. I have discovered that my Mexican colleagues relate to the state they are from in a strong way, so these books about each state are read voraciously. The books are ordered through Amazon, and Peter has spent well over $750 on these books and postage to send them to me over the last 3 weeks, over 125 books. My personal collection of books, including my law & prison books, number less than 20; the vast bulk of books I have received are loaned to other inmates, and are read studiously and passed on when they are done reading it.
I just finished Michael Pollan’s beautifully written book ‘The Botany of Desire’ and I endorse this 250 page book to anyone who wants to be enthralled by every page while learning so many marvelous details and history about the apple, the tulip, the potato, and marijuana, and the co-evolution of these plants with humankind. Simply terrific book. I understand he has a contemporary bestseller on the NY Times Lists. I’d love that book.
In a triumph of anti-intellectualism here at D. Ray James Correctional Institution, I am on the bring-5-books, receive-5-books regime with the mail room here once again. Thus I must advise anyone sending me books to now only send books I have specifically requested. Recently, I have received perhaps 150 books in the last month which I have by and large lent out to other inmates, which they are devouring in a satisfying manner, satisfying to anyone interested in knowledge, literacy and disseminating knowledge. That, alas, excludes the decision makers here at D. Ray James. This decision would have come from Warden Zenk himself, with input from Security. I am reminded of that Who song ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.
Books sent to me for the benefit of the Spanish-Language inmates have been extremely useful and well-received but will now have to stop. If I can’t store them and send them out once every two weeks, I’ll have to have the 5 I return destroyed each time because I can’t buy enough postage stamps to ship the 5-returnees to my friend Catharine Leach, or my supplier-in-chief Peter Maverick. But I’ll try to return to Peter the books I’m going to inevitably receive that I can no longer take possession of.
Sigh. Mail room nonsense has returned once more. Of course, in any sane place, I could donate them directly to the inmate library, where virtually no relevant books have been purchased and added to the reading library in 5 months since this concentration camp for foreigners opened – 5 months ago! That is why the books I’ve lent around are so welcome: the library is deliberately kept as useless as possible by management here.
I got my pay for February. I’m here every morning, afternoon, and evening shift, 7 hours a day. I missed a day and a half for lockdown, and a few hours in medical getting my infection dealt with, and I don’t get ‘paid’ for Presidents’ Day (February 21). Total pay for the month: $5.10. Yes, you read correctly, five dollars and ten cents. That was 12 cents an hour, and my official reinstatement wasn’t until February 10, but I’ve been here three shifts a day, every day, since December. My pay grade has been raised to 29 cents an hour. Ah, there’s no labor like slave labor. The GEO Group Inc. motto is “GEO Group: World-class employee, performance, behavior.”
IMPORTANT NOTE: On Friday, April 1st, Marc was informed that he will be shipped out to a new prison on Monday, April 4th. Federal inmates can be shipped anywhere in the USA, and are never told where they are going.
Marc will not be able to write newsletters while being transferred, or until he is settled into his new prison and able to get commissary funds for buying stamps to send out mail. There is still a Newsletter #10 to be posted, and two more significant articles by Marc.