At War: Inside the Walls
They call me D. I am a woman federal inmate at a Bureau of Prison’s (B.O.P.) facility. I have been locked up since April 1, 2008. At the time I wrote this it was twenty-six months and counting.
While behind bars I am in survival mode, using specific strategic tactics to triumph inside these razor wire fences. One of the negative aspects of being imprisoned is that time becomes your enemy. To endure, I have reversed my sleeping cycle from my free world schedule. Having done this, I avoid the daily drama on the floor and maximize quiet time. I end my day by going to sleep at 5:00 A.M. I rise at 3:30 P.M. and begin my day. This works for me. Being in prison, there is no life. It is no way to live; you merely exist. I must use my intelligence, have a strong fearless strength of spirit, and be positive to survive. What does not kill me, will only make me stronger.
For the past two years, I have been educating and involving myself in all aspects of prison issues; to show my support and lend my assistance to all the excellent dedicated organizations fighting for change; to be an active advocate. In addition, I have self-studied numerous subjects including criminal court procedures, U.S. codes, regulations, laws, important (precedent) cases and Bureau of Prisons [B.O.P.] Program Statements (federal prison administrative rules).
I have been encouraged to write, to make my voice heard from deep within the concrete walls that encircle me. A few of my writings have been printed in jailhouse/advocate publications. Pride and satisfaction are the emotions I feel when I see my own words in print; to know someone thought they were worthy of publication. To know they have reached out to others where my words can help with awareness and change.
I keep my days filled and part of my daily routine includes the reading of two newspapers, U.S. Today and the New York Times, as well as the periodicals, Harpers, New Yorker, The Nation and Ms. My latest study material is a book titled The Constitutional Rights of Prisoners, published by Lexis-Nexis. It is a very well appreciated gift given to me by my defense team. What I have learned over these months is of such horrific injustice to humanity that I will never stop being an advocate to help fight the enemy, the prison-industrial-complex (PIC).
The story that is about to unfold onto the pages before you is true, although some people might react by stating “that is unbelievable.” My written words are going to let you experience a not atypical day being inside the walls, through my eyes. To observe how humanity, truth and justice have long ago been forsaken for corruption, contempt, greed of power, and dehumanization. Welcome to America’s prison system, otherwise known as the prison-industrial-complex (PIC).
The first shards of morning light were starting to creep between the iron bars of my cell’s window; it was 5:00 A.M. the end of my day and time to lay my head down to sleep. As my mind was slipping into slumber, I realized that it was the eighth year anniversary of that horrendous day in time, September 11th.
My grave thoughts raced back to that dreadful day’s loss of life, to the grieving friends and shattered families left behind as well as a shocked nation.
My mind was tunneling, being swept back into time by feelings of hopelessness and sorrow that had swallowed me whole during those immediate days following the attacks. These emotions were now caged with me inside my cell, there was no escape. As a thickness of deep sadness enveloped me I willed myself to release the emotions of the past and put the remembrance to rest.
I had a feeling of just going to sleep, when I was being awakened by a gentle shake and soft voice of my bunkie; it was 8:00 A.M. The sense of sadness from my previous thoughts of September 11, 2001 were all around me as I opened my eyes. My bunkie informed me that a Town Hall meeting was being held by the unit manager immediately, and it looked serious. I lifted my foggy-minded head off the pillow and dragged my achy stiff body out of my bunk, quickly threw on my uniform, brushed my teeth and ran a comb through my hair. I was as ready as my tired self and mournful mood was going to get at that point.
As I stepped out of my cell, walked down the vinyl tiled floor hall to the day room, it transformed into the enemy’s hostile territory. I paused a moment to take in the area, the combatants’ camp. It was set up with rows of beige plastic stacking chairs. The glass wall directly across from the chairs was covered with taped up hanging cop-outs, BP-S148 forms (letters of inmate grievances), addressed to the warden. I took a chair by the back, and moved it out of the main rows to the end of the hall where I had just walked and placed it down by the white painted concrete block wall. As I sat with my back protected by the wall, the dismal reverie with which I had awoken was being rapidly replaced by adrenaline and my own natural survival defensive instincts. I had a strong urge to lace up my combat boots, strap a fully loaded AK-47 assault rifle across my strong back, and “holla” in a deep war tone voice, “Hoo-ha.”
As I scanned the adverse situation, it was blatantly apparent that intimidation was the first lesson at hand to be taught to the women inmates by a contentious loathsome unit manager and her handpicked goon squad. The goon squad consisted of two Special Investigative Services (SIS) officers and the new unit secretary. The SIS department officers’ responsibilities are to investigate incidents involving staff and inmates; basically police policing police.
The secretary was petite, in her early twenties, just out of school. She was naive as to how the unit manager and some of her inner circle broke all the rules and did as they pleased to get what the unit manager wanted—retaliation. The fact that the cop-out forms addressed to the warden never got delivered to his desk meant only one thing; another member of the unit manager’s corrupt inner circle had stopped them dead in their path.
As the other women were slowly gathering and dreading to take seats to this revenge fest, I was examining in my mind the flagrant disregard of B.O.P. Program Statements (federal bureau of prisons administrative rules and regulations). The tremendously infuriated unit manager was stomping in long aggressive paces, back and forth, wielding a blue plastic twelve-inch school ruler. The ruler was being slammed off the concrete block wall as she passed, making loud cracking sounds. She was also slapping the ruler off her bare palm and upper pant-covered leg. The male SIS officer was taking long exaggerated strides up and down the corridor, while periodically stopping to kick the walls and doors with his heavy-soled, black leather boots, and simultaneously yelling in a loud boisterous hateful tone, “You mother fuckers, you fucked up now, bitches!”
With this happening, I looked over to the female SIS officer who was staunchly standing military style on the corner against the wall, spinning her handcuffs in the air on her index finger; she looked like a street corner hooker swinging her pocketbook in search of her next trick. At this point all the women were mostly seated trying to avoid the front row of chairs. This was useless, for the front row was all that was left for the unfortunate stragglers.
Before the Town Hall was about to begin I happened to look over and see the unit secretary, who I thought was going to go into shock or cardiac arrest. The expression that engulfed her face was complete disbelief. Her eyes were bulging wide open behind her stylish eyeglasses, her jaw was slack, mouth agape. The woman was barely breathing, just standing still, with a-deer-in-the-headlights look of fear in her eyes at the grotesque performances being staged in front of her by her immediate boss and fellow officers.
My brain was frantically working, contemplating all that I had previously read and studied with regard to B.O.P. Program Statements. I knew that what I was witnessing first hand, by these administrative officers was an obvious breach of the rules: PS 3420.09 and PS 1210.17. The clear-cut intimidation tactics, outrageous defamation of character, derogatory and demeaning remarks, loss of temper and abusive language towards inmates is all strictly forbidden. These completely out of control B.O.P. staff members were going directly against written protocol without fear or worry about discipline or retaliation.
They are a clique, the inner circle, bonded by years, who feel they are above all rules. They will cover each other’s unlawful acts with blatant lies and cover-ups in order to manipulate the system that governs their work ethics. They conspire against the helpless women they are entrusted with.
From my point of view, things could only get worse. The Town Hall was starting. The aggressive unit manager had worked herself into a lather, and, still brandishing her ruler, pointed to the wall of warden-addressed complaints, with smug satisfaction that these cop-outs had been stopped. She created a low guttural tone to her voice as she called all of us women “cowards, losers, chicken shits, worthless criminals, weak and pathetic.” She continued by saying some of the cop-outs were not signed, that those inmates were “spineless,” and the cop-outs that were signed, those must be the leaders, the troublemakers. A cloud of anger surrounded her as she stated that these complaints addressed to the warden were done “behind her back,” while she was on vacation. It was a “futile attempt” by the women inmates to have their grievances heard; it was “a total waste of time.”
The almighty unit manager radiated arrogance as she forcefully trying to push fear and intimidation into each and every women inmate seated in front of her. Make no mistake; she was the only lifeline, the final word, there was no higher power that could help; to her the women were her flock of sheep to be herded to slaughter at her will. The inconceivable scene that was unfolding before me brought to mind powerful words of George Washington, “If freedom of speech is taken away, than dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
The Town Hall from hell proceeded the same way for the next few minutes, which felt more like an hour. The unit manager, full of wrath and pretentiousness, continued slinging out abusive language and slanderous remarks and performing acts of intimidation. I thought, “How repugnant.”
The petty sticks-and-stones remarks were running off me like drops of water on a rain slicker. I know who I am. None of this asinine name-calling bothered me; it had no effect on me. I had not been part of the grievance forms to the warden and did not care at all about the situation. The unit manager then stated that some of the women inmates had written about their United States Constitutional Rights, saying that the eighth and fourteenth amendments were being violated. At this point she was belligerently pounding the plastic ruler off her bare palm, creating loud slapping sounds. She narrowed her eyes and gave an emotionless steel stare onto the women as she said; “You don’t have any constitutional rights, you’re in jail.”
From somewhere deep down in my soul came my inner voice, the voice your brain has no control over. My passion, essence of my true being and my beliefs were under attack by the enemy; my strength of spirit shot back with truth and I said, “Yes, we do!” Her assault was swift. Her head spun around to put a face to that voice.
She could not comprehend what she had just heard, but she knew that voice without a doubt. Leaping to within a foot of my face, her eyes were blazing, nostrils flaring in utter rage. Mustering up all the intimidation she could pull together, she said “Shut up!”
Once again my inner voice was having no part of these blatant lies being fed to it, and I said, “Yes, we do!” Her eyes showed total disbelief at what her ears had just heard, and she stepped a bit closer, clenched her teeth, putting every bit of nastiness she could rouse into her voice and said, “Shut up or get locked up!”
My brain responded to this ultimatum to weigh the choices with strategic precision. The next few seconds I was to decide what I would do if this pompous asinine unit manager kept on spouting out lies about my constitutional rights. I was never, and I mean never, going to be able to hold my sharp tongue. To sit there and be silent while she tried to intimidate all the other women into believing that she is bigger than the United States Constitution; no, not this educated woman. Not today, on the anniversary of September 11th, at almost the same hour in time that the first plane hit our tower eight years ago.
At this, I made my decision. I stood up, looked into her face, locked eyes, held out my arms straight in front of me, wrists together. I answered her ultimatum with true determination and said, “Then you better lock me up now.” These hateful inhuman people had finally touched me, pushed my buttons but I knew whole-heartedly that I had made the right choice for me, being who I am. The unit manager’s face was something worth seeing. It showed true hatred, livid that this woman dared to stand up and not agree, had an educated head on her shoulders, showed no fear and a mouth to back herself up.
So much for that sheep—one less to be herded in the flock. I proceeded with tall shoulders, head held high to the Segregated Housing Unit (SHU). As I was walking away, down the hall, my back turned toward the unit manager, I heard her say to the female SIS office, “Take that thing out if here.” Some people go to war for their country. I went to the “hole” for my constitutional rights.
A few hours later, in the lieutenant’s office, while being read my incident report BP-S288, filled out by the unit manager, I realized and understood that the unit manager was a hypocrite, all show, full of hot air, with no backbone. Much to my surprise, she was just a shallow shell of the woman I had thought she was; for she had lied.
The lieutenant, sitting at his desk, read out loud what was written in the report that was supposed to describe the day’s events. He read that the unit manager had said, “You have limited constitutional rights as inmates” and the inmate, me, stated, “Yes, we do.” At this point, he blankly looked up at me and said, “This makes no sense,” and he continued and read the incident report over again, just in case hearing the erroneous statement again would somehow make sense and be true. I stood straight over him, glared directly into his eyes and with my most righteous voice said, “That is because she lied.” I continued by telling the truth.
A dead silence of confusion fell over the office. There were other officers of different ranks present. I knew this particular lieutenant was a member of the inner circle, one of the clique. After a few moments of cautious thinking he asked me with an agitated tone, “Do you have any witnesses?” and I smiled a self-satisfied grin and said, ‘‘Yes, fifty-four of them.”
As you can imagine, the investigation never left that office; it was buried deep, in true B.O.P. style.
To save face and cover-up they gave me three days in the SHU, thirty days of no phone and limited commissary—a slap on the wrist. All things considered, I had an enjoyable weekend in the “hole,” including room service, and stood up for what is important to all of us, our rights, given to us by the United States Constitution; the supreme law of the land.