Archive for the ‘prison’ Category

The wiki for CPDRC Dancing Inmates is here.

The CEBU Viral Video “Thriller:”

note- hat tip to the editors at Firedoglake/MyFDL for providing the image for this post.

On June 18, 2012, ADX-Florence supermax inmate plaintiffs Michael Bacote, Harold Cunningham, John W. Narducci, Jr., Jeremy Pinson, and Ernest Norman Shaifer, filed a lawsuit against six prison officials and the Bureau of Prisons, “seeking declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to comply with its existing policies regarding the treatment of mentally ill prisoners, and with the requirements of the Eighth Amendment regarding medical treatment for United States citizens and others who have been committed to its custody.”

A photo of Florence-ADX Supermax prison behind massive fences.

ADX-Florence Supermax Prison (Photo: US Bureau of Prisons / Wikimedia Commons).

There are six levels of security in the Federal prison system. While many of these prisons have “Special Housing Units (SHUs) that are in effect jails within the walls of the prison (ie the SHU in Pelican Bay), in the case of ADX-Florence, the entire prison is a supermax detention facility. ADX Florence is the only Level Six prison in the country, and for this reason, it is often called “The Alcatraz of the Rockies.” However, Florence is in some ways worse, because at least Alcatraz had bars, whereas ADX- Florence is nothing but concrete and steel, which compounds the mentally crippling sensory deprivation treatment. In other words, some would argue that the conditions on death row are better than the conditions in supermax.

ADX Florence currently houses approximately 450 men. These men were not ordered to supermax by any jury, team of psychiatrists, doctors or judges. They were placed there due to decisions on the part of BOP staff, and sometimes the decisions are on a whim and totally without regard to the inmate’s mental illness. The detention length is beyond what would pass for a brief stay to correct a bad inmate behavior and can extend into many months or even years.

5. The BOP’s deliberate indifference to the proper diagnosis and treatment of ADX prisoners with serious mental illnesses has resulted in horrible consequences. Many prisoners at ADX interminably wail, scream, and bang on the walls of their cells. Some mutilate their bodies with razors, shards of glass, sharpened chicken bones, writing utensils, and whatever other objects they can obtain. A number swallow razor blades, nail clippers, parts of radios and
televisions, broken glass, and other dangerous objects. Others carry on delusional conversations with voices they hear in their heads, oblivious to reality and to the danger that such behavior might pose to themselves and anyone who interacts with them. Still others spread feces and other human waste and body fluids throughout their cells, throw it at the correctional staff and otherwise create health hazards at ADX. Suicide attempts are common; many have been successful.

Michael Bacote has a history of mental illness that is compounded by his prolonged detention in ADX. He:


Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

KCIW PeWee Valley, 2008-2009

Do not be fooled by the term. ‘Jailhouse lawyers’ are sometimes, in fact, attorneys or paralegals. At the very least, jailhouse lawyers are knowledgeable about criminal law and criminal procedure. Jailhouse lawyers aid in civil matters as well, and they are invaluable assets in the inmate population. In prison, the jailhouse lawyers have probably received some formal training, and their client advocacy and work product often surpasses that of outside lawyers. I remember reading one remark out of the Court of Appeals, where an inmate was arguing incompetence, and the court pointed out that his pleading was more articulate than some of the things they see from real lawyers.

My first goal, on arrival at the prison, was to pursue legal training so that I could help fellow inmates in producing various legal pleadings. I viewed inmate legal assisting in prison as roughly akin to ‘ditch medicine’ from a legal perspective, in that I could envision no better place to get legal experience than in the trenches of prison. Unfortunately, the legal aid training program was eliminated shortly after my arrival.

People who cannot afford to retain counsel, and that is almost everybody, receive court-appointed counsel for the handling of their cases. The public defender lottery is hit and miss. Since public defenders handle many cases, and many egregious cases at that, they do tend to have the best experience. That they handle so many cases, however, can lead to ineffective assistance of counsel.

The right to counsel on appeal ends when the direct appeal has been decided. Then, to pursue the state habeas (in Kentucky this is called a RCr 11.42 Motion to set aside the conviction), which generally amounts to an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, is something that each inmate must do without counsel. Most inmates, many of whom cannot read or write, do not have the faintest idea how to do that. That is where the jailhouse lawyer comes in.

While the appeal is pending, the jailhouse lawyer may function in the capacity of a legal adviser.

Jailhouse lawyers at PeWee helped me file some open records requests. I wanted to know, for example, if the Commonwealth was hiding an exculpatory blood test. I was initially told that the lab in Kentucky sent my blood to a lab in Pennsylvania. This was the same thing as being told that the Commonwealth did hide an exculpatory blood test. Later, the lab frantically retracted the statement, and after that, my open records requests for bench notes, Fedex shipping requests, and for police procedure for handling evidence were summarily denied.

Still, I was grateful for the help and amazed, given the tiny law library that the legal aid department had to work with, at the quality of work that the inmates did do in prison. In the beginning, I mistook the jailhouse lawyers for prison staff. Inmate attorneys in prison maintained honor status and held coveted jobs, as well as the best of dormitory housing.

One inmate lawyer was shy and studious in a way that made me initially think she was condescending. After getting to know her better, I got the impression that she was chronically depressed, and sick with remorse for her crime. She was a teacher, who had taken a young student to Mexico, with plans to marry him. This did not sit well with the boy’s family and so, she received just two years more than I did: ten years. At some point, she appealed to the higher court for sentence leniency, but her appeal was denied. She is free today, after having served 85% of ten years.

The other inmate lawyer who was extremely well-written and articulate was serving time for murder and had been in prison for twelve years when I arrived. While I did not interact directly with her in the legal aid department, I admired her intellect and her strength. In my first job on landscape, she was my boss, and it was several weeks before I realized that she was an inmate. One day, she came before the parole board for parole. The board deferred her for twenty years. Her voiced concern on receipt of this devastating news was for her family.

I was so shocked at hearing of such a lengthy deferment that I asked my friend Christie (from McCracken) about it. Christie told me that here, in prison, I would likely see lengthy sentences, life sentences, and deferments that would amount to life sentences.

In the prison setting, jailhouse lawyers are the last bastion of hope for inmates who seek conviction reversal, and they are the go-to lay experts on ineffective assistance of counsel.

Given that in-house training programs are disappreaing due to lack of funding, where does this leave the indigent, the illiterate, and the mentally ill incarcerated?

The Supreme Court recognizes the importance of jailhouse lawyers:

The term can also refer to a prison inmate who is representing themselves in legal matters relating to their sentence. The important role that jailhouse lawyers play in the criminal justice system has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has held that jailhouse lawyers must be permitted to assist illiterate inmates in filing petitions for postconviction relief unless the state provides some reasonable alternative.[1]

More on jailhouse lawyers here

Columbia University Jailhouse Lawyers Manual.

image by koppdelaney on flickr

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Disclaimer: I am not a physician, nor am I a mental health nurse or behavior expert. My observations are from an inmate standpoint, and my opinions are my own. I retained my observations in my notes.

I took my nursing training in upstate New York in the early 80s. During that time, I did a six-week internship at a giant facility in the Finger Lakes region, that was originally named Willard Asylum for the Chronic Pauper Insane. When I was there in the 80s, Willard was known as the state mental hospital. The buildings had retained the looks, feel and lingering smell of a 50s institution, but the immense campus setting was beautiful.

During my internship, I had a patient who had been there since the fifties. Her original reason for being ‘committed’ was that she was a lesbian. Her many years in the facility then led to mental decline. I had another young male bipolar patient, whose cyclic illness prevented him from functioning, and a woman who was suffering from schizophrenia of a variety such that medications were often ineffective. I had yet another patient that I firmly believed did not belong in the institution. She was brilliant, educated and well-read. We had a good many philosophical talks that were over my head from an intellectual standpoint. One day, however, she introduced herself to me as Abraham Lincoln.

I observed some Cuckoo’s-Nest-type burnout among the staff and often had difficulty distinguishing staff from patients, but overall, the atmosphere was caring, the patients were comfortable, and the medical and emotional care and support, especially given that the hospital was a teaching facility with constant student involvement and interaction, was adequate.

Today, Willard is a prison.

What I observed during incarceration led me to conclude that this country is edging toward locking people up if they have mental issues, particularly if they are poor, and then not only playing fast and loose with the Eighth Amendment by removing medical care and emotional and family support, but in some cases torturing them. Jails, which are de facto prisons now, are home to one of the largest and most vulnerable segments of society.

In Willard I witnessed treated mental illness. In Kentucky jails and in prison, I witnessed untreated mental illness. I associate untreated mental illness with a good deal of suffering.

Here are a few of the behaviors I observed:

-The man I call Harry, who was housed in the McCracken County Jail, in an isolation cell, yelled for help all hours of the day and night. Some inmates reported that he smeared feces on the walls. We never saw Harry leave the cell for rec. Harry was pepper-sprayed in his cell.

-In both jails I witnessed inmates curl into a fetal position or wrap themselves in a sheet, and sleep for as much as twenty hours a day.

-In jail, I experienced anxiety that created chest pain, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, depression that contributed to not sleeping, occasional disconnection from reality such that I would believe that a dream had been an actual event, and an inability to focus on tasks at hand. I experienced sleep deprivation over a lengthy period, as well as a couple of incapacitating migraine headaches. Some of these issues got a bit better in prison, where I was under the care of a psychiatrist.

-Many women self-report anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts during incarceration.

-Binge eating and disproportionate focus on food and on eating is common in jail and in prison. Obesity is common.

-I was in a cell with an inmate who spoke in an indecipherable rapid volley, and who requested that other inmates burp, cover her up, and rub her legs and back “like a baby.”

-In prison, one inmate washed her hands more than one hundred times a day. When anyone got close to her, or brushed against her, she shouted obscenities and threatened physical violence.

-One woman in Fulton County, aged 36 with children, sucked her thumb almost constantly.

-One woman’s hair fell out when she was convicted and sent to prison. Doctors claim that her condition was not true alopecia, because she had eyebrows, but the same doctors also determined that she was not pulling her own hair out.

-Age-related mental decline is common among elderly inmates.

-Many inmates cannot tell you why they are locked up, or when they will be released.

-Some inmates hear voices and talk to imaginary people.

-Self-reported bipolar illness is common.

-Learning disabilities are common.

-Unprovoked angry outbursts are common.

-Since treatment is being denied or eliminated, many women openly discuss plans to re-involve themselves with alcohol or drugs upon release.

-Self-reported history of physical and sexual abuse is common among incarcerated women. Many women have lived with batterers.

The vast majority of inmates exhibiting behaviors related to their own mental state coupled with the stress of incarceration are serving time for nonviolent offenses. As far as violent offenses go among women, it is not uncommon to learn that the woman killed her batterer.

Jails and prisons resemble mental wards, at least for the women. Jails and prisons are anything but healing.

To read about jail and prison conditions in passing is one thing, but to see photographs of what warehousing and overcrowding looks like is heartbreaking.

Author’s note: This post is not a typical Frog Gravy, because it includes observations gathered over the span of my whole incarceration experience.

I like Jizz in my pants better than I just had sex. Sorry, guys:

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

What happens to sexuality in prison?

The first time I was approached for sex during incarceration was in Ricky’s World, Fulton County Detention Center.

I got up from the steel table to stretch, after an hour or so of drawing and writing. An inmate approached me and said, “Wanna pet my bald cat?”

I politely declined.

“Sure you don’t want to touch it?”

“Oh! Um, no, I mean, you know, I’m sure it’s nice and all, it’s just that I…You know, I’m married…”

“You like dick, then. Yeah, me too. I’m bisexual. I love a big, thick dick buried deep in my guts.”

What happens to sexuality in women’s prison?

Lots of things happen, and many factors are involved: the growth and development of the incarcerated individual, the length of sentence, the inmate’s background, and the inmate’s natural tendencies.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in the medical specialty of sexuality. This article only contains some of the things that I observed.

Sexual contact is strictly forbidden in any jail or prison setting that I have observed. I believe that conjugal visits are a thing of the past. In both jails and in the prison I was in, sexual contact was punishable by time in the hole. KCIW PeWee Valley was the most strict about this policy. Activities such as sitting on another inmate’s bunk or entering another inmate’s room are not tolerated in prison, whereas the jails were a little more lax, possibly due to the constant sardine-like overcrowding the the jails, where physical contact was often difficult to avoid.

That said, sex acts still occur, usually between women, although there was the one strange incident in McCracken where a female inmate got pregnant in the shower stall of her own cell. This happened when staff remotely opened the door to the cell, probably so that an inmate could get a blood sugar check, and while the door was open, and a Class D male working in the hallway entered the cell.

I witnessed a sex act through two senses in Fulton, and a friend of mine in PeWee confided in me that she had been having sex in her room on a fairly consistent basis.

When a female is locked up during the peak of her sex drive, her human physiological need is not locked up; many women who do not identify themselves as lesbians prior to incarceration become what we call gay for the stay.

Gay for the stay inmates often seek an intimate, but not necessarily a sexual, partner. Such couples are common in the prison setting, where women are generally serving lengthy sentences. Members of the couple are together as much as possible, and although they may speak about sex, they maintain a relationship that is intimate, but without the sex.

There are a great number of married women in prison, who, depending on what sort of antidepressant medication they may be on, stay to themselves and occasionally engage in masturbation. Sexual reunification in a marriage following a prison term can be problematic, particularly if the inmate is incarcerated during a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ developmental stage of her life.

There are many self-described gay inmates who remain gay in prison and who seek a partner, although not necessarily a sexual partner.

There is another category of women, the ones who maintain relationships with male pen pals, or who ‘trick write (ie. They receive money in the mail),’ who develop intimate relationships with men, although from a distance. Some of these relationships become long-term, with marriages occurring either during incarceration or after release. Many of the letters contain more fantasy than reality, and the men who enjoy prison pen pal relationships are ordinary men representing a cross-section of society at large. The local grocery store manager in your community, for example, could very well be one of these men. I have never heard a horror story about a trick-writing relationship gone awry, once the inmate has left. (This information came to me while I was still incarcerated through returning inmates, relating past experiences.)

I never witnessed, nor did I ever hear about, a female inmate raping another female inmate while I was incarcerated.

While I was incarcerated there was one inappropriate nonsexual guard-inmate relationship that resulted in the guard being fired and the inmate going to the hole, and, at the private prison Otter Creek in eastern Kentucky, guard-inmate sexual abuse resulted in the closure of the prison to women, and its subsequent conversion to a men’s facility.

As you can probably already see from Frog Gravy, sex is talked about almost endlessly among inmates, probably because physical sexual satisfaction is denied. Sex talk is common, just as talk about delicious food is common. Sex in the world of women’s incarceration involves a good deal of fantasy.

The incarceration experience is brutal and lonely, and I believe that it is only natural for women to seek to alleviate feelings of loneliness through nonsexual or sexual intimacy during the stay.