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Life Arts

Ties that Bind - How the BOP Undermines Families

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Having received no response, on Thursday I sent a follow-up e-mail requesting a response. Saturday was less than 48 hours away; Saturday, July 20th, was the day I would be allowed to see my husband for the first time since January    5th.  Still no response.  Friday morning, a prison employee told Gary's civil attorney for whom I work that a decision had been made: I would be allowed to wear one open-toe shoe, but only one; the BOPers deemed it reasonable that would be required to wear two different shoes, causing balance, walking and back problems.  The attorney protested, and the prison employee told him the decision was being reconsidered, but that the reconsideration would not likely be done before the following week, so I would have to wear two different shoes as they required, or I would have to wear closed-toe shoes, causing harm to my foot.

As an aside, such meaningless and unreasonable rules for visitors are really wrong.  There is no BOP policy or federal law restricting footwear for visitors, but each warden is the dictator of his or her prison kingdom.  They just make up whatever rules they want to impose on visitors.  Gary has been a frequent mover, as you know.  In Edgefield, there were no shoe rules; open-toe shoes, sandals, and flip-flops were welcome, but green was taboo.  

In Millington, green was perfectly fine, but V-necks and exposed toes were no-nos.  Now, at Forrest City, green and V-necks are fine, but khaki (which has always been fine) and exposed toes are not.  It is totally arbitrary and capricious, and excessive exercise of pure, unbridled power.  The exposed toe rule, for example.  BOPers, in trying to justify banning exposed toes, have stated the rule is necessary because some prisoners are sexually attracted to feet.  Using that same (il)logic, I have reminded the BOPers that some prisoners are sexually attracted to children, but they don't ban children from visiting and being seen in prison.

With no acceptable resolution to my foot problem, Friday afternoon I called the regional office and encountered, for the first time this year, a human being working for the BOP.  She understood how unacceptable wearing two different shoes would be; she called the prison and spoke with them, then called me back to tell me they hoped to have my request approved before the end of the day and that someone would contact me to let me know.  Before leaving work for the day, I sent another e-mail message, asking to be contacted by telephone as I would not have access to e-mail.  There was still no response.

Left with no choice, I had to get a pair of closed-toe shoes that my bandaged foot would fit into and endure the pain, in order to end the pain of not seeing my husband and avoid further abuse by the BOPers.  I went to bed briefly, got up at 1:15 a.m. Saturday, showered, dressed, bandaged my foot, loaded the car, and began the long, sad drive through Alabama, Mississippi, part of Tennessee, across the Mississippi River and about an hour into Arkansas.  Not long after crossing the state line, I saw a familiar sight approaching from behind: a van transporting prison employees to work.  (Sequestration?  What sequestration?)  As I had not previously been there, I thought I could follow the van to the prison.  But I was wrong.  The van sped past me, going way more than ten miles per hour over the speed limit.

Arriving around 7:45, I parked, got out, and went to stand in line in the heat.  At 8:00, a prison employee opened the door and yelled for the visitors to come forward and enter the prison.  Going in, each visitor was given a numbered form to complete, then directed to a small holding room to wait.  The prison employee later came into the room and announced visiting rules, including additional rules that are not among the 18 pages of rules shown online, which I had read after Gary had not been provided visiting rules as required.  In fact, after I raised the issue, Gary was summoned Friday afternoon and when he confirmed that he had not been given visiting rules, the posted list was taken off the bulletin board and given to him.  The only reasonable or positive rule was that holding hands is allowed, as it was in Edgefield, but not Millington.  

by White Family collection
  Gary, Christmas, 2007

JB: What?! I don't get it.

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JW: Completely random, arbitrary and capricious.

Among the rules announced by the prison employee was that only one key for the visitor's car was allowed, without a key ring or other keys.  The prison employee said if anyone had any questions, to see him "quietly."  My car key is on a ring, along with a University of Alabama heart-shaped medallion.  I approached the prison employee quietly, quietly explained that I am unable to remove the key from the ring.  He looked at it and said it was fine:  "We can make that work," he said.

Another prison employee began bellowing out visitors' last names, three at a time, to come to the desk.  Until me, that is, when my first and last name were called out all alone.  Only mine, not in a group of three like all the others before me and those I heard called after me.  As I began walking toward the desk, a prison employee wearing a fishing hat called out sarcastically, "Is your foot all better?"  I was shocked, having never been there before, and additionally, having my private medical problem announced publicly.  "No," I responded.  

I signed in, removed my shoes and placed them in the receptacle along with my clear plastic bag holding vending machine money and my car key, then I walked through the metal detector, only to be called back.  The BOPers at the desk sarcastically and loudly told me I could not bring THIS in -- my key -- because it was on a ring.  I explained that I had asked the prison employee who had been in the holding room and he had said it was fine.  "I DON'T CARE WHAT HE SAID -- I SAID YOU CAN'T BRING IT IN HERE.  I DON'T HAVE TO LET YOU VISIT."  The first threat.  

I explained that I am unable to remove the key from its ring.  By now the prison employee with BLUNT sewn into his uniform shirt was yelling, repeating that it didn't matter what the other employee had said, it was up to him, and he said I couldn't bring it in so I could take it to my car or leave it in a locker.  Of course, I couldn't leave my key in the car and I couldn't remove it.  I asked if he would remove it for me. 

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 NO, I'm not touching it.  I looked at the sarcastic fishing-hat-wearer, BRADSHAW, who shook his head NO, then to the third BOPer, a female with long hair obstructing her name.  They all refused to help, as BLUNT yelled again, "I SAID YOU CAN'T BRING THAT IN HERE -- IS THAT SIMPLE ENOUGH FOR YOU TO UNDERSTAND?"  He then proclaimed, "I am being professional!"  As I took my key and turned to return to my car, he yelled after me, "AND STAY ON THE SIDEWALK."

Back at my car, I was finally able to remove the key with the help of a plastic card and scissors.  When I returned, I had the experience of complete shame to be an American.

I was in line behind a family including a young woman who was being taunted by the BOPers, as they made her try over and over to go through the metal detector.  She had underwire in her bra -- something NOT prohibited in all of the 18 pages of rules.  Each time she went through, the alarm went off.  "Cover it with your hands."  So she clasped her breasts with her hands and went through.  The alarm went off.  "Try it going through sideways."  Same result.  Over and over, as the prison employees obviously enjoyed this little game of tormenting and humiliating the girl, making suggestions and having her jump through hoops.  

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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