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Edgefield Prison's Commitment to "Maintaining Family and Community Ties"?

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Background: For first-time readers, Gary White was a county commissioner in Jefferson County, Alabama. Good friends with Les Siegelman, he introduced Les's brother, [former] Alabama Governor Don Siegelman to Richard Scrushy, a local Republican businessman. Because of this, White became inextricably intertwined with Siegelman, who was one of the biggest targets of the Rove-directed, heavily politicized Department of Justice.

Scrushy and Siegelman were later indicted and convicted on charges stemming from that relationship. According to affidavits provided by Gary [and Judy, who was also in the room] White was asked to perjure himself before a Grand Jury in order to make the case against Siegelman and Scrushy. White refused and the very next day, the DOJ started delivering subpoenas to build a case against him. White is now serving ten years in Edgefield Federal Prison in South Carolina.      

My guest today is Judy White. Welcome back to OpEdNews, Judy. What's new with Gary?

Thank you, Joan.  As always, I appreciate your interest.

Friday was Gary's mother's birthday, and with Valentine's Day having just passed, I can't help but think of the terrible hurt our entire family and our friends continue to suffer, which doesn't compare to what Gary suffers daily, but a dear friend made a profound statement.  On September 29th, when I left Gary at the prison and drove away, I sent a text saying, "Gary is now in prison."  He responded, "A part of all of us is."  So, my mother-in-law's birthday was our 143rd day of imprisonment, and she could not hear from her only son to wish her a happy birthday, nor were we able to share Valentine wishes with each other.

Do I recall you telling me that Gary's mother doesn't know he's in prison?

Yes, Joan, that's right.  It was a decision made by the other members of Gary's family not to tell her.

If it's not prying, why not? Is she physically ill or mentally impaired?

Gary is 64 years old, and his mother is in her 80s.  A couple of years ago, she was diagnosed with dementia.  Gary saw her last summer before being sent to prison.  She knew him and they had some happy times together.  Unless Gary is freed soon, he may not see his mother again.

late 2009, Gary with mother and stepfather

That's awful. So, where does his mother think Gary is now? Is he at least able to call her regularly from South Carolina [Edgefield Federal Prison]?

No, Joan, it's even worse than that.  Gary isn't allowed to call anyone.  [He's had his calling privileges suspended for six months for an alleged violation of prison telephone rules*.] But even when he could do so, he couldn't call his mother.  You see, when you answer a call from prison, there is an automated message that the call is from a federal prison, with the prisoner saying his name. Then, every couple of minutes the system interrupts to remind you that you are speaking with a federal prisoner, which also serves to break up any meaningful or normal communication.  So, Gary hasn't spoken with his mother since September, nor have I. Because if I called her, she would expect to speak with Gary, and would surely ask about him, at which point I would fall apart, if I hadn't already.

How stressful for you. How does she explain your silence? Does she think you're angry at her for some reason? What happens on holidays or at get-togethers?

I hope she doesn't, but I don't know what she thinks has happened to us.  I can't imagine just never hearing from my only son or his family.  Gary grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and that is where his extended family still is.  We kept in touch through telephone calls and visited as much as we could, usually once or twice a year.  But since Gary has been in prison, his birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years passed, and now his mother's birthday has passed, without any contact.

Were you close with Gary's parents?

Gary's father died in 2000.  I adore Gary's mother and step-father, who have been so loving and kind.  My mother-in-law is not only sweet, but she is incredibly funny and loves to laugh and play around.  Gary got his sense of humor from her.

It's especially cruel that, at the very moment when all of you have been deprived of Gary's presence, you and his family can't offer one another comfort.

You're right, Joan, but everyone connected with Gary pays a very high price as a result of his imprisonment.  None higher than Gary, of course, who is subjected to daily violations of everything we always held dear and believed about being Americans.

What specifically are you referring to, Judy?

I really don't know how to describe it, other than that the prison is so completely corrupt, with the very people charged with the responsibility of rehabilitating prisoners being above the law, it seems, and untouchable.  They freely ignore and willfully break laws imposing obligations and responsibilities on the prison system and its employees, then go to whatever extremes necessary to abuse prisoners.  

Every right and privilege is just something to be withheld, and, in Gary's case, he was threatened and has been targeted by employees of the prison, who then exacted retaliation against him (and me) for making known the illegal conditions of his confinement.  The prison handbook, reflecting the language and requirements of the Code of Federal Regulations, states the prisoners have the right to make known the conditions of their confinement, but what isn't said is that those who exercise their rights pay a very high price, as do their family and friends - those who love them.

I understand that Gary received a warning the other day. Can you tell us what happened?

Gary has been threatened by four different prison employees, and he has been warned, more than once, that he is in "extreme danger" from the prison employees, that he has a target painted on him by them, and that the prison employees have made it known they are going to "get" him.  And, unfortunately, they can.  Everyone is aware that employees of the prison have planted and "discovered" contraband, including weapons, in the living space of prisoners with whom they are unhappy, for which the prisoner, with no rights or recourse, is severely punished.  Everyone is also aware of instances when prison employees have encouraged or directly solicited actions by other prisoners against a particular prisoner.  

The prison employees have made it known that Gary's entire unit is being held to a harsher standard "because there is a complainer" in the unit.  Another situation arose because the prison employees refused to give Gary a long-sleeved shirt for the winter.  As you know, Gary's daily "uniform" consists of a thin cotton short-sleeved shirt and pants.  Other prisoners had long-sleeved shirts, so, because he was cold, Gary requested to be issued a long-sleeved shirt.  Rather than accommodate this simple and reasonable request, however, the prison employees told all the other prisoners that they had to turn in their long-sleeved shirts "because there was a complainer."

with Charles Barkley, at  UAB [U. Alabama, Birmingham]
Minority Health and Research Center Gala, 2006

Do you believe that the abuse is primarily directed at Gary or do other targets experience similar treatment?

Of course, I'm most familiar with Gary and the abuses to which he has been subjected.  But he is not the only one by any stretch of the imagination, with medical abuse seeming to be at an extreme level at Edgefield Prison, in addition to psychological abuse.  There are so many heart-breaking and tragic situations.  Just one recent example involves a prisoner who was so severely ill and in pain that he was unable to walk.  His "counselor" was notified by other prisoners that he needed help.  She told them to have him come to her office, and specifically told them not to assist him.  

When they repeated that he was in pain and could not walk and certainly could not manage the stairs, she told them to let him crawl.  They carried him out of his housing unit on a stretcher, and tonight he sits alone and in pain, punished with solitary confinement, after begging for and being refused medical treatment.  The prison employees refused to help him, and removed him from being able to have even the limited care of his fellow prisoners, the only ones who seem to care or notice his plight.

Every Edgefield prisoner is someone's son.  Most prisoners are someone's husband, daddy, brother, or friend.  Every prisoner is a human being.  I'm not so sure the same may truthfully be said about the prison employees who so sadistically mistreat those with whose care they are entrusted and who they are paid - very well - to help.  Our tax dollars pay the abusive counselor that said to have a prisoner crawl to her office over $50,000.00 a year, in a state where the median household income is less than $45,000.00 and the per capita income is a little over $23,000.00.

So what have we learned today? That inmates can, with little recourse,  be singled out, threatened and isolated from both family and the general prison population. And that these actions affect many innocent people beyond the targeted individual, including other prisoners and family members. 

Edgefield has a strange way of demonstrating their commitment to "BOP [Bureau of Prisons] policy 
recogniz[ing] the importance of prisoners maintaining family and community ties**..." Once again, you've given us a lot to think about, Judy.  Thank you. 


* [Judy explains more fully here:  He's had his telephone privileges terminated for six months based on a fabricated and retaliatory charge that he violated a prison rule that does not exist, in that he asked me to contact the wife of another new prisoner who was unable to call home to check on her and let her know her husband was fine and would call her as soon as he was allowed to do so, just like the other wives called me to check on her. 

And there is NO rule, nothing even close.  The other prisoners who testified said they had done the same thing, two of them said they had been told by the prison administration that it was permissible and a good thing.  The very need for them to have such calls would be eliminated IF the prison employees complied with BOP policies and the CFR (Code of Federal Regulations which is the administrative low for federal agencies) that REQUIRES them to allow new prisoners to complete AT LEAST TWO calls during "intake."]

**from Code of Federal Regulations, the law for federal agencies, and Bureau of Prisons Program Statements.

Previous Judy White articles

Judy White Fights For Incarcerated Husband's Access to His Prescriptions October 13, 2010

The Feds and the Prisoner's Wife - Do Unto Others... as You Please October 27, 2010

Come and Get It! Prisoners Served Expired Food, "Not for Human Consumption" November 10, 2010

Judy White's Giving Thanks for Prison Visit: It's All Relative November 29, 2010

No Heat in the Cooler: More Tales from Edgefield Federal Prison December 16, 2010

The Devil's in the Details: More Tales from Edgefield Federal Prison , January 11, 2011

Hello Kitty Mysteriously Disappears from Prisoner's Mail at Edgefield , January 24, 2011

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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Humanity. A word that supposedly represents an act... by mikel paul on Sunday, Mar 6, 2011 at 4:41:59 PM
We're hoping that telling this story again and aga... by Joan Brunwasser on Sunday, Mar 6, 2011 at 5:49:42 PM
There is an old saying about doing prison time: "... by Doc McCoy on Sunday, Mar 6, 2011 at 11:02:13 PM
however some of what you say is not. There is very... by Joan Brunwasser on Monday, Mar 7, 2011 at 6:56:19 AM
was from the prison perspective - not a true psych... by Doc McCoy on Monday, Mar 7, 2011 at 7:35:07 AM
Everyone likes, or thinks they like, people that a... by Ned Lud on Monday, Mar 7, 2011 at 7:40:40 AM
There is no "easy time." Gary is in a prison camp,... by Judy White on Monday, Mar 7, 2011 at 7:04:34 AM
And when you meet and speak with McCoy, make sure ... by Ned Lud on Monday, Mar 7, 2011 at 7:32:01 AM
What you think should be happening and what is hap... by Doc McCoy on Monday, Mar 7, 2011 at 8:04:43 AM