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General News    H2'ed 1/8/19

BoP Flying Monkeys and Administrative Contrarians

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No, they were just being abusive, harassing and intimidating us. After a while, as the kids - who are all in their 30s - sat in our assigned seats traumatized or afraid to move and I went to the vending machine to get his birthday meal, Gary came and joined us. We were all shaken by the experience, and this includes even me - someone who has dealt with the craziest of crazies. I truly had PTSD flashbacks to other experiences that I will never recover from. As it turned out, we could not have had better seats, as being in the first section, we saw everyone who came into the visiting room.

JB: And what did you see?

That includes everyone who was wearing leggings, and there were quite a number, and everyone who had on dresses that were more than two inches above their knees. For example, the first visitors who came in after count. They had been rejected first thing in the morning for having their jeans too tight. They returned after count wearing dresses, and one of them had on a dress that was at least four inches above her knees. We watched as she walked over to the inmate she was visiting and leaned over to greet him, showing more than many would want to see. There was not a single visitor wearing leggings who was inappropriately dressed, but there were many visitors wearing leggings with long tops. I did not see any other visitors wearing leggings with dresses.

A little later, Gary was taken to the office area or "control room" when his "bonus visitors" arrived. Prisoners are allowed to have four adult visitors and unlimited children at a time but may request approval for more than four adults. Gary had requested and received approval for two friends to join our family celebrating Gary's birthday in prison, but he had mistakenly put the wrong date on his request, which he realized after it was approved. Did I mention he is 72 years old and, being in prison without common technology, he mistook what date Saturday would be. When he brought his mistake to the attention of a prison guard who is relatively decent, Gary was told not to worry about it, that the guard would take care of it, but with Graves and Moses in charge, he must not have been allowed to do so, because Gary was summoned to the office. Twice.

The second time, Gary was told that they would allow our friends to visit but that there would be a price to pay: Gary would not be allowed visitors on Sunday, his actual birthday. Never mind that there is no rule stating you have to forfeit a future visit if you request and receive approval for additional visitors. That was just made up to be abusive and retaliatory. An unlawful penalty during unlawful imprisonment of an elderly sick man. And especially wrong and hurtful as Gary has never - in all these years - made such a request. Prisoners at FPC Montgomery do not have limitations on visits other than how many adult visitors they may have at a time without receiving permission in advance. They do not have to have "points" for visits or any other such barriers to "maintaining family and community ties."

Saturday was also when Alabama was playing in the Orange Bowl and the kids had other obligations later in the day, so we had to leave not long after our friends had arrived. Even more than always, it was heartbreaking to tell Gary goodbye knowing we would not spend any part of his birthday together, a birthday we should have celebrated at home together but the BOP has refused to comply with federal law [the recently passed and signed First Step Act]. And opposite of "normal," Gary had a gift for me. Gary and other prisoners are able to package art and craft items for their visitors to pick up as the visitor departs.

Gary's version of Vermeer's The Girl with the Pearl Earring, 2018
Gary's version of Vermeer's The Girl with the Pearl Earring, 2018
(Image by courtesy of Judy White)
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Gary is an amazing artist; this week he had finished his interpretation of the "Girl with a Pearl Earring" by Johannes Vermeer. Upon signing out, I let Graves know I had art to pick up, which she handed to me. The kids and I were walking toward the bus when Moses reappeared and rushed over to confront me, telling me I could not have "that," asking if I had "that" when I came in, where I had gotten "that." I patiently told her no, that I had not brought it with me, that I had just picked it up. She told me no, that I could not do that. I asked her what the problem was as she demanded I return back inside so she could "get this straightened out." Walking back toward the building, I told Moses that picking up art, craft and hobby items was the standard procedure and was in the BOP Program Statement as she angrily shook her head no. " I (strongly stressing "I") will review the Program Statement". Through visitation? No, not through visitation, you have to come back inside"." as I was already walking toward the building. At we were getting to the door, the guard who was escorting the bus appeared and Moses confronted him saying, "We don't allow anything to be picked up through visitation, do we?" He confirmed that yes, they do.

Still shaking her head, she began to scold him saying they (presumably the prison employees) were not doing things right. Again I told her the procedure is outlined in the Program Statement. At that point she told me I was free to go, that she would get "this" straightened out, as she must have realized that I had not smuggled in the large cardboard box nor had Gary smuggled it into the visiting room and secretly passed it to me for me to smuggle out, but that, just as I had said, I had just picked it up from Graves as I was leaving. Imagine the thought process that would allow anyone to even momentarily believe that Gary or I had done anything wrong. We were in the "spotlight" seats with them "keeping a close eye on us" the entire time.

Yet somehow Gary or I were supposed to have invisibly and undetected smuggled this large cardboard box that I was then openly carrying out of prison. Moses then made the statement that she had been at all kinds of different security level prisons throughout the system and everywhere did things differently. Well, yes, I thought, but wherever she had come from, whatever her life experiences, shouldn't she have received some training and shouldn't she have learned and become familiar with the rules there at FPC Montgomery before they put her in charge and gave her the final say as the duty officer over visitation?

JB: You make a good point, Judy.

Why allow someone who is unfamiliar with the rules and procedures at FPC Montgomery to make final decisions about those very rules and procedures? Why did she have to ruin visitation for so many families on a holiday weekend? Of course, there was no apology for her behavior toward me. Not just local rules and procedures, but she was harassing me and delaying my family's departure over a national procedure outlined in a Program Statement. No surprise, though, as she had agreed with Graves that I was not allowed Kleenex despite my informing them both that I had an email from a regional counsel that tissues are allowed as long as I was not bringing a large box, which I was not. In fact, while we were there visiting, we saw other visitors using tissues they had been allowed to bring in that certainly Graves and Moses did not require them to throw away. The entire ordeal was extremely abusive and traumatizing. Plus now I must replace my inhaler, which I cannot bring with me in the future as they are expensive and I cannot treat them as disposable, particularly as I am unable to work and have a very small disability income.

Near the end of the day, as I was getting home, a friend who understood how special our family's visit was supposed to have been asked how our day had gone. My response: "They unleashed the flying monkeys on us." "The Wizard of Oz," the Wicked Witch of the West and Wilhelmina are all fiction. FPC Montgomery is not and Saturday was a real, live, non-fiction nightmare. And today, Gary's actual birthday, he was unlawfully denied visitation.

JB: Please send our belated happy birthday wishes to Gary. And thank you for sharing this disturbing and discouraging experience, Judy. While it's not always pleasant to hear what you have to say, I always learn something new about our broken justice system.

Gary's rendition of Duke (John Wayne), 2018
Gary's rendition of Duke (John Wayne), 2018
(Image by courtesy of Judy White)
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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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