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Life Arts    H2'ed 1/12/11

The Devil's in the Details: More Tales from Edgefield Federal Prison

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Luckily, this is quite foreign to most of us, Judy. Let me make sure I understand. Because you wore that dastardly green velvet dress on Christmas, you cannot visit Gary for six months? No one can? Or, anyone but you? Also, can you give us a few examples of how simple, inadvertent infractions can have outsized consequence?

It is foreign, and completely un-American, isn't it, Joan? And without due process, or anything at all, they just told Gary to call and tell me that I - his wife - couldn't visit him for six months. It's probably even illegal, but these are people who seem to believe laws and rules don't apply to them. Surely there is someone to whom they are accountable. I'll have to look into that. They haven't banned anyone else yet, that I know of, but that could change on their whim. As I mentioned, everything is really selective, and they have threatened from the first time not to allow me to visit my husband, all retaliatory and intended to silence exposure of what goes on at the prison.

I had mentioned that Friday night, a visitor wearing green was allowed to visit. But not long ago, a member of our country's armed services arrived to visit her father, who she hadn't seen in eight months, while serving our country. She had travelled a long distance, and had her new baby with her, for the grandfather to see and hold for the first time. They refused to allow her to visit because she had worn her uniform, which was camouflage, and camouflage is prohibited. Also prohibited are leggings, anything sleeveless, skirts and dresses above the knee, see-through clothing, clothing that is too tight or too loose (like The Three Bears, I guess it has to be just right), and they recently added grey - all of which are regularly worn without penalty of any kind, except for me, even though they admitted me without saying anything, let me stay, then decided, after the fact, to use my wearing a green dress on Christmas as an excuse and justification to ban me from visiting my husband. For six months.

But there is so much that is unbalanced there. For example, another prisoner offered to teach Gary to crochet so he could crochet Christmas gifts for family members. He visited the commissary and purchased yarn and plastic crochet hooks. Another prisoner warned him not to let anyone see his stash. Gary asked what he meant, and was told that it was illegal to crochet in prison without a permit! So, Gary had to get an application for a "crochet permit" which he completed and turned in. He was later notified that his application had been approved and he could crochet for one year, but when he asked about the actual permit, he was told that was the job of a different prison employee, who was out and had been out for weeks, but he could go ahead and crochet legally.

Now, all of this is bizarre to me, in so many ways. Thinking of "real life" things that require a permit, I think of a pistol permit, and I'm certain I couldn't go into a gun store or Walmart, purchase a gun, and walk out with it without anyone asking for my permit, and if I didn't have one, they couldn't legally sell me a gun. Shift to "prison world" and they require a permit to crochet, of all things, but no prison employee told Gary, including the commissary guardian of the crochet supplies, who sold him the potential contraband without asking whether he had a permit. And how balanced is it, with the severe financial constraints our nation faces, that at this one prison, at least two federal employees are necessary, one to receive, process and approve an application for a crochet permit, and a second to actually issue the crochet permit. There could be others - after all, who is keeping up with all the paperwork?

Then, there are simple "normal" activities it seems would be desirable and encouraged, such as dining etiquette, for example. As I've shared before, everything is plastic, including the forks and spoons, but the prisoners are not allowed plastic knives with which to eat, although - surprise! - plastic knives are sold in the commissary. They also frequently run out of paper napkins (among other things). And there is also a rat infestation problem, with the critters gnawing into the large bags of grits and oatmeal and leaving behind " well, we all know what they leave behind, don't we? The grits and oatmeal, complete with "additives," are cooked right up and fed to federal prisoners.
But getting back to the knives, Gary said they were given pork chops for dinner one evening last month, and, as he sat in the dining room, seeing a room full of grown men eating pork chops with their bare hands, he counted nine visible mouse traps in the dining area. The following morning, there were only eight, as he pondered whether "prison manners" dictated the use of a spoon edge or handle to spread margarine or cut up a banana for cereal. When he shared this news, I was stunned, and asked, "What does this mean??? Have they counted the rats and put out the exact number of traps necessary to catch them, or are the rats big enough to carry the traps with them as they leave, or what???" And I cast my vote for the edge of the spoon to cut up a banana and the handle to spread margarine. As for the pork chops, there are no options.

But you will be interested that the prison claims to be "going green." When Gary was imprisoned three months ago, they had washers and dryers available and prisoners could do their own laundry with supplies purchased from the commissary, of course. All that ended when the prison employees decided they would save money by purchasing and installing huge machines, along with purchasing and distributing laundry bags to each prisoner. Now the prisoners are required to place all their laundry in their laundry bag - no separating whites and colors, then take the bag and stand in line to turn it in, where 50 bags at a time are all washed together, then put in a dryer before being ready for pick-up by the prisoners.

No, I didn't leave anything out; the laundry remains in the bags and goes through the washer and dryer. When the prisoners get their laundry back, it is never dry, but damp and hopelessly and irremediably wrinkled. Some of the prisoners, in desperation, have gone to the extent of trying to hand-wash their clothing in mop buckets, then place the wet clothes on newspaper and slide it under their beds to dry. And while genuine conservation efforts are to be applauded, it is hypocritical to claim to be "going green" with a 7,000 - 8,000 per day water leak that has gone unrepaired and continuously gets worse. As for the perfectly good industrial washers and dryers that were taken out? They were sold for scrap.

So what will you do with yourself, Judy, if you really are banned from seeing Gary for six months?

happier times: Tennessee Aquarium, August 2009

I cannot not see my husband for six months; it is outrageous and violates absolutely everything, including the sanctity of marriage and the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and due process rights. Gary is wrongly imprisoned, but I haven't been convicted or charged with anything, yet those running the prison seem to believe they can reach beyond the unfortunate prisoners packed into their facility and inflict harm and punishment on their families for trying to help them. This abuse cannot stand.

I have made a number of contacts since Friday, and everyone with whom I have spoken expresses shock and disbelief that anyone would think separating a husband and wife and prohibiting them from seeing each other for six months under any circumstances is reasonable. It would be purely abusive, punitive, vindictive, retaliatory, and discriminatory. Remember that I was not the only greenie visiting, and there are photographs showing many "dress violations" which are the responsibility of prison employees, ultimately, as they have responsibilities that they ignore, then try to hold me responsible. They control who is allowed in to visit and who is turned away, but they are not legally permitted to be selective in who the rules apply to.
This is, unfortunately, another battle in the war against injustice. But, having been threatened, along with other corrupt prison experiences, and knowing we have justice and rightness on our side, we expect this - we call them "Big Mac Attacks" - will be used for our ultimate good, and for the good of other wronged prisoners and their families. I can say that being denied and deprived of every minute is compounded harm inflicted on my husband and me, as time can never be recovered, but once passed, is gone forever.

There have been so many problems, and the prison employees use everything, including contact with family and other real human beings - human contact. That includes not only visits, but also telephone and mail, all of which have been interfered with. The Federal Bureau of Prisons publishes words with no meaning, claiming they understand the importance of maintaining family ties, yet at Edgefield, they do everything conceivable to destroy those ties by limiting and withholding family contact.

So it seems. Well, thanks for sharing the latest developments with us at OpEdNews, Judy.

Other pieces in my series with Judy:

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

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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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