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Life Arts    H4'ed 2/22/12

Magic Behind Bars: The Case of the Disappearing 600 Pound Chicken

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My guest today is Judy White. We've had many conversations since October 2010, shortly after your husband Gary was incarcerated. Welcome back to OpEdNews. What's new with you this Presidents' Day holiday?

Hi, again, Joan, Happy President's Day to you.  I've been missing Gary and George and some other really great patriots.  Gary sent me a Happy President's Day e-mail.  I responded:

Thank you, Gary.  I am particularly focusing on something the father of our country said.  "A free people ought not only be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government."

Any who might attempt to ABUSE them.  Not MIGHT or COULD, but WOULD include their own government.  How well do we know all about being abused by our own government.

So, thank you to George Washington.  If he saw what the country he sacrificed and fought for has become, he would lead us in a new revolution.

As you know, Gary and I have had most unfortunate experiences in being abused by our own government, as Washington surely never would have envisioned, being a public servant of honesty and integrity.  What we seem to have now is the opposite of the cherry tree story.  I understand it was a myth, but what if people, including federal prison employees, adopted "I cannot tell a lie"?

Let's talk CHICKEN.

Gary has been assigned to work in the prison kitchen, being no longer allowed to teach GED students or work in the law library.  Even though he isn't allowed to teach, there is always so much to learn.

For example, The Great Chicken Caper of 2011.  Or perhaps, The Chicken That Flew the Coop, Then Came Home to Roost.

Millington is the location of the "satellite camp" of the Memphis federal prison.  In addition to the campers in the cooler (prisoners), there are very large meat storage coolers on site at Millington.  Coolers with locks.

It seems 600 pounds of chicken disappeared.  Plucked clean.  Flew the coop.  All at once.

This discovery left a foul (not fowl) taste in the mouths of the prison officials, who went into their usual MO:  BLAME THE PRISONERS!!!  They dispatched the search squad, who then went through and searched every dorm and every prisoner's locker.  Prisoners' lockers, by the way, are tiny, smaller than mine was in high school, and their lockers are where they are required to keep all of their belongings - clothing, shoes, toiletries, medication, photographs, books, paper, pens, snacks, everything.  The prison lockers, like those in schools, are not refrigerated.  Nor do prisoners have those little college dorm-style fridges.

Did I mention it was 600 pounds of chicken?  That would take up some serious space.  And without refrigeration, it wouldn't take a bloodhound to sniff out the "hot" chicken.

Not surprisingly, the search of the prisoners' lockers did not produce the missing chicken.  Did I mention the locks on the coolers?

The search was, of course, all for show, as it was obvious from the time of the discovery that whoever was responsible was someone with a key to the cooler, someone with the means to move 600 pounds of chicken (a prisoner couldn't stuff 600 pounds of chicken in his shirt and run hide it in his locker, could he?), someone with - perhaps - a market for 600 pounds of chicken.  So the word went out that if the chicken wasn't returned, a real investigation would begin and someone would lose their job, maybe even be prosecuted - and wind up on the opposite side of the prison bars.

SURPRISE!  The chicken returned to the scene of the crime -- oops, I meant the chicken came home to roost!  600 pounds, right back in the cooler from which it disappeared.  No investigation, no prosecution, no job loss.  All's well that ends well.  Right?

It is prison.  Maybe the chicken had been granted a furlough - a temporary absence from prison - or maybe there had been a writ of habeas corpus.   Maybe the chicken had escaped, then voluntarily returned.  Certainly, no one - particularly, no prison employee - stole or even borrowed the chicken, because doing so would have been a crime, and the exposure of criminal activity by federal prison employees would make the prison and the prison system look bad, corrupt, even.

So, no harm, no fowl?  Or is it a case of looking the other way, ignoring criminal acts by prison employees "for the greater good"?  Is it protecting the reputation of the prison and prison system?  Or is it a cover-up?

What are the prisoners being taught, and what are they learning?  What kind of example do prison employees set?

Just think how much time, money, and space we could save if any time something "disappeared" - i.e., was stolen - or any other crime was committed, the opportunity to just put back what was taken was offered.

Are there different rules for federal prison employees than there are for the rest of us?  Should there be?

At least you've kept your sense of humor, Judy. The Chicken Caper took place before Gary was relocated to the Millington facility, correct? How has Gary fared there? Is it better than Edgefield? Worse? A little of both?

Edgefield is the absolute worst, with rampant corruption and abuse from the top to the bottom.  Gary's life and health were endangered, and he suffered permanent injuries at the hands of the sociopathic prison employees, in particular, the medical employees.  Others fared even worse, losing their lives, as well as being maimed with the loss and amputation of toes, part of a foot, teeth, and endless damage to hearts and minds and everything imaginable.  It was as if there was a secret medical lab there and they were experimenting and collecting parts from prisoners to build their own version of Igor.

I had shared with you the BOP's murder of James Walker on December 17th.  Mr. Walker, age 67, in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Edgefield, South Carolina, died Saturday night, December 17, 2011, after begging for medical care and being ignored.  He had asked that I tell his story after reading about Mr. Waters' amputations.  He had hoped - briefly - that the exposure of his medical abuse - which is torture to ignore someone begging for help until they die - would compel the federal employees to do something to save his life.  But before I could get his information, he was moved to the local hospital where he died.

Mr. Walker was supposed to go home in April.  Instead, his family would have to pay to have his dead body sent home for Christmas.  It gives a whole new meaning to "home for Christmas", doesn't it?  We can hope his spirit is at peace in his eternal home, and offer prayers for the comfort of his family.  Mr. Walker died a horrible death that did not have to be.  What if he was your son, brother, husband, daddy, or friend?

But Mr. Walker was not the only prisoner murdered by the BOP in Edgefield in December.  Remember that on December 28th, Gary was put on a bus with 20 medium security prisoners from the adjacent prison.  Along the way, he learned of two additional deaths by medical abuse.

One of the prisoners on the bus to Atlanta told Gary that on the Wednesday before Christmas, he was playing basketball when another prisoner at Edgefield who was also playing collapsed with what appeared to be a heart attack.  NOBODY TOUCHED HIM UNTIL THE AMBULANCE GOT THERE 30 MINUTES LATER.  By that time, of course, he was dead.  But no one gave him CPR or administered any aid at all.  They have those machines (AEDs - D is for defibrillator) at the prison that they use to shock people's hearts to get them restarted.  Even though BOP policy states that aid must be provided to prisoners, like everything else, Edgefield employees have a different playbook, and seem to be nonchalant about prisoner deaths.  The AEDs must be intended for employees or visitors, but not prisoners.  It's tragic that not a single person even tried to keep him alive until help arrived, and they have an entire medical staff - doctors, physician's assistants, nurses.  No one touched the man.  They just stood by and let him die, even while the other prisoners were pleading and asking why nobody was giving him CPR or doing anything.  I'm sure the prisoners got the message loudly and clearly that the lives of prisoners are worthless to the prison employees.  Yet another prisoner dropped dead while eating.  That is three dead in December at Edgefield that we know about.

In that context, Millington is heaven.  But keep in mind that we just left hell - Edgefield.  Without the shadow of Edgefield, in the light of the U.S. Constitution and all the endless words comprising laws, policies, procedures, rules and regulations, Millington has its own variety of corruption, and the abuses of prisoners and their families is less overt and more subtle in many ways.  Edgefield had its single "token human being" among the prison employees, being Mr. Watkins.  We haven't previously discussed Mr. Watkins, but it was some months after encountering exclusively abusive prison employees before Gary encountered Mr. Watkins.  Imagine our surprise at Millington when I was first allowed to visit, to have immediately encountered a human being employed there.  Mr. Strickland opened the door and said in a welcoming manner, "Come on in and visit your loved ones."  Contrast that reception with my last visit to Edgefield where everyone (small children, elderly, sick) was kept locked outside in the freezing cold wind for almost 45 minutes after visitation was supposed to have begun on Christmas Eve.  At Millington, they smile at the visitors.  There has been no abusive yelling at prisoners.  The prison employees engage in communications with prisoners and their families.  And when the prisoners have been called for count - no loud yelling "COUNT TIME, COUNT TIME" - the prison employees competently manage to count in only minutes, after which Mr. Strickland has said, "Thank you, gentlemen,"  TO THE PRISONERS!

Millington's facilities are extraordinarily better.  Visitors are even able to visit the restrooms and have privacy, where, at Edgefield, a white sheet was hung from a wire behind which was a single toilet and a sink.  As the day and weekend visitation went on, the sheet would absorb fluids from the floor and a yellow stain would creep upward from the floor.  The sheet was apparently infrequently laundered.  At times when I would arrive to visit on Friday evening, the sheet would already be dirty, likely carried over from week to week.  But Millington has regular restrooms, with two stalls, complete with doors.

When I visit, Gary and I are able to sit under the canopy of a ficus tree's branches beneath one of the two structural skylights inside the visiting room, which also features padded chairs.  We - including Gary and other prisoners - can go outside and sit at picnic tables.

At Millington, there is a playroom inside where daddy-prisoners can play with their children, and there is an OUTDOOR playground where daddy-prisoners can play with their children.  Have you ever thought what difference it makes to a child, the most innocent of all humanity?  To have their daddy be able to help them climb to the top of a slide, then wait while their daddy runs around to catch them when they slide.  During a Sunday when I was visiting Gary, it warmed up, and I saw a little girl chasing her daddy around the play area.  How did I see this, you wonder?  Gary and I were sitting outside at a picnic table, trying to coax a cat to come share a turkey sandwich.  And when I left, Gary stood outside, watched me to the car, and waved good-bye.  

The differences are like night and day.

At Millington, THEY USE DETERGENT AND SANITIZER IN THE DISHWASHER, and even told Gary it would be ILLEGAL not to do so.   Edgefield NEVER used anything except hot water .

At Millington, they don't force prisoners to eat long-expired and not-for-human-consumption meat and food products , and their oatmeal and grits do not include rat droppings.

At Millington, the prisoners all do all their own laundry, WITH DETERGENT.  They are able to separate laundry, and their whites are white.

At Millington, there are RECYCLE containers.  Not at Edgefield.

At Millington, the vending machines in the visiting area all seemed to be properly functioning.  There were many more machines, but no signs to USE AT YOUR OWN RISK, no putting money in and getting nothing for it, no having to shake the machines to get what you are trying to purchase, no coffee and hot chocolate pouring from a machine onto the floor.  And extremely less extortion.  For example, at Edgefield, you could get a ham and cheese sandwich or a turkey and cheese sandwich for $4.00.  White bread with a little meat and cheese.  At Millington, similar sandwiches are $2.00, with more meat on wheat or honey-wheat bread.  (The grocery store sells them for $1.00 so Millington is still making a profit, but not to the level of extortion.)  A hamburger that sells for $5.00 at Edgefield is $2.50 at Millington.  (Keep in mind you can get a "fresh" hamburger at Wendy's or McD's for $1.00, complete with lettuce, tomatoes and condiments.)  A bottle of water - no brand - at Edgefield is $1.50, but 65 cents at Millington for "brand name" water.  A soft drink in a can is $1 at Edgefield, 65 cents at Millington. (Our office vending machine sells them for 50 cents.)  A candy bar at Edgefield is $1.25, 90 cents at Millington.  I saw nothing in the machines that was expired.

And at Millington, just like at Edgefield, the prisoners wear green uniforms.  And visitors are not restricted from wearing green, perhaps because the prison employees are competent enough to distinguish between a male prisoner in a prison uniform consisting of green pants and shirt and a female visitor in a green velvet dress.  So I wore The Green Dress to visit Gary, and the photo was taken by one of the prisoners.

the infamous green dress, worn this time without incident at Millington

You're referring to the infamous green dress that got you and Gary in trouble at Edgefield. What a world of difference. Anything you'd like to add before we close, Judy?

What got us in trouble, really, was speaking out - making known the conditions of Gary's confinement and exposing the corruption at Edgefield - in exercise of our First Amendment rights.  And while so many of the differences are stark improvements, we must also share the conditions of Gary's confinement and the corruption at Millington and Memphis.  Unfortunately, corruption permeates the BOP, along with its parent agency, the DOJ.

Gary and I appreciate your interest, Joan, and your help in shining the light of public attention in the darkness.

Thank you for talking with me again, Judy. It's always a pleasure. Regards to Gary.
Other articles in this series:

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 

Edgefield Prison's Commitment to "Maintaining Family and Community Ties"?  Sunday, March 6, 2011 

Winter in July? Trying to Stay Warm in Edgefield Prison   Wednesday, July 6, 2011 

Neglect at Edgefield Federal Prison Causes Inmate to Lose Toes  September 27, 2011 

Bureau of Prisons "Disappears" Federal Prisoner Just In Time for His Birthday December 29, 2011

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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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