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Life Arts    H3'ed 7/6/11

Winter in July? Trying to Stay Warm in Edgefield Prison

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My guest today is Judy White. She's been giving us an inside look at incarceration* since her husband Gary has been at Edgefield Prison in South Carolina.  Welcome back to OpEdNews, Judy. How are you these days? It's been a while since we last spoke. 

Are Judy and Gary modeling appropriate summerwear for Edgefield Prison?
[Actually Gatlinburg, TN, Christmas 2009]

Thanks for asking, Joan.  Unfortunately, I've had an Edgefield Prison cold and, while they claim to be part of the "going green" movement -- if only in word -- they have shown their true color to be blue.

What do you mean? What in the world is an Edgefield Prison cold?

It's two things:  being put "on ice" visiting Gary in prison, meaning cold to the point of shivering for hours, resulting in a winter cold -- at the end of June with outdoor temperatures near or over 100 degrees.

Really? How is that possible? Surely you're exaggerating.

When I visited last Saturday (June 25th), I wore a lightweight jacket with long sleeves because it has always been on the cool side, even being hormonal.  But last weekend was a new low -- literally.  There was a virtual arctic blast emanating from the ceiling vents.  We tried to seek shelter in an area furthest from the vents, but it was impossible.  So, huddled in prison, we shivered.  At one point, I leaned over and touched Gary's cheek with my nose.  He jumped.  Later, a guard went over and looked at the thermostat nearest where we were sitting.  As he passed by, I commented that it was freezing.  He laughed and kept going.  At noon, the thermostat showed 61 degrees in the visiting room.  When I left, the temperature gauge in my car indicated it was 103 degrees outside.

Sunday morning, I was back, waiting in line to reenter the tundra.  Many of the visitors had also returned, and like me, had improvised for the unanticipated and unusual situation.  Among them were small children in shorts and sandals along with winter coats.  Fortunately, I had a wool faux-fur trimmed cape in the trunk of the car that was most welcome.  Who says fur is just for winter anyway?  Just think of all the animals who wear it year-round.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it, even if I'm arrested by the fashion police.  

At least you've kept your sense of humor...

Back inside the visiting room and seeking the least cold area, I looked at the thermostats.  It was 58 degrees.  I thought it fitting that the photo op backdrop featured a roaring fireplace, and wondered if the visual helped prevent brain-freeze.  Even with my furry cape, it was another cold day -- someone mentioned snowballs in hell.

So after two days of being frosted, I've credited the source of my special winter cold -- Edgefield Prison and their hopped-up HVAC system.  Unlike the prisoners, however, their visitors are able to wear extra clothing, even winter coats in June, and we are able to leave, while many of the prisoners spend cold nights trying to sleep in sweats and hats with thermostats set at 55 degrees.  (Update - on the 4th of July, with outside temperatures again near triple-digits, the temperature inside at 8:20 a.m. was 60 degrees; by 1:00, likely due to the shivering crowd generating body heat, it had risen to 64 degrees.  Even refraining from taking my hormones in hopes of a hot flash or two didn't help matters.)

Isn't that a terrific waste of money? Does the prison have a blank check for things like this? It doesn't make sense, Judy. What am I missing here?

A blank check?  Maybe.  Our tax dollars at work, you know.  And while the federal budget deficit has brought us to the debt ceiling limit and caused the threat of default for the first time in American history, Congress just increased funding for prisons, where there is apparently no restraint and no accountability, along with no level of success in fulfilling their mission.

We've previously discussed the private dining facility and chef for the prison employees, the thousands of gallons of hot water known to be lost daily through leakage, and the wasteful removal and disposal of the washers and dryers used by prisoners.  But if you don't mind, let's revisit the laundry issue again, because things are always changing.  

Be my guest.

Some months ago, under the guise of "going green," the warden (at the time) ordered the removal of all the washers and dryers that were available for the prisoners to do their own laundry, compelling them to use the central laundry facility's huge new machines, which resulted in all kinds of problems, including dirty wet laundry being returned to the prisoners as the normal practice.  This change also included the purchase and distribution of two laundry bags to each prisoner, and there was also the loss of commissary revenue that had been generated by the prisoners' purchase of laundry detergent and supplies.  

The desperate prisoners then were forced by necessity to re-wash their dirty laundry, sometimes using mop buckets.  There have been months of whites going grey (or worse) and dismal failure of the new "going green" system, which Gary and I sometimes refer to as the "gangrene" system. 
The former warden who made the decision had been promoted. Then someone had an epiphany, realizing that the former washers and dryers were there for the prisoners' use because the central laundry's capacity could only accommodate 250 prisoners -- less than half the number imprisoned there.  (I find it interesting -- even hypocritical -- that Alabama's prisons are under threat of federal takeover because they are at about 170 percent of capacity, while the federal prison where Gary is exceeds 210 percent of capacity - I wonder who should "take over" an overcrowded failing federal prison.)  

The logical decision was that they needed to bring back the additional washers and dryers, which, of course, would involve a significant expenditure.  Again, our tax dollars at work.  But there was another glitch.  With the laundry equipment gone, a new roof was installed (Cost: $4 million to replace the roof on a 10-year old building), covering the venting for the banished dryers.  Venting would void the warranty.  The suggested solution was to vent through the concrete block walls of the prison.  
At this point, nothing has been done, while the prisoners continue to suffer the effects of the mistake or incompetence in not investigating or considering the consequences of removing the equipment in the first place.  In private business, managers investigate and use data and logic in order to make the best business decisions, supported by something other than an individual warden's whims, that, in this case, are very costly; in the private sector, such actions would be more likely to result in termination or demotion, rather than promotion and financial reward.

What a story, Judy!

But, wait -- there's more.  It isn't just big-ticket waste; they constantly find ways to waste tax dollars, even down to postage.  

What do you mean?

For example, the prison attorney mailed to me a response to a fax and e-mail I had sent to the director's office.  Rather than responding to my inquiry as I had sent it, even though she has previously responded to inquiries by e-mail, she mailed a short letter.  But she sent it certified return receipt, at a postage cost of $5.59, while simply mailing it would have cost $0.44; e-mailing would have cost nothing, not even the cost of paper and printing and she would have had a return receipt.  (Update - on July 1st, she mailed seven pages in a large envelope and affixed $10.05 in tax funds for postage for certified return receipt.  The seven pages would have easily fit in a regular business size envelope for which postage would have been $0.64 or $5.79 certified return receipt.  The correct postage for the large envelope, according to the USPS, was $6.23 - meaning $3.82 was completely wasted with no explanation!  

Do these people not know how to determine correct postage?  Or are they so accustomed to waste, fraud and corruption with no accountability that they just spend, spend, spend???)  She also sent my employer four certified restricted delivery letters in which she made false and defamatory accusations against me, violated federal law, the Privacy Act, and broke other rules, including her obligations as a member of the California bar.  (She is not licensed to practice law or a member of the South Carolina bar, but is paid a six-figure salary as the prison lawyer.)  

So I did some math. There are almost 40,000 employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  If each one simply refrained from wasting $5.00 a day, we would eliminate over $70 million dollars a year of deficit spending.  With almost 2.8 million federal civilian employees, applying the same refrain-from-waste principle - only $5.00 a day - would result in savings of over $5 billion dollars a year of deficit spending .  That's even before addressing the private dining rooms, chefs, hot water leaks, and big-ticket equipment, or the exorbitant salaries and benefits paid, in some cases, to some pretty dim bulbs.

You've uncovered big potential savings for us taxpayers, Judy. Thank you for taking the time to fill us in once again. Unfortunately,  I'm sure there are plenty of stories where these came from.  Good luck to you and Gary!

*Other Judy White articles in my series at OpEdNews

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"? March 6, 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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