Gary, Judy, Stephanie and Jonathan, Christmas 2008 by Judy White
Yes and no, Joan. The prison itself is not, as I understand it, a traditional prison camp; it is a concrete block building surrounded by fencing topped with razor wire, and is adjacent to a medium security prison, where there are frequent problems that affect the prison camp. For example, because of serious violence at the medium security prison, they have been on lock-down for a couple of weeks. There are no tennis courts, only a walking track, where Gary walks every day.
But I certainly take comfort and am thankful that Gary is not in a prison with violent offenders, where he would be more vulnerable to abuse by other prisoners, as opposed to the abuse to which he has been subjected by employees of the prison. I pray constantly for his protection and deliverance; it just had never occurred to me the extent to which he would be in danger because of the acts and omissions of our own government employees. But Gary is innocent, and what has happened to him and others has opened my eyes to the brokenness of our "justice" system.
We're all familiar with the saying, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." As I have had the opportunity to meet other families, hear their stories, and witness "man's inhumanity to man," particularly when it comes to the mistreatment and abuse of the imprisoned, I have come to believe the corruption permeates so thoroughly that my viewpoint has been changed, and I have been forced to recognize that there are good and innocent men with pure hearts who are in prison, just as there are evil and corrupt men who abuse the power of their positions while dehumanizing them.
I'm afraid so, Joan, and at the most basic levels. Prisoners have very limited options when it comes to eating, for example. They either eat or they don't. Calling for pizza delivery is not something they can do. From the beginning of Gary's imprisonment, and even before he was allowed to call and speak with me and I heard stories from other families, the sustenance provided has been a serious concern. Now, of course, being a mother, I recognize that everyone has their own preferences, and I'm afraid I've heard, "Ewww, gross!" in response to perfectly healthy fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat.
But no human, not even the imprisoned ones, should be served, provided, or offered expired, spoiled, or otherwise unfit food. Prison is not a reality show such as "Survivor" nor is it an experimental laboratory. There is frequent discussion of meat and chicken marked "NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION" being served to the prisoners. Every morning for the first weeks of Gary's imprisonment, he was served a food product represented as breakfast cereal, manufactured by "Ralston Foods" - but the packets were all expired, according to the expiration dates printed on the packets, with the "freshest" having expired more than four months before the date it was served.
You've raised some interesting questions, Judy. Could it be that American prisoners are being given expired products from Ecuador? Are you sure the information wasn't just mis-read or misinterpreted?
It seems clear to me, Joan. But what do you think?
There must be some sort of law against that, no? What can be done?
It seems to me that the Bureau of Prisons may be exempt from laws, maybe self-exempt (including their own requirements, as detailed in Program Statements and Clinical Practice Guidelines). And as if the food wasn't bad enough, the manner of delivery is outright hazardous.
The prisoners' "food receptacles" are a type of plastic divided trays (utensils and drinking cups are of the same material) onto which food is placed directly. After being used, the trays, utensils and cups are run through a dishwasher, with the water temperature set at 140 degrees. NO detergent, de-greaser, sanitizer, rinse agent or other cleaning product whatsoever is used. Just 140 degree water. The wet trays are placed in position for re-use, without being dried, and with grease so thick you can write in it with your finger; utensils and cups are also placed for reuse without being dried. In Alabama, that would get them shut down.
Gary mentioned in a letter that I received over a week later, that the cafeteria had "run out" of paper napkins the previous Thursday, and still had none through Tuesday, and that there was no hand soap in the restrooms, which went on for almost two weeks until yesterday.
A few weeks ago, there were three straight days without hot water at all, even for showers or washing hands. And while the prisoners are treated with such wantonness and disregard for their humanity, there is a completely separate dining room for the administration and staff, complete with a tax-paid chef.
There seems to be the tendency to blame under-staffing, lack of resources, funding cuts, and whatever else is convenient, but maybe the problem is with the allocation of resources, when there is no hand soap or hot water, no cleaning products for food receptacles, lack of proper medical care to the point of abuse, but the private dining room and the chef are fully functional for the benefit of the prison employees.
I hear you. We'll take a break here. When we return, Judy will have much more to share about our penal system. Once again, thanks for talking with me, Judy.