Judy and Gary
photo credit: Stephanie White
Thank you, Joan. The prison experience continues to engage the entire spectrum of emotions, with sadness and outrage always present. But sometimes I just have to laugh. Friday was one of those days. You can't make this stuff up. Stephanie has always been gifted at creative writing. Even now, we are hopeful that one of her grad school assignments will be published as a children's book. Creativity has always been more challenging for me, whether because I'm so anchored to reality or down to earth or logical or rational or boring or have no imagination or whatever. Since the BOP entered our lives, however, I have found that the unbelievability of what goes on in the always dysfunctional and often bizarre world of federal prison exceeds the most far-fetched creativity of fiction writers.
Tell us more!
Friday was another perfect example. When Gary called, he told me they were on "total recall" because, they were told, a prisoner from somewhere else had escaped and was believed to be heading to Millington. As I tried to grasp the concept that anyone with even a solitary brain cell would believe someone would escape from prison in order to break into a different prison, Gary told me it was extreme, with helicopters and everything. As I began to ask what "total recall" was, the call was cut off. So I went online to search for breaking news, expecting that if there were helicopters and massive searches, it would likely be on the news.
I discovered that a double-murder suspect from Texas had been captured earlier in the day - two counties north of the county where the prison is, and well before Gary called. Several hours later, Gary was able to call back. I quickly told him what I had found out, but he said the story had changed, that the prisoners had then been told a bank in Millington had been robbed and the search was for the bank robber. During the search in Gary's unit for The Fugitive, a prison employee eyed a prisoner accusingly and said, "You look suspicious - what are you hiding in here???" The prisoner just looked bewildered and held his hands up.
Apparently, the prison employees believed the prisoners would hide someone with a gun. And as they continued their quest for the reverse prison break guy, prison employees checked the prisoners' ID cards, to be sure they were who the card said they were, maybe thinking the break-in fugitive wanted to trade places with a federal prisoner. Gary said the prison employees even searched UNDER THE BEDS.
As I said, you can't make this stuff up. Really. Follow this. Federal prison employees apparently believe this. Someone decided to rob a bank - choosing a bank in Millington. (Or he decided to break out of prison, whichever story is being pushed at any given time.) His escape plan was to flee from the scene of the crime, make his way to the federal prison, break in, and hide - under the bed! Certainly, some criminals are smarter than others. NONE are that dumb. Apparently, the same can't be said of federal prison employees. You may want to pause a moment to reflect on the meaning of "our tax dollars at work."
Gary, 2005, photo credit: Judy White
Back online, I discovered a bank had been robbed - on January 31st, and the suspect was caught shortly afterwards. But by that time, there were online reports of an early-morning armed robbery at a residence several miles away. Still, I don't believe there is anyone who would break into a federal prison to hide from " law enforcement , although on some level, having personally experienced the corruption and incompetence of the prison employees, it might work out. So Gary and all the other prisoners spent the day on lockdown and "total recall" with extreme restrictions. Pointless restrictions.
E-mail, for example. They shut down e-mail all day until almost 5:00. The prison uses a quasi-e-mail system, CorrLinks, that charges exorbitant fees for unreliable service, through a government contract, of course. Prisoners have to have approval for each person before they can "e-mail" them. There are lengthy delays between the time a message is "sent" and its delivery in each direction, with a minimum turn-around time of about three hours, during which messages are screened and read by "hundreds" of federal prison employees, according to Jenifer Grundy Hollett, the prison lawyer in Edgefield.
If they don't like a message, they can censor or even delete it, without letting anyone know or refunding the money paid to send it. Very Big Brother-ish. So what could have been the point of shutting it down? Did they believe the prisoners could use monitored and delayed e-mail messages to " what? " direct the prison escapee/bank robber/home robbery suspect how to break into the prison and which bed would be best to hide under???
I just can't conceive of any legitimate reason, other than what they seem to do very well - cause distress and interfere with family communications. Around the time they put the prisoners on lockdown as group punishment back in June, they put labels with their names and numbers on their shirts and pants. Gary said now if he forgets who he is, he can just look down because the labels are white, rectangular, the size of mailing labels used for business envelopes, and ironed on the outside of the chest of the shirt and somewhere on one of the legs of the pants, all in different places, so when the prisoners are called up together, they look a bit ragtag, or rag-labeled would be more accurate. The prison's "nickname" is "Camp Cupcake". Gary said some of the prisoners have chosen me as The Cupcake Queen!
Well, Cupcake Queen, is there anything you'd like to add before we wrap this up?
There are endless examples of ridiculous, bizarre, meaningless and wasteful actions of the prison employees, aside from their constant abusiveness of the prisoners and their families and other visitors. I hope to share much more with you in the days ahead. Right now, I'm waiting for an answer about solitary confinement, with the BOP director testifying to a Senate subcommittee that "only 7%" of the federal prison population was being held in solitary confinement, yet less than a month later, the BOP spokesman denied it, stating to a local reporter, "We don't have solitary confinement."
While that's on the back burner, Gary has asked me to write the director for him. Camp Cupcake prisoners were shown a video of a professionally-produced presentation of the director addressing federal prisoners. Gary said it looked good, but he and most of the rest of the prisoners got nothing from the video - as they heard nothing! You see, Joan, the prisoners, with no advance notice, were summoned to report to the room where "town hall meetings" take place. They went, and were told that they had to watch a video of the director. But - the televisions have no sound. In order to hear what is on television, each prisoner has to purchase a battery-operated radio with an earpiece and tune the radio to the frequency to hear what's being broadcast or played on the television.
This summons came in the middle of the day, when prisoners were unlikely to have the radios with them. Gary, for example, was at work. Some of the prisoners asked if they could go get their radios so they could hear what the director was saying. Standard answer - NO! NYET! would be more appropriate. Bottom line is that the prisoners were compelled to watch what amounted to a muted talking head! And, undoubtedly, the prisoners will be unfairly held accountable and likely punished for not knowing what the director had to say, just as they are held accountable and punished for not knowing what is in the prisoner handbook, when all they were given was half of it - the even-numbered pages only, as they apparently don't "do" odd. Pages, that is. But they are very accomplished at other oddities!
Thanks for this latest chapter, Judy. We would scoff if we heard about this happening in another country. How comic! How unprofessional! How indescribably sad.
* For first-time readers, Gary White was a county commissioner in Jefferson County, Alabama. Good friends with Les Siegelman, he introduced Les's brother, [former] Alabama Governor Don Siegelman to Richard Scrushy, a local Republican businessman. Because of this, White became inextricably intertwined with Siegelman, who was one of the biggest targets of the Rove-directed, heavily politicized Department of Justice. Scrushy and Siegelman were later indicted and convicted on charges stemming from that relationship.
According to affidavits provided by Gary [and Judy, who was also in the room] White was asked to perjure himself before a Grand Jury in order to make the case against Siegelman and Scrushy. White refused and the very next day, the DOJ started delivering subpoenas to build a case against him. White is now serving ten years, first in Edgefield Federal Prison in South Carolina and currently in Millington Federal Prison Camp in Tennessee. The Supreme Court recently declined to hear Siegelman's case without comment.
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