GRIEVANCE

So everyday I headed down the half mile or more on the outside walkway to the building where programs were held and signed in at the grievance office. We, the three full time guys who worked there, were a very fortunate bunch I must say as we were pretty much on our own. And we actually had an old radio to play while we worked! We all enjoyed music from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s too.

My job was to schedule grievance hearings, then preside over them. After running my own business outside, being a teacher and presiding over Chamber of Commerce, Board of Education and other Community meetings I thought this would be a breeze and not that much different. Well, it was something different.

This procedure and department came about over the years after word got out that abuse was rampant inside and something had to be done. Similarly the inmate Law Library was started after the Attica Riots so jurisprudence was readily available to those inside as well as outside. We even had a Sergeant stationed right in our offices although he wasn’t always there.
The two other inmates were basically advocates for the abused and researched the grievance to see if it had merit. Sometimes it was already resolved, like a missing package or lost item. Many times the accuser was “indisposed”, in the box (solitary confinement) and would be unable to attend the grievance hearing. Part of my job was to preside over the grievance hearing, read the grievance and get the inmate’s side of the story. Although I had no vote on any outcome and tried to make that clear at each hearing, guys looked to me, I found out, as determining the outcome.
I also had to take hearing notes, type them up and then file each one to be kept for a number of years in case something happened down the road or a similar case came up. I took it upon myself to make up forms to use for various functions rather than recreate them by hand each time. Since I was a fast typist, the director gave me additional work to do in my spare time. We only had typewriters there and I told her of how computers would really streamline the process, but to no avail. At least I had something to do and didn’t get bored.

The hearings were held twice a week so I actually had a good deal of spare time. During those moments, especially when the head was gone, we inmates would work on personal things and helping others. One project one of the other grievance guys came up with was called Straight Talk and was a place and time inmates could come together to grieve and grumble amongst themselves only. I joined this effort as well as typing letters for myself and others. I even managed to do a mock up brochure he could take to the program committee to try and get backing to make it happen.

At the hearings, the Sergeant, the two inmate reps and a rotating member of the facility faculty sat in. Many times, especially at first, the head grievance lady came in though I later found out that was really against the rules. I would begin the meeting addressing why we were there and that the decision of the board would be binding. Decisions were by a majority vote of those present other than me. I then would read the grievance and ask for any additional comments or corrections from the inmate bringing it. He could have testimony from others if deemed pertinent, just as in a court of law on the outside. When he felt his case was fully voiced, he was dismissed and the panel discussed and voted on the outcome. Later I would have to type the results and make copies for the inmate as well as a couple of records for the state. It was during this copying time we inserted some of our personal work we wanted copied, projects we were working on. Ms. Stone, the civilian who headed grievance would look the other way at those times.

As with any legal system, there were certain “frequent fliers” who seemed to file grievance after grievance though sometimes with good cause. After a while you maybe begin to believe this particular inmate was targeted by certain CO’s who’s names kept popping up. I personally could attest to that and I had to give the inmate reps a great deal of credit for holding back sometimes when they knew more than they could share, especially with a Sergeant present.

Again, this was all foreign to me. At times I thought I was on a set of some dark movie hearing some of the things that were brought up. There was nothing “normal” about many of the cases and certainly nothing normal about the outcome. I don’t know what percentage but a majority went in favor of the state regardless of his testimony or of others. I learned first hand how the “system” was run and maintained, hearing such platitudes as “if we find for him on this, we open the doors for ….” or “what good would it do if he won” or “I don’t see how he could be telling the truth, you know how inmates lie” and numerous others.

What happened to the truth? So my world, already turned upside down by so much of what went on in here was further set in turmoil. When the Sergeant pulled me aside once after one controversial and lengthy case didn’t go well and asked if I wanted an escort back to my dorm I knew things weren’t okay. Not knowing any better but going with my gut that such an escort would heighten the tension, I declined. He then cautioned me not to travel in secluded stairwells where there were no cameras or in the yard, etc. What had I gotten myself into? I just wanted to go to work, keep busy and do my time so I could get out and not get shived (stabbed) because of something totally out of my control. A job in Transitional Services or even a porter gig didn’t look so bad right about now.

This nightmare inside corrections couldn’t get over quick enough, radio or no.

GETTING A JOB

It is difficult when on my own inside corrections. To put it mildly, I don’t know what I don’t know, so I don’t know. Strange sounds, smells, people. I will probably never see anybody from in here again once I leave – if I ever do. Oh, I feel better about that now than I did though it still feels such a long way off – two years till my parole hearing and then it is up to a three panel board. I do see guys leaving for other facilities and hear of some going home. Mostly this place seems like a wait station for other places rather than a jumping off spot for home.
I try to get my head around this new normal but it is so strange. I think I can tolerate it without my meds, then I get a visit from wife, son or other family and friends and that seems normal, even though the “dance floor” as the visiting room is dubbed doesn’t seem like the greatest place for it. At least here we can go outside to a courtyard and sit at picnic tables or on the ground which also feels more “normal”.
But I find myself actually pretending to be normal, that things are okay and will be fine when I know they aren’t and never will be again. The guilt and shame still hover even though I feel the hope of Jesus. I have to be honest and say that hope is for the future – especially after I die when I’ll see my maker face to face. The right now doesn’t seem to have a great deal of hope in it.
I get up for count, go en mass to breakfast, wait in line and sit with my dorm, then return and prepare for going to my morning activity, which is work for me. We go to out at around 8:00. If you are not in vocational training program or education, everyone has a job to attend even if it is only a “porter” position – custodian of some area. Since I was educated and didn’t need school and didn’t qualify for trade school because of my college education, the counselors suggested when I arrived and was housed in the reception dorm that I apply to Transitional Services, the school, or grievance departments for a job where they might use my talents. Since I have an education degree and taught high school for seven years I immediately applied as a teacher’s aide. (By the way, I found out that less than two percent of the over 60,000 inmates in here were college educated.) I heard right back and was interviewed, but I think I scared the lady with my credentials or something as I got the distinct impression she did not want me around. Or maybe it was my crime. Whatever, I never heard from her again despite my notes to the department.
My letter to the Transitional Services department also received an immediate response. When inmates interviewed me, they really wanted me aboard but there were presently no openings. They said they made the decision not the civilian counselors so hang tight and something should open up soon as guys were being transferred all the time. That job, helping guys transition in and then out of prison sounded very interesting as well as the courses offered while doing their bids appealed to me. But alas, nothing seemed to develop. You only are in the reception dorm for about a week and need to get something going and not just stay in the pool of porters that filed daily down to take care of general clean-ups throughout the main areas – mess hall, hallways, etc. where dorm porters did not go.
My letter to grievance also received an immediate response but I put that third on my mental list not really knowing what it was all about. I knew what grievances were but not in the context of prison and how they would get resolved. The head lady repeatedly called and I finally sat with her for an interview. She wanted to hire me on the spot. When I said I was waiting to hear back from Transitional Services and the Education Departments she said they may not hire “someone like me” which I took to mean with my crime history. When she called reception a day later and asked me to at least fill in till I heard, I gladly accepted if only to get out of mopping floors for a real jerk of a CO.
During your reception stay at this facility you file every morning down for work cleaning that building. You stand in line and get your orders for your work that morning. Usually it is nothing strenuous but definitely needed to maintain such a large facility. The CO in charge after a couple of days seeing me and sending his favorite inmates to spy on me and my work called me in to ask my crime and why I was there. I was concerned when he invited a fellow CO in his makeshift office that we were going to go around like my previous “dance” with officers who didn’t like me or my crime. He asked what I was in for and said he would find out anyway and it was better that I tell him now. Having been cautioned about discussing such things previously from counselors I debated quickly what I would say. I finally told him the truth and was sent on my way. No beating, no harassment, I thought it was over.
Two days later after having been sent to grievance to work, I was hoping never to see him again. However he also was a lunch monitor and when I went through the line, he yelled out “Hey I know what you did, I know who you are” which, to put it mildly, caused me great unrest. Everyone in earshot heard which could be a dangerous thing. Did that mean another beating as before? It turned out he was buddies with the main CO of the reception dorm and joined him as he prepared breakfast there. All of us could smell the fresh bacon and eggs being prepared and glanced at the parade of men coming to devour them before they themselves went off to their post. That CO again accosted me and said he knew why I was in there and I’d better watch out. I was so glad to be transferred out to another dorm and my grievance job that same day. Thank you Jesus!
The reason I was wanted in the grievance office was because I had an education and the job required a bit of that. The previous fellow had been there two years and had done a good job at his work as well as courting a particular female CO. When caught in the back stairwell in a compromising position, he was immediately sent to the box at another facility and she was transferred to another parish, er sorry, prison. So the opening was to head up all the grievances that come in at the prison, from CO abuse to missing packages to inmate problems of all sorts. To say I learned a great deal about the system in a short amount of time would be an understatement. But more on that later.

PASSING THE TIME

You might ask what do we do all day. So often in here one can simply be drawn into their own world and not interact with others. Thinking or daydreaming is always available.
Some pass the time by sleeping all the time, or acting like they are. Now I can understand that as no one bothers you, save the CO’s when it’s count time. (yeah, they count us 4 times a day to make sure we are all here – that despite the double perimeter 15’ high fences, sensors, cameras and constant patrols around the outside) Then it’s back to bed many times with a blanket, sheet or coat pulled up around their head, a sure DO NOT DISTURB sign. It is easier to do all that, even when not sleeping, than to answer a stream of questions or make small talk with someone you do not know and probably do not want to know and will most likely never see again after you leave.
Others hide by reading. Even trashy novels seem better to them than conversation with real characters – and there are sure real characters in here!! Again, it passes the time, and depending on how long your bid is, can expedite its ending. When not into the books they are pursuing new ones at the library, which also serves as a genuine destination and can make you feel almost “normal” because it is similar to any such facility anywhere in the country – periodicals, books of all kinds, even computers to use for looking up selections.
Some are tubers – constantly watching television, depending of course, on which facility you are in and what the dorm rules are for having the idiot box turned on. Most have certain hours for viewing, and then it’s consciences’ viewing. Of course to most guys in here, the what is not so much a concern as to something that can take their mind off their surroundings and away from here.
I’ve seen others in constant litigation, against a) the system, b) their charge c) some perceived (or actual) slight done to them either before or during their day here, or d) a combination of any of the above. They become “legal eagles” even if only in their own eyes, walking authorities on Article 73’s or Habeas Corpus or 440’s or whatever, spending every waking hour in the Law Library, if they do not already work there. (called ‘frequent fliers’ by the law library workers) Nothing against these types of folks, as much has changed in here for the better because of some of their findings. It just is another time passer for those particular individuals.
Some are physical fitness junkies, whether basketball, running, or weight lifting in the gym or omnipresent weight pits. It seems to occupy every waking moment so that they are either doing it, planning it, talking about it, watching it or getting ready to do it yet again or coming down from it. Some really have something to show for it, with muscles on muscles. I wonder what will happen to these gentlemen when they get out.
Now do not get me wrong , I am not judging but simply reporting some various diversions of those here inside. There are others – the suck-ups, the isolationists, or ones bordering on real or feigned mental instability – that I have witnessed in one form or another. Me? I mix a variety of many, but am quite focused on staying focused on Christ, putting Him first so that when I get out I’ll have a template to follow in my daily life. Maybe I can lead by example, though that is not why I do it. Jesus is my role model and it is important to me to follow the many examples He gave to me through His life deeds and word. To date I have a long road ahead of me to emulate The Master.
I was not always this way, definitely not before entering here. Oh I claimed the Lord and worshiped Him, especially on Sundays. I acted as a Christian most of the time, especially when someone was looking. Was I always filled with love for my fellow man? Hardly. Did I return anger with anger? Absolutely. I sure did not want someone getting the better of me or “one upping” me, eh? I guess I was like so many others that talk a good game, especially on Sundays, but then forget my walk much of the week. I also let the liberal media and viewpoint taint my ideas on what is acceptable and would be pleasing to my Lord. As my friend’s song says, “On Sunday I was shouting for revival, but on Monday could not find my Bible.” Basically I was a fair weather religious person, lukewarm, or a smorgasboarder – picking and choosing what I wanted to believe and do depending on my mood and attitude, not on His word.
So now I read and study the Bible to ensure I know what is wanted by Jesus. I attend studies and discussions of it many times a week which really ingrains it in me and reminds me I am not alone. That one book – the constant best seller every year and of all times – offers great examples of what to do when happy, sad, hurt, tempted, humiliated, sinning, giving and everything in-between. Where? Everywhere. I am finding references now for what I believe. It definitely is Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth.
In fact when I return, get out of corrections, though I will never be free of the need of inside corrections, one of the many plans I have is to make a line of greeting cards with specific verses and references on them for such occasions – when you are feeling left out, overwhelmed, down and out, or grieved in some way for example. So you’ll have to watch for those “spirit cards” as I think I call them to come to a store near you – or maybe an e-store by then. But I digress.
Or maybe I don’t. Anything that keeps me on track on my path to follow my friend Jesus is putting me right where I am supposed to be. I’ve had to make several inside corrections, a shift from my self-centered and arrogant ways and away from the direction in which I was headed. It is no wonder I had a train wreck. (and everyone loves to look at a train wreck, just not get involved or too close to one) Now my direction is clear, and hope is alive. And that is such a change from a couple of months ago.
Hallelujah!!

ON THE MOVE

So, finally the day comes when they tell me to pack it up. “25 out” the CO calls. When I report up to the bubble – the thick walled room that houses the CO on duty behind bullet proof glass – I am told I am on the draft. That’s prison lingo for ‘you’re moving’. She tells me to pack it up and be ready.
I am excited. I am not sure why because it is not like I am going home or anything, not even a visit, just moving. While the move here from county seems so long ago and fuzzy, I am quite excited to get out of this single room. I am not sure what to expect or where I am going, but I can easily pack my belongings in the one white mesh sack they provide as I do not have very much stuff. The little commissary I could afford easily fits on top of my state issue clothes and my Bible, the only thing they let you carry with you that you came in with and which they will not take away. I was counseled early on to write my addresses in the back so I would always have them with me.
So I am ready, let’s go. But in here, it is the old hurry up and wait. I still do not have that down, the waiting thing. Nothing is fast and everything involves waiting.
So I wait. It is lunch time and I go but I still wait. Evening comes with dinner and I still wait. Then I am called out and am led through a different maze to a room that looks familiar as it is the room we came into when arriving. I shivered at the sergeants door but fortunately was not called in though he was there glaring at anyone who passed. There were two other guys with their sacks also going somewhere. After the obligatory search of our property – what, I am sneaking something out that wasn’t mine? – and the shackling, not to anyone else this time, we are led to a van for transport to our new home.
The reason it is so late when we go and it’s a small van told the more experienced guys with me we were not going far. Turns out it was almost across the street to a medium B facility next to a female medium facility. Now there would be 15’ high fence with barbed wire on top with another similar but a tad lower fence 15 or 20 feet inside it as opposed to the 20 foot barb wired topped concrete walls of reception. There were cameras all around on the poles in between and sensors on the ground. Not likely anyone would make it through or around all that and get away.
Reception was one at a time and we waited in a large room once again joined by a couple of guys from another facility. Other inmates helped take our stuff to the inspection area where a CO roughly went through it before telling me to follow him upstairs to the reception dorm.
I was assigned a room with another guy, fortunately a single bed. There was a small locker for my stuff and I was in my new temporary home. Soon there was count, then rec time in an open area where most guys just milled around. There is an old television with a very bad quality picture showing Wheel of Fortune. Even the episode looks like a rerun and probably is because everything else in here is old.
I was told some of the things I could look forward to in the coming days most of which had to do with getting familiar with the facility. I was told I would get five free letters per week with the state providing the paper, envelopes and stamps. Hallelujah!! The excitement of this news refuels me and I start my writing. I have to be careful to put on a happy face in my letters as counselors and others have told me I have caused enough heartache and pain so not to burden family with more in my epistles. Makes sense I guess, so the game begins anew.
I will go though orientation prior to finding out my new work and schedules but know that for the first week I will be attending meetings most of every day. Beats sitting in a solitary cell. At least I am with other guys though none seem too friendly at this juncture. I hope I will sleep tonight as my head is still swirling with all the new around me. Much to look forward to and as well as much to fear.

ON THE DRAFT

My counselors mentioned I now am available for the “draft” list. That is a list of guys to be moved for whatever reason. I am now ‘available’ I am told because I am off the meds. So I now will be transferred to another State facility not too unlike this reception one. Hopefully it will be soon, as I wish to get on with my “bid”, the time I was sentenced to and need to complete prior to release. In my case it is a minimum of 2 1/3 and a maximum of 7 years. It is real difficult for me to think of being in here all 7 years, so I do not go there.

I am starting to anticipate things now that my mind is clearer from meds. I was moved to a new dorm too but maintained cell 25. Kind of neat I guess. The “dorm” I am in is set up similarly, with pods of five cells set in a semi-circle, with a total of 30 cells per dorm. I now know commissary is every two weeks, partly because guys try to get me to buy them things and partly because I like getting out of my cell to go anywhere other than staying locked up and look forward to ‘the buy’ as it is also called.
We have a lady CO who is our normal daytime officer and I ask to help with cleaning or anything that would get me out of my one-man cell. To date she uses other guys who do not go to religious services or have the medical treatment background I have I guess. She treats me well. But do not cross her as some smart alecks have tried. She sure has a temper, and carries a night stick with her that she is not afraid to use – as others I have seen use as well. No thank you.
Mail call is right after our evening meal, so we line up outside our dorm and await the names being called. What a joy to receive anything, and I do receive a letter or two over the time I am here. Usually it is from my friend Jack, my pastor’s husband, or friends who manage letters or encouraging cards now and then. A real treat.
Other than that we are confined to our cells except for about an hour twice a day when we can be in the ‘day’ room which is really not very large for all of us. That is where the phones are and when we are allowed to use them. I am much better now though I am not always able to get through to my wife, the only person on my call list for now. So I write letters for guys and manage to play a little chess though I am so bad most do not want to play me. Also it is because I do not bet on the games as I do not have anything I can afford to lose – flags (stamps) rollies (cigarettes) or other things. The television is on, but the programming most watch leaves a great deal to be desired and reinforces the idiot box label. I did mention to the weekend CO about the “fastest two minutes in sports” which intrigued him. We then were able to watch the Kentucky Derby which dwindled to an audience of two – me and the CO.
So I guess I wait to go on the draft and continue the next segment of my new journey inside corrections.