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.

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