We are prisoners, but we are human


DonkeyHotey under a Creative Commons Licence

In the September and October 1994 issues of New Internationalist, Brandon Astor Jones, a prisoner on death row in Georgia, US, wrote a two-part feature in which he contemplated the part prison plays in recycling the violence it sets out to punish. Still on death row in 2015, and now in his seventies and in poor health, Brandon has started working on a book, of which the below blog forms a part.

At the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison (GD&CP) there was a makeshift bulletin board in G3-Cell Block that instructed prisoners – in essence – to write a letter to the ‘Office Of Investigations and Compliance’ care of ‘Inmate Affairs’ to get the attention of Georgia’s Department Of Corrections’ (DOC) Commissioner, Brian Owens. I did that many times but never heard from Commissioner Owens or any of his subordinates here regarding any issue raised in the letters that I wrote to him. Here is just one example (with additional points of clarification/comments in square brackets).

To: Commissioner Brian Owens
Georgia Department Of Corrections – c/o the Office Of Investigations and Compliance
Attention: Inmate Affairs and Ombudsman Unit

SUBJECT: The Georgia Department Of Corrections’ Systematic Dehumanization Of its Medical Prisoners

[In April of] 2013 at approximately 3:17 a.m. I was stricken with extreme pain in my lower chest and upper stomach area. Each breath that I took amplified the pain. I thought I was having a heart attack. I saw an officer on the catwalk and called out to her, ‘Please tell your sergeant that I need to see a doctor…it is an emergency!’

The sergeant got me to the Medical Section immediately. A Physician’s Assistant (PA) ran several tests on me and deduced that I had not had a heart attack; however, my blood pressure was high and the pains continued. Severely. The PA contacted [Medical Director] Dr Fowlkes via the phone. I was given a pain reliever after the officers lowered my pants to my hip. Of course, I had on a waist-chain, handcuffs, padlock, black box and an electronic shocking device covering the entire length of my left forearm. [Lieutenant Piercy entered the treatment room at that moment and said to Officer Berryman, ‘Don’t let him [me] out of the restraints for nothing!’]

After the shot had taken some effect I too, was allowed to speak with Dr Fowlkes, on the phone. I shared the details of my experiences several hours earlier, with him.

Because it was a state holiday (Confederate Memorial Day) I was taken to Spaulding Regional Hospital in Griffin, Georgia. There, other tests were conducted on me. It was at the hospital I was inspired to write this letter. Let me tell you why:

According to the DOC’s security rules and regulations I had the so-called ‘black box’ secured by padlock to the handcuffs and waist-chain; I also had on leg-irons while I was laying on my back on a stretcher. I understand the security process, to a point – more on that later.

Two very professional nurses named Amanda and Crystal were interacting with me. After [about] four hours, I asked one of them if she could get me ‘… something to eat’ because I had not eaten since the day before. She left and came back with a ham sandwich and orange juice in a cup with a straw. She raised the stretcher’s end so that my back was vertical, which allowed me to bend forward to my waist where I held the sandwich. The black box immobilized the handcuffs and the waist-chain held the cuffs and box tight against my belt buckle. Each bite I took caused the cuffs to cut literally deeper into my wrists. When the sandwich was gone I asked Officer Berryman if he would move the adjustable-height table close enough, and high enough, for me to turn my head to the left so I could reach the straw [with my mouth]. He did and I drank the juice.

By 12 pm I was assigned to room 316, where I was told I would stay for ‘…a day or two’. My escort Officers Berryman, Youngberg and Sergeant Jones stationed themselves at the entrance of the room. Each man was armed with a revolver.

Commissioner Owens, I am 70 years of age. I have no history of violence for a quarter of a century here. My state of health is, at best, mercurial [from one physical ailment to another]. When I needed to move my bowels I asked Sergeant Jones if he would ‘remove only one of my hands from the box, cuff and waist-chain so I could use the toilet and clean myself afterwards’.

He declared, ‘…Jones, I can’t do that. I would get fired if I did that!’

I [immediately] asked him: ‘How am I to clean myself after I use the toilet?’ He pointed at a young woman who was dressed in a green outfit as he said, ‘She will do it for you.’

I asked him if he would call his supervisor and ‘explain the situation and seek permission to honour my [very humane] request’.

He did that, to no avail. I then asked a passing nurse if she would let me speak with her supervisor. She called her supervisor and her supervisor said she would come.

Meanwhile, a [dome-]covered plate of food was rolled into the room on a table: meatloaf, roll, sliced tomato salad, mashed potatoes, gravy, salad dressing and two large chocolate-chip cookies (without question, the nicest meal I [had] seen in more than three decades.) Again, I asked Sergeant Jones to free one hand so that I could feed myself. He said ‘no, I cannot do it.’

I motioned [in the direction of] the woman in green, and then asked the sergeant, ‘Can she feed me?’

He replied, ‘No.’

[I really wanted to eat that meal.] His answer struck me as odd, in that someone could be allowed to wipe me after I move my bowels despite the fact that I [was] …able to do it myself; but no-one could feed me (according to the stated security measures) when clearly the stated security measures did not allow me to be physically able to feed myself! At that moment Officer Berryman interjected, ‘You can feed yourself here the same way you ate that sandwich.’

For a moment I had a dehumanized vision of myself bending over the plate eating, in much the same way a dog would eat from a bowl on the floor. That did it for me, when I realized that I [w]ould be handcuffed, black boxed, waist chained, shackled on my legs with a shock-producing device largely cutting off much of my blood flow on my left forearm for 48 hours or more!

[Finally], I asked Sergeant Jones: ‘What do I have to do to be taken back to the prison a.s.a.p.?’

He replied, ‘Refuse treatment.’

I did that, and shortly thereafter all of us were back at the GD&CP where I was required to sign yet another ‘Refused Treatment’ form for the GD&CP as well.

Equally worthy of note… is that more than seven days before [that day, the] Physicians’ Assistant (PA) Alexander (per my request) had taken me off of the blood pressure medication that I had been taking for two decades via in-cell sam packs. Unfortunately, she failed to have [more and different] in-cell blood pressure medication sent to me to replace the medication [I should note too, that the previous medication was not working as well as it should have been]. I think that has been corrected by PA Finderson, as of 24 April 2013.

Commissioner Owens, I bring the rest-room, food and unstated personal hygiene matters as they relate to the present DOC security procedures regarding medical prisoners to your attention in the sincere hope that your review of these procedures might cause a more humane restructuring of them.

In their present state such procedures rob medical prisoners of our [right to] human dignity. There is a better way, Sir.

Please seek it out as soon as is humanly possible.

Respectfully requested,

Prisoner Brandon Astor Jones

Brandon Astor Jones welcomes letters from readers. His address is:
Brandon Astor Jones, I.D. No. 400574 (G3-81)
Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison
Post Office Box 3877
Jackson, Georgia 30233
United States