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Prison store rip-offs

Pile of coins

peddhapati under a Creative Commons Licence

PRICES SUBJECT TO CHANGE WITHOUT PRIOR NOTICE
No Substitutions or Add-ons. All sales Final. No Returns! Store Limited to once a week. Spending Limit $60.00.* No Store without ID card.  
*Revised 1-16-15
                                                               K-G HOUSE INMATE STORE LIST

The administrators of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison (GD+CP), by every one of their actions (or inactions), are teaching prisoners that money is their sole motivation for everything great and small. It seems that they have forgotten that 95 per cent of state prisoners, along with those prisoners’ families and friends, are very poor.

A prison store is a smaller institution within each state prison. There is a lot of outrageous price-gouging and, yes, frequently immoral, even illegal, prison-store policies set firmly in place by various prison administrators.

A few years ago, G-Unit prisoners were given permission to purchase a battery-operated Clear Tunes AM/FM radio. It sells here for $10.40. If you were to buy it on the outside, from a retail outlet, it would likely cost less than half that price. The same applies to the Jenson AM/FM CD player, which sells – in this facility – for $54. Even a legal pad is exorbitantly priced: $1.35 will get you a third-rate flawed legal pad that would only cost 79 cents on the outside.

Sentry digital stereo earbuds are $1.56. On the surface, that reads like a real bargain. Right? Wrong: at least half of the more than 27 sets of earbuds that I have purchased here are deficient with dry-rotted cable and blow out very quickly. I recently had a pair that burned out on one side less than a half hour after they were handed to me! I returned them to the prison store. Mr Fisher, one of the store operators, sent them back to me. According to Lieutenant Piercy, Mr Fisher had said that there was ‘nothing wrong with them’. The back side of the earbuds’ package reads: LIMITED ONE-YEAR WARRANTY: Sentry warrants this product to be free from defects in materials… and workmanship for one year from the date of original purchase. This warranty does not pertain to damage resulting from accident, abnormal use, misuse or neglect. Any defective product will be replaced if returned to an authorized Sentry dealer [I consider the GD+CP an ‘authorized Sentry dealer’] or to Sentry directly at: PO Box 885, One Bridge St Hillburn, NY 10931 MADE IN CHINA - PLEASE RECYCLE - WWW.SENTRYINDUSTRIES.COM.

This kind of customer-abuse is what happens when prison administrators allow the monopolization of sales, of a specific item, and/or service to huge numbers of state prisoners, who are at the mercy of unscrupulous vendors and their cronies (the word kick-backs springs to mind) inside, and outside of their prisons’ politics. At this writing there is also only one vendor from whom prisoners’ family members and friends can purchase food-packages and personal-care items. I have evidence that some Access Securepak behaviour is illegal; and the prison administrators here are fully aware of it. More on that later.

Approximately 2 years ago I purchased an inexpensive pair of leather and rubber shoes from Access Securepak. Unfortunately, about 3 months after their arrival, the leather uppers separated completely from their rubber soles – over the course of two weeks!

I told my friend in England about the experience and she asked me to let her purchase a better-quality pair of shoes for me. She purchased the shoes from Access Securepak, of course; I am wearing them now. They are less than a year old and, yes, I can see where the leather uppers have begun their journey of eventual separation from the rubber sole, as if I have been wearing them for 5 years non-stop! (In my youth I had a very bad injury to my left foot which does not allow me to wear prison brogans. To combat the pain I only wear soft shoes.)

Meanwhile, logic and circumstances tell me that some prison vendors have ‘dry rot’ problems that they, and at least one prison, are not concerned about.

The behaviour of Access Securepak and the GD+CP need official attention: the instructive kind.

More than 6 months ago, the same friend (I will refer to her via her initials: Mrs C E B) ordered a box of food for me from Access Securepak. Unfortunately, it was never delivered to me, despite Mrs C E B having paid for it in advance. The kind woman still has no $50 refund or credit for a future purchase. The GD+CP and Access Securepak are both well aware of the problem and each recognizes that a $50 mistake has been made, but neither has sent, nor credited her with, $50.

On the back of Access Securepak’s order form it says that it offers:

4 WAYS TO ORDER:
Online: www.georgiapackages.com
Phone: 1 – 855 – 7685
Mail: Access Securepak  (GA)
10880 Lin Page Place
St. Louis, MO 63132
Fax: 1 – 866 – 754 – 2813

My hope is that hundreds – no, thousands – of readers will use one, or more, of the 4 contact points above to vigorously complain to the folks who run such a shady business as Access Securepak has shown itself to be – to make sure that Mrs C E B is treated like a valued customer.

After you all do that, please drop me a letter into the mail too, because I would love to hear from all of you.

Please keep in mind that I am unable to communicate with you electronically. All of my communications will be in plain old-fashion handwritten letters. I will also try to print all names and numbers clearly so you will have no trouble reading them. I respectfully request that you do the same.

I am really, eagerly, looking forward to hearing from you, soon. Let us get to know each other soon and quickly. We do not have a lot of time left. Peace and love to you and yours.

Respectfully, Brandon

WRITE:

Mr. Brandon Jones, UNO No. 400574; G3-81)
Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison
Post Office Box 3877
Jackson, Georgia 30233, USA

If you would like to write to Brandon, please note the following requirements: the prison name should be written in full and not abbreviated. The sender's name and address should also be included on the envelope.

Why should quacks get to practise on prisoners?

Doctor holding stethoscope

Alex Proimos under a Creative Commons Licence

‘I know they are prisoners, but even they deserve better…’
Amanda Lawson

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (hereinafter A J-C) December 2014 ‘Prison docs have troubled past’ and ‘Board OKs doctor despite negligence’ by Danny Robbins

Before I begin I want to thank Ms Lawson, whose words head this instalment: thank you for not being afraid or politically ashamed to admit that even prisoners deserve to be treated by doctors who are properly certified. Your public recognition of prisoners’ humanity is both refreshing and unusual in the State of Georgia. Again, thank you.

Unfortunately, in Georgia, if you have a deficient service, and/or product for sale, the Georgia Department Of Corrections (DOC) will pay you for it – even and especially if other states will not accept or allow your service or product to be sold within their state’s borders.

That includes uncertified doctors who are, in essence, doctors no more, legally. According to the organization known as Georgia Correctional Health Care (GCHC), uncertified doctors can legally earn from $150,000 to $190,000 a year; and while that is a good deal less than licensed certified physicians make, in most cases those kind of figures save the state a lot of money in its 40 prisons… 40 prisons-for-profit.

Of course, the point I want to make here is that some of those doctors are not only uncertified but also morally bankrupt in their continued pursuit of work as general practitioners.

Space does not permit me to list them all, but let me give you a telling example of the behaviour of one so-called ‘doctor’, as reported by columnist Danny Robbins:

‘One current Georgia prison physician was hired a year after being sanctioned by the medical board for failing to properly diagnose a spinal cord injury that led to the prisoner’s death. The physician, working in a hospital emergency room, failed to diagnose the injury even though the patient, who had been in a bicycle accident, complained that he couldn’t move his legs, the board found.’

A prisoner’s life, and/or a knowledge of his/her own body, is utterly meaningless to just about everyone who works in a Georgia prison. The employees are encouraged not to listen to you, even when they ask you a question.

More than 50 years ago, I was a Private First Class in my brief experiences with the United States Army. I was a Medical Corpsman and Medical Specialist. I am not without some knowledge of basic medical behaviour of medics, but even before I learned what the Army taught me, if a patient in the emergency room of a hospital had told me that they could not move their legs, I would have called in for an expert in injuries directly related to the spine.

Let me give you a personal experience that I had here with a dentist. This happened many years ago when there were only about 2,300 prisoners here. The dentist was a drunk. For the sake of this writing I will call him Vodka Guy. The stench of his favourite drink permeated the area around the chair. Reluctantly I sat down. I had no choice. I had an extremely painful tooth that needed extraction immediately. Instead of using a standard probing-tool Vodka Guy picked up his extraction pliers and began his probe to see if he could ‘properly remove’ (his words, not mine) the bad tooth.

Without injecting or orally administering any kind of pain medication his probing became torture. He was subjecting me to excruciating pain repeatedly and needlessly; when I whinged in pain, Vodka Guy actually laughed out loud! I got up and pushed him back and the escort officer positioned himself between us. When I reported Vodka Guy to the supervisor the escort officer became a witness against Vodka Guy, as well. Surprisingly.

To make a long story short, the next week I was taken to see a dentist in Augusta, Georgia. Near the week’s end Vodka Guy managed to make his way to G-Unit, and asked to see me in the office of an absent counsellor. Shortly thereafter, I was instructed by the Cell Block officer to ‘go see the counsellor’. I did and Vodka Guy was waiting on me… in his usual barely-able-to-stand-state.

After speaking in gibberish for about five seconds, Vodka Guy tried to hit me. Slightly amused by his effort I simply moved out of the way; in order to get caught by one of Vodka Guy’s punches I would have needed to be fast asleep.

Fortunately, Sergeant C had been standing on the other side of the office’s huge plexiglass window where he had observed everything. He quickly entered the office behind Vodka Guy, put him in a bear hug and carried him back out into the hallway. Equally worthy of note: had I hit or in any way defended myself against Vodka Guy’s feeble-swing, a swarm of correction officers would have kicked and beat me to a bloody pulp!

I could go on and on about the endless streams of medical incompetence of the doctors here – past and present – but that would not be fair to the two doctors who are competent (Dr Kow, a general practitioner who was here more than 20 years ago; and Dr Barron, a dentist, one of the two dentists who are here now.) I cannot, with the authority of personal experience, honestly comment on the competence of Dr Barron’s present dental colleague, whose name I do not know. I only know that Dr Barron is competent.

In Georgia, prison is all about saving and making money. We should never forget that misery is a commodity no different than beef or poultry. In fact, Georgia’s livestock’s value is much higher to a Georgia prison administrator than any man, woman or child in a Georgia prison.

Please write to me:
Mr Brandon Astor Jones, UNO No. 400574; G3-81)
Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison
Post Office Box 3877
Jackson, Georgia 30233, USA 

Prisons in Georgia are plantations

Scrubbing a floor

bark under a Creative Commons Licence

The old master and slave mentality is alive and kicking, writes Brandon Astor Jones.

Two officers came to take me to the medical prison, in Augusta because I needed a new hearing aid.

After handcuffing, chaining, shackling, electronic-shock-devicing and black-boxing me, the officers escorted me to a large enclosed area that was being sheetrocked – putting in new walls and a number of new compartments into what was once a vast open space.

There were four young White prisoners working with a White maintenance man who appeared to be in his early- to mid-sixties. One of the younger men was finishing a large doorway.

As I watched I was reminded of days gone by, when I used to hang drywall/sheetrock, paint and more. I was part of a five-man-remodelling-crew: two Blacks, two Whites and one Latino in Washington DC more than 40 years ago. I made a mental note that the man doing the finishing work was not very good at his job and more than a little slow – a no-no in the sheetrock-hanging business. Eventually he felt that he had finished.

The four prisoners gathered around the older man and their rock-carrier and big red tool box. As soon as the older man made eye contact with me, I asked him: ‘Do all of these guys work for you?’

He replied with one word: ‘Yep.’

Since the prison has so many Black guys in it, I felt obliged to probe deeper and asked: ‘How come you don’t have at least one Black guy working with you?’

He looked up and away from me and then looked back at me. His face took on a near-crimson hue before he declared: ‘None of ‘em wanna work, or they don’t know how to do this kinda work.’

I sat in silence for a moment as I briefly remembered that it took me all of three hours, 40 years ago, for a fellow worker to teach me how to hang and finish sheetrock the right way. ‘I see a lot of Black prisoners working in this joint,’ I said, ‘but mostly they have mops or floor-buffers in their hands – I have never seen Black sheetrockers here!’

He replied: ‘It takes a long time to learn drywallin’ and we ain’t got much time.’

‘Much time?,’ I said. ‘Man, this is a prison. Everybody here has time!’

The two escort officers – one White and one Black – and I sat in silence as we waited for someone to bring the van for our trip to Augusta. Only then did I let them know that I made $9 an hour, 40 years ago, hanging sheetrock. They seemed amazed. The White officer did not give me enough time to tell them that for those $9 an hour, I also had to paint, build kitchen cabinets and drove back and forth to the lumber yard several times a day. When I asked how much hanging drywalls pays in Georgia today, the White officer looked up at the ceiling before saying: ‘I don’t know, but it sure ain’t $9. Them damn Mexicans do it down here cheap!’

I should not have been surprised, but I was taken aback by the utter contempt in his voice and on his face as he made it clear how much he did not like people of colour, Black or Brown. His racism sounded like a badge of shameless-honour.

As we passed through the city of Jackson, just before we crossed a set of railroad tracks, I noticed that a pile of fist-sized, dark-grey rocks had been deposited about 3 metres to the right of the crossing. There was clearly enough to derail a moving train. I reasoned that since much of the pile was directly on top of one rail, some good citizen would see to the rocks’ removal in due course of the day’s passage.

When we came back some hours later, we were forced to sit motionless in a traffic jam for at least half an hour. At some point the driver of our van decided to turn onto a side street and take an alternate route to avoid the railroad crossing.

The next morning I heard on the National Public Radio/aka BBC newscast report that ‘a prison bus in Odessa, Texas, had been involved in a train derailment that [left] six prisoners and two officers dead.’ There were a number of seriously injured as well. It was determined, at the scene, that none of the dead and injured had been secured with seat belts.

That is when it occurred to me how easily I could have been one of those casualties a mere 16 hours ago: the van I rode in to and from Augusta had 9 seats that I could see with seat belts. There were two officers with me in that van; and, while I could not discern if the driver had a seat belt on, I know that I did not, and neither did the other officer. No officer asked to buckle me up and, of course, there was no way I could buckle myself up.

***********

I have shared this experience so that the reader can more clearly see and understand:

a) White men come out of prison with bits and pieces of a means to earn a living (welding, plumbing, bricklaying, electrical engineering and yes, even lesser trades such as hanging sheetrock);

(b) most Black men come out having learned mostly how to operate a mop or floor buffer;

(c) how blatantly racism influences certain decisions in prison and how meaningless MERIT is.

Prisons in Georgia are plantations…nothing more and nothing less.

PLEASE WRITE:
Mr. Brandon Astor Jones, UNO No. 400574; G3-81)
Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison
Post Office Box 3877
Jackson, Georgia 30233, USA. 

Of friend and foe

Barbed wire

Niels Kliim under a Creative Commons Licence

Sustained by support from the outside, Brandon Astor Jones faces enemies daily within the prison walls.

More than two decades ago a friendly family in Britain began corresponding with me. The matriarch’s letter of introduction was both warm and instructive. Over the years she, her husband and their two daughters have made seemingly endless positive impressions on me and how I have come to see this world we all are privileged to live in. I have had more than a few so-called ‘friends’ before I came to this prison who soon disappeared out of my life. In fairness to those friends, I must admit that I did not know how to be a friend either.

The L family wants to remain anonymous so I will refer to them as the Ls: the Ls have always been both friends and teachers in my life and for their entry into it I have always been grateful. They have taught me to love people, without conditions.

A few months ago I asked Mrs L if she knew very much about European prisons. I went on to explain that I wanted to write, at length, about this prison and make it easier for anyone who wanted to tell the difference between US and European prisons in the process. She went online for some research and eventually wrote me a letter on 28 November 2014. She downloaded an essay from the Guardian archives. Written by the well-known columnist Erwin James on 1 December 2013, it was titled, ‘Why is Sweden closing its prisons?’ The article included a colour photograph of ‘[a] cell in Kumala prison, Sweden’s most secure institution’.

The cell in the photo could pass for a really small hotel room: it has a large, well-stocked wooden bookcase; a very large window with drapes; the bunk appears to be wooden as well – it has a shelf-type headboard-top; to its left there is a wooden desk which has a large computer screen and/or television screen; there is a wooden armchair; and in the foreground there is an upright wardrobe. There is a sink with a mirror and small shelf below it and a small rug on the floor. Wow? Yes.

Here in the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison’s G-unit the only chair in this cell is the toilet, which is only 33 centimetres off the floor; the cell’s wall-to-wall dimensions are 2 metres ×1.8 metres there are four coat-hooks on the wall directly above the toilet (what an absurd place for coat-hooks), a sink, a bunk and a wall-cabinet. Of course, everything I have just listed in cell number 80 is steel.

The only time I can sit in a chair is when and if I go to the visiting rooms. Needless to say, all of the prisoners (young or old) have back problems because we rarely, if ever, sit in/on anything designed to give support to a human being’s back.

****

If you are a prison administrator who actually wants to treat prisoners humanely you better not let anyone know how you feel. If you do, in due course you will be transferred to a site or post where you can reconsider your folly.

You see, in Georgia the State Legislature is racially controlled by a small group of people who use state prisons to play and live out their ‘Gone with the Wind’-plantation fantasies.

Moreover, because African-American men, in many of Georgia’s prisons, are disproportionately represented and because the small but powerful group of legislating Caucasian-Americans are hell-bent on the daily exercise of their total domination of people of colour inside Georgia’s pseudo-antebellum-like-prison plantations, racial subjugation is an enduring, centuries-old familial goal.

Wow! What a long sentence the above paragraph was! Nevertheless, their fantasy-goal, to them, is very real. It requires insight, information and courage to contest them, every day. Why? Well, for one thing, it is in their blood; and, if you listen quietly – when they talk among themselves and think you cannot hear them – the words ‘job security’ justify every thought and deed they can muster.

If, to my disclosures you ask, ‘Well, Brandon, what happens when prison administrators like a warden or corrections commissioner turn out to be Black?’ I would only direct your attention to President Obama’s tied-political-hands, because some – not all – of the racist White Congress persons will not let him do more than a few things that need to be done in America. Consider too, that near the end of last December (2014) – to give even more credence to my point – it was discovered that 11 years ago a man who, at this writing, is a Republican Congressman, was asked to speak at a Ku Klux Klan gathering. He admits that he did indeed speak at the gathering, but that he ‘didn’t know that it was a Klan’ gathering. The organization was then headed by David Duke, one of the most notorious haters of Jewish and Black people on the planet! I should note too, that he once ran for public office in the State of Louisiana, where he got more than 2 per cent of the votes.

****

The truth is that Criminal Justice is an industry (put another way, misery is an industry) in Georgia. Every day, even more draconian schemes are being devised to extract more money from prisoners’ families and friends – 90 per cent of whom are among the state’s poorest people. If you doubt what I am saying, consider this: ‘Probation’ in Georgia has recently bloomed into a multimillion-dollar industry. If that does not give you pause, then the following should.

Of America’s 51 states, Georgia’s citizen population numbers are in the medium range, yet Georgia has more people on probation than any other state. Some probationers are quickly finding themselves in what amounts to a Probationary-contemporary debtors’ prison. In essence theirs is a ‘no money, no freedom’ world.

Meanwhile, a small group of fat-cats are calling the shots by telling their legislative underlings what state projects to fund; and, equally, if not more importantly, what not to fund.

For example, if there is an excess of (let’s say) $2 million left in the state prisons’ budget (remember, Georgia has 40 of them) that means there will be a lot of new metal-detectors – despite the fact that the newness has not worn off the batch that were purchased 2 years ago.

However, the plastic food trays that we prisoners eat out of are at least 8 years old. They are completely worn out – so much so that they can never be sanitized again no matter how much you wash them and scrub them inside and out in boiling-hot soapy water. I should also note that new trays would be cheaper than metal detectors, but purchasing new food trays would be a sign of humanizing G-Unit prisoners – and of course that must not be done.

Rehabilitating, educating and humanizing prisoners – in the eyes of those politicians and prison administrators I know of – would be met with so much violent resistance that an onlooker would think America’s prison systems were at war with one another from within: each prison’s administrators inciting violence among all prisoners.

It is shameful how many Americans of every ethnic background continue to be silent about what they know is going on in US prisons.

I close in gratitude to the L family’s many gifts.


PLEASE WRITE TO ME:

Mr. Brandon Astor Jones, UNO No. 400574; G3
Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison
Post Office Box 3877
Jackson, Georgia 30233, USA.

Prison as a place of healing

Heal graffiti

Steve Snodgrass under a Creative Commons Licence

‘[A]s a prison governor, or politician, we have to approach [incarceration] in a different way. We have to respect people’s need for revenge, but not use that as a foundation for how we run our prisons. Many people here have done something stupid – they will not do again. But prisons are also full of people who have all sorts of problems. Should I be in charge of adding more problems to the prisoner on behalf of the state, making [him or her] an even worse threat to larger society because I have treated [him or her] badly while [they] are in my care? We know that prison harms people. I look at this place as a place of healing, not just for [their] social wounds but for the wounds inflicted on [them] by the state [during their] years in eight square metres of high security.’
Arne Kvernvik Nilsen, Prison Governor/Warden of Bastøy Island prison in Norway

I came across an old newspaper article while getting rid of excess paper in this cell. It was an Erwin James essay titled ‘The prison that works’, in the Guardian’s 4 September 2013 issue. The subtitle of the piece was: ‘The departing governor of a jail with a reoffending rate of just 16% shares the secrets of his remarkable success.’ The prison in question – according to James – ‘[while] home to some of the most serious offenders in Norway, has received increasing global attention… for the humane conditions under which the prisoners live – in houses rather than cells in what resembles a cosy self-sustaining village.’

In most of the rest of Europe, and America, the reoffending rate hovers between 65 and 70 per cent. If you are inclined to ask why Nilsen’s method works and so many other prison administrators’ methods do not, I can tell you: it is because of Nilsen’s ample use of respectful and humane treatment. If you treat most people in prison like faecal-matter, that is exactly what they are very likely to literally throw back at you, with very few exceptions.

Prison administrators – especially in the US – have to start treating prisoners like human beings. They have to stop denying us access to people who have always recognized prisoners’ humanity and who try to embrace our humanity via correspondence and visitation, including those who live in other countries (in 1995, no prisoner in G-Unit here was allowed correspondence with people who did not live in the US). Many Georgia prison administrators are xenophobes of the highest, and lowest, order. Friendly correspondents and visitors, more often than not, help rehabilitate prisoners. Prison administrators frequently resent such rehabilitation, but will not employ any rehabilitation efforts of their own.

In all cases, recognizing the prisoner’s humanity the moment they are imprisoned is the proper course to follow: then, all of your post-prison support is likely to be useful – not only to free society but to the ex-prisoner as well. Let me add that being imprisoned is more than sufficient punishment, although most prison administrators incorrectly and unintelligently presume that they must exact a special kind of revenge on prisoners.

The political and prison administrative canard that prisoners are greatly influenced by other prisoners’ criminality is way overblown. The factual and, alas, little-known truth is this: prisoners are far more negatively influenced by prison administrators and their underlings than by other prisoners. It is no exaggeration that prison administrators contribute more to reoffending/recidivism rates and therefore, via logical extrapolation, of ‘street crimes’ than anyone on the planet!

Yes, I know that some prisoners are incorrigible and demonstrate behaviours that suggest they should always be in prison, but how can anyone say that such a person is not capable of change – especially if you change the way you treat them? If you have never tried treating prisoners humanely and with respect you do not have a tried-and-true authority to make such judgement calls.

If you have to worry about something, it should be whether or not some of those fat-cats who run America’s prison systems were wise and progressive enough to be among the ‘visitors present from 25 international…organizations [all of whom were] keen to find out the secret of Nilsen’s success’, according to columnist James.

Nilsen has also figured out a way to achieve all of his phenomenal prison-operation-success at considerably less expense than those prison administrators who are still clinging to the old ways that are rooted in the administrative brutalization and dehumanization of men, women and children – not only in the State of Georgia but all over the US.

The hypocrisy of such brutal operations is only rivalled by some prison administrators’ feigned astonishment when they find out one of their recent parolees has, in turn, brutalized and dehumanized someone on yet another bloody street. The US has many islands that are well suited for the kind of incarceration operations Nilsen promotes. The Georgia Department of Corrections should be beating a path to his door, but we Georgia prisoners know that is not likely to happen any time soon.

Please write to me:

Mr. Brandon Astor Jones, UNO No. 400574; G3
Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison
Post Office Box 3877
Jackson, Georgia 30233, USA

Who are the real sociopaths in prison?

Prison guard

Son of Groucho under a Creative Commons Licence

‘[Prison administrators are]… reducing necessary human services inside prisons such as needed medical care, [and] eliminating basic commodities like toilet paper and tampons.’   
Professor Thompson

Anything most corrections personnel can do to make life more miserable for a convict, in America, they are always eager to do. Sociopathic behaviour is not limited to prisoners. You can find as much – if not more – of such behaviour in the keepers as in the kept.

When I read Professor Thompson’s essay, her words made me feel her unusual insight into what prison in America really is all about. Here at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison they even withhold hand soap (we are supposed to get one bar a week along with a roll of toilet paper and razor).

Think about that for a moment: something no-one can do without – a bar of soap – is denied men, women and children in scores of Georgia’s prisons, frequently! The hand soap is made by Georgia’s so-called ‘Georgia Corrections Industries’. It is my opinion that when a state as small – in population – as Georgia has 40 prisons, prison becomes an industry, not a crime-reduction alternative. In such an industry, misery becomes a revenue stream that all kinds of low and high politicians cannot wait to jump into. In this fashion, prisons and prisoners become commodities. Recently, I asked Lieutenant P if she could ‘please get me some soap’, She replied, ‘We ain’t got none… in the whole institution.’

In the grand scheme of things, denying prisoners a bar of soap reads harmlessly, but consider this: Mondays through Thursdays the prison’s administrators conduct tour-groups in the prison so that the taxpayers can see what is being done with their tax money. Taxpayers are led through hallways and cell blocks that are so clean they put to shame the food trays we are forced to eat off. The floors of such cell blocks NEVER GO WITHOUT SOAP AND WAX! Sometimes prisoners can hear a surprised tour-group member declare in awe, ‘…everything is so clean!’ All the while some prisoners do not have soap to shower with.

Of course, my point is that the prison’s floors and corridors get much more ‘humane’ treatment than the prisoners. Consequently, tour-group members leave this prison as witless-conspirators in the various ongoing frauds the prison administrators are quietly perpetrating while dehumanizing the prisoners in a host of physical and emotional ways.

***

Earlier this year it took over a week to get a letter/package weighed, certified and assessed for postage cost – in the past there had been a concern about timely access, but conscientious-professionalism is no longer attainable here, despite the mural on the wall that touts Integrity and Professionalism. You can count those staff members who have integrity and professionalism using your two hands, only. There are hundreds of people working here.

I dare not name the handful of those men and women who treat us as they should. If I did, the unprofessional riff-raff among their work colleagues would subject them to harassment and ridicule. You see, the riff-raff think that those who treat prisoners humanely are ‘soft’.

On a day in June last year, a Correctional Officer refused to go and get the portable US Mail Box. It was on a Friday. I needed to mail a letter to the Cobb County Superior Court, and my lawyer. Let me quote the rules and regulations as relates to that day and my request:

Dispatch of outgoing inmate/probationer mail: On the last work day of each week, privileged mail will be picked up at both 1:00am and 1:00pm, and will be dispatched from the facility/centre that same day to the United States Post Office, in time for forwarding…

Concerned that if I did not protest about the Correctional Officer’s behaviour he would be encouraged to do it again, I wrote a Grievance about it.

I made repeated efforts to find out the status of that Grievance over the course of 120 days. Eventually, a Counsellor instructed me to write to the Grievance Co-ordinator. A week later I got a note from him, indicating that he had ‘no record’ of my having written a Grievance on that day.

Approximately five months later the Correctional Officer, who had since been promoted to Sergeant, made an attempt to foist his revenge on me for my Grievance by writing an entirely false Disciplinary Report Worksheet (DRW) on me. The best way to present what he attempted to do is for me to first share my own words that I wrote in response to his DRW, when I filled out all of the true details on my witness statement:

On 24 October 2014 at approximately 07.40 hours I asked G-3 Cell Block Officer W if I could go to the G-Corridor Gate to speak with Sergeant C about getting some toilet paper [because I] had diarrhoea; and I have [an ongoing] diverticulosis – the condition had ruptured and bled. The Sergeant et al were viewing a magazine as Sergeant C sat atop the Corridor Desk.

Seeing that the sergeant was not going to come to the gate to talk with me I said – in a civil and respectful manner – Sergeant, I need to either go to the Medical Section or be given some toilet paper. If I can get some clean toilet paper I will not have to go to the Medical Section because I know [exactly] what my problem is.’ The sergeant continued sitting atop the desk as I added, ‘Sarge, I’m having to wipe myself with dirty wet rags and then washing them to use again.’ He replied, ‘I’ll get you some toilet paper.’ I said, ‘Thank you’ and returned to the cell.

Several hours later the Sergeant and Officer entered G3-Cell Block to conduct the midday count and pick up the mail. I asked Sergeant C for toilet paper again after I put my [outgoing] mail [in] the US Mail Box Officer W carried. The sergeant assured me he [had] more toilet paper as he stood in front of Cell #80… meanwhile, I directed his attention to the wet half of a towel on the floor, drying for my next use. I also thanked him again [even though he still had not given me any paper yet].

Thirty-five minutes later (still without toilet paper) I asked Officer W if I could go to the Corridor Gate. I was [struggling] to keep my bowel in check. Officer F had just completed her walk on G3’s catwalk when I got to the Corridor Gate. When she came by the gate [I was standing behind] I asked her if she ‘could give me a roll of toilet paper’.

She replied, civilly and respectfully, ‘No. The Corridor Officer would have to do that.’ Immediately thereafter Officer C walked by, but when I asked her if she was ‘the Corridor Officer’, she said, ‘I’m not the Corridor Officer; W is.’

Then Sergeant C appeared. As he walked through the G-Unit Entrance Gate, past G-3 Corridor Gate – as if he was headed upstairs or over to G-4 Cell Block, he looked at me: in complete silence I stuck my arm through the bars and pointed to where I thought the toilet paper was, near the SE corner of the desk. Sergeant C became both belligerent and irate when he said that I was ‘being disrespectful’.

I [continued] in a civil and respectful manner – because he clearly was trying to bait me – I said, ‘That’s not true. Can I get the toilet paper?’

He replied, ‘If you keep on talkin’ I won’t give you no paper!’

I gave no response. He then added, ‘In fact, get your ass back to your cell!’

I turned half way around to leave, but only then did I notice another prisoner standing about four feet behind me. Without moving my feet I turned my head back toward Sergeant C and asked him, ‘What did you say?’

The Sergeant reiterated a slightly different version of the same thoroughly profane message, to wit, ‘Take your ass back to your cell!’

When I walked around and past [the other prisoner] on my way back to Cell #80, I asked him, ‘Did you hear and see any of that?’

He replied, ‘Yeah.’

I asked, ‘Would you write a witness statement for me?’

He said, ‘Yeah.’



There is nothing Sergeant C’s Disciplinary Report Worksheet says against me that is even vaguely true:

10-24-2014 at 11:45 hrs. [by] Sgt C and Lieutenant B, and W/COII.
On October 24, 2014… I was assigned to G-House as Supervisor. When Inmate Jones Brandon CDC#400574, a UDS inmate in G3-80, came to G3 gate telling me in a disrespectful manner to give him some toilet paper. I told inmate Jones that he is not going to tell me what to do and that he needs to come to me with respect. Inmate Jones continued to be disrespectful towards me. I then instructed inmate Jones to go to his cell and lock down, inmate Jones then walked away from G3 gate and then returned to G3 gate. I then instructed inmate Jones to go lock down. At that inmate Jones went to his cell [sic].



So much for what is passing for bureaucratic-‘professionalism’ here.


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

We are prisoners, but we are human

Prisoners

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

Bitter Crop

_‘I heard_ Strange Fruit _for the first time as a teenager when a girlfriend brought over a Billie Holiday album… I remember hearing these words: “Blood on the leaves, blood at the root…” It was too much. I pulled the needle off the record before it was done. I thought: “My God, I don’t want to hear that.”’_

The song stylist Francine Reed, who said these words, was referring to her own rendition of the timeless Abel Meeropol composition. The lyrics of the song give visual clarity to the aftermath of racist mob violence.

There are those, I am sure, who would argue that the visual lynching conjured up by the song is not at all like judicial death penalties being carried out by various governments. I, along with thousands of others around the world, beg to differ.

I am under sentence of death here in the American Southland. Over a period of many years I have stretched and tested the limits of the so-called ‘appeals process’. I am very likely to be killed in the near, as opposed to the distant, future. When New Internationalist gave me leave to write whatever I chose about the death penalty, I decided to take an unusual approach. I respectfully request that the reader absorb this more as my last will and testament than a mere essay.

A judicial execution of an African-American, here in the State of Georgia, is little more than a lynching carried out by the state rather than a bloodthirsty mob rampaging through the streets.

Not for the wealthy

The death penalty is about race and class. There are few, if any, rich people on death row in America. When three wealthy young White men at Duke University were accused of sexually assaulting a Black woman, disbarment and criminal proceedings were started against the prosecutor. Less than a year later all three young men were cleared of the charges against them, without having to spend that time in prison.

On the other side of America’s judicial coin, more than a hundred men (and at least one woman) have been maliciously and illegally prosecuted. Some were forced to spend 10, 15, 20, even more years in prison (some on death row) before they were proven innocent. None of the prosecutors has been subjected even to a reprimand. I will ask the question, since no-one else has: why not? The answer is that those who were prosecuted had one thing in common – Black, White or Brown, they were all poor. PERIOD.

Americans of every stripe have by and large been church-mouse-quiet about this kind of prosecution. What I find especially sad is that here in Georgia the most disturbing silence comes from some of the local anti-death-penalty activists. When I hear of good caring people making large monetary donations to such activists, I feel angry. If this feeling could be set to music of my choice, it would be to Horace Silver’s Song for my Father. The piano introduction would serve as a balm and calm-container for my anger.

I write about certain favourite pieces of music to soothe my weary spirit in this musically deprived environment. I am not allowed to hear the poignant song stylings of the late Billie Holiday. So I write of my memories in an effort to maintain my sanity and humanity. Madness here on death row is always lurking just around the next emotional corner. Keeping it at bay is a moment-to-moment struggle.

The comforts of reason

In the same way that I am imagining being able to hear certain pieces of music that give the comforts of reason to my spirit, many racists in America are using the hangman’s noose to carry out imaginary death sentences on African-Americans.

The hangman’s noose is a difficult symbol to erase in America. In the past few months it has been employed in Jena, Louisiana, on the branches of the so-called ‘white tree’; then again at the University of Maryland; then at a police station in Hempstead, New York; again in Anniston, Alabama, at the US Army depot there; then at Grambling State University; and one was recently found hanging from the doorknob of a Black professor’s office at Colombia University.

Little wonder that it is so hard for much of America to free itself from the archaic and barbaric use of the death penalty. Alas, it is woven into the psychic fabric of the nation’s racists.

Some readers may wonder why I want to end this essay with the words of _Strange Fruit_, written in 1939 by a New Yorker. Truth be told, I want you to have a visceral reaction to the vision the words conjure up. You see, I hope to remind you that the death penalty is deeply rooted in the desire to terrorize and enrage not only its victims, but also the compassionless citizen-mob that helps to carry it out.

No-one in their right mind would want to be either.

_Southern trees bear a strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood on the root, Black body swinging in the Southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees._

_Pastoral scene of the gallant South, The bulging eyes and twisted mouth, Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh, And the sudden smell of burning flesh!_

_Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck, For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop, Here is a strange and bitter crop._

*Brandon Astor Jones* has been an occasional contributor to _New Internationalist_ for many years. You can write to him at: Prisoner Brandon Astor Jones, G3-73 UNO# 400574; EF-122216 Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison Post Office Box 3877 Jackson, Georgia 30233, USA.