Prisons
North, South, East & West

E-Mail   By Leonard W. Freeman   Bio/Address

    Words to a song on the "Barretta" television show went, "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime." The adage among convicts everywhere goes on to say if you do the crime, make it Federal, as those are the best Prisons. While everyone in almost any Prison would agree with this for the most part, there are definitely Prison systems you want to avoid. Among those are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Probably one familiar with the location of States in the South would wonder why Mississippi didn't make the list. Only one redeeming factor for that Prison system, Conjugal visits!
    Probably the one thing which is common to all of the Southern Prisons also is the lack of true "Contact" visits, and being allowed to make phone calls. Northern Prisons have phones in every cell block, pod, dorm, or tank because that is one way which they generate profit. This because the collect phone calls which are made cost an exorbitant price to family and friends, and the phone companies give a kickback to the various prisons which allow phone calls. Contact visits in the South usually consist of a hug and kiss at the beginning of a visit, the same at the end, then you sit across a table from one another, usually not even allowed to hold hands. Forget about walking around with one another, even visiting the concession machines together.
    Until recent years the Prisons in the Western States had a very good rep with convicts also, especially Oregon, Washington State, Nevada, and California. This latter has taken on a terrible reputation now with the creation of "Pelican Bay" prison in California. It is now the most Maximum security Prison in America, and most of the men there don't even get fed food on trays, but rather the infamous food loaf. This nauseous concoction consists of literally everything in one meal being tossed into a blender ground up, then baked into a sort of bread like loaf, then shoved into the cell. The Eastern, Northern, and Western Prisons which allow the prisoners their own TV have found them to be one real way to distract the prisoners from things which might get them into trouble. To have their own TV, may seem, an insignificant thing to many people but it is a very beneficial correctional tool. It gives the prisoners a vicarious way to live life, thus keeps them in their cells instead out roaming around looking for some excitement to create. Strangely the most popular of all the Shows are the Soap Operas, and most of the Prisoners can name all of the characters as they have been fans for many years.
    Slavery is rampant in the South! Now you are most likely scratching your head and wondering how on Earth there is any slavery in the South when it was abolished in America well over a hundred years ago. Most Southern Prisons seem to be unaware of that. They still treat the Prisoners like slaves, working them untold hours for no pay what-so-ever, and providing them with only the most minimal of creature comforts. Shampoo, toothpaste? Forget it! Unless your family or friends send you funds to purchase those items you won't have them. That is if you don't become one of three things: a thief, a strong arm robber, or a punk who sells sexual favors for commissary items. The first two things can, and do get inmates killed,..and the last may as well be dead, as they've already sold their soul in the most demeaning of manners. Not many of the prisoners are able to maintain their humanity, their integrity, and this dehumanization is only a very fertile breeding ground for rage which must be internalized. Unfortunately the vast majority of those prisoners will one day be released and it is well known that many of them will then vent their anger, their rage on the people of Society ...thus completing the vicious cycle which brings them to two ends. Back to prison, or dead.
    Actually it could bring them to three ends, but one of these leads to the same path, death. Almost every State in America now has the death penalty, and they have not been hesitating to carry it out. The one which is quickest to indict, try, condemn, and execute is Texas, and already the number of people it murders each year is three times that of any other State. While the various Death Rows vary from State to State, it is known that Texas now has the most harsh of all. Many of the men on Death Row have just recently been moved to a "High Security Unit" where they aren't even allowed to see a TV, work on weight machines, do Craft in their cells, or even work at the most menial of Prison jobs. It is now predicted that the number of suicides, either through personally taking their own life, or just quitting their appeals, thus allowing the Prison Officials to carry out their suicide, shall quadruple within this year alone. Too, with the loss of what little they had going for them, their hope shall be at a new low, so one shall expect to see more assaults on each other, as well as the Staff.
    Prisons are full of gifted artists, and craft workers of many types. Most of those never even knew they had any talent outside, as they never had the time to devote to drawing, painting, woodworking, jewelry, ceramics, or leather craft. Of course it takes money to do those things in Prison, hundreds, even thousands of dollars just to get started. Once a person begins it is usually only the Prison Staff who are readily available as their customers, and they are notorious for preying on the prisoners. That is paying them the least money possible for true works of art and beauty they have devoted many hours of their time to creating. However if they want money to buy supplies to create more they have to settle for what they can get. The various Prisons Craft Shops remain one of the best of all tools for rehabilitation in one significant way. They teach prisoners they are capable of doing something worthwhile, and that they do have abilities which are valuable...if not very profitable. Some of the Northern Prisons, New Hampshire is very notable for this, do actually supply the prisoners with the Craft tools, dyes, glues, and finishes. They don't do it for any altruistic reason though. Rather it is because they cut down on things being smuggled in through the supplies the prisoners would normally buy themselves. Not that they still can't get smuggled stuff from the staff.
    Ah, the Staff! The one thing common with all Prisons, North, South, East, and West is that all of them have to have Staff. North they are called C0, or Correctional Officer, East it is Guard, Screw or Officer, West could be a combination of any of these first three. The South has a number of names for them, ranging from Cop, 5 "0h", Bull , to "Captain", but the most normally utilized is "Boss." I'm certain that the "Bosses" themselves don't know that, with the macabre sense of humor we convicts seem to develop, to the innate the word "Boss" stands for double son of a bitch spelled backwards! The Staff itself is truly a joke, albeit a sad one. Those unfortunate few who have to take the job out of economic necessity never seems to be able to raise up out of the trap, so settle for the poor pay, long hours, and what can be a very dangerous working environment. What frequently exasperates their situation is members of their own class, other Staff members who are very brutal, and take out their rage on the Prisoners. This often causes those prisoners to strike back at first opportunity, though most often it is not the one who brutalized them who is on the receiving end of the attack. While most of the staff are just people who are trying to earn a living for themselves and their families, it is the ones who took on the job for the power it gave them that make it harder for everyone.
    Until about three years back a determined person could come to prison, stay three to six years, and leave with a college degree in his/her hand. That was killed though when the Federal Government did away with us utilizing the GI Bill, or Pell Grants to pay tuition. Many of the top Staff members of Prisons were against college anyway, as they said it turned out smarter criminals. Bull. Those people were always smart, just uneducated. When they obtained an education they then had a better way to earn a living once free, so no need to turn back to a life of crime to make their way.
    Throughout this you may notice terms for people in prison which range from Inmate to Convict to prisoner, but the latest, and one which has caused new Identification cards to be made for everyone in Texas, is Offender. We've a joke about the various appellations given to us anyway. There are three classifications of us in Prison. Inmate, Resident, and Convict. The Inmate is one who is always sucking up to the Staff, endeavoring to gather favor with them. Why no one has ever been able to figure out as the Staff generally dislikes those sycophants as much as any convict. Too, the inmate has no problem stealing from, the resident. He'd not dare steal from a convict, as that could result in a death penalty being imposed. Residents are those persons who just barely get by in Prison. They merely fill a space. Simply living from meal to meal, day to day, and many of them are only able to maintain that because of doing the Thorazine Shuffle. That is one of the worst tricks of all Prison administrations, keeping an enormous amount of the prisoners tranquilized. It is their cheapest management tool as far 'as they are concerned. Now, for the last. Everyone wants to be thought of as a "Convict", but few can truly live up to that name any more. A convict minds his own business, doesn't pick on those weaker than he, will not associate with staff, does his own time. We only have one thing that can not be stolen by Inmate or confiscated by a staff member, and that is our integrity, but very few maintain any of that-after years in prison.
    One thing it seems Staff members everywhere are taught is to keep us at one another's throats. They seem to go out of their way to foment hate and discontent. Telling us that this one is a snitch, that one a child molester, the other a racist. So long as we are attacking one another, we forget who our real oppressor is, and that is their goal, to keep our minds off them, lest we come together, form a group who could put a stop to their depredations through legal action.
    Love life inside.. Most people outside would think that love life inside consists of homosexuality and lesbianism. Far be that from the truth. Almost daily Prison staff members are fired from their jobs for having sexual affairs with inmates... nor is this restricted to straight sex either. Yes, they have caught male Officers with male inmates, and in the recent past found a female inmate with a collection of nude photos of a female Sergeant. Recently in Texas the Prison Officials actually video taped a long time Female Officer trying to hire a "hit man" to take out her prison lover. She was arrested, fired, and now is under indictment for this..-Prison Officials might say that their prisons are full of slick con artists, both male and female, who seduce their Officers. But in actual fact a lot of their Officers come to work looking for an unusual sexual adventure. Actual studies have shown that married women who have been barren for years, though trying to become pregnant, do just that only a short time after coning to work in a Prison. Oh it generally isn't the prisoners who got her that way, but that her hormones go into overdrive each day as she thinks that all of the inmates are fantasizing about having sex with her!
    Because of the way prisons have proliferated within the past ten years, there has grown a tremendous need for staff, yet fewer and fewer applicants. Now you see something in all prisons that you saw a few years ago ....women Officers in men's prisons. Also, where Staff used to -be almost entirely White, now minorities make up the bulk of them ...though not the bulk of top administrators. That remains the niche fully occupied by the "Good ole Boys", and appointees who were friends with the Political fat cats.
    Prisons are now a big business. If you don't believe that, check the listings for the New York Stock Exchange and you shall find at least two of the Private Prison Companies in their listings. Naturally this newly discovered profit making area only spawns more and more prisons. The profit doesn't lie in just the building of Prisons, but with all the other areas which supply things needed to keep them running on a daily basis. Entire small communities often spring up around a new Prison Unit, and the Prison Wardens even take on power in those communities, as they can and do dictate to their staff just who they wish them to back in elections. Thus their endorsement virtually ensures any candidate a place in Office. Currently there are only thirteen States who don't have at least one private prison, but even those shall shortly succumb ...there is just too much money to be made by locking up humans, and throwing away the key. In essence this has been the effect of new Prisons being built. No longer do Officials need to grant parole, or good time in order to release prisoners to make room for new ones. They just build more prisons.
    One of the most noticeable changes in the past twenty years has been the composition of those now coming to Prison. Seldom if ever do you see a "Professional" criminal come in any more. Rather almost every person who comes to prison now does so for a very similar reason. Selling drugs, buying drugs, doing something illegal to obtain drugs, or doing something while on drugs. Also notable is that those persons coming in now do so with longer sentences, and are far less likely to make parole. Two things have come about to cause this. The Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, and the various States creating third strike laws. Naturally this will result in ever more    prison overcrowding. Another unusual change in the past ten years is the amount of females now committing crimes. It is said that the number of arrests of females have more than doubled in the past ten years, and not for victimless crimes like prostitution as it used to be. No, rather these women are
committing armed robberies, kidnappings, and more and more of them have become murderers.
    If you were to take a survey of the Staff members one thing would quickly become obvious...most of them come from the same background and economic structure as those they are confining! Not only that, but many of them have had, or do have, Brothers, Sisters, Mothers, Fathers, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins who have been, or are in prison!
    This similarity in backgrounds frequently leads to another problem which is endemic in all Prisons, that of staff smuggling. There is far too much money to be made for it to be overlooked by people who have lived a deprived and often depraved life prior to becoming a Prison Guard. In the North, East, West, and most of the South it is drugs which command the biggest share of the smuggling. Texas is probably the one exception. Oh that is not to say drugs aren't smuggled in, as they most certainly are, but the most popular item of contraband is tobacco! Four years ago Texas made smoking illegal for Prisoners, and Staff inside the Prison Units. This immediately led to a new, and lucrative means of earning illegal funds with relatively little risk. After all if one were caught with drugs there would be no way to explain that away. However to be caught with cigarettes the Officer merely produces his lighter or matches, and says, "I 'm trying to quit." Because there is such a shortage of staff in Texas now they normally are just given a verbal reprimand for having the cigarettes on Prison grounds, and the next shift are right back to smuggling. One pack is all that is needed to earn them at least one hundred dollars, as the inmates break each individual cigarette down, then roll it up into four cigarettes each. That makes eighty, at two dollars apiece, which also makes sixty dollars for the inmate!
    Guess all of this just goes to show why the Latin saying "Quis custodiet ipso custodies" is as true now as it was in the day of the Romans. Literal translation, "Who shall guard the Guardians?" More succinctly, who is watching them while they are watching us?
    Leonard Freeman is a former death row inmate now serving a 99 year term for the Capital Murder of a Deputy Sheriff. He has now been in for more than 26 years, and denied parole twenty times. He is also very active in Prison litigation, and was one of the witnesses against the Texas Prison system in the Ruiz vs. Estelle trial, as well as a ground floor member in the formation of C.U.R.E.

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Date Published 09/05/09