Charles, 61

Charles, 61

Meet Charles…

Prison life is steeped in suffering, the prison a cemetery, and the cell my tomb. Life in prison is just a pale shadow of life in the free world. I strive to change, mature, maintain abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and learn why I came to prison in the first place. 

Incarcerated: 19 years
Housed: Carson City Correctional Facility, Michigan

I have a 25 year old special needs daughter with cerebral palsy. At ten months, she started having seizures, sometimes 80 to 100 a day. She had a three-quarter-subtotal-hemispherectomy of the brain. They removed everything on the right side of her brain, except for her motor-cortex. She is a miracle child and considering what she went through. I love her more than life itself.

 

I was given 37 to 70 years for an armed robbery, without a weapon and no money. There were no fingerprints or video of the crime. I was identified by a mustache, and the only person wearing the clothing that matched the description of the perpetrator placed in a lineup with four police officers. I was convicted by a jury and given a death sentence. I was 42 years old and not facing release until 2042.

 

Prison life is steeped in suffering, the prison a cemetery, and the cell my tomb. Life in prison is just a pale shadow of life in the free world. I strive to change, mature, maintain abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and learn why I came to prison in the first place. Even though I was wronged, I maintain a positive attitude, striving to change each day the Lord gives to me. Life is a gift and miracles do happen. My daughter is living proof of that.

 

What really hits hard is the reality that I left my daughter with only one parent. I have missed 19 years of her life without a father to guide, teach, love, support and protect her. She’s the innocent one who had no say in the matter. It was due to my irresponsibility that she had to suffer and endure life without her father.

 

Family ties can wither over time. Loneliness breeds and thrives in the belly of the beast known as prison. It strikes insidiously, constantly and never dissipates. I may never experience physical freedom again. Walter Wenschell writes, “The vilest deeds, like poison weeds, breed well in prison air. It’s the good that’s born in a man that wastes and withers there.”

 

Out there, I only lived each day for the rush and escape that the drugs provided. The most basic hurt inflicted by my death by incarceration is a lifetime of boredom, loneliness, doubt and anxiety punctuated by piercing moments of insight into my feelings as a human being.

 

If the goal of my sentencing judge was to make me suffer for the remaining days of my life, then she succeeded. I wish the goal was for justice not to punish a man for life for an armed robbery of a Pizzeria with a toy gun and $149 to support a drug habit. Will I die un-mourned and a disgrace in the eyes of society?

Jerry, 47

Jerry, 47

Meet Jerry…

“I shot and killed a man. No matter how much I’d like to change the past, I cannot. But I can strive to be better.”

Incarcerated: 26 years
Housed: Thumb Correctional Facility, Lapeer, Michigan

I shot and killed a man. No matter how much I’d like to change the past, I cannot. But I can strive to be better. My first ten years of incarceration, I refused to accept responsibility. I blamed others. I was a drunk idiot. I began to attend AA. A volunteer asked me, “Do you feel you have a drinking problem, young man?” “I guess,” I replied with a shrug. “What do you mean, you guess?” I shrugged again. “Have a seat, we’ll do our best to figure it out.”

Now I train service dogs for Paws with a Cause. Today, it hit me how much these service dogs’ lives parallel our own. The incoming dogs come in young and wild while the outgoing dogs are well trained and mature. Like Digit, a new dog, as soon as my youth was over, I was caged. Convicts are yanked away from their loved ones, loaded onto transfer buses and shipped to strange places. Both groups are rewarded for good behavior. “Good boy, Digit, you’re doing a great job!” “Good job, inmate Jerry, your cell looks so clean!” We are punished for bad behavior “Bad dog, Digit. Down. No jumping. Go to bed!” “Damn it, inmate Jerry. Get out of my f***ing face and go to your cell!” We learn how to follow commands without question no matter how ridiculous. We come to rely on our masters for our health and happiness.

In prisons across America people slave away for pennies per hour, cooking, scrubbing toilets, cutting grass, farming, working in factories, building roads, digging ditches, the list is endless. Unlike the dogs, we are not loved and nurtured. Though in the end, many of us do leave prison better than when we entered. I can’t imagine how much better our system would work if the US treated its prisoners with respect and dignity. If we started with giving a little love, nurture, and the chance at hard work, how many of us would leave prison rehabilitated, the way the dogs do?

James, 47

James, 47

Meet James…

“I believe we as prisoners can and should unite by utilizing every resource possible to expose, and subsequently compel legislatures to change laws!”

Incarcerated: All my adult life minus 13 months

Housed: Lakeland Correctional Facility, MI

This is my third life sentence, no murder, no serious physical injuries, no sex crimes or continued pattern of crime. My crime was bad, but not worthy of a Death in Custody sentence. 

My real crime: Exercising my rights to self-representation.  I’ve been reduced to a spiritual being. I’m a realist not buying into bullshit. I believe we as prisoners can and should unite by utilizing every resource possible to expose, and subsequently compel legislatures to change laws. In here, I started a dialogue five years ago with others. I wanted to throw around some ideas and get the legal minds in here familiar with each other.

My two cents at the table concerned having the “Exception clause”  of the 13th amendment rescinded. It happened in Colorado! I highly recommend that if anyone is in contact with any prisoners in Colorado, please let them know that as a result of the “Slavery Exception” clause being removed from their state’s constitution, they can and should assert all rights possible: voting, cellphones, minimum wage jobs etc….  

I know it will take time for the imprisoned mind to awaken; but we need to let them know. I am extra grateful to the men in California who pushed for us all to get stimulus checks.  Big thanks and I hope they will correspond with me, so we can exchange some legal knowledge. California also has the ear of Nancy Pelosi, who can encourage the Federal Government to rescind the 13th amendment’s exception clause. If the Feds do it, the states will have to follow suit. After all, who in their right mind would oppose removing slavery language from anything right now?

Robert, 65

Robert, 65

Meet Robert…

The next thing I heard about him was that he had died from the coronavirus. The suddenness of it all is unbelievable. He was here, then he left us – just like that.

SUCCUMBING TO THE CORONAVIRUS

On March 25, 2020, I received an email from a friend, Darnell,  “Brother, we are in the throes of an unprecedented global pandemic – the likes of which hasn’t been seen in humanity since the Bubonic plague of 1317 A.D., aka, The Black Death; which killed more than one-third of Europe. Physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.” He expressed concern for my health and the other prisoners held in the path of the coronavirus.

I clean my cell with bleach at least twice a week. I wash my hands after using the Unit’s kiosks,  doors, and the telephone. I exercised social distance, which is difficult with neighbors on both sides of me. The one had been coughing since February 2020, and the other laid in his bunk sleeping for five straight days. Even though I was exposed,  I continued to work out daily, drink a lot of water.  The one experience I had was mental. 

Before the virus, I could complete four or five projects, but for a period of seven days, while the coronavirus ran rampant in me, I could not concentrate, nor focus while I read or attempted to write. Things in my mind would repeat over and over again. The information I had received and my good health at age 63 would not let me succumb to the coronavirus.

From this backdrop, I wish to remember William B. Lovett, a co-worker and friend of mine for eight years. Mr. Washington, a tutor in the GED education class. Gregory A. Heisler, #174564, a barber in the education building. Mr. Haney-Bey, who lived in a housing unit for prisoners with serious medical conditions, or are too elderly for the general population. I did not know Larry, who worked in our General Library, but I would see him visiting Lovette in the Law Library, where they would talk about the Pistons, Lions, and Red Wings. All of these men succumbed to the coronavirus.

Lovette had always been a good man. It was rare to see him without a smile and he loved helping others. He always wanted to answer the guys’ questions and give them assistance. When he didn’t know the answer to a question he would ask me or one of the other law clerks. He had been a paralegal for Prison Legal Services and worked in the factories at Jackson Prison. He also held numerous jobs in the Law Libraries. I remember the last time I had talked to Lovette, just a few days before the closing of the library. He told me how his two daughters, who live in Lansing, wanted him to transfer to a prison closer to them so they could come and see him more often. He loved his daughters, and when coming back from visits he would show me their pictures. He also told me that after the quarantine, he was going to request a transfer to Carson City so he could see more of his family. Lovette was one of the first prisoners at Lakeland to succumb to COVID-19, so he never had the chance to make his request. He is missed by me, and his spirit will always be remembered.

Mr. Washington worked in education as a tutor in the GED class. When I would pass by the class he worked in, I always saw him engaged with his students. About two years ago, Mr. Washington had a stroke or heart attack. It was difficult for him after the incident, but he did not give up. Within a year I saw him moving around faster in  his walker. He was engaged with his student once again. He was always respectful and had extremely good manners in all our interactions.

Gregory A. Heisler  and I lived in the same unit. He was a barber and on many occasions I had him cut my hair. This guy was very humorous and uplifted the prisoners’ spirits. He had a wife, and went on visits regularly. He often spoke to family and friends on the telephone. Sadly, he suddenly became ill, and the administration moved him to C-Unit, then the next thing I heard about him was that he had died from the coronavirus. The suddenness of it all is unbelievable. He was here, then he left us – just like that.

Haney-Bey lived in the facility’s geriactiric’s unit, and he had gone through a lot, losing half of both his legs and having serious problems with diabetes. On top of that he had a major heart attack. He used to come to the Law Library for help, and everyone had directed him to me. I put him on the right track to get an understanding of civil litigation, and helped guide him when he received medical pleadings in the mail about his case. Even though he was in a wheelchair, he never slowed down. He interacted with his family, and he was successful in defeating the defendant’s summary judgement pleadings on his deliberate indifference claims. Prior to the quarantine, the court had appointed him an attorney to represent him at trial. He was so happy about that and was looking forward to the end result.

These men succumbed to the coronavirus because of their underlying medical conditions, and they will all be remembered.

Gene, 73

Gene, 73

Meet Gene…

They are very negative and think everybody is against them and they know it all!

 

The Michigan Department of Corrections is now releasing institutionalized and mentally ill prisoners, who have been locked to a ball and chained since they were juveniles. Some of the prisoners being released have served 40  to 50 years. Yeah! Institutionalized prisoners are very manipulated with years of moinating hate, hurt and revenge. They are very negative and think everybody is against them and they know it all!

I want to be as honest as I can, because I am also one of the institutionalized, and have been through the revolving doors three times. An enormous number of Michigan prisoners have thrown in the towel and given up fighting for their freedom. I have witnessed a number of prisoners who were to see the parole board, cuss – out officers just to get a misconduct report written on them ensuring the parole board would give them a flop [denial].

I am not trying to step on any organizational toes who are fighting for prisoners’ release, but I think that is an effort in futility. Because 98% of institutionalized prisoners are walking time bombs waiting to explode! When institutionalized and mentally ill prisoners are released, it’s not a good or bad feeling to them, but it’s a feeling of being confused, afraid, and seeking out possible revenge. Their behaviors remind me of Alice looking through a crystal ball at Wonderland.

People institutionalized can be dangerous to themselves, family and friends. You must be aware that they may have relapses. The smallest things may trigger a relapse – like seeing a butcher knife on a kitchen sink or the smell of  Ramen Noodles with cheese and beef sticks floating through the air. Notably, nearly 100% of relapses come from the use and dealings of drugs and alcohol, which is a trigger back to their institutionalization.

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