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Memoir: Part 4

Installment 4: My First "For-Profit" Lockup

Up to this point I had learned a few things about surviving in a crossbar hotel. Now I found myself in my first private prison and there my tuition continued.

The starting salary of a guard at the private jail I was at was a little over $16K a year. I discovered this when the 'shot caller' for the pod, "J.O.," the highest ranking 'Blood' gang member there, showed me his commissary account receipt that denoted he had $17,000 US Dollars in his account, and said that he always kept at least that much on the account as a way to show the guards he could buy and sell them, which he did, regularly. My favorite thing he did was to have the guards in his pocket roll up a TV & DVD player on a cart to his rack on a 200ft extension cord and he'd watch rented movies all day.

By the third day in this new circumstance my racial uniqueness, and my non-alignment with any gang, had put me in a category of one. But, I discovered, I had value to the rest of my ganged up pod-mates. It took three days for all natural suspicions to dissipate. So with a special shout-out those wonderful teachers who taught me how to write: what saved my butt was being literate. Having seen me writing letters for hours a day with my 3" golf pencils (all we were allowed for 'security' purposes [that great catch all, 'security', which trumps all normal rationale] as larger pencils could be weapons and ink pens could be drained for tattoo ink), Pod-mates began asking me write for them I estimate that 60% or more of the pod were illiterate. So I wrote letters, translated lawyer letters for them, and helped with reading the few law books sent in by family members.

As with all the jails and prisons I had chance to observe, at least 25% of the men had visible mental illnesses - which if you've ever seen anyone schizoid the fuck out, you know what I mean. Jails and prisons are the dominant mental health institutions of the USA. 'L'enfer c'est les autres'; as Satre so rightly said. It's the people that you have to do time with that make it hard. For more on this subject, read "Callous & Cruel' by Jamie Feller a senior adviser at Human Rights Watch, or "Madness" by Eyal Press in the 2 May 16 New Yorker, for sadly - nothing I am writing here is not known and well reported on in the press. (Everything I am writing here is also well documented in my court case, nothing unconfirmed will be entered into this narrative.)

As soon as the Latinos realized I could read and write in Spanish, then I was doing theirs too. Suddenly I began being a scribe for both gangs, and in this way I passed my days for the entire time I was there (94 days). Given a better bunk, as well as a better time for the one shower (my first time being 2am on Tuesdays), Ostensibly these little perks were a reward but really they gave me this slack just so they could show me their paperwork without their enemies or snitches reading it all. I wondered aloud once why I was being trusted and I was shown a copy of the Raleigh News & Observer newspaper with the story from the day of my bond hearing. Seems that as soon as I hit the pod, someone made a call, Google was consulted and everything in the public domain was mailed into the jail for them to know about me. I worked up to daily showers (& during daylight hours!) by the end of my time there. * [see note below]

In prisons everything is for sale from the easily corruptible guards. Heroin, needles, tattoo guns, think of it and it was there. Violence amongst prisoners was there in the pods, but quite muted as the gangs wanted functionality. The guards however would pull out the "ballers' for their own gladiator bouts that we heard they would bet on when they would return the participants to the units if they were still presentable afterwards, sometimes rewarding them with extra food trays or blankets. All this took place where the cameras weren't, which is a surprisingly large amount of every facility or they'd never get anyone to work there.

As a demonstration of inmate control inside the prison, for the Bloods, whenever a new Blood member was brought to the jail, the guards would first bring them to our pod so they could check in with J.O. and have a 'tete a tete.' It was in this way that, without surveillance, the Bloods were able to pass messages around throughout this jail, the Virginia DOC, their communities, and the Feds.

As an example of how the US Marshal's service oversee our private, for profit prisons I will describe an “inspection.” Prison staff came around and pulled down all the “out of order” signs barring use of amenities the prison was supposed to make available to inmates. This indicated an inspection would be coming through. The two US Marshals inspecting our facility didn't even look into the bathroom or, for that matter, any other part of the Potemkin Village, that was our pod. They strolled through, chatting amiably with their prison escort about football the whole time. Of course we were warned not to dare to speak to the inspectors. The walls were mildewed and the floors caked with grime, The sewage system was backed up into the pod and they didn't ask about it. Staff can always explain such discrepancies away as being the fault of the pod residents not the prison. It was our fault for not cleaning it and for making it dirty in the first place, even though they gave us nothing to clean it with and it'd been that way for many years.

The prison allowed no sanctioned exercise. Exercise was punishable but we found ways. We would do so clandestinely. A trash bag filled with water makes a fine weight. We did push ups when the guards weren't looking. There was no fresh air except when staff were going to “toss” the pod looking for contraband to sell back to the prisoners. Under that circumstance they would empty us into an otherwise unused basketball court.

State inmates with low bonds, e.g. crack heads (not crack dealers) & trespassers (i.e. homeless) were made 'trustees' in American jails. These are inmates trusted to move about the place and clean the place, serve out the food, etc. In this private prison, if they didn't look too deranged or otherwise present poorly they were given white coats to wear over their orange jumpsuits and they were taken out of prison to serve at events catered by the prison kitchen. They were compensated with better food and came back reeking of alcohol from the half finished drinks they chased.

In our pod, about fifty of us were Federal prisoners the rest being state and local inmates. This was contrary to law and contrary to Marshal service publicity in which they declare that Federal detainees are not housed with state inmates, they are as a matter of common practice everywhere in the USA where there isn't a major metropolitan Federal Processing Center, such as FDC Brooklyn.)

The taxpayers were being charged $250 US Dollars a day for me, and for each other Federal 'detainee' that private, for profit prison housed and, in spite of our bringing all that sweet money in to the prison none of us got to put on a white coat and serve cod to Rotarians out on the town.




Denial of basics is part of a deliberate process, a slow and subtle method of reducing the prisoner to something less than a human being. One's cleanliness, for example, is a matter of choice and self imposed limits in the world. Imprisoned, it is a matter of opportunity controlled by an enemy who controls even the basics of your existence. For the arrogant, this control over them is intolerable. What the enemy wants is to reduce you to such a state of misery that you will beg for a small comfort. In many ways it is more intolerable than physical pain as a form of torture. Being imprisoned means that no one physically present in your life is concerned for your well being. If you're too cold/ too hot/or your food is inedible, you've nowhere to sleep, whatever - no one is there to complain to and if you ever get someone to complain to, they will only punish you for complaining. You must sort yourself out the best you can, another way the gangs recruit because who doesn't need friends at a time like this?

Steven N. Greenoe

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