Prejudice and Passion
My nightmare with the Florida Department of Corrections began in 1994, when I began corresponding with an inmate of Florida Dept. Of Corrections primarily due to a series of mistakes.
I had just moved to Florida and my best friend lived in Michigan. She was planning on moving to Florida and had a Florida newspaper mailed to her daily so she could look for a house and jobs in the area. One day a personal ad caught her eye and she felt that the man would be just perfect for me. What can I say, she is my best friend and she wanted me to have a significant other. Anyway, She called me here in Florida and gave me the ad number and the phone number to call. It turned out that she gave me the wrong number and I entered in an even different number and I got a recording from a guy who said he placed the ad for his brother, who was a really nice guy who needed someone to write to him because he had made a horrible mistake and was in prison. Intrigued, I left my home number and expected that the brother would call me back and tell me more about his incarcerated sibling.
Well, the inmate himself called and we talked for nearly an hour. He sounded so perfect, too perfect in fact. We began writing to each other. Within months I was writing every day. I lived for his letters which were filled with wisdom, laughter, and lots of pain and regret of the life he had led and where it took him.
Finally I decided to ask about visiting him and after filling out the visitor request forms and finally getting approved, it was six months after we first started corresponding when I finally met him face to face. As a Caucasian woman from the North, I did not have any idea of what my visit to a black inmate would be like. Having never been in a jail or a prison before, I certainly had no idea what the ordeal would consist of. All my thoughts were towards meeting a man who evoked so many emotions from me.
At that time he was deep in the panhandle at Gulf CI and I had to travel six hours to get there. I fell in love with him that day and never noticed the hostile stares and glances from the men and women correctional officers. My eyes were squarely on him. It was only on later visits that I began to see hostility. Once, I brought batteries for his watch. The woman in line in front of me had them also. We went thru the visiting park and she had a small screwdriver in her little bag and I asked to borrow it so that M could use it to put his batteries in too. After her son used it she gave it to me and as soon as we began taking his watch apart, the officers came and escorted him to the back and me out of the visiting park with a stern warning that I had brought in contraband and the next time I would never be allowed to visit and would be prosecuted. I later figured it out that if the other woman had not given batteries to her son, I would have been probably arrested that day. Since they let her get away with it completely, throwing me out was the best that they could do.
From there, he was moved to Columbia CI, right in my area. By then, we had become engaged and were awaiting permission to marry. Of course no one told us that when he was transferred, we would have to start the request procedure all over again.
One thing that became immediately obvious at Columbia was that I was the only woman waiting for visits each week. I would get in there in the first group of four or five women and yet repeatedly had to wait a half an hour or more for my visit with M to begin. The others were either all white couples or all black couples so it seemed to be no coincidence that since we were the only mixed couple, we were the only ones with delayed visits and that race was definitely a
Finally the day came when our visit was delayed for nearly an hour. I asked to speak to the sergeant and was denied. I wrote a letter that day after the visit and my M wrote a grievance. He was given a DR, his first in six years in prison, based on the words he had written in his grievance. I went to Region Two Office and complained to the Regional Superintendent and believe it or not the DR was overturned and he was immediately released from confinement. But that
did not win us friends!
Our wedding was also scheduled for two weeks later after months of delays. We were to report to the visiting park early and the Asst. Sup. told us there were a lot of hostilities due to our mixed marriage and the DR episode so just keep our distance and don't make waves. We sat together the whole day and talked quietly about our dreams for our future. We made plans for him to call home at four PM where we would put him on the speaker phone as friends and family were having a reception for us. At a little after four another inmate called concerned, because M never made it out of the visitors park. I broke a huge rule that afternoon, I called the Asst. Warden at his home. Shortly thereafter, he called back to say that M was in confinement. He was searched after our visit and surprise surprise, he had a five dollar bill in his pocket. The DR was for possession of contraband.
I called a lawyer immediately because everyone who came in with us that morning for the wedding, including the minister, knew that all I carried in with me besides my ID and cigs was a roll of quarters since the visiting park at Columbia only had vending machines. That was when I learned that having a lawyer makes no difference when fighting a DR! Although the evidence (the $5 bill) was missing, he was found guilty, put in confinement, lost gaintime, and was
immediately transferred to Baker CI. I was also now tagged as a risk to the internal security of the Institution.
From that day forward, my ordeals at admissions to visiting parks became a never ending bad dream. Months later things finally relaxed somewhat and we were actually finally over what happened on our wedding day when events took place that remain with me to this day.
On August 12, 1995, I visited my husband at Baker CI and throughout the day he had to leave the visiting park to go use his inhaler. He has had severe chronic asthma his entire life and he was obviously sick. He did not call me as he usually did after a visit to see if I got home okay. I worried about him all night. Then at seven am, another inmate called me and told me a horrible tale that forever changed my world.
My husband had left the visiting park and went to the infirmary for his prescribed PRN breathing treatment. A couple hours later he asked permission to go again. Upon his arrival at the infirmary, he was denied his treatment. He repeatedly requested the treatment for the next several hours and was repeatedly denied. Finally after seeing him laying on the floor gasping for breath for some time the dorm officer ordered five inmates to get a stretcher and carry him to the infirmary. It was too little too late. On the way to the infirmary, M went into complete cardiopulmonary arrest. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Lake City. That was all that the inmate could tell me. He was not brought back to the institution and the inmate thought that I needed to know.
I immediately called the institution and finally after a couple hours, shortly after nine PM a captain called me back to report that my husband had been life flighted to Jacksonville in Critical Condition. Still they would not tell me what hospital or where. Several more phone calls later and the Chaplain finally gave me the information I had been seeking. I headed to Jacksonville to University Hospital where my husband was in a coma in intensive care. It was not known if he would live or die and immediately I was surrounded by security and DOC officers and denied the right to visit.
I had to call NFRC (who all inmates in the region are immediately assigned to when hospitalized) to get permission to visit. They told me to go home and in a day or two they would see if they could arrange a short visit. I was mad now and I immediately pointed out that I was NOT going home and if I left the hospital to go anywhere, it would be to see a lawyer because I knew for a fact that my husband was in the condition he was in because he was denied treatment. I think that shook them up quite a bit because within twenty minutes I was granted visiting privileges for twenty minutes every two hours. I was there when he opened his eyes.
To this day the one thing that stands out the most in my mind as the most unfair and wrong about the whole ordeal was that not one single doctor or nurse was allowed to tell me my husband's condition or prognosis. I had to call Lake Butler for that info because he was State Property. That took precedent over him being MY HUSBAND!
I became a fighter that day. I stood up and said you will not keep me from him and you will not kill him and get away with it. Eventually he improved enough to be transferred to NFRC and I was given respect. They tried to move him, in fact they did move him despite the fact that he now had permanent damage to his heart and lungs and the doctor's own notes said he must forever more be in air-conditioning, they moved him to Lawtey.
I called the Justice Dept. and after faxing them the entire story and the medical records I forced them to give me, the Justice Dept. said if there is no air conditioned dorm in Lawtey and he requires it and there is no room for him at NFRC, then you will build him an air conditioned dorm at Lawtey. Well, his stay at Lawtey lasted fifteen days and surprisingly the DOC made a deal with the Justice department to keep him at NFRC in air conditioning until his permanent release. He was there for two years. Finally he came home in DEC of 97.
He was violated, with no new convictions in Oct of 99. He was illegally arrested, transferred to NFRC before even being arraigned and although the court dismissed all pending charges, he was violated for resisting an illegal arrest. We are currently awaiting a decision from the 1st DCA on this matter. Meanwhile DOC is not living up to the agreement they made with the Justice Dept. He is at Lawtey CI in a regular dorm. His medical condition is still the same as the day he was released. He has frequent visits to the infirmary.
Even if he wins his release from the Court, DOC wins because we have lost twenty-two months of our lives, our home was foreclosed and we lost custody of his daughter who lived with us from his release until his revocation. DOC is the nightmare that keeps on recurring.
Anonymous and fearful of the DOC