OF LIARS AND LIES
By Gary Brooks Waid
I have an announcement to make (Ta-Daa-):
I've finally come to the end of my time of sanctions - a required cycle of punishment lasting four months. Soon I'll be able to enjoy all the advantages of the well behaved. The weight pile will spread its arms for me; my muscles will bulge; my skin will sparkle. And should there be something in school I want to study, I'll be able to apply and get on the list. I'm free, so to speak.
I got in trouble last August. I was given a D.R. (Discipline Report) for "lying to staff." It was bogus, of course, a big fat hockey puck of a fib. But it cost me a black mark on my record nonetheless, along with the above-mentioned penalties and some others.
For y'alls information, a person representing the Florida Department of "Corrections" calling me a liar is like, uh, hmm . . . is like a pig calling me greedy. Or a fish calling me slimy. Or a toad calling me ugly. It's odd.
Of course, if irony was the point, my D.R. was surely ironic, don't you think? What happened was, an intensely angry lieutenant customized an infraction and gave me the D.R. in hopes I'd pick up a 60-day stay in the box at F.S.P. He was mad because I'd been helping other inmates expose him and his pals. At least eleven men were beaten severely, and I did the affidavits for them. Sent the stuff to the F.B.I. and the paper. So one night when I told the lieutenant I had a Lower Bunk Pass, he said, "no you don't!" and I was officially D.R'd. Actually I'd just gotten out of the hole (a fact for which I'm eternally grateful to the Miami Herald, Kay Lee, and a host of others who explained to the warden that you can't just throw a guy in confinement with all the killers and such because he wrote a letter on a keypad), and this officer wanted to put me back. He was really, really mad.
But an extremely embarrassed pair of D.O.C. judges decided I was a high profile inmate, refused to lock me down again, and although they had to adjudge me "Guilty" for D.O.C. political reasons, my hole time was "Suspended".
By the way, I've had a lower bunk designation since 1995. Hell, I'm 50 years old. My back is killing me. Of course I've got a low bunk pass. My feet hurt, too, and my prostate. That weight pile stuff was just a joke. I was lying.
Anyway, there's a prison concept I've mentioned before that has to do with (ahem) reciprocity - or tit for tat. The quid pro quo that is or should be part of a prison population's relationship with the administrators. I now have no qualms about doing a Ronald Reagan ("I have no recollection of that at this time.") because if they can bullshit me, I can bullshit them. I've been lied to by the best, now. Respect for the truth is missing when I'm involved. And in the Florida D.O.C., use of the "lie" is an important tool.**
**I actually have a memo labeled "Sensitive: Limited Official Use" that instructs the U.S. Bureau of Prison Administrators to lie to me. It's a tool of B.O.P. also.
I'm sorry, Kay, to hear the D.O.C. is offering up veiled threats, trying to intimidate a poor old granny (you). But you should understand
that until recently, their's was the only game in town. Their rules had never been examined, X-wing was not on the nightly news, the bones of excess and ignorance had never been
D.O.C. bull had never been questioned. It was always the Inmates that were liars.
Now you, the A press, and others are challenging that. And as a result the D.O.C. is being more careful. Jeb Bush has retooled the investigative arm. Inmate ladies aren't hanging themselves. Inmate men aren't throwing themselves around their cells and breaking all their own ribs and smashing their own faces into walls and tossing themselves down stairwells and accidentally slipping in the shower so much. Reports of transgressions are not automatically dismissed. There's hope for change.
Which means that Some D.O.C. are pissed.
And if the courts do what they say (I've been told that judges will reevaluate reports of past transgressions), some officers will get even madder. They've never been challenged. They've been able to pick and choose inmate accounts, painting a disingenuous picture of lying inmates. Such a system of exclusivity (choosing whom to believe) has been a staple of corrections and law enforcement forever. And as we all know, the folks with the power and those who's objectives are bureaucratic (designed to perpetuate the bureaucracy), are often the very people most prone to hiding or ignoring the truth, or otherwise manipulating the facts. Recently the media has quoted various D.O.C. officials as they dismiss inmate complaints. "Remember," they say, "These men (or women) are convicted felons. You can't expect them to be truthful.***
***If having a record means you're a liar, what does that say about the 88 employees of F.S.P. who've been charged with one thing or another, some of them very serious?
And of course they have a point. Any stories should be examined carefully.
So I offer myself as exhibit A in the controversy. The testimony of various felonious bad guys and convicts is why I'm in prison. I'm doing a 9 year bit because of what a bunch of jailbirds or former jailbirds Said I did. There was no physical evidence - no bales of pot etc... - and testimony was used exclusively.
They were right, of course. I did it. I'm guilty. There was never any doubt of that. Lawbreakers' testimony was perfectly acceptable. And even in prison the administrators regularly take inmate statements to prove or disprove something. So the great irony here (not to belabor the point), is that I and many like me were charged and cases were made against us solely on the strength of inmate blabbermouths - and the inmates were even rewarded somehow - yet these same inmates can't possibly be telling the truth when they have a long, detailed story about D.O.C. or B.O.P. shenanigans.
NEWS FLASH!: Maybe the officials of D.O.C. can claim to You that inmates are all liars, but federal investigators know better. The feds can construct a very compelling scenario based on witness testimony - CONVICT witness testimony.
And anyway, if we're all such liars, why are they so worried? Why the constraints and paranoia like mailroom censorship, no typewriters, no copying of documents, throwing typists in the hole etc...? Could it be they want to control information? Hmm....?
Even outside, within the system, why is, for instance, the inmate grievance process entangled with so much procedural muckity-muck? Why is the process designed so that an officer or a group of them can so easily play C.Y.A. (Cover your ass)?
I've thunk and thunk, and if I could explain it I would, but I can't. In what to me is a baffling bit of non-logic, the four D.O.C. prisons I've so far been to allow an inmate to retain No receipt or copy of his "Informal" written grievance. And here at New River Correctional Institution he is forced to depend on the staff to correctly date and return a receipt of any "Formal" grievance through the in-house mail, a procedure rife with abuse.
Tell me this: When you sign a deed, contract, or sworn statement, don't you request a copy then and there for your files? Could a Real Estate office or a bank operate by issuing receipts only when they want to? Are we all stupid? Please!
So grieving an official entails sending your painfully exact, written testimony through a minefield of the offending officer's fellow employees, which include friends and family, and then hoping for a hearing and a reply. When you file a complaint, you send the authorities all the copies, and they're supposed to do the honorable thing and send you a receipt at some unspecified later date that they control anyway because they have the date-stamping thing, that can be used to pre or post-date your by-now dog-eared grievance, so they can then pick up another stamp thing and stamp it, "Not in Compliance with Regulations." Or they may just throw your complaint in the garbage, claim they never received it, and call you a liar as they escort you to the hole for, oh, how 'bout "Lying to Staff."
Whoops! The ubiquitous lying inmate again.
And there are other D.O.C. tactics, too. Some are positively sinister. Here at N.R.C.I., for instance, you must Sign for a formal grievance form. So when the list is reviewed by staff, they know just who to shake down and harass. Inmates are regularly searched and their possessions scrutinized (especially at the main gate from the library to the dorms), and if an unwanted complaint is found or imagined, the inmate's stuff may be confiscated amid a (spontaneous) ceremony where loud, excoriating, intimidating officers yell at the poor inmate, who by then is so frightened he's forgotten all about filing a complaint on the crooked guard who DR'd him for nothing, and threatened him with bogus dope charges if, for example, he were to rat out the little operation where the officer was selling state-issue boots at the flea market, or the one where he was peddling pot on the range like what recently happened across the street.
When I worked in the law library at F.S.P. Work Camp, I once had to write out something called a "Writ of Prohibition," (See "All Writs Act" at your local federal law library) on behalf of a frightened inmate who'd been told he was in deep trouble for accidentally witnessing a deal going down. The guy bothered me for a week because an officer took him into a room and explained what could happen if he talked out of school.
"I think my life was threatened, Waid. You gotta help me," he said.
I armed him (actually his cell mate) with something they could date and mail to a federal judge should the worst happen. But wouldn't it have been nice if there were a fair in-house grievance procedure in place? One in which the inmate's confidentiality was protected and his integrity not automatically maligned?
One more story I'll leave you with: Last year a D.O.C. guard up in the panhandle was busted for forcing young male inmates to perform oral sex on him. He was threatening them with all manner of punishments, the nature of which are unclear but which may have included extra time, charges and bodily harm. The officer had a history of this kind of thing, so he must have been very adept at scaring the hell out of youngsters. According to a Pensacola newspaper, this guy was eventually found out, suspended, and fined $500.
$500 for rape. I can't begin to tell you how that makes me, a marijuana offender doing 9 years, feel. But my feelings are not the point. The point is, had there been a proper grievance procedure in place, this man would not have been able to intimidate his charges.
Gary Brooks Waid
Illegal Florida DOC #0-124551, Fed #24582-034
New River "Correctional" Institution (East)
P.O. Box 333
Raiford, FL 32083
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