Send Gary a Note!
by Gary Brooks Waid
One afternoon this last November I was violently cursed by one of the old-guard officers of the Starke/Raiford triangle here at New River "Correctional" Institution East. A small thing, you might say; I'm an inmate, after all. But life is built from small things, tiny freedoms, indentures and conditions to be observed, deserved or not. I'm an inmate, true, but I'm not a dog. She practically attacked me, her vituperations so bitter, I stood dumb struck in the slip stream and said nothing - which was probably a good thing. It's always best to say little or less.
Still, I've been down well over five years now, and this was the worst, the most unfounded, caustic outburst I've ever been in the way of.
I am not overly ugly. No tattoos, scars, brown stains, nose rings or circumcision jewelry. I belong to no gangs. In addition (and for your information), I have robbed no one, neither have I killed, raped, dismembered or fondled. It's been years since I kicked a cat or a child, and as far back as I can remember, I was always a reasonably likable guy. As a criminal, I was content to involve myself exclusively with marijuana. There was no reason to yell at me.
If you've read this web page before, you know I'm a federal inmate, part of a group of "Treaty Transfer" inmates who's rights were stripped from them when they were removed from their various federal facilities and programs, and given as trade to the Florida Department of Corrections (D.O.C.). I will have to do up to eighteen extra months in a highly restrictive, violent environment, all because I was well behaved, non-litigious, and a low-custody, first-time, non-violent inmate. So anyway, although I've been fighting for my rights, I've never had to grieve* an officer personally. In the feds there was almost never any need - they have rules that actually count for something. And except for some episodes with angry F.S.P. Work Camp hacks last summer, episodes that they initiated, here in the state system my own personal problems were with the bureaucracy, not the individual.
*To grieve an officer is to file a complaint against them.
This time, though, I decided to make my feelings known. You folks can't imagine how such a dressing down feels. There's that small-child-standing-in-the-corner breath of mortification, and the lunacy overwhelms you. I cringed impotently while this person with ultimate power debased me at length for sport. The grievance procedure (see my previous writing of 11-30-99) is usually ineffective and mostly designed so that it can be manipulated by the staff, but I decided to use it anyway. I decided to grieve officer B., and I decided that in order to protect myself from retribution, I would make hand-written copies and send them over the wall. Here is the text, word for word, of my "Informal Grievance" to the staff at N.R.C.I., along with a short explanation.
Pretty graphic, huh? I sure laid 'em on the line, didn't I?
Ten days went by without a word. Then, on December 13, I was called to a meeting, not with Asst. Warden Mobely, but with a Ms. Jones (not her real name), the Lieutenant in charge of staff. She was a sturdy sort of woman, severe of mien, strapped and buckled for business. Her shoes were probably tight. I pictured toes curling up angrily in their powdered enclosures. Officer B. was there, too (halo in place, bible in hand, white doves circling overhead).
Lt. J. got right to it. She informed me that after talking with Officer B., she thinks my complaint is groundless and probably a lie. She looked me in the eye, very stern, and said, "I've known Ms. B. for many years. I know she doesn't talk like this."
I sighed (sigh...) And thought: Boy oh boy, it's happening. Half the inmates on the compound are now telling me stories about Ms B's foul rage, but her best pal hero has never heard it. "Golly darn," I said. I was beginning to get nervous. I'm always lousy at these things, and I'd been thrown in the hole before for no reason.
"What I want to know," continued Ms. J., "is why you thought you needed to write all this." She held up my complaint. "There's page after page here. You make me read this page after page of words. Like you had to write and write and write all these quotes." She dropped the papers on the desk and looked at me for an answer. The air in the room was thick with insinuation. Ms. B. sat beside me quiet as a mouse. A saintly mouse.
I began (er, uh.."). My eyes watered. Finally I said, "I just wanted to be clear, Sir, uh, Ma'am (whoops!)." Come on, lady, it was only two pages.
"...and, uh, I thought, you know, Lieutenant, Ma'am, I wanted to be taken seriously." And I didn't want my nose broken.
More silence. You could have heard a pin drop.
"...ahem, so see, Ma'am, I gave it my best shot, like, to be really explicit. You know, 'say what you mean, mean what you say,' ha-ha..." Aw crap, Ms. Ironsides, I didn't want my complaint FLUSHED DOWN THE TOILET! "Uh, er..."
"Well," she said, "I don't know what you expect to prove with all this. You know, of course, there were no witnesses."
Gotcha! "Uh, yes there was."
"Yes there was, Ma'am. There was another inmate right there."
For the briefest of moments I reveled in the sweet rapture of victory. Until Lt. J. caught herself, rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, well, an inmate." She gagged on the word "inmate" like a cat with a fur ball. You can't seriously think an inmate is any sort of verification, inmate Waid."
I lost my voice again. My vision blurred. Eventually I cleared my throat and tried bravely: "So what you're saying, then, is that this , uh, situation is my fault. Ahem. I'm at fault here? Is that the idea?" My hands were shaking. I'd developed an oily sheen of flop sweat. "You think I actually made all this up, Ma'am?"
She smiled for the first time, pleased. She excused the innocent Ms. B. from the room, and for the next ten minutes we talked. Or at least she did. I mostly sat there. I was informed that by-the-way, she always answered her grievances, even if many officers didn't. "I always go through my piles," she said. She looked at me for a sign of understanding, so I tried to help some. I thought maybe looking pensive would work. I attempted pensive, as best I knew how.
Then she told me that Officer B. had never been accused of such a thing before (automatically discounting the notion of a grievance in the garbage can. "I've never had a grievance like this about Officer B," she said. "Never." Her brows knit as she watched me for a reaction.
Which made me even more nervous. Suddenly I worried maybe I was overdoing the pensive thing. Too pensive, I thought. You idiot! My right eyebrow jumped. My hands felt clammy.
Lt. J. didn't seem to notice, though - Soon she was admitting that too many officers considered inmates "Pieces-of-shit." She said, "A lot of officers consider you all pieces-of-shit, Waid. What do you think of that?"
But I couldn't concentrate just then. I was watching her mouth move and worrying about my appearance. I decided maybe being slightly pensive, slightly wry would work. I attempted a Mona Lisa, knowing, pensive on wry with a side of insecure (hold the mayo and try not to faint). Why am I so obsessive?
She was still explaining: "I'm not like other officers, inmate Waid. I don't think all inmates are pieces-of-shit." She asked if I understood. I said I did. My ears rang. My nose began to run. There were spots before my eyes. I prayed for bladder control.
"Good," she said. "I think we have an understanding." She asked if I needed something more and I said no.
Actually, her candor, if that's what it was, was refreshing. And it's true that many of us are truly pieces-of-shit. I wish I could have loosened up some, though, sat there and kicked the bo bo with her. We could have traded piece-of-shit stories. "How 'bout those gol-durn crazy piece-a-shit politicians that put me here," I'd have said.
"And - ha ha - those piece-a-shit bullies and liars of the good ol' D.O.C..."
But, of course, I was mostly silent, fidgeting in the chair. In the end Ms. Lt. Jones allowed that Officer B. "May have been tired," ...which was as close as she came to an admission.
"Yes Ma'am, I said. "We're all pretty tired."
I realize now that Lt. Jones was protecting her officers. Covering up a booboo. But really, the way she said "inmate," she could have substituted any one of a number of other creative nouns such as, "Oh, well, a "nigger," or, "oh, well, a jew-queer-foreigner-leper-wetback-ROACH." And only a few years ago Ms. J. might have been Mr. J. saying, "Oh, well, a woman." It sounded so regional. So Starke-Raiford-Cowflop, Florida. And it was, in a nutshell, why D.O.C. personnel feel free to break the rules.
I read recently in the St. Petersburg Times that 25% of the world's prisoners are now Americans, housed in America's great revenue-generating, job-producing monuments to construction contracts. We're all liars, too.
All pieces-of-shit, not like the guards at all. Guards go to church and fish for bass and make cookies and marry their high school sweethearts and have pudgy pink babies and suffer their jobs truthfully, all kidding aside, in truth, with veracity, justice, and the (I'm paraphrasing here) Goddamn American Way!
I mean, I get just a little weary of the shtick. How any of the D.O.C. personnel are able to imagine that they have some credibility is a mystery to me. Truthfully now, I swear, more mysterious than popcorn. They actually expect everyone to believe that when they put on their nice new rayon uniforms with the badges and belts and the zippers and pockets, they're suddenly pillars of truth in America.
So I sat there quietly, not commenting on the implications of her statements, and I was sure that the lady knew
I hadn't lied. She knew. But in the flip flop world of the D.O.C., looking out for a senior officer is more important than truth, and protecting the tenets of a corrupt system takes vigilance and tunnel vision. "Shoo Fly," she might have said. "You're screwing up the paperwork."
But we know, don't we Ms. J.?
Officer B. had been way off the wall screaming at me from out of the blue. Then she lied to cover it up, at the urging of her superior officer. She lied like a Rug. She lied like an Arab at the flea market. She lied like a Used Car Salesman. Like a Spick at the welfare office. And we all know it.
Gary - piece-a-shit - Waid
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