by DaVinci, a resident of Maury CI
They key to understanding the world is to view things from other people’s perspectives. With that said, let me guide you to the proper apprehension of life within the walls of North Carolina’s “Corruptional Institutions.” Please, fasten the straps of your thinking caps…
And picture this:
You’re 26 years old, and serving a fourteen year sentence in North Carolina for a crime that, had you had the proper guidance and ‘knowledge of self,’ you would not have committed under the same circumstances. You have two young children which you haven’t seen or spoken to in almost five years, and you blame yourself and your own ignorance for the rift…..and your youngest son turns seven in five days. All you want right now is to be left alone, to mourn the long term separation from the ones you love the most and to reminisce about the smiles and laughs that you once shared with them. This is a hard time for you; the fact that you suffer from manic depression and a bipolar-like mood disorder makes things no easier. A week before, you’d been transferred by ambulance to nearby Pitt Memorial Hospital, and spent 72 hours under medical observation, due to an overdose, brought about by the increased level of stress and intermittent depression.
You’re being housed in Maury Correctional Institution’s own version of a “death camp:” Grey Unit. There’s 128 men confined here, each one of you subject to 23 hours a day on lockdown, one hour of recreation five days a week, and a fifteen minute shower three times a week. Every time you leave your cell corrections officers search both you and you cell. You’re only allowed ten sheets of paper, ten envelopes, and one roll of toilet tissue a week, and if you find yourself with any type of minor infraction, six more months is added to your stay on solitary. Many of these men, including yourself, have spent more than four years here. Russell “Maroon” Shoatz says it best in “Message from a Death Camp,”
“It is the mission of the prison overseers to break the spirits of these men. The point is not to break them of their bad habits and help them reform. No, the only objective here is to terrorize these prisoners so that they will carry the message throughout the prisons in this state…(Shoatz)”
One day, not long after lunch, you stop up your toilet accidentally and unsanitary, feces-laced water spills all over the floor of your cell. Following the proper policy and procedure, you press your emergency call button for assistance. You continue this action repeatedly for over two hours without answer, because if you relent and kick your cell door you earn not only an infraction (which adds six months to your stay on solitary, as well as costs you ten dollars you don’t have), but also gets you 8 hour sin full restraints, and of course the loss of your property, recreation, and shower for seven days.
Many people may look at this situation and say that these ‘punishments’ are designed to teach you reform and that, by punishing you for not doing things the ‘right’ way, they’re teaching you to think before reacting. But you know better. They’re looking at your situation from the outside in, and not understanding the situation from your point of view. They don’t understand that there is nothing resembling ‘correction’ that goes on for most of the prisoners, that for those who do manage to self-educate and improve, it is in spite of the system rather than because of it. These people can’t see past the smoke and mirrors to the truth. They don’t understand that, although some guards are decent people solely in need of a job, many are sadists and racists who are drawn to the power they have over other human beings here. From the outside, most people don’t realize that these rules and their punishments entrap many men who would otherwise remain calm and orderly. When you abide by the proper procedures and do things the ‘right’ way, you are all but ignored completely. Promises of help and assistance are dished out, lies are told without regret. In North Carolina, where daily oppression and corruption are the rule and not the exception, nice guys always finish last.
Three and half hours after the feces-water invaded the floor space of your roughly 6 x 8 ft. cell, you finally tire and kick the door for assistance. But you were still ignored. When dinner trays were served around 4:30pm, you inform the guard of your situation. When he promises to get the sergeant and cleaning supplies for you, you go ahead and eat your food while standing in shit. It’s the only way, because of your dilemma and your goal of returning to regular population, you have to at least give them a chance.
Thirty minutes later, when trays were retrieved and you still haven’t received the proper assistance, you hold your food trap open and refused to let the guard close it. Evidence of your mood disorder, in which you suffer from high highs and low lows, is now beginning to surface. Your heart rate quickens, your arms begin to sweat, your temper begins to boil. One way or the other, the officer in charge will learn about this situation.
No more Mr. Nice Guy.
Like you, these “corruption” officers are making very bitter men out of most of these prisoners. Many of them will be “monsters” when they eventually return to your communities, “…many of these men were bad actors before going to prison, and the prison overseers are making them worse.” (Shoatz)
You see it everyday, all around you. Grown men throwing piss and shit on each other, swallowing batteries and razors, cutting themselves, endless theatrics and conversations with themselves, child-like behavior, etc. We need a new way of confronting our oppressed situation, because this just isn’t doing it.
When the sergeant finally responds to your request for assistance, he sees that you are no longer at the door and attempts to close the trap. Aware of this attempt, you step back to the door and take up your previous position, at which time he slams your forearm in the trap and finally nudges your mood past the point of self-control. Your disorder takes over, and you see ‘see red.’ Along with the high highs and low lows comes an extreme temper. You have no moderates.
When the second shift sergeant and unit manager attempt to calm you down and speak to you (because now, they see they no longer are in control, and others are beginning to stand up with you because they understand this could happen to them also. What the guards fear the most is your unity), you refuse to comply. You throw numerous objects in their direction. All your pain and depression that’s been building up on your back begins to flow, fueling your temper and pushing your mood to the point of no return. Maybe, if mental health staff would do more than prescribe you Tegretol, which is an anti-convulsant normally prescribed for seizure disorders, or Trigeminal or various other neuralgias (Pill Book, 13th Ed.), and then leave you to deal with this “torture of nothingness that kills one’s spirit and soul,” (Shoatz) you would’ve been better prepared for a situation such as this.
But you’re not. And because of your actions, an argument ensues between you and the unit manager. In the midst of the argument he uses your instability to coerce you into a position where he could physically assault you, by telling you to set a fire so he could open the cell door. Not thinking it all the way out, you fall into his trap.
As the fire burned soon afterwards, the entire cell block, sans yourself, was evacuated. It’s no surprise to you though, he’s doing exactly what he’d just told you he’s going to do. He’s getting rid of all witnesses. When it’s your turn, he yells to the other guards that you have a weapon. Then he handcuffs your wrists behind your back and opens the cell door. He first pushes you further in to the room, then pulls you out backwards and you are shoved to the floor by additional hands. The unit manager goes down with you, on the way making sure his knee connects with your right eye a few good times before moving to your right side. Simultaneously, another knee slams into your temple and presses your face into the filthy floor. Your left wrist is bent so far back you feel the tendons pop and stretch, then your hand goes numb. Your left leg is twisted, your right is bent backwards towards your shoulders. Then you are chained up: wrists, ankles, and waist. You are pulled to your feet, a plastic extraction shield is slammed against your face, and you are led towards the sergeant’s office and locked in a small holding cage.
Your left hand is three different colors and so swollen that it resembles a glove that’s been blown up like a small balloon. Your face is bruised and swollen, and medical staff has wasted no time on you other than taking your blood pressure and temperature. If this is not criminal assault then what is?
Can you picture all of this in your mind?
When you close your eyes?
I can, but not because of my vivid imagination. I can picture it because of memory. This happened to me, on August 29, 2012. It happens all the time. Constantly. Now, roughly two months later, my left hand is still damaged. I complain and request medical attention daily, due to a recurring pain, weakness, and partial numbness that numerous medical staff have told me is possible nerve damage. The acting MO has yet to see me, and continuously present excuses like, because x-rays show no fractures, he has no obligation to see me physically. I have begun the process of filing suit, even though I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m educated though, and have certain reference materials to help me. If we don’t fight back these horrors will continue, and even worsen: “Those of us who recognize that [these institutions and their constituents] are trying to destroy our spirit of resistance, our spirit of life, and most of all our human soul…we must destroy this culture of death.” (Shoatz)
It’s going to be hard but “unity breaks these cowards’ back every time.” (Black Rose, issue 1)
We must stand together in solidarity against this daily oppression and corruption, this physical and mental abuse. It can work…
I can picture it in my mind.
DaVinci, the artist
October 20th, 2012
World Behind Bars: The Expansion of the American Prison Cell
Message from a Death Camp, by Russell Maroon Shaotz.
The Pill Book, New Revised 13th Edition.
Black Rose, issue 1.