Government for the people?

Soundtrack for this post: Rage Against the Machine.

An anti-government populist wave washed Donald Trump up onto the White House lawn, which is ironic because the Donald is for the regular American like ISIS is for democracy. To the people who voted for Trump: do you realize he is a billionaire whose almost every action has been for the benefit of fellow billionaires, and he doesn’t give a fuck about you or your lot in life? Now don`t get me wrong: I`m pro-business and all for smaller government, but I`m also hyper-aware of the plight of the average American. A lot of white males (and females, too, but more the males in this instance) feel like they’ve missed out on the economic recovery of the past eight years, and a few of those white males blame minorities–particularly Mexicans–for their own economic malaise. So racism comes to the surface and parades itself as nationalism. Sadly, those same people indoctrinated with racist views and beliefs don`t realize the racism is just a tool to keep them focused on–and fighting against–other people of limited financial means, and to keep them from seeing the true source of their oppression: the top 1%(aka Donald Trump). Sorry, guys: you were sold a bogus bill of goods and now you’re going to be grist for the mill to make the Trumpster richer. Make America great again? Nope. Make the top 1% richer (again). By the way, guys, unless you’re Native American, you’re all descended from immigrants.

Up until a few years ago, as envisioned by our Founders who bled for us, our intellectual property system (patents, trademarks, and copyrights) was a “first to invent” system, meaning that if you were the first to invent something, it was your intellectual property. If some deep-pocketed corporation saw your invention, stole it, and spent the thousands of dollars it takes to secure a legally solid patent, you had the recourse of being able to sue that corporation, prove you invented it first, and be given the financial value of that invention. Well, Congress, in their ever-loving quest to make the rich richer and fuck the little guy more, switched America to a “first to file” system. Now it doesn’t matter if you are the first to invent something. A corporation can steal your invention, patent it, and–bam–you just lost all your intellectual property. All because after hundreds of years, Congress switched us to a first to file system. If you can’t afford thousands for a patent, your invention isn’t yours. Thankfully copyrights are still a first to invent system.

That’s bad enough, because now Google can steal your ideas (because no doubt every modern inventor uses Google to research inventions) by having one of their deep-learning artificial intelligence algorithms store and study every little thing you do on your computer, laptop, and/or smartphone. But, hey, the government wouldn`t let a company enslave us like that, oppress us like that, would they? Maybe not before, but now elections are bought. “Before what?” you ask. Citizens United. What’s that, you ask? Well, about two years ago the U.S. Supreme Court gave billionaires carte blanche to spend as much as they want to control elections, in the name of “free speech”. Wouldn`t want to impinge on the billionaires of the world and their freedom of speech. That fundamental and cataclysmic shift in campaign finance law was decided in the Citizens United case. Now if you don`t have the money, your voice won’t be heard. All you will hear and read–on tv, in newspapers, on the radio, and on the internet–is what the billionaires want you to hear and read.

Now here’s how the Trumpster and his fellow billionaires (here’s looking at you, Koch brothers), and the Supreme Court deference to those billionaires’ freedom of speech, are about to seriously fuck my freedom of speech–and thus my ire at the current state of affairs. Trump put a Republican named Ajit Pai in charge of the FCC. How does that affect my freedom of speech, you ask? Well, today every American out there on the streets takes for granted the fact that they can pick up their phones and make unlimited calls to any other American for free. Wanna gab for two hours with your buddy in New York? Free. Calls made in prison? Far from free.

When I first came to prison about twenty years ago, it cost about $30 to make one single fifteen-minute call to California. Yes, $2 a minute (at least) for a call from Nevada to California. It wasn’t until about a year ago, when the FCC voted to cap prison phone rates that calls dropped to about eleven cents a minute. Still far from free, but affordable. Hell, affordable is a stretch, but it’s better than $2 a minute. It took about twenty years of petitioning and legal battles to finally get the FCC to act on the issue. The billionaires and their phone companies who like to profit off of the weakest and poorest of society immediately filed legal challenges to that rate cap on prison calls. God forbid they make only 11 cents a minute off of inmates and their familiar instead of some higher amount. By the way, the typical market forces wherein competition would lower prices over time don`t apply to the prison industrial complex because it’s a pay-to-play system. Every dollar scraped off the backs of prisoners’ friends and families has a percentage of it kicked back to the prison and its administrators. Whoever offers the biggest kickback gets the contract. What does it matter if you’re kicking back 60% of every dollar when you can charge whatever you want because you have a (literally) captive market and no legal limits on price-gouging?

So, the FCC finally capped the rates and the billionaires and their lackeys filed their legal challenges. Trump got elected, Trump put another billionaire’s lackey in charge of the FCC, and–drumroll, please–the FCC suddenly stopped defending their rate cap in court. Now the FCC is on the side of the billionaire phone companies, and non-profits and civic-minded lawyers have to protect and defend the FCC’s rate cap against the FCC. If (or more likely when) the prison phone rate caps are eliminated, I won’t be able to call my family and friends as much as I do now, extremely curtailing my freedom of speech. But the billionaires can buy elections under the guise of making sure their freedom of speech isn`t infringed upon. At what point do those billionaires become tyrants? At what point does the tree of liberty need to be watered again? Again, don`t get me wrong: I have nothing against billionaires. Hell, I aspire to become one. But when those billionaires buy elections in order to oppress the middle and lower classes, they are abusing the power their wealth gives them, and when the government consists of billionaire lackeys instead of duly elected representatives of the people, something’s gotta give. Like Rage said: Know your enemy.

Obviously the whole phone rate thing affects me directly, but it’s not yet so obvious how the first to file patent system affects me. That’s because I haven’t posted my inventions yet. I have over a hundred pages of inventions, business models, and business ideas from the last sixteen years, and I`m going to post every one of them here. Right now I am working on getting one of my inventions patented: lucky for me, I have an awesome, generous cousin who is helping me with that. If not for him, I would never be able to get a patent filed due to the prohibitive cost. When I post each of my inventions, I`ll be giving away my intellectual property for free. A lot of my inventions that may have been wholly unique and original at the time were invented and/or marketed by others between then and now. Some of the ideas, no matter when I invented them, have not been thought of or produced by anyone yet. However, as I truly believe inventions inexorably make the world a better place, if anyone uses any of my ideas and gets them to market, I`ll be glad, regardless of remuneration.

Alright, rant’s over. My next post will be some of my inventions. Until next time, then, keep your eyes open and don`t eat the pabulum they feed you: it’s soylent green.

Guilt and Innocence Part 2

This post will be a day after my last post, even though I`m writing this a few hours after my last post. They didn`t let us come out of our cells for dinner, opting to feed us in our cells. Since mail gets processed only on weekdays (Monday through Friday), and I can’t put this in the mailbox tonight (the guards pick the mail up from the mailbox on Thursday night and drop it off to the mail room, then the mail room drops off all the prison’s mail from Thursday to the post office on Friday morning), this actually won’t get mailed until Monday. I could hand the envelope to one of the porters to put in the mailbox for me, but I won’t. I`m hyper protective of my love ones, so I make sure nobody sees their address on mail in here except me and whatever guard processes the mail. I have one friend in prison that I trust with my people’s information, and he’s a friend to my loved ones just as much as he’s a friend to me. Though I may trust some inmates in here, I don`t trust them to be as protective of the addresses of my people as I am. So while I could have one of the porters put this in the mailbox, I won’t–because I don`t want them, or anyone else, seeing the address on the envelope. Though I’ve learned how to survive in this world, I never forget that I am surrounded by criminals.

Anyway, I was thinking about the whole guilt thing. No matter how misinformed and manipulated I was, to get me to take the plea bargain I took, I took responsibility for my actions and inactions that night, and I took responsibility for Sherrice Iverson’s death. My actual guilt or innocence is a moot issue at this point. If my blacking out that night let Dave Cash get away with a crime–or crimes–that’s on the police, the prosecution, and the judges overseeing the case. They have to own their responsibility for that. I have to own my responsibility for my actions and inactions in my life. Twenty years ago, I was a boy. Today I`m a man who has spent almost twenty years straight incarcerated. The man I am today isn`t the boy I was. I don`t know what happened that night, and I don`t know what levels of culpability lie at my feet or at Dave’s feet, but I do know that if I had not done drugs or drank alcohol that night, Sherrice Iverson would not have been harmed that night. Regardless of whether it was me or Dave, or both of us, I`m responsible. If I had not blacked out, I would have protected Sherrice from any harm. That’s why I feel guilty and always will. Under any name or conditions, it’s my fault, and I have to atone for that, if I can.

So, I just wanted to clarify that. I owe the world anything positive I can give it. That would be the case regardless of my station or conditions in life, but it’s even more so because of my past. As I finish this post, I`m listening to “You know you’re right” by Nirvana. Most apropos. It’s also one of my favorite songs by one of my all time favorite bands.

 

Guilt and Innocence

It’s about 1:45 in the afternoon on Thursday, 4/6/17, and it looks like a beautiful day outside. I wouldn’t know if it’s actually nice out there because I haven’t been outside since yesterday morning at eleven. Even if I wasn’t locked down today (which I am), I wouldn’t be able to get outside again until Saturday morning. I get yard four times a week, for one hour each time, far below the 8-hour minimum of outside exercise required by the Constitution (based on the 9th circuit). I don`t have the time, heart, or energy to fight that battle at this point, though, as one lawsuit takes up too much of those things as is. Outside of yard, and walking to law library, gym, or visiting, I don`t get to leave my little pod, much less actually get outside for fresh air and sunlight. After a while, that lack of outdoor exercise has a deleterious effect on one’s emotional and mental state.

In the unit and pod I`m in, Thursday is the best day of the week for tier time, when we get out of our cells for a couple of hours in the morning, an hour in the afternoon, and two to three hours at night. All the other days of the week we get out for only two hours (broken up into two one-hour slots at different times of the day) to four hours. So it’s disheartening that we’ve been locked down all day Thursday, on both last Thursday and today, because the prison here at High Desert is understaffed. Though I`m technically classified as medium custody, I–along with about a thousand other inmates–am being treated like maximum security, locked down 20 hours a day most days, on average. It’s fucked up that I got more outdoor exercise each week in solitary at Ely than I get here at High Desert, though it was 23 hours a day lockdown there. So, you can imagine it’s disconcerting to be locked down for almost 36 hours straight, missing out on the day when you’re usually getting six hours of tier time.

Our last bit of tier time yesterday was 1:15-2:15 p.m. My celly went to sleep at about 2:30 p.m., got up for dinner from about 3:45-4:00 p.m., went to sleep again, got up at about 9 p.m., and went back to sleep again at about 10:15 p.m. He slept all night until 5 a.m., got up for breakfast, and went back to sleep at about 6 a.m. He got up again at around 10:30 a.m., ate something, watched tv, then went to sleep again at around 12:30 p.m. It’s about 2:15 p.m. now, and he’s still sleeping. So, in the past 24 hours, he’s slept for about 19 of those hours. That’s pretty much normal for him. Unlike the majority of the other sleepaholic zombies around here, my celly is not on any medication. It’s hard to stay active and productive when locked in a cell with someone for about 36 hours where he sleeps for about 30 of those hours.

Anyway, I`m off topic from what I wanted to talk about today. Before I get to that, though, I wanted to thank the friends and family who sent me birthday and Christmas cards last year. Toni, Angela, all the Clarkes, Nicole, Sunshine Mama, Suzanne, Amie, Linda, and all the rest. Thanks, guys! I know I thank everyone in general, before, but I wanted to be a bit more specific. Also, thank you to Nicole for coming to visit me and Des: it was awesome having you out here.

Alright, the original purpose of this post. Those of you who have been reading my blog up to this point probably noticed that my last post was posted then taken down a few days thereafter. The reason being that someone I love and trust–someone whose opinion I highly respect and value–thought I shouldn’t post it because they thought that it didn’t properly explain the origins of my feeling guilty. Feeling guilty and being guilty are two different things. Out of respect for that person, I removed the post pending the acquisition of outside opinions about whether or not I should post it. After getting that outside opinion, I decided the post should stand as is. However, now I feel as if I should clarify some points.

I have never truly known whether I am guilty or innocent of crimes of which I was convicted as a teenager. I was blacked out the night of the crime. Then, as now, my lack of memory due to being blacked out at the time offers no legal, moral, or ethical cover. I am guilty by the fact that I was there that night, that I did not keep it from happening. I don`t actually know what I did or didn`t do that night, but I accepted responsibility for all that transpired, and I’ve paid for it with the past twenty years of my life, right or wrong. Lack of memory is no absolution; it’s an anchor around my waist, dragging me down to the depths. In many ways, not knowing is worse than knowing you’re absolutely innocent and being imprisoned or knowing you’re absolutely guilty and being imprisoned.

The actual facts, the actual evidence, of the case are a lot less than you would think for such a brutal, horrible crime. My actual convictions were a guilty plea–an unknowing and involuntary plea–for first degree murder, first degree kidnapping, and an Alford plea for two counts of sexual assault. An Alford plea is actually a plea of innocence, but saying that the prosecution could have probably convinced a jury to find you guilty even though you are innocent. It’s similar to a “no contest” plea, but it’s still just a bullshit legal technicality they use to get you to plead guilty to a crime while you think you’re proclaiming your innocence. An Alford plea gets you life in prison the same as a regular guilty plea.

Like I was saying–the actual facts, the actual evidence–the police and/or prosecution destroyed and/or buried evidence, such as blood evidence and a tape recording of hours of interrogation resulting in a false confession. Surveillance video from the night of the crime showed me and Dave Cash walking toward a corner of an arcade, following Sherrice Iverson. A few minutes later, Dave Cash is seen walking out of that corner, followed by me a few minutes after that.

Sherrice was found raped and murdered in a bathroom stall, with the bathroom entrance in that corner under the camera. There should have been a plethora of physical evidence at the scene of such a violent crime, but there was no physical evidence connecting me to the crime inside that bathroom stall. There were fingerprints in there, but they didn`t match me. There was no DNA evidence on the body or in the stall or anywhere on any of the bathroom surfaces. No hair, no fibers, no footprints, nothing. Whose fingerprints were in there? Supposedly nobody’s but the emergency responders. The only physical evidence was supposedly a cigarette butt with my DNA on it that was in the ashtray located at the entrance to the bathroom where Sherrice’s body was found. I say “supposedly” because photographs of that ashtray(according to my lawyer back then)showed no Marlboro Red cigarette butt(I smoked Reds)at the beginning of the photographs taken by police, followed by a later photograph showing a Marlboro Red butt suddenly appearing in the ashtray. When that butt was tested for DNA, it was tested by the prosecution’s chosen police lab, and all the DNA was used up for the test so no DNA remained to be tested by an independent lab to either confirm or refute the initial findings.

When I was arrested, the police seized all my clothes. There was no evidence on my clothes, body, or shoes. No DNA, no hairs, no fibers. The police never arrested Dave Cash, never tested his clothes, body, or shoes for evidence. Because he went to the police and told them it was me, he was never arrested or charged with anything. Because I had no memory of what had happened, it was easy for Dave to just pin the whole thing on me, and impossible for me to point the finger at him.

The reason I didn`t want to delve into all this stuff in my last post was because it sounds like a bullshit legalistic denial of guilt, regardless of the truth of it all. And that was not the point of that post. The point of the post was to honor the memory of the deceased, and to share my heart, the fact that my heart is constantly broken for Sherrice Iverson and her family and for all that was lost that night. My heart has been devastated for the past twenty years and will be for the rest of my life. I just wish I could turn back time and change everything, but in lieu of that, I can only strive to do good things to balance out all my actions and inactions that ever harmed anyone in this life, in this world.

Redemption

My favorite theme in literature is redemption. Can a villain become a hero? Can a hero become a villain? Yes and yes. Honor, loyalty, goodness, kindness, devotion. Evil men can do good things just as good men can commit evil acts. We all strive to be honorable, loyal, kind, good, and devoted. Well, most of us. There are people out there who are true psychopaths and sociopaths, people without a conscience. However, most of us strive for goodness and fall far short of perfection. Selfishness oft times trumps selflessness, causing us to act in ways which benefit ourselves over others. We humans are the most complex creatures within the observable universe (so far), and it would be disingenuous to reduce any one of us to a single stereotype, a single word, a single concept. We are the sum of our parts, and no one act or day in our lives is the totality of our identities. Sometimes, though, one moment ends up defining and affecting everything that comes after that moment.

If you haven’t read or seen Game of Thrones, consider this a spoiler alert as I`ll be discussing events from the third book, and the series as a whole. One of the major villains of the first three books is Jaime Lannister, also known as the Kingslayer. He is the most despised and reviled knight because he swore an oath to protect his king then ended up slaying that same king. He’s not filled with treachery as much as he is a selfish prick with a lack of morals or ethics. The evil he’s done in his life catches up to him, and he loses his hand. His right hand, his sword hand. He was probably the best fighter up to that point. That reckoning leaves him a broken man, and it changes him for the better. Reflecting on his life, he starts to change, seeking to do the right thing, to do good.

Other characters land at different points on the scale of honorability. The most honorable character, Eddard Stark, loses his head to treachery and deceit by others because he chooses honor and honesty above all else. His son tries to follow in his footsteps, and his faith in honor in other men earns him a sword through the heart. In life, one must seek to be honorable, but not with a caul pulled over one’s eyes, blinding one’s self to the reality of treachery and deceit in the world.

Jaime Lannister’s notoriety preceded him, though the actual facts weren’t always known. He could not escape his past, but made a conscious decision to change, to make up for his part, to do good. If the most reviled, loathsome creatures–whether in reality or merely perception alone–can change for the better, can’t any of us? Yes. A villain can become a hero, and a mottled past can be scrubbed away to show a shining future.

While I believe redemption is possible for anyone and everyone who chooses that path, I have always struggled with the question of whether that redemption can actually be achieved, and if that redemption is actually deserved. On the one hand, I believe everyone deserves a second change, deserves a chance to redeem themselves from their worst choices and actions. At the same time, though, I believe that nobody just automatically deserves to be given anything; however, anything in life can be earned. My mere existence on this earth entitles me to nothing. Yet I would ask to be given a chance at redemption. I believe in forgiveness and the golden rule, but I also believe in the Objectivist philosophy espoused by Ayn Rand(as a sidenote, “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” are amazing, life- changing books), that basically says nothing is given for free and all must be earned. Mayhap that’s an over-simplification, but it’s cogent enough for government work.

Some people might wonder why I wrote this blog, what right I have to write this blog, what right I have to live much less speak. I could give a recitation of legal treatises, how I retain certain Constitutional rights despite my being in prison, etc. However, that would be disingenuous of me. The truth is that those people are right: I have no right to live or speak. However, I have a duty to repay the debts I owe, and I can’t repay those debts without living or speaking.

After years of introspection in max-security Ely State Prison, and years of depression, self-loathing, and anxiety, I had an epiphany. I was a self-destructive, selfish, ignorant little shit as a teenager. All the pain and hate I received after my arrest and conviction were well-deserved, a debt due for all the pain and suffering I caused as a teen. I felt I didn`t deserve to live, but I also deserved to suffer. If I died, my suffering would be at an end. I realized that my being sentenced to life without parole was not enough to make up for the things I had done. I also realized that the easy way out was to live a quiet life of self-loathing and depression, lying down amongst the ruins of my life and doing nothing but dying slowly, day by day. Doing nothing while locked in a cell for the rest of my life. That’s the coward’s way out: a life unlived, a life spent wallowing in self-pity cloaked as self-loathing instead of working hard to atone for all one’s sins.

Even suffering wasn’t enough, though. I don`t have a right to do good things, to make up for ruined lives, but I have a duty to do those things. I must use my mind and whatever time I have on this earth, to make positive contributions, to change the world for the better, in whatever ways I can. At the end of the day, I owe that to Sherrice Iverson and her family, first and foremost. I also owe it to my wife, my family, my friends, society, and the world.

This is a difficult thing to talk about because I have no right to even speak Sherrice Iverson’s name. Though my life–and my ineluctable death–will forever be inextricably linked to her life and death, I am well aware that I have no right to even utter her name. Yet I owe her my life: I owe her everything. I cannot trade my life for hers, to trade places with her and bring her back, though I desperately wish I could. Instead, I can only give the life I live, all that I might accomplish for good in this lifetime, to her and her family. In addition to that duty, I have a duty to remember her, for all she was and could have been. My life is forfeit, but her memory shouldn’t be. Everyday my mind circles these thoughts, and everyday my heart breaks anew.

One of the reasons Hamlet has endured for centuries as the greatest work in the English language is that it deals with a central theme in life: remembrance. More specifically, the memory of those who have gone before us. The Ghost’s parting words to Hamlet: Remember me. That’s in the first act of the play. In the final act, Hamlet–upon his deathbed–admonishes Horatio to live so that he might tell Hamlet’s story, that not only must Horatio remember hamlet, but must make others aware of his story that they might remember Hamlet, too. When we pass from this earth, we pass into the unknown, and the only assured continuance we have is in the memory of others. Remembrance is our duty to those who went before us.

Being acutely aware of the importance of memory, and the debts and duties I owe, it is not my right to honor Sherrice’s memory, but rather my duty. I cannot make things right, I cannot atone for my wrongs, but I can strive to give all I have to balance the scales. They will never truly balance, but it’s incumbent upon me to at least try. As long as I live, I have to give back as much good as I can for that which I have taken. I`ll never achieve redemption but I have to try. So I will continue to strive to help as many people as I can, both in here and out there. Maybe–just maybe –one day I`ll be deemed worthy of redemption.

February 19th, 2017

First off, Happy Birthday! to my beautiful wife, the light of my life. If you haven’t already, please wish my wife a happy birthday. She is most definitely one to be celebrated. Second, my apologies for having been gone so long—at least to anyone who was actually reading this hopeless drivel before. I can’t even remember the last time I posted, but I know it’s been at least four months. Man, time flies when you’re having fun. Yes, that’s sarcasm. Heh. The past months have been spent breaking my brain on legal shit. Not my cup of tea, to be sure, but sometimes you have to grit your teeth and complete the unenviable tasks. Oh well.

Before I get into all that, there are a million and one other things to post/talk about. First up, thank you very much to all of our friends and family who sent me birthday cards and Xmas cards in October and December. A lot of Des’ friends took the time to send me cards and deliver love and hope at what’s traditionally the hardest time of the year for me. Thank you so much for that, everyone. Special thanks go out to Nicole, who sent me a bunch of books. If you’re a big reader like me, you know how awesome a gift of books is. Thanks to Nicole, I’ve had plenty of reading material to bring my mind back from the brink of collapsing on itself, when reading and writing legal papers day in and day out. I read “Finders Keepers” and “Blaze” by Stephen King(the latter written under King’s “deceased” pseudonym, Richard Bachman, and “Hamlet” by Shakespeare. After reading and digesting Hamlet, I see why it’s so universal and timeless. It’s hella quotable, and I`m guessing it’s one of the most quoted texts in the history of the English language. Did I post after I read “Snowcrash”? Thanks to Nicole on that one, too. If I didn`t post after reading Snowcrash, I might have to do a post about it in the near future. Man, the author saw the future in his mind. It’s amazing because he described the Internet, virtual reality, and augmented reality before they even existed(at least as we know those things today). I think Snowcrash was written in the late eighties or early nineties. The author pretty much invented Google and Google Maps and Google Earth before Google existed. Amazing.

My most recent read was a book my friend, Luke, left me before he got released last year: “Second Foundation” by Isaac Asimov. Holy Shit! He wrote that in the forties and it predicts shit we see today(fMRI), but mostly stuff we probably won’t see for another hundred years or so. It’s pretty cool to live in an age when we get to see a lot of science fiction become actual reality. Anyway, mentioning Luke’s book is a nice segue into the comic that will appear with this post. I`m not sure how it will be formatted, so hopefully you’ll be able to see it at the end of this post. Luke’s a hell of an artist and he drew this comic strip for fun one day before he got out. Luke’s a tattoo artist, so if anyone is ever going to be in Vegas and wants to get a great tattoo, let my wife know and she’ll put you in touch with Luke. I don`t know if you’ll get a discount for knowing me, but tell that motherfucker he better kick me down a commission for the referral. Nah, not really. I`m just talking shit.

So, the comic…a little background. The cell doors, stairs, and tables are pretty accurate, as far as comporting to what it actually looks like in the units. Luke is around 6’1”, 210 lbs, so he’s got some size to him. The protagonist, Rooh, is this youngster who’s probably about 5’5” and 150lbs. “Yak” is coffee, the whole joke being that Rooh gets totally gakked out on coffee when he drinks a good shot of it. And, obviously Luke enjoyed making himself a giant and Rooh a diminutive mofo barely reaching the top of the table. Jim was Luke’s cellie, a total character in his own right. The little guy at the very end of the part two is A.D., a little dude with a squeaky voice, known for constantly filing grievances about the food, or anything really. A “continuation form” is for when one grievance isn’t enough space for your complaint. Dusty is his celly, a fat guy. I would say he’s a couple points shy of being mentally disabled. Mike is our buddy who we always talk shit to. He’s probably the most in-shape dude in this prison, 5’11”, 180lbs, totally ripped, but we talk hella shit to him about how small he is and what a pussy he is, telling him what a bitch he is, etc.(which is general shit talking to me, Luke, Mike, and our other buddy Cody would do with each other). Luke and Cody are out now. Mike’s in another pod now, so I only see him a few times a week. Those are brief sketches of just a few of the characters in here. One of these days, I`m gonna have to write out a full description of all the guys in here, just to give a sense of how simultaneously horrible and hilarious this place can be. It’s probably not all that hilarious, but in here you can laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. That’s all for now. More to come soon.

lukecomic1lukecomic2

Battle Against Corruption: finally a victory

As I’ve talked about in this blog before, corruption is systemic at Lovelock Correctional Center and I was a victim of that corruption. I have been battling against that corruption in the court system for the past few years. I don`t need to rehash everything here, so suffice to say I had to file a brief with the Ninth Circuit because the U.S. District Court dismissed all of my civil claims against Lovelock and NDOC (Nevada Department of Corrections). The Ninth Circuit just issued a judgement in my favor, stating that my rights were in fact violated and kicked it back down to the lower court for further proceedings. For anyone who wants to read the actual order, click below.

I`m going to be extremely busy with this over the next couple of months, so I may not be posting as frequently as before. Then again, I was a bit slow with my posts anyway, wasn’t I? It’s nice to see a little bit of justice from time to time. Persistence pays off. Never give up, never surrender.

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Jeremy Strohmeyer v. K. Belanger

Solitary Confinement

Hello again. Long time no talk. I wonder what you’ve been up to, how your summer is going. Despite the circumstances, summer is still something to look forward to in here (assuming you’re not in solitary, in which case it’s hella depressing). A friend of my wife’s is curious about solitary confinement and what it’s like. I`ll endeavor to explain it as best as I can, using my recent stint there as the starting point. I refer to solitary as a prison within a prison, because that’s essentially what it is. A lot of guys refer to it as hell. To me, it’s definitely the ninth circle of hell (I`m pretty sure that’s the bottom circle in Dante’s hell). Even as I think back to that time in solitary, more than a year removed, I feel the bands tightening around my heart, a constriction of the chest. That’s the anxiety creeping in again. Some may scoff at the concept of solitary causing PTSD, but let me assure you: that shit will fuck you up.

In order to give you some perspective, I have to explain some of the different custody levels within the NDOC. I think everyone’s generally familiar with the different security-levels of prisons (i.e. minimum, medium, and maximum). Lovelock is a medium-security prison, as is High Desert. Ely is a maximum-security prison, but based on Justice Department definitions, it’s actually a supermax. Ely is pretty much a lockdown facility, meaning that almost every inmate there is locked in his cell 23 hours a day. At Lovelock & High Desert, there are general population units, protective segregation units (also known as protective custody or “P.C.”), and segregation units (administrative segregation and disciplinary segregation). PC conditions mirror GP conditions. There are two inmates to a cell, and everyone gets the same freedoms and privileges. In GP, there’s a “level” system, but detailing that is unnecessary for the purpose of describing solitary.

In both GP & PC at Lovelock, you get to be out of your cell and out of your unit with all the other inmates housed in your unit and neighboring units. At around 6 am, you get up and get to walk to a chow hall with inmates from your unit, all of you sitting at tables(four to a table) together to eat breakfast. You pick up a sack lunch at breakfast, and carry it back to the unit with you, to eat whenever you want between then and dinner. Once you’re back from breakfast, the tier is open for tier time.

“Tier” is a multifaceted word in here, acting as both a noun and a verb. The tier is the physical space all of the cells open up into, the best analogy being an apartment complex courtyard. When you exit your apartment door, it opens up onto a courtyard (if you’re in an outdoor-type apartment complex). If you’re upstairs, you have a walkway with railing, and when you look over the railing, the courtyard is down below. The tier in a prison unit is akin to the courtyard in an apartment complex. Except it’s got a roof & ceiling, and the central area has some tables (the same type of tables they have in the chow hall). Against one of the walls of the tier is a bank of three phones. The wall perpendicular to the phones has three or four showers in a row (there’s a row of showers downstairs and a row of showers upstairs). There’s also a microwave near the phones.

So, when you have tier, or you’re on tier, that means you can come out of your cell to be on the tier. Get back from breakfast and change from your blues (jeans and a button-up blue shirt) into something a little more comfortable. Some shorts & a t-shirt, or a tank top. Tier runs from after breakfast until 11:00 am. You can choose to go outside to the yard (acting as both a noun & verb, same as tier) to play soccer, football, handball, basketball, softball, or maybe even hacky-sack. Or you can work out (push-ups, pull-ups, dips, etc.) on the various workout stations that are available (the same kind of pull-up bars & stuff you might see at a public park). In between all that—or choosing not to do any of that stuff—you can socialize. Talking with other inmates, hanging out with friends, listen to music while you walk around. Despite the razor wire & fences, a man can feel somewhat free out there, socializing and playing sports like a normal human being, enjoying the warmth of the sun on your face on a summer’s day.

If you’re not the outdoorsy type, you can stay inside on the tier (or you can spend an hour on the yard then come in for a shower). You can walk around the tier, sit at a table with other guys, socialize, play cards, cook some food in the microwave, get on the phone, or lean back against a wall and watch everything going on (there are a lot of characters in prison, so there’s never a dearth of entertainment to be had from people watching). Granted, you have to watch everything going on to protect yourself as prison is a violent place at times, and guards and prison administrators rarely fulfill their duty to protect you from the violence at the hands of other inmates. If you want to shower, you can just get your shower stuff (towel, shampoo, etc.) out of your cell and hit the showers. You can shower once, twice, three times a day if you want. You’re allowed an unlimited number of phone calls, so you can stay in touch with family & friends on a daily basis, no problem.

Because all inmates can’t just move freely around the prison at all times of the day, you’re dependent on a written communication system to communicate with various prison departments using specific forms called “kites”. In a regular unit, when you have tier, you can just walk over to the downstairs office and ask the guard sitting in there for whatever forms you need. Then, when you want to submit these forms (or mail a letter), you just walk over to the mailbox and stick the kite or letter in there. If you have a medical issue, you can tell the guard in the office, or walk over to the infirmary on the days they have “sick call”. Have some property you’re waiting for, or wanting to mail out? You walk down to the property room on the “property open door call” day. You get to walk over to the gym (weights, indoor basketball, volleyball, racquetball, and handball) a few times a week and spend an hour or two in there each time. There’s also chapel at least once a week, when you can go to the chapel to worship or commune with people who share your same beliefs. And of course, you can’t forget visiting. A couple days a week(on the weekends), you can get visits from your family and friends, where you just walk over to the visiting room and sit at a table with your people, holding hands, playing games, talking, and laughing.

As you can tell, it’s a fairly normal situation, a routine filled with daily socialization and physical interactions with other human beings. You get outside for fresh air and sun for hours a day, you get daily showers, and you can get a pretty close approximation of normal daily life despite the guards and towers and fences. In addition to that, you can get food and clothing packages, and you get to order unlimited canteen once a week. Please don`t think all these things make prison fun or enjoyable. The loss of freedom and control is absolutely horrible, and none of that other shit can make up for being confined. However, that’s the “baseline” of prison.

At eleven in the morning you lock down for count. That means you go back to your cell (both you & your cellmate) and you’re locked in there while they count all the inmates in the prison to make sure they’re all still alive & still where they should be. After count clears (around noon), you get to go out for tier and yard again. You lock down again at around three, they count again, you get out again at around 4:00 to 4:30, and you can stay on the tier or go to dinner around 5-6. Tier stays open until 6:30, when they count again. That count clears around 7:00, and you’re out for tier again (you get night yard only during the summer). Lockdown for the night is around ten, at which point you are locked in your cell for the night, until breakfast again the next morning.

It’s not too bad, because you are pretty tired from running around and doing stuff all day and ready for sleep at that point. There’s something to look forward to each day.

So now that you know the “baseline” prison experience, I can tell you about solitary and you can see how it’s different, how it’s a prison within a prison. Out in the world, you have unlimited freedom. If you get sent to prison, you lose all that freedom. After a while in prison, a certain routine is established, limited freedoms enjoyed. Get sent to solitary and that limited freedom is gone, same as the unlimited freedom of the outside world is gone when you come to prison. When there is a fight, or you’re under investigation, or your safety is in jeopardy, you’re placed in Administrative Segregation (“Ad Seg”). When you are found guilty of violating prison rules or regulations, you can be sentenced to Disciplinary Segregation (“DS” or “the hole”). Now, Ad Seg and DS are usually in the same building(s), with the only differences being the ability to order canteen, and the number of phone calls you can make. Outside of that, Ad Seg is pretty much the same as DS.

On December 18th, 2012, I was placed in Ad Seg after being assaulted by another inmate. I was placed in a cell by myself, and given a mattress, a blanket, two sheets, a towel, a toothbrush & toothpaste, a bar of soap, an orange jumpsuit, and the underwear, socks & shoes I had on when I was brought over to Ad Seg. When I was brought over to Ad Seg, my hands were cuffed behind my back, and the guard escorting me uncuffed me in the cell’s doorway. Once uncuffed, the door closed behind me. I can’t even properly describe the feeling of absolute helplessness and powerlessness that washed over me in that moment. All I could do was make my bed then look around at the barren cell. It would be a few days before I got my property, so there wasn’t much to do.

This is when time takes a weird elasticity, like they say happens when you get close to a black hole. There’s no clock, no watch, no tv, no radio—no way to tell time except for light filtering through the frosted window. Even the light isn’t a great indicator at first because you have no idea which way your window is facing. Even when you can tell time again, it becomes an antagonist rather than an indicator of anything positive. Every prison runs its hole different. At Lovelock, when I was there, the hole was run by old man Vallaster and one of his kids, so they ran it the way they wanted instead of running it according to regulations and procedures.

I got to the hole after dinner, so no food was coming as darkness descended. Not that I had any appetite anyway. There were a couple of inmates yelling to each other from different cells, but I couldn’t tell who or where they were, so I didn`t interject. In each cell is a button and a little intercom. When you need to contact the guard in the control bubble, you hit the button, which causes a light on the control panel in that control bubble to light up. It’s typically frowned upon to use the intercom button for anything except emergencies (except when the guards tell you to). Depending on what cell you are in, you can see only certain parts of the tier or unit when you look out of the window in your cell door. It takes a minute to get the hang of the schedule & routine, how everything works.

The first evening & night, I tried to sleep. I cried because I was worried about Des and her being worried about me when I didn`t call and out of frustration and anger. I let the depression take over and put me to sleep. The next morning the sound of tray slots opening, and general banging of trays and carts, woke me up. Each cell door has a slot in or near the middle of the door. That slot has a flap/door on it that is unlocked with a key. When the guards are serving the meals, they open up the tray slot and put the tray of food on there. At breakfast you are given your breakfast tray and a sack lunch for later. When you grab your tray off the slot where it’s balanced, the guard closes it again. I would set the tray on the sink, check it for any food stuck to the bottom of it(clean it if there was food stuck there), then sit on the edge of my bed or on the toilet, tray balanced on my knees, to eat. After I got done eating, I put the tray on the floor near the door. The guards came around about an hour later to pick up the trays.

After a couple of days I was given my property, which had been completely ransacked, with a bunch of stuff not allowed in Ad Seg removed and unauthorized. I was allowed only two of my appliances, so I chose my tv and my fan. Within a few days, I was given an Ad Seg classification hearing wherein I was notified I would remain in Ad Seg until an investigation was conducted into the physical altercation that took place. The caseworker conducting the hearing didn’t care that I had been assaulted, and nothing I said at that hearing had any effect on the final results. On December 24th, I was given a kangaroo court disciplinary hearing wherein I was found guilty of assault & battery and sentenced to two years in the hole.

It’s hard to tell what’s worse in the hole: the noise or the silence. When I was sentenced to two years DS, they came in and took all my appliances. Luckily, I had my stamps, pens, paper, and envelopes, so I could write my wife & family to let them know what was going on. It took me a few days of observation and asking questions of the guards when they walked by to figure out how things worked.

Whenever you leave your cell, there’s a routine. First, the guard or guards escorting strip you out. It’s called a strip out. When you get stripped out, you have to get completely naked and hand all your clothes to the guard through the tray slot. After the guard has examined all your clothes for contraband, you have to go through a series of motions, with the guard naming off  each motion: show me the fronts and backs of your hands, open your mouth and run your fingers along the gums, show me behind your ears, run your fingers through your hair, raise your arms and show me your pits, lift your dick, lift your balls, turn around, raise your left foot and wiggle your toes, raise your right foot and wiggle your toes, now bend over and spread your ass cheeks and cough. Yeah, that’s for real, people. Pretty humiliating, eh?  After the indignity of that little dance is over, you get to get dressed again.

Once dressed, you kinda hunch down to get your hands in the tray slot, behind you, for the guard to cuff your hands behind your back. When your hands are cuffed, the guard bangs the metal header above your door to let the other guard in the bubble know to open your door. Then the guard shackles your ankles by having you lift one foot, then the other. Once you are cuffed & shackled, you’re ready to leave the cell to go to your disciplinary hearing, or whatever. You get to shower once every three days, and luckily you don`t have to get stripped out to go to the shower. You just get cuffed & shackled, then walk over to the shower, trying not to step too large of a stride lest you rip the skin of your ankles with the shackles. It’s a challenge carrying soap & shampoo to & from the shower with your hands cuffed behind your back. It’s the same cuff & shackle routine when you’re locked in the steel cage that surrounds the shower, and when you’re let out of that cage when you’re done showering.

Technically, you’re supposed to get outside to a yard (not the same yard as GP &PC) once a day, or at least five hours a week. I was in the hole at Lovelock for about four months, and I was not given yard a single time, nor did I ever see anyone else ever get yard. The reason being that the Vallasters didn`t want to have to escort inmates out to the yard. So they didn`t. The only time I got outside was for my monthly visit.

In the hole at Lovelock (both Ad Seg and DS), you get only one visit a month, for about two hours, behind glass. When leaving your cell, you go through the usual strip out routine, except instead of having your hands cuffed behind your back, you are placed in a belly chain. That’s a chain cinched and locked around your waist, with two cuffs attached to it, so you have some limited mobility with your hands cuffed to this chain around your waist, the cuffs attached to opposite ends of the chain with little two-inch long chains between the cuffs and belly chain. Walking to visiting takes forever because the length of your stride is shortened by the shackles. I would rip the skin over my Achilles tendon every time when making that walk. Each step causes the chain between the ankle cuffs to tighten, making each cuff twist around each ankle, an endless sawing motion of metal on cotton sock, then flesh.

Anyway, when you finally get to the visiting room, you don`t get to actually go into the visiting room. Oh yeah, instead of a weekend visiting day, visiting for the hole is in the middle of the week. So, you get there, and you have to sit on a little metal stool, and then try to pick up a phone attached to the wall in front of you, contorting your body to hold the phone up to your ear & mouth with one of your hands cuffed to your side. Sometimes the guards would uncuff one of your hands, sometimes they wouldn`t. Then you would talk to your family through the phone, looking at them through a thick, dirty pane of plexiglass. Half of the time the phone wouldn`t work properly, so you end up yelling to be heard and repeating yourself endlessly. Additionally, nothing to eat or drink. Whereas a regular visit is four hours, and you get to eat a bunch of different foods from the vending machines, a behind- glass visit means you don`t get any food or drinks from the vending machines (at least in Lovelock). And the regular visit chairs are plush & padded with backs; that behind-glass stool is hell on your ass.

As you can imagine, going from four to eight, four-hour visits with physical contact each month to a single two-hour visit each month is devastating, both to you and your loved ones and to your relationships themselves. Those unlimited phone calls I had in the regular unit? Gone. In the hole you have to submit a phone request kite, and hope the guards working bring you the portable/cordless phone that day. Then you have to hope the battery is charged and the phone isn`t broken. If the gods are smiling, you actually get a working, charged phone. Then, if you’re on Ad Seg, that phone works for one single 30-minute call a week. That’s it. When you’re on DS, you get one single call a month. If the call somehow drops or disconnects, you’re burnt. Sorry, Charlie, you’ve exceeded your allowed number of calls if you try to call back, and the system won’t let you call.

When you’re on/in DS, you can’t order any food or coffee from the canteen. You can only order stamps, stationary, and hygiene. Once a week, the guards will let you hit your button and tell them what forms you want (phone kites, kites, etc.), and they’ll bring them to you. You’re completely at their mercy. There are also kites for clippers. Your ability to communicate is drastically reduced and diminished. Endless hours alone in a cell. Night turning to day turning to night again on an endless loop.

So, that was the hole in Lovelock. Solitary confinement at a medium-security prison run by corrupt individuals. You are suddenly and drastically cut off from the contact you did have with the outside world.

This post is way too long as is, so I`m going to stop here for now, and save the rest for later. In my next post I`ll talk about solitary confinement at Ely and the psychological effects of that isolation. Until next time, then, hug the ones you love and be grateful you can see them, talk to them, and have actual physical contact with them every day.