Freezing Inmates, Squandered Funds, and Lack of Education Still Issues at Maine State Prison

December 14, 2011

[name omitted]
807 Cushing Road
Warren ME 04864

Sophie Inchains
P.O. Box 2900
S. Portland ME 04106

Dear Sophie,

I haven’t written you in awhile but I hope you are still not being harassed and intimidated by the Department of Corrections administration concerning the expression of our 1st amendment rights. Now you know first hand the power they think they have when prisoners and others such as Stan Moody expose the truth about corruption and other things that go on here. It is also sad that our attorney general and politicians help cover up things and protect the administration or else there would be laws in effect for more transparency and an oversight committee that would help protect staff but you can see our legislature isn’t interested in that.

Remember, 99% or more of person incarcerated are poor and don’t have the resources to fight the sate who have endless taxpayer money to fight court battles. How intimidated did you feel when you were harassed by the warden here about posting prisoner correspondence?

I would like to discuss a few issues that need changing and investigating by the appropriate agencies so if you could fax this letter to people that may be able to help I would appreciate that. Please don’t worry about ay retaliation against me as I will hold my own so you can post this.

First of all, I’d like to say that I have been incarcerated for over 13 year and it is my feeling as well as others that this administration is intentionally creating uneccessay [sic] chaos on a daily basis in order to get prisoners to riot. They would then be able to ask for more finances instead of them being taken away. If you have access to other prisoners and staff I’m sure this could be easily verified.

Every day there are new policies and procedure for everything. What intensifies the chaos and confusion is that there are 2 12 hour shifts, Sunday through Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday and a rotation on Wednesdays. These shifts are not properly notified of the changes that take place on their days off. There are prisoners explaining policy to staff. Day to day, prisoners, guards, and sergeants alike do not know the policies for the day. This is creating severe tensions among staff and prisoners and between staff and prisoners.

When a prisoner tells the sergeant a policy and the sergeant has to call his superior to verify it that is a sad state of affairs at MSP but that is the truth. This all creates uneccessary [sic] tensions among everyone except for administrators hiding in their offices.

One day or one hour you will be getting patted down, the next you don’t. The next thing you know is that a guard or sergeant is trying to belittle you for walking past them and not getting patted down. One day or one shift you have to line up on this side of the hall for canteen, the other shift you have to line up on the other side. Each shift makes up their own rules, policies and procedures. It is so insane and tempers are rising among staff and prisoners.

Currently we have 4 dining halls yet they want to crowd everyone into 3 dining halls creating a lot of problems and chaos. It is becoming a safety and security issue but they don’t care. Also during the coldest days guards, sergeants, and captains stand outside the dining halls in coats, hats, and gloves and hold the doors wide open so the cold air blows right through freezing everyone especially those right by the door. When you approach them about closing the door you are threatened or yelled at. I have written the warden on this issue but she has ignored it.

Recently kitchen staff have been playing with our food and not enforcing established health code sanitation and hygiene issues. Each week a menu is put up with the meals and portion sizes and the menu looks good on paper but in reality kitchen supervisors have switched over to serving sauce and gravy type meals so they can cut the serving portions down and use less then is posted on the written menu. It’s like a bait and switch which is illegal. Many prisoners are not getting plain gravy over potatoes or gravy with big chunks of uncooked flour because staff that cook our meals do not have to be responsible for any type of quality control. It is hard for the supervisor to supervise sitting in an office. Recently when the supervising sergeant was notified of the gravy issue he laughed about it and a near riot broke out in C-pod section of the close unit. This is the mentality of administration. The pod was then locked down for several weeks. We have very little here and look forward at least to a well prepared meal.

Even though kitchen supervisors know weeks in advance the meals that are to be prepare they don’t have anyone with the ability to order the proper foods and the menu is always changing due to someone not ordering properly. I find it sad that the state can pay the guys a large salary and retirement and they don’t even have to do their jobs. Food is cooked off at noon and put in warmers for a 4-5:30 serving. They could never get away with this in a private sector job but I’m sure that is why 3 of the kitchen staff retired then came back to work in the prison and did not go into the private sector. They’d be fired in a heartbeat because they’d have to be accountable to someone. Here they don’t. I have been in the food business all my life including owning my own deli so I do know what I am talking about. There is also a consensus in the prison among staff and prisoner that Kitchen Cook Woodman be drug and alcohol tested as on his best day it is hard for him to put toast and cereal on a tray.

Prisoners are forced to wear beard restraints under threat of being fired when working around the serving line or cooking yet kitchen staff have no policy for covering their beards going completely against Maine Health cod. The administration has taken to turning the heat way down in the prison pods but keep it full blast in the hallways and supervisor and administrators offices. Is our heat more expensive? IN the pods guards are forced to wear coats and even hats because it is so cold. How can officers do their jobs correctly when they have to worry about staying warm.

Why aren’t our legislators and prisoner advocates allowed to come to the prison and speak with staff and prisoners alike to really find out what is going on here? Is everyone waiting for a riot or another murder? How many does it take for politicians to wake up?

Many years ago the state instituted the Inmate Benefit Fund (IBF). This fund was suppose to be for the benefit of prisoners and its completely financed by prisoners and their families form the profits from the canteen and the phone calls at 30 cents per minute. This fund pays for college courses, gate money, 2 free letters per week for prisoners, supplies, and equipment for recreation and other things.

Recently after receiving a copy of the 2009 IBF expenses report which is available to anyone including our representatives, I found that the Department of Corrections ahs been using money out of the fund to pay for building maintenance and other state mandated items.

DOC policy states that prisoners can be paid for their jobs out of the fund only if their job directly benefits other prisoners. Currently administrators pay out about 70,000.00 to favored individuals and a large portion of that is paid for maintenance costs which is illegal. I am asking for a complete investigation into the illegal use of funds from the IBF by our legislators and/or the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability because prisoner are still voters and have a say about their own money. I would like this investigation to go back at least 10 years to establish a pattern of abuse. The fund should then be reimbursed with interest.

First of all, the state is required by law to provide food, shelter, clean clothing, and medical care at their expense and possibly education under no child left behind.

At MSP the state pays some kitchen workers up to a maximum of $50.00 per month which could take a year or more to work into, to work 6-7 hours per day, 5 days a week.

However, according to DOC policy, prisoners can be paid out of the IBF if their job directly benefits other prisoners. Currently, the funds, which are quite substantial, are being terribly misused for the benefit of the state to defer mandated and maintenance costs.

In the 2009 IBF expense report, the last one I received, which is available to all legislators and the Office of Evaluation and Government Accountability, the fund paid out $4100 to barbers, $1200 to wheelchair pushers, $5100 to recreation workers, and $750 to the visiting room family photographer. Although these sums are quite high compared to the state paid kitchen workers, these jobs directly benefit prisoners.

On the other hand the administration has been paying out outrageous sums of money to favored prisoners to offset maintenance costs and other mandated expenses. These jobs in no way directly benefit other prisoners but directly benefit the state. I will explain.

From the expense report it was noted that $13, 200. In IBF funds were used to pay painters, plumbers, and handyman prisoners while paying state employees hired for maintenance to watch them work maintaining the facility. Certain Housing Unit cleaners were paid (bribed) $4100 to buff floors and clean administrative offices while other doing the same job receive nothing. Certain prisoners were paid $7100 to wash our clothes and hand them out and print shop workers were paid $1100 to print state materials even though MSP does not have a print shop. These are all state mandated expense that are the responsibility of the state to pay and not prisoners out of their fund. This is totally insane!

All workers paid from the IBF earn 50%-600% more than the state paid kitchen workers. Why? How is that possible for working less hours?

In the education department they highly pay a fulltime teacher and used to be 2 fulltime teachers and a principal not to teach but then spend over $10, 700 a year to pay prisoners to teach classes while the teacher sits and drinks coffee. IF you are a prisoner making 600% more than other prisoners would you say anything about state paid teachers just sitting around? No! They highly pay a drug abuse counselor and a state contracted drug counselor and then pay 2 prisoners $5100 per year to do their jobs. A librarian is paid a huge sum of money but they pay a prisoner $3900 per year to hand out court documents and go to recreation and other prisoners $2300 to clean the library. The librarian has plenty of time to hand out court documents as the state has taken away our Prisoner Advocate and tried to replace her with a prisoner for much less money.

All these jobs directly benefit the state and state workers and were never meant to benefit prisoners but to offset state costs. Why is there such a differencial [sic] in what the state pays a worker and what administrators illegally take from the IBF to pay favorites? If you were being bribed $2000 to $4000 per year would you speak up about corruption or abuse? I think not but would turn the other way.

The abuse of the money from this fund needs careful investigation and this doesn’t even take into consideration other questionable expenses other than prisoner pay.

Please help us Governor LePage and legislators!

As a 56 year old veteran I am computer illiterate and have been on a waiting list for over 4 years to learn computers. The education department has 2 full rooms full of new computer sand Rosetta Stone language software but we cannot use them, except for a few favorites. The excuse, they don’t have money to pay for a teacher. The solution! Stop paying illegal payments out of the IBF and hire a computer teacher! Just cutting out the illegal payments for maintenance could pay for a teacher.

After some careful research I recently submitted to Commissioner Ponte who passed it on to Warden Barnhart how the $500,000 IBF, if properly invested and legal and illegal expenses cut along with the proper operation of the prison canteen and phone system could finance a prisoner re-entry and training facility at no cost to taxpayers but financed solely by prisoners and their families. This could support fact based programs.

When there is no transparency, oversight, or accountability in a state agency such as the Maine Turnpike Authority and the Department of correction and politicians help cover things up, anything can and will happen. IN this instance corrections administration should not only be accountable for the mismanaged funds but for the lives and well being of prisoners and staff alike.

Sophie, please fax this to prisoner advocacy groups, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, Stan Moody, and any state legislators that may be against corruption or abuse in state agencies. There may not be many.

In closing, when Paul LePage and Commissioner Ponte came into office I also proposed a recycling program for state agencies as just in corrections there is so much waste and plenty of paper and plastic to be recycled at no cost but they continue to pay for uneccessary [sic] garbage disposal. My plan would have immediately cut down on tipping fees charged the state, reduction of tens of thousands of plastic bags in landfills and the cost of those bags by the state. No one seems to care.

Take care and let me know who you have contacted with this letter.

Sincerely,
[name omitted]

***A note from Sophie***
This letter was sent in to the blog almost a year ago, and although the inmate did not fear retaliation, I felt that withholding the letter would be safer for him as inmates who were writing into Voices had been targets. In addition, due to certain scary incidents in my personal life–I believe directly related to MSP and the blog–I was publishing very little.

So here we are almost one year later and very little of what is written in the above letter has changed. Commissioner Ponte has allowed advocate groups into the prison (thank you Commissioner), and changes in staff have show improvements in respects to the flow of information (sometimes)between shifts;however, the rest of what the inmate discusses still holds true and with the cold of winter approaching it is worth noting, no inmate deserves to freeze.

Solidarity Always, Sophie Inchains

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