First off, I hope this note finds you well and good. Personally and with the struggle. By now you should most certainly have received the communications I intended for you to have. Please let me know the status of that.
I’ve really gotten ahead of myself. Thank you very much for your letter which I received this very evening. So your letter did reach me.
Well as today is June 21, I imagine you have posted my info on your blog. I am interested in knowing how your viewers perceived it.
Memo to Sophie: Print what you may, I fear neither these inmates or prison officials.
That brings me back to this. The “majority” of guys here live in perpetual fear of their jailers. I’m not joking. The prison officials here outright dog these guys! And the last thing they will do is speak up for themselves. I don’t know, the population here is roughly 800 prisoner’s. Out of that number I don’t think there is 100 guys who would be willing to write to you and the myriad atrocities they have experienced and do experience. Hell I can’t think of more than a few would muster up the courage. Between ***, ***, and myself, we have spoke [sic] to innumeral [sic] guys about your being a voice for us castaways. I’ll let you be the judge of those interested in at least “attempting” to get some accountability from the corrupt prison officials here. How many correspondents have you had from here? In a nutshell, that number is representative of those interested enough to want to alter their course. I’m sure the respond number is sad, yet, it’s true.
Myself, it doesn’t matter my location. I’m a freedom fighter and love digging myself and other’s [sic] downtrodden out of the trenches. I’m cognizant that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Need I say more!?
Relative to the lawsuit, the defendant prison officials must file an Answer by July 6, 2011. Without question I will keep you updated.
Sophie, I love to write letter’s [sic] and receive mail.
Interpretation: I would certainly not mind a pen-pal. Just keep me in mind in case you hear of someone out there expressing a similar thought. And thank you very much. I just wanted to share that little bit with you.
Please take great care and be good with the struggle as the struggle will be good to you.
Currently I believe that it is better to starve and see no sun, than ignored.
The Maine State Prison is plagued w/unprofessionalism and corruption, as well as racial and religious intolerance and prejudice.
I am 13 years into a double life sentence and I have recently decided that silence is no longer an option for me. I have come to the realization that as a longtimer it is my duty to speak against the mistreatment and abuse of the prisoners I live with. Especially the elderly and sick. No longer will I be a silent bystander.
Not all the staff at the Maine State Prison fit into this category. I would be willing to say that most are professional and realize that a prisoners prison and is their punishment, and understand that it is their job as officers to ensure safety and security; not further punishment.
However there is a substantail [sic] group form the top to the bottom who have their own ideas about how their jobs should be done. They are very good at covering for one another and act with deliberate indifference. They use intimidation, threats of violence and retaliation in order to discourage prisoners from issuing complaints against them. On the rare occasion that complaints are made or acknowledged by the administration they are met with a half-hearted investigation and there is of course never evidence to verify the claims against staff.
Last September I witnessed an older gentleman get his face smashed off of a fence on the way to the chow hall. Prisoners were told to get on the fence for a random pat search. The older man looked confused because orders were being yelled by multiple cops including a captain. Apparently he wasn’t moving fast enough, so the captain grabbed him and slammed him against the fence leaving wounds on his face and head. When the prisoner later asked for help by other staff to file a complaint he was given the run around. Does this sound like the behavior of a captain? What king of example is being set for lower ranking officers?
Who can forget Victor Valdez? I witnessed the beginning of the ordeal that would lead to his eventual death. He was being served a write-up for a rule infraction. He didn’t speak English well and the officer wouldn’t allow anyone to interpret. I heard victor speaking in Spanish and the officer telling him to shut-up.
No mind you, the officer had an opertunity [sic] to de-escalate the whole situation. Victor was in his cell. The officer could have closed the door and allowed things to cool off, but instead he charged in; pushing his panic button to summon more officers and slammed the older man who was sick and on dialysis against the concrete wall. The last time I saw Victor he was handcuffed with his arms being wretched above his head behind his back and was roughly escorted out of the pod.
Ironically, the same officer who initiated this confrontation w/Victor was in an argument with a prisoner in a pod he was working in months prior to this. When in the middle of the argument he stood up and yelled, loud enough so everyone in the pod could hear, “I use to jump out of planes and kill people!” does this sound like a stable mind suitable for working in a prison environment?
It is not uncommon to hear prejudice or bigoted comments about a prisoners race or religious beliefs. When African American prisoners are using the music room in the rec. yard, cops refer to it as Jungle day. It is not uncommon to hear officers question or comment on whether a prisoner looks Native American when going to Native American gatherings.
The intolerance and bigotry doesn’t stop w/the cops. It is an issue within the prison chaplaincy as well. The chaplain and the administration make sure every accommodation is met for Christian services and events to go off without a hitch; while Pagans and others are treated like the bastard step-children of the prison.
Over the last few months staff have been more agitated and disgruntled about changes in Augusta. They do not like the new commissioner and are stressing about budget cuts and changes in the prison. So the staff have resorted to playing games to try and instigate and generate tensions among the prisoners. One of their favorite places to do this is in the chow halls. They will overfill one chow hall knowing that there aren’t enough seats for everyone, while leaving empty tables in other chow halls.
They know that by causing a brawl or potential riot in one of the most volatile places in the prison, they can better argue or quell any questions about over-staffing.
I could go on. But I feel I’ve made my point. Change is coming and I welcome it. Prisoners will most likely lose some things with this new administration and I’m fine w/that if it means we won’t be at the mercy of this circus sideshow that has been running this prison for far too long.
I do know that the only way to ensure change is if we all speak out against staff abuse, treats and bigotry.
Silence and passivity have not worked in our favor!
Note from Sophie: I am attaching two links to articles about the murder of Victor Valdez that happened in 2009. The courts ruled in favor of the prison, and inmates remain at the mercy of the murdering guard.
In A.A., they say that a person will only be clean and sober once they hit rock bottom; once they are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Well I cannot imagine being any lower than the situation that I am in right now. I am the rock at the bottom of the darkest well known to man, Prison!
The question you may ask next would naturally be, how did that happen? Some would say family trouble. No, that is not it. No mother or father? No, I have two loving biological parents. AHH, must have had a rough upbringing? My childhood was fantastic. Some sort of abuse then? Absolutely not! Well, I guess that wouldn’t be totally true, because I put a lot of effort into abusing myself and everyone who has ever cared about me—but no, I had a perfectly normal upbringing.
Before I get into all that, let me describe to you how I was a pebble on a 21-year tumble ever so slowly to the bottom of this well shaft, only to hear my own echo, a shattered image of myself, where I now speak to you.
I was a happy child with two loving parents that brought me to church every Sunday. I never missed a day of elementary school and always had good grades. I was involved in a little lad football, pee-wee baseball, and I took karate classes. I was the perfect blond haired bambino that everyone adored. My only childhood trauma was the passing of my uncle ***. I was at ease with the fact that he was in heaven. My only disconnection that I lacked in family life was the tremendous age gap of my parents and me. They loved me to death and vice-versa, but by the age of eight my father was in his sixties and mom was well into her forties. Looking for the bond that I could not find at home, I looked outside the family and found love, attention, and a strong since [sic] that I belonged in the projects of Portland.
I remember my first teen age friend. His name was Chris and he was homeless while on the run from the Maine Youth Center. I really looked up to him. He ruled his own life and listened not to his parents nor authority, but only to his feelings! I felt that I was his equal when I’d drink and smoke with him. His father later turned him in to the youth center where Chris committed suicide. My fondest memories of him were his laughs when I got in to petty trouble or choked on smoke. What I could not have possibly realized at that age was that I was a pebble beginning to form into a rock of a long fall to where I sit now.
My desent [sic] into the well was a blurry twenty plus year addiction spree. I replaced all of my morals installed in to me as a good child by my parents with drugs and alcohol. All of the affection given to me by my family was transformed in to the monster of addiction that I had become.
At ten years of age I had to be removed from my home by the police for fighting with my mom and dad. I was put into a jail cell for the night. Now you would think at age ten a jail cell would be a rude awakening and a reason to quit my rebellion without a purpose, but no in that cell I was introduced to the thugs that I now call family. I was fighting a war that I had no reason to be in, a war against my family and all authority for putting me in that cell. Jail only solidified my stance of war against all that have cared for me.
At twelve the pebble was rolling at an incredible speed. I assaulted my mom, dad, and older sister. I was sentenced to the Maine youth Center until my eighteenth birthday. I was in and out of that door until that very day. I took L.S.D and got into cocaine use by the age of fort teen [sic]. By the age of sixteen, cocaine and any narcotic pill I could find would be ingested in to my system. It was the only escape to the reality of addiction that I have come to love.
The Maine Youth Center did nothing but let me know that the state had become yet another target in my war against the world. I was discharged at eighteen worse than I went in.
When I was nineteen, I found the downtown side of drugs, (opiates, benzos, etc.) which helped me deal with the pain of my seventy-year-old dad’s death and a year later my best friend Jimmy entered heaven. My every move was a calculated step to place me to an early death. I vowed to Jimmy through my prayers that I would be joining him very soon. If I did have a spark of life in me, it was surely gone now. I became a heroin addict at age twenty. I would consume as much heroin as I could to escape the reality of life. I used my addiction as a shield. Instead of dealing with myself I ran. It was all I knew. The love of family was only a distant memory.
I was arrested for robbing a pizza man, which led me to a halfway house in Bangor, where I stayed eighteen months clean. I was in love with my childhood sweetheart, but even my love for *** could not help me escape from the prison of addiction. Heroin was my warden. After ten years, my relationship with *** ended. I felt close to death in body and in spirit. I had crumbled! In the back of my mind, I had a distant voice of my youthful childhood asking me to return. At this point, it was only an echo that I could barely understand. I thought the only freedom from this sickness was to overdose, and I did just that on 6-28-02.
To me my imprisonment was a reality to myself. My addiction was an escape from my imprisonment to a deeper cell. Only I could not see the difference. I was blind to all reason.
At the age of twenty nine in a haze of fift teen [sic] or more 2mg. klonipin and a daily dose of 170mg. of methadone I walked into a sports store on Dec. 01, 2002 with the intent to shoplift and was chased a block and a half down the street with the end result of homicide. I hit the bottom of my well.
Now I am sentenced to a term of 35 years with all but 25 years to serve in prison, for the crime of felony murder and robbery. I wake up everyday [sic] wondering if my sentence is a blessing or a curse. I did not mean to take a life on that morning of December. I lost my life the second I started falling into the depths of the well. I cannot bring back a life and knowing that I will be in torment for the remaining of mine. I can only hope to reach others through my story and stop the fall before it’s too late.
I’ve been locked into addiction since I was eight years old. I’ve been a prisoner all of my life and now I am actually a prisoner, I feel free in a sense. Life is better now than I ever thought it could be. There are no gray areas in a free fall into a well. I can only hope that I am able to stop one pebble from falling before its [sic] to late.
I try to imagine what it would be like in the free world; the people, the cities, a child’s laughter and the intimacy of a woman. I wonder what it must feel like to be around people who mean you well, as oppose to people who wish you hell. To never let your guard down in an environment where kindness is viewed as a disease that can kill you. I wonder what it must feel like to release the good in you and not to be judged weak. Every man in prison battles his own humanity and keeps it hidden in an environment that is harsh and unforgiving. Humanity is a lamb in a lion’s den. Humanity is humble and lacks aggressiveness. Men who are not aggressive physically and verbally are considered passive and weak. Humanity is weak while in prison, and the weak do not inherit respect. You must force men to assume that any move against you will bring severe violence.
In all of my eight years of incarceration the world has changed and I am sure that after seventeen more years the world will not even remember my name. Yet inside prison will remain the same. It’s as though time is suspended and only the characters change. Each incident is similar to the one in the past. The script was long ago written by men who have done time before me. Prison is a sordid script played by sadist whose acts are not for the faint of hearts; acts that end in cruelty, suffering, and mayhem.
Most men in prison hold onto a glimmer of what life can mean. We usually view life through contact with our families and loved ones. This stops most of us from falling into becoming institutionalized, in which society becomes a distant memory. Our reality hinges on who we are in prison and how well we live by the convict codes. Contact with people in the outside world can become our savior or it can be a deprogrammer. You live and breath [sic] your current surroundings. It becomes the norm and eventually you succumb. You resign yourself to the madness!
Rehabilitation is not being confined to a prison cell. It is not a setting that encourages positive change. The root of true rehabilitation is the yearning to change in ones [sic] life. It can not be forced apon [sic] a man. If a man seriously desires change and fights the odds of falling into the abyss, he can develop tools while in prison to rebuild his life. He can make it right where he once when wrong.
Dear Blog Readers,
Its been over three weeks locked down in this cell 24 hours a day. The prison personal moved me today to a place they call enclosed. This part of the prison holds inmates with years and years of time. These people are the more severe inmates that commit murder and aggravated assaults. I understand there are less punks over here and there is more respect for one another as the inmates live together for longer periods of time.
Nothing has changed from the 24 hour lock down status. I do have a chair now to write my letters, there are people walking outside of my cell, playing cards, and talking about working out. There is different scenery outside my small window. I now look down upon the front entrance of this building. The ground is dug up as some inmates will be planted flowers.
I feel nervous and uncomfortable about this change. Often dwelling in the same cell for weeks without any communication at all makes it hard to break out of my quietness that has consumed my being. My eating, sleeping, reading, and writing schedule has been changed, and there are new guards to learn about as there are good and bad ones; ones that want to help and ones that don’t care.
Institutionalization becomes very easy to step into as there is very little self responsibility to make money, eat, work, etc. Everything is done for you. I need to be careful not to fall into such destitude [sic]. I will remain locked down until classification deems me okay to interact with others. It should be in the next two or three weeks.
My grandfather past away around midnight last night. My mother called my case manager up about an hour ago to inform him, to inform me. Its hard to deal with in here. I have not talked with him sense last year at this time. We lived together when I was released from prison 3-30-10, my grandmother died the day before on 3-29-10. It was hard living with him and I moved. Last week my mother told me he didn’t have much longer to live, I wrote him a letter saying he is a wonderful person and a great grandfather. I wrote maybe one day I could be the man he taught me to be. I was hoping to receive a letter back before he died, but none came. I’ve been asking the prison personal for a phone call to my family, they say maybe in a while.
There is a part of me that wants to call, but another that doesn’t. I know my son will be there that I have not talked to for months, last time I heard from him was on my face book [sic] page where he left a comment saying his mother got my police record and he never wants to talk with me again. So if I call the family it will be hard dealing with my grandfathers death plus the possibility of talking with him. Its overwhelming and sad.
I have a lot on my mind today as I’m dealing with personal emotions that I’m not sure how to handle, this new move, legal issues that may help on releasing me sooner then the 5 year sentence, and the gut twisting feeling of where my life is at 36 years of age. The positive side of all this, is it can only go up from here.
Anybody is welcome to respond and/or write me at the Maine State Prison I will respond back by letter or blog.
807 Cushing Road
Warren, Maine 04864-4600
(The original letter has an RIP to Henry’s grandfather whose name has been removed by typist.)