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

Update from Sophie

Hello Readers!

First, I apologize for the long silence and tardiness posting letters from inmates; as well as the delay in getting letter out to incarcerated folks.  If you know someone who is waiting to hear from me please let them know they will be getting a letter very soon and I have not forgotten anyone.

Second, for those of you following the issues that Voices has been having with the Maine State Prison I want to let you know that Warden Patricia Barnhart is allowing inmates to send mail to Voices, so long as it does not go to “social networking” sites.  Since Voices is a blog and does not fall into that category, I will happily begin posting letter from inmates here in Maine once more.  Unfortunately, due to an issue that I cannot discuss here yet, I cannot write back to the inmates at Maine State Prison at this time.  However, if you are reading this, and you write to someone there, please let them know they are being published and I look forward to the day that the situation will be resolved.

Third, as always having a Voice is only effective if one knows they have access to such a tool, therefore be sure to SPREAD THE WORD FAR AND WIDE.  If you write to anyone in a prison please give them the address so they can send in anything they like, and be sure to let them know to pass it on as well!

Sophie Inchains

PO Box 2900

South Portland, Maine. 04116

I wish everyone the best!  Solidarity in Struggle,

Sophie Inchains

Systemic Silencing: Maine State Prison Inmates in Danger for Publishing on Voices

14 September 2011

 

Dear Blog Readers,

 

On September 2, 2011 Commissioner Joseph Ponte issued a memo stating that Maine State Prison (MSP) will no longer allow inmates to send mail or pictures to people that post them to “Facebook and other social networking sites”.  The commissioner went on to say:

 

          “Any prisoner who is already engaged in this activity is to notify the person(s) who did any posting to remove them immediately.  Any prisoner who is discovered to have engaged in this activity after this date or whose prior posting(s) remain on Facebook or other social networking site [sic] two (2) weeks from this date will be subject to disciplinary action”.  [emphasis mine]

 

Ponte’s desire to silence inmates is so intense , he is threatening them with “disciplinary action”.  The Commissioner’s behavior is exactly the reason why Voices from the Cracks is necessary to the inmates and the community at large.  If the Maine Department of Corrections (MDOC) has nothing to hide, why are they in such a hurry to silence inmates?  If Ponte believe the MDOC is wholly innocent of: murder, physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, excessive use of solitary confinement, hundreds of instances of gross misconduct, and systemic abuses of power– than why is he threatening “discipline” for any and all who write to people who post online?  Moreover, many of the pieces that are submitted to Voices consist of: poetry, short stories, memoir, and political musings, which enrich the community while giving inmates a positive create outlet and a chance to make meaningful contributions to society.  All of which promote successful reentry and reduced recidivism.  Isn’t that suppose to be the goal?

 

Furthermore, Commissioner Joseph Ponte does not give a definition, outside of his Facebook reference, as to what he feels “other social networking” is.  However, Warden Patricia Barnhart made it clear in her personal letter to me that the she and Ponte believe Voices from the Cracks qualifies as “other social networking”.  After accusing my colleague of being Sophie Inchains, Barnhart says, “Sophie Inchains is not a verifiable name and we are asking you to use your proper first and last birth name or legal name on all correspondence with prisoners”.  Using a pseudonym in a field that is wrought with various kinds of danger and retaliation from prison officials is a common practice.  Regardless, Sophie Inchains is a “verifiable” person.  She has a post office box, three email accounts, a Facebook, a Twitter, and a Blog.  For months I, Sophie Inchains, have been communicating with inmates at MSP and it was not until recently that I became UN-“verifiable”.  In fact, I have even spoken to the commissioners office and the MSP mailroom.  Continuing with her rally against me, Barnhart went on to say:

 

     “Prisoners will not be permitted to send/receive correspondence to/from Sophie Inchains.  Prisoners are not permitted to provide photos and information to persons outside the facility to be uploaded to Facebook and other social networking sites.  I have attached a copy of the memorandum issued by MDOC Commissioner Joseph Ponte regarding this issue for your review”.

 

Clearly, Barnhart and Ponte are collaborating to silence and punish inmates.  Barnhart’s letter says inmates “will not be permitted to send/receive correspondence”, however, Ponte’s memo says prisoner need to “notify the person” that is posting to “other social networking” sites within “two weeks from this [September 2] date”.  How are inmates going to “notify” anyone if their mail is confiscated?  Moreover, Ponte’s memo is dated for September 2 but Barnhart’s letter was not postmarked until September 12.  I believe Ponte and Barnhart strategically timed the staggering of the memo and letter in order to illegally hold all incoming/outgoing mail to/from Sophie Inchains for at least ten days.  Although, if you take into consideration the length of time since my last MSP letter, I am guessing that MSP has been illegally holding mail for up to twenty days.

 

Commissioner Ponte and Warden Barnhart I am asking that you research the definition of a Blog [weB-LOG] and reconsider the position you are taking by calling it “other social networking”.  There are thousands of prisoner sites, which are run by: advocates, family members, lawyers, human rights activists, and even inmates themselves in facilities where the officials are not terrified that their abuse will leak to the media.  It’s funny how when prison officials have nothing to hide, inmates are treated like the humans they are.

 

Furthermore, incarcerated men at MSP do not send ANYTHING to be published on Facebook or “other social networking” sites.  The internet is a vast and mysterious thing, which allows people to post LINKS, on Facebook, or other pages.  A link on Facebook does not denote inmates sending materials for posting to Facebook, it simply means that someone liked what they read and shared it with their own friends via a link on Facebook.  I would also like to point out that no original work from an MSP inmate has ever been published to Facebook. Links are a part of everyday internet life, holding an inmate accountable for a process they have no control over is wholly criminal.  If an inmate is published in “The New England Journal of Medicine Online”, and someone posts a link to that on their Facebook page, are you going to punish the inmate?

 

In closing, Commissioner Ponte and Warden Barnhart’s uses of systemic silencing are so blatant they would be comical, if not for the over 800 men who are at the mercy of vindictive guards, the MDOC, and the Prison Industrial Complex as a whole.  Since MSP has proven repeatedly that inmates will be beaten death, psychologically abused, or keep them in solitary until they hang themselves temporary action must be taken to assure prisoners safety.  Therefore, in an attempt protect all the Voices I care so deeply about, all blogs posting from MSP prison inmates are suspended until further notice.

 

But rest assured readers…there will be a further notice.

 

Sincerely,

 

Sophie Inchains

Verified Prison Advocate