Super Max: A Vivid Account of Solitary in New England

SUPER MAX

By Pornchai Moontri

The time I spent in a New England state prison’s Super Max unit is not easy to write about.  It changed me more than I care to acknowledge or talk about.  I spent three-and-one-half years in one stretch in Super Max.  Of thirteen years in that prison system, more than half of it was spent in Super Max.

The first time I was sent to Super Max was kind of scary.  I was sent there because I was accused by “confidential inmate informants” of planning to make a homemade bomb to try to blow up the prison.  I was nineteen years old, and had been in prison only four months when I was sent to Super Max.

When I first saw the place, it looked really tough.  It had rows and rows of razor wire around its perimeter, cameras at every turn, and three check points [sic] before you even get to the entrance.  As I was getting out of the prison van at

Super Max, I was met by six “SERT Team” guys in full riot gear.  They told me what they expected of me: no quick movements; keep my head up and my eyes forward; no speaking at all unless I was asked a question.  I was told that if I did not obey these rules perfectly upon command, as they put it, I would be dumped on my ass!  They really knew how to make a guy feel welcomed.

Once inside, when I first stepped onto the pod, it was the smell that I noticed first.  The smell of urine and fecal matter was so overwhelming, I thought I might get sick.  I was taken to a cell, and locked in.  My very first thought was that I didn’t want to touch anything.  It was filthy.  Then I knew that I would have to clean the place up before I could possibly live there, but I have nothing to clean with – no cleaning supplies at all.  Before I could ask the corrections officer (c/o) for something to clean with, the guy in the cell next to me told me that it would be easier to just set off the fire sprinkler system to douse the cell.  About ten minutes after the deluge began, the SERT Team was at my cell door to extract me from it.

I wrestled with four of them for a few minutes before they got me to the floor, and beat me like a dog.  My arm was so twisted behind my back, I thought it would break.  With a booted foot pressing my bare head to the concrete floor and another on my neck, my leg bent so far backward that my foot pressed against my butt, I was powerless.

Then I was placed in the black chair, chained and cuffed, and unable to move at all.  After five hours in the black Chair, I was asked if I was calm now, and ready to be

taken back to my cell.  I said something sarcastic and angry, and just spend longer in the chair.  Unfortunately for me, that was not my last time in the black chair.  I was brought back to it many times – usually for three or four hours at a stretch.  I just didn’t seem to learn my lesson.

Finally, I was brought back to my cell, cleaned by the sprinkler system just as my neighbor said it would be.  It got cleaned the hard way!  That was my first day in Super Max.

The Super Max cell had nothing in it but a stainless steel toilet, a bunk, and a stainless steel table bolted to the wall.  The window in the cell door was about twelve by sixteen inches.  Any time I had to be moved or let out of the cell, I was placed in four-point restraints, hands and feet, and then stripped to be searched after every movement.

Every day there was the same monotony: breakfast at 0530 followed by forty-five minutes alone in the rec pen.  That was like a big dog cage.  I could take exactly eleven steps inside it and then back again.  It was about five feet wide and eight feet long with chain link on all sides and above.  It really was a cage.  I could have a fifteen-minute shower five times a week, and one fifteen-minute telephone call per week.  There was no use of a TV or radio.

Lunch was always at 11:30 and dinner at 4:30.  Four times a day guards would come to count me at the same time every day.  I would have to stand up or sit on the concrete bunk.  I was allowed to look at three books per week.  I would take any books that were big so they would last a long time.  I read the Bible cover to cover twice.  I read Stephen King books because they were big.  ADD STORYI also read Shogun and any other large novel I could get.  At O7OO every day, someone would come by with a tube of toothpaste, put a dab on my finger, and I would “brush” with that.

Super Max was so depressing and so solitary that prisoners would try to cut themselves deeply or hang themselves just to get out of there.  Since this Super Max prison opened in 1992, there have been three inmate deaths there by suicide (one was a suspected homicide), and hundreds of prisoners were seriously injured.  One prisoner was extracted from his cell so he could not harm himself, and then he died from the injuries he sustained while being extracted.

The longer a prisoner stayed in Super Max, the more anti-social he became.  Inmates would do anything to try to break up their day and entertain themselves.  Some played with their own urine and feces, and others used those as weapons, throwing them at the guards after calling their names to get their attention.  Some of the more manipulative would talk other prisoners into acting up.  I know today that we acted like animals because we were treated like animals.

I survived Super Max by doing as many as 1,500 push-ups a day, and venting as much of my anger, frustration, and energy as possible into physical fitness.  In a way, this also worked against me.  The more physically strong I became, the more I was treated like a dangerous animal.  I knew that self-discipline was my only way to stay sane, so I lived a strict regimen of exercise for many years.

When I finally left Super Max for good, I had a lot of emotional problems.  I was angry, depressed, often hostile, and anti-social.  Then I was transferred to an adjacent state’s prison system where I had a new beginning.  I found a lot of help here, and all the baggage of those long hard years left me in time.  I never want to go back.  I am 38 years old now, and haven’t seen freedom for almost 20 years.  However, I have learned that freedom begins on the inside, not the inside of a prison but the inside of my own soul.  It is there that I am free.

Guards Still Tormenting Inmates on the way to Eat and Canteen Contract Issues at MSP

Dear Sophie

Enclosed is a “declaration” given to me by [name omitted] sometime in March of 2010, just before he was snatched up and taken to segregation for his unique letter writing campaign.  Eventually he was freed in Spring of 2010.

Last Tuesday 12 thru 14th this whole place was locked-down due to recent article enclosed [Clipping in envelop was from the Lewiston Sun Journal titled: “Sale of property near prison site ‘raises red flags’.  Dated: July 2, 2011].  Warden was pissed she couldn’t dub-divide three (3) parcels of land she just purchased, converting into seven (7) parcels.  Currently, Attorney General is trying to void this Ship Street real estate transaction.  Warden should of known she was violating state policy by exercising her authority to solely be only state official who could bid on this favorable property.  Senator Katz is a through official and recently commented on warden being only bidder to this property.  That alone should warrant warden to be reprimanded.  (Emphasis added)

To create unnecessary over-time for warden’s staff.  She implemented phony ass excuses of staff not feeling safe and inmates romping around here all beat up.  So let’s waste tax paying dollars on overtime expenses for her staff in ripping up inmates cells for contraband.

Currently the Maine Dept. of Corrections is w/o a canteen contract.  Pine State Vending (in Augusta) was previous contractors.  Milking all sorts of profits out of unhealthy food and basic “readers” in their machines that illegal [sic] extract money off a prisoner’s card and do not provide for reimbursements.  In the old M.S.P. facility (Thomaston) the state reaped all the profits from canteen sales.  Today, they’d rather sublease the canteen contract to lowest bidder.  But that never occurs.  Usually the State agrees to contract the bidder who will provide more kick-backs to the prison for doing business with that bidder/company.

I’m going to be requesting Long Timer’s Group to rally up some stamps to donate to your worthy cause.  Our next meeting is July 30th.  The struggle continues.

Recently staff have resorted to deliberately standing in middle of runway trying to force inmates to walk between them (like a gauntlet) in hopes of recklessly enticing prisons.  Warden has received numerous complaints about this childish penal tactic.  But to no avail has she been able to cure this belittling of staffs conduct.  Just another day in Maine’s hyped-up correctional frontier.  Staff daily being held unaccountable for their actions.  Hey, just like the sign says…”Vacationland-the way life should be!”

 

Respectfully,

 

Kevin

Maine State Prison: A Sonnet

Harold Sanford Carter III/112150

Maine State Prison

807 Cushing Road

Warren, Maine  04864-4600

Maine State Prison

Behind a door steel amongst me concrete.

Distress letters the Pen and Solitude.

My prison is lonely, hence this sonnet.

Orange Pants, orange shirt, and orange shoes.

I cannot leave but only in novels.

Clicking of cuffs and chains disturb my drift.

Books and Pens with Paper become my friends.

Corridor echos from showers that drip.

Doors slam and shut the sounds become normal.

The smell of Pepper spray, the Punishment!

Quiet like a mouse; invisible me.

People of time, outlaws of regiment.

A thousand People in one big mansion.

I will leave in death; this Maine State Prison.

Mass Punishment Continues at MSP: Is Commissioner Ponte Using Smoke and Mirrors?

June 30th. 2011

The need for expression is heavily upon me.

Once again, these prison officials are clearly enjoying themselves by harassing us and imposing “mass punishment” on the vast majority of us for reason(s) that still require explanation.

Bear [sic] with me a moment.  The cells here are rather small for two (2) men to share.  For whatever reason, the one (1) man cells in the other part of the prison are larger than the two(2) men cells.  There is one (1) toilet in an open area in the cell.  If one has to urinate, one turns his back to the other one and urinates.  If one has to defecate, well, one must hold it.  It is an unwritten law here that one does not defecate while two (2) men are in the cell.  One waits until the cell door is opened for “outside of cell time” to begin.

In any event, we were fed in our cells this morning and now allowed out (64 of us comprise this living area, called a “pod”).  We were also fed in our cells this afternoon and not let out.  Around 1P.M., we were individually stripped naked and subjected to a cavity search, then had our cells searched and torn apart.  During the course of this fiasco, “not” one man was found with any contraband on his person or cell.

At approximately 4P.M., the pod officer informed all 64 prisoner’s that we were being placed on a certain type of cell restriction, per order Sergeant Anthony Petrino.  This type of cell restriction is called “split tier”.  It is a mass punishment that is illegal and punishes many, most; rather than the wrong-doer.  My understanding is prison official found two (2) razor blades in a “common area”.  There was no way of telling who put them where-ever or however long ago!  So this Sgt. Petrino says though he doesn’t know who the wrong-doer is, though he doesn’t even know how long the blades were there, he has placed the entire pod of 64 men on split tier, e.g., cell restriction!  Is this just or fair?  No!  It is illegal and subjects innocent men to 8th Amendment violations of Cruel and Unusual Punishment.

Indeed, “Blake v. Hall”, 6687.2d52 (57-58) (1st. Circuit 1981) States:” the court has decided: we see no reason why “well-be-haved” [sic] inmates should have to suffer cruel and unusual punishment because of the activities of some disruptive ones.  Need I say anymore?!

Forgive me, as I have gotten ahead of myself.  Back to sergeant Petrino.  After his announcement of this illegal cell-restriction, I went to the pod officer and requested a Grievance Form (contrary to MDOC policy and the U.S. Constitution), there are, rather, per Commissioner Joseph Ponte, all Grievance Forms have been “removed” from our living areas!  We now must beg prison officials for grievances, even then we are denied them!  In any event, after requesting a grievance form, the officer informed me that 15-20 men had already requested grievances, that he called in that request to sergeant Petrino and he was “not” giving anyone any grievances and we were being placed on “split tier”.

After the above, I tore my paperwork apart and found a Grievance I had not used (sending you my copy).  I filled the grievance out and presented it to Sgt. Petrino.  Well!  He outright “refused” to accept it…Can you believe that?  Sure you can.  Now they begin to play their games again.  [Four sentences omitted by Sophie].  And it will go on and on and on!!!

Just got your letter to me.  Thank you so much for caring enough to give me a response.  That means an awful lot to me.

At this time, you are being given “my blanket consent to show “anything” I mail to you to your blog, newsletter, other agencies etc. etc.  just stick by me, don’t runaway form me.  Should these prison officials send me to another state because I’ve asserted my right to “Freedom of Speech”, so be it.  That will give you that much more to write about.  I fear none by Allah!!

Since I began this letter, anther sergeant has informed me that the order to restrict us to “split tier” came directly from Commissioner Ponte.  I would like to say I don’t believe that because Mr. Ponte is quoted as saying, he doesn’t believe in “mass punishment” and that mass punishment would no longer be tolerated.  Yet, it’s existing.

I don’t know if you are aware of it, however, Lance Tapley of the Portland Phoenix did a piece on Ponte and gave him high marks!  To say the least, I believe that the high marks were premature.  What Ponte has/is doing, is akin to the slave going from chattel slaver to economic slavery.  He says the is going to lower the number of prisoner’s in SMU; that happened for a very short while.  Currently, SMU is filling up again!  Many, many men are put on cell restriction as opposed to SMU (chattel to economic slaver, good analogy).  Also, Ponte stated, no man would be housed in SMU over seven (7) days unless he receives a disciplinary violation.  As of this writing I know of a minimum of ten (10) men in SMU still sitting down there on investigation close to a “month”.  No disciplinary violation.  He said no mass punishment, yet, he is said to be the one who said “put them in cell restriction”, as a means of mass punishment.  I believe he is hoodwinking people in your circle to take some sting out of the bite.

I’m enclosing you’re my copy of my latest grievance.  Please do with that and this letter whatever you feel will be most beneficial to us in here.  You said you are our Voice.  Please know, we want to hear your voice as loud as possible.

Okay, I’m going to bring my rambling to a close.  I want to get this in the mail ASAP.

Please take care, don’t forget about us and write back to me “soon”.

 

Lion

Please Note:  Although it is the policy of Voices to keep the letters as true to form as possible there are occasions, such as this, when small changes are made in order to protect the identity of the inmate. 

Still in Lockdown…

5/10/2011

Todays a better day then yesterday.  It doesn’t matter that I’m still in 24 hour lock down, I was able to call my mom about my grandfathers death.  I also decided to write my son a letter.  I don’t plan on him responding, but that’s okay.

Talking with my mom was nice and also sad.  I have a hard time dealing with my mom when she is upset.  It remindes [sic] me of a time in High school.  I grabbed her car keys and stole her car.  She stood in front of the car bare footed on the ice.  I remember her face was red.  She needed the car for work, but that didn’t phase me.  Her face was sad and she could no longer stand the freezing caused by the ice under her feet.  She had no choice, she could no longer block me from leaving.  She had to go back inside her apartment where it was warm.  I drove off not understanding how wrong I was.  I love you mom!

There has been some conflick [sic] in the family sense [sic] my grandmother past last year.  There’s one family member who wants to control my grandparents money.  She has no regard for my grandparents wishes and has taken advantage of my grandfathers weakness.  Growing up I never thought any family member would interfear [sic] with my grandparents final wishes.  The whole family had a good sense of values.  It was always good to do the right thing no matter the situation.  I guess the color of money has changed at least one of them at this point.

My sister (name omitted by typist) is staying at my grandparents house.  She is taken care of their 3 dogs.  These dogs are all brothers and should not be seperated [sic], their spoiled.  The dogs meals are prepared in 3 different bowls.  1 cup dried dog food, 1 can tuna, 1 cup warm water, and two inches of Summer Sausage cut into squares.  There is a place for each bowl, if they happen to become mixed up the dogs will not eat out of the other dogs bowl.  This is one of the more serious task in the house.  My grandparents travel to (place omitted by typist) dollar store for the tuna, (place omitted by typist) Walmart for the dried dog food, and Shaws for the Summer Sausage.  There is a time set for the dinners, it’s a big deal if your [sic] late.  God love old people!

I wrote my son (name omitted by typist) in hope of easing his emotional pain about the deaths.  I let him know that they both were well respected and great people.  I wanted him to know they were together for 60 years.  They lived in the middle of the woods at the end of a dirt road for 50 of those 60 years.  Their lives were consumed with each other.  His Great Grandfathers heart was broken when his Great Grandmother past [sic] on.  He was lost without her.  When she died it was the end of his life also.  I could see it in his eyes.  I let (name omitted by typist) know that Great Gramy [sic] is waiting for him in heaven with open arms.

It seems like my emotions are more extream [sic] while here in prison.  Issues that wouldn’t effect me on the streets, deeply effect me in here.  It has to do with the simple life.  While on the streets I’m running around working, drinking, visiting people ext.  In here is different.  Its like being forced to look within.  It gives me the oppertunety [sic] to search my soul.  There are a few things going on here that are exciting.  On Sunday we have chocolate cake for dessert, a female guard was working in here the other day, we all got new socks, one of the personers [sic] checked in a skinner, and I got an extra sugar packet with my oatmeal.  The things are exciting but, they do not consume my mind as the issues on the street do.  I think it’s a good thing.  Living simple for a while combined with my age of 36 and my experiences through life could possibly set me on the right track.

I’m looking forward to the future, education, jogging, meeting new people, working on myself while hopefully enacting some new programs here.  I have some good ideas that should be easy to accblish [sic] that will benefit the prisoners mental state.  But, I will discuss that in another letter.  For now I need to live in the moment.  I had to catch my speeding thought earlier.  I was thinking about a haircut, buying a dictionary, getting to work release, what I will do when released, ext.  I was living outside of today.  I want this, I want that, if I had this, I could do that!  The truth is once I get this or that there will be happiness for a minute befor [sic] I want something else.

I was reading an article on giving up on the idear [sic] that “more is better”.  The article explained how we live in the most affluent culture that the world has ever seen.  It goes on to say, we are 6 percent of the worlds population while using up almost half of the natural resources.  It goes on to say we should be satisfied for what we have.  But were [sic] not.  Not even close.  In fact we live in one of the most dissatisfied cultures on record.  As soon as we get something, or achieve something, most of us go on to the next thing immediately.  This squelches our appreciation for life and its many blessings.

From this point on I’m going to catch those “more is better thoughts” and realize if I always think “more is better”, I will never be satisfied.  I need to be happy for what I have.  I’m happy that I have a pen and paper to write with.  I’m happy that my mother still loves me and my grandfather no longer has to suffer with a broken heart.  I’m happy that (name omitted by typist) is my friend and I got two new white blankets yesterday.  I’m happy for the coffee the murderer that lives next door gave me, the fact my grandparents dogs are still together, that the juice at dinner time is extra consentrated [sic] so I can make 2 cups out of it by adding water, that I can yell out the door when I need a word spelled, and for the extra sugar packet that comes with my oatmeal once-in-awhile.

Don’t get me wrong.  Its nice to have things.  But, it seems with me anyway when I swell on “more is better”, I miss out on the true blessings of life.  Maybe living simple for awhile is a good thing.  I have wasted to many days in my life, I don’t want to waste anymore by fantasying how life could be “only if…”

Henry Jacques

A Letter from Lockdown

5/6/2011

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.
Henry Jacques
807 Cushing Road
Warren, Maine 04864-4600
(The original letter has an RIP to Henry’s grandfather whose name has been removed by typist.)