The Pandemic Before The Pandemic By Khalid Barnes @ USP Canaan 2.13.22 #TheDayroom
"Lockdown" screams the C.O. It is 7:36 am on Super bowl Sunday. As we navigate the stairs one of the guys says "on Super bowl Sunday" slowly shaking his head. This is the norm @ USP Canaan this lockdown lasted for three hours, the last one was five minutes. The one before that was an hour. The notorious"Nation Wide" one from the 31st was for seven days.
Lockdown is the cruelest most arbitrary form of "solitary confinement". The Bureau of Prisons uses this as a tool to punish thousands of prisoners, and traumatize their families. After 6,525 days in BOP custody lockdown has been the one constant of "Life" in the penitentiary.
What is Lockdown? Twenty-four hours in the cell. An arcane form of "correctional martial law" that is arbitrarily used to establish "safety and security" and the "orderly running of the institution". My question, Is at what cost?
One third of my time in BOP custody has been spent on Lockdown. Five minutes has been the shortest in duration, while nine consecutive months has been the longest. In 2013 @ USP Pollock we spent 10 out of the 12 months on some form of lockdown.
Between you and I a prisoners worst fear is to die in prison. Neglected abandoned lost, and forgotten. I thought I was going to die during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 @ USP Beaumont. During this time the unit smelled like a "Porta Potty" due to the buildup of feces, mixed with sweat from going ten consecutive days without a shower. The fear was tangible, and the desperation translated from cell to cell. We were speaking in silence trying to make sense of our reality. For the duration of the hurricane not one psychologist, or member of the executive staff made rounds. The "unknown" is what amplifies the feelings of abandonment, and neglect.
This is not about me or my BOP resume, yet on Monday January 31, 2022 Guillmo Riojas, and Andrew Pineda were murdered @ USP Beaumont. The BOP instituted a "Nation Wide Lockdown". Were these two guys sentenced to death? Prisons have an overarching responsibility to keep prisoners, staff, and communities safe. The BOP's insular culture makes that nearly impossible.
I want to touch on a stranger phenomenon. After being released from lockdown, I heard several of my peers "blaming" the guys who got murdered? The trauma we endured. No mail. No texts. No phone? They attributed the blame to the two men who got murdered. Confounded? It seems like the real issue is the BOP's inability to keep us safe.
To date 300 people have perished due to covid, while prisoners are just being placed in a cell with moltrin after testing positive. Through the duration of the pandemic prisoners have not been able to "physically touch" family members. This began in March of 2020? I have seen how society has reacted when this loaded word "lockdown" is floated around. Yet these conditions have been pervasive @ the penitentiary level for decades. These lockdowns amplify feelings of abandonment by society. Prisoners do not have the "social acuity" to adapt and thrive in society. I call this "reverse socialization".
Philip Zimbardo creator of the landmark Stanford Prison Project Experiment made some interesting observations in the correlation of the "prison environment", and its capability to cause "violence". His hypothesis was "that prison violence is rooted in the social character of the jails themselves, not in the individual personalities of the guards or prisoners". This experiment was conducted at least a decade before the Sentencing Reform Act of 1983 and the onset of a Molotov cocktail of recidivist laws which fueled the current era of Mass Incarceration. A prison constructed in the basement of one of the most prestigious Universities in the world. This was a harbinger for what we currently see today @ the BOP.
The major difference this is not "simulation", people are really dying here. They are black, and brown people from communities of color who are disproportionately affected by the draconian laws and policies of Mass Incarceration. Prisoners at FCI Sheridan are drinking water out of the toilet? Is that hard for you to believe? Does your dog drink water out of the toilet?
Guys the scariest part is 95% of the guys incarcerated @ the BOP will be returning to society. Damaged. I have witnessed a prisoner dead in the middle of the dayroom floor while prisoners go to the shower, and get hot water preparing for "Lockdown"? Desensitized? Traumatized? Straight back to the community.
If I feel like in order to survive in Federal prison I need to have a weapon. Does this thinking, and behavior stop at R&D? We are carrying this criminal thinking and behavior back to our communities?
The majority of these murders are committed by guys who have less than three years left. Mr. Pineda was only sentenced to six years? He is now dead? Who comes to prison to die? Saying No in here, may cost you your life. Peer pressure is suffocating. Gang culture, and segregation prevalent. Combined with the sheer indifference for the sanctity of human life. These are the conditions which are pervasive in here!
Endemic inhumane conditions take away your ability to choose forcing you to make choices for the sake of "self preservation". These choices affect the lives of thousands of people everyday. People who are just trying to get home. Deonte Ward he has a date for 4/13/22, and has maintained clear conduct throughout the duration of his incarceration. Mr. "Knucklehead", has been to every penitentiary in the United States within the last six years. Why are they housed in the same housing unit?
Houston we have a problem! Lack of transparency and oversight have given the BOP the ability to operate with impunity. This culture creates conditions which are conducive to recidivism. 77% of prisoners in BOP custody will return to BOP custody within thirty-six months.
If the graduation rate at Harvard was 23% would you send your child there?
Severe understaffing, a criminal covid response mixed with "rampant corruption"? Okay lets blame the current Director Michael Carjaval? The Bureau is microcosmic of a carceral system which is ineffective at its primary societal function. Keeping society safe!
The Department of Justice needs to obtain a "consent decree" for the daily deprivations and the trampling of civil rights @ these facilities.. This is not just a few "bad apples" the barrel is structurally damaged. We need direct correspondence with an "Independent Review Board" so we can file grievances without the fear of retribution. The BOP is the most culpable, and the DOJ has to act.
Mayor Eric Adams who I disagree with on most actions said something that was profound "public safety is a pre-requisite to a functional society". I am humbly asking; Are prisoners in the equation?