INHUMANE WELCOMING SOCIETY – Part one
Arrival Date: 9/06/2011
The drive from Orange County Jail was quiet. No one spoke. There was no radio and no bathroom breaks for me, only for the deputies escorting me. I found that dehumanizing. I was in tight leg irons and very tight waist chains connected to my wrists that were cutting the skin on both my wrists. I was able to ignore the pain to enjoy the day long drive in amazement, wondering about the tiny universes in each car, home and building. The prison entrance is on the beautiful bay water’s edge. It’s a huge contrast between the majestic ocean view and the eyesore of an old prison. That view was to be the last picturesque view I was to see.
My welcome to death row was vile and illegal. I.G.I (gang unit) came and did a strip search using a flash light. They then attempted to coerce me into saying I had swallowed some kind of contraband so they would have a reason to x-ray me, which I refused to do since I did not do anything. I thought that a strip search with a flash light was degrading enough but I quickly came to realize the demeaning bus ride and the strip search were only the beginning. I was to be place on “potty watch”. I put on my t-shirt, boxers and socks. Tape was tightly wrapped around my lower thigh muscles above my knee serving to constrict my movement, and my blood circulation. Two identical one piece white outfits were put on me with strings as buttons. One was placed on me backwards, strings tightly tied with the other strings forward tied. This was to be torture. Leg irons were cutting into my ankles. I had no shoes for my feet. More tape was wrapped around the outside of the outfit and around my ankles and thighs. The walk up to Adjustment Center was very painful. My requests for this to be loosened were ignored.
I was told I’m going stay in the Adjustment Center, also known as the hole for trouble makers. I.G.I. told me, unless I become an informant, I’ll stay in the A/C. That was a statement I ignored. I found it unreasonable, so therefore untrue. Wow, was I wrong. I was placed in a 5 by 3 foot wide cell in the middle of the second floor. It was a lesson in what it means to be treated inhumanely. I was not allowed to shower or given any soap. The tape and the chains made my movements painful. Relaxing was virtually impossible. A mattress was given to me at night. I fell over and hit my head trying to lie down. I welcomed the 3 inch mattress but the padlock dug into my waist making it painful to sleep. One of the correctional officers tried to tell the I.G.I. officers to loosen the waist chains a bit so I could eat my food. He was met with a stern response that they were doing it by the book. This would prove to be the symbolic format of death row, an inhumane system with both humane and cruel humans working in it. Eating was hard to do since the spoon wouldn’t reach my mouth. I had to use the bathroom in a bag and cup in front of the officers who were intensely watching me. I had to do this while at the beginning of the tier where anyone in the cell block could look out and see me. It’s embarrassing and humiliating to do, in front of other men, what is normally private. But obviously it’s the norm for these men, since they nonchalantly went through the process of ‘potty watch’.
When I asked why I was put on potty watch I was told in a very matter of fact way, “You’re a Southern Hispanic. This is your welcoming to death row.” It was said is if I should’ve known I was to be treated this way and I should be submissive and accepting of it.The cell I went into after I finished 3 ½ days of potty watch had the smell of other inmates all over the blankets and clothing. In addition to the odors they were in serious need of washing. They were filthy. I was placed in a ‘quiet cell’, which is behind two gates. I had to clean it despite the pain in my hands, back and legs from the lack of circulation. I forced myself to soap up the cell with an old soap and used towels I found in the cell. Afterward I threw out the used blankets and clothing.
I was issued only part of the clothing and supplies they were supposed to give me. It took me four months to get a second towel and three days to receive a plastic spoon; the type you get at parties and fast food restaurants. It took four months to get a plastic fork. To this day I still don’t have my full issue of clothing. It’s cold in the winter. There’s no heat. It took two months to get the second blanket I should have been issued when I arrived.
I questioned myself, is it always like this?? I discovered the rules are no explained but are learned at the expense of the pain and suffering the inmates go through. I was strip searched before I went to the shower. (What do they possibly think I could have at this point?) I was handcuffed behind my back and told to walk backwards as if I was a wild maniac. The process of strip searching is the normal procedure all inmates in A/C go through when coming or going from their cell or the yard, even in bad weather. Inmates in the A/C have no cover on the cages in our yard. All other yard cages at San Quentin have cover. We get soaked when it rains.
When they uncuffed my hands I had to stand backwards at the door and put both hands out the food slot opening. I didn’t know I was supposed to keep my other hand out when it was uncuffed from the other one, so when I pulled the uncuffed hand back in through the opening my other hand was roughly pulled out farther and yanked to the side until I put my uncuffed hand back out through the slot. Why didn’t they just tell me what the protocol was? Death row was turning out to be a rough ride.
I wrote a post on August 23rd about juvenile offenders in LA. I am reading a book that was written in the 90’s titled “No Matter How Loud I shout” by Edward Humes. It centers strongly on the Latin gangs in LA and how they kids were treated by the courts. Armando would have been part of this. Knowing the life he had at home. He only knew violence at home. There was love and respect given to him by his homies in the gangs. It was understandable he would gravitate to this way of life.
The juvenile courts, for the most part, had an attitude of lock them up and throw away the key. Kids as young as 7-9 were deemed hopeless. There were a few people who tried to help these kids, thinking if they reached them early they could change their path. But there was no money for help. No programs or counselling. No help for parents. Kids with parents who wanted help couldn’t get it. Kids in foster care had no chance at all. But there was plenty of money to build new prisons. These kids would end up filling these prisons.
There are many Armandos out there.)
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