Release the Hounds

Release the Hounds

“Holy Shit”… I don’t gamble, but I would bet my last pack of smokes, the C.O. doing the count the morning of June 6 recited something along these lines — or far worse! As for releasing actual blood hounds to track the escaped convicts, that came much later.

The first thing the C.O.’s must have done was begin by searching nearby cells. This was prior to finding a neatly cut hole and making that dreaded call to the administration. As in many instances, inmates have been discovered cowering in another inmate’s cell after a “sleep over.” In cases such as this, the convicts are publicly ridiculed; then taken straight to the hole. It’s actually quite comical to witness this first hand, especially after alleged tough guys are caught in a compromising position.

I vividly recall such an incident, where during an unexpected 2a.m. count, the entire tier was awakened by a C.O. screaming, “break it up.” We all assumed two bunkmates got into it late one night and decided to lock horns. We soon found out they locked horns, except they were buck naked lying side by side as they locked them.

Their defense was that they had fallen asleep while watching T.V. and were “only” spooning! The C.O. wrote on the infraction that after catching them having sex, and after giving them a direct order to break it up, the trailblazer waved the officer off stating, “we’re already caught” and didn’t miss a stroke. Things of this nature happen more than most would imagine in prison.

As for myself I don’t like boys, and have never been involved in a (Shawshank Redemption) style prison break. In spite of this, I did manage to escape briefly prior to being brought to court. After being run over by a marked patrol car, “that sucked” and after being chained to the inside of a cell like Jesus Christ on the cross, instead of finding freedom at the end of a manhole cover ; I received another 4 years attached to my already lengthy sentence.

Unfortunately for me, along with not having the element of surprise by doing this un-detected, there were no woods to hide in on Court street in Brooklyn. It caused me a lot of problems then, and far more after I started this prison journey. Looking back with the gift of hindsight, at least I can say to myself “I tried.”

Back to the present, and the morning of the escape from Dannemora. The first sign that something was amiss was the piled high sterile, white styrofoam breakfast trays on the rolling metal cart. Moments later as we watched the morning news, we learned it was no late night tryst. The second that special report announced that two convicts had escaped from the very prison we were held captive in — the roar of applause was deafening. Lockers were banged into steel walls, and metal beds were slammed against concrete floors for effect. A few old timers even recited a few lines from Paul McCartney’s, “Band on the Run.” Fearing this might get out of control, the powers that be quickly shut the main channels off the television.

However the administration’s grand scheme of a media blackout was met with an air of idiocy. Along with leaving Telemundo (the Spanish channel) streaming across our screens, I guess they also forgot about closed captions, or that more than a few inmates speak Spanish. So watch we did. As the story progressed, each of us knew the repercussions were going to affect us far more than anything we had experienced prior,We were correct.

The impending shake down was inevitable, and after having to search every inch of the facility, it took several days before the search team hit our block. As the hundred or so corrections’ officers streamed down the tier, along with having their game faces on, you could see they were taking this escape personally. This wasn’t going to be a random shakedown. This was going to be the equivalent of an indoor cage by cage tornado — and it was.

If it wasn’t nailed down, it was tossed. There is nothing nailed down in my cage. If someone’s cardboard furniture was glued together, or painted on to a steel wall, a scraper and night stick quickly took care of whatever it was (Convicts create everything from shelving, to desks with working drawers out of cardboard, paint, and glue). Each and every cell was basically flipped upside down, and we were all relieved of things we considered precious. Amongst everything else, those green crates you probably noticed under my typewriter are things of the past. That means I am typing this on the throne, with my typewriter on a bucket in front of me.

To be honest, typing like, “The hunchback of Notre Dame”, eating Bologna sandwiches for the eleven day lock-down, and getting my home wrecked was worth watching that two of my brethren were free. More important than the actual escape itself, we had all hoped the exposure it created would highlight the injustices bestowed upon those who remain here — as this citadel of horrors is no ordinary prison. The one sided news reports might compare the prison to the likes of a “college campus” with a host of alleged luxuries. However, while inventing the 5 star amenities… did anyone ever stop and think that if things were so plush, why did these two convicts risk (and one found) a brutal death by escaping?

The fact of the matter is, the majority of us realize the possibility of parole is slim to none, even after spending decades as model inmates trying to atone for our sins against humanity. “The same crimes that occurred when we were far different individuals.” After the hope of dying free slips from our grasp, and as we age in this antiquated facade of justice, we face a non-existent health care system. Many of us are simply left in a constant state of needless suffering.

For 2,200 plus inmates, there’s only one primary care physician at Dannemora. If I had to describe him, I would say he looks like a larger version of David Letterman. The noticeable difference between them being a set of over-sized hands that matched the heart of this classic small town physician. He quickly learned how to weed out the drug seekers and how to appease those that are simply in need of a drop of human compassion. In cases such as my own, he learned if I am walking into his office, I either need a cast, a set of stitches… or worse.

When he took this position, I doubt he realized the majority of his recommendations would require outside approval. As is often the case, many procedures are often denied. Each time this occurs, the look in his eyes conveys things his livelihood will not allow him. With a gentle hand on his patient’s shoulder, words are not necessary.

One of those looks was the onset of being a four year court battle trying to receive prescribed medical care. Even though I have become proficient in navigating the legal system, if it were not for the help of the Cordoza School of Law (made famous by Barry Scheck’s innocence project) my medical needs and my Federal petition would have been dismissed without a second glance.

Along with realizing most of us don’t have a shot in hell at being released, or being cared for as we age and perish, Dannemora has a long standing reputation for brutality. Don’t think for a second, this only applies to overly aggressive inmates — it also applies to the elderly and infirm. When I witness a geriatric inmate being abused, I have to stop and wonder who belongs in a cage. This completely contradicts the reform minded ideals Dannemora was founded upon when it opened in 1845. “It was intended to be a beacon for reform that advocated humane treatment of prisoners. That reform mindset didn’t last said Jeff Hall, a history professor at Queensborough College. Jeff Hall wrote his doctoral dissertation on the prison.

In this dissertation, he wrote “the prison quickly used a dungeon for solitary confinement, as well as a chair bath” which was just another name for water boarding. I myself have seen these old cells, and the ancient restraint chairs in them. Yet what Mr. Hall failed to realize was practices such as this, and worse are still in effect till this very day. “The centuries have passed, and Dannemora retains it’s infamous reputation for brutality that ranks the worst in the New York State prison systems. There is little to no oversight where the guards regularly beat inmates *(many times just because they can) and presently, tensions are steadily building between prisoners and officers.

Since the escape, there have been several legitimate inmate on staff assaults, “and many more that are invented.” I used the word legitimate- as often after an inmate is abused, to add insult to injury, they are given an infraction, beaten yet again…then taken to a local court and charged with assault. Now in fear of the disastrous repercussions (for the time being) instead of completely revolting towards their abusers, the prisons inmate on inmate assaults are sky rocketing.

In the face of despair, many choose praying to their higher power by attending Saint Dismiss church. This is a house of worship named after the patron Saint of criminals, who was crucified next to Jesus Christ. Ironically the church itself was built by Charles “Lucky’ Luciano, who did as much using only inmate labor. However, even going to Catholic services has become a challenge, as the prison is currently without a priest, and services are often canceled.

The abuse is widespread and rampant, medical issues go un-addressed, parole is almost non-existent, and now instead of any of these issues being highlighted — the administration wants to further deduct from our already stressful final days. This after a single corrupt woman wanted to be the belle of the ball for a few convicts, and brought in amongst other things hacksaw blades. Let’s give this a drop of thought for a moment. In trying to feel wanted, and fill some emotional void, this women offered food, sex and freedom to human beings far more emotionally starved than herself. Now we have to pay the price.

Now a word to the alleged wise: Be careful taking what little is left from those that have already lost everything…

In being fair, not every Corrections officer at Dannemora condones abuse. I have witnessed my fair share of officers that are true men. Their job is to keep the dark things in their cages, and they manage to do as much while finding a perfect balance between being stern, yet still treating inmates as human beings.