Dying Inmate Scrawls Message in Blood

[written by Susan Ashline; as told by inmate Jon Fontaine]

A huge crash awakened me in my cell at Mid-State prison. It was early – 5 a.m. – and all the lights were on. It was August 2014.

I ran to the door, joining the other inmates who’d craned their necks to the hallway, trying to figure out what was happening.

Mid-State used to be a mental hospital, so the cell was a room with no toilet or sink, and no actual door.

The corrections officer working the overnight shift on my unit only left his office for two things: the midnight and 6 a.m. head counts. He did not make the required half-hour rounds. Instead, he would sleep in his office.

I saw a guard we called “Dirty Red” standing in the hallway, just outside another inmate’s door. Dirty Red was notorious for mistreating prisoners. But one act got him beaten senseless by another guard. Dirty Red would piss in the inmate ice machine. Each housing unit had one, like the kind you’d find in a hotel. But he failed to consider that officers used those ice machines, too. And then, one found out about it.

Dirty Red wasn’t even supposed to be on our unit that night. That, along with his reputation and the crashing locker led me to one conclusion.

“They’re fucking up Shadow!” I yelled.

More inmates rushed to their doors.

Shadow was a white guy with a long, black pony tail. He was super quiet and played guitar. We talked every day.

He’d been battling the prison administration and the Office of Mental Health (OMH). He wanted – needed – his bi-polar medication. He’d taken it his whole life, he told me. But the administration wouldn’t let him have it. He felt fine, they insisted. They argued he’d been cured of his mental illness.

And he’d mock them. “Miraculously cured,” he would say.

Knowing he wasn’t cured, and riding an emotional roller coaster, Shadow started filing grievances and writing letters. Everything was getting denied. Their reasoning? Shadow shouldn’t be granted “special treatment.”  By that, I suppose they meant expecting to be able to continue taking medication he’d been taking for years.

His cries for help denied by Mid-State administrators and OMH staff, Shadow resorted to filing an Article 78. It’s a form of lawsuit used to challenge an administrative decision, action or policy. You can’t get money from an Article 78. The most you can win is the administrative action you’re seeking.

In this case, Shadow wanted his mental health medications. He’d been feeling ill for so long.

I knew Shadow had just filed the Article 78. I’d surmised this was just another retaliatory beating in typical prison guard Gestapo fashion. I figured a couple of officers – certainly Dirty Red – waited until the early morning hours to storm Shadow’s room in a gang assault to teach him a lesson about challenging the administration. Of course my mind would go there. That stuff happens epidemically in the prisons.

I heard bangs and thuds and a mix of voices – shrieks and hollers. I saw more officers rushing the scene, some carrying medical bags; one with a defibrillator.

I read the panic on Dirty Red’s face. I saw it in his hands. They shook so violently that he dropped a package of gauze pads and another officer snatched them.

Shadow’s locker came sliding out of the room into the hallway, creating a smeared trail of blood.

I heard the AED beep its warning. An electronic voice spoke commands on how to restart a heart.  Then, a voice crackled over the two-way radio, “The ambulance is here.”

Guards picked out four inmates standing in their doorways. A folding canvas stretcher opened and then disappeared into Shadow’s room. It came out moments later, carried by the inmates.

As it passed through the doorway, I saw Shadow’s feet. Then, I saw his arm dangling from it, like his locker, cold and gray.

“Look at how bruised he is!” someone shouted.

He wasn’t bruised. He was dead. I knew it, and I hollered it back.

The stretcher gone, we were allowed to make our way to the bathroom one at a time. We would have to walk past Shadow’s room, squeezing by the metal locker splattered with blood.

When I got to Shadow’s room, I gawked.

Blood spray ran down the wall where the locker used to be, leaving a blank outline.  Shadow’s chair was in the far corner. A huge pool of blood was on the floor and leading from it, trails of bloody footprints.

I moved on to the bathroom, but stopped again on my way back. This time, I looked at the locker blocking my way. On the side that would’ve been closest to Shadow’s chair, was a message written in blood:

“Now how do I feel?”

Later, we learned what happened. In the early morning hours, an inmate on his way to the bathroom passed Shadow’s room and saw him slumped on the floor in blood. The inmate ran to the officer on duty and found him sleeping in his office, so he woke him.

Shadow, who’d been miraculously cured of bi-polar disorder and no longer needed medication to control his mood swings, had sat in the chair in the corner of his room and, with his state-issued shaving razor, cut his wrists and used the blood to ink a final argument for treatment.

Now, how do you feel?

 

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From Math Class to Prison

[by Jon Fontaine, a NYS prison inmate]

December 20, 2016

When my friends went back to their junior and senior years in high school, I was a freshman in prison. When they were in 2nd period math, I was working in a prison mess hall with murders and rapists.

I had just turned 18.

Something happened – what,  I don’t remember. Maybe I got in an argument. Maybe a corrections officer yelled at me. Maybe I dropped something and snapped.

Either way, I cried.

It was the only time a state employee said something useful to me. A corrections officer (CO) saw me and called me into his office. He told me: in prison, if you act weak, people will take advantage of you. If you act tough, people will test you. But if you act crazy, no one will want to mess with you.

Shortly after that, I was sent to another prison primarily full of teens. This was an institution supported by taxpayers and run by state employees that was as lawless as you can imagine.

Officers brutally assaulting teens younger than their own children; sometimes a gang of officers on one 16, 17 or 18 year old, only to lie in reports and claim the teen assaulted the half-dozen officers. And then they’d have the kid criminally charged.

Weapons, drugs, fights, cuttings, stabbings, teens putting combination locks in socks and bashing each others’ faces in.

I watched one inmate use just such a weapon to attack another teen while he was on the phone to his mom. The teen was screaming, his mom was screaming through the phone that was left dangling and swaying back and forth. All over a pair of sneakers.

There, I did not act crazy. I was crazy. But so was everyone else. Any disrespect or off-handed comment was a call to fight. Not a fight like boxing or MMA. No refs. No rules. No towel to throw in. Weapons okay.

A life-or-death fight. No one there to break it up.

Five COs will jump a 120 pound 16- or 17-year-old. Beaten by 1200 pounds of adult.

And normal people wonder why I have a problem with authority and no respect for rules that are selectively applied and enforced.

I’d never been to a circus, but that first year in prison, I routinely watched a circus train of animals pass right outside the prison gate.

Who were the real animals?

That year, everyone I grew up with and went to school with graduated from high school. When they walked across the stage to get their diploma, I was in prison. When they went off to college, I was in prison getting a bachelor’s degree in criminal lifestyle.

I watched the Twin Towers fall in prison.

I wound up being released three days before my 19th birthday. I had earned my GED behind bars. My release was in late fall, and I immediately tried to enroll in community college for the semester starting at the end of January.

To my shock, the admissions office told me it was non-waivable policy that anyone released from prison had to wait six months to even apply. The way the timing worked out, that meant I would not start college until 10 months after my release from prison (two years after I was last in school).

I also learned there was no point in pursuing the career I’d dreamed of since childhood: architect. New York law would not give an architect license to a convicted felon.

So I tried to join the army. 9/11 was two months prior. My entire life, my only plan other than being an architect was joining the army. I had even been in contact with a recruiter when I was in high school.

I called him.

Despite the army’s need for cannon fodder in Afghanistan, the recruiter told me no branch of the military would take me, a felon.

Parole required me to have a job, or go back to prison.

Try getting a job as a 19-year-old felon on parole.

Why did I only have a GED? “I went from being a junior in high school to being a freshman in prison.”

“Sorry, but I can’t work after 9 p.m. because I have a parole curfew.”

“Sorry, I can’t travel… ya know… parole.”

“… and I’ll need Tuesdays off so I can meet with my parole officer.”

If I didn’t have a job, parole would send me back to prison. No one would hire me because I had been in prison and was on parole.

 

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Auburn Prison Guard Plants Weapon to Frame Inmate

READ THE STORY HERE (December 23, 2016).

This happens all day, every day. For some reason, this story made news.

Why should you care? Because rules are in place to be followed. In fact, you may not care until someone in a position of power doesn’t follow the rules involving you, and you need lots of luck trying to fight the system and do something about it.

 

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