Everything you always wanted to

by francine Hardaway on March 2, 2004

Everything you always wanted to know about prison…
For those of you who have been following the travails of my bipolar former foster son, LJ, and his experiences in the prison system, here�s an update that demonstrates everything that is wrong-headed and downright stupid about that system. Every time he and I think we have it figured out and we�re making some headway on preparing him for a life when he is released, some more s___ hits the planning fan and we�re back to ground zero. It�s as if we are trying to make lemonade and the lemons are juiceless.

After being moved around five times in the last 25 months, Jerry was at Sam Lewis Prison in Buckeye, Arizona. We had arranged for him to start working at Hickman�s Egg Ranch in the near future, and for him to register for two college classes.

You probably remember that the longest hostage crisis in history took place recently at Sam Lewis Buckeye Prison. Although LJ was on a minimum security �yard�, and wasn�t near it, it stopped us from being able to visit him for a month. His sister and I try to visit as often as we can, because most of the prisoners in minimum security have large and attentive families who try to do the same, and LJ�s birth family is pretty scattered. Visiting him in prison, while always a bummer, is a way to keep him connected to the outside world and planning for a different future.

But as soon as the hostages were released, they started moving prisoners around � I guess because Lewis Prison is overcrowded. They moved LJ to Globe�sixty miles away and in the middle of nowhere.

Before they moved him, they took all his books away from him (I had sent about twenty-five, and he had read them all) and most of his clothing (I had sent money for extra shoes and jackets). After confiscating these possessions, they told him he had two weeks either to get someone to pick them up and take them home for him, or to mail them home himself. After that, they�ll be donated to the prison library and the clothes will be given to someone else.

Well, the last $200 I sent him through Western Union appears on my credit card, but never arrived on his books. The money we allocated for his college classes is on �hold� for education and can�t be used by him for postage. So he doesn�t have money to mail the package to us; we will have to drive to Globe next weekend. But we don�t know the visiting hours yet, and neither does he.

At Globe prison, the glamor jobs at Hickman�s Egg Ranch for $.50 an hour don�t exist. He has been told he is eligible for a $.10 an hour job, however, of which they will take 25% for restitution. It�s like a bad joke.

It gets worse. When they took all his possessions, they took his razors. But the rules require him to be clean-shaven to enter the chow hall. He has no more money for new razors, and I don�t know how to send him any yet. So the guards are issuing tickets to him for not being clean-shaven.

Prison is like that; it�s a series of Catch-22s, and if you are a prisoner your biggest challenge is to contain your frustration so you won�t get yourself in trouble and get your stay extended.

Coincidentally, I�m in the middle of a New Yorker article on the The Brand, a very violent Aryan gang that operates within prisons. Apparently, convicts are running drug rings from solitary confinement, and ordering hits on the order of the Mafia. These people are in for violents crimes, they have long sentences, and they have made an adjustment. These gangs run the prisons, and consume the time and energy of the guards, who then don�t have much impetus to rehabilitate the others.

It�s really uplifting for me to read these articles and know that little Jerry, who was incarcerated when he was only nineteen (and then only because he was a non-violent drug addict who stole to �support� himself), is meeting these fine upstanding people in the slammer.

Little Jerry wouldn�t be in prison at all if he hadn�t begun to self-medicate when my husband died. When my husband was alive, because he was a physician, he treated LJ himself. But when he died�the second time LJ lost a father figure– it was too much for LJ and he began looking around for something to numb the pain. If someone had prescribed lithium for him instead of offering him crack, we wouldn�t now be planning our weekend trips to Globe. But in the foster care system, like the prison system, no one cares about the future; the system is too busy keeping the lid on situations in the present. For that, our entire society pays.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: