Chapter 11. Downstate Correctional

(June – September 2010)

Poetic justice has often ruled my life, whenever I sit long enough and see how it all fits in.  It was June of 1991 when I decided to leave my home in LaGrange, New York and opt to fight my addiction by vowing either to return clean or death.  It would also be September of the same year when beaten and defeated and death not easily attained, I came off the street and sought help.  Most inmates will arrive in Downstate and be sent to their “home facility” in a month, but for the longest time, they had no idea what they wanted to do with me, where they were going to send me.  For thirteen weeks, for this is how long it would take me to become assimilated into the penal lifestyle of an inmate in the State of New York.

I was driven from Washington County Jail and arrived at the Dutchess County Jail close to two in the morning when escorted to a cell back in my former unit.  The lights were out and no one was up and looking through their door, so there was no contact to let my former friends and Bible students know I was back and they would not see me in the morning because in about three hours, they’ll come for me and prepare me to leave for Downstate Correctional.

When you leave from the county you are not able to take anything with you except for a Bible and it cannot contain loose papers.  Everything else has to either be destroyed or given away.  With my traveling back and forth from Washington County and knowing my time was soon, I’d begun giving away those things I couldn’t take.  I prepared several “care packages” so when my door was unlocked, the officer allowed me to put each by the door of those who’d see I was back and they could do whatever they wished with what I left behind.  For one, a brother who was devoted and we’d share good times in the Bible study or playing “Gin”, I left him the most valuable of assets:  stamps.  It was nice, later, to see him again at Downstate.  I didn’t like the news he’d share about having received a nine year sentence.  When you get more than five, you have to be assigned to a maximum facility and he was headed for Attica.  As I’m writing this today, I wonder how he’s doing and where he is today.  I’ve been out for over a year, and if I could remember his name, I’d look him up, but, I don’t.  Seldom will you know the real name of anyone in jail or prison because identities are kept personal and secret so “street names” are how we are mostly known, except for those relationships which develop and knowing each other’s name becomes acceptable.

I was dumbfounded to learn I was the only inmate being transported to Downstate!  Usually, they have so many requiring a bus if not at least a van but I would be headed there by a car with two escorting officers.  On the trip, was able to see people walking and talking enjoying the summer weather.  I longed to be with them.  Traveling through the familiar streets, I could see my home and wondered if I would ever return two and a half years from now.  On my way along those familiar streets, they had the radio on and Donna Summer’s, “I Will Survive” played.  It seemed so apropos for the moment.  I could not imagine taking this trip like some of the guys I was locked down with who’d receive sentences, excessive sentences of 10 or more years, some even much longer.  If not the location definitely the people will change greatly whenever they’re released.  I saw how much this small city changed from the time I left in 2007 and now and that was only about three years, about the time when I will be returning.

Downstate Correctional Facility (Fishkill, NY)

Downstate Correctional Facility (Fishkill, NY)

When we turned up into the actual premises, I noticed many vans and buses parked bringing many inmates from other county jails to this particular hub.  I learned later there are three hubs, where all new “state” inmates are processed.  From there, you will be assigned your “home facility” and your time begins.  Don’t make the mistake about “time”.  Our time actually began when arrested; however, “real” time does not begin until you are behind the “wall”.  Those home facilities is where you have wished to be since arriving in the police stations beginning the process of “serving time”.  There, you will have more liberties, able to receive packages either from friends and families or purchase them if you have money.  Your whole prison experience becomes so much easier once you are placed in your home facility to matter how much time you might have to serve.  Although having served time before in Ohio and federal time in Puerto Rico, this “time” it meant something.  This was “real” prison as far as I was concerned.  Because of the overflow of inmates, my escorts were told to wait, so there I sat inside a hot car, on a hot day, with the door open having a conversation with one of the escorts interested in hearing my story.  He couldn’t believe someone would actually receive a three year sentence for simply not providing an email address to the authorities!  Nobody ever said the law would make sense and that does nothing to dispel the sentence.

As hot as it was outside, it was about as hot inside with the many men awaiting processing.  So many jurisdictions bringing their newly convicted offerings to the State of New York’s Penal system.  All the various county facilities with their particular color was represented along with my singular bright orange, the only submission from Dutchess County.  The two officers waited until I was stripped from my uniform so they could return it to the quartermaster of the county jail for someone else’s wearing.

Immediately what I noticed was the treatment of them, the officers and us, the inmates.  There were several rooms which held segregated inmates.  I learned later those who were in isolation or disciplinary cells were transferred to these cells for treatment of a differing sort.  Here was our first taste of the state’s department of corrections.  This is where, in this “maximum” facility would be where we would gain our orientation of what was expected “from us” or what could be expected happening “to us” if we violated the rules.  We were told exactly what to do, when to do and how to do it.  Any differing manner was treated with harsh words, stare downs and I would later come to see first-hand, physical treatment.  Now, when a man has done something wrong innocently, my heart goes out to that individual and I do not appreciate treatment going beyond reason; however, if someone does do something because of pure stubbornness or their attitude against authority, then “yes” by all means, take the offender out back and teach him a lesson, not necessarily in front of me, mind you, but I imagine this is a tactic used to keep all others thinking of violating rules the incentive of doing what they want you to do.

Being processed was a matter of going into different cells awaiting instructions before heading to other cells.  In one cell we were told to watch a program on a television outlining our responsibility.  The inmates featured in the program were obviously those who were chosen to best represent what the State Corrections wish for all to be.  I was ambivalent.  I didn’t care one way or the other.  My purpose of being inside these walls were “pre-ordained”.  I didn’t intend to have any issues with the staff or my peers.  I wasn’t quite sure what my role would be, but it certainly wasn’t going to be “bucking” the system.  Nobody was going to ask of me what would be unreasonable, or so I thought, therefore, I should not have any natural tendencies to get into trouble.  This wasn’t the first time I’d been “locked down” and knew how much I could get away with, my point, to make things as comfortable for myself as possible.

While waiting after the program, lunch was served consisting of a baloney sandwich, two oatmeal cookies and warmed grape Kool-Aid which almost tasted as if it was beginning to ferment.  I didn’t like it so I didn’t drink, which was fine with me.  The sandwich had cheese, which I don’t like so I didn’t bother with it, and the cookies were mash into the sandwich, so they were somewhat too moist, so I didn’t have lunch and gave it away.  My thoughts were, no intake I would not have to worry about having to use the toilet which was in one corner of the room and with all the inmates standing around, those who couldn’t find a seat, stood around near the toilet and would have to regroup if someone needed to use it.  I was sooo thankful I hadn’t a need to use it.  You learn early in your jail experience to use the facilities before leaving your cell so you wouldn’t have to be bothered with having to go later, not knowing how it would be later and if you would have the privacy afforded you.  Nobody faults you when you need to go.  The problem comes in finishing the task.  Wiping in a room full of people can be quite a challenge.

While waiting to be told what to do next, I got into a conversation with a guy next to me and learned he was going to be inside for having killed a newlywed couple, on their honeymoon, because of drunk driving!  He was looking at fifteen years.  Even though I was disgusted with the thought it was not my role to judge him or God as to why he was here and offered him counsel and witnessed to him he was here because God was trying to get his attention and utilize the time given to get close to God.  He was given a difficult sentence because of his actions especially being a first-time offender.  Not having any prior experience, he was headed for “maximum” security.  He’ll get a “rep” (reputation) when it becomes known he’s got two “bodies”, but the way he did it isn’t honorable.  Being a “white boy” doesn’t help either, but he’ll learn when anybody tests him about his case to simply answer, “I got two bodies.  Anything else?”

Now being called to stand in a line, we’re only dressed in our boxers and t-shirt, waiting to be further processed.  I was called in front of a woman and asked a question but didn’t hear because of an industrial fan blowing near my head causing me problems.  When asked if I had a hearing problem sarcastically, again experience was my teacher and I admitted having one, not placing responsibility on the fan.  There’s a tendency to show some favor to an inmate if there is a physical disability especially when you’ve inconvenience a prison staff member.  They can fault you for not paying attention, when you should, but if you seem to be doing so, but yet unable to comply readily with what you are being told, and you are middle-aged as I am, then they’re willing to assist you to get you moved on to the next officer, having rid themselves of you.  You learn to play whatever game is necessary to get through. This woman typed something into a computer while an assisting guard went through my Bible to make certain I hadn’t put anything within which would be considered contraband.  I was told earlier about it and made sure my Bible would comply so I didn’t lose it.  It would serve as my only source of reading material until such time when I would have access to the prison’s library, and who would know when that would be?

Hearing horror stories about being processed the one I would dread the most was the shower.  You’re led to a barber’s chair and buzzed cut.  I kept my head bald but in most counties, haircuts were not provided free of charge so those who have hair which grows quickly may often come to the state with long hair as well as long facial hair.  The blades provided in the county were cheap and single edge and I could never make myself use one of those.  So, from being arrested the latter part of January and now here in July, my hair was longer than I would normally keep it had I not shaved my head, but not a problem being cut, in fact, was welcomed.  Then a guard would inspect your hands and determine if you needed to clip your nails.  Then stripped completely down, underwear discarded, you’d walk into a room where there were six stations for showering.  I was told once you pulled the handle, you’re hit with a rush of cold water and had to remain under it until it stopped.  My fear of water, over my head, never mind the thought of it being cold was going to be a problem.  I extended my hand for the shampoo the guard would give you, which contained some type of decontaminating agent to kill lice or any other type of body louse, and having lathered myself with this stuff, figured, “oh boy, here goes.  Just deal with it” shower time was pleasantly surprised when I pulled the yoke, the water was pleasantly warm and not too strong to be uncomfortable with the pressure, in fact, a good shower.  Once finished, you were told to line up according to how they placed your clothing which consisted of a t-shirt and pants, flip-flops and then led to another room to wait further instructions.  It was here I noticed some guys dressed in state greens being processed to head out to their “home” facilities.  This is where I would be coming again when it was my time to leave Downstate.

Our next stop would be to the Quartermaster to receive our state clothing:  three pairs of pants, shirts, one winter jacket, three underwear and t-shirts, socks and a pair of boots and sneakers.  We were told to put on the shoes right there and to ensure a proper fit.  It amazed me how many guys didn’t know what size foot they had!  One of the inmate cadres looked at you to determine your size and pulled the appropriate clothing for you and attach a label on your clothes which would last about as long as I would need them to last, about two and a half years, with my name. You were also given a sturdy white, nylon bag and told to stuff it with your clothes.  This would be the same bag used to transport these items to your home facility so you wanted to take care of this bag.

The next stop was the ID Room.  Your biostatical information is taken and photographed for your State ID.  You DID NOT want to ever lose it.  You’d have to face all kinds of abuse never mind the $5 to replace it.  The female officer and I had a good time joking when she asked me what color I was and I said, “Black”.  She said, “Oh, you’re not Black.”  She was pretty high-yellow herself, but a good sport and made that part of the processing enjoyable.

We were led into another room, separated by the calling of your name and led to where you would be housed.  It was my hope wherever I would go it would be in the area where my friend, Don, worked, as a counselor.  It was my hope I would get him as my counselor so I could be certain to get out whatever my concerns would be, as they occurred.  This would not be the case, however.   With several other guys, marched into a courtyard surrounded with units.  Mine was B26, Unit B, in Section 2, cell 26.  Once we were inside, was given a speech by the dorm officer, told of our responsibilities which meant keeping the noise down, our cells clean, and when our doors were cracked, we had so many seconds to get out of the cells and close the door when “rec”, “chow” or “appointment” was necessary.

When I walked into Cell 26 and closed my door and heard the familiar “click” of the lock being electronically put into place, turned and looked at my new quarters, there was a feeling of “having arrived”, “dissatisfaction” and “wonderment” of what will happen on this journey.  I took the sheeting, towel and other linens provided by the State and made up my bed. Retrieved my dental hygiene items and placed them on the sink.  There was a small shelf with a steel stump for a chair to be used as a desk and a fluorescent light fixture which I was able to turn on/off.  From my cell, I could see out a window into the back of the units which we’d never see while walking and because of the placement, I could only see another unit separated by a green lawn populated with Canadian geese who would later become a form of entertainment who looked for us to hand them food when we returned from “chow”.  They had been here long enough and knew the feeding time and would come right up to the windows and extend their long necks and take the food right out of your hand.  My door had an opened bottom area large enough for someone to shove a feeding tray should it ever become necessary.  There was no glass in the door opening  used to give/receive laundry during the week with each day being notified what was being washed. You learned to ask for extra soap during shower days so you could wash your own “whites” (t-shirts, boxers and socks) not wanting them to be added to your six cells combined wash.  If you chose to wash with the others, you were provided a magic markers so you could identify those things being washed otherwise you will never see your item again.  I could see into the two cells directly across from me, the two doors to my left and could only hear the inmate in the cell directly on my right.  Six cells form a section with one other above us, making a total of 36 inmates per unit.  Not too bad considering there wasn’t much space and the only time we’d ever come out together would be to go to “chow” or “rec”, which I seldom did, unless it was to go to the library.  My whole time there, of thirteen weeks, I would only go to outside rec three times and then it was only to be able to share/witness with someone what God wanted me to share with that particular individual.  I could never see the sense of going outside and walking around, playing sports, or sitting on the lawn in the hot weather, when I was just as comfortable and satisfied with being indoors, having as little to do with the guards as possible.

Those men who were placed with you would change quickly as we’re assigned different units or being “shipped out”.  Everyone was glad to get that call, when an Officer would stop by your window and tell you, “You’re being shipped out” which meant get your things together and when they cracked your door, take everything in the bag given you and stand in the inside rec area.  I’ll share with you what happens when this occurs later in the chapter.

As a “newbie” in the system, you will get calls for “medical”, “psyche” and “counselor” which can come at any time.  Once they called your cell number, shouting, “Cell 26 Medical”, that meant you had to be ready within two minutes before your door was cracked and you’d have to step outside, dressed-down in your New York State Greens and ready for your appointment.  You DID NOT want to cause the guard grief about not being ready.  Because it was so hot, without any kind of relief, except fans blowing in the main inside rec area, which provided some moving air, at times, being in cinder-blocked cells can be very excruciating.  The only water provided comes out from the combined sink/toilet and you learned to be satisfied with it.  This is where you washed, laundered, brushed, squatted, and pissed all in one convenient place.  I have learned, over the years, no matter how hot it gets to be “still”. There was no doubt in my mind, I came during the worse time of the year where there was absolutely no relief from the summer heat.  However, I’m sure those here in the winter would have it just as bad having to go out into the court to wait in line before going into the tunnels to have “chow”.  I’m sure those tunnels were not heated and the flimsy coat they give you does no justice and what is worse, you have to eat with your coat on and zipped up.  No, prison life wasn’t going to be a lot of fun, but it wasn’t supposed to be.

A typical day at Downstate would be to be awakened about 6:30, about the time the overnight guard would be preparing to leave.  About 7:15 there would be a “standing count” where you would stand by your door with your light on so you could be easily seen and counted.  You DID NOT interfere with the count by not standing or talking or receive the consequences which could be a “ticket” which was considered an infraction carrying the penalty of “lockdown” meaning you would not be let out of your cell except for religious services or institutional appointments, e.g., medical callout or education classes for any number of days.  Even your food was brought to you.  About 7:30 the cell door would click open and you would stand on your number painted on the floor in front of the guard’s “bubble” (enclosed office space) to be counted again and prepared to go to “Chow”.  Prison life is pseudo-military in its attempt to bring about discipline.  It is also easily seen when one is out of line in whatever it is they might try to do which goes against the rules, which are given to you the moment you enter into a state correctional facility.  You must have your dress greens, tee-shirt, shirt buttoned and tucked into the waistband of your pants.  There is absolutely no “swagging” (hip-hop style of wearing pants below the waistline, which seem to be a big problem for many inmates).  Your shoes were tied.  You would walk single file, by twos and no talking.  Again, you didn’t want to be found having a communication.  They realized we were locked down and the need to socialize is great, but not when you are heading to chow.  You followed the officer’s instructions or again faced some type of discipline which was mostly to be humiliated in front of the others, and for those requiring a bit more attention, it could get physical.

Once inside the chow hall, you do not break formation and get your tray, fork and spoon, which you must show to an officer before depositing for cleaning.  You could tell the inmates what you wanted on your tray but there was no selecting any particular piece of meat.  You didn’t want to cause trouble and kept the line moving.  You last will pick up your beverage usually consisting of a cup of water and in the morning milk and coffee and other meals flavored juice.  Because there were two chow halls and men are hungry, you learned to eat your food quickly because probably within ten minutes of having sat down, you will be told to get up and return your tray and utensils.  Again, maintaining the single file until you are returned into the hallway where you do not have to line up according to cell number but you do line up similarly in the way you came into the chow hall, awaiting till everyone is accounted for and followed the guard’s order to return.  This is done three times a day:  lunch about Noon and dinner about 4:30.  In the morning, you’re allowed to remove a piece of fruit if it is given.  Dinner you are allowed to take two slices of bread.  At no time are you allowed to take any toast or any other type of food out of the chow hall and found with it.  People like me who are picky about what I eat are glad to be able to have the bread especially since we ate so early in the evening and wouldn’t be fed again for another 16 hours at the most.  If you didn’t want to eat the bread, you brought it back to feed the geese who’d be waiting outside under our windows.

In the morning, after chow, you would have laundry to give to the clerks who’d take it and washed for you.  If there was rec, whether “field” which meant being able to go outside and walk around, play baseball, sit on the lawn and talk, smoke, just plain getting fresh air.  Alternate day’s rec would be to go to the library where you’re able to checkout one book.  Those of us who didn’t do much else, learned to make friends and swap books once you finished because if there is nothing else to do, reading, which is what I enjoy, a book can go fast and the minimum time per week of a library visit was two. There are times when you may have an appointment and you’d lose your time to visit the library or the unit could have lost rec privileges due to the stupidity of the someone not following the rules and pissing the guard who needs to make the example to everyone.  You’d learn to select the biggest book so you’ll have something to pass away your time.  It might be the largest book, and maybe not even something enjoyable, but at least you had something.

Appointments will take place between chow and you will get calls often to go to medical and/or counseling where they’re trying to determine where you will go.  I had some concerns especially being a “registered sex offender”, which is something you wish to keep quiet about.  I didn’t want to be sent to a facility specifically for them because technically I was not here for re-offending in a sexual manner.  I just didn’t follow the rules required of me for having been classified as a “sex offender”.   Therefore, I didn’t want to be forced to take classes, being housed in a dorm for such, because you’re lumped together with the others whose crimes may be more heinous and treatment of such can be harsh, not only by the guards but as well as other inmates.  Nobody really thinks it through.  You could be here like the guy I met while being processed in and the fact he has two bodies doesn’t make him a “murderer”.  Yet, when the term “sex offender” is used, it denotes “child molester” or “rapist” and this is not always the case.  Just as you have degrees of murder the same exists with sexual offenses and titles given does not always do justice to those who wear it.

I ran into a situation because my friend, Don, worked as a counselor at Downstate.  It was my wish to be assigned to him and hopefully could avoid some of the issues.  He did contact my unit and the guard unlocked my door and I was able to hear the guard as a go-between Don and myself since I was not able to actually use the phone.  Don assured me he knew I was there and I would see him again soon.  I mistook this for meaning while there, but he could not see me there, nor anywhere, not as long as I was locked up.  As a rule, and because of his duties, he was forbidden to have any contact with inmates outside his job.  This would present a problem, for him, when I sent him letters through the internal mail system and the staff got concerned why an inmate was writing a counselor especially one not assigned.  I was brought before another counselor and learned he would be my counselor while there and what was my relationship with Don.  Thankfully, I answered the only way I knew how, truthfully, which prevented my having problems and causing problems for Don.  I explained my situation regarding the “sex offender” requirements to the counselor and how I felt they didn’t apply to me.  He acknowledged my having successfully completed whatever was told me to do by the federal officials but the state would still have their own requirements.  I made up my mind no matter what it was they would require me to do, I would object to it.  What could they do?  Lock me up!  I was already locked up.

My case history, I later learned by this counselor, who was also friends with Don, presented a problem for them in determining where I would be assigned as a home facility.  I was kept at a high level because of my history of mental institutionalization and suicide attempts.  Yet, because of my high level of intellect, they didn’t know where I should go.  If one has not completed high school and received a diploma, you were made to attend classes to obtain your G.E.D.  I had completed school, but could not prove it.  I didn’t think any further about it until after I arrived at my home facility but will relate that fiasco later.  It normally takes them about 3 to 4 weeks to get a man in and then ship him out.  It took them 13 weeks for me to finally get out of there!  Being in Downstate, during the hottest part of the year, was almost inhumane as far as I was concerned.

Another reason for why it would take so long to designate me to a “home facility” was because of my sentence.  At this point, I was months away from being qualified for parole.  My sentence one to three years meant I could be paroled once the minimum was served and one year would be coming up fast.  The system is already crowded and because I already had my education is proof of my work experience, plus, I was not a violent inmate nor had any acts of aggression on my record, ordinarily guys like me would be out on parole.  What they hadn’t figured was my commitment to God and the determination I had in finishing my sentence and not being placed on parole.

When I was called for my parole hearing, I was placed in a room filled with other hopefuls.  One of the staff members came out and I was able to get her attention before my name was called and told her I had no interest in parole and could I be excused.  She said she would mention my situation to “the board” and give me the status.  I was asked to come and speak with them.  The conversation went like this:

Q. Mr. Martin, where would you go if granted parole?

A. I’ve already made it clear I’m not interested in receiving parole?

Q. Why would you not be interested? (He shuffled through some pages, and I could see there was a problem because it had already been determined I would be released the beginning of next year and I was not working along with their plan for me.)

A. There are several reasons why I would not be willing to accept parole.

Q. Would you mind letting us know what they are?

A. Certainly. Where I will be going I understand curfew is about 10pm.  If I’m released, I understand my curfew would possibly be 6pm.   Why would I subject myself to that?  If I’m released, I am required as a registered sex offender to be under harsher scrutiny.  Would be required to undergo attending program set up for such, and I’m not willing to put myself in that position, which would have me violating and ending up right back here, therefore, what would be the point?  And perhaps most important, because of the designation the legal system has put on my record, and due to the recession we’re in, it is nearly impossible to find work.  My unemployment benefits are exhausted, so I will be considering the penal system as a social service extension.

Q. It appears you’ve given this some consideration and I can assure you your points will be taken into our consideration in the final decision.

A. Thank you. However, you cannot deny me when I’ve already denied you. It is my right to complete the sentence.

Later, I would receive their decision in a formally written document making it appear they denied me!  Their whole process, in my estimation was a joke.

After evening chow we would be counted again and about 6:30 would be let out of the cells to watch television.  Sometimes, during the morning between breakfast and lunch, we were able to have in-house rec where you could use the phone, play cards/games and/or watch television.  It was only for about an hour and I seldom would come out.  I didn’t care to watch television and certainly not what the general population wanted to watch and the same during the evening, except now we would be able to stay out of our cells for an hour and a half.  Some of the guys learned I had been in ministry so I was given permission to have a small Bible study.  We were limited to how many persons could occupy a table, but because I never caused trouble and had good rapport with most of the daily officers, I was given carte blanc to be able to have Bible studies during the evening rec time.  I don’t know why, but whenever I had been in jail or prison, it always seem I would teach a Bible class!  It would also be some of the best time I would ever remember and also a time when my own spirituality and relationship with God was at its highest and best.  Often, too, a guard would standby and listen and later come to my cell with a question.  This information apparently got out and I was visited by the facility’s Chaplain who warned me to stop holding classes.  He told me, “I’m the only chaplain in this facility.  I will have you ‘locked up’!  See you during chapel.”  My retort to him was, “Not until you begin teaching the truth!”  Again, what could he do?  I was already, “Locked Up”.  I know he meant placed in isolation but for those having read my book, “If You Send Me, I Will Go”, know some of my best time was spent in isolation and I thrived there and preferred it rather than to be in general population.  The guards allowed me to continue.  In their words, “you’re doing something positive and making it easier for us to work.”

When we were told to “lock down” at about 8pm, we were then counted for the last time of doing an actual “stand up” count and then left alone until the following morning.  Those who hadn’t learned the benefits of books or had no one to write, to me, was the most boring part of the day.  I looked forward to it because we had to remain relatively quiet.  I was able to write, read and reflect on what was going on with me and allow God to witness to me about what was happening in this experience.  This was the time I felt relief and it amazed me how fast the time would go because I was at “perfect peace”.

God often allows situations to come upon us so we might learn something about ourselves which otherwise we may not know.  When I was inside Lorrain Correctional in Ohio, my initial experience with state prison, I found a bitterness against the guards for the way they humiliated this young man and later tried with me.  I would not allow this one guard to press me, so the situation went away.  I can remember having thoughts of wanting to meet with him when I was released.  I wanted to hurt this person!  The same occurred with the female unit counselor when in federal detention in Puerto Rico.  I thought long and hard, often, how I would deal with her upon my release.  It would be no different now.  I saw and heard things which made me want to gather the guys and revolt against the blue shirts.  Some of these guys were not going home—ever.  I’m talking about inmates, so how could these guards hold so much power over us?  There were so few of them as compared to ourselves, and even though they could call in overwhelming force, the point is, just as much as these guys wanted to go home after their shift, we want to be released, so there has to be a cohesiveness between us all otherwise the likelihood of some of the guards going home could be changed.

There was one particular scrawny looking “redneck” all of about 5’6”, maybe 140 pounds I wanted so badly to squash like a bug.  He talked big while inside and I often thought how I’d meet him on the streets of Beacon and walk up to him and say, “You probably don’t remember me but I certainly remember how you spoke to us, treated us, and now we’re outside, and you no “panic button” to push on a walkie-talkie how about you and me settling this matter?”  One guard I had gotten to know pretty well, who had a brother that was extremely nasty, came by my cell and we often had good talks, and I asked him if he ever got worried about running into the wrong guy when he’s out on the street?  He honestly told me he couldn’t allow such thoughts to enter his mind because if he did he wouldn’t be able to do his job which was to control us, rather, to control those who needed to be controlled.  When I say, “those needing to be controlled” I was told more than once by separate guards how they wished all the inmates were like me.  There would be less work for them to do and their jobs would be safer and better, albeit boring because I would take care of myself.  The guard also shared with me, which helped to ease my own mind, were these words, “When you hear me or any guard speaking, do not take it personally.  Sure, you’re dressed in green and one of “them”, but you’re not the problem.  I have to address the whole group but know I’m not speaking to you.”  This would be the difference and helped me to deal with what I had come to recognize was a revengeful and bitter character trait.  I also came to understand I had a flashpoint and couple it with poor impulse control, I could be a threat to others as well as myself.  I think this would explain why I saw some inmates getting treated physically and didn’t like what I saw; but, maybe the inmate did do something to bring this upon himself and was not chosen because of who he was, an inmate, just like me.  I also had a serious attitude and dislike for female guards who’d acted so big because of the “family” of officers which would protect them.  No doubt, many of them, had they ran into one of us on the outside peed their panties because, like that scrawny guy, no panic button to push now.  Nobody was going to come running to your aid, until I was finished with you, and maybe it would be too late for aid.

Not only was I brought to prison, by agreement with God, for myself.  As in every jail or prison experience it would also be for someone or others, too.  I heard it said and have to believe when Christ was raised on the cross, it was so because He had one last meeting to save someone, so why would I not think the same would be my experience?  How many times are many of us called to go somewhere we most likely would not go on our own accord but for God leading?  I know and can witness how many men’s lives were touched all because of the Bible studies, the many conversations I have had with many, not only as a volunteer prison chaplain but of late, as a prison inmate.  This time would be no different.

As I shared earlier, I was brought into the prison system during the summer and because my money was taken as part of my court fees, I had to wait until money was sent to me by friends.  I’m one of those persons who perspire reading a book and not having access to deodorant, among the many hundreds here, is why Downstate Correctional has been called the, “Onion”, because many of us would smell like one.  Knowing my body odor could be strong and not wanting to offend anyone never mind myself, I would wash often with the state’s supplied soap given us; however, it would not be enough.  No doubt the soap given was cheap being it was manufactured in some facility which catered to the prison population.  Within an hour I could smell myself.  I thought to use the soap as a deodorizer by applying it as I would deodorant.  This would seem to work better for temporarily until about three days when I began to notice a rash building under my arms accompanied with the familiar itch I’d get when I used certain deodorants.  I’m not sure when it happened but somehow I became allergic to using most types of deodorant and found only one, Right Guard “Xtreme” Stick I could use safely.  The chances of my getting it was slim next to none.  Finally after two weeks, the itch and rash was becoming so bad I wanted to put a slip into Medical to see if they could give me something for the rash and itch.  Before I made the effort to learn the procedures of seeing Medical, I heard God’s voice speaking to me, “Why haven’t you asked Me?  Aren’t I your Father?  Ask me for what you need.”  I thought about what I just believed I heard in the core of my being and sat on my bunk, looking out the window into the hills of Beacon, (by this time I was moved to another unit which afforded me a different and more pleasant view) which I had taken for granted many times while driving down Route 52 or 9 headed South, and prayed, “God, I need soap.”  After that short prayer, I sat back believing my prayer was answered.  I kid you not what I’m going to write regarding what occurred.

About twenty minutes later, I heard a sound near the bottom of my door.  I got up from my bunk and knelt down to peer under the door and saw a box containing “Irish Spring” soap!  I said aloud, “Who is this for?”  From our doors, we not able to see each other except that person directly across from you.  We often assisted our peer by each shoving whatever he’s trying to send to a friend closer to the next guy to do the same until it’s received by the person intended.  It was my thought this was what was happening now when the voice coming from the cell directly to my left said, “It is for you!”  I was SHOCKED!  FOR ME!  I asked the guy to come to his door so we could talk.  I could not see his face but could hear him clearly.  I asked him,

“Why did you do that?”  He said,

“God told me to do it.  I was sitting here and about twenty minutes ago, God told me to give you soap.  I was debating to give you the one I was using, but He told me to give you the brand new bar and He would make the used one last long enough until I can get to the Commissary.”

I was shocked.  I told him, in literal tears,

“You have no idea what you have just done.  I have been suffering because the soap here has broken me out.  I just prayed asking God to provide me with soap and here it is!”

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We began talking and he shared with me that he remembered me.  We came from the same county jail and even went to court together, which I had no clue.  Later, speaking in code, found out we were there for similar charges and given the same amount of time.  Here’s this guy, who’s been standing behind me for days now, in line, as we go to chow and I’ve never had a word with him before!  The soap he gave me was exactly the kind I use when I’m free and it contains a deodorizer so my issue regarding having an offensive odor is finished.  He also shared with me he wanted to write a book and give his testimony regarding the offense he’s experiencing.  I shared with him I had already done this and would be willing to help him once we were released.  It was my intention to do so, but after release I have not been able to find him.  Whether he was a real person or an angel of God sent to me, I’ll never know for sure, but I do know my prayer was answered.  The last words I remembered him saying to me were these, “I hope you do not get angry with me for what I’m going to say, but you’re in prison because of me!  You’re the ‘answer to my prayer’ and thank you for your willingness.”  Again, I was dumbstruck.  I THEN knew I was at the right place and at the right time.  God DID need me to go to prison and this was just confirmation.  I’m sure there would be other situations, to come, which will answer to the reason why I am there, but for now, it was settled within my thinking I was indeed following God’s will.

The remainder of my thirteen week stay at Downstate was fine.  I continued to receive letters from Samantha and Sheryl although there was a situation brewing because of them.  You see, while I was having difficulty pulling away from Samantha, I was being drawn toward Sheryl.  I liked Samantha and in many ways could honestly say I loved her, but I also believed when I was released from this place, I would not be headed South except it be much further West and then South, out of this country and out of the requirements and restrictions I no longer desired to suffer which brought me to this place to begin with.

One evening the guard stopped by my window and told me I was being shipped out.  It had taken long enough.  I saw each and every one of my five neighbors come and go and new ones to do the same.  It had taken them this long to determine where I should spend the duration of my sentence.  With gladness I packed my sack, carrying it to the room where they process your stuff, repack and then store it to ride with you on the bus.  I was informed of this on a Friday, but there is no traveling during the weekend, so I had to make do with scant supplies until my time came early Monday morning.  Long before all the others were awakened, my door was popped, my cell was stripped of the linen and towel and thrown to a pile and I would be escorted back to the “Intake Area” where I was first brought, stood in a line and handcuffed and shackled to another inmate to begin my journey to what I learned was a facility called, “Groveland Correctional”.

4 thoughts on “Chapter 11. Downstate Correctional”

  1. kierstin knapp said:

    I love your story, my son has just been sentenced to two years prison for sexual assault.Hes 26 years old and has no record at all.. I’am so scared for him,he is a juvilinile diabteic and has mental issues..it was a year ago he stabbed himself in the stomach in my kitchen because I was yelling at him for seeing an under age girl for over a year…He actually got himself in trouble by telling his new therapist that his mom is mad hes seeing an underage girl,within that week the cops knocked on my door to arrest him…my fiance and I yelled at him constantly that he was gonna be caught and this would be the result,but he didnt want to listen…I guess you would have to understand my son to know what kinda person he is…hes always been a good kid ,but has been in special ed all his life,he graduated with an iep…hes got the brain of a 16 year old and has impulse reactions…Justin wouldnt hurt a fly and couldnt fight if he tryed,hes a very quiet,shy person….they moved him this morning to downstate facilty,i freaked out when i saw its a maximum state prison,but after further reading i see its where everyone goes at first…Im so scared for the kid,Ive taught Justin about the Lord and I really hope he relys on him now….some of the things you wrote scare the hell outta me and other things youve said give me hope that hes gonna be ok….i havent heard from him in almost a week, he started this whole thing last thursday at saratoga county…I pray he calls me ive been sitting by the phone waiting…thank you so much for sharing your story and God bless you…p.s. sorry for all the typos…

    • Thank you, for your response, and I’m able to read through typos! When I was “commanded” to write my story, I never had any idea of how far reaching it would be. Of course, there was the concern of being stigmatized, stereotyped and even suffer retribution from supposed well-meaning vigilantes, but I learned it was something I could not worry about. For if God told me to write, the consequences would have to rest with Him, therefore, what you have before you is a “testimony” of what He has done for me.

      I’m grateful you are finding both comfort and fear, for it is something I experienced while on that journey through the penal system; albeit, my concern for your son is regarding his mental situation. Hopefully, the counselors there, who were pretty good in dealing with me and my needs, probably due to the fact I had a friend who was in this department made certain. I would hope your son would be sent to Groveland because of the less restrictive atmosphere and probably where those classified as sex offenders are sent. They have an adequate psychological department and because many of the inmates sent there, there tends to be a lessening of altercation between those inmates who normally would seek retribution. Most men are looking to be released, therefore, they’re not wanting to add additional time by getting into any fight which will prolong their stay or cause they to pick up another case. It would be beneficial to your son to keep his mouth shut, not discuss his case, and remain under the radar, as we say, so his stay there will go without incident.

      If there is anything I am able to do, or offer any suggestions or advice, do not hesitate to be in contact with me. Recognize, too, I’m on the other side of the world now, so my attention to matters may be somewhat delayed. My best to you, your family and your son as he is now in God’s hands to find peace and resolution.

      • Kierstin knapp said:

        Hi again, wow I forgot all about this article and just happend to run into it again because I was looking for the best hours to visit my son, I did not expect a response only because your article was from a few years back….thank you so much for your response!!, I’m going to visit him today for the first time….I still have not heard from him even though I set up the phone account , so of course I been worried sick….but my finances brother knows some people there and found out that their has been no incidences with Justin that he is still where you go when you first get there….which is a great relief, only because I figured by now, he would have freaked out saying he was going to hurt himself….after reading different articles it looks as though they have roll call between 11 and 12:45…..I’d rather not sit around for an hour and a half so I’ll go about 1….I’m coming from upstate, N.Y…..I did however write my son and sent him money but I never did get a response back….I really hope they send him to Groveland like you mentioned he really does need counseling, but he always has needed it….thank you for giving me hope,I feel so alone in this whole thing….and thank you for writing back….I hope all is well with you 🙂

  2. You’re more than welcome. Note, too, if you should arrive and gain entrance “before” 11, you and your son are able to continue visiting. He will be counted in the “Visiting Room”. The fact he’s still in Downstate is they’re not sure where to send him. Hopefully, based upon my experience, he’ll get out of there and to his “home” facility soon. It’s so much better anywhere other than Downstate. Keep me informed. I was thinking, today, to do more writing in my own sequel, so “thanks” for the motivation.

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