Looking at my business card is a true oxymoron. On the one hand, I say, “It’s Still Time To Stop Blaming The White Man,” (the title of my second book) while I have a photograph of a Black African American male wearing only a paper gown and bound and gagged in a chair. The initial reaction from many who see it is one of shock. They mistakenly see this Black African American male strapped in an “electric chair” awaiting his execution. When I tell them that I personally witnessed the strapping of this man into this chair, they then erroneously believe that I also witnessed his execution. Of course, I choose my words carefully, to validate their initial impression. After giving them a minute or two to process their shock at what they are looking at, I then tell them that it is not an “electric chair,” it is a “restraint chair.”
They are again shocked after I tell them this inmate was incarcerated here in Augusta, Ga. at the Richmond County Jail in 2013. I also tell them that this Black African American male was in this chair because he chose to become non-compliant and aggressive while in jail. He remained in this chair for four hours and once removed, he remained in this cell for almost 48 hours while continuing to wear only the paper gown, without any covers.
What the picture on the card does not show is that once he was removed from the chair, his only options were to sit or lay down on the concrete floor or sit or lay down on a metal slab, without any covers or bedding. Further, the bed was not long enough for him to stretch out. The only other object in the room was a combination metal toilet and sink and he should consider himself fortunate.
At another facility, here in Augusta, Ga. was a jail cell that the inmates called, “The butt naked cell.” Once placed in this cell in a paper gown, there is only one option and that is to sit or stretch out on the concrete floor. There is absolutely no water in this cell and the toilet facility consists of a steel grate about the size of a dinner plate covering a hole in the floor. Whether the inmate has to urinate or have a bowel movement is inconsequential because they have to use this grate. Of course, if their bowel movement is solid, it will just sit there and if not, remnants will remain on the grate. By the way, a guard in the control room controls the flushing mechanism for this “waste pipe.” Yes, this was the norm for inmates incarcerated in the Richmond County Jail complex in 2013.
By the way, I have also seen Black African American females in the exact position as this male. For instance, a Black African American female, in her middle 30s had been arrested on a minor traffic violation. They brought her to this facility with her hair in “micro-braids,” which were against the policy of the jail. She could use her braids to injure herself or others by strangulation, so her braids were banned as contraband.
This Black African American female was adamant about refusing to remove her “micro-braids.” One of her female cellmates told her that if she threatened suicide, they would let her keep them, which is what she did. What her cellmate neglected to tell her was that the “butt naked cell” was also used to house suicidal inmates. The Correction Officers ordered her to remove all of her clothes, and she was only given a paper gown to wear. They placed her in the “butt naked cell,” without the restraint chair. She remained in this cell, wearing nothing but a paper gown the entire four days of her incarceration because she chose to keep her “micro-braids” as opposed to keeping some semblance of dignity. In her mind, keeping her false hair was far more important to her than her dignity or a modicum of comfort.
I have been in prison twice and jail once. Let me clarify; I have worked as a Social Worker in two prisons, one in South Carolina and one in Georgia in addition to working in the jail here in Augusta, Georgia.
The first time I entered a prison was in 1989 when I accepted a Social Worker position with the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) at a medium/maximum security facility. Until this time, the only thing I knew about penitentiaries was Hollywood’s versions.
Working in this institution was a serious eye-opener for me. The first thing I realized was how easy it is for a Black African American male to end up in prison. The second thing I realized was how fortunate I had been to have not ended up in prison, based on my previous behaviors. I was counseling individuals who had been convicted and sentenced to prison for some of the same things that I had gotten away with.
Although, I choose not to be specific at this time, suffice it to say, that “But for the Grace of God, there goes I.” Many of us have committed or will commit an act of indiscretion that could land us in jail or prison. What is even more scarier is the fact that there are indeed some innocent victims in prison.
I had an inmate on my caseload who was serving a ten (10) year sentence for running over a chicken. Yes, you read me correctly; he had been given a ten-year sentence in a state prison for running over a chicken. It was not about killing the chicken that got him sentenced to ten years in the state penitentiary; it was whose chicken he had killed. According to the court transcript, which did not concur with the way he told it to me, he maliciously, with malice and forethought, recklessly drove his car over a chicken that was owned by a (“prominent”) White man in his community.
His version was that he had done some work for this (“prominent”) White man who repeatedly refused to pay him. The last time he went to his home to request his pay, the White man threatened to shoot him for trespassing. Out of fear for his life, this frightened, illiterate, Black African American male ran to his car and hurriedly drove off in a panic, not aware that he had run over a chicken until the local Sheriff Deputies came to his home at about 2:00 AM the next morning and arrested him. At the advice of his “Public Defender,” he pled guilty, expecting only to receive a fine. The rest was history. No, it was a travesty of justice, or as Richard Pryor said, “just-us.”
I had an inmate by the name of Michael Braxton , a Black African American male on my caseload at this institution. He and two other Black African American males were given the option of
chemical surgical castration or serving thirty years for rape and they chose castration, which garnered national media attention. Consequently, under national pressure, the South Carolina State Supreme Court overturned their castration verdict and Mr. Braxton was given a 30-year sentence.
I am not going to debate whether castration was justified or not. While working in prisons and jails, I had one basic tenet-I was not the judge or jury, nor was I present at the time of the alleged offense. Therefore, it was not my place to judge anyone, only to provide Social Work services to them.
I only mention Mr. Braxton’s case because when I initially began working at this penitentiary, I had a White inmate assigned to me as my clerk. He was sentenced to seven years for involuntary manslaughter. In a drunken rage, he literally blew his girlfriend’s head off with a double-barreled shotgun and claimed to have been in an alcoholic blackout. Regardless of the heinousness of the crimes, one victim was maliciously raped and another victim was murdered. The rapist was sentenced to 30 years, while the murderer was only sentenced to 7 years. You figure out the difference in the sentencing, if you can.
During the 80s and early 90s, many states provided educational programs to the inmates and many inmates were obtaining GEDs, Associates and Bachelor Degrees, including both South Carolina and Georgia inmates. In addition, the average prison sentence for non-violent offenses were less than ten years and with the exception of those serving life without parole, most inmates saw a light at the end of their tunnel. Because of “mandatory minimum” sentencing guidelines and the privatization of jails and prisons, non-White, non-violent offenders are given crazy sentences, exceeding 20 years.
While working at the Richmond County jail, here in Augusta, Ga. as a Social Worker for a private contractor, I personally witnessed similar forms of injustices. The contracting agency that I contracted with forbade any form of counseling or rehabilitation, in spite of the fact that they had contracted with the city to provide these services. There was two mental health professionals assigned to over 900 inmates and I personally had nearly 600 inmates on my caseload. This was the same facility with the “butt naked” cells. The only written materials these inmates had access to in this jail was letters, the Bible and daily newspapers, regardless as to how long they were being held. Many were there long enough to obtain a GED or college credits.
The private contractor I contracted with at the jail was responsible for providing all medical and mental health services to the inmates. I was talking with the medical doctor one day when they brought an inmate in for emergency treatment for Sickle Cell Anemia. After examination, the doctor ordered that this inmate
to be transported immediately to the civilian hospital to receive emergency medical care.
This inmate had been languishing in this jail for over five months, awaiting trial. He had been arrested for allegedly (innocent until proven guilty) attempting to steal a CD from a “Best Buy” store. Notice, I said, “attempting” because he was caught, so he had not stolen anything. By the time the ambulance arrived and strapped this Black African American male onto the gurney, the company had requested and received his release and he left that jail as a free man after serving over five months without a trial.
Before you begin to applaud this company for an act of altruism, do not. There decision to have this inmate released from custody was purely about business. It was all about the mighty dollar. Rather than incur the cost of a lengthy hospitalization, which they would have been financially liable for, this company cut their potential losses to only the ambulance ride. When this inmate left the confines of the jail, he was a free man and solely responsible for paying for his own medical care.
The inmates at the Richmond County Jail-Phinizy Road, Augusta, Ga. are being caged in pods behind glass enclosures, as you would see at any zoo in America. As I walked past these pods, the inmates were either, watching TV, listening to their radios or just interacting with each other. Most had one thing in common; they were awaiting their day in court. Many had been in this jail without having a trial, so they just sat and waited. Oh yeah! They all had something else in common-the snack machines. The owners of these vending machines grossed over $300,000.00 per year from these machines. The inmates used money sent to them by their loved ones to buy junk food and enrich the coffers of their exploiters. They also have access to the telephones and the exorbitant rates their families are charged, when accepting their collect calls.
All of this was new to me. When I worked for the South Carolina Department of Corrections in the late 80s and early 90s, the state owned and operated the prisons and jails. In 2013, the bulk of America’s Criminal Industrial Complex was privatized in some manner. A handful of private corporations earn billions of dollars annually for building, owning and/or providing services to America’s jails and prisons. Without a doubt, crime pays and it pays very well. The biggest problem is that those accused of committing the crimes are being victimized and exploited by those who are supposed to be providing rehabilitative services to them.
Oh what a blessing it is that my people do not read, think, or use common sense, says the Pastors, Pimps and Politicians.