dIAGNOSTICS - METRO STATE PRISON
May 2005 to July 2005
After months and months of waiting in jail, I was finally called for transfer into Diagnostics, which is required of anyone serving time in the Department of Corrections. I had been warned plenty about how hard Diagnostics is. And it was.
Diagnostics is 6-ish weeks of medical testing/examining/evaluating to make sure you are properly cared for (and medicated) while incarcerated. Your mental health is evaluated, mainly for medications. Your papework is sent to the Parole Board at this time for evaluation, and in many cases, women were released while in Diagnostics or shortly thereafter depending on the nature of the crime, history, etc.
Also in Diagnostics, your security level is determined. Given the white collar nature of my crime, no history of incarceration or violence in my past, I was considered the absolute lowest security possible.
The days in Diagnostics were long. Very long. Because inmates are unclassified at this stage, we were all treated as High Security. Limited movement, and only by marching and yelling cadence. It was all paramilitary style, completed with appropriate "Yes, Ma'am" responses to an officer. Standing at attention when an officer approaches. The days were spent marching and yelling cadence on the prison grounds, cleaning all the live long day (I'm not exaggerating) and shuffling from one type of appointment to another. Our commissary purchases were very limited for security purposes, and we were only allowed time to socialize, use a phone, shower, read a book, or write a letter between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Because I didn't have anyone that The State considered family, I was not granted access to phone calls, only snail mail for me.
Below is a more-polished piece I'd written at one point about my intake experience going to Diagnostics. The actual letter/blog I wrote and sent to Kelly follows.
We rushed through the neighborhood, obviously ignoring the 25 mph signs posted on the streets. I think Deputy Andreas had forgotten how to brake when taking a sharp curve, throwing the four of us into each other with leg chains and handcuffs clanging together. As I slid uncontrollably out of my seat and into Karen's lap across from me, she did her best to catch me with her limited arm movement. This sent us into another gale of giggles as we approached the prison.
We pulled up to the gate still laughing, but as I saw the short buildings looming ahead of us surrounded my shiny razor wire, my smile faded. Coming to an abrupt stop, I caught a glimpse of four uniformed officers with tall hats and stern faces already yelling at a batch of inmates. True nervousness set in, and my stomach tightened into tense knots.
Remember, Karen already told you they'd yell at you. It's just a mind game. It's the military, what you almost dedicated your life to. What's the worst that can happen? You know you are strong in mind and body. They can't hurt you and they won't. Just do what your told. Be the one that slides under the radar because you perform well.
The self talk was needed and it seemed to work. I felt posture straighten and I almost looked forward to the challenge ahead.
The Deputies unloaded us from the van, one by one.
"You nervous, Settlemoir?" Deputy Andreas asked as she helped my shackled feet hit the pavement.
"A little," I admitted.
"Don't worry about it. They just yell at you a little bit. They do it to everyone. Just get it over with. I will warn you, though... there are 'Scared Straight' people visiting today, so they're going to be extra hard on you guys. The 'Scared Straight' program is when they bring in first time misdemeanor offenders to give them a taste of prison."
We waited timidly behind Deputy Andreas as the officers traded paperwork. I took note of the tall, lean officer dressed in all black with combat boots and a hat with 'CERT' emblazoned on the front spoke kindly to Deputy Andreas. What I figured it couldn't be all that bad.
"All right ladies. This is where I leave you," said Deputy Andreas as she unshackled our arms and legs. "Good luck, and I hope I never see you again." She smiled as she gathered her handcuffs and chains, and left us in the hands of the CERT officers of Metro State Prison.
"Inmates! Stand up straight. Hold your possessions in your right hand. March forward and line up on that yellow line over there," shouted the officer as he pointed inside a caged in area. "I want no talking, no laughing, no nothin’ until I tell you to do somethin’. You will follow my orders. You will not ask questions. You will not move until you are told. You will stand on that yellow line and look straight ahead."
We hurried into place as best we could with flimsy shower shoes on our feet. The only thing I had was my Bible that held photos and letters. The sun was beating down on us, quickly heating up the dark blue denim-like jumpsuits we wore, and sweat began to break out on our bodies. I found myself wishing I'd been given a brown paper bag to put my Bible in like the other girls had. My sweaty hands made it hard to hold its slippery surface.
Behind us was a short, stout building where a stream of ladies was being ushered inside by another officer. All around us was razor wire and fencing. We were in a cage within a cage. Across from us stood three uniformed officers, all dressed in the intimidating black uniforms. Five feet beyond the officers was another line of women dressed in regular clothing. They faced us, standing in formation on a yellow line. Those were the women from the 'Scared Straight' program.
The CERT team officers, which stands for Correction Emergency Response Team, are the equivalent to drill sergeants in the state prison system. They provide upgraded security should a riot or fight breakout, and are in charge of intake for new inmates. It is also their job to yell orders at us and confuse us to no end. One CERT officer would yell one order while another yelled a different order. There was hell to pay for whichever order you didn’t follow.
We were taught the proper way to behave in Georgia's prison system. First and foremost, I learned that our first names are now 'Inmate'. We are always addressed by 'Inmate' and our last names, i.e. Inmate Settlemoir. The initial procedures are seemingly simple:
1. Do not speak unless spoken to. Before speaking to an officer, an inmate must stand at full attention and say, "Ma'am, Inmate Settlemoir requests permission to speak, Ma'am", even if the officer initiated the conversation and I am answering a question. More often than not, an officer will ignore us or say "no", leaving us standing there feeling stupid.
2. March everywhere. If two or more inmates are traveling together, cadence must be sounded. One inmate is cadence caller, the other will respond. It doesn’t matter if we are marching 10 feet or the entire compound.
3. When marching or walking anywhere and I come upon an officer, I must ask for permission to pass. Similar to asking for permission to speak, we are trained to stop, come to full attention and ask, "Sir, Inmate Settlemoir requests permission to pass, Sir." And as in asking for permission to pass, the officer will likely just look at us and not answer, or says "no", leaving us to stand there until we are told it’s okay to carry on. If there is a stream of officers, each and every officer must be asked for permission.
4. After speaking to an officer, or being instructed or being spoken to by an officer, we must ask, "By your leave, Ma'am?" And that officer has to dismiss us before we can move.
For an hour, we stood out in the hot sun receiving instruction on how to carry out these procedures, and we practiced over and over until we could execute them correctly. In the hot sun, I had a hard time holding on to the slippery Bible, which I feared would eventually slip out of my hands causing the CERT officer to scream and yell at me. Despite the cramping in my right hand, I held on to that Bible for dear life. I didn’t realize the irony of this at the time.
As the CERT officer continued to scream at us, another officer came around with a clipboard asking us questions such as bra and panty size, size of shoe and other questions. While we went through the intake process, inmates on intake detail were putting together packages containing jumpsuits, undergarments and boots.
"Inmate! Do you have a problem with me and my procedures?" the CERT officer yelled as he walked toward me. "Why are you hands clenched up? Why do you have your hands in fists?"
The officer startled me as he approached and stood inches from my face. I didn’t even realized my hands were clenched into balls at my side. If I had to guess, I would say I was nervous and tense, and that's why my hands were naturally clenched! Not to mention the tension of trying to keep my slippery Bible in my hand.
"Sir, Inmate Settlemoir request permission to speak, Sir," I said timidly, with my voice quivering.
"No, Inmate," the officer said as he rested the brim of his hat on my forehead and leaned in, "I don't want to hear your excuses. I take your hands being in a fist as a threat. Are you implying you want to hit me? Are you wanting to get physical?"
He just kept screaming at me, and I stood there helpless. As I opened my mouth to ask for permission to speak once again, he said, "Enough, inmate! I'll get physical with you if you want to. If not, I suggest you unclench your fists and stand at at proper attention!"
I stood there shaking, trying to convince myself it was just a show, just an intimidation to make me feel scared. As that officer stood there yelling endless remarks in my direction, I couldn't help but notice an anger rising inside of me. An anger that was very foreign and something I'd never felt before. I didn't know what to do with it, but I knew it was there.
I was finally feeling my first anger directed toward Jim. Angry that I was standing in the hot, beating sun and being screamed at by a prison officer. Angry that I was trapped within these chain link and razor wired walls. Angry that he was a free man, and I am inside this prison taking the fall for his wrong doing. Angry that I trusted someone else so immensely only to have been ultimately burned. Angry like I'd never felt angry before. I stuffed all this emotion as deep down as I could. If I didn’t, I had CERT officers willing to make my life a living hell for not paying attention to their orders.
The officers ushered us into the small building between the cage and the rest of the compound.
“Now, looky here,” said one of the officers. “We’re strippin’ you down and searchin’ ya. We don’t need no games, no funnin’. This is serious business. You hide anything from me and I promise you’ll pay for it. You got anything hidin’, you better give it up now.”
No one spoke. We stood their silent, most of us with our eyes directed toward the floor. This is the part of prison I’ve always heard people talk about, but never imagined experiencing.
“Okay. The first four girls line up in front of me. You have 30 seconds to get everything off,” said the officer.
I had mixed feelings about being in the first group of girls. On one hand, I could get this over with. On the other hand, this is one time no one wants to go first. I moved slowly to my place in the line and hesitantly started removing my jail scrubs. I kept my eyes to the ground, trying to pretend no one was around me.
“Move it! Let’s see some clothes hitting the pavement!” the officer screamed.
I clenched my eyes shut and tried to move quicker to get it over with. Once I was standing naked, the officer started her search.
“Those of you with a gut, I need you to lift ‘em, “ she barked. “Those of you with big boobs, I need you to lift ‘em. Raise your arms above your head. Open your mouth, lift your tongue. Turn around and face the wall. Squat down to the floor, spread legs and your butt cheeks and give me a good cough. Lift your feet so I can see the bottom.”
We followed her orders, praying each one would be the last.
“Pick up your clothes. You’ve got 30 seconds to get dressed.”
We stood in line forever to have our fingernails and toenails cut down below the flesh. I had no idea long nails are considered a weapon in prison. This rule is only enforced in the Diagnostics phase and for those eventually classified to maximum security status.
Next we waited in line for the accounting office, to sign the checks that were transferred over with us from Fulton County to credit the money to our books. My nerves were so bad and my muscles so exhausted from holding my Bible that I could barely control the ink pen to sign my name.
We just kept going from one line to the next. The next line took over two hours of standing at attention. Most of us fought to stand up straight with our hands at our side, still clutching our belongings. Once at the front of the line, our possessions were searched thoroughly and the items not allowed were either destroyed or boxed up to be sent home. I knew ahead of time what I would be allowed to take in, which is why I only had a Bible that held a few letters, pictures and addresses. In my possession, I own my watch, my glasses, a Bible, five blank envelopes, five stamps, four photos, four letters and some affirmations for meditations I wrote. That’s it. All I have to send home is a postcard, a card and two photos.
Back to standing in line. This is where trouble started to set in. I was living off of three and a half hours of sleep over the last two days, we hadn’t eaten since 3 a.m. (and that was a really small meal). I was under a lot of stress and my blood pressure medication hadn’t been given to me in two days. It was now 2:30 p.m. Standing there exhausted, the back of my neck kept getting hot and prickly. I was afraid I might pass out, but I’d take that chance. Passing out seemed like a safer choice than having to talk to a CO more than I already had to.
The long wait brought us to showering, another humiliating part of intake. Three of us were taken in at a time to an open shower area. We were given goggles and were searched yet again by another officer, just as before.
“Turn on the water, wet yourself,” the officer yelled at us. “Now, turn it off. Take the Nix to your right, apply this quickly to your hair, your underarms and pubic area. We don’t need you bringin’ them bugs in here.”
Perplexed, we did as we were told. The water was very cold, which made the shower experience that much more uncomfortable. Shivering, I managed to smear the de-licer on as instructed.
“Stand at attention, ladies. I will let you know when you can rinse.”
We stood for what felt like an eternity, the officer staring at us, most of us with our eyes on the floor thinking about being anywhere but here.
“Rinse and wash, in a hurry.”
Standing under the weak stream of cold water was torture. It took work to get the thick mixture out of my long hair. I tried moving with a purpose to avoid the hateful stare of the officer and any unnecessary yelling.
We finally dried off and were given uniforms. Now, I know I complained about the Fulton County uniforms, but I would do anything to wear one of those again, given the choice. Now I’m wearing a one-piece, white jumpsuit with “State Prisoner” proudly displayed on my back. Unflattering and awkward doesn’t even begin to describe the jumpsuits. An unaltered jumpsuit in its original form is bad enough. But most of them have been shortened by previous inmates who wanted shorter legs on their uniform. Given the fact I am almost 5’ 9” and taller than most of my fellow inmates, I need longer legs. Yeah, all of my uniforms are high waters. What we get is what we’re stuck with. Not to mention that white is a nightmare color for any woman. I’ve already seen two ‘that time of the month’ accidents and I’ve only been here a few days.
We were given two hair ties since our hair has to be worn off of our collar at all times. While putting my hair up as instructed, an officer noticed that my uniform was way too short. I would think so, given it was halfway up my shins. She sent me back to the shower area to change into a new uniform.
This is where I finally messed up. The officer asked if it was wet in the shower area and instead of saying, “Ma’am, yes Ma’am,” as I’m supposed to, I slipped and said, “Yeah, I think it is.”
“I know you ain’t talkin’ to me like I’m family,” she yelled at me, eyebrows furrowed. She kept screaming, but I can’t tell you want she said as I don’t even know if I understood her. I changed my uniform and she was still screaming at me when I came out of the shower area. I sat down to have my ID photo taken, still dripping wet… and she kept on screaming.
Food finally arrived by way of the standard bologna sandwich in a brown bag, but I was so hungry I would’ve eaten anything they put in front of me. We received our shoes, which are honest-to-goodness black leather combat boots. We received our bedding, had our stats taken, spoke to mental health, took a Tuberculosis test and signed paperwork.
When our intake process was complete, the CERT team released us to the correction officers and we were on our way. Lined up and standing at attention, the officers counted us off. Then marched us down the small compound to the two Diagnostic dorms.
Friday, June 03, 2005
Email from Kelly:
Hey everyone, I received a letter from Andi last night! To sum up, she isdoing well. The prison is run like a boot camp, complete with screaming DrillSergeant-like deputies. However, for someone like her who wanted to join themilitary anyway and lived around it for over 8 years, that’s the easypart. Right now she has no contact with any of us except via snail mail. Sheasked repeatedly for letters, so if you have some you’ve been waiting tosend, now’s the time. The rule is, however, at least for now, that she can ONLYhave letters. NO cards, packages, magazine clippings, calendar clippings, etc.(This may be primarily for Erin, but she saidcopies of the blogs should be okay.) I will type out the letter tonight and post it to the blog.I may not be home until after 9pm, so unless you’re planning to make it alate night, it will be ready for you to read Saturday morning.
Remember I told you Kelly S. said Diane Sawyer did a special about women prisoners here at Metro? And that she went through the actual intake process? I must get a copy of that broadcast, now that I’ve been through it. This place really is no joke through diagnostics. It ‘s boot camp style. The difference is, in boot camp you are torn down to be built back up. Here, they just tear you down and leave you there. We are constantly reminded that we are worthless to society and that’s why we are in here (yes, some of the CO’s actually yell that at us), I’m adjusting okay, but the weekends are laid back, which is good, but we have nothing to do. I can sleep, write or try to watch TV in a tiny room with 30 other women while they argue over it. So mostly the weekend has left me with time to let this transition sink in.
It’s been a rather frustrating process, and very confusing. I guess my mind is sort of at ease with knowing I am one step closer to home, yet I have a long way to go, because while I’m homesick, I think I am missing Shon and Marissa back at FC more than I’m homesick. I almost feel bad saying that. I am homesick, but home isn’t even a remote option. Diagnostics being such a humiliating process isn’t easy. I’ve know for 3 months now that I’m going to prison, but being here is so surreal, never in a million years would I have ever thought I’d ever go to jail, much less prison. So not being mad at Ben and hating him is probably the hardest challenge I face right now. Sometimes I wish he knew what he is putting me through but I know it wouldn’t matter. I still can’t understand how being here is beneficial to society or me. I could be out there earning a living and paying taxes to help pay for this place. Instead, I am in here soaking up $20k plus, and still learning to be a criminal on the government’s dime.
So I guess I’ll try to start at the beginning and regale my experiences so far. There’s a lot to tell. I’m not sure how much I’d told you so I’ll just start at the beginning. As you know, they told me to “pack it up for shipment” Monday night around 11:30pm. She said they’d be back in about an hour to get me. So I was up all night as they didn’t come to get me until after breakfast (3:30am). That was good because I got to say good-bye to everyone. I went through a whole range of emotions. I was happy, scared, etc. But mostly, very sad about leaving my good friend Shon. As soon as they popped the doors for breakfast, I went down to tell her I was leaving, but she’s already heard. She came up and sat with me through breakfast and wouldn’t leave my side until I walked out the door. Yes, I was very sad. Long story short, they got 6 of us up to the holding cells by 4am.
Fortunately, Karen from my zone was also going and she never even knew it. The 6 of us that went got along really well. One woman goes b the name “Bowlegs”, and no, not because she was born with them if you know what I mean. Property was a pain. I had about 40 books and a bunch of mail and important papers. I couldn’t take that stuff with me because they would have destroyed it at Metro. So the nice officer that took us to the holding cell tried to get the lady at property to do her job and add this stuff to our other property. Long story short, the lady wouldn’t do it until a Captain came around and told her she was supposed to. But I’m really worried about my books and mail because I over heard that nasty officer tell the other officer that they will just put it there for now and get red of it later. I hope Kelly was able to get it. All my really important papers were in there. Not to mention $250.00 worth of books. I’m trying to focus on the bigger fish I’m frying.
So they got us up to the holding cell, which is about 80 degrees, and we set. And sit. And sit. And sit. We watch men and women go to court. This was a very large cell so it was fine Around 8 am they take us over to the tiny, nasty cell they put you in before you leave out. We sat there – 6 of us in a cell built for 5 for a couple of hours. Then they had 12 people crammed in there for a couple of hours. It was nasty and miserable. Finally, we thought we were leaving around 11am when the officer opened the door, but they said that we had to go back to the zone because they pulled us out too early. Idiots! They don’t even do prison runs on Tuesdays. Personally, I was happy. I felt like I needed closure with Fulton County. In all practicality I should never ever see that place again.
And I didn’t handle being uprooted so suddenly very well, so I was glad I got time to give Shon a proper goodbye. She’s a good friend and I care about her immensely. They finally took us back down to our zone. Marissa was the only person awake in my zone. She screamed when she saw me. I told her to “shhhh” because I didn’t want Shon to know I was back. I hugged Marissa and went down to Shon’s room. I rubbed her head and said, “guess who’s back?” She was facing the wall and didn’t move or answer me, so I thought she was either dead asleep or was still mad that I was leaving. I left her and said I’d come back later. About 10 minutes later, I heard her yell my name so I went back in. She was so happy to see me. She said at first she thought she was dreaming, the she thought it was Irene, my roommate, trying to woke her up to braid here hair. I was too keyed up from the emotional rollercoaster to sleep right then and we had the LT. on the floor all day. I got a very short nap at quiet time when I fell asleep talking Shon. What really sucked is that they had already taken the $50 commissary order off my books, so when I got my $50 order, I had to eat and give it all away in less than a day. Oh well.
I socialized and hung out with Shon all night. I really didn’t want to leave her. We got to bed at 12am after count and got up 2:30am to do it all over again. Shon ate breakfast with me, which I was trying not to throw up. Then she stayed with me again until they came to get me. This time, I left the zone crying I’m happy I made my peace with FC. Back up to the holding cells, same thing all over again. At was starting to feel like a repeat, because we were still sitting there at 10am. Finally, they came and got us – turns out they really did forget about us. We were literally shackled hands and feet. That was very weird. They put us on a transport van. It was so beautiful outside. I can’t believe I’d been inside with barely a glimpse of the sky for 3 months! I was so happy to be outside. We left FC behind listening to the Commodores. It was a short drive (through the ‘hood) to Metro. We got to the gate and sat forever. We thought they were going to reject us since we got here so late. But they let us in.
Now I’d heard all bout diagnostics from people who have been before, but I never imagined it to be what it really is. It was the ultimate test in mind over matter strength. Keep in mind I’ve had roughly 3.5 hrs of sleep over 2 days. It’s about 80 degrees; beautiful but very hot when you are wearing full-length county navy blues. All I had with me was my Bible (address book) stuffed with photos, envelopes and letters. The Bible was slick cover. Everyone had enough stuff to put into a paper bag but me, so I had to hold mine. We watch the CERT team come out. And yeah, they look mean. They are the equivalent of Drill Sergeants, behind them; another CERT team is leading a long string of people in civilian clothes. The deputies that brought us from FC informed us that the “Scared Straight” program was visiting and since we were late the CERT team was going to take a lot longer with us. Great! They open the front gate and we step into what looks like a fenced cage. Then the fun begins. Four of them come out to yell and scream at the 6 of us. Oh, let me back track. Remember I was going to try and get in with a clear spacer in my nose to keep the hole from my nose ring from closing? I decided against it the day before we left. I just had a gut feeling about it. So Karen wanted to use it. I am so glad I didn’t use it.
They caught it on her right away. Not that anything devastating happened, it just made it even more humiliating for her. Also, while we were sitting in the holding cell, one of the girls was kidding around and drew a small heart on two of the other girl’s cheeks. Oh, let me tell you. Those girls paid hell over it. The CERT team thought they were tattooed hang symbols, which is extremely serious. While you are with the CERT team you get absolutely no chance to speak to explain yourself or the situation. They were about send them to lockdown no questions asked to be investigated for gang activity. One of the girls started crying and after yelling at her some more, he finally gave her a chance to say it was only ink pen. I felt really bad for both of them. So they teach us that ANY time you are trying to get by an officer or stuff, you have to say, “Sir, by you leave, Sir”. Before you can move you have to do this for every single officer you are trying to get by and get his or her okay.
Also, if you ever want to speak to an officer, you have to say, “Sir, inmate Settlemoir requests permission to speak, Sir”. Yes, my first name is officially Inmate. We had to go through these commands a thousand times. The whole time, I had to hold my Bible a certain way in my right hand. It hurt so bad trying to hold onto it since it was slippery. Everything we say begins and ends with Sir or Ma’am. One of the team members was coming down the line taking shoe, panty, and bra sizes. So we had to answer all her questions accordingly. Every single person before me kept screwing up and getting yelled at. The lady got to me and I am proud to say that I answered every single question correctly, and she even said “very good”, but not in a nice way. Unfortunately, doing something well with one officer earns you a screaming from another. It was very obvious that I was doing things too well (thanks to some military training) so two of the officers kept swarming around me trying to find something wrong to scream at me for. For instance, one girl couldn’t stand still (you must stand at attention and look straight ahead at all times when you are standing), one kept moving around, one kept licking her lips, etc.
I stand there like a rock – I guess that inspection in the Georgia State Defense Force really helped. I was worried about dropping the Bible and getting yelled at. So an officer finally got me on something and it was so stupid. I know when you are standing at attention; your hands are at your side, fingers curled in. Because of being nervous and somewhat scared, apparently mine was in a fist and I didn’t even know it. So the CO comes over, gets right in my face, rests the brim of his hat on my fore head and starts screaming at me and asking why my hand is in a fist because he takes that as a threat. Riiight! (He said, “Inmate, we can settle this verbally or physically, what do you want it to be?) It was a very stressful, excruciating hour. I was miserable, I think from having no sleep. Not to mention we had to whole “Scared Straight” program watching us the whole time. Once we finally got the commands right, they let us to the next part. It seemed like each stage kept getting worse. Next was our strip search. Yes, loads of humiliating fun for everyone.
We had to line up, and had 30 seconds to get everything off. She searched our mouth, underarms, under our breasts, under some people’s guts. Then of the most fun of all, we had to turn around, spread our legs, squat and cough. Meanwhile she watched to see if any produced and contraband. We got another 30 seconds to get dressed. Off to the next phase. We stood in line forever, and had to cut all our fingernails and toenails down past the flesh. Then they took the checks we brought with us from county to deposit onto our books. I had to sign my name, and my nerves were so bad and my muscles so exhausted form holding by Bible that I couldn’t even control the ink pen. Next we stood in line at attention forever. Probably about two hours. They go through all your stuff and you have to destroy or send home all the stuff you can’t keep. In my possession I own my watch, my glasses, Bible, 5 envelopes, 5 stamps, 4 photos, 4 letters, and some affirmations for meditations I wrote. That’s it. All I have to send home is a postcard, a card and 2 photos. Then we stand in line some more. This is where potential problems started. I had 3.5 hours of sleep in 2 days, we hadn’t eaten since 3 am (and it was a very small breakfast), I was under a lot of stress and my blood pressure medication had not been given to me in two days. It was now 2:30pm. Standing there exhausted, the back of my neck kept getting hot and prickly and I was afraid I was going to pass out. What’s sad is I’d rather pass out than have to talk to another CO more that I had to. I was okay.
Next where showers. They take 3 people in at a time. You strip down, put on goggles and go through yet another search with these officers. You get wet, then put Nix (delicer) on your hair, underarms and pubic area. Then you stand there shivering for 20 minutes. Rinse, wash. We dry off and the CO sends us over to put our uniforms on Man, I would do anything to have FC uniforms back. They were two pieces. Now I wear a one-piece whit e jumpsuit with “State Prisoner” proudly displayed on my back. They are so unflattering and awkward. And white is a nightmare for any woman. I’ve already seen two accidents. We get out of the showers and are given two hair ties. We have to wear our hair up off our collar at all times. The uniform they have me was too short, so they have me another one and sent me back to change. Well, I finally screwed up. The officer asked if it was wet in the shower area, and instead of saying “Ma’am, yes, Ma’am” as I’m supposed to now, I slipped and said, “Yeah, I think it is.” She started off with “I know you ain’t talking to me like I’m family….” And kept on screaming at me. I came out and she was still screaming at me. I sat down to have my ID photo taken, still dripping from the shower and still was being screamed at. So, if you go to the Georgia Department of Corrections website, and type in either my GDC# 1183853 or my EA/EF # 572556, (Note from Mons: as of this posting, it's not up yet.) you’ll see my status and official prison mug shot. After that, we ate, received our combat boots (for real), got our bedding and moved on. We got our stats taken, saw mental health, TB test, and finally taken to the dorm I am the only one of my group that is in this dorm, the rest are in the other one, I’ll continue with the details of my experience later. I’ve got to get this letter out
So here is some quick stuff about prison life thus far. Diagnostics is all military bearing. We march and well cadence everywhere we go which I love. We are defiantly treated like crap. The food is so much better! The prison has its own bakery so all of our desserts, biscuits and breads are fresh. All our good is HOT! And almost everything I’ve had is actually very good. That damn mystery meat has followed me though. And we get so much food. FC used to give us a main dish, a vegetable and a fruit or dessert once in a blue moon, and bread. Here we get a main dish, three vegetables, fruit, bread and dessert. We get milk with every meal, coffee with breakfast. We still get a bologna sandwich at lunch, but they give us lettuce and tomato, vegetables, fruit and dessert. Oh man! They give us chocolate cake with hot chocolate liquid stuff in it and it is soooo good. And our cheese is real cheddar cheese. My roommate is fantastic! Mary is in for forgery as well, but she really forged checks. I love her. We get along great. And we have a lot in common. She shared everything she has with me since I can’t get store until Thursday. She might be leaving for general population, at Alto, tomorrow or next week. That sucks for me. Also, I had my first “Burrito” Remember the “Baked Potato” they used to make at FC? It’s very similar to that but with ramen noodles. It is so good! I’ll eat that stuff on the streets, the sodium content could probably kill a small horse, but it is good. We have to live on them on the weekends because we only get breakfast and lunch on Saturday and Sunday. Unfortunately, this is a smoking facility, and since they only get two or three smoke breaks a day, they sneak them in the dorm for now. It’s been pretty lax considering since I’ve been here. That all changes June 1 when we start real diagnostics. We’ll be marching all day and night, which is fine by me. And we’ll be cleaning everything, even the stuff that’s already clean. Hopefully, I’ll be out of this phase and on to general population in just few weeks. I forgot to mention on of the best parts of prison. We get yard call 2-3 times a week. I got to go my first day after dinner and it made all the yelling I endured worth it. The prison yard is a little larger than a football field. It was so open and so beautiful out there. The perfect spring day. We got to walk around or sit on rocks. It’s good to be outside again. It’s strange comprehending that for the time being, I am in a maximum-security prison. One of my most interesting moments was seeing the woman here who is on Death Row. When they walk her somewhere, the whole compound has to lock up and the parade her down the compound for everyone to see. It’s very surreal. It’s not all bad for now. I am adjusting pretty well. I’ve got pap smears, testing and all kinds of crap ahead. I’ve got new friends. I’ve got a lot to be happy about, considering. The hardest part is not being allowed anything but paper and pen. No books, not anything. Mary has contraband colored pencils. Once we get through shakedowns, I’m getting some too. For now, I am at peace with where I am and stuff. I’m homesick, especially not having contact with anyone, but not devastated. Nervous as hell all the time, but making it. I’ve got to close this before lights out. I will write more soon. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to write as much as I used to. But I’ll be in touch. I’m going to leave out with a list of positives.
Take care. Please drop a line when you can. You guys are wonderful.
One step closer to home
Very kind people
Freshly shaved legs
2 person room
3 months down
Great people on the outside
Money on my books
I’ve smiled a lot despite the circumstances
Note: This first portion was actually part of a letter written later, but has the most up to date infomation about Andi's situaiton.
Okay, met with pre-parole. They are useless. They said the parole board will review my file and could give me a TPM (temporary parole month) in the next 60 days. Please constantly check the website and/or call the GDC. You will find out long before I will. However, she said it’s possible I may have to max out and serve all 18 months because of the dollar amount. So at least we know I will be here another couple of months. If the bard denies parole this time, they will review again in 6 months. Keep your fingers crossed. I am not sure how to make peace with doing 18 months. Please pass this info onto everyone. Got more to tell you later, but I’ve got to mail this. The following letter was started to you, but turned into a blog update since time is very limited right now. I’m trying to keep my head up. Sorry to end this on such a sad note, but today is one of those days where I’m just trying to make it. I’ll write soon.
So guess where I am? Yeah, finally in prison. It’s killing me that I can’t even call you to tell you that I’m here and that I’m okay. I turned in a phone list and some peoples phone numbers work, some don’t. So either it’ll take some time for them to work, or I won’t be talking to you for a while. By the rules, you can’t change your phone list but every 6 months. I’m just going to try and be patient. Also, Don’t be mad, but no one will be visiting me while I’m in diagnostics. They only allow immediate family, and since my only immediate family member is deceased, I’m SOL. When I get moved into general population either here or at another prison, you might get to visit as a significant other and my mom might get to visit if they allow stepparents. But Mike is not going to be happy to know he definitely won’t get to see me until I get out. Oh, and sorry for the writhing so small. I can’t get store until Thursday so I have limited supplies my roommate lent me. I’ve got so much to tell you. I’ll have to write a little at a time, especially until I can get me own pen and paper. I don’t even know where to start. First, can you get my new address posted? I am really desperate for mail since I can’t call or see anybody. Let everyone know JUST letters and cards for now, no clippings, etc. no more calendar clippings for me. Typed letters are fine. We can’t have anything or have any privileges really while in diagnostics. Blog updates should be okay, too. The whole ordeal of getting here was serious hell. Fulton County got us here really late which made it even worse. I’ll tell you all about that later. For the time being, my anxiety has subsided, but that first day here was a true test of my strength and endurance. I was a crying mess a few times throughout the day – no one saw or knew except the mental health nurse who was doing everyone’s evaluations. If I’d written a letter that night, it would’ve been a lot different than this one. And if I’d been able to call, I would have been a mess. But I’ll tell you all about that later. I am getting settled but getting ready for a series of upheavals. The people I am around in prison are much different than FCJ. I am no longer a minority. Everyone has been really nice to me. There are a lot more people like me. I don’t feel threatened at all. All my good deeds must be coming back to me. There are only 2 two-person rooms on each part of the dorm, and I got one of them. I wasn’t supposed to, but they messed up and gave me the wrong bed. I get along so well with me roommate (though she snores) so she begged them to let me stay and they did. All the other rooms are 6-person rooms! Yuck! Your head is literally right next to someone else’s. My roommate has been here 2 months. A lot of people have been here up to 5 months with the freeze and all. And diagnostics is no joke. It’s like boot camp only worse. That’s where upheaval comes in. All those people - to include my roommate – are steadily getting shipped out to general population here or other prisons. So everyone I’m used to will soon be gone – next week maybe. It sounds like I shouldn’t be in diagnostics long, so soon I’ll be going wherever they put me. I can’t wait to get to GP, though it’s a series of starting over twice again. Before I go any further – I am trying hard to not think of starting over twice again. Before I go any further – I am trying not to think about my release date. For one, no answer is ever really solid on when I will be released, I should see a pre-parole officer next week or so and they’ll give me a date. That’s basically a guess based on my history. Basically, 18 months is my max-out date. They must let me go by then. Once the parole board reviews my file, they’ll give me a TPM. The very first letter I receive from them could very well say I have to max out. It happens a lot, especially on shorter sentences. But the parole board reviews your file every 3-6 months so then they could/would likely come back then with a shorter time. So I have to remember that even if that first letter is harsh, it could change even though it may take a few months. I really hate being at the mercy of the state. And still not knowing. But I could still get paroled out of here. I think that’s the only real thing worrying me. Once I get past diagnostics, prison will be a breeze except for the visitation part.
Sorry my updates have been scarce. It’s obvious that my writing is slowing to near-halt while in diagnostics. We have so little free time and energy. It’s really frustrating because I have 1001 prison stories to tell and I just hope I remember them all.
For the most part, I’ve adjusted okay and things are good. I’ve not really been down or depressed except for when my best roommate ever left. Mary and I got to be pretty close and I hope to end up at Alto with her. If I had to pick one emotion I feel the most, it’s frustration. I’m frustrated over the constant chaos of living in an inmate environment. People are nicer for the most part in prison than they are in FC jail, but the mindset is still the same. Prisoners are lazy and defiant. I suppose that’s how many of them got here.
The key to getting through diagnostics is to just do what you are told. People make it so much harder on themselves and the whole group by constantly complaining, because their mouths are constantly running. We spend countless hours marching and doing extra detail. I guess I do sometimes forget this is prison and not the military because only a handful of us have any sort of self-discipline.
It’s strange – the people that really belong here are the worst. They really think the state owes them a vacation. Even though I know I don’t truly belong here, I make it so much easier on myself by accepting that I am indeed a prisoner. This is my job now. Perhaps I take my job as a prisoner a little too seriously, but I come in with a good amount of pride and I intend to leave with it. To some degree, it’s really hard for them to punish me when we get punished as a group.
The first thing they do is snatch away smoke breaks. No loss for me. Next they take away television and free time (what little we have) – I don’t watch TV here at all, and letters can be written on the sly. When the group gets in trouble for talking in formation, not participating when marching, etc., they just keep marching us. I don’t care how hot it is or if they march us from sun up to sun down. I like marching. I’d rather be outside doing something rather than inside trying to look busy cleaning the same thing for 8 hours a day.
There is one way they really get to me with punishment: Making us sit or stand in the dayroom. This usually happens during the day if someone is caught sleeping (we’re suppose to sanitize the range all day everyday), or people can’t be quiet – if they are fighting/arguing or bothering the CO all day. They make us go to the dayroom, which is a room the size of my living room with tile floor, and sit the rest of the day. No leaning on the walls, lounging or laying down. Upright, Indian-style for hours. All that time in a tiny room, and you don’t like but maybe 5 of the 46 women crammed in there. That happens bout twice a week. You know I hate to bored and tortured like that.
Oh, and I literally just found out our free time on the weekends is the same as through the week now: only from 7pm to lockdown, though lockdown is 1am on Friday and Saturday. It’s 1pm so I am on unauthorized free time. This makes weekends very painful. For one, they turn the air off on Friday afternoon and don’t turn it back on until Monday morning. It’s usually hot in here anyway, but now we are baking. Furthermore, we only get breakfast at 5am and dinner at 6pmish on the weekends. By rules, we aren’t supposed to eat on the range until free time…so we are supposed to not eat all day?! Fortunately, they don’t have enough manpower to really deep us conformed all day (like now) so we will eat and have our unauthorized free time anyway. Most of the officers are cool about it, as long as our range is sanitized and we leave them alone.
I have two officers I really like and one I like most of the time. None of them get too friendly with us or relax the atmosphere, but two of them are smart asses, and the other one yells a lot but does it with a smirk. Those three keep it real and tell us they aren’t here to punish us, but they want to make sure we don’t come back. It’s working for me. Last week we got a lot of repeat offenders, some of them having been here 3, 4, 5 times. Most of the time, I recognize that I have very little room to complain. Most people have been locked up in county fails from 8 months to 3 years. Me? I’ve just passed my 3-month total mark. Despite only being incarcerated 3 months, I can tell that I’ve become somewhat institutionalized. For one thing, and please no one take this personally, I’ve stopped missing my real life as much as I used to. I am not homesick near as much as I used to be. I think I was almost obsessed with getting back to my real life at FC. But now, all that seems so far away. Yes, I’d five anything to go home in a minute. But it’s so hard to see past right now. I guess I am somewhat conforming to my environment.
This is my life now, and I suppose for the most part I’ve come to accept it. Having a job, income, bills to pay, internet, social dinners and BBQs, car troubles, road trips…that all seems so far away. And yet, my stomach doesn’t turn anymore when I think about it like it use to. Tears don’t well up in my eyes anymore. I think I have literally become numb to it. I think the biggest contributor to it is the fact that I really have no contact with the outside. No visitation, no phone calls. I’d give anything to talk to Kelly, Mike, and my mom, but all that has certainly kept my longing for home at bay. Don’t get me wrong, I think about everyone all the time and miss everyone, it’s just not as desperate as it felt in FC jail.
Even though I’ve come to accept this as my reality, I am still kind of sweating my TPM date. I am mostly at peace with being here, but if I do get a letter saying I have to max out, it will take a long time to make peace with that. Fifteen months – September 3, 2006 – is a long way away. I did have a taste of my outside life the other day, just for a brief second. Diagnostics is very much like the military. We are one unit, they are one unit, and every thing out of our mouths to them begins and ends with Sir or Ma’am. Even going in for a PAP Smear, you can’t let your guard down. You remain in military bearing. Nor are they too kind or friendly on you. The one time I seem to have caught a break was with a mental health contractor. I had a brief meeting with one to determine m security level. They ask about your history and background, etc. Once she discovered I’m a psych major, have an education and was quite knowledgeable on the subject, she actually lessened the gap between civilian and inmate and engaged in a short conversation about psychology fields, etc. For about 10 min she let me feel human again. For 10 min, I wasn’t just GDC# 1183853, or just one of the masses. I remembered that I’m not really an inmate, that in my real life, I would be an equal to these CO officers. An interesting reality I forgot about is that in all reality, I am more educated than these correction officers and, in the real world, I earn a higher salary. That doesn’t go to my head, but what a reality check.
The key to making it through diagnostics is the opposite of what I expected: you do not want officers to know your name, even if it’s because you’re well behaved. They will not remember your name if you are behaved. They will not forget you name if you are defiant or trouble, then you’ll always be doing extra detail. So it’s very weird to me to try and blend in. However, don’t be fooled, I have not lost my heart in here. Neither FC jail nor the GDC is ever going to be able to reduce me down to a number. Unlike most, I’ve learned to make my heart my kingdom. I can go out to yard call or stare out my window at a beautiful open sky and feel nothing but complete joy. Even better, I can stand out in a formation and be forced to march for hours in either the blazing sun or pouring rain, and still feel that complete joy. I know I’ve had to conform to the system to a degree, but my heart and soul sure as hell doesn’t belong to the system. I know I’m going to be nervous as hell going back to the real world and starting over, but I know I am going to leave here proud as hell, too.
It’s hard to believe another birthday has come and gone already. I’m 29 years old. My birthday was about as good as can be expected in the beg house. While time goes very fast here for the most part, one day is pretty much the same as the next: 7 minute trips to the chow hall, marching, all day sanitation, a whole lot of screaming, and the occasional yard call. My birthday started off in a bit of a rut: grits for breakfast, having to eat with the only two women in the dorm I really can’t stand no matter how hard I try. We also spent the morning in trouble standing in the dayroom. Things picked up after lunch. We went to store call, and I only had to wait in line for 5 minutes, while most had to wait over two hours. Also my friend Sherry was nice enough to make my bed for my birthday. That sounds strange, but that was a huge deal. We must keep our rooms inspection ready 24/7 to include beds made to standard. Most of us make our beds on Thursday when we get laundry back and sleep on top of the covers all week to avoid repeating the horrid process daily. So when our laundry came back, Sherry made my bed. It was the best prison gift a girl could receive. Also, mail call was good. I got the best card from Kelly and the boys and the babies, a long letter from my pal in Arizona, and a very touching jail card and letter from my great friend Shon back at Fulton County.
There was one major sad point to my birthday: my roommate, Mary, was pulled out and transferred to Arrendale State Prison (also known as Alto) at 4 am. I’m happy that she’s getting out of diagnostics after 3 months of this hell and into GP, but I was so sad to lose her. We got to be really close friends. One of my other friends left Thursday, too. We had an amazing group of the same 5 or 6 people that used to congregate in our room every night. And most nights, we kept each other laughing so hard we’d cry. We often would forget we were prisoners. I still have a good time, but change is on the horizon. All of them but two girls are due to leave. And of course I’m sweating Monday when I should get a new roommate.
When I was sentenced, the attorney told me I would meet a different type of people in prison than I would in Fulton County. It was hard to believe after sitting in FC for so long. But he was right. I’ve met several white-collar crime folks. And a lot of people just like me who have just broken the law. Mary was in for two counts of 1st degree forgery and 18 counts of identity theft. She had a drug problem (meth) and used to actually steal checks out of people’s mailboxes, “clean” them of the ink and use them. There is another girl’s story that on one hand really pisses me off and makes me feel like I got cheated on my deal, but on the other hand gives my hope. She’s also in for a white collar. She’s 30, and she used to own her own business as a HUD loan broker. She was committing all kinds of fraud. Usually, what she would do is when someone would, say, apply for a $150,000.00 loan; she’d make it $170,000.00 and somehow pocket the difference. When she got caught, the amount involved in her case was over $350,000.00! Here’s the part that angers me – she fully admits to doing it. All said and done, her sentence is one year probation and to serve one year. NO restitution whatsoever! Because she filed bankruptcy on her corporation, she escaped federal charges. How, with over $360k involved did she get such a light sentence?
The part that gives me hope is that even with that amount of money involved, they gave her a TPM of August, which is only 10 months of her year sentence. Pre-parole said in their “safety” answer that they might make me max out because of the amount of money involved. So there’s hope if this girl isn’t maxing out despite the amount of money involved. I know in my heart of hearts and the pit of my stomach I just don’t feel like they are going to make me max out. But seriously, my focus hasn’t even been on that.
So anyway, how about prison stuff on the lighter side of things? Did I mention the Burrito? We pretty much live on them on the weekends. Really, it’s a heart attack in a bowl. Our typical “burrito” consists of a chili-flavored Ramen soup pack, handful of Doritos, handful of Cheez-it crackers and any other chips we see fit. You put all of that into an empty chip bag and crunch it all up. Then you add enough hot water to make everything float. You close it all up in the empty bag, then wrap it in a towel and let it cook. When it’s done, you split the bag open and it literally looks like a burrito. You can add salsa if you want. Despite having enough sodium to kill a small horse, it’s so good.
There’s a fairly new girl across the hall I’ve become good friends with, Michelle. She’s probably the person I’ve related to the most in my whole experience, as she is from my neighborhood. Most people here don’t even know where the Virginia-Highlands are. She’s here on a DUI charge gone wrong. She really shouldn’t be here. But she’s 30 and like me, doesn’t do drugs or criminal activity. We really have a lot in common. From the moment I met her she seemed very familiar. It was driving me crazy because she didn’t seem like someone I knew well, so I figured maybe she was just reminding me of someone I had known in the past. But then she got to talking about living in the Highlands and working at Murphy’s, which is just up the street from me, literally. I swear she was our server when Frank and I ate there our first time out back in October. Small world, huh? We’ve gotten to be good friends and I’d love to keep in tough with her since she lives so close to me.
Well, I’ve got a thousand more stories to tell, but I’ve got to close this for now. I am trying to get a bunch of letters out this week, so I’m sorry for the delay. Take care, everyone. And I love and miss all of you.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Email from Kelly:
Hey everyone, In Andi's letter to me she had, as she called it, "a strange request". To make it simple I type it, "as is" from my letter: I have a strange request... Can you (or anyone else who wants to) scan the internet for some cartoon character pictures for me? Mary (my roommate when I first arrived here) left with her colored pencils, but I am trying to get some more, and they would be great to have to make some envelopes. It's a great stress reliever for me. I don't care if they are black and white or color, but it would be nice to have one color image of each character so I know how to color it. I'll take any size I can get, but keep in mind they are going on the front of regular envelopes like the Bart Simpson I sent you. Here are some things I'd really like: Disney and looney toons characters, Shrek, Madagascar (the new movie) characters, Ren and Stimpy, Timon and Pumba from The Lion King, some fairies, butterflies, flowers, and hearts (clip are stuff).
That's it. The first letter I received from Andi when she first arrived to Metro had a drawing of Bart Simpson on the front that was all colored in with colored pencils and said, "Hey Dude! You got Jail Mail!" Now that's funny stuff. The pencils, she borrowed from her roommate whom she really hit it off with immediately. Ultimately, she would like to send all of you some similarly personalized letters like the one I received. So if you have anything; send it on. She'd love to hear from you. You guys are great. Thanks a bizillion, as Andi would put it.
Email from Mike:
Hello all... I haven't written an update in awhile because I had little to report...sorry... I did receive a short letter from Andi about a week and a half ago but it contained little news above what Kelly had communicated but I received a wonderful 7 page letter yesterday that was humerous and uplifting...she sounded great!!! The biggest news to report regarded mail...she described in detail the receipt of the package I had sent...apparantly they censure the mail in front of her...I had sent a ton of stuff so the mail officer went through it in front of her...they DID NOT allow several internet articles...photos and surprisingly enough a comic I had sent showing a prison escapee tunneling towards the latrine storage basin...lol Bottom line...such things must be sent sparingly so that they make it through in bits and pieces....which I am glad to know because I was about to send about of clipart of cartoon characters per Kelly's note the other day that I now know would probably end up in the garbage... Anyway...she sounded pretty upbeat...and is looking forward to her transfer to General Population to begin serving her sentence...hopfully near Savannah so that she can once again entertain visitors...lol