Sunday, December 20, 2015

Clayton's Recommendations

Author's Note: This is a transcribed letter from Clayton Allison with his personal recommendations for improving the quality of living for PC inmates at Goose Creek Correctional Center (GCCC). He wrote this letter in the hopes of getting it into the hands of policy makers who are attempting to correct issues and improve conditions inside Alaska's prisons. To our faithful blog readers, we apologize for the delay in posts and appreciate your patience during this busy season. We're currently looking into options for increasing the efficiency of posts even while busy with other FCA activities. If you would be interested in receiving updates in a podcast format (only an option we are considering at this point) please leave us a comment below.

Sunday, December 20, 2015
To whom it may concern:
My name is Clayton Allison. I am a prisoner at Goose Creek Correctional Center in Wasilla, Alaska. I have been through both trial and sentencing. My mandatory release date is set for 2035. I have been a prisoner since February, 2015. Upon coming to GCCC I have been a “PC” or Protective Custody prisoner. My official designation is “AS-5” or Administrative Segregation level 5. I am actively appealing my case.
AS-5 means that I voluntarily asked for protective custody. I am not on PC or administrative segregation status because of any medical, mental health, or punitive hold. I have never had any write-ups or punitive actions. You could say I strive to be the model prisoner. I take no medications other than my inhaler for Asthma. I have no drug or alcohol abuse history. I have no interest in suicide or escape. I am absolutely no threat to the prison institution. I requested to be PC because I wanted to avoid the fighting, drugs, alcohol, extortion and constant threats that “GP” or General Population is well known for. I tell you these things to give you a little background on me. I would like to give you my recommendation for improvements to GCCC and its PC population.
First, some background history and information. For some time GCCC here operated a PC “mod” or module that was very unique. It allowed men in segregation to apply to be housed there under rules similar to GP. It was called “K” or Kilo Mod. Almost everyone in K Mod was from a PC or segregation background, and wanted somewhere to be safe from all the GP drama. Applicants were screened. This created a safer environment to house PC or segregation inmates that didn’t want any trouble. I was housed in K Mod.
Unlike segregation, K Mod allowed its members almost every privilege of GP. Everything from daily contact visits to 10+ hours out of our cells every day. If you caused trouble, you were kicked out back to segregation. K Mod just made sense in that it was a healthier environment to do long amounts of prison time. If Prisoner A has 10 years to serve and can’t do it in GP, he serves his time in segregation. Prisoner A spends 10 years locked in a tiny cell 23 hours a day. Prisoner B also has 10 years to serve, but he is lucky enough to serve it in GP or a K Mod equivalent. Which prisoner do you think we’ll have trouble adapting once released?
I do not believe that segregation should be used for long-term housing. It is proven to be detrimental to mental health, and causes problems with reentry into society. Most end up in segregation for protection, only to be punished instead. Segregation is operated on the strictest prison rules. It is referred to by prisoners as “The Hole”. Segregation is used as punishment for GP prisoners. When written up for fighting or other infractions, the prisoner is given a set amount of time to spend in segregation. Everything from 15 days to 6 months or a year. The irony being while GP prisoners are sent to segregation for punishment, PC prisoners are placed there for our “protection.” The difference being that the PC prisoner is stuck there!
We are told that we have the option to go back to GP whenever we want to sign the release of liability form. That’s so if we get assaulted or beat up, we can’t sue because we asked for the transfer to GP. So truly, those of us that are PC or AS-5 do not have a real option. Once GCCC made the decision to close K Mod and reopen it as a GP mod, all PC prisoners were moved back to segregation, signed to go to GP, or ended up in SMU.
Let me tell you about SMU. SMU stands for Special Management Unit. SMU Mod is unique in many ways. It has a mixed population of PC in orange clothing and GP in yellow clothing. SMU runs off of the segregation rules. Unlike segregation, SMU has a GP population that are given GP rights. For example, the GP guys in yellow here are allowed to watch the two TVs present in the mod. They are allowed more property rights, and a variety of other privileges. The PC population in orange are kept locked down for 22 hours a day.
Here are my recommendations for change for segregation, AS-5, SMU inmates:
Contact Visitation: Currently here in SMU we are allowed one contact our visit per week. Segregation inmates are allowed no contact visits. I feel that contact visitation is important. It allows us to give our loved ones a hug and speak with them without anything between you. Here in SMU we had to fight through the grievance process to get one hour a week. I feel this is inadequate. I know the prison is easily capable of giving us contact visits 6 days a week. The ability to have 6 1-contact-hours per week would greatly help prisoner morale and mental health.
Visitor List: Currently here at GCCC prisoners are allowed to have no more than 10 people on their visitor list. People not on the list are not allowed to visit. I feel that this severely impacts big families. This forces inmates to pick and choose between their family and friends. A visitor list is allowed to be changed by the inmate once a year in August. I feel this punishes families and the prisoner. I recommend that the limit be changed to 20 people on the visitor list, and the ability to change the list twice a year instead of once. This would allow prisoners with large families to rotate people through to see them more often. For example, I tallied my family and friends, and found that I easily have 40+ people who would like to visit me. That would take me over four years rotating once a year to see them all!
Property: Currently here in SMU and segregation, prisoner property is severely restricted. We are allowed Phase 1 Commissary items only. The prisoners being punished for fighting and other write-ups are on similar restrictions. Why punish those that are staying out of trouble? Where is the incentive to be good? Many here expressed the opinion that they might as well break the rules and go to “The Hole” because it would be no different!
The three different commissary phases 1, 2 and 3 are referred to as the prisoner incentive commissary program. The higher the phase, the better the items you can order. For example, currently here in SMU the PC population is not allowed to have: fingernail clippers, personal clothing, personal shoes, radio, MP3 player, a real toothbrush, games like chess or Uno, food like instant rice or mac & cheese and many others. If we were allowed to order phase 2 and 3, there would be ample incentive to follow the rules. Restricting our property can’t be called anything other than a punishment. Why are we being punished?
I am told by staff that this is the rules for segregation and if I don’t like it to go to GP! There is no difference in treatment between segregation for punishment of a write-up and segregation for protective custody. I contend that those PC inmates with proven history of compliance to all rules should be given better treatment and privileges than even GP mods. Phase 2 and 3 property would at least help us survive the isolation of segregation better for longer sentences.
Rec/Gym: Currently here in SMU we are given one hour in the morning for “Rec” or recreation. SMU has an attached indoor gym to the mod. The gym is an empty half-court hard floor. There is one basketball hoop and two basketballs provided. That is all. It is open to the outside air via a large square grated window with no glass. Whatever temperature it is outside, the gym is. Often, the floor is wet from rain or melting snow. Sometimes it is cold enough, the basketballs won’t bounce. There is no gym equipment available. Due to window positioning and time of day, we do not get any sunlight. This needs to be improved. Either we need to be given access to outdoor rec or given access to the real indoor gym with all the equipment. When I was in K Mod. We were given access to both outdoor rec and the use of their fine indoor gym with equipment that GP mods use. If nothing else, provide us with some equipment to work out with. Medicine balls or something! Our complete lack of sunshine can’t be healthy. No wonder so many are depressed. Prison is hard enough without adding, “SAD” or Seasonal Affective Disorder from lack of sunlight.
Programming/Classes: Currently here in SMU there are a few classes offered to inmates. My limited knowledge on this from others is that there is large demand for more classes on court ordered subjects like drug and alcohol treatment, or sexual offenses and addictions. More mental health classes and support would be popular.
Jobs/Training: There is a large demand for jobs. Many apply but few get hired. There is a prison phenomenon I have witnessed where a Prisoner A has a job. Prisoner B wants that job so he works to get Prisoner A in trouble, so he’s fired. Now Prisoner B can apply for that job. It makes jobs risky because other inmates will purposefully try to get you fired. I have applied for multiple different jobs from librarian to ITT with no success. More job availability would be a very positive thing. If no jobs are available, possibly job training classes could be offered? It would certainly help with recidivism if inmates could get job training before they were released. A resume and job interview class would also probably be hugely beneficial.
Time Free From Cell: Currently here in SMU we are locked down in our cell 22 hours a day. We are given one hour for rec, 30 minutes for phone calls, and 30 minutes for law library research. We are let out 1 ½ hours in the morning and 30 min. at night. In reality, this time is the only time we get to take a shower, get a razor to shave, get clippers for our nails, get a broom and mop to clean our cell, use the microwave, grab a book off the book cart to read, empty our trashcan, pick up needed institutional forms from the “CO” or Correctional Officer at the podium, see the barber for a haircut, pick up toilet paper, pickup clothes from laundry, socialize with others, AND use the gym, make a phone call or do legal research. There is just not enough time given. Often there is a waiting line. Any additional time given outside our cell would benefit us all mentally and physically.
SMU Mixed Population: Currently SMU has a population with both GP in yellow and PC in orange. This complicates things because they cannot be out at the same time. If all the GP men in yellow were moved to medical or another mod, all the more numerous PC men in orange could be let out easier for longer periods of time.
Video Visit Room: Currently SMU has two closet sized rooms that inmates can have a video visit in with family. The rooms have the video screen, camera, and a small blue chair in them. When seated, the camera viewing the inmate is much too high. The chair provided makes the inmate viewable from the chin or nose up. Either the camera needs to be lowered or a taller chair provided. More concerning is the fact the video visit room has no intercom button to push to get the CO’s attention on shift. This means there is often no way to get their attention to let you out of the locked room. There is no bathroom in there! I have been left in the video visit room AFTER my one hour visit for over 1 ½ hours before. Banging on the door and screaming for help does no good. What if an inmate had a medical emergency, or couldn’t hold it and needed a bathroom? This issue should be looked at.
Microwave: Currently there is one microwave available here in SMU. It is overworked, overheats and often there is not enough time for everyone to use it. It would make more sense to have two microwaves to reduce the working load. It would also reduce the line of waiting people! There are several foods like oatmeal that we can order that you need the microwave for.
Information/Documents: The “PO’s,” or Parole Officers are the people that inmates talk to for important information. Occasionally they charge you for said information at a rate of $0.15 a page. I don’t feel this practice is right at all. Prisoner A is indigent, and has no money. He wants information on drug treatment centers he can enroll in once he’s released. He can’t get it because he can’t afford the copies. I feel that prisoners that ask for important, reasonable information relating to succeeding when released should not be charged for it!

These are some of my ideas. Thank you for your time!

Clayton Allison

Monday, September 28, 2015

Sept 28 - Freezing and Frustrated

Monday, September 28

Over the last week, communicating with Clayton has been a testament to patience under pressure and extreme injustice.  The conditions in the SMU continue to present problem after problem; jeopardizing the health of inmates and pressuring them to transfer into the potential dangers of General Population status in order to obtain some semblance of "normal" prison life.  Many of the inmates forced into this transfer are fighting for fair treatment, but few have made any real progress over the last week.

Clayton described the process of "self-advocacy" for inmates within the prison, and outside it, as complex and nearly futile.  An SMU inmate passed along information to him early on about how to contact the Alaska Office of the Ombudsman; explaining that complaints needed to be submitted in writing, only after completing the complex in-house complaint process with the prison.  At a minimum, this process includes:
  1. Filing a "Cop-out" form with the appropriate department and awaiting a response,
  2. Filing a grievance within 30 days if the initial cop-out is rejected,
  3. Appealing the grievance decision if denied again (or screened without consideration), and THEN  
  4. Submitting a letter to the Ombudsman with the cop-out, grievance, and appeal paperwork included for review. 
Overall, this process generates a lot of paperwork for both inmates and the facility to deal with, and draws a lot of attention to inmates who are attempting to advocate for themselves and others - potentially branding them as "trouble-makers".  

Freezing Cold Conditions As Winter Sets In

One of the primary concerns Clayton has voiced since his first day forced into the SMU is the freezing cold temperature in the mod.  At first, it seemed like an unfortunate circumstance that would eventually be corrected after the chaos of transferring over 100 men was sorted out.  After all, Clayton has had frequent difficulty with being chilly, and their warm clothes and jackets had been taken from them during the transfer.  However, now it appears that conditions are only likely to worsen, and inmates will be forced to endure the cold without any additional protective under- or outer-wear.

Clayton and his new roommate (whom we will call Edgar) - a friend from his bible study who he gets along with famously - had the unfortunate circumstance of being placed in the cell directly next to the SMU gym area.  At first, Clayton had believed the gym had a grated window for seeing outside, but it turns out that it is a grated opening - which appears to let in outside air.  Someone pointed out to him that there are big drains in the floor, as some method of clearing out the water that comes inside.  This means, however, that every time the door to the gym is opened and closed, it is sucking the heat out of the mod as Clayton and Edgar sit closest.

Clayton has discussed extensively the various methods he, Edgar, and others have been trying out to keep warm.  Early on, an inmate who had to burn through a large amount of popcorn before it would be taken away was giving away free bags of popcorn to other inmates (a normally valuable commodity).  Clayton and Edgar discovered that they could microwave the popcorn bags and cradle them, or stuff them inside of their shirts, as a temporary boost to their body temperature.  Hot chocolate is another current favorite to hold for warmth.  They have also tried collecting a small amount of warm water in their sink, and dipping parts of their body into the warm water, before quickly drying off and diving back under their covers.

For an unimaginable reason, the General Population inmates in the SMU are allowed standard-issue jackets and hats, but the protective custody inmates are treated with near-punitive restrictions and are denied them.  At one point, a guard who was concerned about temperatures provided inmates with a sign-up sheet for coats and hats at the laundry area - in the hopes that if enough people signed up, they would be allowed to have them.  However, it seems as if this basic comfort - afforded to all other inmates - will be permanently denied.

Another method folks have used is layering the various limited fabrics they have access to.  Clayton said he was near tears with laughter as he watched an inmate put on:

  • a pair of boxers for each arm,
  • a sock for each hand,
  • a blanket inside his clothes for his core, and
  • a pair of underwear on his head for a hat.  

Clayton has had more and more difficulty dealing with the cold temperatures as time passes. He's staying under his blanket as much as possible - as are many of the other inmates.  He said it has not been uncommon to see inmates wearing their blankets out of the mod to retrieve food trays and complete other tasks.  He described a group of D&D players from K Mod all huddled around a D&D book wrapped up in blankets; unable to play because their dice were taken away, and instead telling stories of past campaigns.  However, just yesterday, Clayton was scolded for leaving his room wrapped in his blanket, and guards told all inmates that wearing blankets in the common rooms would no longer be allowed.

On Monday, Clayton vented his frustration during his nightly visit once again.

"It's freezing!" he explained.  "Even the guards said so!  I stood there and I watched a guard walk up to another guard rubbing his arms and saying 'Man... it's cold in here!' and I was like, 'See?  It is cold!  Why won't they give us warmer clothes?  Then he was asking about why they were running the fans all day [normally used for air conditioning in summer] with it this cold."

Clayton's frustration is compounded by the fact that many of the inmates already own items they could use to combat the extreme cold, and are being denied access to them.  For example, Clayton owns under-shirts, long underwear, extra socks, a sweatshirt, and other items - previously purchased through commissary - which he is not allowed access to because it is against SMU policy regarding protective custody inmates.

Denial of Access to Vitamins

Adding insult to injury, many of the inmates in the mod are also being denied access to vitamins - a practical solution for battling illness in such cold conditions.  On Wednesday, Clayton woke up to a sore throat, and has wavered between sickness and health since that time.  For most inmates, including Clayton, their personal commissary supplies of vitamins were seized from their property during the transfer, and they are limited in what can be re-purchased through commissary.  Clayton filed a cop-out and was directed to place his request for vitamins to the nightly medical line; but, he is still awaiting arrival of the vitamins he requested.  Many other inmates, including Clayton's elderly roommate Edgar, submitted similar cop-outs and were flatly denied them, claiming a non-required standard of care.

Therefore, many of these inmates are currently fighting what seems to be a losing battle to gain access to vitamins. For now, Clayton said there is not much he, or anyone else, can do but continue to battle the cold and drink tea if they were lucky enough to already have some in their property before the transfer.

Challenges Similar to Administrative Segregation Mod

Another factor Clayton has to battle to maintain his health is lack of sleep.  The combination of the cold and the new noisy environment are ensuring that he gets little-to-no sleep at night, and frequently ends up sleeping through the time they are released in the mornings to compensate.

"We'd gotten used to Kilo," he explained, "and this place is completely different.  It's loud."

We remember Clayton telling us weeks ago, before the K Mod upheaval, that his roommates had gotten on his case once for making too much noise at night rustling papers as he wrote letters.  The K Mod had been a very quiet and very scheduled environment.  In contrast, the SMU seems to be more like the Administrative Segregation area in volume.  Clayton now regrets disposing of the ear plugs he had purchased from commissary after replacing them with headphones from his MP3 player for nightly listening.  He has ordered new ones, but they will not arrive in commissary until October 3rd.

Another similarity to the Administrative Segregation mod has come through issues with the toilets in their cells.  Very shortly after the transfer into the SMU, inmates in many cells began having issues with the toilets.  Unlike a general population mod - the SMU has individual toilets in each cell, because inmates are locked in them for the majority of the day (22-23 hours).

However, many of these toilets began backing up very early on, including Clayton's.  Worse yet, they remained that way for hours - or in some cases days - before the 'work order' to repair them was completed.  Clayton described plunging shampoo into his toilet in an effort to combat the smell.  In the interim, an unoccupied cell was being used to allow inmates with blocked toilets to use the bathroom - but they were only allowed to access it during times they were released - once or twice a day.  Otherwise, inmates just had to hold it.

Shortly after his toilet was fixed the next day, guards made an announcement in the mod that anyone with a clogged toilet would be charged $56 to their books for repair.  Clayton was extremely concerned, as he had learned how finicky the plumbing system was (by design) while in Admin. Seg.  He explained that his toilet had been trying to back up again that very same morning, without flushing anything other than liquids.  For now, it is still working, but there is no way to know if he will need to fight against this kind of charge in the future.

Restricted Commissary and Property

Many of the other property restrictions protective custody inmates in the SMU are being forced to endure are similar in nature to the restrictions placed on someone being housed in the Administrative Segregation mod.  Many of these inmates have done nothing deserving of punishment within the facility, and contrarily are housed in protective custody status due to threats from other inmates who get to live in standard conditions when released back to general population.

For example, general population inmates in the SMU are allowed to have:

  • Jackets and hats
  • MP3 Players and radios (necessary to hear the broadcast from the mod TVs),
  • pens and pencils, and
  • other normal commissary supplies. 
However, protective custody inmates who were suddenly forced into the SMU had all of these items, which were already owned through commissary purchases in K Mod, taken from them permanently.  Even more maddening, despite the fact that inmates were allowed to sort through their property and prioritize what to store and what to dispose of or disburse to family, the instructions from inmates did not appear to be passed along to property, or followed.

"This is so messed up!" Clayton explained while holding up the botched paperwork in front of the video camera.  "They've mixed everything up, and they say that I cannot come back there to sort it out again.  They're just going to force me to get rid of everything!"

Clayton had taken special care to sort through his items in front of 2 officers when given the opportunity.  He explained that the boxes were clearly labeled as 'for dispersal' to his wife, and 'for storage' in the property area.  He had made sure that highly expensive commissary items would be stored for now, so that if restrictions or circumstances changed, he would have access to it again in the future without having to purchase them again.  However, the list provided to him by property for required dispersal now included a hodge-podge of the items from both boxes, with other items not appearing on any list at all.

Advocating From The Inside

Clayton explained to family early on that he planned to follow staff instructions and advocate for himself through the paper process.  It took him a while to discover the location of the Segregation Handbook, and ways to look up statewide DOC policy in the law library.  Even when he found them, however, his access is extremely limited.  It is restricted to the hour or so he is allowed to be outside of his cell to do everything from research, to shower, to calling family.  Therefore, we have attempted to send them to him as personal copies by mail, but some of the most critical items seem to have been delayed.

Clayton has moved forward, and filed cop-outs for many of the issues outlined above and in previous posts, including:
  1. A cop-out to the Superintendent regarding contact visitation being denied to all non-punitive SMU and Administrative Segregation inmates - in contrast to DOC Statewide Policy #810.02.VII.D.2 which requires a minimum of 1 contact hour per week
    1. Clayton received a response to this cop-out from the Superintendent.  It said that Clayton had been considered "General Population" while housed in K Mod previously, but now was considered "Protective Custody," so visits would not be restored.  It included no mention of, or response to, the conflict with statewide policy requiring contact visitation.  Clayton has already filed a grievance in response.
  2. A cop-out requesting restoration of privileges held in K Mod for PC Inmates, referencing a lack of behavior that would require such punitive and unbalanced restrictions.
    1. Clayton received a cop-out response on the restoration of privileges as well.  It contained the same reply about the change in status, and Clayton has also already filed a grievance.  
  3. A cop-out explaining the challenges with extreme cold in his location in the SMU, and requesting extra blankets, coats, hats, etc. to deal with this challenge.  We are not aware of a response to this cop-out having been returned.   
  4. New cop-outs which are required to sort out the mess of Clayton's property issues - one of which he plans to file with the guard who oversaw the process, and provided him with his original receipt.  
Clayton expressed that the responses he'd received, as well as other responses to many other inmates, seemed to all have a general theme.  Many of them are stating that the solution to all mistreatment problems is to opt into placement in general population.  This is a direct implication that the sub-standard treatment and housing conditions of protective custody inmates is somehow acceptable, while inmates and families alike are trying to argue that this kind of treatment to any cooperative and non-combative inmate is unacceptable.

"I fully plan to grieve these things if they come back negative," Clayton explained to us in complete seriousness.  "I will go all the way to the Ombudsman."

Clayton explained that it was difficult not to become angry over such obvious unfair and cruel treatment to so many in the mod, including his elderly roommate.

"I feel like I'm being treated like a sub-human," he continued.  "We've done nothing to deserve this.  I have always followed the rules I was aware of to the letter.  I have never been written up for anything.  I have always tried to be helpful and stay out of the way, and now this."

Many responses from guards have been hopeful about finding help; such as the guard who hoped to show the need for coats and hats through the sign-up sheet, and the guards who have advised family to "be loud" outside of the prison about what is happening to the K Mod inmates.  Others have been downright cruel; mocking the inmates as they struggle with such basic life issues.  One such guard recently denied Clayton access to a stapler, and refused to staple the paperwork for him; when attempting to file a grievance.

"Hmmm... I don't think you're allowed to have the stapler," the guard mocked with a smile on his face.  "Too dangerous."

"I just stood there feeling stupid," Clayton said describing his response.  "I didn't know what to do.  I was like... think Clayton, think!  Finally I asked him for a piece of scotch tape to try and tape the pages together."

"Yeah, I guess that would be safe enough," the guard responded, handing over a small piece of tape.

Wrapping Up

Despite growing frustration over the treatment if inmates in the SMU, Clayton constantly circles back around in discussion to any positives he can identify.

"I'm safe.  I'm fed.  I'm clean." he chants.

"Is there anything you want everyone on the outside to know right now?" his wife asked earlier in the week, on the anniversary of Jocelynn's death.

"Tell them I miss everybody, and I love them," he said with a sad smile.  "I love my baby girl too."

Friday, September 18, 2015

Sept 18 - Advocacy By Family Is Against Policy

Friday, September 18

After Clayton and our family had received so many threatening statements from GCCC staff back in March, the family became very cautious in our interactions with the facility.   Life began to fall into a new routine after Clayton was placed into K Mod, and we all learned to adjust to the new patterns.  We communicated with staff at the visitation desk as we checked in and checked out; generally very pleased with their level of service and kindness to families and inmates alike.  We occasionally communicated with departments as needed to pick up property disbursements from Clayton or other common activities, but otherwise were pleased with his new access to a better quality of life at the prison.

Clayton also was getting used to his new surroundings throughout the summer.  He focused on being a good inmate, and following the rules to the best of his ability.  He didn't want to make trouble, and was excited about new opportunities to attend bible study, visit the library, share stories and advice with other inmates who sought him out, and play games with individuals and groups.  He was able to establish a letter-writing routine that had some inmates convinced early on that he was actually writing a novel.  Overall he wanted to lay low, not make waves, and communicate with family, friends, and other supporters as much as possible.  He was getting to know some people for the first time through their letters of support, and was excited about establishing these new relationships.

Speak Up For The Oppressed

In mid-July, Clayton slowly started to become more concerned about things that were happening around him.  He had recently been going through preparations for, and the events of, his sentencing hearings on July 8th and July 15th.  During these trips back and forth from GCCC to the courthouse in Palmer, Clayton had many very difficult and frightening experiences with how he was being treated during transport.  It required him to miss large amounts of sleep, fight to rest through extreme cold and discomfort, and pray for safety when he was repeatedly incorrectly placed among general population inmates.

"I don't know how anyone functions in court to make any kind of real decisions, or not look completely strung out in front of a jury," he explained to us.  "It seems like it would be impossible to do for very many days in a row."

Clayton also began noticing incidents that were taking place within K Mod between inmates and guards.  Some of them were mildly concerning, while others were really worrying him.  Then an incident happened on July 23rd which changed Clayton's way of thinking significantly.

On Thursday, July 23rd, Clayton shared a contact visit with his family as he did most nights.  As his wife was leaving, she noted that the visitation staff locked the inmates within one of the small interview rooms in the visitation building while escorting family members out of the facility; something they often did when they were short-staffed.  Then, as she was leaving the facility's front desk area, she noted that the guard confirmed over her radio that the men were awaiting pick-up in the interview room and needed an escort back to K Mod.

Instead of being picked up like they were used to, Clayton and the approximately 6 men who were with him found themselves waiting for an extremely long period of time - well over an hour.  They began to become convinced that they had been forgotten entirely.  The men had already been processed and then sat through a full hour-long visit with family, and now one of them had the unfortunate need to use the bathroom.

They were at a complete loss for what to do.  They had no way to page guards for help.  The man waited for as long as he could, and then eventually apologized to the other men in the room before peeing in the corner, because there was simply no other option.  They told him they understood, because many of the rest of them were beginning to worry when they would have the same problem.  Eventually guards showed up to retrieve them, and the men were surprised to find out that they had not been forgotten, but left intentionally.

The guards began to scold the man who had been forced to pee in the corner; threatening to throw him into "the hole" (administrative segregation) for the action.  The man was obviously thoroughly embarrassed, and apologized profusely, but the guards only continued to harass him.  Clayton became angry that they would treat someone so unfairly.  He and the other men in the room spoke up for the man, and pointed out that it was not his fault they had been locked in a small room (with only 2 chairs) and no access to a bathroom.  Eventually the guards backed down, and took all of them back to the mod without punishing the man further.

After the incident, Clayton could not shake the event and the unjust treatment of the man from his mind.  The next morning, he opened up the Our Daily Bread message for the day (July 24) and felt as if the Lord was using it to speak to him about what had occurred, and other events he had been seeing.  The message specifically spoke about our responsibility to stand up for others who are being bullied, and speak out against such cruelty.

At his next visitation, Clayton discussed this with us extensively.  He was upset that he was not able to do more to speak up on the man's behalf, after reviewing procedures for grievance.  He felt truly impressed that he wanted to speak out against unjust actions that he was witnessing take place against inmates all around him.  Other inmates had spoken with him about the reality that speaking out about such behavior could lead to increased attention from facility staff, and the potential to be branded as a 'trouble-maker.'   However, Clayton felt that, at a minimum, he should begin noting incidents that occurred so he could relay detail if the opportunity presented itself.

Speaking Up As A Family

Events continued to transpire which grew increasingly worrisome, not only to Clayton, but to those of us gathering his stories.  Men in protective custody were returning from transports severely injured by general population inmates they had been confined and transported with. Other men were being denied medical care during serious events like acute abdominal pain and heart attacks, due to guard disbelief that complaints were genuine.  Shaming incidents continued to take place, and Clayton was seeing what he felt was inappropriate use of "the hole" as punishment for inmates attempting to advocate for themselves or for incidents beyond their control.

In one instance, a man insisted to guards that someone look into tampering which was happening to their food.  He had noticed that all the crackers on every tray had been smashed, and it was not the first time.  He was concerned that the food was being tampered with in other ways.  The guards seemed uninterested in reporting his concerns, and he was thrown in the hole for his insistence.  A couple of weeks later, the tampering with their food continued to worsen until one day they all received "peanut butter sandwiches" with no more peanut butter on them than the size of a dime.  The men had finally had enough, and refused to eat their meal until a lieutenant was called in.  The lieutenant discovered the truth of their claims, brought them replacement sandwiches, and vowed to look into the matter.  However, as far as the men could tell, the original man who identified the tampering trend was never released from segregation.

"That's not right," Clayton said with frustration, "He was worried about our safety, and he was right.  He tried to stick up for all of us and they're punishing him for it.  Some of the guys in the mod are signing a petition to ask for him to be released."

Over time, Clayton's family, and families of other K Mod inmates, began relaying information to authorities who they became aware had begun conducting investigations into DOC, and a recent string of inmate deaths.  Inmates within the K Mod itself also participated in relaying information about their observations and incidents to various authorities, but feared retaliation.  There were concerns about the security of communications being sent out of the prison; for example, legal and protected mail was regularly being read by guard staff who claimed to be "checking for contraband" as they read through private information right in front of inmates.


After the sudden elimination of the K Mod at GCCC on September 16th, and the transfer of inmates into the SMU, we suspected that the move was retaliatory against K Mod families for our cooperation with authorities.  Guards and staff seemed ill-prepared or completely uninformed of the sudden change, and inmates reported overhearing guards talk among themselves about the reason for the change being due to complaints from K Mod inmates and families.

We, as Clayton's family, feared that it was more-specifically retaliation against us, due to the way Clayton had been called out with the initial 24 inmates who had reputations for being trouble-makers.  However, we never expected the direct threat from a PO on Thursday morning which provided stronger confirmation.

After that threat, we felt trepidatious about how to handle the increasingly complex situation with the facility.  On the one hand, we wanted to be careful not to take action that would put Clayton at greater risk of harm from retaliation.  On the other, we were hesitant to let such a threat slide without holding those responsible accountable for their actions, for fear that they could use that power to hurt or intimidate Clayton further.

"The only way I know how to deal with a blackmailer," Clayton's wife reasoned out that morning, "is to expose their blackmail.  They're acting like they're going to blackmail us with his quality-of-life if we don't stop advocating for him."

Therefore, the family worked diligently all day to publish clear information on the threats that had been made.  At some point, the facility must have caught wind of it, because Clayton was approached by staff again today.

This afternoon, Clayton was able to get a brief call out to his wife about his current status.  He explained that, like yesterday, he had heard they were only going to be released from their cells for 25 brief minutes.  They'd been released at 2:30 pm, and she was on the phone with him when they were called back to their cells at 2:55 pm.  Meaning the more than 100 men being simultaneously released from lock-down had a mere 25 minutes to: use the 16 phones to call family; use the showers; use the microwave and/or hot water pot; access cleaning supplies for their rooms; access clean laundry; request the use of fingernail clippers and razors; and other tasks.  Clayton only ended up with a few brief minutes to talk, but did finally manage to get a shower for the first time since Tuesday.

Immediately after ending his call with his wife, Clayton heard his name called out from the podium, and the guards explained that he was being 'pulled out for medical.'  Clayton was confused, because he didn't have an outstanding medical request that he remembered, but he reported to the podium.  They handcuffed his hands behind his back and escorted him out of the mod.

Circular Conversations

Clayton was surprised to be taken into a room with multiple staff from the prison; a sergeant, a lieutenant, and one of the mod officers.  They explained that they had some questions for him, and they had heard a report that he had recently been threatened by an inmate.

Clayton was completely confused.  He told us that he explained to them that he hadn't been threatened by any inmates since his initial arrival at GCCC when he was taken into protective custody.  The guards seemed to press him for a while about threats from inmates, which he profusely disagreed with, until they finally asked about threats from anyone, including staff.  Suddenly he felt disoriented again.  He explained that he had  felt threatened in an encounter with a PO the day before, when the PO confronted him about his wife "causing problems for them" by contacting the facility and had stated that they could make his life hell.

They asked if he had been threatened physically, and he said no.  He explained that he felt like he was going to be punished for talking to his wife.  The mod officer present was one of the guard staff who was witness to the PO's actions, and Clayton was surprised to hear her contradict his memory of events.  She claimed that the PO had not been threatening him, but had been explaining policy to him.  This left him even more confused.

"I certainly felt threatened in the moment," Clayton told us during video visitation.  "The way he talked to me makes me feel like I've done something wrong."

Then Clayton said that all three staff members launched into a complicated discussion about advocacy by family members being against policy.  They lectured him that it was against GCCC policy to deal with family members, and that they had specific policy prohibiting them from providing information on inmates to anyone.  (In Clayton's case, this argument is relatively moot, because his wife has a power of attorney to act on his behalf.)

Clayton tried to reason with them, explaining that he had not been instructing his wife to call the facility.  He had barely been able to speak with her, and was in no way able to control her actions on the outside.

They continued to emphasize that it was not appropriate for her to advocate for him, and that he needed to advocate for himself by following procedure.  Then they explained to him that he really shouldn't provide his wife with information that would worry her, or make her feel a need to advocate for him.  Overall, Clayton said it felt like the goal of the entire conversation was to somehow get his family not to contact the prison.

"I said... Are you asking me to lie to my wife?" Clayton explained.  "Then they were like, 'Oh no. Oh no..."

They told him that he had not broken any rules, and they were in no way prohibiting him from speaking with his family.  However, he really shouldn't tell people things that would concern them, because the prison's policy was not to speak with them.

"I was like... I can't control my family," Clayton explained to us with obvious confusion and frustration.  "I'm not going to lie to them.  If my wife asked for more information... that's not my fault."

Clayton said he felt like the conversation just continued to go in circles.  Every time he tried to clarify that he felt like he was going to get in trouble for being honest, they would emphasize that he was not breaking any rules... but...

He explained that he had felt intimidated and threatened when the PO spoke with him, The PO hadn't outright said a specific consequence that would happen, but he couldn't understand why the man would even have the confrontation with him otherwise.

"I'm confused," he reiterated to us through the video over and over again.  "Nothing ever got decided or solved."

Clayton kept referring to the sergeant as unpleasant, and when we asked him to clarify, he said the man was acting really ill tempered towards him the whole time.  Eventually he said the man informed him that his investigation was closed, and that the sergeant felt satisfied that Clayton hadn't been threatened.

"Awesome," Clayton's wife said with heavy sarcasm, "They've investigated themselves and found themselves innocent.  Isn't that surprising."  She hated to confuse him more, after the guards had done such an obviously good job of distorting things for him, but she continued to explain that, "Sweetie... I haven't called the facility."

Clayton looked completely confused and distressed.  "You haven't?"

"Not other than to find out where you were on Wednesday, and how to come visit you.  But they were fielding questions from folks about their loved ones all day.  Since then, no."

Clayton grabbed his forehead and squeezed his eyes shut with a heavy sigh before asking, "You haven't called anyone?"

"Oh, I have made some calls," she said with a sad smile, wishing she could tell him more without putting him at further risk.  "But I promise you, I have not called the facility."

"That makes no sense," he groaned, "I don't get it..."

We explained to Clayton that we could only assume the meeting was meant to be an 'official response' of some kind to the report of the threats against him.  However, a genuine investigation of such a report would obviously not be coming from staff within the facility.  It seemed to us as if the staff had only continued to weave a false impression to Clayton that his family was somehow drowning the facility in angry calls or emails.  The conversation had obviously left Clayton feeling very confused and unsure of himself or what was expected of him, but he seemed to shake off a lot of the confusion after realizing that the impressions he'd been given about family contact with the facility were not based in reality.

Wrapping Up

Clayton wrapped up our visit with more information on how things were going within SMU.  He was very excited to report that staff had completed the monumental effort of clearing out the bags of property which had previously been filling up the mod's gym area.  He hoped it would mean that they may get an opportunity in the future to use the gym.

He was also excited to report that the Chaplain who worked through their Emmaus bible studies with them had come to the mod during the brief time they had been allowed out.  He had held an extremely brief bible study with the men who were able to attend.  Clayton had instead used the time to shower, but was excited that they may have this opportunity moving forward.  Apparently, the Chaplain wasn't informed of the sudden elimination of K Mod, and had been very confused after arriving in K Mod to a bunch of the wrong prisoners.

That news came as a disappointment to some in the SMU.  Many had been hoping that the last few days were some form of elaborate scare tactic by administrators trying to get protective custody inmates to elect into general population.  However, they were hearing more and more reports that K Mod was now being used for other inmates.  There was a lot of concern about how the K Mod transfers outside of SMU were doing, but no way to know for sure.  Men within the SMU were continuing to opt-out of protective custody as guards emphasized that conditions in the SMU would be the new normal, and asking if they'd "had enough yet."

In the meantime, Clayton is getting along well with his roommate.  The man is an avid storyteller, and they constructed a chess board today out of paper, since they both enjoy playing chess a lot.  Clayton has been able to obtain a couple of the permitted, floppy pen innards they use as pens in the SMU, and is excited about getting back to his letter-writing.  He is looking forward to his next video visit with family, and hopes for less drama in the days to come.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sept 17 - We Can Make Your Life Hell

Thursday, September 17

We, Clayton's family, didn't hear from him after our final hug Wednesday night until Thursday afternoon, and the conversation was brief.  All the K Mod transfers, who had been moved into the SMU and placed into lock-down, finally had been allowed to leave their cells simultaneously.  They had been advised that their time out would be short.

Clayton got a very brief call out, for only a few minutes, before attempting to race off to the showers.  He had managed to get access to his property that morning, and had gotten a hold of some shampoo and soap.  That night, in video visitation, Clayton was able to tell us more about the day's events, and that there sadly, hadn't been time to get to the showers.

Clayton Directly Threatened by Goose Creek Parole Officer

This morning Clayton was able to access his property and sort through it; deciding what he would keep in storage, and what he would disburse to us.  Ultimately, Clayton was forced to disburse more than half of the property we had paid for with commissary money, because he was no longer allowed to have it in his new location.  Much of what he kept, in storage, he will still not have access to, but he hesitated to get rid of it due to its cost.  For example, the MP3 player and radio his family and friends have helped pay for.  The SMU has TVs, but in contrast to the general population inmates, the protective custody inmates within it are not allowed electronics, and therefore, not able to hear them.

While sorting through his items, temporarily outside of his cell for the process, Clayton was approached by a man he recognized.  It was a Parole Officer (PO) who had interacted with him once before while he was in the Administrative Segregation unit - an unpleasant memory.

Two guards were with Clayton while he was attempting to quickly sort through his property, and were witness to the entire conversation that followed.  Clayton said they generally looked embarrassed, but did not interfere with the PO.

The PO walked directly up to Clayton and began, saying, "I thought we talked about this, Allison."

He was referring to their one-sided conversation about Clayton's family which took place months ago in March.

The PO was insistent and aggressive while telling Clayton, "We do not talk to your wife."  He explained to Clayton that if he did not "get his wife to back off and stop causing problems for us" they could "make his life hell."

Clayton was in shock.

He had no idea what the man was talking about.  His hands trembled as he was forced by the PO to stand there and, "Repeat after me... We. Do. Not. Talk. To. Your. Wife."

Clayton obeyed; repeating the words as instructed.  He said that he felt belittled, and felt like he was being scolded like a child because he had been talking to his wife about the truth of what was going on.  He felt intimidated, and worried about whether they could actually get him in some kind of trouble for talking to her; but speaking with her, and being honest about what was happening to him and everyone else was too important to him.  The PO left, and he attempted to refocus on sorting through his property.

"That's so weird..." Clayton's wife said later, as he described the confrontation across the video screen.  "It makes no sense.  I haven't talked to them at all except to find out what was going on.  Everyone was."

She explained to him that she had been working on preparing social media posts for the Free Clayton Allison campaign until the wee hours of Wednesday morning.  She had been preparing for their upcoming wedding anniversary and the anniversary of Jocelynn's death a week later; knowing the posts would be hard to keep on top of during such an emotional time.  She had woken up late that day, early afternoon really, to a panicked set of voice and text messages.  She had slept-in until long after the chaos had begun, and panic had set in.  The messages were from his lawyers, friends, and families of other inmates - all trying to figure out what was going on.

"I got a glimpse... that Clayton had been moved to general population?... Is this true?"

"We are hearing a rumor that K Mod has been disbanded. Have you heard anything like that?"

"I still haven't heard from my man..."

"I freaked out when I saw it."

Clayton's wife freaked out as well.  The idea that the K Mod would just cease-to-be overnight felt too insane to be reality, and once she was able to confirm it, she only spoke with facility staff long enough to determine when and how she could visit him.  The idea that this PO would threaten him, by singling her out specifically, when visitation staff indicated they had been fielding questions all day was nonsensical.  She was angry that they would imply to him that she was somehow drowning the facility in communication, and use that lie to worry him.  In reality, she was spending most of her time relaying information on what was going on to everyone outside of the facility.

Clayton and Family Previously Threatened by Goose Creek Administrative Staff

This is not the first time that Clayton or his family have been threatened by administrative staff at GCCC, including this particular PO.  His wife remembers the threats initially made while he was still stuck in Administrative Segregation months ago.  She took notes, but did not publish the threats themselves on the blog at that time - even though she did summarize the events in a less direct manner - because she was attempting to establish and maintain positive relationships with facility staff, so that Clayton's heath and safety would be taken care of.

Now she fears that Clayton is at even greater risk if the threats against him are not publicly known.

Back when Clayton first arrived at GCCC, visitation was an early problem.  In a brief meeting in late February, his family spoke with the facility Superintendent about the events that erupted when Clayton arrived at GCCC, his immediate resulting placement in protective custody, and the extreme level of media coverage which had led to many of the issues.  They also requested that Clayton's approved visitors list not be limited to 10 people, because statewide DOC policy (810.02.VII.C.2) states that the Superintendent is the only individual authorized to make exceptions on a "case-by-case basis."  Clayton's immediate family alone is well over 10 people.  The Superintendent requested an email outlining information about Clayton's desired visitors.

However, after sending the requested email, Clayton's wife was surprised to receive a phone call from the Superintendent himself the next day, March 2nd.  He was very upset, and complained about the involvement and advocacy of Clayton's family and friends.  Then he shocked her completely.

He explained that there were "various factors" which had to be considered when evaluating whether an inmate would be placed into K Mod after being taken into protective custody.  Keep in mind, the only alternative was permanent placement in SMU or Administrative Segregation under lock-down, while K Mod inmates lived similarly to inmates in general population.  He emphasized to her that one of the considerations was the "administrative burden" of the individual, including "having to deal with their family."

Clayton's wife was stunned.

She could not believe he would threaten Clayton's quality of life, by threatening to prohibit his placement into K Mod, in response to 1 meeting and 2 requested/required emails.  She informed the Superintendent that she was actually actively reigning-in the questions, concerns, and feedback from an entire population of people desperately wanting find out Clayton's status and when/if/how they could see him.

"I am the reason these people are not descending on your facility," she tried to explain, "I am asking them to go through me; to help you."

She emphasized the sheer number of people who were regularly asking her for information, and that she had, so far, been encouraging them not to seek information from the facility itself.  After brief reflection on this information, the Superintendent seemed to back away from his position that the level of involvement they were having to deal with was somehow extreme.

The Superintendent instead emphasized that Clayton should "take responsibility" and "follow procedure" to advocate for himself.  Clayton's wife pointed out that it was nigh-unto-impossible for Clayton to do that when, up to that point, he had never been briefed on any procedures or even seen a Prisoner Handbook, much less the Segregation Handbook, to even know what the procedures were.

"The only reason my husband understands how anything works," his wife explained, "is from A) inmates from Anchorage he is rooming with trying to explain their expectations, or B) from ME, during my visitation time after speaking with your staff and reading the handbook myself."

The Superintendent seemed surprised that this was the case, saying, "Well, that shouldn't be."

Then he assured her that Clayton would be given the opportunity to see the handbook before the end of the day, and that Clayton's visitation issues would be sorted out efficiently; which ultimately they were.  Although, he never approved an expansion of Clayton's visitation list beyond 10.

Later that same day, a guard told Clayton that he had been "chewed out" by his superiors.  He explained very seriously that "only trouble-makers ask for the handbook," and that Clayton needed to "get [his] family to back off" or they could "make life difficult for him".  He only gave Clayton 1 hour to read the handbook before taking it away, but fortunately, Clayton is a speed-reader.  A female PO met with Clayton earlier in the day about the process of getting assigned to K Mod.  She, also, had emphasized that he needed to "reign in his family."

Previous Threat from Thursday's PO

Clayton would continue to hear comments from guards about his family over the next few days, but it seemed to settle down again until his next meeting with a PO on March 23rd.  It would be the first, and only, time Clayton would meet with this particular PO until he was threatened by him again this Thursday, September 17th, on Clayton's 10th wedding anniversary.

After the initial meeting on March 23rd, Clayton described this male PO as very brisk, and explained that the meeting had been extremely short.  The PO turned on a recording device and walked through a pre-determined list of information.  Then the PO turned the recorder off, and expressed that now they needed to "talk about your family," and the problem they presented, "off the record."  Clayton did not remember the PO's name, because he had not been given a pen, and has difficulty with remembering names.

Clayton had left the March 23rd meeting in a panic, convinced that family and friends must somehow be plaguing the facility with phone calls or emails.  His family was surprised by the news, as they had not contacted the facility again, other than daily interactions with the staff at the visitation desk, since the incidents on March 2nd.  He had also explained to his family that the PO made insinuations that "people like you" don't get into K Mod.

"Get the word out, hard core," he had relayed at the time.  "Do not call about me... email... letter.  They’re labeling me as a needy and troublesome inmate.”

Leading up to this meeting, Clayton had been excitedly talking to us for days about how he was preparing a list of questions he would finally be able to ask so he would understand more about how to do things and what to expect.  The PO refused to let him speak.  He was completely disheartened, as he had been hopeful that the meeting would provide much needed information.  Instead, he ended up having a few questions answered by a guard who was kind enough to take the time while bringing him back to his segregation cell.

Moving Forward 

As Clayton's family, we now fear further retaliation from staff at the facility, and are attempting to get the word out about the threats that have been made against him.  We wish to ensure that these events are well-known, so that it is not easy to excuse away failure to protect him or ensure his well-being in the future.  Please share this blog post with everyone you know, on every platform of social media possible, and please pray for his safety and peace of mind.  Clayton is a person who needs physical contact with those he loves, and the loss of contact visitation is devastating.

If the events described in this blog disturb you, and you wish to challenge the behavior of DOC staff against Alaska inmates and their families, please learn more about the issues and speak out.  Inmates are human beings. DOC claims to have "community reintegration" as a goal, but is systematically cutting off inmates from loved ones, and declaring advocacy by family as inappropriate.  This not only hurts inmates, but their innocent mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, and friends who are caught up in this heartless system.  These are our loved ones.  No one wants to see them become successful community members more than we do. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sept 16 - Upheaval

Wednesday, September 16

Friends and family of GCCC's K Mod inmates (assigned to protective custody) were surprised this afternoon with rumors and panic sweeping from person to person.

"Did you know they disbanded K Mod this morning?"

"Is it true that Clayton was put into General Population?"

"What's going on?!  Is Clayton safe?"

They sprang into action, trying to determine what had truly happened; skeptical that something so insane could have occurred without warning.

"Surely not."

"How could something like that just happen?!"

"They say the phones aren't working.  Has anyone heard word from someone inside K Mod?"

God's Guiding Hand Amidst Chaos

Clayton had woken up this morning and followed his normal early breakfast routine, expecting the day to play out much like any other.  He'd had a pleasant visit with family the night before, in which he had excitedly told them about the plans he had made to surprise his wife and do various activities with her the next day by distance.  Tomorrow (September 17th) would be their 10-year wedding anniversary; the first one they would spend apart.  He had been writing poetry which he was excited about reading to her over the phone.  They had planned to share a "prison-spread" style meal together, with his wife using similar resources on the "outside."  They had planned to play a game with family over the phone.  But none of that can now take place.

Clayton was surprised by being called out of the mod this morning for medical.  He had sudden inspiration several days ago to file a request with the prison for a tooth cleaning; after hearing that the delay in receiving one could take months.  This morning, medical staff responded to the request.  They took him out of the mod and explained the requirements before becoming qualified for tooth cleaning.  They did a full set of x-rays, and explained that he would become eligible as soon as he had been in the prison for a year beyond his sentencing date.

When he returned to the mod, it was in utter chaos.  K Mod inmates were scrambling, and guards were shouting to them to load-up and move-out.  Bags and bags of property were everywhere, with inmates trying to bag-up their commissary items, mail, books, etc.  Then, some of the men Clayton had come to know well over the last several months began shouting at him over the din.

"Clay!  Man, they were looking for you!!"

"Who?" he asked.  "What's going on?"

"They're moving us all out of K Mod!"

The men explained that they had become concerned about Clayton immediately when the announcement was made.

K Mod was being disbanded.  All K Mod inmates were being given the "choice" to be placed into one of the General Population (GP) mods, or to be placed into the Special Management Unit (SMU).  

What concerned the men, was the fact that Clayton and a handful of other inmates were being handled differently somehow.  They explained that when the guards first came in and made the announcement, they had started shouting out names.  Twenty-five inmate's names were called.  Allison was first.

"Allison!  Where is Allison?!" the guards had shouted.

"He's not here man!" someone had finally shouted in reply.  "They took him this morning!"

Clayton felt being pulled out for medical was the hand of the Lord at work.  His friends explained that they were worried because the other names that were called out by the guards were what they described as "trouble-makers;" the ones with the most write-ups and discipline issues.

"I don't know why they had you lumped in with those guys, man.  It made no sense.  I thought... Clayton shouldn't be with those guys,"

Even stranger, these were the only prisoners called out by name.  They were taken from the mod first, and no one was sure where they ended up.  They didn't appear to end up in the same place as the other men.  After the initial 25 were called out, the rest of the men were given instructions to group up in groups of 25 men, but in no particular order, and move out for processing.  However, Clayton didn't return to the mod until most of the men were packed up and already being moved out.  By the time he got his stuff together, he ended up being lumped in with the stragglers, and was nearly the last man out of the mod.

Pressure to Return to General Population

As they were being processed, each man was given the "option" to be placed into a GP mod, or be placed into the SMU.  Typically, the SMU is used as half-way placement for inmates who have been in segregation and will soon be returning to a regular mod.  SMU policies limit inmates in many ways, including: less property, fewer commissary items that can be ordered, and most distressing - no contact visits with friends and family (video only).

For most K Mod inmates, returning to a GP mod is not a realistic option; unless they are willing to risk serious physical injury or death.  They are in protective custody in the first place, because they are more likely to be assaulted by other inmates.  One man was advised by guards that he should not enter GP because he was simply too old not to be at risk.  Meanwhile, others were pressured to return to GP.

"Man... you have a 20-year sentence right?  Do you really want to be locked down that long? Maybe you should just try it out."

This was even suggested to Clayton, despite the fact that his initial placement into a GP Mod when first arriving at GCCC resulted in: 3 death threats within the first 20 minutes, initially by one man, then by 3 men, and finally by 6 men threatening to bring more; advice from the guards that he wouldn't likely make it long without being attacked; and the entire mod erupting into screaming, chanting, and calling for his death as he was escorted by a team of guards to safety.

Clayton found the idea that the guards would suggest "trying out" a GP mod after such an incident to be ludicrous. and insisted on placement in SMU.  Clayton heard some other men who were strategizing on how to survive in a GP mod together, when they couldn't afford to pay the gangs in them for 'protection.'  Others seemed resigned to paying protection money, instead of being restricted to the SMU.  Clayton's family informed him later that even inmates who had elected to try out the GP mod had gotten word out to their own families that they were frightened it would not work, and they would end up injured or back in "the hole" for fighting.

Placement in the SMU

Clayton managed to stick close with one of the members of his bible study; an elderly man he had become friends with over the last several months and watched over.  As soon as they arrived in the SMU, men appeared to be getting assigned to rooms in random pairs, and Clayton seized the opportunity to act.

He stepped up to the guard assigning cells, and began beseeching them to allow him to share a cell with his friend.  He explained that they knew each other, shared a faith, and got along well.  The guard did not initially seem inclined to agree, but another staff member who just happened to be passing through and overheard the conversation, liked the idea and spoke up for them.  Finally, the guard agreed, and Clayton was assigned to a cell with his friend.

Clayton said that in the SMU they were being prohibited from communicating with anyone other than their cellmate.  This did not seem to be true for GP inmates in SMU who were allowed to roam the mod more freely while K Mod transfers were locked into their cells.  While getting settled, a friend had been advising Clayton on forms to request, and actions to take, to access property later, but had been scolded by a guard and instructed not to communicate - even with sign language - between cells.

Property Problems

Everyone involved seemed confused about the dilemma property presented.  Property rules are different for SMU than they had been in K Mod.  Guards did not seem to have any clear understanding of: what inmates would eventually be allowed to have with them; what would be held in long-term storage; and what they may be forced to disperse to family or dispose of. Family members overheard chaotic conversations among staff that indicated that the property department had not been prepared for the sudden influx of extra property to process.

Clayton could see all of their property piled up in bags in the center of the main gym area of the mod.  Guards informed them that they were not allowed to have any of it until it had been processed, which may take 4-6 weeks.  Clayton does not have anything other than the new orange clothes he was assigned, and a roll of toilet paper.  His warmer clothes, food, hygiene items, books, letters, and other supplies are all bagged up and out of reach.

"I don't have my poetry," Clayton later told his wife in visitation.  "I wanted to read it to you over the phone.  I wanted it to be a surprise for our anniversary, but they took it from me and now I can't.  I don't have my letters either.  I was right in the middle of writing responses to people."

The Family's Side of the Chaos

On the outside, Clayton's family was frantically trying to get word on what was happening.  They had just visited him the night before.  The guards had not said anything, and Clayton had not known there would be a change. Today they were getting conflicting reports from prison staff, and had not yet received any calls from Clayton.  When contacted, one GCCC staff member acted as if the idea that the prison would just spontaneously eliminate K Mod was ridiculous - a sentiment the family shared.  But after another attempt at contact, the family was able to confirm that it was not mere rumor.

Inmates had been forced to choose their fate without warning, and without being able to communicate with their families.  To make matters worse, the phone system for inmates at the facility was reportedly down - preventing them from getting word out about where they had been moved until late afternoon.  This information was critical.  It would affect visitation because different mods have different visitation schedules and policies.

Initially, family members were being told that they may not get another opportunity for a contact visit.  If the inmate had elected placement in a GP mod, no problem; various daytime visits would be available.  However, if they had chosen SMU, they would be allowed video visitation only - the same as Clayton's family had experienced when he was initially placed in protective custody.

Families were reeling with shock.  They were losing contact visits!  Hugs!  Clayton's wife had not been at the visit the night before, because she had been ill.  She had missed her chance!  Tomorrow was their anniversary.

However, visitation staff at the facility - working desperately to relay information to panicking families - advocated to make an exception for tonight only.  They succeeded!  Families who arrived for the visit tonight at the normal time were allowed one final contact visit; even if their loved one was now assigned to SMU.  Staff went above and beyond - seemingly as surprised as everyone else at the sudden change - to help get the inmates from their various locations for one final contact visit.

When visitation finally came at 9 pm, families who showed up were a mixture of the informed and those still completely in the dark.  One mother was visibly stunned to find out that if she hadn't shown up for a visit tonight, she would not have gotten her final hug.

As the inmates came in, they looked shaken and haggard.  Many looked near tears as they caught sight of the family and friends who had made it out for a visit.  Clayton gripped each visitor in a tight hug, mumbling almost to himself, "Last hug.  It's my last hug..."  He took a seat, and his hands trembled as he relayed the day's events.  He was cold without his extra clothes, and bemoaned the fact that he had missed his opportunity for a shower before all the chaos had begun.

"I broke my cardinal rule," he said, "NEVER pass up the chance to pee.  NEVER pass up the chance to shower, or brush your teeth.  I guess I got too comfortable.  Didn't realize how good we had it until everything was gone."

Above all else, Clayton requested that his family inform everyone that he is safe.  He has a bed, a toilet, and a roommate he trusts.  He will weather this storm like he has all of those before it - with the grace of God.

Suspicion of Retaliation

Clayton's family was shocked to hear that the guards had seemed to have specific instructions to treat Clayton, and the other 24 men initially called, differently from the other inmates.  Why was he being lumped in with inmates who were considered "trouble-makers"?  Where had they intended to take him?  It felt as if the Lord had intervened, as He has done so many times before.  He let the bureaucracy 'rescue' him.

Clayton's family feared that the sudden elimination of K Mod was a form of retaliation against K Mod inmates and families.  Some inmates and their families have been communicating with state officials and others, over the last weeks and months, about events taking place in K Mod.  Some of the officials spoken to were from the Governor's staff and Ombudsman's Office, who are conducting investigations into alleged abuses and a string of deaths which recently occurred within DOC. Others were politicians and other individuals within the community.  Then there was the obvious information being relayed to the public through websites and this blog.  Although, this blog has specifically refrained from publishing several instances of inhumane or life-threatening treatment at GCCC that we were aware have been reported to these officials through formal complaints, meetings, phone calls, and letters.

Earlier today, a family member of another inmate heard from their loved one.  When asked if they knew the reason for the sudden upheaval. they replied with a message saying, "He said they are not telling anyone, but he overheard some of the guards and they are making it sound like it's due to all the complaints coming from k mod and their families."

DOC has also come under increased scrutiny in just the last few weeks in the media.  After a string of inmate deaths within facilities, the Governor's Office announced that a formal investigation would be conducted by Dean Williams, Special Assistant to the Governor.  Even more recently, a report was released by the Ombudsman criticizing DOC, and claiming violation of due process in multiple instances.  The report was highlighted by a local newspaper.  It was known that K Mod inmates and their families were assisting in these efforts, and now suddenly, the inmates find themselves cut-off from both their families, and friends within the mod.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Judges for Kings: Americans Experience Helplessness Against Their Own Courts

When I went to school as a little girl, I was taught a principle about the way our country government was established and have lived my life from that time forward accepting without question that the explanation was true.  Now that I am a grown woman, and my life has been irreversibly damaged by that same system of government, I can no longer fool myself into believing that those core concepts still function as intended in America.  

I do not have a degree in law, but I am also not uneducated.  While I have achieved a Masters in Business Administration and Bachelors in Journalism and Public Communications, I do not pretend to know the ins and outs of court rules and procedures or all the intricacies of political science.  This writing is an attempt to explain what I see happening all around me, and its immoral nature regardless of legality.  Most of you can relate to the common human experience of seeing actions in motion and knowing that whether something is legal or not, it is not moral and should not be allowed to continue without consequence.  

As a child, I was taught two key principals of government: separation of powers, and checks and balances.  Separation of powers is the principal reason we have different ‘branches’ within both our state and federal governments which have uniquely separate functions and responsibilities.  We have the Executive Branch (president/governor), Legislative Branch (congress/house and senate), and Judicial Branch (courts).  As Americans we recognize the purpose of each and the various times their opinions do battle in the public arena.  Which brings me to my next point.

Separation of powers is a concept doomed to failure without the other key principle of checks and balances.  Checks and balances are designed into our systems to hold one branch accountable to one or both of the other branches, and prevent one branch from running roughshod over the others, and more importantly over the people.  After the experiences I have had with our court system over the last 7 years, it is my firm belief that the checks and balances system in America is failing, and our people are paying the price for that failure.  

Part of that failure is the fact that we have decided that separation of powers is more important than the checks and balances system, and I believe, a failure to understand the true meaning of separation of powers itself.  We have come into an age where we believe that this separation means the authority of one branch can never touch the actions and responsibilities of another branch or it is ‘inappropriate’.  We still seem to accept that one can ‘block’ another or ‘overrule’ another if their opinions differ; however, we’ve lost the fundamental concept of accountability for the actions that are actually successful.  

When someone is being abused by an agency of the government, or sometimes even an independent party, one of their options is to go to their legislator and request assistance.  Frequently, that legislator can investigate the situation and step in if it is appropriate to prevent or halt abuse.  But what if you are being abused by a branch of government?  In my experience, and the experience I see echoed across the realms of journalism and social media, you are simply out of luck.  When you call a legislator or governor over outright corruption in a legal case being carried out against yourself or a loved one, the response is all-too-frequently, “I cannot help you.  That’s currently being handled in the realm of the courts, so I cannot become involved.”

Where has our accountability gone?

If you take this response to the next logical conclusion, what it means for the average American is, “I’m sorry.  I have to wait until you have been so badly abused and tormented by our flawed system that your life is now unrecognizable and you have lost all hope, before I can step in and see what happened.”  At which time, some of them may be more likely to hide the mess due to shame than help the wounded individual.  It is akin to watching a woman be raped, but standing back and saying, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have the authority to get involved.  When he’s done, feel free to come to me and I will see what help I can arrange for you.”

Perhaps the analogy feels a little extreme to those of you who have not experienced the court system yourself, so I will try to put it in perspective.  If you are accused of a crime and indicted in a court - federal or state - you are imprisoned; sometimes with the option for bail and sometimes with a bail so purposefully unreasonable it could never be met.  If you cannot meet bail, you must remain in prison until the court gets around to trying your case, and most lawyers will tell you that in a serious case, you must waive your right to a ‘speedy trial’ immediately unless you want to go to prison, because they have not had time to familiarize themselves with the facts, or arrange the needed experts.  

In cases of a rape or child abuse accusation especially (and I am in no way indicating that it is not a real crime or that it doesn’t happen), the evidence may rest solely upon someone’s word or opinion and we as a society need to recognize - that is an awful lot of power to bestow upon someone to destroy someone else’s life.  After all, even if the accused wins against a false accusation and are set free, the reality is that they have already spent significant time in jail (often years) and have been punished anyway.  I have a very recent example in my own community, where a young man spent 2 years in prison before being acquitted.  His bail had been intentionally set to an unachievable level, and he was only 17 years old at the time.  

We also need to recognize that prison time is not the only penalty doled out on the accused, or their friends and family.  The separation, isolation, and daily risks to life and health are enough to cause great harm to anyone, but it doesn’t stop there.  Family and friends who stand by the accused in support typically become additional victims of the system.  They find their own character defamed along with the accused.  They often are threatened and attacked similarly by members of the public.  More disturbingly, they are often accused themselves of wrongdoing, in an attempt to scare them away from their stance of support, or weaken the appearance of that support, before a judge and jury.  They are afforded NO way to protect themselves. In my own life I found myself in this situation - and since that time I have met many, many others with similar experience.  

My character was being attacked, state prosecutors were lying repeatedly on record about my prior testimony or lack thereof, and a judge was ruling against my ability to provide complete answers to questions I was being directly asked by the same prosecutors.  On January 27, 2015 - feeling trapped and helpless, and knowing I would be called to the stand yet again before the trial’s end - I entered the clerk’s office at the courthouse and declared, “Help me!  I am a primary witness in an ongoing murder trial, and I am being forced by a judge and prosecutor to either perjure myself or appear as an uncooperative witness, and I don’t want to do either!”  

The clerks looked shocked, naturally, but I could not believe their response.  They informed me that there was nothing that could be done to help me unless I was to hire my own lawyer to defend ME during my husband’s trial.  We had not even been able to afford one for him!  He was represented by public defenders.  So the trial proceeded, and the damage continued, because the prosecutors in our case knew that defaming my character and belittling my love of my child was the assured way to win the case against my husband.  After trial, this pattern only continued as the Parole Officer assigned to the case informed me that the very prosecutor who victimized me in the court was the only appropriate person to represent my interests as a victim in the case.  

We can look at other examples of the courts’ power at the federal level.  We have a supreme court that is issuing rulings which do not in any way have to represent the will of the people, but only their interpretation of law.  I am not taking a stance on any of these rulings, however, it must be acknowledged that the only way for the people to combat this type of action for a checks and balances system is to get all of congress to work together to push back against an action of this nature.  How often is our system of partisan politics able to achieve this kind of feat in our current age?  I would wager that it’s practically impossible, regardless of the topic.  

If our systems are this out of balance in major political issues, what hope is there for the individual or family being victimized by the courts?  We have made our Judges our Kings, and there is no one willing or able to challenge them.  I wish I had an answer for how to solve this egregious imbalance of power within our federal and state governments, but I believe that would take a lof of creative and intelligent minds working together.  Instead, I hope to raise awareness of the problem, and ask each of you to seize the opportunity to speak to your legislators if you have similar concerns.  Please spread the word, and ask the Lord to lead you in whatever actions you decide to take.  

Author: Christiane 'CJ' Allison
Date: August 5, 2015
Location: Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Alaska