Saturday, February 21, 2015

Feb 21 - Roommate in Segregation?

Saturday, Feb 21

On Clayton's second day in GCCC, he was settling into the new segregation cell before he got an opportunity to meet with his family again through the video visitation system used at the facility.  Video visitation is an option that allows family and friends to see their loved one on a video screen from inside the facility waiting room, while their loved one can see them on a video screen in a secured cell within the segregation area.  This video screen has a single phone attached to communicate through, but enough room on the visitor side to seat two people comfortably.

Clayton's update for the day was surprising, as Clayton discovered that he had a new cell mate in the segregation room with him.  He reminded his family of the layout of the cells.  There is a bunk bed on one wall. The wall directly opposite to the bunk bed has prongs/hooks on the wall for hanging things on, and there are 2 stools and 2 desks/benches for setting food trays on and writing on.  

Having a new cell mate was concerning for Clay and he appeared very nervous.  "Riddle me this batman...," he expressed to his family, "If I am in here for protection... and they throw someone else in here for fighting...?"  Clayton was referring to the fact that the same cells are used for both Administrative Segregation (PC) and Punitive Segregation for punishments far as he knew.  So far, he and his cell mate had not discussed what they were serving time for, but the new cell mate claimed (true or not) that he was in the SMU for fighting.

Otherwise, Clayton seemed to get along with his new cell mate well (referred to from now on as 'Andy').  Andy is a Samoan and a Mormon, who enjoys singing worship songs from the upper bunk.  Fortunately, Andy had his own copy of the bible, which he would sometimes discuss with Clay, and they would say grace over their food together.  Clayton described him as friendly and funny, with a lot of enthusiasm about his family on the outside.  Clayton's main concern revolved around the man's potential response to the false accusations against Clayton, as he could hear other inmates who had been thrown into the SMU talking about the "baby killer" from many cells away.  He could also possibly end up with a 3rd roommate, if this facility uses "boats" (temporary mattresses for the floor) like the previous facility had.

Clayton's new cell mate began explaining some of the prison lingo and common practices to Clay.  He explained that some inmates in the segregation cells would use their bed sheets to hang between the wall hooks and the bunk beds "like making a fort".  In those cases it would make a form of privacy screen for bathroom breaks, allowing one person to sit on the stool on one side of the sheet, while the other uses the bathroom.

The cell mate also explained to Clayton a common pastime of some inmates in the SMU called "Fishing."  Fishing is when inmates make ropes out of God knows what, and fling it into other people's cells through the gap in the doorway on the bottom of the cell.  They tie objects like soap or toothbrushes to the end of the fishing lines to add weight, so they fling farther and have the potential to snag on items.  Apparently, inmates do this in search of other people's commissary items, like coffee.    Some of the catches in fishing are snags, while other times it is agreed-upon items for trade tied onto the lines.

Andy explained this practice to Clayton after they had nearly lost their only pen to another inmate's fishing expedition.  Their pen had been lying on the floor when a line suddenly flew into their room and nearly snagged the pen on its way out the door.  He said both of them dived for the pen to save it from the fishing line.  Neither Clayton or Andy have interest in fishing.

Inmate Communication

The only pen allowed in the SMU for writing on forms is like the floppy inner portion of a normal pen, but only 2" in length.  Andy explained that inmates have ways of attempting to make them longer, but none are very effective.  This makes writing very difficult, which is ironic in an environment where nearly everything has to be communicated to the guards through writing.  All inmates are provided with cop-out forms, which are a multi-purpose piece of paper used for inmates to communicate information or questions of nearly any variety.  Guards are rarely available for direct questions, which means most answers mean waiting for a written response.  In general, Clayton's experience has been that the guards don't ask you or inform you of anything specific.  You have to know what to ask for.

Visitation is entirely managed through forms.  Family and friends are not allowed to visit an inmate unless that inmate has provided a contact form, requesting to meet with them first.  This form is difficult, if not impossible, to complete right away due to the information requested for each person.  The inmate is expected to know things like each individuals birth date, driver's license or ID number, home phone number, and much more.  Additionally, they also have to provide information on whether each person has any previous felony convictions, or is on probation or parole.  The forms can take up to 90 days to process according to the facility, and visitors are only allowed one courtesy video visit before processing is complete.  This makes visitation with any inmate after they are first imprisoned extremely difficult.

Additionally, phone access for inmates in the SMU is equally challenging.  There is no specific time for calls, no guarantee that an opportunity will come at all on a given day, and no way for an inmate to leave a voicemail.  This means family members end up waiting around for a call that may never come, or miss their only chance to hear from their loved one. The phone in the SMU is on a cart which gets wheeled to the cells.  A slot is opened in the wall, and the inmate must reach through to get it and then dial the phone.  Only 30 minute calls are permitted.

There is no mailbox for outgoing mail in the SMU units, so inmates are dependent upon guards to come by and pick up the mail.  Clayton discussed the additional need to avoid putting things on the floor, even though the main method of passing paperwork and outgoing mail out to guards is beneath the door, because people may "fish" for their paperwork.  Instead, Andy explained to Clayton that leaving the paperwork sticking out through the side of the door was a much safer method.


Clayton explained to his family that life in the SMU units is quite different from life in any of the general population mods.  Inmates are locked in their cells all day every day with or without a cell mate.  The assigned clothing in the general population areas consists of bright yellow shirt and pants with bright pink underwear and socks.  In the SMU unit, however, the shirt and pants are bright red, and all underwear and socks are a deep purple color.  The towels and bed sheets provided to inmates match the color of their socks and underwear.  Amusingly, SMU unit inmates are given boxers, while the general population is provided with briefs.

Life in the cells can be incredibly boring.  One of the options to pass the time is exercise, which Clayton found himself strategizing with Andy over.  He discovered that he could use the stools in the room for step-up exercises or for using as a base for push-ups.  He explained that the floor of the cell is too dirty for exercising on.  Instead, he would do exercises like crunches in the limited space on his bunk.  He also was able to do exercises like wall squats, which one family member commented would end up as 'fall squats' if they even tried it.  The comment gave Clayton a good laugh.

SMU inmates are also given the option daily for a trip to the showers.  If an inmate elects to shower, they are escorted to the showers by a guard, provided fresh clothes as they hand over their dirty ones, and then locked in the shower until the guard returns.  Inmates are escorted everywhere in handcuffs, and there tends to be a lot of waiting around for guards to arrive.  Even a simple page from Clayton's cell resulted in over an hour delay from pressing the button to speak with someone before a response came from the intercom panel.

The showers are a big metal cell with a small shelf for soap, but without any form of hooks on the wall.  At this time, inmates are provided the opportunity to use a safety razor and toenail clippers, which are both items they are not permitted to purchase through the SMU commissary.  The shower water is controlled by a button on the wall with no temperature control, but Clayton expressed that the water bordered on hot.  The water within the showers sprays over most of the available space, so Clayton explained that he had to place his clean clothes on the floor and cover them with a towel to try and keep them dry until he put them on.  At this point, Clayton had still not received a toothbrush and was near desperate for one.

Clayton's general demeanor was very nervous at the end of the conversation, mostly worried about how life with his new cell mate would turn out, but he remained positive.  He looked forward to trying to get another call out, and hoped to get to visit with family briefly the next day.


  1. I recently heard about your family's story through a mutual friend. You are not alone and I'll be sharing updates and support as I can with my friends and family. I wish you strength through this difficult time.

    1. Thank you so much for your support. Clayton wants other Alaskans to hear his story, and understand what it is like for someone to end up in the Alaska prison system. He hopes that this blog will serve to encourage others and spread the truth about the experience.