Monday, April 6, 2015

April 6 - Can't Breathe!

Monday, April 6

Clayton was able to get 2 phone calls out to his wife today.  With the first he spoke with her just after waking up late in the morning, and they chatted about what she planned for the day in the brief 15 minutes allotted for the call.  She had plans to work on getting information out to folks who wanted to write letters to the court on behalf of her husband.  Later in the day, when he called around 3pm, she read him her own letter and discussed all she had managed to accomplish so far.  He was generally very upbeat and was looking forward to seeing her at the visit later.  She advised him she would probably come out late to try and get a little more done during the day.

When arriving at the facility with another family member, Clayton's wife noticed yet another guard from outside of the seemingly standard rotation manning the front desk.  This didn't seem terribly unusual, as they had seemed nearly constantly short-staffed and she often had seen people who said it wasn't their normal station.  However, when a second guard came out, who she was more familiar with, he pulled her aside to explain that all was not running normally today, and there could be an extended delay before her visit - if she was able to have one at all.

He explained that things had 'gotten really bad' in the segregation unit earlier in the day, and they hadn't been able to get people moved in and out of the normal video visitation rooms due to the upheaval.  He seemed to indicate that everything had gone south just a couple of hours after Clayton's last call.

"Yeah, Clay's told me before that it can get pretty crazy back there," she said, trying to be lighthearted and understanding, but she noticed that the guard seemed particularly stressed.

He informed her that if they managed to get Clayton moved into the appropriate area before 9 pm, they should still be able to manage a visit.  She had arrived just after 7:45 pm.

"I don't know what's going on," she whispered to her family member while sitting down to wait it out, "but whatever it is, it's bad."

Pepper Spray

When Clayton's wife was finally informed that he was ready to see her at 5-till 9 pm, she breathed a sigh of relief.  At least she would be able to see him with her own eyes - through the video monitor - and know that he was alright.   He took a few minutes getting seated, and relaying chess moves from the games he was actively playing with family members, but she could see that his demeanor was unusual and his voice sounded raw.

"What's going on?" she finally asked.  "They said your unit had some kind of trouble.  Are you alright?"

Like the floodgates on a dam bursting open, Clayton began relaying details on how to manage pepper spray when locked in a small room.  His wife felt the blood drain from her face, and she tried to scrutinize his face in more detail, but was unable due to the poor quality of the video feed.  Clayton had explained to her before he was remanded that he had read a lot about the extensive use of pepper spray in Alaska prisons, and that the kind used was supposedly an extremely potent military grade.  He had told her that he would do anything to avoid getting dosed with the stuff.

It took talking in circles with him for most of the visit to get a clear picture of what had transpired.  Clayton hadn't been sprayed directly, but the entire segregation unit had been dosed peripherally due to problems with another inmate several cells away from him.

Trouble Brewing  

After Clayton's second call out to his wife, he and his roommate, Gary, had spent a couple of hours talking about prison 'spread' recipes, which Clayton was writing in a letter to his wife.  Several cells down from him someone began banging and shouting, but Clayton was up in his top bunk and wasn't paying particular attention.

 "They make noise and bang on the walls like that all the time," Clayton explained. "It's common."

Gary told Clayton later that he'd never been sprayed directly before, but has been through the ordeal of someone else getting sprayed many times; since he had been in prison for more than 9 years now.  Gary reacted right away, and was watching from the cell window after the commotion started.

An inmate in a cell, several cells down from theirs, was refusing to cuff-up for the guards.  Gary started shouting to Clayton that they were going to spray the guy, after he saw them leaving to retrieve the video camera and the spray.  Clayton described the guards issuing several verbal warnings to the man to cooperate, and having one of the guards stand back and video tape the entire encounter.  Gary explained that they video tape all such events, due to the number of times they have been sued and grievances have been filed in Alaska.

Very shortly, 5-10 guards became involved.  It was the first time Clayton had seen the Prison Riot Team; which inmates have given the slang name of the "Ninja Turtles".  Clayton described them like a standard group of riot-dressed officers, with full body armored outfits and helmets with gas masks.  They carried what Gary described as electrified taser shields, which they would use to storm a room if someone was still uncooperative after being sprayed.

"The spray is HUGE!" Clayton relayed.

It looks like a fire extinguisher with a long flexible plastic hose out the front, that can be inserted into the door if someone is trying to block it off with sheets, towels, etc.  In segregation, they insert the hose wherever they can manage into the cell, and then fill the cell with pepper spray.

Survival Tips for People On the Sidelines

If one person gets dosed in segregation, everyone gets dosed.

TIP #1:  Close up your vent right away!

As described in previous blogs, each cell has 2 vents.  One is down low by the door of the cell, drawing air in from the main common area.  The second is up high, above the upper bunk, sucking air out of the cell and into the main ventilation system.

As soon as Gary saw the guards getting the spray, he began shouting for Clayton to cover the upper vent.  Clayton slapped a piece of paper over the front, and the suction held it in place.  After the guards opened the man's cell door, the pepper spray flooded out into the main areas, and the vents began pulling it into all of the segregation cells and through the ventilation system.  There is no way to block the lower vent to the cell to keep the spray from coming in completely.  The paper block doesn't stop the draw of air from within the cell completely either, but seemed to slow it down and helped overall.

TIP #2:  Stay LOW!

Clayton assumed at first that staying in the upper bunk would keep him a further distance from the pepper spray coming in, but he soon found the assumption to be wrong.  He wasn't sure why, but he said, "The lower I stayed, the better."

TIP #3: Don't breathe through your mouth!

"[The spray] wasn't what I anticipated," Clayton said, as he struggled to describe what it felt like to be hit with the indirect cloud.  He said there was no burning sensation.  He said it felt more like an extreme itching sensation tearing through your sinuses and making you sneeze constantly.

Clayton said that your instinct would be to breathe through your mouth instead, but this is the opposite of helpful.  As soon as the gas hits the back of your throat, it begins to make you gag and puke.  Sneezing is preferable to puking.  He said that even some of the CO's and other guards without masks were coughing and gagging too, out in the hallway.  The man that had been sprayed directly was puking all over the floor as they drug him out of his cell.

TIP #4:  Wet down a towel and breathe through it - soap is better!

Clayton has a long history of asthma, but doesn't normally keep a rescue inhaler on him, and hadn't been assigned one by the prison.  He normally only has trouble with developing bronchitis or pneumonia about once a year.  When the pepper spray cloud hit him, however, he began struggling to breathe immediately.

He watched Gary grab his own towel and begin to douse it with water, fold it into a square, and breathe through it.  Clayton followed suit, but the gas was already in his lungs.  He could feel the maddening itch in his nose and the back of his throat, but if he tried to breathe through his mouth he would gag immediately.  Both he and Gary were on their hands and knees over by the cell toilet, coughing and puking.

"I can't imagine getting a direct dose of it," he described. "The wet towel wasn't enough."

Clayton's coughing only escalated, and soon he was almost completely unable to breathe.  Gary began to panic, and raced over to the cell door, shouting and screaming out into the hallway for help.  None of the guards responded.  They were busy dealing with the man they had sprayed directly.  Gary was screaming that he thought Clayton was going to pass out, and he didn't want them to accuse him of hurting him amidst the chaos.

"Man, somebody help!" he screamed as he banged on the door.  "What do we do?!"

Due to his shouting at the door, Gary managed to suck more gas in through his mouth and ran back over to where Clayton was to wretch into the toilet again.  However, his attempt did get them some help.  An inmate from a couple of cells down began shouting back at them for Clayton to cover his wet towel in soap. and try breathing through it again.

Clayton immediately grabbed the small bar soap he had purchased from commissary for the sink, and began rubbing it all over the dripping wet towel, before trying to breathe through it again.  It worked!  Clayton was shocked to realize the soap really helped, and the scent of it was almost soothing to his angry sinuses and lungs.

TIP #5:  Let medical know you want an inhaler if there is ANY chance you will need one!

Clayton regretting telling the nurse he normally didn't carry an inhaler, because now that he was having a full-blown asthma attack he knew that he was out of time.  When things had died down much later, he filled out a cop-out asking for one immediately, but knew that cop-outs for medical seemed to take 4-5 days before ever getting a response.  Now he would just have to wait.

Watching the Scene Unfold

Gary and Clayton stayed low on the floor for hours after the incident began, breathing through the wet cloths and gagging.  Clayton struggled to regain control of his breathing, and told his wife he only had managed to mostly stop coughing about an hour before their visit.  Meanwhile, they were able to watch the rest of the drama unfold outside of their cell.

Clayton had been even more shocked through the chaos to hear the other inmates egging the guy on throughout the entire ordeal.  They were shouting things at the uncooperative man like, "Well, you've already been sprayed now!  Don't give in!  Give 'em hell!"  Clayton was flabbergasted.  Nothing was worth getting a direct dose of that stuff in the first place to him.

He said he had been able to see the whole thing play out from his cell, and it didn't look like unnecessary force to him.  There had been time built into the process for getting the spray, getting the video camera, etc.

"It seemed like they gave him every opportunity," he explained, describing the multiple verbal warnings they had given.

He also said the guards seemed to have procedures in place that were somewhat considerate, even when they wouldn't have to be.  After dragging the man from his cell, with him puking along the way and covered in the direct spray - which Clayton had read online before, burns like hell - he was immediately thrown into the showers with soap to wash off the substance.  Then when pulling him out of the shower, he was completely naked.  The 'Ninja Turtle' guards surrounded him completely to shield him from view before escorting him out to a new holding area.

Gary explained to Clayton that after anyone was sprayed, they were thrown into a 24-hour video monitored cell for suicide watch.  During Clayton's visit, his wife noticed the excessive guard activity through the windows behind him, and he explained that the guy they sprayed was in the cell right behind him.  Clayton could hear the staff ranting to the man about what he had done, while he spoke with his wife.

"What I just saw seemed by the book," he said with a shrug.

In contrast, Gary had described to Clayton an event he had seen take place in the Seward prison.  He had seen an argument taking place between an inmate and a CO, while the inmate was locked in his cell and the CO was standing outside.  Another guard, who was completely not involved in the conversation, snuck up on the cell from the outside and sprayed the inmate in the face suddenly through the crack in the door.  In that case, Gary had seen the man file a grievance.  The guard had been required to go through an anger management course, and issue a verbal apology to the inmate.

Clayton also noted that the guards had to be sprayed with the pepper spray themselves during training, in order to be permitted to carry or use it.  They knew what it felt like before doling it out on someone.  Clayton commented that apparently the same standard was applied to the tasers some guards carried.

Gary had been asking a guard carrying one a couple of days ago, "Hey man, have you ever shot someone with that thing?"

"Only another guard from training," the man had responded.

Getting the Most Out of His Visit

Clayton thanked his wife for her visit, and explained that being in the visitation room helped a lot, because it got him out of the thick smell of the pepper spray for a while.  The staff had cancelled all other services tonight, due to the need to deal with this other individual, and Clayton was fairly sure he was the only person getting a visit at all.  He said the other inmates had scoffed half-heartedly with envy, shouting things like, "Have a pepper-spray-free visit man!"

When his wife inquired about the staff, Clayton didn't seem to think the majority were newbies tonight, although the guard that came and cuffed him to bring him to the visitation room obviously was.  That man was being trained by a second veteran guard, and had obviously never cuffed someone up before.  Clay tried to be as non-demanding as possible, commenting that even before the incident it was obvious that the staff were WAY overworked and irritable.

Despite the chaos, Clayton managed to grab up the 9 letters he'd been working on and drop them at the mailbox on the way to the visit.  Lately, many of his letters were in small envelopes, and too fat to fit through the crack in the door for retrieval by a guard.  Sometimes they were even too big to fit through the slot in the mailbox itself.  He also noted that he had received a letter from his parents just as he was being taken from his cell, but hadn't read it yet.  He reminded his wife that the mail room is really backed up, and Gary was also expecting many things that haven't come through yet.

"Really wish I had some Breath Easy tea,"  Clayton commented, suppressing a cough.

Ironically, he'd ordered assorted teas and coffee from commissary yesterday, but they would take 2 weeks before arriving at the facility.  The assorted teas would have a mint option in them, which he commented could have helped with his breathing.  However, his family encouraged him that caffeine was a Bronchodialator - meaning it would open up his lungs, and that the black tea he already had in his cell might do the trick.

Clayton explained that the black tea tasted terrible.  He didn't truly have access to hot water.  His sink has 2 buttons, one for hot and one for cold, like a high school locker room.  If depressing only the hot side, you could get water suitable for hand washing, but nothing you would consider hot for drinking.  The staff also brought milk by every morning.  He suspected it was 2% because it had a light blue lid.  He said he could probably save some to combine with the luke-warm water and a couple of artificial sweetener packets he'd purchased earlier - to make a tolerable brew.

His wife tried to convince him to treat it like medicine for now, and force himself to drink it at least once a day for the sake of his lungs.  He joked that he had purchased the coffee from commissary yesterday purely for its value in trade, but now he planned to stash some away for emergencies like today.

Clayton's wife left the visit stressed out and frightened that Clayton's breathing could get worse as he slept.  She prayed that God would give her peace until she could see him again the next day.