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:
- Filing a "Cop-out" form with the appropriate department and awaiting a response,
- Filing a grievance within 30 days if the initial cop-out is rejected,
- Appealing the grievance decision if denied again (or screened without consideration), and THEN
- Submitting a letter to the Ombudsman with the cop-out, grievance, and appeal paperwork included for review.
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.
"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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
"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.
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.