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.
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.
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.