My name is Clayton Allison. I give my name at the risk of retaliation from the staff and guards here at Goose Creek Correctional Center. This is my story.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Sunday, August 28, 2016
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Clayton Allison. I give my name at the risk of retaliation from the staff and guards here at Goose Creek Correctional Center. This is my story.
To understand my current circumstances, some backstory and information is needed. I was charged with manslaughter, negligent homicide, and eventually murder in the second degree in 2009. The accusation was that I killed my 15-month-old daughter. I am innocent. My wife, family, friends, coworkers and fellow church members all knew this. Anyone that had known me for any length of time did not believe the charges against me. I have overwhelming support and love from the community.
I spent 10 days at Mat-Su Pretrial before I made bail. This was my first time in jail. This was my first brush with the legal system. I have always been a “nerd” or a “geek.” I have never tried any illegal drug. I have never smoked a cigarette. Asthma and a love for Star Trek have kept me from the “Party Scene.” I spent the next 3 years on Third Party bail restrictions. This meant that I had to stay within sight and sound of either my wife, or my father-in-law when my wife was at work. I was effectively made unemployable.
Third Party restrictions made it impossible for me to work a job. Having to stay within sight and sound of my father-in-law, for the next 3 years while my wife was at work, did greatly improve our relationship. We played a lot of Halo on the Xbox. In 2012 the charges against me were dropped. I was a free man. I could start working again. No more Third Party!
Shortly thereafter, the charges against me were re-done through the Grand Jury. The court decided no more Third Party was needed. My bail stood. I spent no extra days in jail. More years went by. New lawyers. New continuances. Eventually, I finally got close to trial. I was offered a 2-year plea deal for negligent homicide. I turned it down. I am innocent. My trial was in January and February of 2015. A total of 6 years had gone by since my original charges. Three of those on Third Party. I broke no laws; caused no trouble. I didn’t even leave the state when I could have.
I found a job driving limos once I was off Third Party and could work. I lost my trial. I was found guilty of Murder 2. A few months later, in July, I was sentenced to 40 years with 10 suspended. I was remanded from my trial into custody when I lost. That was the start of my true incarceration. My previous 10 days experience could not prepare me for what was ahead.
I was in for a shock.
Forget what you have seen on TV. Real life prison is very different. Upon remand, I was taken to Mat-Su Pretrial. I was housed in E or “Echo” Mod, then put into A or “Alpha” Mod. Echo Mod was the intake mod that everyone went through. Alpha Mod was for more long term placement. Alpha Mod at Mat-Su Pretrial was my eye-opening experience to prison. Believe it or not, before this point, I actually believed that there were no gangs in Alaska. How wrong I was.
This was a GP, or General Population, mod. It was small; maybe 30-40 men could fit. My case had some media attention. I was recognized. I immediately started having problems. The white gang members and leaders did not want me there. Apparently, discipline comes from the leaders of your race. The others won’t touch you; unless they get permission from the white gang leaders. I was told to “roll up” or “PC up.” Words like “baby raper” and “Chester” were used. I learned that “Chester” means child molester. It didn’t matter that there was nothing sexual in my charges. These were labels of hatred for my “supposed” crimes.
Someone explained to me that to “PC up” meant to ask the guards for protective custody. I was told that in PC you cannot get visits. This was a lie. I didn’t learn that until much later. To be able to visit my wife in visitation meant the world to me. So I refused to “PC up” or “roll up.” This caused more problems.
Twice I was cornered in my cell and told to fight. I could earn respect by “boxing.” I refused. I was hit a few times, called a “punk” or “bitch,” which are two dangerous “fight” words in prison. I did not report this because I did not want to add “rat” or “snitch” to my apparent list of offenses. They tried to extort money from me; saying that if I paid them “taxes” that I would be “protected.” This was done by purchasing items off the commissary list and giving it to them. I refused. The main gang leader at this point asked me if I would help smuggle drugs into the prison using my visitors. This could “pay my taxes.” He wanted my help because I had lots of visitors coming in to see me. I refused.
At this point they were confused, and didn’t know what to do with me. I had refused to PC up, fight, pay taxes or smuggle drugs. I had also refused paying taxes by giving them my food trays. At meal times, I ate fast and in front of the guard. After a few days, they finally decided to do a “group beat down.” After a large group of them had beat me up they said I would be “cool” with them. Before this could happen, I was transferred; probably saving me hospital bills!
This was life in general population.
I was transferred to Goose Creek Correctional Center (GCCC) in Wasilla. Put in general population in E or “Echo” Mod. It was still February. My first day in GCCC was a nightmare. My media coverage meant I was recognized within my first hour. I had not even made my bed in my new cell yet. Echo Mod was much bigger than I was used to. Maybe 150 inmates were walking around compared to the 30-40 I was used to. This was the big leagues. I was approached by 3 white men covered in tattoos. Most looked like they had been done in prison. They told me that if I did not “PC up” that second, they were going to “medivac” me out. There was a group of men watching 20-30 strong. These men were obviously with the ones talking to me. I learned later that this was one of many gangs called 1488 or The Dirty White Boys.
I had had enough. After multiple threats, I went to talk to a guard about this PC stuff. Learned that I could get visits from my wife. Decided it had to be better than this. I was tired of staying out of trouble and knew if I didn’t “PC up” I was likely to get into a fight defending myself from adult-sized school-yard bullies. So, I joined protective custody. I was taken from E Mod in handcuffs while 150 inmates screamed my name.
It was not a good feeling.
I spent the next two months in the “Hole,” or Administrative Segregation. Segregation, PC status known as AS-5, meant that I was locked down in my cell 23 hours a day. I was let out for one hour to shower or go to “Rec.” “Rec,” or recreation, was a small chicken-wire cage outside that you could walk circles in. Chain link fence walls to let fresh air in.
In segregation the cells are built for two. You have a cell mate or “cellie” that shares the room with you. There is a toilet in the room. Everything is metal and bolted to the floor. At night, and during the day, it can sound like the howls of the damned in there. Anyone that gets into a fight, or gets a write-up for disciplinary actions, ends up in the “hole.” They hand your meal trays through a slot in your cell door. You make phone calls through that same door slot while sitting on your cell floor. I can still hear the screaming.
Whenever you leave your cell, they handcuff you to a belly chain around your waist. The men scream at you “PC!” or “Chester!” They can keep you up at night. Protective custody inmates in cells with gang members in for fighting in cells nearby. I was so grateful to get out of there. The Parole Officer (PO) offered me a transfer to K or “Kilo” Mod here. It was known as a “PC” mod here at GCCC.
A whole mod for PC. Heaven!
I stayed in Kilo Mod from April to September of 2015. It was like a dream. We were let out almost all hours of the day except maybe 6 or 8 hours out of every 24. There was every perk of a GP, or general population, mod, but everyone there was PC! Outdoor Rec in the ball fields, the indoor gym with equipment, contact visits every night but Saturdays. You could purchase musical instruments like a guitar or keyboard!
It was very different from what I was used to. Nobody wanted to beat me up or tax me. There was so much more freedom than the Hole. There was no toilet in your cell. Everyone was issued coats and hats to wear. We had our own laundry room and library. You could watch TV or make phone calls for hours. We didn’t know what we had until it was gone.
On September 16, 2015, the day before my 10th anniversary with my wife, Kilo Mod was closed. No explanation was given. All K Mod inmates were given a choice: remain PC (AS-5) status and go to the “Hole” or “SMU,” or change status and go to GP. I had been to the Hole and GP. What was SMU? I knew GP was a nightmare waiting to happen, so I remained on PC status. I did not want to fight gang members or pay taxes for GP freedoms. I was the last inmate in the last group to leave K Mod. Many inmates conned into going to GP regretted it. The staff had to know they were sending them to be beat up and taxed.
They didn’t care. The release of liability was signed.
SMU was almost like being in the Hole again. The differences were slight. All inmates in the SMU were now PC status. No gang members present to yell at us. There is an attached gym to the SMU. The indoor gym has a metal grate over a large square hole to the outside. Fresh air. The gym is the same temperature as outside. Half-court size with one basketball hoop and two basketballs. No equipment. No pull-up bar. No exercise bike. No weights. Unlike the Hole, SMU has: two TVs, two microwaves, tables and chairs to sit on, and a dayroom we can walk around in on Rec time.
This was a serious step up from the Hole, but a serious step down from Kilo Mod. Eventually, after many months of fighting the conditions here in SMU there were improvements. They gave us more time out of our cells, and many property and commissary rights that they had taken away. Personally, I was ecstatic over getting my MP3 player, personal shoes and a real toothbrush. Allowing us real pens and pencils to write with was a real bonus too.
The PC community tries hard to get in no fights, no write-ups, and stay out of trouble. We don’t present the threat to staff that GP does. No taxing. No gang fighting. No improvised weapons cutting men in the shower. We are the geeks, nerds, rejects, sexual offenders (SO’s), snitches (rats), ex-gang members and homosexuals that GP hates. We are happy to read Manga, play D&D, watch TV, read sci-fi books and fold origami. PC inmates are no threat.
I am a minority in the PC world. I am not a sexual offender, homosexual, bisexual, snitch or rat, ex-gang member (or current one), gambler, or someone that has a “death contract” out on them in GP. For being a nerdy guy that likes to read books, in PC I pay a price.
We are locked in our cells 20+ hours a day. We are not allowed Rec outside. The grate in the indoor gym doesn’t count. We have no gym equipment. My contact visitation with my wife is restricted to once per week. If I went to GP, I could see her everyday. GP gets outdoor recreation. GP is not locked down in an 11 ft. by 8 ft. cell 20+ hours everyday.
September 16, 2016, will be my one year mark living in SMU. One year since I’ve been outside or seen a tree (except for the recent trip to my mother’s funeral). One year since I walked on dirt and grass. I miss the sun. The color green. The outdoors.
I had some pictures of trees and mountains. It helped a little bit. The guards came, ripped them down and told me pictures weren’t allowed. I must stare at white brick walls. I can’t even have a picture of a tree. Hanging pictures on the walls is against the rules.
This is the price I pay to be safe. This is how I must live if I don’t want to fight or be taxed.
I am appealing my unjust conviction. I am still looking at several years for that to go through. Many more if it doesn’t. GCCC has started packing us in here now, 3 men to an 88 square foot cell. Locked down 20+ hours a day. No outdoor recreation. No gym equipment. In winter time the gym is too cold to even use; being open to the outside. The basketballs freeze solid, and won’t bounce. We can go months without being able to work out in the gym at all. GP gets to use their indoor gym that is heated and full of workout equipment.
Some days I wonder why the men that cause the least problems are treated so badly. I think maybe it would be worth it to fight gangs if I could visit my wife everyday in a contact visit. I miss her so much, and live for my once a week hug with her. Then I remember the gangs run the GP mods. Drugs, money, weapons. They do it all. The guards don’t stop them. They do what they want to. I guess getting beat up and stabbed isn’t worth it.
Funny thing is, all the staff can say if you complain is, “Go to GP if you don’t like it!”
“Just sign this waiver form first……”
Goose Creek Correctional Center
Sunday, September 4, 2016
Since the latest decision by the administration of Goose Creek Correctional Center to place boats within the SMU where Clayton is held, Clayton's family received a letter from an inmate there with a request to publish his words to the broader public. What follows are the directly penned words of that inmate.
Letter From SMU Inmate, September 2016
Letter From SMU Inmate, September 2016
Nearly a year ago I was awoken by an officer and told to “roll your shit up.” This is usually what you hear when you’ve earned some kind of punitive action. What was my infraction? Nothing but the fact that I was a protective custody inmate, and the powers that be had decided to give our mod to another group of prisoners. I’ve never been able to get a straight answer about why those prisoners were more deserving of the mod than we were, but I suspect it’s related to the underlying culture of penalizing PC inmates in Alaska DOC.
Please keep in mind that our class of inmate receives the fewest write-ups, is not interested in fighting, and typically tries to stay “off the radar.” Our housing needs also generate a minimal amount of extra work for the administration, which is where the culture of penalty comes from. After all, if we are assaulted, robbed, even raped… this is our problem, and business can continue as normal. When we wish to avoid those situations, it becomes the administration’s problem.
Since that day, I have spent an astonishing 87% of my time locked in a box with another inmate, in a cell barely large enough for both of us to be moving at the same time. To top this experience off, the majority of our meager privileges has been reduced to almost nothing. In short, we have more time to pass, but fewer ways to pass it.
In nearly a year, I have not seen a tree, or the grass, or an unobstructed blue sky. Our “outdoor” recreation consists of an attached building with a grate on one wall about 15 feet up, but is otherwise totally enclosed. Administration has deemed this “outside” (though the 9th circuit disagrees), but ask yourself a basic question: If you went outside in a monsoon, wouldn’t you expect to get wet? At least a little? I’ve gone into our little gym area to listen to the rain, but I didn’t feel a single drop no matter how much I wanted to. It was so close.
This sort of deprivation is the basest of negligent human cruelty, and death would come as a welcome relief from it.
Again, please bear in mind that none of this is part of the judgement I received in that courtroom. My infraction was not wanting to be assaulted, or raped, or “taxed” by the gangs for flimsy “protection” that was only good until someone else decided they deserved what I had because I stood in court and told the truth about my co-defendants, labeling me a “rat.”
Not only does the administration know about this dynamic, they are indifferent to it. Those of us that complain are invited to sign a waiver, to sign our very rights away, and then return to the general population to have our skulls caved in. Their concern is the lawsuit, not the violence.
Is this what rehabilitation looks like? To reward violence and rule-breaking while punishing those that wish to avoid those situations? Is it any wonder that recidivism rates are so high?
My story is one of many. There are 64 2-man cells in this miserable cave, with a few already housing a third person on the floor and more expected soon. This is our daily reality, with no end in sight, no assistance from administration, and no reason to hope.
Make no mistake, this is a scream for help. They won’t listen to us. I hope you will.
(Name withheld for fear of retaliation)
Thursday, August 25, 2016
Thursday, August 25, 2016
"They've finally done it," Clayton said to me yesterday while venting his frustration. "It's finally happened, and now people are freaking out."
The "it" Clayton was referring to is the placement of "boats" within the Special Management Unit (SMU) cells; something the family had previously believed was beyond possibility, even with the calloused Goose Creek administration. Boats are a portable bed used by Alaska DOC in overcrowded prisons to change cells that were designed for double occupancy, or even original single occupancy, to sleep three inmates instead. Clayton describes the boats being used at Goose Creek as hard plastic units that serve as a shelf which an inmate can place their thin mattress upon to hold them up a few inches above the ground. Although inmates use the term "roll up" to indicate being moved from a cell or a bed being moved out of the way, they are in no way a flimsy or flexible plastic construction, or they would not be able to serve their intended purpose.
Inhumane Conditions in the SMU Not Recent News
The inhumane conditions within the SMU have existed long before yesterday's latest blow to morale. When GCCC staff retaliated against inmates in September of 2015, disbanding the protective custody (PC) housing unit and throwing all the PC inmates into the SMU to begin with, they were faced with immediate inhumane conditions. As was reported then: cells were being maintained at freezing temperatures while personally owned warm clothing was confiscated; inmates were being told they would never again be permitted contact visitation with family members and friends; inmates were being denied access to vitamins and non-punitive commissary lists; and for the first couple of days inmates were being "locked down," or confined within their cells, for 23 or more hours per day.
Clayton and his wife later learned that the response was, at least in part, a direct retaliation against them personally, and they were threatened with further retaliation if Clayton's wife did not "back off." Family members and friends of the affected inmates, and Clayton's own family, fought back against the retaliatory actions, and attempted to raise awareness with statewide authorities about the ongoing abuse. Clayton eventually became the "Advocate" for his tier of inmates (a position he was elected to), to advocate with staff for improved living conditions for the inmates housed within the SMU. The Advocate positions throughout the prison proved to be a failed effort outside of the SMU, and were eventually disbanded when Clayton was the last remaining individual in the position working successfully to bring change.
Small victories have been won over time. GCCC was forced to concede that a minimum of one contact hour of visitation was required to be accessible to all inmates statewide who were not being actively punished for bad behavior. After statewide authorities intervened, the prison has provided that hour every week, but continues to restrict it to a single day that inmate families must choose from while maintaining the staffing to allow it multiple days per week; an obviously spiteful and punitive policy which requires more work for staff. Vitamins were added to the commissary list, but are still inaccessible to indigent inmates who cannot afford them and are being denied access through medical. The hours of confinement have changed many times, and currently SMU inmates are allowed 3.75 hours per day (broken up in smaller segments) out of their cells instead of the 1 hour or less they started with. Inmates have also gained access to things like art supplies and minimal game pieces over time, to give them options for keeping themselves occupied during the 20+ hours of confinement each day.
Despite these small victories, the conditions within the SMU remain far from humane, and basic rights afforded to prisoners across the state are still being staunchly denied. One example is access to outdoor recreation. Current DOC Policy #815.01.E.3 states, "A prisoner in administrative segregation has the same right to outdoor recreation as the general population for at least one hour per day, seven days per week, unless an individualized determination [is] made that the prisoner is a security risk as in section 1 above."
However, despite this seemingly obvious requirement, this access has not been afforded to SMU inmates since K Mod was disbanded on September 16, 2015. Instead, SMU inmates have access to an enclosed concrete gymnasium. Inmates have filed grievances, but the facility has maintained that the small grate, serving as a window to allow in outside air which does not display any visual other than the sky, qualifies as meeting the "outdoor" requirement. Therefore, there are an untold number of inmates within the SMU who have not seen a tree, plant, blade of grass, or pile of snow for nearly a full year.
Clayton's first exposure to the outdoors came in January when he entered the visitation building in the middle of the day for his first Advocate meeting with staff. He and the other two advocates from the SMU who were present froze up, and held back tears, because they could see trees through the window in the large room; even if they couldn't see the ground. They hadn't seen trees in 4 months! Staff at the meeting seemed completely oblivious to the nearly religious experience they were having, and hurried them into their seats. Clayton's last exposure to the outdoors came on July 3, 2016, as he was escorted to his mother's funeral. The kind-hearted guards who served as his escorts talked him through the experience as he wept the whole way to the funeral home. It wasn't his mother's passing alone that overwhelmed him, but the utter shock of being surrounded by so much green; so much life. He explained to them that he had not been outside in nearly 9 months.
The conditions within the SMU have been reported to numerous statewide authorities including: the Ombudsman's office, state legislators, Alaska's U.S. Representative and Senators, Governor Walker's administration, and statewide Department of Corrections. More than one authority has expressed that, "Reasons for the disbanding of K Mod were provided. We will not claim to agree with, or understand, those reasons; but they have been provided."
Yet, in nearly a year of inhumane treatment, no action has been taken to remedy the situation at Goose Creek, and yesterday the situation escalated back to dire.
Boats in the SMU Are A Health and Safety Violation
The image at the top of this post is a photo of an actual cell in Goose Creek Correctional Center; made available to the press shortly before the facility opened. It shows the general layout of cells within the facility as they were originally designed, for dual occupancy. The metal bunks attached to the wall provide sleeping space for 2 inmates, and the plastic tubs beneath them provide a space for storage of personal items. The small metal desk, and 2 fixed metal stools, provide a place for the inmates to work and eat. It is not known whether this photo was taken within the SMU, but it is likely. Cells within the general population (GP) housing units (mods) do not have toilets inside of them, but there are larger bathroom facilities out in the common area instead.
Imagine yourself locked within this space for 20+ hours every day of your life. Now imagine that a second person is locked in there with you. That person may be a "cell warrior;" someone who stands at the door of their cell and screams all hours of the day and night. That person might be a thief; requiring you to monitor your belongings closely. Or, more often than not, that person may be physically or mentally disabled. In a GP mod, you would be allowed to eat your meals in the common area. In the SMU, you have to do so locked within your cell.
It is important to note that the SMU was not designed for long-term housing and confinement. It's original design was intended to facilitate "transitional" housing for inmates who were waiting to be reintroduced to the GP mods after punishment or recovery from injury and illness. The indoor gym was an option for temporary accomodation during these periods, and not meant to replace outdoor access entirely. In fact, staff on the ground at Goose Creek have confirmed that the SMU was not run anything like it has been run since the men from the former PC mod known as "K" or "Kilo mod" were placed there. The changes were all implemented as a direct result of the PC inmates now being housed there.
Placing a boat within the available floor space of the cell, takes the conditions from damaging to torturous. For 20+ hours a day the three men will have nowhere to stand without standing on the boat or in the small inches of space around it. Therefore, all three men will have little choice but to lay in bed nearly the entire time; leading to countless health problems. For every meal, the third inmate will have nowhere to sit his meal tray to eat without placing it in his lap or on his bedding. Due to the way meal trays are served, the bottoms of the trays are often covered in food from the tray below them, and leave a significant mess behind on any surface they touch. Bedding and clothing are only exchanged once a week.
The third inmate will have nowhere to store his personal belongings, without it being offered by the 2 inmates already in the cell. The third inmate will have no hook to hang his towel to dry to prevent it from mildewing during the week he must use it. None of the inmates have the ability to use the bathroom without being practically on top of the third occupant; completely eliminating the former illusion of privacy which could be achieved. Throwing in the complication of physically or mentally handicapped inmates who have difficulty using the bathroom without making a mess... and the situation has the potential to become downright gross.
It doesn't take a human rights activist to outline the severity of the situation. According to a
2010 report from the ACLU titled Rethinking Alaska's Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis, it was found that:
"The American Corrections Association (ACA), the organization which prescribes correctional industry standards, produces a list of standards on running correctional institutions. They provide that each inmate should have 25 square feet of “unencumbered space” for each single cell occupant; “unencumbered” meaning that the space occupied by furnishings like the bunks and the toilet/sink unit must be discounted from the total. However, where prisoners spend at least 10 hours a day [emphasis added] in a cell, each prisoner must have at least 80 square feet of floor space per occupant. These standards do post-date the construction of most of the in-state facilities, so the Department has enacted procedures requiring that double cells be 80 square feet in size and 90 square feet if the prisoners spend 10 hours or more in the cell. However, even the Department’s own standards would require 140 square feet or more for a cell housing three prisoners. The ACA further prohibits the use of such “boats” outright – saying that each inmate must have “a sleeping surface and mattress at least 12 inches off the floor; storage for personal items; and adequate storage space for clothes and personal belongings.” The ACA is not an inmate-rights organization. It is a reputable national correctional standards organization, whose standards are recognized by the Department as authoritative within the industry."The boats are being used all over Goose Creek, but prior to yesterday inmate families could not imagine them being placed within the SMU. One of the major differences is the presence of the toilet within the cell, and the problems it presents. The other major issue is the prolonged confinement. In the GP mods where these boats are used often, as they were in Kilo before, inmates can escape the confinement of the crowded cell for most of the day they are not sleeping. SMU does not afford anyone this option, and in recent weeks circumstances have resulted in numerous "rec times," or times out of the cell, being outright cancelled for staff convenience.
This issue is a potential powder keg waiting to go off in the face of both inmates and staff. Many of the men confined to these cells already have personal issues like anger management and explosive disorders. Some of them are mentally ill, and most of them are suffering enduring mental anguish caused by the already poor conditions without relief. After only a single day of the implementation of this choice, many inmates are feeling panicky, and starting to file grievances through paperwork.
Clayton's Current Condition
Clayton currently has not been assigned a third cellmate, which he is expressly thankful about. So far, only a few inmates have been placed into cells but the presence of more boats being stacked beneath the stairs implies that many more are on their way. Clayton's wife was disgusted to learn the news after hearing a guard comment that the prison was "far from" overcrowded, and it was only the SMU and administrative segregation (Ad Seg - The Hole) which were experiencing the problem.
This aligns with the family's belief that it was inappropriate to disband Kilo Mod for protective custody, and force the men into SMU and Ad Seg when there were even less beds to work with. Kilo Mod (when it was PC) had already experience constant overcrowding for the entire time Clayton was placed there. Now that Palmer Correctional is closing down, many of the formerly minimum security offenders who could get by in GP in that facility are "PC'ing up" because they cannot survive the harsh abuse of the gangs which operate in Goose Creek's GP mods.
Clayton's current, and fairly recent, cellmate presents a plethora of problems which he is struggling to adapt to, and should be the content of an entirely separate post on mental illness and insufficient care. The man is frequently mentally disoriented and struggles with memory issues, hallucinations, sleep talking/shouting, not wearing clothing as required, and physical clumsiness which leaves constant messes ranging from bathroom to food cleanups.
"I can deal with that," Clay explained with a sigh, "I can adapt and learn to manage it. He's a nice old guy, he just has issues. But this... I can't imagine a third guy."
In addition to the writing of this post, the Allison's have attempted to draw attention to the severity of the problem in the minimal ways that they can. Clayton's wife was informed by statewide DOC staff that the "proper procedure" was for her to speak with the prison, and Clayton to file grievance paperwork. Clayton was surprised by this because, although he intends to file, he expects to be screened out automatically for complaining about something that has not yet affected him personally. His wife was even more surprised, after having been communicated to by prison staff on multiple occasions that "advocacy by family members" and indeed communication with the prison at all was "against policy."
Even when properly adhered to, the grievance process can take weeks if not months to extend beyond the awareness of the prison's own staff. Paper trails and documentation can be a very good thing, but when they are used as justification to ignore the concerned calls of the public - or send them right back to the potential source of the problem - the entire purpose of having them is defeated. The Allison's can only hope that someone hears their plea and takes action before the powder kegs begin exploding.
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Wednesday, June 1
On June 1, 2016, Clayton Allison celebrated his second birthday within the Goose Creek Correctional Center; turning 33 years old. This birthday would be a new challenge. In addition to being confined to the facility, Clayton had been struggling with illness for the last few days. He had requested to be seen by medical, but at last report it was taking the nurses more than five days to see someone after they filed an official request. However, Clayton was determined not to let his spirits be brought down by circumstances.
“I didn’t want to let DOC steal my birthday from me,” he said. “I wanted to make it special.”
Clayton’s family wanted to help him, but struggled to find options available to do so. Clayton still currently resides within the Special Management Unit (SMU) in the Goose Creek Correctional Center, and has been confined there since September 16, 2016. Confinement of this nature is recognized as unhealthy and inhuman when forced upon individuals for extended periods of time; but no progress has been made in getting the protective custody inmates at GCCC housed in more appropriate long-term quarters. They have been confined there for nine months.
Conditions have improved marginally over the last months, while Clayton served in a temporary “Advocate” position with prison staff; where he worked with other inmates to communicate improvements that could be made by the facility for quality of life. Some of the ground gained included access to previously restricted items like radios and MP4 players, colored pencils, warm clothing, personal shoes, and vitamins. They also managed to propose a schedule change that now allows the inmates to be out of their cells for 1.5 hours in the morning, 45 minutes in the afternoon, and 1.5 hours in the evening. They otherwise remain confined for the other 20 hours each day.
The Day Before
Two of the changes achieved were critical to Clayton’s birthday plans: increased access to the phone through time out, and colored pencils. With these two elements, and basic access to the mail system in advance, Clayton’s family managed to find a way to play one of their favorite board games by phone - Settlers of Catan. The game is a board-based resource strategy game which normally takes 3-4 hours to play with a group of 5-6 people, so every minute of phone access counted.
The family chose to play the game with Clayton the day before his actual birthday, because the rotating schedule would allow him the ability to call out for the full available 3.75 hours. Family members rolled the dice for Clayton and helped manage his hand of cards from their side, and left the game to wait between periods of the day when he could call. He kept track of the board, his hand, and other relevant details by paper using the colored pencils and a map the family had created and mailed in advance.
Clayton was occasionally interrupted by the curious individual wandering up and asking him what on Earth he was doing. Family members would laugh when they could hear him politely shooing away the onlookers, so he could focus on the game. Game play was a struggle, because his head cold was making it nearly impossible for him to breathe without taking a shower; waiting for access to a decongestant that would never come. However, the same time he had access to the shower was the same time he had access to the phones, and the phones were the priority for him today.
In the end, the family managed to play a hurried game, and the champion (Clayton’s wife) shouted victory with less than 2 minutes of phone time to spare. Clayton was very excited to have pulled off something so complex and entertaining, while being included in the family he was divided from, in such an important week.
The Big Day
Clayton’s family knew they wouldn’t hear from him much by phone on the day of his birthday. His plans were elaborate, and he would be busy coordinating while still battling the effects of his cold. Clayton’s number one enjoyment in life is making people smile, so he wanted to find a way to include as many people in his birthday plans as possible. Therefore, he decided to host a “spread” for his birthday dinner.
“Spread” is prison lingo for a meal that inmates plan together, and each contribute ingredients from commissary and meals to, in order to make something which does not appear on the prison’s standard menu. Clayton had collected many ingredients in advance; having taken advantage of a ‘special commissary’ ordering option which had come around a couple of months before. The spread for his birthday would be the largest he’d attempted, and the most complex due to his inability to cook anything himself because of his cold. When the day came, he was entirely dependent upon the other inmates to cook everything.
At the end of the day, he did get a call out to his wife to confirm that he wanted to go ahead and use his contact visit for the week that night. (Inmates in the SMU are still being forced to choose a single day each week that they are allowed to have physical contact with their loved ones; resulting in less than 10 seconds a week to actually hug their families.) When she arrived, his wife was amazed at how high his spirits were despite his terrible cold.
When he walked into the visitation room he was extremely excited, and grinning from ear to ear. He couldn’t wait to report what his day had been like.
He’d spent the entire morning rec (time out of his cell) and afternoon rec giving instructions to numerous inmates that were helping prepare the meal. Their first order of business had been the preparation of their experimental dessert. Weeks earlier, Clayton’s wife had noted that she believed they had access to most of the basic ingredients of no-bake cookies. With Clayton’s love of all things peanut butter and chocolate, he was sold on the idea immediately.
To make the cookies, the inmates melted: 3 Hershey’s chocolate bars, 3 Reese’s peanut butter cup 2-packs, milk, and a small bag of Riesen dark chocolate caramels into a large bowl. They then added 4 finely-crushed Oat & Honey granola bars, an entire jar of creamy peanut butter, and an entire box of maple and brown sugar oatmeal packets.
They spread plastic out over the table tops, and then used gloves to scoop the blended mixture out into palm-sized balls to harden. Clayton was shocked to realize that after everything was complete, they had enough to make 38 chocolate cookie-balls! Without access to a freezer or fridge, getting them ready early was essential to give them time to firm up.
For the main meal, they tried a variety of mixtures. In one large bowl they made a sort of bean dip, including: white rice, chili, refried beans, and chopped up summer sausage. A couple of folks had donated bags of Doritos to use for dipping. In a second large bowl, they combined white rice, jerk pork, and packets of squeeze cheese. In a third large bowl, they blended a combination of: mashed potatoes, powdered milk, Funyuns, mustard and mayo packets. For any of the available combinations, they used several packages of tortillas to make wraps.
Clayton explained that even after the morning and afternoon rec, they still did not have all of the steps completed for the meal to be ready. He was beginning to stress about being pressed for time when he realized he would not be able to make it through the rest of the day without taking a shower so he could breathe. Therefore, he prepped a “To Do” list with all the remaining steps, and passed it off to his roommate with instruction to grab specific people to help. On his way to the showers, numerous people gave him ‘What the hell are you doing?’ looks, and he just kept walking while shouting to them to go help his roommate finish everything.
In the end, an incredible number of people were helping out, even if they could not contribute ingredients, to get the job done. Clayton was relieved to find everything ready after exiting the shower and getting a brief call out to his wife about the visit. He was excited, because he’d already wanted to include as many people as possible and there had been a lot more cookie-balls for dessert than he’d imagined. Altogether, they were able to have 37 people join in with Clay for his epic birthday meal, and he still noted that he felt a little guilty that there wasn’t enough for everyone.
Some of the men seemed moved nearly to tears for being included. Many of them do not have funds for commissary, and are considered indigent; so they never have access to things like chocolate. Some others, like one of Clayton’s former elderly roommates, have just enough to ration a small portion for themselves each day or each week. To have an entire palm-sized no-bake cookie-ball was unbelievable!
“I love seeing people’s faces light up, and knowing I made their day!” Clayton explained. “That’s what makes me happy.”
Then, much to Clayton’s surprise, his fellow inmates took matters a step further. One man insisted that they sing Clayton Happy Birthday. Clayton teared up as he explained that the 37 men participated began to sing, and were then joined by numerous other inmates from around the mod who weren’t even participating. Then he was surprised again and again during clean-up, as inmates began bringing him improvised birthday presents. One man brought him ½ a package of cookies, while another one followed with an unopened box. One man gifted him an elaborate hand-drawn picture of a female anime character in full armor, while another offered a hand-made picture frame. One man offered a package of top ramen; which Clayton was very excited about because he’d run out a couple of days before and was still sick. And yet another handed over one of his most prized possessions; his last remaining bag of microwave popcorn (which they can no longer order).
Earlier in the week, it had warmed Clayton’s wife’s heart to hear that some of the inmates had been attempting to do what they could to help him while he’d been so sick. He’d been running an extremely high fever, and despite having been placed on the ‘sick call list’ to be seen by a nurse, he was denied access morning after morning. He’d been too weak to bother retrieving meal trays a couple of times, and had been surprised by one of the men sending him a special meal tray with more soup and food appropriate for illness to his cell. A few of the other men had offered up tissues or tea as they saw him struggling.
It is important to note that this type of behavior is not typical in any prison housing unit. In general, anything an inmate has access to through commissary is prized and traded as money if offered up at all. But Clayton being himself, and taking care of those around him through sheer natural habit, seems to be reaping back some of what he has sown over the last several months; and his family is happy to see that other people around him truly care about his well being.