Thursday, November 9, 2017

Nov 9 - The Eyeglasses Saga of 2017

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Today’s blog post continues the theme of the prison mantra “there’s a form for that,” with the brand new element of “no one actually knows how anything works.” In fact, Clayton Allison has discovered throughout his time served that the requirement of a form is so much of an expectation, it’s often quoted even when it’s not true. Clayton’s 2017 saga of how to obtain new eyeglasses is the prime example.

In June 2017, shortly after the Summer Festival and Father’s Day events were held at GCCC, Clayton broke the pair of glasses he had been using since first arriving at the prison. He accidentally sat on them while they were up in his bunk, and they were so spectacularly broken that there was no chance of wearing them again. He disposed of them before realizing what a monumental effort would be required to obtain a new pair.

Getting a New Prescription

The prison allows sentenced inmates to have access to an eye exam once every two years; except in instances where their existing eyewear has been damaged beyond use. Upon submitting the appropriate request by paperwork, Clayton was soon scheduled for an eye examination with the approved vendor – The Eye Guys. The vendor brings all the necessary equipment and supplies directly to the prison, and conducts the eye exams on site.

The process seemed fairly simple and efficient. The Eye Guys had a stack of Offender Trust Account (OTA) forms, which an inmate uses to authorize purchases from their account, already partially filled out and available for inmates to use during their visit. They had cases of glasses for the inmates to try on; just like they would at their normal optometrist’s office.

Clayton’s primary concerns with new glasses related to durability. He wears his glasses every day. The ones he came to prison with had been a pair of flexible metal frames that he’d had since 2014. The Eye Guys encouraged him that bendable titanium, or some other form of flexible metal frame, was likely to last him the longest. This is a major issue because when a pair of glasses breaks there is a waiting period inmates must go through to obtain new ones. They can’t simply walk out to their local eye doctor and pick out another pair.

Clayton was also interested in getting transition lenses. Sunglasses are something that any inmate can purchase through the commissary, but they’re not the form of sunglasses they can actually fit over a pair of regular glasses. The commissary does not carry an option for sunglasses for those who wear prescription glasses. The glasses Clayton had come to prison with were already transitions, so it had not been an issue for him previously. The vendor highly encouraged Clayton that transitions were also recommended, given these considerations.

The Recommendation

When all was said and done, the vendor put together a glasses package that included flexible metal frames, transition lenses, and his updated prescription. Unfortunately, Clayton was floored by the cost. Medical and vision insurance do not exist in conversations about care in a prison environment. Everything that is purchased by an inmate, must be paid for out of pocket; unless it is a direct medical expense being paid for by the prison.

The total bill Clayton was presented with was more than $550.

Clayton couldn’t imagine asking his family to pay that kind of money for his eyewear. Therefore, he asked medical for information on whether there were any other options. He was informed that The Eye Guys were only one of three approved vendors for eyeglasses; Prism Optical and were also approved. Clayton was handed the basic information for the other two options, and sent back to his mod.

But Is There Really A Choice?

Shortly after Clayton’s glasses were broken, he began realizing how much he actually needed them. When he was younger, his prescription was weak enough that he could choose to go with the glasses or without, and suffer very little ill effects. However, he now began experiencing chronic migraines. He communicated that he hadn’t realized how difficult it really was for him to see without them, until he found himself continuously straining to see more clearly.

Clayton called his wife and provided her with the information on the three approved vendors. After doing some initial research, she quickly discovered that the cheapest option would be She was able to identify a set of options that matched what Clayton had been wanting to get from The Eye Guys, including: bendable titanium frames, transition lenses, and his updated prescription. Yet, they only cost $150. It took a couple of weeks for Clayton to receive through the mail all of the information she printed out. Then he attempted to order the glasses using an OTA form.

A few days later, Clayton received the OTA form back as denied for multiple reasons. All orders have to be approved and placed by the officers that work in the prison commissary. According to the commissary officer, was not an approved vendor. They also said that both transition lenses and bendable metal frames were not permitted in eyeglasses orders.

Clayton was stumped.

He only knew about the existence of, because the information had been provided to him by the medical staff. Bendable metal frames and transition lenses were not only offered, but recommended, by The Eye Guys. He wasn’t sure how to proceed.

What Now?

He submitted a Request For Information (RFI) form to medical, asking for some kind of documentation that confirmed that was an approved vendor. Medical seemed shocked that Clayton was attempting to submit an order for glasses on his own at all, because they believed he was not supposed to have been given his prescription. It had simply been handed to him in the middle of the appointment. However, it was also communicated to him that medical was incredibly frustrated with the commissary staff about the glasses ordering process in general, and had plans to talk to facility administrators about sorting out the problem.

With the assistance of his wife, and a random CO who was observing the process from the sidelines, Clayton was soon able to confirm that was, in fact, an approved vendor. He was also able to obtain grievance paperwork, which another inmate had filed, which indicated that transition lenses were allowable for purchase. He wasn’t sure what the problem was with the frames, but the documentation he’d received back said specifically that “titanium” frames were not allowed. Therefore, Clayton’s wife went back on the website to try and find a pair of metal frames that were not flexible or titanium to use in the order instead. Then he resubmitted the order.

Does Anyone Really Know How This Works?

Through the attempts to navigate this process, it appeared that glasses ordering became a major topic of conversation among the staff. Someone in commissary had communicated that they were going to talk to administrators about the aspects of the order that were and were not allowed. Medical staff had communicated that they were going to talk to administrators about the confusion with commissary, and the appropriate methods of ordering. By the time Clayton received his next denial, stating the transition lenses and metal frames were not allowed, a new memo had come out from the Superintendent himself; posted to every mod in the facility.

The memo detailed specific instructions for glasses ordering.

Sort of.

It declared that both transition lenses, and metal frames of any kind whatsoever were both prohibited from any glasses order. Additionally, inmates were not allowed to order glasses that were more than $100 in value. Inmates were only allowed to order glasses with plastic frames, and with the cheapest form of plastic lenses available on the market. Lastly, family members were not allowed to order inmate glasses for any reason. Orders by family members would promptly be rejected.

The memo was equally explanatory and disorienting.

Clayton had previously been informed by multiple staff that family members were allowed to order inmates glasses from the outside, or inmates could order them themselves. He had been electing to order it from his side because there was money on his books left over from his birthday that allowed him to afford the expense. He was surprised to find that yet another aspect of the ordering process was being changed from the instructions he had originally been given.

At this point, Clayton had been without glasses for two months. He was suffering chronic migraines, difficulty sleeping, and had injured himself numerous times while working in the kitchen. He was becoming desperate, but loathed the idea of ending up with a pair of the ugly coke-bottle glasses provided for indigent inmates. He was also sure he didn’t even qualify to receive them.

So, he tried for round three.

Now They’re Just Throwing Paperwork Away…

It took more time for Clayton’s wife to get him the information through the mail on a decent pair of basic black plastic frames with the cheapest lenses offered by the vendor. Once he received the information, he attempted placing a new order. He was very careful to package up every element of paperwork he could imagine he would need, including: a stamped envelope, and OTA form, and RFI form explaining what he wished to order, and the information about the vendor.

Weeks went by, and Clayton never heard a word back.

Normally, inmates are always supposed to hear back on paperwork in one way or another. If the request is being denied, they’re supposed to receive back official word stating so on the paperwork that was submitted. In this case, Clayton simply wasn’t hearing back at all. He eventually, after a couple of weeks, submitted another RFI requesting information on what happened to his request. However, that RFI was never returned to him either.

As far as we understand, all of these latest requests simply made their way into the circular file.

Only One Option Left

After weeks had gone by with no word on the glasses Clayton was attempting to order, Clayton’s wife had finally had enough. She decided to order the exact same pair of glasses, with the exact same attributes, from the website herself. They would be shipped directly to Clayton at the facility. They decided, because all other options have been exhausted, there was nothing else left to try. If the glasses ended up ultimately rejected, they would begin a battle on the outside.

On October 23rd, his wife’s order finally arrived at the prison. He was immediately told that the glasses would be rejected because family members were not allowed to order glasses on behalf of the inmates.

Clayton submitted grievance paperwork, asking either for the glasses to be given to him, or for someone at the facility to actually answer his questions on glasses ordering; which he detailed out in an extensively long list. Surprisingly, the staff member in charge of processing the grievances responded to Clayton immediately. He called Clayton in to discuss the issue with him face-to-face the very next morning.

Finally Some Answers

During the convoluted conversation, the staff member explained to Clayton once again that family members were under no circumstances allowed to order glasses on behalf of inmates. However, Clayton explained the extreme lengths he had gone to himself, over four months at this point, to try and order them on his own. He explained each stage where he had been shut down, and the various reasons he had been given. He additionally explained that there was no procedure, or specific set of instructions provided to inmates on how they were supposed to accomplish this process.

The staff member indicated that he believed the problem boiled down to, you guessed it, “there’s a form for that.” He said there was a specific order form that had to be used for orders. Clayton explained his confusion at the possibility of using an order form for In all the research his wife had done, the website did not list any information about item numbers or product codes that could be used to list on an order form. Additionally, he did not believe there was a catalog available to browse through. The officer insisted that, indeed, there was an order form and catalog, and he would personally bring them to Clayton by the end of the day.

At this point, it was decided that the glasses Clayton’s wife had already ordered and had shipped to the facility, would be mailed back to her. The staff member suggested that she pursue getting a refund. She was, of course, furious at the entire series of events, and disbelieved she would actually be able to return the item that had been purchased.

Or Not…

Later that day, and before Clayton even had the opportunity to fully explain the conversation to his wife, he was pulled into yet another meeting. Apparently, after doing additional research into the subject, the officer explained that his previous beliefs about how the process of glasses ordering worked were, in fact, incorrect.

When he went to find the appropriate order form and catalog for, he instead found that there wasn’t one. Neither existed.

Confused, he then attempted to determine how inmates were ordering from that particular vendor. What he discovered was nothing shy of hilarious. is an approved vendor for the facility for FAMILY ORDERS ONLY. Inmates have never had a way to directly order from this vendor. They have always been intended exclusively as a family resource.

Confused by this new revelation, he looked further into the procedures. He explained to Clayton that he had discovered that glasses were classified as prosthetic in policy; which is apparently a category that family members are ALWAYS allowed to order on behalf of an inmate. GCCC is not supposed to prohibit family members from ordering glasses for their loved ones. Yet, because of the faulty information inside of the Superintendent’s memo, it is unclear how many sets of glasses they may have already turned away which family members were attempting to order, and had to absorb the cost for.

FINALLY, A Breakthrough

After discovering this information, the staff were quick to communicate to Clayton that his wife’s 
order still had to meet the other requirements listed out in the Superintendent’s memo. Clayton emphasized – and the invoice proved - that the glasses ordered had been: plastic frames; with non-transition, standard, cheap plastic lenses; and hadn’t even totaled $50 in value with shipping.

It was then agreed that Clayton would be allowed to receive the glasses his wife ordered as soon as they had been processed through property. We are happy to announce that he actually received them two days later. He is no longer plagued by headaches and eye strain, and is amazed at how much he can see that he didn’t realize he couldn’t before.

This blog post probably would’ve been written because the entire series of events is so absolutely ridiculous that, if nothing else, the sheer stupidity of it all should provide a fair amount of humor. 
However, it also emphasizes a much more critical point.

Even the People In Charge Don’t Know the Rules

Alaska’s prisons represent the most extreme end of the spectrum of bureaucracy. There is a policy, procedure, and/or form for just about any action that ever needs to be taken inside of the facility. You not only have to know which forms to fill out for which processes, you also have to know which boxes to put which forms in, and which departments will eventually process them.

When you run into problems, you have to know whether to approach the department that rejected you, or whether you need to file different paperwork with a different department to try and seek a resolution to your problem. The staff members that handle these elements of paperwork are so narrowly pigeonholed that they rarely ever see the full process. They simply assume that what is written into policy, or more often their personal opinion of a policy they may have never actually read, is trucking along just fine. They may not see the hordes of frustrated people who were being denied access to the things that they need because they cannot overcome the barrier that the paperwork and bureaucracy form.

When attempting to summarize this problem, Clayton eloquently labeled it "the draconian obtuseness of prison paperwork and policy that is intended for use by a predominantly uneducated and/or illiterate population." It is ironic that the processes which need to be used by a largely under-educated, uneducated, or even illiterate population is being devised and crafted by a traditionally well educated staff and administration who do not even see the pitfalls they are creating. Even worse, staff who see them struggling act as if their non-compliance with a process they often don't understand is somehow justification for ignoring their plight. 

Why else would official paperwork, which requires official documented response, be making its way into the circular file simply because it is being filed in the wrong box? Clayton has an Associates Degree and was almost unable to leap over this hurdle with four months of effort. 

Clayton and his wife have had instances with multiple Superintendents at GCCC where they didn’t seem to know the content of statewide policy, or how it interacted with or even contradicted the policy they were writing at their own facility. Other staff members at the facility are often even further removed from those policies, and have even less understanding of them. This is not surprising when realizing that the administrative review of the Department of Corrections from two years ago specifically highlighted that policies at the statewide level had gone years without ever being updated or revised. However, these contradictions frequently mean that individual facilities are prohibiting inmates from having access to things that the Department of Corrections itself would not prohibit inmates from having access to.

It also creates the opportunity for inmates to be exploited.

For example, if Clayton had been able and willing to drop more than $550 during his initial visit with The Eye Guys, he could have gotten bendable titanium frames with transition lens glasses nearly immediately. The paperwork being processed by the vendor on-site is going directly through medical, without ever interacting with commissary. Therefore, it is never being reviewed for all of these additional restrictive elements that other glasses orders are being subjected to.

Less than three weeks ago, another inmate that Clayton works with had walked into the kitchen with brand-new transition lens glasses and flexible metal frames. He had simply been willing to pay the piper. Because Clayton had not, he ended up in this endless limbo, unable to get access to the basic thing he was trying to order for his own health and safety. In any other environment, the scenario would be called a racket.

Still Asking For Clarification

Clayton was extremely relieved after he learned that he would finally be able to get access to the glasses that were ordered for him. However, after this long of a battle, that was no longer the only recourse that was needed. He attempted to emphasize to the staff that the other inmates in the facility also needed to know this information. The memo that had come out from the Superintendent was incorrect. 

Family members are supposed to be able to order glasses for inmates, and should know that is the appropriate resource. He requested that this information be posted in all of the mods, along with a detailed clarification on how the glasses ordering process actually works.
It is unclear at this time whether the staff at the prison will elect to post such information for the general population.

Additional questions have arisen since then about inmate contact lenses. They can receive a prescription in their appointment for contacts. They can buy lens cases and contact solution from the commissary. However, the general belief among the staff is that contact lenses are now allowed for purchase. But they’re also defined as a prosthetic. So, really?

Our best guess… no one actually knows the real answer. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Medical Neglect

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Medical neglect and criminally negligent homicide are issues that have plagued prisons in the United States from coast to coast in recent decades. In modern discourse, this harm is often blamed on private prison organizations. It is absolutely true that medical neglect, and criminally negligent homicide, are rampant in private prisons, but they are also prevalent in state and federally run institutions.

Alaska is no exception to this trend.

In the time that Clayton Allison has spent in the Alaska prison system, he has been subjected to, and has witnessed, medical neglect on a nearly unbelievable scale. Numerous times, he has advocated on behalf of another inmate who was being neglected. It is a horrifying and frustrating experience; which, often leaves inmates feeling like they are seen as less than human.

Medical Neglect

High Fever

Nearly a year ago, Clayton fell prey to this negligence personally, and sadly, the cause usually boils down to paperwork.

In the outside world, people have come to use the phrase “there’s an app for that” to indicate that there is an application that can be used for just about any task an individual wants to do on a smartphone or tablet. In the prison system “there’s a form for that.” This includes medical help.

If an inmate needs to be seen for some kind of medical concern, they have a form they must fill out requesting to be seen. There is other paperwork that can be filed to expedite a medical concern, if the inmate believes that that concern is an emergency. These forms have to not only be received, but be fully processed by medical staff, before an inmate is actually allowed to be seen by medical staff.

When Clayton fell sick nearly a year ago, he submitted paperwork on the first day. It seemed to be a common cold, and he was hesitant to file the necessary forms because on previous occasions it had taken multiple days to actually be seen by a nurse. He feared he may be recovered before even being seen, and still be charged a fee for service anyway. However, the onset of the illness on this occasion seemed fairly extreme; so, he elected to file the paperwork and see if he was still stick by the time they got around to him.

A couple of days into the cold, Clayton began to run a very high fever. Fortunately, he had a personal supply of Tylenol to use to try and keep the fever at bay; which, he had purchased through the commissary. Most inmates do not have access to such a luxury; especially inmates who are indigent (who have no personal money of their own). The fever eventually grew so bad that, even with taking the Tylenol, Clayton attempted to lower his body temperature by: stripping down; soaking his towel with water; and laying the towel across his body in his bunk. He literally felt like he was boiling alive.

It is important to note that, although fevers are common, very high fevers can have very serious consequences. An extremely high fever over a prolonged period of time, can leave a person deaf, blind, or with other more subtle permanent damage. Avoiding neglect of a medical issue like this can be as simple as actually taking the inmates temperature.

On the third or fourth day of his illness, Clayton received confirmation paperwork back from the facility that his medical paperwork had been processed, and he should appear before the nurses at the morning pill call line. He did as he was instructed, but when he arrived, he was told that they did not have his paperwork. It didn’t matter what paperwork he had received, and even brought with him as evidence. They wouldn’t see him. The nurse did not even so much as take his temperature while he was standing in front of them.

The guards became increasingly concerned with the severity of Clayton’s fever. He was visibly red. One of them even approached the nursing staff, on Clayton’s behalf, asking for help, and for him to be checked out. Apparently, the result was the guard getting “screamed out” by the nurse for interfering, and Clayton still being denied treatment.

After a couple more days, Clayton’s fever eventually broke. He had fought it off with everything he had: Tylenol, bed rest, and a wet towel. A day and a half after the fever broke, medical informed him again that his paperwork had been processed, and he could be seen. They even commented that he didn’t seem to be running a fever. This was eight days after he filed his initial paperwork, and four days after he’d been told it was processed.

A fever may not seem like it amounts to medical negligence, but in reality, that impression can only truly be determined by the outcome. If Clayton had been struck blind or deaf, what would the opinion be then? However, this is only Clayton’s personal experience. The negligence that occurs at the facility goes far beyond that.

Abdominal Infection

One of the other major issues that occurs within DOC is denial, or prolonged delay, of access to surgeries that are medically needed by inmates, or recommended by their personal physicians. When someone arrives in the prison system, DOC takes over responsibility of payment for that person’s medical needs, including people who arrive with pre-existing conditions. This is true even if that person could independently afford services.

One of the inmates in Clayton’s mod, who we will call Pedro, is a good example of this type of complication. Pedro has Crohn’s disease, and before he ran afoul of the law and wound up in prison, he required surgery to disconnect his intestines and use an ostomy bag. His doctors had informed him at the time that he was only supposed to use the ostomy bag for a year, and then come back in for an additional surgery to reconnect his intestines and attempt to use them again. However, once he arrived in prison, DOC was unwilling to make arrangements for the necessary surgery.

Part of the delay came from Pedro being in an unsentenced status. Then, after sentencing occurred and it was determined that Pedro would spend many years in prison, the battle continued. Clayton assisted Pedro in battling through the paperwork process, and trying to get access to the much needed surgery. Pedro didn’t even know if having his intestines disconnected for multiple years could lead to an inability to have the reconnection surgery he needed. Eventually, he was able to get permission to have the surgery three years after first arriving at the prison.

The days leading up to Pedro’s surgery had been both exciting and frightening. He would be taken to the hospital for surgery, and afterwards would go into the medical segregation mod at the prison during his recovery. The surgery seemed to go well, and after leaving medical segregation, he ended up back in Clayton’s mod once again.

Within a week or two, Pedro started developing symptoms that were concerning.

The extremely large incision on Pedro’s stomach began weeping clear fluid, and at first he was unsure whether this was normal or not. Then, by the next day, the incision began instead leaking pus. The entire surface of Pedro’s stomach grew fiery red and inflamed, and he spiked a high fever. It took two days before he was even seen by medical after filing his emergent paperwork.

Then, when he was seen, he was told it would “probably take a few days” before an appointment could be secured with the person who had done the surgery. He was given an injection of antibiotics, a prescription for pain medication, and sent back to his cell. The pain medication he was prescribed is one he cannot even take because of the Crohn’s disease, but he was marked down as refusing medication for pain; despite his pleas for an alternative.

Clayton and his wife know the seriousness of an abdominal infection that severe. Years ago, Clayton’s brother-in-law had developed appendicitis, at 11 years old, which was initially painless. Without pain as a warning, his appendix had burst and filled his abdomen with an infection that had also grown over a two day period before the problem was discovered. After a mere two days of leaving the infection unchecked, the young man’s fever had spiked to more than 105° and he had been rushed into surgery. The surgeon ultimately had removed more than 10 pounds of infection from inside his abdomen, and said the brother-in-law had been lucky to still be alive all those years ago.

With this context, Clayton and his wife were shocked that Pedro was not immediately being taken to a hospital, and terrified that Pedro could also pass away from this obviously severe abdominal infection; which was not even being constantly monitored. He could spike a debilitating fever, or pass away from the infection in the middle of the night while he had no one paying strict attention but his own cellmate. In contrast, Clayton’s brother-in-law had required constant monitoring in the hospital post-surgery, for more than a week, to ensure that his body was beating back and ridding itself of the infection.

When Pedro saw medical the next day, the infection still seemed to be rolling at full steam, and growing steadily worse. He continued to weep infection from the surgical site. He was given another injection, and given additional oral and topical antibiotics to apply directly to the wound.

Pedro was not transported to the hospital until he did manage to get an appointment with the surgeon several days later. It turns out, a loose staple had fallen inside of his abdomen during surgery, and was the source of the infection he was now battling. They elected to leave the staple inside, instead of opting for yet another surgery to remove it; unless it triggers another infection later on down the road.

If it does, however, Clayton and Pedro have no belief at this point that medical will respond with any form of urgency.

Facial Paralysis

Another man in his mod who also works with Clayton in the kitchen, and who we will call Caleb, was suddenly struck the Friday before last with partial paralysis on one side of his face. At first, Caleb had believed he was falling sick, then had a sudden severe headache and pain in his face that he couldn’t explain. The paralysis set in quickly after.

Clayton and many of the other men in the mod feared that Caleb was having a stroke. The paralysis was severe, affecting both his eye and his mouth on that side. The pain was a persistent headache. Caleb filled out the paperwork, and flagged it as an emergency request to see medical.

Then, he waited.

He worked his shift in the kitchen the next day, Saturday.

He worked his shift in the kitchen on Sunday.

On Monday, Clayton was furious that Caleb still had not been seen by medical. Caleb is generally a soft-spoken and introverted person, and it seemed that no one had even noticed his ailment. Clayton went with Caleb to one of the stewards (a staff member who is not an inmate) in the kitchen, and pointed out Caleb’s distress; emphasizing that the paralysis only appeared to be getting worse.

The steward was visibly shocked, and quickly brought it to the kitchen supervisor’s attention. The kitchen supervisor seemed nearly disbelieving that Caleb had been having such severe symptoms for such a long period of time without being seen, and personally walked him down to medical to insist that Caleb be evaluated immediately.

After work, Clayton was shocked to see that Caleb was right back in the mod. As soon as the kitchen supervisor had left, the nurse on shift had explained that they had received Caleb's paperwork, but not processed it yet, and would not see him until his paperwork had been processed.

Caleb had literally been standing in front of them, with one side of his face drooping to the point of drooling, and they hadn’t bothered to check him out; much less transport him to a hospital for evaluation.

At this point, the men in the mod were convinced that Caleb had either had a massive stroke, and was at major risk of having continued mini strokes, or was at risk of dying from some phenomenon they did not understand. Caleb was, in fact, being blatantly ignored. Clayton had learned from another inmate that one of the medical supervisors from DOC was supposedly at Goose Creek that day, but would only be there for a few more hours.

It was the best possible time for Caleb to be seen by someone, but no one was willing to see him.

Clayton, Caleb, and another inmate who could confirm the length and severity of Caleb’s ailment, approached the CO in the mod. They tried to use every argument they could think of to explain that Caleb needed to be recognized as a medical emergency, and at a minimum, taken to medical if not directly to the hospital. They argued that if the guard did not have the ability to simply look at Caleb with his eyes and confirm that he had no intracranial bleeding - which of course is a talent no human being has - then he needed to be immediately evaluated for stroke.

“It’s like you look at these people, and you realize that they’re gonna have to do more paperwork for what you’re asking them to do,” Clayton had said at a visit later, “and you know they don’t want to. I’m standing there, thinking, what if my friend is dying and you don’t want to take the time or inconvenience out of your day to deal with it? It makes you feel less than human.”

The guard seemed very disinclined to help, but eventually conceded.

When Caleb was taken to medical again, he was immediately taken to a hospital for evaluation. Appropriate imaging was done to check for stroke or other brain injury. Ultimately, Caleb was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy; a condition that usually onsets as a reaction to a virus, and causes severe enough swelling around the facial nerve to induce the paralysis and the other symptoms that Caleb was experiencing.

Caleb left the hospital with: the name of a diagnosis he did not understand; an explanation that he needed immediate medications he had not been given; and no instructions whatsoever of what he could do to alleviate his symptoms on his own.

When explaining to the other inmates in the mod what happened at the hospital, Caleb admitted he didn’t even understand whether he should go to work the next day. He did not know if he should be resting, or if rest even mattered. He didn’t know what to do about the pain he was continuing to experience.

The nurse at the hospital had emphasized to the guards with him that he needed to start steroidal medications immediately, to reduce the risk of the paralysis in his face becoming permanent. Nothing was administered at the hospital, or sent back with him. When he arrived back in medical at the prison, they informed him that the medication was not carried on hand, and would have to be ordered.

He had no idea how long it would be before it arrived, and he would finally be able to access the medication he supposedly needed immediately.

Caleb came to Clayton, and asked him to ask his wife to research the illness that night online, and find out if there was anything that Caleb could do himself. The next morning, they called and learned that there were indeed a couple of minor things Caleb could do to try and rehabilitate his condition. Online resources recommended applying moist heat to his face to relieve pain, as well as taking ibuprofen to try and reduce the swelling. It was also recommended to use eye drops to prevent severe dry eye from setting in due to interference with the eye’s natural habit of blinking, and patching the eye at night to prevent damage. Caleb was comforted to learn that even without proper treatment, the condition was likely to resolve itself within a few weeks.

He did not learn any of that from the hospital staff, or anyone at the prison. He learned it through the spouse of a friend with access to the internet, and a willingness to help.

Can you imagine for a moment… how frightened you would be if half your face was completely paralyzed, and you did not understand what was wrong? 

What about if you knew you needed medicine, and you did not know if or when you would get it? 

Would you be stuck this way forever? 

What if you had been taken care of the way they said you needed to be?

DOC Medical is Playing Russian Roulette with Human Lives – And Losing

The incidents described above all have a couple commonalities. First, DOC was negligent in its response to serious medical problems inmates were having; which it was ill equipped to handle or properly evaluate on its own. Secondly, DOC got lucky. They were lucky that Clayton’s fever did not cause permanent damage which would’ve allowed him to sue them for medical negligence. They were lucky that Pedro’s infection, left unchecked for multiple days with no one monitoring him but his cellmate and the “wellness checks” for consciousness, did not result in his death; which could have easily been considered criminally negligent homicide. They were lucky again that Caleb was experiencing Bell’s Palsy, instead of a stroke; which could’ve easily been a potentially fatal condition they chose to go days without even evaluating. 

They are not always so lucky.

Unfortunately, this pattern is only a continuation of the neglect DOC, and other government officials, are already fully aware of.

In the 2015 report, Alaska Department of Corrections: An Administrative Review, medical services are listed as a known supervision problem, and inappropriate medical response was listed as a factor in multiple inmate deaths which occurred in DOC’s custody.
“Under the current organizational structure, superintendents of Alaska’s correctional facilities do not supervise all employees staffing their facilities. Most medical and mental health staff report to a manager or director in the department’s central office. Consequently, while the superintendent of each facility is morally and legally responsible for all lives within the facility, the superintendent does not have line authority over personnel who have significant responsibility for keeping inmates and staff safe. … Negative consequences of this divided command structure became evident when the Review Team investigated several deaths that occurred in department facilities.” – Excerpt from Page 3
When looking at the details of the deaths that were reviewed, the same pattern illustrated by Clayton’s examples above, becomes clear.
  • In the death of Mr. Mosley on April 4, 2014, it was evident that the facility he was being housed in was ignoring his mental and physical deterioration up until the time of his death. 
  • Mr. Murphy was admitted on August 13, 2015, for his own safety due to intoxication in a public place, but due to a misunderstanding of policy he was held long after no longer being intoxicated, when he should have been released on August 14. Mr. Murphy interacted with multiple medically trained staff members, and reported having continual chest pains for an extended period. Yet, EMTs were never called and Mr. Murphy died of the complications before his release. 
  • Mr. Joseph was admitted, and died on August 26, 2015, during yet another protective hold. The review team notes that, “Mr. Joseph was highly intoxicated and did not appear to be medically stable enough to be detained in a prison setting. He was unable to walk or stand.” Yet, they not only failed to bring him to a hospital setting for appropriate medical monitoring, but they also failed to intervene in the assault by other inmates which led to his death. 
The tragic case of 24-year-old Kellsie Green, occurred shortly after the release of the report. She died in January 2016 in the Anchorage jail, detoxing from heroin. Kellsie’s cellmates reported requesting help for her before she died. The Alaska Correctional Officers Association disputed that, claiming the cellmates were aggravated by her presence and wanted her removed from the cell. Regardless of the tone of their pleas, the officers’ attention was drawn to Kellsie’s situation before her death, and proper medical care was not rendered.

'All Inmates Say They Are Dying'

Some individuals confronted with such a review, including apparently the medical staff themselves, respond with the ludicrous question about whether or not inmates are “faking” their symptoms. The more important question should be, what could happen to the inmate if they are NOT. Do hospitals decide by glancing at you standing on their doorstep whether you should be seen, or if you are faking? Or do they run tests to confirm whether things are going on that cannot be observed by the naked eye?

In the case of Mr. Mosley’s death after mental deterioration, the report mentions that, “Referrals to mental health were not well documented. One correctional officer told the Review Team that a blunt conversation with mental health staff did not go well; the officer was told they were fed up with Mr. Mosley’s behavior and he was essentially the correctional officer’s problem.”

Clayton witnessed something similar with a cellmate last year. The man was someone who was well educated, and well spoken in his lucid periods. However, after being in the cell with him for less than a day, Clayton came to the conclusion that he was suffering from some form of mental illness or impairment like dementia. The man would regularly: randomly begin talking to people who were not there; have hallucinations about things that were happening in the mod (like planes taking off and snow falling); and bruise himself severely while thrashing and screaming in his sleep. This same man was housed with Clay in the solitary-confinement-like conditions of the SMU at the time; an environment known to cause and worsen mental illness.

Clayton soon learned the man had been “kicked out” of the mental health mod at GCCC after being accused by medical staff of “faking” his mental illness.
“There is NO WAY anyone can fake this level of illness,” Clay had said adamantly, desperately wanting to seek better conditions for the man. “He doesn’t even understand where he is. You can’t fake screaming all night, every night, for weeks without showing other signs. He thought I was his ex-wife the other day.”
It was obvious at times, the man didn’t even know where he was; which led Clayton and others to wonder why he was being held at the prison at all, and if his charges could have to do with the mental illness itself.

Interestingly, the same staff who had accused the man of faking his mental illness, also claimed he was faking physical injury at the time. He had reported falling out of his bunk and hurting his hip. The man walked around in the SMU for more than two weeks complaining of the same persistent pain before a CO in the SMU no longer bought the mental health mod’s claim, and sent him back to medical for evaluation.

It was reported to Clayton that the man’s hip had been broken in two places the entire time. No doubt the mental illness and physical injury were equally “faked.” The COs in the SMU, after discovering this, did not want to even recommend returning him to the mental health mod, for fear of continued neglect.

No Charges Filed

It is important to note that intentional neglect which directly leads to an individual’s death is specifically a crime in Alaska – criminally negligent homicide. Yet, we are not aware of a single individual that has been prosecuted in Alaska for the multiple deaths which have occurred as a result of neglect in state institutions.

This is particularly interesting, considering Clayton himself was wrongfully convicted on this charge when there is no actual physical evidence that a crime was even committed. In contrast, there is literal video footage and internal documentation of the inmates being neglected to death by multiple staff members, and we can find no record of charges even being filed.

The medical neglect and criminally negligent homicide experienced in prisons across the United States is abhorrent. It is important, however, that we do not isolate this issue down to private prisons alone. Whether run by the federal government, a state government, or a private institution, all of them seem hesitant to provide appropriate medical care for the individuals in their charge.

Any other form of long-term care facility that had these kinds of regular incidents occurring, would be charged with criminal abuse and shut down by the very same governments that are willfully committing the activity themselves. As a twisted business model, scraping by with too few resources, they are willfully ignoring the health concerns of inmates while they’re in the early stages of illness or injury that could be resolved more easily, and at less cost. Instead, public funds are being used only when illnesses and conditions have got grown so great that they now require thousands of more dollars to treat, and may in fact have already caused irreversible damage to the individual.

Friday, June 9, 2017

June 9 - Summer Festival

Friday, June 9, 2017

The GCCC Summer Festival is an annual event that allows inmates a unique opportunity to spend a longer period of time with family in an outdoor environment, and perhaps the one day of the year that justifies the massive amount of parking space at the facility.  This year, the Summer Festival took place on June 9, 2017.  In previous years, Clayton and his family were unable to participate because he was in a Protective Custody (PC) status, and PC inmates are automatically excluded from all special events held at the prison.  However, with his new housing status, he found out within days of his transfer that he could apply to participate. 

Normally, a limit of 10 or 11 inmates at a time can participate in any given visitation hour, and usually much less than that actually have visitors.  So, the parking lot is often mostly empty, with the staff only migrating into that area to get out of the way of snow plowing on their side.   Today, however, the parking lot was filling up fast. 

The procedure for checking and was much different because there would be many more people than normal. Instead of using the lockers inside the facility, most visitors were encouraged to leave their belongings inside their vehicles. There was a canopy set up outside the front door, with two guards checking visitors off of a massive list, and stamping their hands. Visitors were still processed through the metal detectors and into the holding area like normal, but when leaving the first building and heading towards the yard, they were met by buses outside.

These buses were the same ones used to transport prisoners to various facilities and other destinations. They are painted a rich blue with very high windows along the sides. The windows are much too high up for anyone to see in from the outside, and the only thing you can see from the inside is the sky. The buses are capable of holding 40 people, so the bus had to make multiple trips to move the visitors from the main entry area back to the ballfields that would be used for the day.

Each bus was such sectioned off in the middle with a large metal gate, and on the first few trips visitors were asked to place their feet in the way of the gate, so it would not slam shut dramatically whenever the bus made a turn. In later trips, the COs found a bungee cord to solve this problem. There was also a small metal cage in the front of the bus that held two seats inside of it. Clayton’s family assumed that these seats are used for transporting higher-security or protective custody inmates, but the cage was simply left locked and shut that day.

Getting to See the Ballfields

Upon arriving at the back ballfields, visitors were let in through a very large gate. All visitors were fully processed and brought into the ballfields before any inmates were released out into the area. There were picnic tables, plastic folding tables, blue plastic chairs, and canopies spread out all across the ballfields. All of these items were placed with decent space between them to allow families and friends the ability to converse somewhat independently.

On the side of the field closest to the facility buildings, a buffet line and serving area was set up. Clayton’s family couldn’t help but laugh after noting the buffet line was divided by crime scene tape. Perhaps displayed as one of the most serious buffet lines of all time, it definitely made you think twice about crossing sides.

Before participating inmates were released, a group of inmates dressed in all white entered the area and began setting up to serve food. This is the first time Clayton’s family got a chance to see the standard kitchen worker uniform. Inmates are sometimes assigned a different set of clothing in a different color when they’re working on jobs throughout the facility. Clayton himself had prepared some of the food that they were setting out, as he had started working in the kitchen shortly before the event took place.

Towards home plate in the ballfields, there was a stage set up which could hold: at least a half a dozen men, a variety of instruments, and an ornate wooden sign that displayed the name of the facility. There was also a small sound booth attached a small distance away, with an inmate who appeared to be the one assigned to run it.

A large drop cloth was set up over the fence for inmates to be able to stand in front of and have their photo taken with family members, and a couple of beanbag toss games were set up in the yard. Clayton’s wife quickly noted that there was an asphalt footpath surrounding the entire ballfield. Upon seeing it, she realized that this is the very field the SMU inmates were first taken into when they were finally granted outdoor recreation this winter. Now surrounded by trees, and filled in with green grass, it was hard to imagine what it must’ve been like running around the plowed track with a few feet of snow piled up on either side of you.

Being back in the ballfield gives a unique viewpoint of the facility itself that most visitors would never get to see. The recreation yard sits between two rows of large buildings. On one side, the buildings are all lined up together with different colored stripes on their doors and different letters corresponding to each of the housing units. On the other side are the buildings used for: visitation, the SMU, and facilities like the kitchen and dining halls. Smaller cubes jut out of the top of the housing units, with windows on all sides. Clayton has explained previously that these are the only windows visible from inside the mods; which is why inmates cannot actually see the outdoors unless they leave the units they live in.


Not all inmates were allowed to participate in the Summer Festival. There are very strict qualifications an inmate has to meet, and they have to apply for participation in advance. You could not participate if you’d had any write-ups for misbehavior within a certain period of time before the event. You had to be actively participating in programming, or actively employed, within that period as well.

Clayton had been worried about this requirement because they had just been transferred out of the SMU and into new housing very close to the deadline. While working in the SMU, there were not many jobs available, so he had not pushed too hard to get into one. They also were not considered to be in programming anymore, because the classes he had participated in were no longer available in his new mod. Ultimately, he submitted his application, managed to get a position working in the kitchen very quickly, and was approved to participate in the event.

One additional nice thing about the Summer Festival was that inmates did not have to have approved visitors to be able to participate. This meant that some individuals who never have personal visitors were still able to come out, enjoy the sunshine, and socialize during the event. Those who did have visitors, had to specify in advance which one or two visitors would be participating in the event, and get approval for those individuals in advance that was specific to the event. However, no children were allowed to participate.  All visitors that could be approved had to be over the age of 18.  For this special opportunity, Clayton chose his wife and his mother-in-law to spend the day with him.

Warm Yet Brief Greetings

Eventually, after all of the visitors had arrived, and all of the kitchen workers had begun their set-up for serving lunch, the inmates were released into the ballfield. It was later reported that more than 600 people participated in the event total, which we believe is the most participants they’ve ever had in a given year. There was a lot of hustle and bustle of activity, and a lot of COs mingling throughout the crowds, but the excitement in the air was palpable.

Clayton had been talking about his excitement over the event for weeks. The opportunity to be outside of the visitation room with his family members would be a unique treat. More than anything, the type of interaction would be amazing. In standard contact visits, Clayton spends the majority of the visit on one side of the table, with his family on the other side, and an actual plastic partition between them. While the contact visit itself is for an hour long, Inmates are actually not allowed more than roughly 8 seconds of physical contact during that period.

Clayton talked a lot about the fact that he had been dreaming about holding his wife’s hand. This is something that he is never normally allowed to do. When talking to one of the staff members at the facility about it, one of them had become teary-eyed over his level of excitement at such a basic human interaction. After searching their way through the crowd, Clayton’s family located him fairly simply. They were able to give him warm, heartfelt hugs, and Clayton was visibly buzzing with excitement. However, after a few minutes of holding his wife’s hand while sitting at the table, a CO quickly admonished them that handholding would not be permitted even on the special day. They were supposed to spend the entire four hour period of time without any more additional physical contact than they would have if they were confined to the tiny visitation room.

The rule was unnecessarily restrictive, and painfully disappointing, but Clayton and his family quickly shook off the effect as much as they could and focused on enjoying the unique opportunity. Sitting next to each other at the table, introducing other inmates he often socialized with to his family, and sharing a meal gave Clayton the brief sensation of being in an almost “normal” life. He and some of the other inmates commented that it almost allowed them to forget where they were for a moment, and that feeling alone made all of the hoops they had to jump through to participate worth it.

A Meal Together

Food was served right as the event got underway. There was a huge quantity of it, and it was good quality. They had options of hamburgers, hot dogs, baked salmon and pulled pork. There were sides like pasta salad, corn, and fried bread. The inmates dressed in their kitchen worker uniforms wore big smiles and were generally very enthusiastic about what they offered. It was almost difficult to say no to anything in the face of such excitement, and many visitors and inmates alike left the line with plates piled high with food.

A few of the inmates Clayton has come to know very well over the last couple of years were participating, but did not have any visitors who came to see them specifically. Clayton and his family invited them over to share their table and their meal together. It was obvious that some of them were very nervous about this, and seemed to be worried about intruding on Clayton’s time. However, his family tried to encourage them that this was a unique opportunity for them to actually meet some of the people that Clayton talked about so much during his daily visits. The conversation was light and fun, with lots of discussion about what people were doing with their time while they were still in the facility, or what they planned to do when they finally get to go home.

Inmate Performances & Opportunities

Throughout the meal, and the entire four-hour visitation, there were various performances going on up at the stage. The inmates performed a color guard early on. There were numerous musical performances, and even dance routines performed by inmates who had been practicing for weeks. Many of the men talked about their faith before or during performances.  In the middle of one of the performances, Clayton burst into laughter. The rap/hip-hop song that was being performed, included a man who worked with Clay in the kitchen. He had seen the guy busting out various rap lyrics and dancing around the kitchen on multiple occasions in recent days, but had never understood that the man was rehearsing for the upcoming event.

It now made perfect sense in context. 

“He’s actually really good with music,” Clay said. 

After finishing their meal, Clayton and his family took the opportunity to get a couple of pictures for the day. The picture that appears at the top of this blog post is one of those pictures. Inmates had been encouraged to get approval for these photos in advance of the event, but forms were still available on-site for them to fill out if they had not been able to take that opportunity. Clayton had to wait for a couple of weeks after the event was over for the pictures to be delivered.  Then he had to mail them out to family for us to make copies and mail him a copy back. This was a huge blessing after such a long SMU experience. For whatever reason, photos that were taken for SMU inmates during their long period of confinement never seemed to make their way back to the inmates themselves, even though the payments were usually deducted from their accounts anyway.  GP inmates do not appear to have the same difficulty.

Clayton and his family also took advantage of every rare opportunity they could think of. They played a few games of beanbag toss, despite none of them being terribly good at it. Clayton won by a landslide, and at some point his wife was so excited that she’d actually managed to get one of the beanbags where it was supposed to go that she leapt up on the balls of her feet with a shout. A nearby elderly inmate, who she hadn’t realized had been watching, started to laugh and clap not at the game, but at her somewhat girlish display.  They also took time to walk around the track and talk, and then laid in the grass to talk some more.

That was by far Clayton’s wife’s happiest few moments in years. Lying in the grass and talking was something she and her husband used to do in happier times. With her mother’s feet strategically placed between them to keep the COs at bay, they could lie there and look up at the sky and pretend for at least a few minutes that they were somewhere else. Soon the guards would call out the end of the visit, and visitors would have to board the buses once again while the inmates waited for hours to be processed back inside, but in these moments none of that mattered.

It was a priceless, irreplaceable day.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Shell Game

Monday, June 5, 2017

Shortly after the men in Goose Creek Correctional Center’s (GCCC) Special Management Unit (SMU) gained access to the outdoors for occasional recreation, a new announcement was posted in the protective custody (PC) mod.  The announcement claimed that one of the other mods, or housing units,  in the facility had a large number of beds open, and inmates from the SMU were being encouraged to sign up for transfer.  The mod had special programming, and inmates were advised that it would be ‘safe’ because even though it was run like a general population (GP) mod, it had much stricter requirements for inmates to be eligible for placement there. 

Clayton agonized over the decision.  However, things had been so bad in the SMU for so long, that even the recent victory of outdoor recreation fell short of the relief the transfer seemed to promise.  After applying, the Parole Officer (PO) who interviewed Clayton claimed he was an ideal candidate, and after that point, all he could talk about in his daily visits and phone calls was his hope for transfer. 

There was a strange lull in the following weeks defined mostly by a lack of information.  Inmates who had applied were not informed of who had been accepted and who would be denied.  They also were not told when the transfer would be happening.  Guards seemed to have expectations of transfer, but then the transfer wouldn’t come and inmates were left wondering.  Then finally, at visitation one night, Clayton informed his family that he had received word just an hour before that he and several other inmates would be transferring first thing in the morning. 


After arriving in the new mod, Clayton and the other SMU transfers were in a bit of shock.  They had previously been informed that this mod they were transferring into had additional programming and requirements that made it a different kind of environment than standard GP mods.  However, after arriving one of the guards commented to Clayton that, “Oh no.  It’s just like all the other GP mods now.  They just changed it recently.”

Clayton was also informed that the day after their transfer, there had been an announcement in the SMU that all remaining inmates were going to be transitioned out to other mods over time, and the SMU itself was being emptied out and repurposed.  For what purpose, no one knew. 

Clayton suddenly found himself in GP. 

He and his family felt tricked and vulnerable after the misinformation, but prayed that God would protect Clayton in the new environment.  He and the other transfers took comfort in their movement as a group, and the fact that the mod they were now in had a high percentage of previously PC inmates.  There were still inmates here who were obviously outright hostile against PC folks, but they didn’t have the full force of power they would have in some of the other mods. 

Over the next couple of months, it became apparent that GCCC was following through with its plans to empty out the SMU.  Groups of new transfers would periodically appear in Clayton’s new mod, and the new recreation schedule had them outside at the same time as the other mods SMU folks were being moved into.  This meant, Clayton could get word about what else was going on in his former mod, and with the inmates he had come to know so well.  That information, however, often came in bits and pieces.  The letter Clayton’s wife received from the State of Alaska Ombudsman was the first real confirmation of the bigger picture taking place at the facility. 

Freedom of Movement

In the new mod, Clayton found the amount of options he had for everyday choices were staggering. All but a few months of the last two years he’d spent at GCCC had been spent in administrative-segregation-like conditions. He suddenly had access to almost all of the items he purchased through commissary; much of which he’d been forced to distribute already to family, and could not get back without repurchasing. Instead of spending a few precious hours a day out of his 8’ x 10’ cell, he could now spend nearly the entire day out in the common area. He had access to a staggering amount of programming and vocational classes that were never accessible to the PC population. There was a library instead of a book cart, and the option to go to medical instead of begging for them to come to you.

Clayton was surprised at how exhausted he became just walking back and forth to different destinations. Even the exercise he attempted to require himself to maintain in the small space of his cell, and the brief periods he spent in the indoor gym, had not maintained the muscle strength for walking even moderate distances. In this new environment, he had to walk to the dining hall for meals instead of having them brought to him. He was allowed in the outdoor yard for recreation. Even visitation now required walking to an entirely different building.

In making this transition, Clayton and some of the other previously-PC inmates soon found that movement around the facility was disturbingly easy. The first day Clayton was called for visitation, he stood at the guard’s podium waiting for an escort until the guard looked at him and said, “What are you waiting for? You have a visit.”

“I can just go?” Clayton asked a bit stunned. He had never gone to visitation without an escort.

However, he and some of the other inmates soon learned that moving around by yourself could become dangerous quickly. Even though inmates told the guards they were leaving a mod for a specific purpose, there was not close monitoring to ensure that’s where they actually went. Some of the inmates that folks from the SMU had needed protection from now knew where they had been transferred to, and were abusing this freedom as a means of accessing and injuring them. Clayton had already heard of one inmate being jumped by someone in the yard, when that person was from a mod that shouldn’t have even been in the yard. Then Clayton witnessed it himself when someone he knew from the SMU was jumped in the gym by six men who, again, shouldn’t have been there. The previously SMU inmates within his mod quickly resolved not to travel alone whenever possible.

The Prison’s Response

To their credit, GCCC began making changes fairly quickly after that. Inmates are still not monitored terribly closely as they move from place to place, however, they have begun making it more difficult for inmates to get back into their own mods without raising question of why they had been out in the first place. It is now more obvious when inmates are accessing areas like the yard, the gym, and other common areas during times when they are not scheduled to be out in those areas. Clayton has not heard any rumors of additional incidents since the changes were implemented.


The Change that Clayton look forward to the most with the transfer was a new level of access to visitation. For more than a year and a half, he had been limited to one contact visit a week and six nights a week of video visitation. Realistically, this boils down to eight seconds of physical contact per week, because GCCC does not allow actual physical contact throughout most of a contact visit. In this new environment, Clayton could now access contact visitation six days a week with one day a week not eligible for visitation in any form.

Visitation is one of the areas, however, where he frequently runs into a complete mixed bag of inmates from other mods. In less than a few weeks, one of the situations he worried about the most became a reality. One of the inmates who had threatened him after his initial arrival at GCCC was standing at the door waiting for a visit as well. Clayton hoped the man would not recognize him, but instead the man walked straight up to him and called him out by name. Clayton was stunned by the words of followed. The man actually apologized for his earlier behavior, and told Clayton he had “no hard feelings.”  They agreed that what was in the past was over and done. Clayton has no idea what caused the man’s change of heart, but it gave him hope for finding real success in his new location, and he thanks God for his continued protection and favor.

Learning the Ropes Again

All of these changes meant an infinite number of new things Clayton had to learn. It was a little overwhelming at first, but brought Clayton and the others a fresh sense of hope. With summer just beginning, and the promise of some special events on the horizon, Clayton set out to learn what he needed as quickly as he could. He planned to take advantage of every opportunity afforded him, and not spend any more days sitting around with nothing to do but wait.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

SMU Inmates Finally See Improvement

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Achieving victory for constitutional rights against a state agency feels a lot like suddenly realizing that you actually managed to wrestle a 500 pound gorilla into submission.  There is this distinct pause, where you’re not sure whether it’s safe to let go and accept that victory, or whether he’ll flip you onto your back and squash you.  Eventually, it sinks in that you really did win.  Now you have to figure out what on Earth is next, since it never seemed like you’d really get here. 

For this blog, we’ve been hovering in that pause for a while, unsure of whether it was safe for us to provide updates without jeopardizing the inmates involved.  However, we’ve recently received word that makes us fairly certain it is safe to begin providing those updates again.  Check out the letter to Clayton’s wife from the office of the State of Alaska Ombudsman.  In the letter, they make it clear that they too are, “relieved that the SMU [at Goose Creek Correctional Center] is no longer being managed as a giant segregation unit.” 

What brought us to this point?

Those of you who have been following our blog for some time are familiar with the battle we’ve been engaged in.  On September 16, 2015, the administration at GCCC lashed out in what we believe to be retaliation against inmates who were cooperating with the Governor’s investigation into DOC.  GCCC disbanded the housing unit (Mod) that these protective custody (PC) inmates were being held in, which afforded them a somewhat similar quality of life to the general population (GP).  They were thrown into the Special Management Unit (SMU) at the facility, and into conditions initially equivalent to solitary confinement, with no foreseeable release into better conditions in the future. 

Over the next year and a half, Clayton and another inmate became advocates for inmates in the SMU in an experimental program which allowed them to discuss their needs with staff more directly.  Conditions began to improve in tiny increments through incredible effort, but some of their basic constitutional rights were still being violated by conditions they were told would never change.  Clayton’s family took the wheel in spreading word about the violation of these rights as far and wide as they could.  The conditions were covered on public radio.  Case law clearly outlining the constitutional violation was provided to the ACLU, the Ombudsman’s office, and statewide DOC itself.  Yet, months continued to pass with no relief as family and friends watched Clayton and the other inmates suffer and deteriorate. 

On February 1, 2017, Clayton’s wife sent out a call for help to all his supporters on Facebook.  The post explained:

“Without time for a longer blog entry, Clayton could use some prayer support.  He has been showing signs of more difficulty for the last few weeks, but vocalized it yesterday during visitation when he explained, “It’s like a combination of claustrophobia and intense boredom.  Even when I am out in the big room, the walls are too close.  I eat, sleep, call CJ, go to visitation, and exercise at night.  Nothing changes, and I just sleep most of the time.”  Clayton explained that he has things he could do to occupy his time, but is losing all motivation to do them.  He has almost entirely stopped writing letters, which he feels intensely guilty about, but cannot seem to manage to do anymore.  He said, “I try to write something, and then when I re-read it I realize, this is just going to make them cry.  So, I just throw it away instead.”  … I cannot imagine what it must be like for the other inmates who do not have the support Clayton does.  Despite the reality of time and seasons we experience, Clayton has not seen snow since his trial in 2015.”
Many people responded to the news with prayer, and words of encouragement.  Then, miraculously, on February 3rd Clayton called to inform everyone that a poster had been placed in the SMU allowing a small amount of OUTDOOR recreation time for SMU inmates each week.  That time outside was a week away, but for inmates who had been waiting for nearly a year and a half for the chance to stand outside, it felt as if it was a mere blink away.  You can access the earlier February 12 blog post for more details on how that initial outdoor experience went for the inmates. 

Weeks after the inmates finally had access to the outdoors, Clayton’s wife, CJ, attended town hall meetings in Palmer and Wasilla which were designed to provide information to Mat-Su residents about the changes occurring in Alaska’s justice system due to SB 91.  This was just another part of the activism she does regularly in the state.  At the Wasilla meeting, she was shocked by the venomous nature of the public testimony.  Attendees refused to allow panelists to present their information before literally just calling out and shouting opinions from their chairs.  Many residents were upset about the rash of thefts which had been occurring in Wasilla, and were speaking as if inmates were somehow not being punished at all through the current judicial system. 

There were shouts of, “Make them all wear pink underwear!” and “Put a wall between them and anyone who wants to see them!  That’ll solve your drug problem!” and “Why do they get to have visits anyway?!”

Finally, CJ had enough. 

Throwing her own voice into the fray, she asked to speak as an individual who actually had a loved one in prison.  Addressing the group, instead of the panel, she explained that indeed, DOC DID make the inmates wear pink and purple underwear.  Inmates already faced intense difficulty accessing loved ones. Alaska is experiencing an opioid crisis, and the addiction problem so many people were referring to like it was a “personal problem” was in fact, usually exacerbated if not induced by isolation, hopelessness, and exposure to other inmates in DOC; something all of their recommendations would only make worse.  Eighty percent of these inmates, or more, would eventually be released out into their neighborhoods and their streets after serving their time.  She asked the crowd if they specifically wanted to make these individuals mentally unstable before that release, because there were numerous ones like her husband at GCCC already being held in conditions known to cause mental illness.  The crowd grew quiet, and continued their dialogue with much less venom. 

Then, before the next town hall meeting in Palmer, current DOC Commissioner Dean Williams took a brief moment to speak with CJ. 

“I want you to know that I am aware of the conditions your husband and those other men are being held in, and I’m not happy about it,” Williams said.  “I am working on it, but there’s a lot involved at DOC and it’s going to take me a little more time.”

William’s words seemed to indicate his support in the tiny victory they’d achieved in gaining access to the outdoors for the men in the SMU.  CJ tried to encourage Clayton to have hope for even better conditions in the future. 

The events that continued to progress after that were confusing, but encouraging.  We waited to update the blog until we felt like the SMU inmates were in a much safer environment, and until it seemed like we could see some kind of comprehensive picture forming from the random puzzle pieces.  Now, we finally understand that picture. 

Clayton No Longer In the SMU

The next series of posts will attempt to summarize the new conditions Clayton has been moved into at GCCC.  In short, nearly all of the inmates once housed in the SMU have been moved into other locations like a giant shell game.  Clayton went from almost no options for daily activity, to an overload of options and space.  He is very excited and his mental and physical health are improving daily.  We cannot thank you all enough for your prayers and support through the many months of torment.  Clayton can finally stand in the sunlight, and is loving every moment of it. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Feb 12 - Like Night and Day

Clayton, and the other inmates locked within the walls of Goose Creek Correctional Center’s (GCCC) Special Management Unit (SMU), have waited for more than a year and five months for their first opportunity to stand outdoors since September 16, 2017.  They have been waiting more than a week since the announcement that they would finally be given that opportunity on Saturday, February 11, 2017.  Despite the fact that, according to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, denial of outdoor recreation is a violation of the constitutional right to not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, it has taken that long for administrators in GCCC to acknowledge those rights and act upon them.  Even the new schedule they are providing, does not afforded prisoners the standard minimum time provided across the U.S. of one hour per day, or seven hours per week.  They are instead offering four hours per week; however, the inmates are thankful for any time at all after what they have endured.  

To be clear, when the inmates were moved into the SMU, they were moved into a building attached to the visitation area.  This means that unlike those in the other housing mods, the lucky few SMU inmates who would normally have to walk across the outdoor recreation yard for contact visitation opportunities, instead walk through interior hallways.  The inmates in that unit are literally never outdoors unless they have been moved back and forth to court, in and out of other housing mods, or had other rare circumstances.  Clayton had one of these rare experiences on July 3, 2016, when he was transported to and from his mother’s funeral.  At that time, the experience had been overwhelming.  

Saturday Morning, February 11, 2017

On the morning of February 11th, the long-awaited moment finally arrived.  The new scheduled opportunities for outdoor recreation come on Saturday mornings and evenings, Sunday mornings, and Monday evenings.  The opportunities are scheduled so early in the morning, and so late at night, that inmates will not see the sun or feel it on their skin until the spring and summer months, but the experience is not just about the sunshine.  It’s about the basic experience of being outdoors.  

Clayton and the other inmates had been talking about the upcoming experience for days, completely unsure of what to expect.  Inmates had talked about everything from running in the snow, to building snowmen, to rolling around in it; however they were advised right away that snowballs are not allowed.  Making a snowball can actually be an offense worthy of a write-up because it could be considered a weapon.  

Clayton’s family and friends had spent the week praying for coats and hats, after some early confusion among the guard staff had seemed to indicate they might not be provided.  Thankfully, when Clayton lined up to participate that cold Saturday morning, there were large bins of coats and hats being handed out at the beginning, which were then collected after recreation was over.  

Truthfully, “coat” is an overly generous term.  In the photo at the top of this page, you can see the shirt Clayton is wearing.  The shirts and pants provided by the prison are made of a rough, single-layered material which is dyed yellow (for general population), orange (for protective custody), or red (for segregation) to indicate the inmate’s status.  The “coats” are a long-sleeved versions of this same material which zips up in front.  It has been a point of argument between SMU inmates and the GCCC administration since they were first placed in the SMU that they are not provided with coats as everyone in the general population is.  It seems that they have elected to use some of the yellow coats for these outdoor recreation experiences, as it is the same protection afforded to GP inmates.  

Clayton was very excited that first morning as he lined up with the 30-40 men who chose to participate at the early hour that morning.  He has a long-sleeved thermal top which he was able to obtain from his property months ago, and put it beneath his shirt for extra warmth.  Despite the fact that he already owns thermal bottoms, and that they are available for purchase through the commissary, he has been unable to get the prison to release them back into his possession from when they were originally seized and placed in his property in 2015.  Therefore, he had to go without for now.  He added an extra layer of socks to his feet beneath his tennis shoes, and a pair of socks for his hands.  Some inmates wore a towel to protect their neck and face, although Clayton did not.  

Inmates were also allowed to bring out their MP3 players, and cups of hot liquid like coffee or tea, with them.  The music players give them something to listen to while exercising and keeping their body temperature up.  The hot liquid serves the same purpose.  Two weeks ago, without knowing this opportunity would be coming up, Clayton had been inspired to buy hot chocolate from the commissary which arrived this same day.  That fact, in combination with the large beard Clayton has been growing in recent months led many of the inmates to tease him that he must have foreseen the opportunity finally arriving.  Clayton acknowledged that the beard is a big help.    

“They kept asking me, ‘How did you know?!’” Clayton laughed.  

When they stepped outside, the experience was overwhelming for many.  They were able to see snow, trees in the distance, the moon, and even a few stars beneath the glow of the overhead lights.  

“It was like shock and awe, you first few steps out the door,” he explained.  

He said that a strange aspect of the experience was the feel of the air on their faces.  They have spent more than a year in a strictly temperature-controlled environment.  In recent weeks Clayton had described the growing sense of claustrophobia, saying the walls felt too close even when out in the main room.  The simple temperature change of the outside air hitting their face was a big deal for many.  

“We were like, oh man.  Don’t cry.  The tears are freezing to our faces,” he laughed.  

Several of them ended up jammed up around the door just outside the building before the guards prompted them to keep moving to where their recreation would actually take place.  Instead of using the outdoor yard where most inmates have recreation, they were marched out to the outer ballfields.  A square of walkway had been plowed around the outside with many, many inches of snow piled up along the sides.  It was wide enough for two men to walk side-by-side during their time out.  

“I finally understand how much snow you were talking about,” Clayton said with excitement.  “I had to resist the urge to roll around in it like a dog.  I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I just walked past it admiringly.”  

Clayton laughed and explained that the song Do You Want to Build A Snowman from the movie Frozen was very popular that morning among the MP3 players.  Keeping constant movement was important, to keep their blood flowing. Clayton said many of the men were freezing various extremities off, but loving every minute of it.  His own legs got severely cold, and he plans to buy thermal bottoms again immediately since he can’t get access to the ones he already owns.  It will take two weeks for them to arrive.  

He noted with excitement that a special commissary opportunity will be coming up soon.  In past opportunities, they have had the option to purchase yarn and crochet hooks from that rare list, as well as other clothing you cannot buy on regular commissary.  One older man who took advantage of the yarn months ago, and who learned how to crochet without any assistance through pure trial and error, has crocheted his own gloves, socks, and hat.  He previously was using them to endure the cold in the SMU’s private indoor gym.  

Clayton said running outdoors was a big difference as well.  He had given up on running in their indoor gym when water trickling inside from melting drifted snow had caused him to slip and injure his foot.  Running outside in the arctic air had been a serious exercise experience, although he is taking his inhaler in advance to try to protect his lungs.  

“Even in our little gym here we can’t really run like that,” Clayton explained, “I’m gonna go march around some more tonight.”

Saturday Night, February, 11, 2017

The next day, Clayton’s family was shocked to learn that outdoor recreation Saturday night had been a completely different experience.  It is common at GCCC to experience entirely different types of rules and treatment depending on the shift of guards on duty at any given time, and the experience of outdoor recreation proved to be no different.  A new shift had come on mid-day, and the abusive treatment the inmates received was unbelievable.  

Clayton had been in visitation with family, describing his excitement about that morning, right up until the announcement was made to assemble.  Many, many more men participated that evening as the typical SMU schedule keeps them up late and they are hesitant to rise early for anything.  Before the men were even escorted from the mod, however, an entirely new set of restrictions were announced.  

Inmates would not be allowed to bring their MP3 players with them, or cups of warm liquid.  The guards were threatening to take away inmates thermals and personal t-shirts if they tried to wear them outside, prompting the majority of men to run back to their cells and remove the extra protection.  Clayton wore his anyway, afraid of being subjected to that kind of cold again without the extra warmth on his core.  He said less than a dozen men wore their thermals out that night, due to the threats, despite many more owning them.  

“That’s personal property,” Clayton explained with frustration.  “Why would you take that from someone going out into the cold?”

It is important to note that the contrast cannot be explained by leniency from the early morning shift.  In fact, when asked, the staff at GCCC confirmed that warm drinks, thermals, and MP3 players were all standard items allowed to any inmates participating in outdoor recreation if they owned them.  The inmates in the SMU already knew this, because some of them had recently come to the SMU after living in the general population mods.  Many were shocked and outraged that they would now be treated differently just because they were in the SMU.  

When the inmates lined up to go out for outdoor recreation, they were counted before leaving SMU.  Then they were counted again before going outside, and then marched to the ball fields as they had been that morning.  Yet, despite having been counted twice, less than 20 minutes before, the inmates were stopped outside and forced to stand still for an extended period to be counted yet again.  Fortunately, the outside temperature had warmed up enough that it was snowing slightly, but these are men who have been indoors for more than a year and are adapting to arctic temperatures.  

There were more guards assigned to them on that shift, and the atmosphere was very intense and intimidating.  There seemed to be enough guards assigned to stop all the men and check to see if people brought out any of the newly-prohibited items.  Strangely, despite the threats about thermal wear, no one was stopped for wearing them or had them taken away.  However, many of the men had stuffed a towel around their shoulders, trying to have added protection of some kind, and guards were taking towels from any men who had brought them and throwing them into a large pile on the ground.  The towels sat in a big frozen pile on the ground the next morning.  

It is important to note that if you choose to participate in outdoor recreation, you do not have the option to go back inside if you become too cold.  If you go out at all, you are outside for the full hour.  One man who was struggling with his ears being too cold, pulled up his shirt to cover the back of his neck and ears from beneath his coat.  The guards stopped him and literally took the shirt off his back, and left him that way with only the thin outer coat.  The inmates could not believe that particular turn of events.  The obvious cruelty aside, an inmate can be written up for not wearing his color-coded shirt at all times, and they were literally forcing him into that prohibited behavior.  

Inmates attempted to argue against the cruelty, citing statewide and GCCC policies.  Some of the guards responded with the all-too-familiar excuse of “security reasons,” others with the equally-familiar excuse that AS-5 (protective custody) inmates do not have to be afforded standard treatment.  At least one seemed to feel compelled to explain that they were all acting under orders, and had to do as they were instructed.  

“It had a bullying feel to it,” Clayton explained in obvious frustration.  “The rules didn’t make sense and people knew it.  We were getting picked on because of who we are.  You’re sub-human.  We can take the clothes off your body.”

Once back inside, men began filing tons of paperwork complaining about the treatment, but it is unclear whether any intervention will take place at all; especially before the next time for outdoor recreation on this particular shift on Monday night.  Many of the inmates fear that the intimidation and cruelty were meant to discourage inmates from participating in outdoor recreation after families on the outside fought so hard to demand the constitutional right.  They are afraid that they will use decreased participation to justify taking away that right once again.  

“We’re all hoping it warms up soon, so we can get more people out there,” he explained.  

Despite the events, Clayton said he and many of the others were determined to enjoy themselves all the more.  For many of them, this was their first time out after missing the morning opportunity.  

“Even with all the stupidness, people had a blast honey,” he explained to his wife with a sigh and a smile.  

He described in detail a man crawling through the deep snow on his hands and knees, with only his head visible above the fluffy snow.  People were jumping in and out of the snow, goofing off, and leaving giant leg holes behind.  He said the moon was beautiful, and they could see very fine snow drifting down onto them while lit-up from the overhead lights.  People were running and walking around the track as much as they were allowed.  Clayton exchanged memories of his previous experiences with hypothermia with other inmates as they walked.  

He was looking forward to the next opportunity for outdoor recreation the next morning, to see how much things would have changed.  

Sunday Morning, February 12, 2017

The next morning was very, VERY cold.  The guards advised the inmates before making the choice to go out that it was -8 degrees outside.  In these colder temperatures, GP inmates are offered an indoor heated gym as an alternative, but the SMU inmates have only ever been afforded their own indoor gym which maintains the same temperature as the outdoors.  After last night’s experience, the colder temperature, and the early hour, only eight people participated, but Clayton was proudly among them.  

The rules seemed to be back to how they had been the morning before.  The guards had no problem with inmates bringing their MP3 players and radios, thermals, and cups of hot liquid out.  Clayton’s cup of boiling hot tea eventually froze during his walk, but he poked a hole back through the ice on top.  The morning shift guard explained, after he passed the frozen pile of their confiscated towels, that the towels could not be allowed because of the security risk of their faces being covered as a prelude to escape.  He was even more thankful for the beard, as it grew icicles on the front of his face.  

“You could feel it in your lungs this morning,” he explained as he described the outside air.  

He said he liked his walk this morning, and the sun was coming up enough that it wasn’t quite as dark outside as it had been the night before.  

That morning he also decided to try wearing personal knee braces on both legs to see if they would afford any extra protection for his legs.  When he came back inside, Clayton said the knee braces did make a surprising amount of difference.  The skin beneath the braces was a normal skin tone, where above and below them were a bright lobster-red color.     

He noted that his cheeks were wind-burned, but he didn’t think they’d have a risk for actual frostbite as long as they weren’t stuck outside for more than an hour.  

“If it had been windy, we would have been in trouble,” he acknowledged.  

Clayton’s family and friends can only hope and pray that the night shift is educated quickly about the inappropriate nature of the abusive treatment they forced on the inmates Saturday night, and that it is not repeated again in the future.