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.

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