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  • Writer's picturePrisoner X

#17 It’s Not Always About Gangs – Part II

My most recent encounter with the bizarre attitude of the Special Investigative Services (SIS), and their unthinking insistence that everything must be gang related, was last year. Of all things, it was over a hat.

In "open population" prisons, there are a plethora of jobs available. The federal prison Unicor factories, which produce everything from military clothing, to mailbags, to furniture, pay the best. (In the 1990's, I made wiring harnesses for helicopters, humvees and ambulances, as well as circuit boards for military communications gear.) Food Service is always a large part of any prison’s employment, with cooks, bakers and vegetable prep workers, as well as those who actually serve the food, and the dishwashers who clean up after meals. There is always a Central Maintenance Service, which is responsible for the endless rounds of repairs to the plumbing, heating and air-conditioning systems, as well as routine jobs, such as repainting. There is always work in Education, as librarians and tutors, there are lawns to be mown, floors to be mopped, laundry to be done, and more. In many prisons, there is not even a choice of having a job - a prisoner either works or goes to the hole.

While many of those jobs pay only $10 or $15 a month, that little is still better than nothing at all. It provides at least a bare minimum, for survival.

Such opportunities are not available to those in lockdown units, such as the Special Confinement Unit (SCU) in the federal prison in Terre Haute. With the exceptions of a few orderly jobs, to keep the unit clean, no one on death row has employment. Surprisingly enough, the prison sporadically does things to offset this lack. One way is through the Recreation Department. On holidays, they pass out puzzle packets. If a prisoner attempts to solve the puzzles, whether they do so correctly or not, they receive something in return. Once it was granola bars. Another time it was deodorant, toothpaste and shampoo. Yet another time it was colored pencils and an art pad.

At one point, Recreation was giving out crochet kits. The first time, the kits were for stuffed animals. Later, it was "watch cap" style hats. All the hats were the same, with the yarn provided being mostly black, with enough green for a stripe around the bottom. I did not make one for myself, but a neighbor made one for me, and I felt obligated to wear it a few times.

I was outside, in the recreation area, when the SIS officer arrived. He stared at me for a while, making it quite clear I was his point of focus, by placing himself directly in front of my cage. I never speak to anyone from SIS, and ignored him. After a few minutes, he became angry with my silence, and demanded loudly "So you are just going to fly your flag in the open now?"

"Flying your flag" is a gang reference, for wearing the colors that announce a person’s gang affiliation. Since the only color I had on was the green of my hat, which is the Aryan Brotherhood’s color, I did not deem that worthy of comment, and continued to ignore him. This seemed to offend his sensibilities, and sent him on a rant.

As he yelled about how much he knew, and accused me of being "patched up" (another gang reference, for having become a member of a gang), the regular unit officers approached him. They are well aware of the fact that I am not a gang member, and there is no gang activity at all in the SCU. They do not much care for SIS being in the unit, trying to stir up trouble where none exists, either. So they pointed out the other prisoners, wearing the same hat, with the same green stripe. They explained where the hats had come from, that there were over 50 of them around, and that it certainly did not mean that the entire unit (many of whom are Hispanic, African American, or Native American) has suddenly "patched up" with the Aryan Brotherhood.

His response was to declare "I'm not stupid. I know what is going on!" before stomping away angrily. Apparently, both of those assertions were false, because soon after, all my mail began to take an extra week to reach me, indicating I was under investigation. I remained so for the next 6 months. There is no way for me to know what conclusions were drawn from this investigation. (Prisoners are not allowed to know the results , unless they are charged with some sort of infraction.) But it is entirely possible I am yet again listed as gang member.

So, despite his claims to the contrary, SIS once again did not know what was going on, as is usual. But that is how things go, when they are trying to justify their existence, in a prison where their positions are superfluous.

I doubt they will ever learn the lesson that not everything has to do with a gang.


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#16 It’s Not Always About Gangs – Part I Next article: #18 It’s Not Always About Gangs – Part III


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