I’ve spent so much of the last two columns denouncing the prison administration for its assorted violations of U.S. law and English grammar that I’ve barely said anything about what it’s like to live in prison. It’s really not too bad. Doing time is hardest on those with children, while I myself am putting off having kids until such time as I’ve acquired a fortified compound on which to train them. Certainly I miss some of my old friends from time to time, but, frankly, over the last couple of years I’ve gradually replaced them with far more interesting convict friends.
Each morning I get up around dawn-ish in the alcove I share with 11 other inmates, including an El Salvadoran people smuggler, a couple of Mexican gang members, a former Army major who held Top Secret clearance and whom I occasionally spy on for old time’s sake, and a guy called Outlaw. Upon awakening, I go into the day room to make a cup of freeze-dried coffee and take a quick look at what stories the cable news networks are covering and how they’re screwing them up so that I’ll have something to be enraged about until I can find an old copy of TIME. I’ve noticed that the big three are still blatantly misusing the bright red “Breaking News” banner for things like “Jury still in deliberation,” and that the producers at Fox News in particular will load out their whole dramatic three-second CGI “BREAKING NEWS” animation, complete with enigmatic cyber-gong sound file, before cutting to Lindsay Graham giving a speech in Delaware. I don’t really mind Fox on ideological grounds, as a nation with this many prisons and military bases clearly merits at least one openly fascist news network, but I do object to the shamelessness with which it insists on coarsening the culture. For half a century, there was an unspoken agreement among the nation’s broadcasters to refrain from giving public affairs programs to anyone with a significant amount of Irish blood. But when Fox News went on the air, it was immediately obvious that the executives had canvassed every riverfront bar in Hoboken in search of the loudest, most obnoxious Irish street brawlers they could find who were not already employed as cops, cleaned them up a bit, and given them prime-time weekdays slots and full creative control. As with so many other bad production habits, MSNBC and CNN felt the need to follow in News Corp’s footsteps, and now half the time you turn on the news, there’s some burly Gaelic bastard shouting out warnings about the fairy folk who steal naughty children before inexplicably collapsing into tears, followed by 15 minutes of drunken song and a demand for additional Benghazi hearings. Certainly this makes for good television; I’m just calling for some decency.
The day room is also home to the prison computers. Federal inmates have access to a limited suite of applications collectively known as TRULINKS, the centerpiece of which is an ersatz email messaging service, CORRLINKS. Although my own email access was taken away for a year after I tried to alert a journalist to certain instances of wrongdoing by BOP staff two months ago, I can still use the system to do other things, like checking to see how much money I have to pay this month to my “victim,” the criminal private espionage firm Stratfor. This is a very helpful service, as those who fail to make court-ordered restitution promptly each month are forced to live on a cot in the day room, a punishment referred to by guards as “going to TV Land.” There’s also an electronic bulletin board with awkwardly phrased announcements from staff about upcoming “Band Concerts” and classes being cancelled due to “Schedule conflictions.”
Best of all is the music download service with which we can buy songs for the cheap Chinese MP3 players sold at commissary. The selections, presumably the end result of some maze of low-end licensing deals coupled with Bureau of Prisons censorship policies that insist on “non-explicit” versions without always reaching this ideal in practice, is endlessly fascinating. For some reason, there are only four songs by The Pixies but over a hundred from Nightwish. They’ve got every single Type-O Negative track except for the only one that was actually any good, “Black #1.” Also on hand are some dozen or so Sonic Youth albums, which is pretty cool as I’ve been meaning to “get into” Sonic Youth for years but the time never felt right. And there’s quite a bit more New York Dolls and Atari Teenage Riot than I would have expected to find on the U.S. prison system’s music download service, plus even more unexpected things. A few months back, when a fight broke out at the Seagoville jail unit, I was able to put on my recently downloaded track of the “Battle Theme” from Final Fantasy IV, and it was just so awesome. Meanwhile, the only Guns N’ Roses studio album available is Chinese Democracy, but then one has to accept that prisons have a legitimate punishment function.
I’ll usually spend the remainder of the morning attending to my various journalism and agitation duties. These have been much curtailed with the loss of my email, but I still manage to hobble along. As noted last time, I’ve been working with a couple of other inmates to try to convince the American Correctional Association to end its unfortunate habit of accrediting this prison in spite of its repeatedly documented failures to meet a range of minimum national standards. This is actually more fun than it sounds; ahead of the ACA’s upcoming July inspection tour, my esteemed colleague Stylios Trachanas has sent the organization a letter pointing out several instances in which the standards are not being met, citing verifiably fraudulent claims made by the administration in the course of the 2012 inspection and noting for good measure that the unencumbered square footage per person allotted by those standards is less than that which federal regulations provide for primates in captivity — and we’re not even getting it. Meanwhile, I continue to wage my uphill campaign to get the Administrative Remedy office to at least log in the BP-9 grievance form on the matter of the suspended email that I turned in on April 30, as they’re supposed to have done on that very day, as per their own stated policies. Finally, I filed another grievance form on their failure to acknowledge my previous grievance form, which, naturally, they have also failed to acknowledge (I admit that this is actually kind of funny). But the seizing of my email has had the intended effect of disrupting my work; as Glenn Greenwald announced via Twitter shortly afterward, the move came just as we’d begun discussions over what articles I might write for The Intercept, a process that has now become more difficult. Presumably they’ll want a piece on corrupt practices within the prison system, IF ONLY I CAN MANAGE TO FIND SOME EXAMPLES.
At chow time, we file into the chow hall for chow (as someone who has always considered the term “chow” to be rather vulgar, I find the whole process highly upsetting). On weekdays, we file past some combination of prison administration officials who assemble at the front of the — the chow hall so as to make themselves available for questions or concerns from inmates. How often and to what extent such concerns are seriously addressed or acted upon may be guessed at by a close examination of the previous paragraph. I’m told that things were somewhat different under the previous warden, who would stand out there with a notepad, jotting down inmate complaints, and in the case of difficulties arising from the medical unit, would call the clinic from the wall-mounted phone right there in front of you, and problems would get solved. She retired a year and a half ago. The new guy, Rodney Chandler, was initially in the habit of showing up in some sort of tactical uniform. Not that I’m criticizing, as this is actually a very efficient way of letting everyone know that you’re a douchebag. Another frequent guest is the chaplain — who, a few weeks back, forbade a group of military veterans from watching a DVD of American Sniper in the chapel, as they’d arranged to do ahead of Memorial Day, because it’s rated R — as well as my latest antagonist, Terence Moore, the internal affairs D.C. liaison who shut off my email. Last time I asserted, more in sadness than in anger, that Mr. Moore sees fit to wear a stupid derby cap to work. Actually I can’t say with any certainty that it’s really a derby cap and not some other sort of hat, and, in general, I’ve gradually adopted a very lax attitude toward accuracy since first being locked up away from the internet, which I’d apparently come to rely on to check my facts. I’ve even caught myself telling outright lies to my fellow inmates, knowing that without the internet they have no way of checking up. Just the other day, someone pointed to Ted Cruz on the TV and asked me who it was, and I told him it was Emma Goldman. Another time, I claimed with a straight face that France was one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, although this actually turned out to be true. Anyway, I don’t know what kind of hat it is.
After getting my “chow,” I’ll sit down to eat with some of my gang member friends. They regale me with tales of huge meth deals and shootouts, and I tell them about the time when Thomas Friedman declared that the Chinese would never censor their people’s access to the internet. Most of my stories are really about Thomas Friedman.
In the afternoons, I’ll generally go outside and exercise for an hour or two and then spend the rest of the day jotting down notes pursuant to my mysterious long-term agenda and reading the books sent to me by supporters. I just finished Perdurabo, a surprisingly good biography of Aleister Crowley, by Richard Kaczynski, who himself has managed to compose some of the most wonderful and bizarre sentences to grace the language. On Crowley’s love interest, Rose, who had simultaneously accepted marriage proposals from two different single men while meanwhile pursuing a married one: “As if this scandal wasn’t enough, Rose convinced her parents to give her 40 pounds for an abortion when in fact she merely wanted dinner and some new clothes.” Crowley quite naturally marries this woman and names their daughter Nuit Ma Ahathoor Hecate Sappho Jezebel Lilith. But all is not well in this domestic paradise: “When Mathers failed to reply to receipt of the Book of the Law and a letter declaring that the Secret Chiefs had appointed Perdurabo as visible head of the order, Crowley assumed trouble was brewing.”
Lately, before going to bed, I’ll generally make a phone call to one of my subversive journalist friends like Alexa O’Brien to report the latest instances of staff retaliation. Last week, the corrupt Administrative Remedy Coordinator McKinney and his boon companion, Terence Moore, called me over in the cafeteria to ask why I was “staring” at them, after which point McKinney informed me that I had a “terrible demeanor” and suggested that I don’t belong in a low-security prison but rather a medium or high (which I actually agree with because it would make me seem more important). The next day, I put up on the hallway bulletin board a copy of my last column on the prison’s failure to meet ACA standards; a guard tore it down, and later a certain Lt. Johnson came by to ask me angry questions about why I had done such a thing. And I’ve already mentioned the presence of Chinese Democracy on the music server.
Recently I started praying before going to sleep. “Please, Lord,” I’ll whisper, “let Dennis Hastert be convicted and sent to this prison. Please put him in this cell. Let me live in this prison cell with a disgraced Dennis Hastert. I haven’t asked You for anything since I begged you to destroy John Edwards. Thanks for that, by the way. Just do me this one last favor and I won’t ask you for anything ever again until Jenna Bush’s second Senate term. Hail to thee, Lord Satan, Prince of Worms.”
Then I lie down and sleep the sleep of the just.
Quote of the Day
“Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism- which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place.” —Hunter S. Thompson
Editor’s note: Barrett Brown has been incarcerated since September 2012. Go here to read earlier installments of “The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail.” If you’d like to send him a book, here’s his Amazon wish list.
Barrett Brown #45047-177
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