Excerpts from Prisoner Zines

by Danielle Maestretti
March-April 2010 Online Exclusive
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In the March-April issue of Utne ReaderI took a brief tour of prisoner zines, which feature the writings of men and women behind bars. Lee Savage, one of the formerly incarcerated writers I spoke to, has graciously agreed to make her work available online, including writings from  Tenacious and from zines published by Anthony Rayson’s South Chicago ABC Zine Distro .

Jump to:

Only the Strong Resist ,” Savage’s feature-length report from the Closed Management Unit at Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution (Tenacious)

Savage’s suggestions for ways in which people on the outside can support female prisoners (Tenacious)

A tale of a small but significant victory over a mind-game-playing guard (Tenacious)

Dear Lowell CM Unit ,” a farewell letter to solitary confinement penned just before her release (Tenacious)

 


Only the Strong Resist 

a letter from Florida’s Closed Management Unit for Women

Here at Lowell Correctional (Corruptional) Institution, there is a split compound. No, that doesn’t adequately convey it. There is the original prison, Lowell Main Unit, which is a rather old set of freestanding open bay dormitories. The dormitories can be compared to the likes of military (army or marine) barracks with bunk beds taking up at least two-thirds of the living quarters. What this translates into is 80+ women being housed in one huge room, sleeping, showering, shitting and watching TV. There is no privacy, no real personal space for “time alone” unless you consider sitting on the toilet as privacy.

The majority of these women’s prison sentences are spent inside one of these decaying, rat- and roach-infested housing units. To add insult to injury and to make for a very punishing stay at this facility (Lowell Main Unit), there is no air conditioning in these one-room building/cages, so life is absolute hell for these women. Remember, this is Florida and our seasonal changes are virtually non-existent when compared to any northern states. So, for those women who are forced to slave-labor outside in the heat, there is no relief whatsoever when the workday is done and they return to cool off, rest and relax. In fact, the temperature inside the dorms on the “main” exceeds that of the outside, so the women walk from “the frying pan into the fire.” Imagine how this affects our elderly population.

The Main is located in the rural area of Ocala, as is the “norm” these days for prisons.[1] The “prisoncrats” sold the idea to these unsuspecting country folks that a prison amidst their farming and horseraising community would generate revenue and jobs for those declining farms and for the unemployed.[2] This is not the case; the majority of correctional workers and guards are not from Ocala but rather from other towns, cities and counties for they don’t wish to live in a “prison town.”[3] Lowell Main is situated between a pig and cow farm and across from the prison is a horse farm. There’s nothing in the world quite like waking up to the fresh aroma of cow and horse shit after sleeping in a dormitory that reeks of the human feces of 80+ women…Welcome to Lowell Main Unit.

As the numbers of incarcerated women in the U.S. has nearly doubled, increasing from 68,468 to 104,848 between 1995 to 2004, there became a “need” within Florida’s DOC to build a new facility.[4] The supposed increase in the magnitude of these women’s crimes, such as more women imprisoned for assault or murder (because Florida did not have self-defense laws against abusive spouses or foiled rapists who were served “street justice” from a woman being raped), there became a need for a higher custody facility. But it is my belief that the true numbers would show more women in prison for possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia that tested positive for drug residue.[5] This growing statistic in the war against drugs has caused the higher custody women to be displaced from their old facilities here in Florida.

Hence, the addition of Lowell s Annex six years ago.

The Annex has an armed guard tower (yes, guards with shotguns pacing the walkway) that oversees it population and 8 dormitories. The annex is divided from the main by three sets of electric fences spaced eight to ten feet apart, set atop and below with razor wire. The annex is at the foot of the rolling hills where the “main” is located and there is only one entrance and exit from the annex to the main: one gatekeeper with 3 sets of gates to pass through. Once prisoners enter the space between the first and second gate, they must wait until the gate behind them is secured, then the next electric gate is opened so that they may proceed, then the process of the gate locking and opening is repeated but at the last (in between gates 2 and 3) there is the guard station where each prisoner must give her full name, her DC number, housing unit, job assignment, custody level and show a valid pass for movement to or from the main unit. She also may be subject to a random pat search for contraband.

But the gates don’t stop there. Inside the annex, the dormitories are separated by gates which the guard tower must open. The “minor” medical facility is gated, the entire annex is sectioned off so that each dorm has its own mini-yard and canteen. The chow hall is occupied by only one dorm at a time. There is no mixing of prisoners from different dorms. In between these mini-yards is an asphalt walkway that divides them and circles the guard tower and more gates. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. There are no trees, no visual amenities to make the annex look less looming and desolate, just fences, razor wire, gates and the click click click of the gates unlocking and the noise of them slamming shut.

I do not have the “privilege” of being in “population” at the annex. I am housed in T-Dorm which is the lockdown unit with high security, more so than the others on the annex.[6] T-Dorm (Tango) is the 4-quadrant dorm with slide shut steel doors and yes, barred gates with locks. It is the CM SHU (Closed Management Special Housing Unit) but only 2 quads are CM prisoners. Quad 1 is Suicide Isolation (or the “Butt Naked Cells”), Quad 4 is the spillover of “DC” (or Disciplinary Confinement) and “AC” (or Administrative Confinement) from M-Dorm (Annex), and DC for main unit prisoners. Quad 2 is home to the only Death Row female at Lowell and also CM Level 1 housing. These women are handcuffed behind with a “black box,” tight waistchain, drop chain shackles for all movement. They are not allowed bunkies or roommates. One person per cell. If they are not DC status, they are allowed one phone call a month and can order five hygienes and five food items per week, that’s it. They also have access to reading material—three books from Lowell’s library, but only if the CM prisoner is not on DC status. If she is on DC, she is only allowed to read religious material.

Women who are CM1 are the most restricted of the 3 CM levels. The women on CM1 status are said by Chapter 33 to have committed extortion, murder or serious bodily injury to other prisoners or staff or are said to be known gang members with active affiliations or committed “free world crimes” while in prison. But the truth is that you can go to Level 1 for being a “mover and shaker” or having too much influence in General Population or if the guards simply don’ t like you. If you are not liked by the administration or the staff, the guards will “paper trail” you until you get so many write-ups that you are buried in the bowels of prison. CM is the prison within the prison within the prison of Lowell. There are now only 18 CM1 women in Florida. Lowell has the only CM unit for women. I am one such female held captive in this place of isolation and loneliness.

Quad 3 is where Levels 2 and 3 CMs are housed. Right now, there are 17 CM 3s and 14 CM 2s. This is the smallest number of CM women in the past year. There were 70 CMs total; now there are 49. So picture that ratio of CMs or each CM level individually compared to the total number of women in Florida prisons…We have roughly 2500 to 3000 women at Lowell, 700 at Homestead, 1000 or so at BCI and there are many other facilities: Gaston, Levy Forestry Work Camp, Hernando and 26 different work release centers. So it’s safe to say less than 1% of incarcerated women are in CM. Also, those who are of such custody are seriously marginalized and virtually non-existent to the outside world.

Within the last two to four months, the administration and head of Florida DOC have released 20 women without too many replacements.[7] 

The reason I was given by the administration for my placement on Level 3 in August 2007 was a prior history of CM placement. In 2003, I received my first write-up for a dirty urine, for testing positive for opiates. I had started using six weeks earlier while on interferon treatment and was so sick the doctors said I possibly would die. The interferon was killing me while it was trying to kill the Hep C virus. Interferon kills all cells in its path, like chemo but this is biotherapy.[8] The nurse at my original institution, Homestead, would monitor me after administering the Interferon, which I had to have every 48 hours. I would barely recover from the effects of the treatment and not feel so sick, but about 6 hours later, I’d have to go through the same pain again. He couldn’t stand to see me in pain and so sick, so he would bring me oxycotin. The other medical staff wouldn’t give me anything to ease my suffering except Tylenol and you can’t take Tylenol with a compromised liver and besides, Tylenol isn’t going to do shit for the pain of the interferon injections.[9] 

This write-up started a paper trail stating I had an inability to live and adjust to open population without disrupting the orderly running of the facility and was a security risk.  But the drugs were not the determining factor for CM placement. They never caught drugs or drug paraphernalia on me, but I tested positive for opiates when I had to submit a urine sample. A “dirty urine” carries a penalty of 60 days regular confinement (DC).

Since I felt like I was dying and was told that I was, I decided to “call out” all the bullshit I’d see the guards do. I told those around me, “Why listen to those fucks? You’ll be going home anyway, so why don’t you do your time the way you want to while you’re here? Life’s too short to be miserable at their hands.”

I received 13 Disciplinary Reports (or write-ups) which sealed my fate to CM3 status. I had just completed the Interferon when I came to Lowell in 2003. I had 10 months DC status to do and, at that time, I didn’t understand the dynamics of CM (solitary). The alienation, restriction of movement, the abusive treatment from the officers and inmates drove me to commit suicide. I would much rather have died by my own hands than by DOC officers.  I had hung myself and was quite dead when the guards cut me down. My heart must’ve just stopped because of the loss of involuntary functions, but still they wrapped me in a sheet and rushed me to medical and succeeded in reviving me. I EOS’d (or was released) from prison January 4, 2004, with a year’s probation. I did 11 months and one week and got violated…Yes, I’m sure you know the story of probation and recidivism. In 2001, 60% of ex-prisoners (people) on probation were rearrested, mostly on technical violations, like missed appointments and failed drug tests, NOT because of new crimes.[10] These technical violations inevitably send the probationer back to prison. It is my belief that this is how government and DOC make money, by quickly reincarcerating ex-offenders.

Okay, I’m getting off track. I was CM’ed on my third trip to prison,  but not during my 2nd prison sentence. So what they claim, a prior history of CM placement which stemmed from an inability to live and adjust to open population, is a lie because I was not placed in CM during my second incarceration. I was doing well this time and was on minimum custody in August 2007 (3 months into my 3rd sentence) and was being considered for work-release, but the classification team, guards and warden were not happy with my exemplary behavior. The CM placement was a set-up to deny me work release and to ship me off their compound and hold me hostage in CMSHU…Months before my placement in CM, I was “laying low.” I was still subversive and tried planting the seeds of free-thinking in my peers’ minds. I had a few women who also were attracted to my “bad boy” attitude, so my name was ringing like a bell on the compound, thus resulting in the officers monitoring my behavior and interactions much more closely. I had just received the “Editors’ Choice Award” from the International Library of Poetry in June 2007 and won the compound’s poetry contest in the beginning of August. So I had a lot of people coming up to me asking for poems for their man or mom or girlfriend and I saw that as the perfect opportunity to speak anti-administration propaganda. Also, between June and August 2007, I was putting pen to paper to weed out the worst of the worst COs…The administration wasn’t feeling me being back on their compound for a third time (my freedom was short between incarcerations: 11 months and the other was only six weeks before rearrest). So I was sent to confinement, held AC status,[11] found guilty of Disrespect to Officials, lost my gaintime only, no DC days,[12] but I was immediately CM’ed and sent back here to Lowell. I lost my opportunity to obtain Work Release Status, which was pending, and thrown into a concrete cage, similar to the one I hung myself in back in 2003.

I had stayed out of trouble in CM because I wanted Work Release, or at least the opportunity to be considered for it. I saw Work Release as the only viable option for me to not be homeless upon release from prison this time. I have no family. But just like a dream, I woke up to reality: There will be no work release. So I needed to do something to  better myself and to adjust to this isolation. I found out there was a Drafting Course at the main unit. I had taken architectural drafting in college twenty years ago and didn’t finish because I loved an abusive boyfriend/soon-to-be husband and I felt I had to quit to marry and support him. Foolish me…

So I’m lobbying the assistant wardens, colonel, lieutenants, to get a copy of the drafting text so I can refresh my memory and do something I enjoy. It took 6 months of outstanding behavior to accomplish this. (I’m not down with authority in any way, shape or form, but I needed to set goals and get my priorities straight.) Please remember, a CM prisoner has no access to vocational programs or text…I’m the first one to break through that barrier. Around that time, I stumbled onto the South Chicago ABC Zine Distro by accident. I sent for a catalog and, when it arrived, I knew I had found my home and people like me, different from society’s norms. So I skooled myself with “Surviving Solitary Confinement for the Targeted Prisoner” and I then knew that’s what was up—I was targeted because of my influence over the women I met. Administration thinks I’m a threat and knows I could quite possibly evoke change and resistance, so their retaliation was out of fear of my possible initiation of group defiance. I then knew why I was sent to CM and that I could survive this solitary confinement. I could use my CM status to my fullest advantage and make it work for me, not against me (or so I thought).

I was digging into the text and drafting principles, drafting everything that was laid out in the book. I showed these plates that delineate various drafting concepts and techniques to COs and others. Shortly after letting it be known that I was drafting, the Quad’s CM prisoners were yelling and screaming that it’s not fair for Savage to get a “higher education” and I shouldn’t be allowed to draft. Some of the COs agreed and started to harass me about my pencils, paper and text. Thus began a war against staff and any who opposed my only way to stay sane. All the while, I’m reading more and more zines and gaining some head knowledge about the collectives, oppression, mentacide and reading Anthony’s work and corresponding with him.

My review came and I was approved for release from CM and was just awaiting final approval from Tallahassee (the head of Florida’s DOC) the following day. My property was packed and I’m ready to get out and try to do my best in the program on the main. I had been approved by the Head of Education at Lowell for placement into the drafting program and they were waiting for classification to release me from the CM SHU. Classification had approved my drop in custody from “close” to medium so that I could go to main. Of course, this was contingent on the basis that I keep “in line” and cause “no waves.”

Once this information of my near-finalized release from CM reached the ears of the CM lieutenant, he decided to use his “authority” to strip me of this opportunity to better myself, to earn certifications in drafting. He had said so much before, that, if he could help it, I wouldn’t do anything but rot in CM until I EOS. So, as I was sketching the floor plan to a small, yet cozy, residence,  the sergeant and the lieutenant came to my door and started yelling me to cease my behavior. I wasn’t doing anything but sitting on my bed designing a house! The lieutenant ordered the video camera for a Use of Force, so I got up, went to my door and declared a psychological emergency (for I felt that was my only defense). I was escorted downstairs and locked in our dayroom.[13] The lieutenant said, “I got something for you—your psych call won’t help.” After his taunting and realizing it is his authority that will produce the extension of my CM time and loss of educational materials and career training, I decided to step up to the plate, for I knew that I wasn’t going to leave the CM SHU. I started yelling to all the CMs about the bullshit and psychological reprogramming and repression of their natures by DOC and how DOC is using us CMs as reuseable minions to carry out their plan of recidivism. I let go full force! I got crunk on their ass and kept on spitting out the truths. The lieutenant stripped my cell of everything, wrote me DRs for Participating in a Major Disturbance, Disrespect, Disobeying, Disorderly Conduct and every other “Dis-” that the rule book has. When I was returned to my cell, I had nothing left for him (the lieutenant) to take from me so I stood at the door and, for approximately 6 hours, ranted my anarchist truths and all the crimes the DOC has committed against me over the years and the abuse they are dishing out in extra heavy portions to the CM women. I spewed the truth like Mount Vesuvius and tried to bury the COs and staff with my volcanic flow, just like Vesuvius buried Pompeii…

Well, it’s been difficult for me since the speech and rant, but that’s okay because I spoke the truth and didn’t cower in fear of abusive authority. If you succumb once, you’ll give in again…I’ve gotten DR after DR for bogus infractions, and have been stripped of my personal property which, by the way, I found a way around “them” impounding my writing paper. I used their (the DOC’s) formal grievance forms to write a comrade as the all-out assault on my humanity was happening. After days of strip status, my property was returned.

Sometimes I feel like it’s just me against the world and I know in here, at Lowell CM, I’m the army of one with no back up from other inmates or staff. It’s sad but true. Sometimes I feel like I’m Don Quixote jousting at windmills, that what I’m trying to accomplish here by educating and enlightening these women, is all in vain, but I know that somewhere in one of these cells, a seed is being planted that may later grow into their own realization for the need to lead themselves and not be led and bled while here…

I’ve finally gained a firm sense of self by holding fast to my beliefs in equality, liberty and life without threats or coercion. Each accomplishment, may it be emotional, psychological, or mental “growth,” is a form of resistance.

Every time I teach someone geometry or basic reading or tell them of their own intrinsic ability to be autonomous and secure with themselves, I resist the mentacide, and hopefully arm the women with ways to combat their own mental slow death sentence here in CM SHU.

I fight for my CM sisters even if they don’t like me or don’t understand the guerilla tactics used against them.

Every time I get mail from you or Anthony of the South Chicago ABC Zine Distro or Abigail of Burning River or the meeting notes from StopMax (I am on the Steering Committee for the National Campaign to End Solitary Confinement and Torture in U.S. prisons), it confirms that I am part of this resistance movement.

As I conclude this piece, I have been informed of an increase in my custody to CM Level I. I know this is only a label, not who I truly am. DOC may have condemned me for  my actions, but I know in my heart that for the past 7 months, I have taken the measures necessary to ensure my beliefs and integrity remain intact within a corrupt system. I have done my best to stand up for my CM sisters and myself. Yes, I have been DR’ed and “gave up” my privileges to take up for women who would spit on me if given a chance. I’ve asked nothing from them, I’ve only tried to show them that they must fight for their beliefs and happiness. I’ve wanted to show them that they do not have to be the label placed upon them—dumb ho, loser, etc—that they can achieve positive healthy goals even while locked in a cell 24/7. I wanted them to have a piece of my courage until they could find their own. Yes, I shouted about the unjustifiable psychological abuse they suffer—I shouted so that they could at least whisper of their own hurts in their own hearts…For this I have no regrets, and I will not apologize.

I would much rather be punished for telling the truth than be rewarded (and praised) for living a lie.

It is my unshakable belief that the only way the overall poor conditions for women held captive in “the hole,” CM SHU, solitary, and in general population will ever change for the better is through resistance.

I’m not referring to a momentary attempt to defy the oppression and degradation of those who control us. When I speak of resistance, I’m speaking of a continuous, concerted effort to agitate and aggravate the infrastructure. I’m speaking of ALL women—all ages, races, classes, lengths of sentences—to set aside those differences and unite to create change.

We are united, joined together by different sets of circumstances under this crushing weight of DOC’s imposed control and repressive dehumanization.

Change will only occur through action, the action that we individually resolve within ourselves to take. The action to propagate and promote change is resistance. Our only chance at improving the quality of life behind the concrete and razor wire (which is slowly stealing our hope) is resistance.

For the sake of our children and the next generation of incarcerated women, we must resist. For the sake of our future, we must resist. Resistance isn’t just a word, it is a way of life.

RESIST                 PERSIST               EXIST

“Only those who attempt the absurd achieve the impossible.”

In Loving Struggle,
Lisa “Lee” Savage
959277
T-2111/Annex CM, Level I
Lowell Correctional Institution
11120 Northwest Gainsville Road
Ocala, FL 34482-1479

Note: Lee is scheduled to be released between July 1st, 2009 and August 1st 2009. She has no family and no leads on a place to stay. If anyone knows of any resources in Florida or out of state (she’s willing to relocate), please contact her or Tenacious.

Three comic books published by The Real Cost of Prisons Project (“Prison Town---Paying the Price,” “Prisoners of a Hard Life---Women and Their Children” and “Prisoners of the War on Drugs") are available free to prisoners and others working against mass incarceration. To request a free set write:

The Real Cost of Prisons Project
5 Warfield Place, Northampton, MA 01060

South Chicago ABC Zine Distro
P. O. Box 721
Homewood, IL 60430

Sends free literature to people in prison about politics, history, psychology, criminalization, capitalist oppression, war, health issues, grassroots organizing, issues specific to women, Afrikans, Native Amerikans, gay, bi, lesbian and transgendered prisoners and political prisoners to people in prison. Write for a twenty-paged catalog. Donations in cash and stamps are welcome but publications are never withheld due to lack of funds.



[1] Kevin Pyle and Craig Gilmore, Prison Town: Paying the Price. The Real Cost of Prisons Project.
[2]  Prison Town .
[3]  Prison Town .
[4] “Incarcerated Women Create Their Own Media,” off our backs 37, no. 1. October 2007.
[5] Sabrina Jones, Ellen Miller-Mack and Lois Ahrens, Prisoners of the War on Drugs. The Real Cost of Prisons Project.,
[6] Lockdown Unit meaning women are confined for 23 or 24 hours a day to their isolation cells—there is no free movement or social interaction; we just sit locked in a concrete and steel room the size of a small residential bathroom.
[7] As I edit this piece in November 2008, 2 more women have been added to Level 3 CM.
[8] Chemo is “chemical therapy” used to kill cancer cells. Biotherapy is not chemicals. It uses naturally occurring substances already found in the human body to combat a virus. Interferon is a substance found naturally in humans. It is “supercharged” in a laboratory and then readministered by injections.
[9] I’m actually ashamed that I was “doping” in prison. It wasn’t so much for the high, but to alleviate the pain of “treatment.” I haven’t used in prison since and have been clean and sober for three years.
[10] Sabrina Jones, Ellen Miller-Mack and Lois Ahrens, Prisoners of the War on Drugs. The Real Cost of Prisons Project. Cites Susan B. Tucker’s and Eric Cadora’s “Justice Reinvestment,” Ideas for an Open Society, vol. 3, #3. November 2003.
[11] AC or Administrative Confinement status means that I haven’t been found guilty of the infraction I was being charged with. In other cases, AC status can be invoked for the cause of placing a person “under investigation” for hearsay of a crime, such as planning an escape, selling drugs, being sexually involved with an officer or just because the warden and/or administration want to use their authority in a manner that can be construed as intimidation.
[12] Once a prisoner is found guilty of the rule infraction, the majority of the time she is placed on”Lockdown” with no movement or privilege. DC days can be 15, 30, 60, 90, 120, 150 days or multiples of that time.
[13] When a CM prisoner declares a psychological emergency, it is notifying the officers that she is in extreme duress and that there is a breakdown in her coping mechanisms, which may lead to suicide. It is the officers’ job to handcuff the prisoner so that she can’t harm herself and then immediately notify her psychological specialist. The prisoner is removed from her cell or the environment in which she experienced the extreme duress and waits to be counseled by her specialist, who will determine what level of impairment she is suffering and what staff can do to adjust the environment or if she needs to be placed on H.S.O.S. suicide status. To declare a psych emergency is like saying, “I cannot handle this current situation. I need help.”

 


How to Support Female Prisoners 

 

 

You asked how people on the outside can support movement-building, organizing and resistance among women on the inside? How can they do so without making the system bigger and/or stronger? And what can people do in states that don’t have strong (or any) prisoners’ rights or prison advocacy groups or movements?

Wow.

First, I feel simply there needs to be more contact with those prisoners organizing and resisting and trying to movement build. They (women in prison) need to know those people are out there willing to support our resistance. It would take conscious effort to send a one-page (or more) letter to the higher custody prisoners to locate those who are trying to establish a collective. I say higher custody because it is the lifers and ones with long sentences that feel the most pain and repression from the prison system. Locate via web those women in SHUs and CMs, the control units. It is within the bowels of the women’s prisons that revolution has been propagated. It makes sense that the most seriously oppressed would be the ones to give birth to resistance. I “stumbled” onto Anthony and the South Chicago ABC Zine Distro via a resource guide that had been given to me by another woman, but neither she nor anyone else in CM ever wrote him.

Flood the control units with the names and addresses of outside organizations and people who are willing to get down and dirty, to go into the trenches. They (the outside people) must be able to be recognized as to who they are and what their purpose is. Most people, 98% of them, don’t know what an ABC [Anarchist Black Cross] is, so why would they write them? The outsiders have to make clear to us in here that they are up to the challenge. I feel that after a collective (or individual) has been recognized, then they must become a part of that person’s life. Visits, phone calls and letter writing are essential. Only with a firm foundation, a strong foundation, can we together be able to build a greater movement, a bigger resistance front. The outside organizations must be willing to “lobby” others to join our fight. A show of cohesiveness to media, the prison and state and county officials. You must amplify our voice and give face to that voice.

Make us real to the outside, for women aren’t considered able or even seen as wanting to resist their oppressors.

Validate us!,

call the prisons,

do what activists DO   

GET ACTIVE!

Get attention drawn to us.

Adopt us and make us your family!

Make this fight personal!

I don’t have a definitive answer as to how to do it without making the system bigger and stronger because, as shown throughout the history of the prison system, once we destroy one form of deprivation and torture, the prison systems invent new ingenious form of torture. If I knew the answer,  I could end the oppression of the power-gorged prisoncrats that are draining us of our humanity and stealing our lives. 

I’m an anarchist, so I can’t say: Make new laws against prisoncrats. It would take the majority of the U.S. citizens to have epiphanies about the ability to live unencumbered, without a capitalist government. People would have to up their own standards and morals to live without predatory behavior. We are talking of living a higher quality of life, with nobody lording over the other, no groups lower than others.

So if I could wake up the world, I would. I’m trying to do that one person at a time and the fruits of your and my efforts may not be seen now but will hopefully be seen later. I’d love to see the prison system overhauled as a first step…

If a state doesn’t have any prisoner rights or advocacy groups, ask yourself why don’t they? Is everybody waiting for someone else to do it? If so, it will never get done! Don’t pass the buck—take it upon yourself or build a collective that would be willing to start lobbying for prisoners’ rights and set up your own advocacy group in that state. There are countless—tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of prisoners—just waiting for you to step up and reach out, so what is everyone waiting on? It’s not getting any better in here, only worse by the day. The longer you procrastinate, the more we suffer.

We need your hands, your minds and your voices with our efforts so change may occur.

So, did I answer your questions? Or did I get on a rant?

I’m not the all-knowing anarchist. I’m just Lee, living day to day in a concrete cage while these life-stealing monsters try to shorten my life expectancy and decimate my hopes and dreams for the future. I’m just trying to leave something positive behind in the wake of my solitary confinement.

Lisa “Lee” Savage
P59277
T-2111/Annex CMI
Lowell Correctional Institution
11120 Northwest Gainsville Road
Ocala, FL 34482-1479

 


 

A tale of a small but significant victory over a mind-game-playing guard 

Written over the course of Friday, November 14, 2008, and Sunday, Nov. 16th, 2008…

Yesterday, I was officially raised in custody to CMI (DC status). Yes, I’m sitting in my new iso-cube with all the “big guns.” No, what I mean is each of us is in our own cell & Death Row is upstairs…The room looks exactly like T-3109 except this cell has no mirror.

One of the female sergeants who moved me (Baker) said they’d have to go back and get my mattress and pillow. So they locked me in the cell all chained up and very uncomfortable (due to the deformity in my left arm and the old rotor cuff injury to my right shoulder). So she comes back and tells me I can’t have my pillow because I’m DC status (yeah, ok?!? I love how they make rules up as they go along) and right now I can only get my mattress and blanket—all other property must be inspected and approved 9which means if she does, my property, anything I truly want, I won’t get—psychological punishment). She said, “No chessboard.” I said Ok. She undoes my chains. Now I quietly wait for the officer (O’Brian) to catch up her “log” and I ask her to please do my property. She hesistates, then agrees, saying “I should let Sgt do it, so don’t say nothing while I’m doing it or you won’t get anything.” Well, at this point, I’ve only got my blanket—no tissue, no nothing. So I comply. O’Brian gives me all my propertyJ quickly before Sgt comes back. Now, I ask O’Brian if the DCs over here (CM I women) have pillows. She says yes. I ask her to get me a pillow. She said she couldn’t go over Sgt’s orders.

So when Sgt comes back, I’m writing a letter. I hear Sgt so I say, “Hey, ‘Chelle (the woman in the cell nearby). Where is Sgt?” She says, “Sitting in front of your door.” So I get up and lo and behold, there she is with a chair pulled up about 5 feet from my cell door.

I ask her, “Is this common practice for you to ‘cop’ a squat in front of a new CMI’s door (cell)?” She said, “I do what I want. Welcome to my world…” I said, “I feel as if you are trying to intimidate me or make it look like I’m causing a problem due to what the Quad Camera will see and the Lt who monitors the images.”

She said, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

I then go back to the PILLOW issue…

“So, I can’t have a pillow now considering I had a pillow the entire time I’ve been in CM, right?”

“Right.”

“So is this due to CMI custody?”

“No, it’s due to you being DC.”

“So you’re telling me NO CM DC can have a pillow?”

“No DC can have a pillow.”

“Okay, well, while you were gone, I asked the Quad if they have pillows and they replied Yes, except for 2 women.”

“I’ve worked here a long time and I know what DC can and can’t have. The DCs—nobody in Quad 4 (general population, DC confinement) has a pillow.”

“EXACTLY. NOBODY in Quad 4 has a pillow, but if you failed to notice, I am in QUAD 2, not GPDC confinement and in all my years of being in prison or CM, I never saw or heard of that rule. Could you tell me or show me in Chapter 33 where it states DC CM can’t have a pillow?”

“It’s an institutional rule, not state.”

“Okay, so can you show me where in the Lowell Institution rulebook/handbook for inmates where it states I cannot have a pillow. No, better yet, you can speak to (and I pull out your new letter and go to the page that has the name of the lawyer you contacted) Randall C. Berg, Jr, Esq, head of Florida Justice Institute about it. (And I show her his name. She’s up at my door now) OR just get the Lt. I want to speak to the Lt. Seriously.”

“So you’ll go that far over a pillow?”

“Yes, because you are harassing me and withholding an allowable comfort item because you stated as you chained me up in Quad 3 to move me that you were VERY disappointed in me. Well, your feelings are not of my concern and feelings against an action or me and myself doesn’t constitute a valid reason for you to try to get a rise out of me, to try to make me go off or withhold an item.”

“you know, you have become quite a problem, but you always were trouble.” (She’s talking about 2003 CM stay)

“And you, my dear sgt, spout from your mouth any ridiculous whim of rule change you want, just to get an inmate to flip out on you.”

Then Michelle Moreland (from a nearby cell) chimes in. “Savage, she’s trying you. Don’t’ let her win. I’ll tell Lt on her too.”

Sgt says, “See, Moreland’s right. Don’t’ try to win. You can’t.”

I said, “look, just go get the Lt or I’ll yell his name until he comes. I can’t get no further in the Hole than I am, so I got nothing to lose. What do you have to lose?”

She said, “I’m not listening to anymore of this” and she walks out of the Quad. Before she exits, I say, “You’re leaving because you know I’m right. Now don’t come back until you have my pillow!”

A few of the womyn are like, “Oh! That’s right Savage. Stick it to her ass” and a couple whistles and cheers and a couple banging on doors, stating approval of my action.

So I got back to my book and my letter and I hear, “Oh hell no! Haha! Savage did it! Look, here she comes! With pillows!”

I get up and “greet” her at my door and her face is all twisted up vikki, like she sucked some sour lemons. She’s holding 2 pillows and says, “Okay, Savage, which one do you want? The plastic covered one or the cloth one?”

I study them both , have her turn them over so I can inspect themJ Then I say, “The cloth one will match my sheets better. Thank you so much for your time and attention.”

As she shuts my “flap,” she says, “you should suffocate yourself with it!”

I looked at her and smiled. “No, not in this lifetime. I’ve got prisoners to advocate for and protect…Thank you for the sentiment though and welcome to my world…”J

Baker throws the other pillow on the floor between my door and her chair and then asks a couple of women if they need pillows. One said no (she was afraid, I think) and the other said she had one.

Michelle calls Sgt to her door and reads her, calls her on her bullshit, telling her that she just wanted to get me upset cuz now I can get sprayed with CA (chemical agents—all CMI have spray sheets. I didn’t in Quad 3). She says, “You haven’t acted like that to any inmate in the time I’ve been here in CM1. You’re wrong.”

Sgt says, “She’s wrong.”

Michelle says, “No, she’s just getting what she’s allowed and she wouldn’t have had to say anything if you would have just brought her her pillow from 3.”

Later, Officer O’Brian comes back and says to me, “Boy, Baker is pissed that the Lt told her to give you a pillow. Once this gets around…Oh man.” The other pillow is on the floor outside my door and I hear the girl ask for the pillow and O’Brian says, “I’m not taking it. Talk to Sgt.”

Well, after O’Brian left, it was just us CMs in our cells, no officers, I said, “THIS is why I’m a CM1, cuz I stick up for me and ‘mine in blue’ even if I don’t know you. Right is right, wrong is wrong and if something needs to be addressed, just tell me, okay? And call me LEE, not SAVAGE.” I spoke a little bit about resistance and education but I didn’t want to overwhelm the badasses and turn them off to who I am or what the struggle is before they even get to learn about it…

So Vikki, as I’m sitting here writing you this conversation at 1:40 pm Sunday, I hear Sgt Kerney saying to each CM, “You got a pillow? What type of mattress? You got a pillow?” and she gets to Michelle’s door and Michelle says, “Why you want to know?” (thinking they’re going to take them away)

Kerney says, “Lt Bain ordered me to get all CMs pillows.” She comes to my door and says, “I KNOW you already got your pillow. How’s your mattress?” J

 


Dear Lowell CM Unit, 

Over the past two years of being trapped within this “hellhole,” your behavior modification (human mortification) chamber, I have written many formal letters against you to your conceivers—the DOC administration, and I’ve penned several articles to inform prisoners and “free world” citizens of your insidious plans to destroy my mind and any chance for a productive life once I am freed from your chokehold. But today is the first time I’ve ever written to you personally and I have many things to say, so bear with me as I’ve had to bear with you every minute  of these past two years while locked in your solitary confinement….

First, despite your lies, the stories you would tell me that I will never leave you, I could never leave you and within you is truly where I belong and you were just “trying to help me” become a proper woman, I AM leaving you. I’ve completed my penance and within a couple of days, I will walk out and not look back. I know you find this hard to believe and I can hear you saying, “You’ll be back. You’ll come home to me ‘cuz I’ve taught you to bring yourself back into my walls.”  Don’t be so confident and sure of yourself or your ability to twist my mind. I think you already know I am different from the others you’ve courted and caged before me.

I admit the first time we met and you took me in 6 ½ years ago, I was quite naïve and rather weak in my physical, mental and emotional states. Yes, you definitely had control and I was at your mercy, which I never received any, regardless of how I begged and pleaded with you to stop beating me, to stop hurting me, to stop breaking my heart and PLEASE just let me hold onto ONE LITTLE HOPE. You never ceased in your cruelty and I responded the way you wished, like a feral animal lashing out at any and all human contact. I’ve never felt so ashamed, so helpless, but I found the answer to your abuse…it would end, everything would cease to exist, even me. I would escape you by hanging myself, my spirit would fly free, this I would gladly pay for with this shell of flesh and bone.

It would come to pass: I hang, I die, I’m free.

Fate has a way of placing its hands on the steering wheel of life though and I was revived and brought back to you. It was that anger that helped me live until EOS.

You know, I can’t believe I’m being so civil to you and not ranting.

Yes I can believe it. I’ve changed in this second time I’ve spent so unwillingly with you. I swore that this time, I wouldn’t allow you to destroy me, to steal my life no matter what you did to me. Somewhere along the way, I found that I wasn’t a victim. I would be a survivor, a fighter. I would see my son again. I would enjoy a summer day, a cool winter night or the spring rain. I would bask in the sunshine with my lover. I would defeat you, beat you at your own game, and teach others how to survive and fight you.

There were days, many days in which my strength and hope waned, days when I would fight the guards just to FEEL, to KNOW I am ALIVE, I am REAL. The pain was real, the suffering was real and through all the mental and emotional anguish I held onto that burning rage I had inside and I became a “soulja,” a trained reconnaissance soulja, an urban guerilla who was ready for your warfare on whatever level you chose to fight.

When there was no attack on me, but on my captive sisters, I fought for them. I had to guard and protect those who didn’t understand your tactics. After all, that is “how you roll”—to besiege and then sequester the innocent, the unsuspecting. Isolated, they are then abused and returned to the free world shell-shocked. These are my sisters. I couldn’t just turn a blind eye or a deaf ear, even if it meant that I put myself in the line of fire, targeted.

I admit you are quite the formidable adversary. That is why your reach has grown and now no one is safe from you, not even your conceivers and your capitalist grantors. I’m quite sure you’ve deceived them into believing that you will not bite the hand that feeds. Won’t they be surprised and horrified when even they become trapped within you…

But, as your reach continues to expand, so does my network—my allies, the grassroots guerillas who support my resistance.

Funny, you fail to realize that, even while locked within you, deep in your bowels, my army of one is multiplying. Many armies of one are joining to become an army of many, who will foster and implicate the prisoner resistance movement and who will bring this hidden revolution to light.

I am leaving you and I know you are angry at this, but you see, I am ANGRIER and I MUST take this fight where your scary ass doesn’t want me to—to the streets. For it is outside of your walls that this revolution is about to explode. I will take it to the everyday common hardworking folk, the masses of overworked and underpaid who are your targets, so they no longer remain blind. I will take it to the uncertain and educate them, give them weapons to fight you. I will take it to the elitists on their pedestals and knock them down.

This is a war all right, a war for human rights and I will not allow you to take any more children from their families so that you can train them to become statistics of recidivism. You will not destroy my people. You will not destroy my family. For as much as you hate those you harm, I love them 100 times more.

My visionaries are beside me, inside me, speaking their truths.

My revolutionary sisters and brothers are everywhere, learning their truths.

Abolition has begun and it will not stop now.

I will not stop until all are free.

And this, Lowell Correctional Institution, is such a Savage Reality.

Until there are no more death chambers, I will fight.

Your Ex-Hostage,

(Lisa) Lee Savage

Lee was released on August 1st,  and continues the struggle from the outside.  To contact her, write to her at:

PO. Box 5453
Gainesville, FL 32627-5453








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