When you’re held prisoner by the government, you lose most of your Constitutionally guaranteed rights. What’s worse, this happens even when you’re innocent.
You are, however, protected from cruel and unusual punishment, which includes a minimum standard of living. My personal favorite methods to catch them in the act involve my natural bony look and quasi-Buddhist beliefs. While being held against my will in Pima County Jail, I decided to stage a hunger strike (something I learned while in Tent City).
Long story short, I was approved by the jail’s medical staff for double trays at each meal. Several of the Pima County Sheriff’s Corrections Officers taunted and threatened me for trying to get the medical treatment they promised me for a condition they diagnosed me with.
Here’s a journal entry I wrote the night after I filed my second grievance form about it:
Scene opens on bustling dayroom in Pima County’s 2F/G housing unit. TV’s are on, and I’m enjoying a lively game of cards.
“MR. PENNY! COME HERE NOW!” I hear from the guard bubble, although it echoed through the entire pod. I approach the guard, and he said, “This is probably the first time you’ve seen me.”
“I usually work a different shift in a different part of the jail. But I’m working overtime today to pay bills because I need the money. I bet you’re wondering why I’m telling you all this.”
“I’m a straight shooter. I tell it like it is. I need you to be the same with me. You accused two of my coworkers of retaliating against you. Their jobs are on the line. If I find out you’re lying, it’s going to bounce back at you.”
“I understand I can show you anything you need. I don’t get paid to be here at all.”
“Fair enough – why don’t you start by telling me what happened?”
“On March 12, 2019, I saw your medical staff and was placed on a special diet for low BMI. Every day since, I was denied my medically required meals. I filed a grievance on March 16 and was told it was cleared up. This morning, however, Officers Lopez and Wells denied me my breakfast. When another inmate protested in my defense, I was threatened with shackles and other torture. My constitutional rights have been violated, and it’s not ok.”
“Look at my uniform. I don’t mean to be an ass, but do you know my job title?”
“I’m a Corrections Officer just like they are. It’s not in my best interest to investigate my coworkers. I don’t have stripes. I’m not a Sergeant or Lieutenant. When I log into this computer, it refreshes. It doesn’t show you on a medical diet. I called the kitchen, and they don’t have anything listed for you. So either there’s a problem with our system or you’re bullshitting me.”
“With all due respect, look at my uniform. This orange jumpsuit makes me your prisoner. It’s not my problem to know or fix your operations. I’m not your coworker. I’m not your IT or administrative assistant. I shouldn’t be held responsible for your errors. All I know is our country’s laws and the Geneva Convention protect me from cruel and unusual punishment. I’m a victim.”
“How do you figure that?”
“It was your medical staff that diagnosed me with a medical condition and your staff that refused my medical treatment for a week. If this was a heart attack, asthma, or a broken arm you refused treatment for, the effects would be immediate. That I’m being slowly starved to death instead doesn’t make you suddenly innocent. It’s unconstitutional torture. I know my civil rights – this is both cruel and unusual. It’s not for me to decide. All I can do is refuse all meals in protest. That’s why we’re here today.”
“Look – there are three officers on duty right now. I need to do my rounds. While I do that, I want you to grab your paperwork and meet me back here.”
Fuck – I already spent too much time talking to the cops. It’s never a good idea to talk to them alone. I need to involve more woods so the rest of the pod doesn’t label me a snitch. Two woods are already nicknamed Chin Check and 60 Days In, but I have a solid rep in here. I’m not ruining it over this.
I grab the two woods I know have been to the yard and can vouch for me. I explain the situation and they come with me to the public tablet to witness for themselves.
I log in and show them the message I received on March 16, 2019 from medical – “Your pod officer has been notified you are on double portions.”
Now vindicated, my infuriated cellies take the battle on for me, amplifying the lone voice I used to stand my ground in the month I was locked up.
JJ was right – it’s not the biggest and strongest who run the prisons. Knowledge is power, and I just got my first taste by flexing on the guards.