Posts Tagged ‘swampers’


I’m at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF), an institution in the Wisconsin Prison System (WPS), participating in the Earned Release Program (ERP).  My first morning as a swamper along with my fellow swamper, David Sussex went without incident.  In the time we await the food I got to know him a little bit.  He proclaims himself a born again Christian, as I consider myself, and I’ve seen no reason to doubt him.  He is very vocal about his faith here while I am, as with everything else I do here, am very quiet.  Every morning he is out there reading his Bible just as I do.  If he irritates me in some fashion, its probably his desire to engage me in conversation about what I’m reading and start “preaching” about anything I might share that I struggle with.  But that probably says more about me than him!  As our ERP group got started that morning our ERP Social Worker, Ms. Grey, took the topics from the resumes and interviews to the in-depth topic of relationships.  She handed out another workbook from The Change Companies designed for the Federal Bureau of Prisons that we had used early in group called Living With Others, and another packet from Earnie Larson.  We have used his materials before as well.  We spent the morning on an exercise where we identified the feelings connected to dating through marriage.  She then erased the words “first date” and replaced it with “addiction” and it followed pretty closely.  Pretty clever.  In the afternoon we watched the first four parts of video From the Inside Out from Hazeldon featuring Earnie Larson.  It’s actually quite good.  The first part got into why relationships are important. It looked at positive and negative relationships in our past lives, the different types of relationships, how love has been taught to us in the past, and principles of building good relationships.  I had difficulty sharing details of what my past impressions of love were like early on and solidified as the years went on.  But everyone knows me now and aren’t shocked by my answers anymore.  Even if they were, I decided long ago I was going to be honest.  I’m also grateful no one calls me a liar here as others have in the past, such as the psychiatrist at my court proceedings did and others did as I was growing up into adulthood.  I’m now able to document most details of my past thanks to my contact with my biological family.  After group ended at 4 pm, we had another fill in guard as they still haven’t yet replaced Ruth Barthowski, named Larry Cable.  Due to differing rules with different guards, there’s always a certain amount of risk involved.  Following customs set by pervious officers or what is considered normal.  But it was pretty clear while Sussex and I waited for the dinner trays he was going to be anything but predictable.  Its customary for inmates to go out in the hall in front of the cell to fart if necessary as a courtesy to their cellies.  However; Cable yelled at cellie Corey Ball for doing so.  Then he had us swampers walk around and make sure cell doors were closed.  Again, not normally done.  Cable then tried to micromanage how many extra trays we’d get and how many we’d try to send away.  Ok, I don’t care.  But then the extra tray I did get I took to my table and gave away all of its contents to the guys sitting there.  Cable said I couldn’t give the extra food away, that it was only for me, even though the rule book clearly says I can.  Problem is technically swampers aren’t supposed to get extra food at all.  So the rulebook doesn’t help either of us.  So as he is yelling at me in front of everyone, he announces he won’t allow extra trays when he works here anymore.  Others would later tell me that I should have quit right there.  But I didn’t.  I was mad though. I would return later before 6 pm count and ask him not to hold the whole unit responsible for something I didn’t know was his rule.  Finally he said he’d consider it.  It was uncomfortable at cleanup before 9:15 pm count.  But I’m just grateful he won’t be here often.  Being a swamper is fine but I’m not going to put myself in jeopardy to do it. 

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I’m at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF), an institution in the Wisconsin Prison System (WPS), participating in the Earned Release Program (ERP).  On Saturday, I got a surprise knock on my cell door from former cellie Malik Pearl.  He is to graduate from ERP this coming Friday (May 6th) along with current cellies Corey Ball and Brian Whalen. The question Pearl passed to me didn’t take but a second for me to respond.  He asked if I’d be interested in becoming a Swamper as he was going to step down.  I said no way.  It would interfere with my routine, force me to interact with more people, upset my TV watching and I’d have to deal with people whining for the extra food that Swampers get as their defector compensation (even though technically we’re not supposed to get that) since I’m told there is no extra pay while in the ERP program.  He left and that was that. A t least so I thought.  As the day went by, I learned the swamper job was probably going to go to ERP group member Mark Hogan who had developed a good relationship with guard Roscoe Peters, who would make the decision.  There were two problems here.  Pearl, along with the other blacks, knew Hogan to be racist.  How you might ask?  As we’ve seen in the past with him, he blurts out inappropriate remarks, not caring who hears.  So that’s how Pearl indicated he’d keep the swamper job rather than letting him have it.  Cellie Larry Sands revealed to Pearl that Hogan had Hepatitis C.  I don’t know how he knew that.  But lets face it, swampers wear gloves and you are not going to get infected from serving food.  But Pearl used this information to turn opinion against Hogan being a swamper in the dayroom.  Later on that day, guard Ruth Barthowski again approached me with the question if I’d be willing to be a swamper.  Now I had had time to reconsider the situation and I had changed my mind.  Why?  Because it will interfere with my routine, force me to interact more with people, upset my TV watching and deal with whiny people.  Kind of like real life!  So against my instincts I said yes to the job knowing I’ll be free in about 50 days so its time to get used to these things again.  The only problem is Pearl had not changed his mind too.  He wanted a guy of his choosing, his cellmate David Sussex, to have the job so he could still have access to the extra food.  So Pearl managed to talk Barthowski into a new policy on swampers which Peters approved.  Swampers would change out every 30 days so more people would have a chance to do it.  From Pearl’s way of thinking, he’ll be long gone by the time the next swamper change occurs so its all good.  The swamper that held the job with him, whom he found annoying anyway, would now have to give up the job as well which would mean his guy, David Sussex, would get the job along with me.  That night was also Barthowski’s final night as a guard.  She made a nice speech at her final count at 9 pm, followed by us all applauding her.  She is going to be missed, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be hearing from her again!  The next day, the 2 old swampers came out to train us, giving us tips on how to count extras for ourselves.  I’ll give you the swamper routine in a future blog entry.  I was assigned to hand out the liquids and bread while Sussex handed out trays or cereal.  Breakfast went fine but at lunch, when stacking dirty trays on the cart, 7 or 8 fell which caused the inmates in their cells in the dayroom to erupt in applause.  I stayed out to help him clean it up after I was done.  Things largely went fine otherwise.  I returned to my cell more energized, I think simply because I was doing something other than sitting on my butt.  My cellies of course complained I gave too much food away to others and not to them. I I had actually kept very little for myself.  I just smiled.  So this is what its like to be a swamper!  But Sunday night things got put into perspective about 9:30 pm when word came down that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.  None of this really matters in comparison, does it?


I’m at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF), an institution in the Wisconsin Prison System (WPS), participating in the Earned Release Program (ERP).  On Wednesday we don’t have ERP groups scheduled so we sat in our cells or dayroom.  Nothing much happened until that night.  ERP group member Scott Bunker had a problem come up that could be painful.  He hadn’t  been able to go to the bathroom and the little bit he could was bloody.  He finally went up and told the guard on duty.  The guard wasn’t exactly the model of compassion as he had him take a urine sample cup and scoop out the bloody water out of the toilet to send to the Heath Services Unit (HSU).  But Bunker was told to submit a blue medical request to be seen which he did.  Apparently that night he was up several times as he was in a huge amount of pain, his privates were swelling and though he felt like he had to go, he couldn’t.  I got up for my shower at 5 am as usual.  As I walked to the shower I heard the third shift guard tell Bunker to come to the desk.  After I got out of the shower and had put my laundry in the washer, I saw the swampers by the bathroom wearing gloves and mopping the floor.  There was blood all over.  At Bunker’s cell the other guard had gone in with a yellow bag and gloves emerging with it full of items that had been bloodied.  I would have thought swampers and guards would have had more protection than gloves.  The guards offered to send him to the hospital but he declined.  I urged him to reconsider.  Bleeding like this just doesn’t heal itself.  At least now though HSU would see him right away Thursday morning.  That morning for our group ERP group leader Ms. Grey showed us videos on methamphetamine abuse.  The first was Living In Shadows The Innocent Victims of Meth and The Meth Epidemic produced by PBS.  Both were quite good.  But Ms. Grey was clearly in a bad mood.  During the time after the videos we had left over before lunch she went off on people for not understanding how to develop goals and objectives for Phase II based on SMART.  At one point she asked me to assist ERP group members Kevin House and Mark Hogan develop theirs.  But then Larry Sands spoke up complaining that she approves our goals and then changes her mind.  She went off on Sands, telling him not to put that on her and how he always has something to say whenever he’s criticized.  The problem is Sands is right.  She has given conflicting signals to people including me.  But that wasn’t the real issue.  She had obviously been talked to by somebody who had gotten involved as a result of Sands complaints to others.  The tension between the two is intense which made us uncomfortable but there’s been a lot of that lately so its kind of becoming normal.  After lunch we watched another good video Methamphetamine and Drug Endangered Children.  Bunker returned to group during this time with HSU having prescribed antibiotics.  They also reduced the huge amounts of ibuprofen he had been prescribed for his back since as a rule they won’t give out painkillers to inmates if at all possible.  As the night progressed his problem again began to reappear.  I am worried for him.  Tomorrow is another Graduation Day for another ERP group.  I’m looking forward to seeing something good happen here. 


I’m at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF), an institution in the Wisconsin Prison System (WPS), participating in the Earned Release Program (ERP).  We were waiting for our ERP group leader Ms. Grey, when another ERP group leader told us she wasn’t coming.  Many of us returned to our cells, and we hadn’t been there for a minute when Ms. Grey along with intern Nikita came.  We spent the morning session finishing the book Houses of Healing by Robin Casarjain, specifically  Chapter 15.  It portrayed prison as a gift that’s been given to us to allow us the opportunity to effect change in our lives.  Well if you’ve been following this blog at all you know that to be true, that change has been affected, particularity true before my time at MSDF.  But prison as a gift?  There are many words and phrases I’d apply to the concept of prison.  Some aren’t printable.  Gift wasn’t one of them!  But I get the point.  Though I lost everything coming to prison, there is one thing I kept – my life.  Had I not come to prison with the path I was on I very well could have taken my own life by now.  So I guess you could say prison gave me the gift of my life.  Lets just hope prison never gets the chance to give me any more gifts!  But anyway, we have to return this book to Ms. Grey.  I would have kept this one.  Our afternoon session was spent watching a video on addiction that describes how it affects the brain and how scientists are trying to develop a vaccine for addiction, specifically cocaine.  Sorry, I wasn’t close enough to see the DVD case for info on the video.  The evening was full of intrigue, thankfully none of it directly involving me.  Both swampers are now from the cell next door where cellie Larry Sands came from and where former cellie Malik Pearl had moved to earlier.  Sands informed me about how cellie Brian Whalen was planning to sell a lot of cocaine being provided by another inmate from that cell.  Unknown to him, their plan was to rob him once they were all out and Whalen came up with the money.  I told Sands if he knew this we had a responsibility to throw Whalen off this plan somehow, even if he didn’t want to cross those guys.  I just feel bad for Whalen.  I’m afraid he’s going to get himself hurt with his biggest crime being he wants to be liked.  As the day and night progressed more and more people began arriving to take beds for the next ERP group that’s starting.  The problem began when an inmate arrived with a lower bunk restriction and there were no lower bunks to be had at this point.  The guard in charge, not a regular, decided to bump the swamper in that cell next door, that is making this deal with Whalen off his bottom bunk for this guy.  He put him in a cell on top bunk above an inmate when many think this is the nastiest guy here.  But the guys in the swampers cell vehemently protested, wanting instead for them to move Sands out of our cell and move the new guy here.  They tried to convince the guards to do this but no dice.  The female guard got to the point she tossed their cell (inspect for contraband) after they said one of the reasons they couldn’t move him was that they all combine their canteen which is of course a rule violation.  I don’t know how the inspection came out but Sands was mad that they tried to disrupt his situation just because they didn’t like what was happening.  These guys made it clear to Sands once regular second shift Ruth Barthowski returns she’ll make him move as they believe they have influence over her.  I’ve seen it but I don’t think she’ll let them push her into this.  We’ll see.  Through it all, I’m still relaxed which is remarkable for this anxiety junkie.  My thoughts are outside of this place, for a day when I can write you about the positive things out in the world even if I’m struggling. 


I’m at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF), an institution in the Wisconsin Prison System (WPS), participating in the Earned Release Program (ERP).  On weekends there is no ERP activity.  The lights are turned back off after count at 6:15 am and remain off until 10:30-11:00 am.  I usually try to take advantage and enjoy the silence as close as it gets anyway.  One of our regular 1st shift guards is Roscoe Peters.  He’s late forties, early fifties and is know as a “cool” guard.  He has a booming voice that will rattle you if you screw up but it’s known he’s not out to mess with you just because.  My cellmate, Andre Charles and Peters usually go back and forth with each other on a near every day basis, with Andre talking from the top tier down to Peters who bellows back.  But it’s always done tongue in cheek.  At about 11 am, the swampers brought in our lunch trays and after we had all gotten in line, he announced there would be no trading food between inmates, not even at your own table, because someone had “gone over his head to the unit manager”.  At another point in the meal, after having busted a couple of people for trying to trade, he said the inmate needs to come talk to him to fix this.  After we were finished with lunch a whole parade of inmates went to the desk, including Andre, to find out what was going on.  It seems the swampers had been getting extra food and the inmate who wrote the complaint to the unit manager was unhappy about it.  They seem to do that a lot around here, complain, if another inmate is perceived to get preferential treatment.  My philosophy on this is if someone else has found a way to make their life here a little more bearable more power to them.  It’s none of my business.  I don’t want to use the word “cutthroat” to describe the environment here (bad image) but its an apt description, more so than any prison I’ve been in up until now.  Then Peters announced he’d find out who it was on Monday and it wasn’t going to go well for him.  I’ve never even spoken to Peters but he always made a good impression on me.  I just wish he’d be a little smarter in what he says.  I can’t imagine this not getting back to someone he doesn’t want it to especially if there  is an inmate trying to take him down.  So we probably haven’t heard the end of this one.  But I guess as much as I hate this place, and though the phrase “watch your back” has taken a whole new meaning for me with some of these inmates, I have managed to get into a semblance of a routine which has been key to my survival anywhere I’ve been.  I’ve completed one week of ERP and have 23 to go.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to make it.

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Shortly after this was written, about 20-30 people showed up with musical instruments and started singing Christmas carols!  I asked what church they were from and they told me several different ones and they they have a Bible study on Mondays.  They gave us a paper bag with treats and a bag of chocolate chip Chips Ahoy Crunchy cookies.  I’ve never seen anything like this before in prison, nor had my cellies.  And most unexpected in a maximum security facility like MSDF!  Of course, a few cons in us couldn’t just enjoy the rare moment and scammed extra cookies and treats by claiming they were missed.  But really, an awesome event by what I think might be awesome people!