From the creator of PrisonPath.com: I was incarcerated for fifteen months in the Maryland state prison system. During my journey, I encountered all types of individuals. I observed indifference, cruelty, and random acts of kindness from inmates and correctional officers.
“THE HOLDING CELL JURY “
On April 21, I was being transported with two other inmates from the Maryland Correctional Training Center [MCTC], a medium security level prison in western Maryland, to Southern Maryland Pre-release Unit [SMPRU] in Charles County. We had to stop at a prison in Jessup to transfer from our prison bus to a van that would take us to SMPRU.
The prison bus pulled up to the entrance of Brockeridge Prison which was located in Jessup, Maryland. There were three correctional officers on our bus. One officer gave us all a surly look and said gruffly. “Time to get off.”
All three of us, in our chains, shuffled to the front of the bus. There were two gang members, one white and one black. I knew the black kid. I had seen him at our housing unit in Hagerstown giving the weaker inmates a hassle. The kid had made it well known that he was a member of a gang called the BGF”s—Black Guerrilla Family. Before coming as a guest to the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown, I had heard of the Bloods and the Cripps, but not the BGF. The other passenger on our bus was a young white guy covered in tattoos and a very sharp Mohawk haircut. He belonged to DMI, Dead Man Incorporated, a white gang. As for me, to quote a buddy who had been in the system for eighteen years, “The only gang that I belonged to consisted of me, myself, and I “.
I got off the awkwardly bus, because of the chains around my ankles, wrists, and my waist. The officer laughed at my discomfort. I had learned from experience, that it was best to give the officer a smile, and to keep going into the building. There were several correctional officers waiting inside and they looked very unhappy. I had not met a happy correctional officer, since I started my sentence one year ago. In my opinion, correctional officers were just part-time inmates at any institution.
We were led into a narrow hallway with two benches and an entrance to a small room. One by one, each of us was stripped and completely searched by the CO. As I bent over, the officer demanded that I spread my cheeks so that he could make sure that I had not tried to smuggle any contraband. Since this was my second strip search for the day, I could not help myself from saying, “No Uzi gun up my ass “.The young officer cracked a smile and told me to get dressed.
We were led upstairs to the traffic office which controlled the transfers of all the inmates coming through the prison as well as the inmates locked up in Brockeridge. We were told to sit on another bench while the three black female officers decided what to do with us. There was one officer in charge which was evident by her yelling at everyone, inmates and other officers. While she was yelling at a male correctional officer who was late; she told another officer to put the three of us into the holding cell. The cell was adjacent to their office. Holding cells were temporary cells for inmates while they waited transfer to their new prison.
Any holding cell was a scary jungle. You usually did not know anyone, so there was no backup or even the pretense of any backup in the event of any problem. You were on your own. The officer opened one door and then another door and ushered us into the holding cell. Both doors were locked behind us. The cell was dark, very cold, and it contained benches next to each wall. At the front, there was an open entrance to a dirty bathroom that had two toilets, a urinal, and a sink. There was no toilet paper.
There were a number of inmates scattered around sitting on the benches. Almost all were black with a couple of white inmates. All were dressed in prison blue jeans and the standard blue long sleeve shirt except for several in grey prison sweat suits. A few were lying down on the benches, but the rest sat with their backs to the wall for protection. Holding cells were notorious for violence. I immediately sat down with my back to the wall. It was early in the morning .It was going to be at least 2-3 hours before the van would come from Pre-release to pick us up. The long morning continued.
All of the inmates were quiet and sullen except for one big fat white guy in a grey sweat suit. He was bald with tattoos up and down his arms. The big guy was targeting a small black inmate in the corner. The big white guy looked just as carnivorous as the infamous Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars. The black inmate gave up the argument and started agreeing with Jabba. It was obvious that Jabba was the Alpha dog of our cell. I knew that I wanted to avoid having any problems with him.
I did not want to use the bathroom because once inside you were out of sight of the officers and any chance of help. If something bad was going to happen to you, it would be in the bathroom. After an hour, I had no choice, but to go inside the bathroom .I quickly used the urinal while the bathroom was empty. I left the bathroom and sat back down again with my back against the wall. An inmate next to me asked some questions regarding Hagerstown. He had been at Hagerstown in 2002, but he knew from my answers that the prison was the same except for some new housing units. I finished my conversation and saw that Jabba was studying me. As soon as our little discussion was finished, there were questions for me from Jabba.
“I been listening to you. You not from the streets like the rest of us. Where are you from? ‘
This was going to be trouble for me. I replied, “Montgomery county “
He looked at me with a very toothy smile.
“I’m from Montgomery County too, but you not from the street. You don’t talk like us. You old—you are white, probably what 60 and it’s got to be your first time locked up.”
I did not say a word. A very wily Russian inmate had told me on my first day in prison never to discuss personal information with other prisoners and especially never your charges. Jabba kept on talking louder and louder so now all of the inmates were paying attention to my inquisition. “What’s the problem? You have something to hide.”
I realized that I could not ignore this Son of a Bitch any longer. I replied, “It’s none of your business. If you’re so interested, it’s my first time. “
Jabba’s eyes started to twinkle with great delight. I had fallen into his trap.
“Ok—you told us that it’s your first time. But nothing else. What are you hiding? “
He looked at me and then around the cell at all of the other inmates who were now paying great attention to this lopsided conversation.
“I know what it is. You an old white guy, probably a lawyer or doctor, first time locked up. You a god—damn pedophile. “
He gave a big triumphant smile of victory, the other inmates started muttering, and now I was in very big trouble. In prison, a pedophile was the lowest scum of all. Anyone could hurt or kill him. It was always open season on pedophiles. I knew that I had better start defending myself before it was too late. I had only one defense— the truth.
“Look, I am a lawyer. I embezzled money from clients and the judge gave me five years. Not a pedophile.”
He said, “Bullshit. You just saying that. You are a pedophile. Prove you not. “
I was between a very hard rock and an even very harder prison wall. Jabba knew I could not prove anything at that moment because all of our personal court documents were inside our travel boxes which were locked up in the prison’s property room. In other words, I did not have one shred of paper in that holding cell to prove shit to any of them. I looked around and all eyes were upon me. There were four young black inmates in the left corner of the cell staring intensely at me. One of the four started gesturing at me and pointed to the bathroom entrance. The others were nodding their heads. It was clear that they were going to drag me into the bathroom and impose a prison punishment for allegedly being a pedophile. The sentence would consist of a severe beating or death. Once I was in the bathroom, it was the end for me.
The other inmates were not any better for me. The older black guy, who Jabba had picked on earlier was now grinning, since Jabba had turned his attention to me. The remaining inmates were either staring at me with a blank look or were just shaking their heads. Besides Jabba and myself, there were twelve other inmates in the cell. ironically, the holding cell had sufficient members for a jury, a prosecutor, and an accused—namely me. As a former lawyer, I had tried a number of jury trials, criminal and civil, but this was going to be the most important trial of my life. I started to argue, “I am not a pedophile. Just because I’m sixty two, white, first time offender, and educated does not mean that I like children. I am just a lawyer who loves gambling and unfortunately was very bad at it. I stole, I gave myself up, and now I’m in jail. There’s no mystery about my case. Theft—-prison. Believe me, I am not the only attorney in prison. “
Jabba’s fat face roamed over the cell. He could see that he was still winning the case. He replied, “This is all bullshit. You have not said one word that proves you not a lousy pedophile. “
Listen, when we get to the next place, I can show you my papers that prove I’m telling the truth.”
Jabba laughed, “By that time it’s too late. We’ll be scattered all over the prison system. No, you have to prove it right now. “
All of a sudden, the white kid with the Mohawk haircut and the Tattoos got up and said, “Not really. He doesn’t have to prove anything. “
He stared at Jabba and said, “You have the burden of proof. He is innocent of the charge until you prove he’s guilty. That’s what makes this fucking country so fucking great! You know that. “
Then the Mohawk kid sat down. Jabba’s face was full of surprise. My mouth was open with disbelief. At that moment, I could have kissed the Nazi cross that was on this young kid’s forehead and I am Jewish. Unfortunately, his argument was not swaying all of the jury. It seemed that some of my fellow inmates were not that interested in the finer points of my constitutional rights. The four black kids in the left corner of the cell were still very agitated. One kept arguing while pointing to the bathroom. I knew that the best defense was a great offense. I stood up and pointed at Jabba, “How do we know that you’re not a pedophile? Many kid lovers are white, in their thirties, socially fucked up, and”
Jabba interrupted me, “What do you mean socially fucked up? “
I responded, “let’s be honest. You are in prison. Since I got here, you have been trying to make trouble for some of us in this cell. You gave the guy in the corner a hard time. Now you’re trying your bullshit on me. You seem to have a problem getting along with others. Maybe you had a bad childhood. Maybe you were picked on because of your weight, maybe you just fucked up—-or maybe you are the pedophile in this cell and you’re trying to make sure no one looks at you. Are you a pedophile?
Jabba’s face turned very red and his eyes narrowed to a tiny slit. Now some of the other inmates were looking at him and were not very happy with him. All four of the inmates in the left corner were nodding with me while I was arguing my points and the leader was now pointing at him. The jury was turning in my favor. Jabba got up, he was even bigger than I first thought, and started to come at me. Suddenly, the cell door opened, and the female officer who was always yelling— called my name to come out of the holding cell. The Southern Maryland Pre-release van was ready to take me to my new destination. I was never so happy to see a correctional officer. The trial was over.
I will never know for sure that my theft defense would have saved me, but I can tell you for certain that the next time an inmate asked me what my crime was. I was not coy. I responded quickly—“I was a lawyer who embezzled money from my clients, and now I am in prison.”
By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com