by Donnell Saadiq Palmer
“Lockdown” Wednesday 9:15am.
“Yo this must be a drill?”
Ya think? Naw man they about to transfer us across the street.
“Naw, Diq not on a Wednesday, what they gonna do move us over the weekend or start today and tomorrow, then chill for the weekend and start again Monday?”
Nope they said as soon as they start they ain’t gonna stop until their done. So that means they’re gonna go over the weekend on both shifts!
“We almost at B-block, listen Diq if this thing is really happening, I’ll see you on the other side Insha-Allah.”
Insha Allah, Lil homie, and yes from the looks of it, it’s going down, so maintain, cause ain’t nothing we can do about it, but try to make this as smooth as possible, because these clowns expect us to get crazy, so they can act nutty! It ain’t no coincidence that they now carry pepper spray after all these years!
As Salaamu Alaikum. Wa Alaikum As Salaam… Just like I thought the “Transition” has begun. Wednesday July 11, 2018 the shut down of Graterford Prison has begun. Some have been dreaming of this day, while many dreaded the end of an era, the end of the FORD! Contrary to popular belief, over the last 22, 23 years Graterford has slowly evolved from the infamous “GRATERFORD” a place that caused the toughest of men to tremble at mere mention of the name.. To a place mostly known these days for its Organization lead programs like Inside/Out, Fact, Real Street Talk, Scholarship Fund “Education over Incarceration” and many, many more! Don’t get me wrong it was still jail, but Graterford was far from the place you still here stories about, these days when people mention the Ford. They talk about the the positive work coming from behind the wall, Right 2 Redemption/Cadbi, The Gray Panthers fighting for change in legislation. HB135, SB942, SB293. UCan’s Fact program bringing families together, by helping father, grandfather, connect with their children. It was nothing to walk down the hallway and see politicians coming to see us daily, students and professors from all over the world came to Graterford. We dispelled almost all of the stereotypical misconception people came in with. We’ve hosted events such as The American Society Of Criminologist, Old School/New School Callout which was simulcast from Philadelphia Community College to name a few..
I seen many men go home and come back, but I’ve seen more go home and never come back, and I attribute a lot of that to the work that we do and have done over the last 2 decades at Graterford. I would never be able to speak about a warehouse for humans in this way, but I feel compelled to defend the truth! As much as I hate being locked up, period! I can’t sit back and allow someone to mislead people into thinking, that the ford was still F’d up and horrible and needed to be torn down. A quarter of that money could’ve been spent on refurbishment of the old building and the rest could’ve or should’ve went to better schools so places like this wouldn’t be needed in the future, but yet and still they pour absurd amounts of money into projects like this and we all know why. I wonder how much this transition is going to cost the state and its taxpayers during this transition? I mean you have food, room, board and pay for more than a thousand employees, some getting double and triple time.
So what’s next, this new warehouse, the state of the art facility with central air, that cost $350 million, oh my bad that was the starting cost, try more like $800.000.000, yeah damn near a billion dollars, and guess what, it’s not finished, but they pushed us in here, due to a state budget deadline on July 19th. Staff isn’t even trained properly, they’re shooting from the hip, they’re just as confused as us. Where are they starting at? Are they gonna do kitchen workers first? Death Row and the holes (Rhu)? Some are still in denial until they realize we didn’t come out for lunch. 2 Boxes and a Foot Locker or 4 Boxes, only exception is for active legal cases, one extra box for that maybe two. This has been hammered into our brains since the start of build. 2 boxes and a footlocker? Can you imagine decades of someone’s life fitting into a footlocker and 2 boxes 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years of incarceration summed up in a few boxes. We pack, throwing away more than we are actually packing, some having already downsized, many haven’t, hoping that the move would never happen or the building would sink into the ground or something! Mostly because of all the delays and setbacks many of us thought it wouldn’t happen, but here we are…
Thursday morning after a whole day in and not seeing any movement on the block aside for medical and officers shuffling around.
At around 9, 9:30, I hear the slight rumble of a cart while I lay in the bed. The rumble getting stronger, I figure they’re getting ready to pass out breakfast. Voices start to fill the air, unfamiliar voices all talking in unison, doors opening but not in the cadence of mealtime during lockdowns. Hold up let me see what’s going on? I raise up and walk the door, and what do I see blue carts and men in black sprinkle through the block at varies cell doors. Wow, I say to myself here we go! Now the question really comes to mind. What’s next? How are they going to treat us? What can we keep? “Look at all these hillbillies, from the mountains!” somebody screams out their cell. I wonder how many are there? There were 400 carts stored in the shops for the last 4 or 5 months and it looks like every cert team member has their own cart, so it must be about 400 of them, I surmise. At the time we were locked down there were about 470 men on B-Block, I wonder how long this is gonna take?
Friday, more of the same thing, from about 8:30 in the morning until about 6pm
Men in black walk by pushing a blue cart, minutes later a friend, comrade or someone you don’t know comes pass pushing a cart. The only difference today is now at around 5pm 2 people with Black Polo Shirts and Tan khakis are walking around to random cells telling people, “Get ready they are moving in an hour or leaving tomorrow.” Back & forth they go but never coming over to our side. Myself, Sam, Charles and Bobby are 6 cells apart. I holla out to Sam my neighbor on my left “Yo, you see this shit?”
“Yeah, I’m watching them, they ain’t even looked this way!”
“I was wondering if they were gonna keep moving us on the weekend & from the sound of it they are, he just told 13 cell you’re leaving in the morning.”
“Yo they serious about getting us in there before the nineteenth, if they moving on a Saturday & Sunday!”
Saturday, still here same thing
Men in black blue carts, black & tans walking around informing. Wait now there’s more black tans on the block. “A, Sam what did she say?”
“She’s asking people if they are alright?”
“HELL NO! WE AIN’T ALRIGHT,WE READY TO GO!” I yelled out. Damn, did I say that? Yep, after 3½ days of unpacking and packing my TV and fan. Literally living out of a box, washing up twice a day in the sink! Oh yeah, how could I forget throughout this whole ordeal we were denied showers! Despite the fact that policy states “after 72 hours of total confinement, inmates are to have controlled showers…” So yes, we were ready to get this behind us, the block seems to be empty, almost all the cells in my direct line of sight are empty, abandoned, lights on doors ajar, with no signs of life. The silence on B-Block is amazing for a Saturday night, I begin to wonder how many of us are left on the entire block, better yet the entire jail, penitentiary, prison, institution! Anxiety begins to creep in, anticipation of what’s to come, what’s next?? Officer walks by doing count, “A, my man, how many of us are left on the block?”
“30 something over here & about 100 in the entire building.” Damn 2500 in 4 days. That’s an average of like 600 a day, property and all, I wonder how they’re processing our stuff, if they are moving this fast?
“We gotta be out today bro,” I say to my homie Sam next door as they pass out breakfast bags.
“No doubt, I’m ready to be out! This jawn is empty! I ain’t never think I would see the fort like this!” Sam said shaking his head… “Yo they about to pass out Lunch, if we still here for dinner we are gonna be stuck until tomorrow.” Our lunch comes and I ask the c/o what it look like for us? He says “Ya’ll should be outta here soon.” Today? “Today!” An hour so later six blue carts are coming towards the back of the block. Keep in mind we’ve been locked in for 5 days so we don’t know how many people are left up front if at all. 2 carts go right by me and stop at Vic and Charles’s doors 2 Stop at the steps and 2 more are coming this way. The first one stops in front of my door and the c/o says “Palmer you…”I didn’t even let him get it out, I said “yeah let’s get this shit over with.” Frustrated by the whole process, Frustrated by the fact of all the monies spent for this could’ve been put to better use, if the right people we’re in place at the right time. People like Gov.Wolf and Philly’s D.A. Larry Krasner came along a little to late. There the true progressive thinkers, this dude Wetzel is a fraud and all about claiming the latter! He has and will say whatever he has to, to get the desired results then it’s business as usual. I personally believe that if Gov.Wolf was in office when the conversation about building a new jail came up, being as though he is a businessman first, I think he would’ve made a better business decision and I wouldn’t be writing this piece.
Sam’s cart is there as well, all four of us are loading at the least 23 years of our lives into these blue 5 by 3 by 5 foot carts. Electronics included! All loaded up one by one we exit Charles and Vic leaves first all of our door tags say JB so we know we’re going to the same block, unit, or pod whatever they’ll be calling them. Big Curt leaves too as they make their way up front. Me and Sam follow a few seconds later. As we pass from under the bridge Wavy is coming down the steps with his property. “Damn, cuz I thought you was gone already,” I say to Wavy as he’s putting his stuff in the cart.
“I Thought ya’ll was gone too.” He replied laughing, “is anybody still back there?”
“Yeah, Black was hollering out the cell when we was loading up, I think he is the last person back there, anybody besides you up here?”
“Yeah I think I heard Lil Geater’s voice.” Wavy replied. We started towards the front of the block, navigating through trash & debris left behind by everybody that already left. For some strange reason I can see how beat up the block really looks. Paint peeling off the walls with rust colored water stains running down them. Things you may have never really paid attention too really stands out as I take one last look at the dull olive & forest green peeling paint. With years of layers peeking through. I’ve been down for almost 23 years and 22 of them has been spent right here. Damn, I say to myself as I push the cart 21, 22, 23. 21 when I got locked up, 22 years in Graterford, 23 straight years incarcerated. “A…!” A voice yells out, breaking my thoughts.
“Look up Diq,” Wavy shouts, “It’s Geater.”
“What the fuck! They gonna just leave me here? How many are left in the back?” He shouts out the door.
“Black, we think is the only one left back there!” I shout back. Laughing he screams “don’t let them forget us!” The cert team even had to laugh at that, and one of them shouted back, “We’ll be back!”
Up the ramp and out the door we go. If it was dull and quiet on B Block, its a bevy of movement out here in the hallway. There are cert team members everywhere from the front gate it looks like to the chapel. There was no way to gauge how many were here due to us being confined to our cells for 5 days. There were 8 to 10 tables lined up on the wall where the C.I. shops were. With 4 or 5 cert team members at each table. We were told to push the cart to one of the tables. I figure to itemized all of our property, but they just wanted all of our electronics at these tables.
They itemized all of my electronics and put them in a separate blue cart, we proceeded down the corridor towards the chapel pass the rest of the tables until we arrived at the entrance to the shoe shop, with both doors open and two lines of about thirty cert team officers looking in my direction.The one escorting me told me to pass my cart off to the officer extending his hand, that’s when I notice that every last cert team member in the corridor and shop were white, not a black or brown face amongst them.
A funny feeling swept across my body as the stone faced officer reached out for my cart and rolled it to the rest of the stoned faced officer’s standing inside the shop. Anxiety begin to hover over me as I watched my life roll into a sea of darkness lined by only white faces. I said to myself “this ain’t gonna be good.” I turned to the escort “What now? I ask” “Their gonna search your stuff and it will be at Phoenix when we get there, probably at your cell before you get there.” He said, this dude wasn’t bad he seemed to have some empathy within him and didn’t see us as the enemy or as animals like some of his comrades do.
We travel down the corridor towards the chapel and stop at the school building. I look through the door and there are even more white faces in black, but mixed with them are these guys with green shirts and fatigues on. “I’ll catch up with you at the other end of the hallway my escort says as he walked by and disappeared into the maze of white faces. ” Mister Palmer!” Shouted this white dude in green on the other side of the metal detector. “Take them cuffs out of your pants, walk through the metal detector and place you feet on the x’s on the floor and your hands on the x’s on the wall.” Now the shit is really about to get real, as it seemed that every face turn to watch the 6’3′ 240 pound inmate get patted down from his fingertips to his ankles, hoping he’d make a sudden move. Unfazed by their glares I endured the humiliating pat search and wondered if it was gonna get any worse than this? “Step over here sir,” a short guy with a clipboard says, “do you have your I.D.” I gave it to him as he looked for my name on what looked like a manifest on his clipboard. “OK here you are,” as he highlighted my name on the paper and gave me my I.D. back.”Follow me,” he says as we walked down the hallway towards the library.”Step in there and sit in the chair.”
All the tables and chairs in the library were gone and there was two chairs in the middle of the law library, and two dogs posted in the corner. I sit down as the dog and his handler approaches me.The brown short haired pointer look at me like “I don’t like this shit either!” as the handler directed him around the chair twice to the right and twice to the left, then walking the pup right up to my crotch, again the dog seemed to look at me apologetically as he was force to sniff my crotch area. “OK come with me sir,” we walked straight across the hall into a classroom filled with about 6 or 7 men in fatigues and two upright rides about five feet apart with lights on them. I figure they are some sort of metal detector. I’m told to stop on the at the line on the floor. Now walk straight with your arms to the side and follow my instruction the guy on the other side of the metal detector says. This is the second metal detector I’ve passed through in the last 7 minutes, it’s amazing on how much detail is being paid to what may or may not be on or in our bodies. As I’m told to walk back and forth through these space age looking detector, I say to myself “I know we are getting strip searched, what’s the point of all this?” After the fifth walk through, I’m told once again to follow the guy with the clipboard.
Back out to the hallway, we head further down towards the back of the school building and I’m told to go into yet another former classroom. As soon as I enter, I see the makeshift partitions. Must be the strip portion of this assembly line. Alright Sir listen to my instruction and you can be on your way, the thirty something red faced white guy with a mouth full of chew said as I step in the room. Place your back a against the wall and face me. I turn and he’s about 8 to 10 feet away..Now remove your boots and all article of clothing your have on and pass them to me one at a time. I remove my boots and socks and pass them to him followed by my shirt and pants. After I was sure he was done checking my outer wear I stood there patiently waiting for him to tell my to pass him my underwear. Unlike many I wasn’t just going to disrobed and stand there butt naked waiting for his next command. And he knew it too, because when he looked up and saw me standing there he smirked and said here take these items and place them over there on the desk and pass me the rest of your stuff. I sat my clothes on the desk and proceeded to remove the rest of my items, T-shirt first then my tank top then my boxers. After inspecting my underwear he says “You can only take one undershirt, I take it you want the one you paid for?” “Yeah I do” was my reply. He passed me my Tank top and I did the ritual open your mouth lift your tongue, wiggle your fingers and toes, lift turn bend and spread em. Yeah anybody who has been incarcerated, knows the routine one of the most humiliating, dehumanizing experiences any man, woman or child can go go through. I’ve met people who wouldn’t get visits or if they were in the hole(Rhu) they would never leave the cell because they didn’t like or want to be stripped search every time they went to a visit or left the cell. With that experience behind me, I was told to walk across the hallway into yet another class room. This one was filled with cert team guys and for the first time I was looking at a black cert team member that didn’t work at Graterford. They had the chairs in this room set up like a horseshoe with arrows taped on the floor in front of each chair. A cert team member behind each chair with various items.
The first chair of course was the Black guys and he had the ankle shackles. I had to put my knees in the chair for him to put the ankle shackles on me. As I stood back up, a strong feeling of deja vu swept through my body causing me to stubble a bit. I said to myself “what the hell was that as I regain my balance. The black cert team guy asked me was I alright, yeah I said, “bad knees”, “I feel you” he replied, as I moved to the next chair. Still trying to make sense of the feeling as the guy at the next chair placed handcuffs on me, as I continued to the next chair where a chain was placed around my waist with a master lock attached to it, that’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks as I reached the next and last chair so this guy can put the box on that secures the chain and hand cuffs together and sometimes the shackles. A lot of people see the box on t.v and in movies everyday, but do they know that it was created by a prisoner, I don’t know when and where, but I’ve heard this for about 20 years. It’s crazy, but not as crazy as the feeling I got as I went threw this gauntlet. I felt what my ancestors went through…I saw the port, the ship…The slave ship! I begin to channel my ancestors, 400 years of oppression, humiliation, dehumanization…I had to think fast and collect myself, because I didn’t want to snap or break down. It was one of the weirdest feelings I’ve ever had in my life, but I powered through it, my will once again prevailed…As I walked to the back of the school building, where there was a line forming on the left side of the hallway and varies officials and staff on the right, None of them I recognized. I wondered if anybody felt what I felt, I know out of 2500 people somebody had to feel that shit too! They checked off our names as we made it closer to the back door, you could feel the heat coming through the open door, it was like 95 degrees on sunny Sunday afternoon. While I stared out the door into the sunlight, our modern day slave ship.
by Vernon Robinson
“It’s July 14th, and for some reason I feel compelled to write down my feelings. I’m lying in bed, and I’ve just watch Serena lose her Wimbledon championship match. I’m locked in this cell with my tablet and the rest of my property. As much as I enjoy the time in my cell alone, this time is eerie. I’m in the State Correctional Institute Phoenix. The cell is brand-spanking new, and I am the first occupant this cell has endured overnight. Everything in here smells new and has that state-of-the-art look. But I am not titillated—or fooled—by the modernized environment I’ve stepped into. I am fearful of what’s behind this façade of fresh paint and air conditioned cells.
On Tuesday, which was the 10th, I had a bad feeling. The mere thought of our impending move from Graterford to Phoenix enveloped me in intense feelings of fear and panic. I wasn’t afraid of any of the men that would be moving with me or any of the other jailhouse mysticisms that instill fear into the uninitiated. I can gather that my trepidation was born from the prospect of an unknown future, but the intensity of these feelings was sort of alarming, given how much I’ve already been through in my twenty-seven years of incarceration. Then on Wednesday the 11th, we were locked down for the move. Having a single cell makes these lockdowns more tolerable, but this one signaled the end of an era. So I lay in my cell and slept or watched TV until it came time for me to go. They started taking people off my block on Thursday 12th. It was crazy watching brothers leave the block with a big cart full of personal property, escorted by the men in black (CERT team members). And even though my time to move was coming, there was this sense disconnection as I watched each of these men leave before me. I wasn’t even close to most of them, but they were part of my life for many years. If they had been going home, I would’ve cheered for them. But their movement didn’t warrant celebration—nor a memorial. So what do I feel?
On Friday the 13th, one of the men in black stopped at my cell. “Mr. Robinson, you’re moving.” I had already packed, so I just had to put my belongings into the moving cart. I left a lot of stuff in the cell, knowing that they would discard many of my belongings. Dealing with the CERT in the ’95 raid left me with an impression that our belongings were the least of the CERT team’s concerns. But I have to say that the CERT team members’ attitudes were nothing like those from the raid of 95′. They seemed more…patient. Matter of fact, the officer that was escorting me might have lulled me into a false sense camaraderie—not as if we were friends, but was if he saw me as human. I don’t want to assume he saw me as anything but human, but the illusory moment—more than likely an early stage of Stockholm Syndrome—was shattered by what I encountered once the officer escorted me off the block. When we got off the block, I saw a long line of brothers in browns. All of us were pushing our carts, and we each had an officer in black escorting us. All of us had to stop various tables to check in our electronics. The hallway was saturated with CERT team members and peppered with the men in brown pushing their property per orders of the officers. Once the electronics were checked, our property bins were taken from us and we were escorted to the school building, which was the point where we’d be prepared to board the bus. The school building was a snap-back moment to reality. I still had my respectful escort with me, but the visuals made his attempts to assuage my anxiety a moot point. The school corridor had CERT team members lined up with faces of stone. This environment was more suffocating than hallway ’cause the stern looks of the officers seemed indicative of a desire to utilize their tactical training skills. We went through various checkpoints to check for contraband on our person, culminating in our shackling. I need to tell you what this looked like? Dogs, chains, naked! This trip on the bus was literally five minutes from Graterford to Phoenix. Nothing much to say about that.
Entering Phoenix would have been invigorating—if it hadn’t been a prison! It looked like a sprawling campus with technological advances that many of the men of Graterford had never seen; but the fact that the manicured lawns and futuristic resources were used for prison made these things less appealing and not awe-inspiring. I was escorted, along with the men on the bus with me, to a cell block. Entering the block, I realized that the structure resembled the newer structures that I had seen on the television shows documenting prison life, like “60 Days In.” I was told what cell to go to, and I was locked in. After sitting in the cell for hours, I noticed something. I think that we took for granted the “liberties” we were afforded at Graterford. I know that Graterford was an oppressive institution as well, but the design of these new prisons is meant to oppress, but stagnate any communal growth as well. Now I see why the men and women upstate stuck together more. While the design’s intention is separate, it ultimately brings the community together because of its oppressive atmosphere. Graterford wasn’t an amusement park, but it surely wasn’t this. I’ve never been an advocate for making prison conditions better ’cause I’m not an advocate for prisons at all. But with no alternative in sight, what am I to lobby for? In spite of all that ails the world, I still search for the good in individuals. I mean, if I want forgiveness, I have to give it, too, right? But I see no good at all in minds that devise machinations of this magnitude. They seem to be devoid empathy.
This email was started Saturday and I’m ending it on Monday. It might seem to be a dramatic relation of this move, but it’s just how I feel. There was more, but I’m conserving emails. I just watched Trump with Putin on TV. These things have to be related dramatically, ’cause people ain’t listening!