“It is closing time in the gardens of the west and from now on an artist will be judged only by the resonance of his solitude or the quality of his despair.” -Cyril Connolly
It has been almost a month since I have arrived here at yet another new prison, this one being located in the great state of Oklahoma. On arrival, myself and the rest of the lonely travelers on that fabled prison bus were sent into orientation housing, where we remained on 24hr, in cell lockdown while we waited to be classified and housed. It took me 3 weeks to get housed, and it is in this cell that I sit as I scratch these words upon a sheet of paper. It is the final piece to the puzzle that is the process of being transferred.
The beginning is much different.
At 3am a guard comes to your cell and pops the door and wakes you up and tells you that you have about 5 minutes, your ride is here. A few minutes later he returns and escorts you to a holding tank where you join up with the rest of the fellas that are going to accompany you on the journey. There were 28 of us on my particular day. After being counted to make sure that we are all there, they prepare us all for actual transfer.
The first step is they have everyone strip down completely naked and make us all squat and cough, run our fingers through our hair, open our mouths wide and look under our tongues, check in and behind our ears, and check the soles of our feet.
After this step, they return to us only in our boxers and shoes (minus the laces, they are returned upon arrival) and issue each of us neon orange paper jumpsuit with the word “PRISONER” stenciled on the leg and chest. These suits are so thin that they are almost completely transparent and we spent the next half an hour or so laughing and making fun of each other, lightening the vibe in the morning light, but underneath the surface, you can feel the anxiety that is shared by all, because you never can know exactly what to expect when you move to a new prison. Every prison is its own individual version of “The Lord of the Flies” so you never really can know what you might be stepping into.
After we all have our orange jumpsuits on they begin the chaining process. We are all shackled on our ankles with handcuffs that have a chain about 18 inches long connecting them, so that you can't really walk, you have to shuffle awkwardly. Then they wrap a thick chain around our waist and attach the cuffs on our wrists to this chain, so that you can barely move your hands at all. You have just enough movement to feed yourself, but barely, and not without the cuffs digging into your arms (more on this later). Once everyone is chained up individually, they then separate us into groups of two and they chain up the pair of us together with another chain, from handcuff to handcuff. We are now ready to board the bus.
We are then led, shuffling out the building into a giant sally port where the bus is waiting.
As we walk out into the early morning light, special transfer guards are waiting and directing us where to sit as we board the bus. They are telling us the rules of the bus, which are pretty much, don’t stand up for any reason unless you are told to do so and also they point out all the cameras and microphones on the bus. The entire ride will be recorded on audio and video. Just to reinforce what they are trying to convey, they remind you of the guard in the cage at the back of the bus holding a shot gun.
They don’t want any problems.
They then tell us that we will be fed twice on the ride and will be able to use the bathroom at the back of the bus every 4 hours or so. They are’t allowed to tell us the time, how far the drive is, or how much longer till we arrive, so we shouldn’t even ask. We’ll get there when we get there.
And thus our journey began.
I tried my best to sleep and found myself falling in and out of a restless sleep until after who knows how long, we pulled over for the first of our two meals. Its was McDonald’s. A double quarter pounder with cheese, small french fries and a small sprite. It has been more than 2 years since I’ve had anything like this, I had forgotten what fast food tasted like. It was a strange experience, like being in a fish bowl and looking out at the world. Like a flashback to civilization, however fleeting it may have been. The most sobering part of the whole moment, was the fact that the handcuffs were so dug into my forearms that my hands began to numb to point I almost dropped my food. Food eaten, trash collected, we continue on our journey. I again try to sleep and again I am rewarded with a restless attempt. As I watch our the window, morning becomes day and day fades into night. Rocky desert becomes wooded mountains, becomes fields filled with crops. And as the sun finally slips from sight we stop for our second meal. Again we stop at McDonald’s. This time it is a Big Mac, small fries and a medium sprite. But this stop the energy of the entire ride has shifted noticeably. By our estimates we’ve been on the road for upwards of 12 hours and we can see from the signs that we are still somewhere in New Mexico, still two states away.
My knees at this point have begun to throb and ache like I never knew was possible.
My feet are tingling and my ankles feel like they are on fire where the shackles are digging into them.
And to top it off I’m having a tough time closing my hands and they are beginning to get puffy from the tightness of the wrist cuffs. I have completely given up any attempt at sleep and just try to keep from losing my mind.
Hours pass and a quick glance around the bus tells you that we are all facing the same test for patience. The minutes feel like hours and the hours feel like days. Till finally the feeling permeates the guard in the cage and he tells us to hold tight, we are almost there. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain to someone the feeling of relief and salvation that swept through that bus the moment it began to exit and we saw our destination on the horizon. We had finally arrived and as the sunlight crept into the eastern sky, I got my first look at my new home. My new home is called North Fork Correctional Facility and it is located near the panhandle in Oklahoma. I’d like to be able to describe it so you could picture it in your head, but really all I can say is there is a lot of concrete, a lot of chain link fence, and a whole lot of barbwire. Once the bus pulled inside the prison walls, and stopped in a massive garage, we were quickly removed from the bus and lined up against a wall in a section containing numerous holding cells. At this point, my ankles and feet hurt so badly that I could hardly walk. After being asking our name and CDC#, we were finally unshackled, told to once again strip naked to be searched and finally given a set of clothes.
The clothes were given to us in a mesh bag that was labeled with a size, and in each bag was 3 pairs of socks, 3 pairs of boxers, 2 pairs of bright red pants, 2 bright red tops, 3 white under shirts, 2 blankets, 2 sheets, a tooth brush, a bar of soap, a pair of shower sandals, a ballpoint pen, 5 envelopes and 10 sheets of paper (no stamps) and one small white towel. We then put on a set of clothes and head into a holding cell where we wait to go through processing and get our temporary orientation housing. I looked at the clock in the housing office and it was 7am.
We had been on the bus for 26 hours.
The next few hours passed in a blur. Set up like a D.M.V. office, going from window to window, speaking to nursing,medical, psych, housing. Answering questions you’ve already answered over and over until finally around 1 in the afternoon, they tell you to pick who you want to cell up with for our time on orientation. A few moments later, everyone again paired up, we were led to our new home, a cell that we will occupy until we have all gotten classified and gone to what is known as committee. Committee is the final step of classification and it is when you go into a room with a case worker, a unit manager, a prison guard captain and his clerk and you are told your sentence term, your release date, and your custody level, security level. Having finished this final step, you are then put down for transfer to the mainline of general population. Over 3 weeks after this move all began I’m sitting here writing these words. I am finally on the mainline and I can get back into my routine. I can finally put that part of my time behind me.
Everyday prison is a challenge. Everything inside of prison is designed specifically to take away a persons identity. We have very few decisions we can make on our own, almost everything is chosen for us. We are moved like cattle, my hand and feet hurt for days from the cuffs on the 26 hour trek and housed in a little concrete block. The prison population in California is so out of control that we are sent to privately owned prisons such as my current prison, that are halfway across the country. The prison I am at right now is owned by a company called C.C.A. (correction corporation of america). Just last month in The Wall Street Journal I read that this same company spent upwards of 985 million dollars on political donations and state lobbyist all in their attempt to toughen sentencing laws for lengthier prison terms. More people in prison means more profit on their bottom line.
We are merely figures on a paper.
It is even more profound when you try to sign up for school and they tell you the waiting list is almost 2 years. I don’t understand it. I’ve had a lot of up and downs in my life and I’m sure that will always be the case. I believe that is what life is all about. Take the good with the bad and the bad with the good. We hope that somehow, someway it will all balance our in the end. Knowing this and having lived the life I have, I can easily say that being shacked on a bus for 26 hours without being able to move at all is one of the most dehumanizing things I have ever experienced. My simple words will never be able to explain it. How prison strips down systematically everything a person is to make them a better prisoner. Easier to control. But doing so also makes a person that much more likely to return, because by stripping them down, it makes them forget how to live. It makes you forget how to be you. I am getting closer to coming home every single day, and even though I still have quite a bit of days left I’m pretty happy that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. These years have taught me a lot of things but just recently I feel like I’ve decided which one is the most important to me and that is this… It’s not always easy being yourself, but it’s always worth it.
Until next time, KEEP ON RICH ROLLIN Your Friend- D.A.R.T.
Song for this diary:
Artist: John Mayer
Title: Shadow Days
I’d love to hear from you:
Daniel Dart Richert #AL2076
North Fork Correctional Facility
1605 E. Main St.
Sayre, OK 73662