Prison Talk

We firmly believe that even though a prisoner's body is locked up, their mind can always be free to travel the world and learn about anything they are interested through the magic or books.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Inside The Box: A Prisoner Tells His Tale

Matthew Hattley is an inmate at the Eastern Correctional Facility in Napanoch, NY. He is serving a term of 25 years to life for murder, a tragedy that he admits to and fully regrets. He is a member of a community that exists within our midst the prison community that few outside of it know.

The community exists behind the walls and razor wire of New York State's vast network of prisons, within the homes of the Correction Officers who work there, and the motels, bus stops and low-rent housing that many families of inmates frequent. But to most us this community is invisible, even though its influences and effects are everywhere.

He lives in a place few get to see, and even fewer understand. We have asked him to write about what life is like in a maximum security prison what happens day to day, what inmates eat, what inmates do, how they organize themselves, what they hope for, and what they can expect. Not much different than what our reporters do in the more recognizable communities of the Hudson Valley.

We understand that giving a voice to someone who has committed a heinous crime is unsettling, and may even anger some readers. Nonetheless, he lives among us, walled off, for sure, but he is there, as are thousands like him. Does he deserve to be heard? We think that depends on what he says, not just on who he is, which is why we chose to print his writings. We expect his reports to be a regular feature in the newspaper below is Mr. Hattley's third contribution.

Alex Shiffer

Welcome back to the world inside the walls. Today we're examining another aspect of the prison experience. First and foremost, I need you to understand that "Programs" are classified as follows: School, Therapeutic/Treatment, Vocational and Work. You also need to know that each day consists of three modules: AM, PM, and Eve.

So, where were we? Just finishing up breakfast, maybe taking a shower or getting some exercise.

Now, the majority of the prison population will report to their AM program; the remainder will either go out to the yard or return to their cell. Everyone, with limited number of medical exceptions, is assigned to two modules. Roughly 85 percent have AM/PM programs, which they report to 5 days a week. Some choose to have two different programs, one module each.

Eastern Correctional Facility (Napanoch) is considered a "program facility", which means they have something to offer for everyone. Your ability to advance in any specific area is determined on your having a GED or high school diploma. We have the potential to earn between ten cents and sixty-five cents an hour. The average prisoner earns twenty cents an hour. However, without at least a GED, you will not advance beyond seventeen and a half cents an hour.

Just so you have a better idea of exactly what we do in here, I will give you a brief summary of several available programs.

Barber Shop: Licensed barbers (prisoners) cut the general population's hair approximately once ever two weeks. Your day to receive a haircut is determined by the last number on your prison ID. They are supervised by a corrections officer.

Commissary: These workers are responsible for unloading items from the delivery trucks, stocking and organizing shelves with all available products, chips, candy, cereal, cold-cuts, cups and bowls, cosmetics, etc. They also gather the items specifically selected by each prisoner to be purchased. The general population is scheduled to shop once every other week, according to their "buy letter" (i.e. A. B. C.....) They are supervised by both civilians, who actually perform the transactions, and correction officers.

Education: We currently have Pre-GED, GED and Bard College (privately funded) classes. These classes are conducted by civilian instructors in separate classrooms in the school building. Upon completion there is usually a graduation ceremony in the facility auditorium.

Facility Painter: These workers are responsible for keeping the interior of the facility presentable at all times. They basically do "touch up" work on a daily basis, Monday to Friday. There are also block painters (one per block) who are responsible for painting the cells and galleries of their respective housing units.

General Library: These workers are responsible for stocking shelves with books; assisting the general population in obtaining books (4 books and/or audio cassettes at any one time). The library offers a wide selection of materials including newspapers and magazines. Books may also be ordered from an outside library. The workers are supervised by a civilian librarian.

Hospital: Workers are responsible for responding to emergencies within the facilities, cleaning up feces and blood spills as well as keeping the hospital area sanitized. Those who work in the actual ward tend to the patients as well. They are all unofficial nurse's aides.

Industry: Set in an isolated area, there is a mattress, metal and sign shop, plus a warehouse. Workers make products which are sold to other state agencies. They are the highest paid workers in the facility at up to .65 cents an hour and their shifts run from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The entire operation is supervised by civilian instructors and corrections officers.

Laundry: Workers are responsible for washing and drying the prison population's clothes. Each housing unit is scheduled for one day per week. They clean and distribute all state issued linen (2 sheets and 1 pillowcase) every Saturday morning. They also clean all the facility mop-heads. This operation is supervised by a civilian.

Maintenance: This area contains several shops: Carpentry, Electric, General Mechanic, Mason & Plumbing. There is also a Fire & Safety area. The workers in each shop are responsible for the repair and upkeep of the facility. Everything from changing lights bulbs, unclogging sinks and toilets, to repairing damaged concrete is their responsibility. They are supervised by civilian instructors.

Mess Hall: Workers are responsible for preparation and serving of the food for the population. They keep the mess hall and kitchen areas clean. They are the second highest paid workers in the facility, earning up to 45 cents an hour.

Porters: Responsible for cleaning the entire prison, by sweeping and mopping, etc. Each group is assigned to a specific area in the facility.

State Shop: These workers stock and distribute all the state issued clothing � pants, shirts, sweaters, underwear, winter coats, sneakers and boots. They do repairs and alterations to the same, via the tailors. A request must be filled out for clothing prior to receiving any, repairs are scheduled as needed.

Storehouse: Workers unload delivery trucks, stock all frozen and dry foods and distribute same as needed. They also deliver office supplies and specifically-ordered items throughout the facility. The daily operation is supervised by a civilian.

Yard Gang: Workers are responsible for mowing the grass and snow removal throughout the facility. They are supervised by a correctional officer.

As you can see, we have access to a variety of skills and trades. For those who are willing to apply themselves, they can actually return to society with something to offer a potential employer (anything beats a blank!). This can be the difference between becoming a productive citizen or returning to a life of crime. Most people require some positive guidance to grow and recognize their true abilities. This is another reason why there should be more certifiable programs implemented in the state prison system, to assist prisoners in finding employment upon their release. Eastern Correctional Facility would be an ideal facility for a re-entry program, something the state government should seriously consider.

Look for a different aspect of the prison experience soon.

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