There’s been something wrong with my stomach ever since a few days ago when I was told to pack out because I was being transferred to a new facility.
This entire prison is shutting down due to budget cuts, so it’s not just me that’s moving. We’re all being shipped out of here.
Change is usually uncomfortable in the best of circumstances, traumatic in the worst. Our situation borders on the latter.
To make matters worse, our counselors are no longer allowed to tell us where we’re being transferred to. Just a few days ago, a fellow inmate found out he was being transferred to a prison he wasn’t supposed to be going back to and tried to kill himself because of it. Now they won’t tell us until the morning we leave.
No matter what happens inside, I always try to be cheery when I call home. I do my best to paint a very different picture of what prison is like to my family because I don’t want them to worry about me. This time, I think I’ve gone too far. My mom pictures me in a kind of long-term day spa that is full of top-notch addiction specialists and people that want the best for us when we get out.
I pick up the payphone and call my family to let them know I’m being transferred. “It’s a better facility,” I tell them, adding that I was very excited about the move and couldn’t wait to get going.
I could feel my stomach turning as I spoke. There’s nothing I can do, I’m state property.
I say goodbye and hang up the phone and run into a friend. He hasn’t packed out yet. He’s one of the lucky ones who gets to stay another month.
He wants to know what day I “packed out.” He’s referring to the process in which you box up your property and give it to the state to ship ahead of you. I told him that I did last Thursday.
“You’re lucky,” he tells me.
“What do you mean?” I ask him.
“All the property that was packed on Monday was put onto a pallet and left out in the rain. Now it looks like a pile of wet trash.”
People’s TVs, radios, food, letters from home, books, everything had been ruined. It’s common to have property lost and damaged during transfer, but this was a new level.
The inmates are not likely to be compensated. Pressing the issue would invite retaliation, which is something most of us are personally familiar with.
The day before your transfer, experienced inmates eat very little, if anything at all. If your nerves haven’t taken your appetite, the prospect of having to use the bathroom during transfer should. The one-piece jumpsuit coupled with wrist and leg shackles create a logistical nightmare when trying to relieve yourself.
Your wrist shackles wrap around your waist and the jumpsuit has a front zipper on the chest. I will not go into detail, but I can tell you it is physically impossible to pass any solid waste during the trip.
Most people that have transferred prisons will have a story about having to ride in cramped conditions with the smell of human excrement the last half of the trip because someone couldn’t hold it long enough — one more thing to look forward to.
A friend of mine is on suboxone and will be leaving with me. The day comes and he goes to the medical unit to get his medication before the trip but is told that his medical records have already been packed. Without them, they can give no medication out.
This is a problem because new facilities don’t give out “non-necessary” meds until you’ve been there for 24 hours. Necessary means life threatening, so he won’t qualify for a dose of his medication until he has gone close to 50 hours without. He knows that by hour 24 he will begin to feel withdrawal symptoms. They will get progressively worse until he gets his dose.
He is pale when he tells me this. I don’t envy him.
The time comes and we are all called over the PA system. It’s time to go. We are herded into a large cage downstairs, pulled out one at a time, stripped, searched, given a jumpsuit and then shackled.
Even if the shackles don’t hurt right away, the pain will come — usually no later than 30 minutes, and it will be all you can think about. The metal burrows itself deep enough to leave thick, purple rings around the wrist and ankle.
Getting on the bus, I’m struck by how little room there is. Both sides are lined with single-man cages leaving a narrow walkway down the center that leads to a 12-man box in the back. It doesn’t dawn on me until I settle into the corral in the back that there is no bathroom on board. Thankfully, it’s only a two-hour ride.
We pack in tight and shove off. A low hum of idle talk helps us take our minds off our situation, but that is broken a few minutes later.
“CO!” an inmate in one of the single cages calls out to the corrections officer. We all stop and look toward the voice, wondering what happened. It doesn’t take long to see green vomit seeping out from under the center cage door. Oh, that’s gonna smell great.
The person in the center cage doesn’t call out again. He no doubt realized it was pointless. The bus will not stop.
Idle talk resumes, and I stare out the tiny window. I realize how sheltered we are in prison. Seeing cars, roads, buildings — it’s fascinating to me. I’m hypnotized.
“Walla Walla mean face, guys! Almost there!”
I can’t help but chuckle. It’s a saying in Washington state, reminding us to look tough when we get there.
We take the last turn and see the large security gate. We’ve arrived.
“Walla Walla mean face,” I laugh as I say it under my breath.
The gate opens, and we drive in.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.