U.S. District Judge William B. Bryant has ordered the city to send no new prisoners to the D.C. Jail after Aug. 22. The reason: "massive overcrowding." Here we present some thoughts from an inmate and highlights from a court document.
I am an inmate incarcerated in the D.C. Jail. Since April, when I began serving time for a parole violation, I have been assaulted, been without soap for five weeks and have had my requests to see a caseworker turned down.
I have also been following the newspaper and the TV news reports concerning the overcrowded conditions here. In the end there will be a big announcement that, two years from now, a new facility will be built and opened to accommodate 1,000 new inmates. And, of course, such an announcement will make everything hunky-dory.
But a new jail would do nothing to solve the immediate problems. A new jail holding 1,000 inmates wouldn't help. The jail is overcrowded by that many now. What will it be two years from now?
Let me explain a little about myself. I am 37 years old and am serving eight months for a parole violation. My original charge was assault with a deadly weapon, to wit, a broken bottle. This was a felony charge that carried one to 10 years. My attorney entered a guilty plea to two misdemeanors -- simple assault and possession of a prohibited weapon. The felony charge was dropped. Judge Tim Murphy sentenced me to one year for the assault and to one consecutive year with 60 days suspended.
I served 14 of my 22-month sentence at the Occoquan facility before I was paroled. I had my first parole hearing six months prior to my release. I was working in the Stepping Stones program and with Alcoholics Anonymous, so the parole board decided to place me in a treatment program. For six months they couldn't find a program to place me in. Finally, I got a number for a program from another inmate and was able to get accepted and released on parole in two weeks. It seems strange that I was able to do in two weeks what the parole officer and parole board, with their resources, were unable to do in six months.
I cannot prove that my parole officer and the parole board were prejudiced against my case, but I will say I endured a bit of adverse treatment from the other inmates while at Occoquan. Reverse discrimination they call it. Racial prejudice is prejudice whatever your color.
The problems here at the D.C. Jail have nothing to do with what color you are. Being an inmate here is all you have to be. I was assaulted a few weeks ago. The man who assaulted me and I went before the disciplinary board. They found us both guilty. We received suspended sentences and 14 days' segregation.
The block I'm in is the protective custody unit. We are locked in our cells all day except for breakfast and lunch. Then we come out from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Then, there is a count. Many times we stay locked up for the rest of the night because the officers don't seem to be able to count. This is no exaggeration. Recounts are just about accepted as the status quo.
I have seen as many as 20 to 30 inmates having to sleep on the floor of the waiting room of the infirmary, 200 inmates crammed into living quarters designed for 80. The inmates that sleep in bunks in the recreation areas and other areas have two toilets. As many as 80 inmates using two toilets. With four showers for 200 inmates. Can you imagine not supplying soap for a couple thousand persons for five weeks straight? Well, for five weeks straight, no soap was issued in this jail. And the other morning we ate breakfast at 3 a.m.
Judge Bryant's assessment of the situation is just the tip of the iceberg. I know of two inmates here who were supposed to go before the parole board months ago. They sent requests to their caseworkers, but didn't get the courtesy of a reply. They wrote for an administrative remedy to the warden, which was useless; they got back some double talk and a couple of 50-cent words. Only an idiot would accept the answers.
It perplexes me that the mayor would allow a man to live under such conditions. We are criminals, but we are humans and we are Americans. It is our right as Americans to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. If a judge states that we live under conditions of cruel and unusual punishment, it must be so. The courts and judges sentence as to serve our sentences under the law, and we must comply. But not the D.C. Department of Corrections and Mayor Marion Barry. Are they above the law? I doubt it.