SHU a la Taft
So by now you are probably familiar with the drill- you get in trouble, you go to solitary. This time though, since Dan was in a camp connected to a Medium prison, he was thrown in the Medium SHU. I reached out to a few people who were familiar with the prison and they told me that it would be the cleanest, nicest SHU he would ever see. Somehow that did not comfort me. If the guards could make up a lie about Dan to get him in trouble, what faith should I have that they wouldn’t lie on the reports they wrote and get Dan kicked out of Taft? Any violation could result in expulsion and who knew WHERE the BOP would send Dan if he lost his place in the camp. When an inmate broke a rule they got written up and charged- this was called a “shot”. The level of the offense indicated the level of the shot, and dictated how severe the punishment. What Dan was being accused of was a level 200 shot. 100 was the worst and 300 was the best. He was hoping his shot would be written as a 300, and that he would just spend some time in SHU. If the officers kept it as a 200, he would have to leave the camp and be transferred to a low facility.
I had to assure my brother in law that everything was ok, although really I had no idea if it was. I reached out to the lawyers and asked them to please demand legal calls so they could find out the real situation. I felt wronged and indignant and determined not to fall apart this time, even though I was pretty sure this was a really bad situation. I found out from calling the prison that SHU inmates still had regular visits, but they took place in the Medium facility instead of the camp. I couldn’t confirm that Dan would be allowed visits, I didn’t want to tell the officer I spoke with on the phone who I was, just in case. I figured I would just show up for my usual visit and try to get in. What’s four hours driving round trip to see the man you love, even if you chance getting turned away, right?
The first few days I was very worried, and just like every other time he had disappeared, my phone was silent and there was no mail. Then Dan called. We only spoke for five minutes and he confirmed he was in SHU, but knowing he was alive and ok made it all bearable. He told me it was the only call he would be allowed to make until another thirty days passed, so we tried to cover everything. Because of the nature and severity of the accusation against him, he probably wouldn’t be allowed visits with me, but he didn’t know for sure. He was going to have a DHO hearing to determine all of this and it was not looking good for him. He was ok, it was a pretty clean, and he had his own shower in his cell. That was a huge improvement over every SHU he had been in prior. He had been expecting the usual once every three days shower so this was a great bonus. He also had a bunkie, a guy named Mark, who was getting released a few days later. Mark had only served five months but was not actually getting released- he was going on to face State charges and was being turned over to local authorities. He was also very sick, with stomach cancer. Dan had the upper bunk in their cell and the two of them got along just fine. Whew, such a relief. Sort of. There was a photo album of risque-ish photos of me that Dan had put together and he said his old bunkie in the camp was supposed to be mailing it to me. That gave me a bit of anxiety- it’s not like I could walk in and demand the album if he didn’t actually send it to me!
We couldn’t get a clear answer on visiting so I chanced it and drove up. This time I pulled up into the Medium instead of the camp, past the barbed wire and guard towers. It was terrifying to approach the front desk and ask what visiting procedure was. The officers at the desk were much meaner than I had been prepared for and they said I had to leave the premises immediately. I was informed that since I was part of the reason he was in SHU, that I was banned until the DHO hearing outcome. If the hearing went in his favor, he might be allowed visits again but that I specifically would be banned for six months at least. I didn’t know they could do that, it didn’t even occur to me that this was a possibility. We had just barely made it through the first six months and three prisons with our visits, how on earth were we going to make it through another six WITHOUT visits???
I wrote a letter detailing my account of what had occurred at the visit, and Dan’s brother wrote an extremely long and detailed one as well. We had a few lawyer’s write supportive letters too, and I mailed them all to Dan to submit in his defense. The hope was that it would help sway the DHO committee who would be reviewing the case. I was uncomfortable relaying the story to Rabbi’s and our family, I sort of skirted the details and kept it basic- that Dan had been accused of inappropriate conduct with me. Reading the charges on paper was very jarring and made me nervous. I was mortified that anyone thought we would actually have sex in public, and I was embarrassed that people thought it was true.
Dan and I wrote endless letters to each other- mail was the only form of communication we had now. He had a great attitude about it, and tried to keep his letters light and funny. He wrote about posting up a sign “Nail Clippers Please” in his door window and being very surprised that it actually worked- he was taken down the hall to a tiny room, given a new looking nail clipper and when he was done cutting his nails he was brought back to his cell. He also wrote letters to all our family members, in response to the emails they sent me that I would print and mail to him. I started talking out loud to myself at home, it was too quiet. Dan wrote that he would read my letters out loud in his cell and say good morning and good night to me as well. Reading this in his letter, I started laughing crying… we were both doing the same things to cope with the loneliness!
He sent me a poem he wrote for me… Besides being incredibly sweet and romantic this was a totally new side of Dan. It wasn’t that he couldn’t write a poem, it was just that as long as I’d known him he never had. I was blown away that this creative, softer person was being revealed as a result of this experience.
Dan also used to stick the stickers from any fruit he got to eat on the pages of letters he wrote to me- but in SHU he didn’t get much fruit so he started sending me the wrappers to his food. It was the tiniest gesture but it meant the world to me. We decorated the envelopes to our letters and wrote little notes on the backs, and he even managed to trade his regular stamps for some stamps with sunflowers on them. Little things that made each empty day a tiny bit better.
I was feeling very alone and finally decided to confide the truth about Dan being in prison with one of my girlfriends who I was close with. Just telling someone and being able to share suddenly made me feel so much better. She could not have been more supportive- offering to visit Dan with me and write him letters. Telling just one person gave me enough encouragement to get through the time, it meant I had someone who wasn’t in prison and who wasn’t related to me, who I could call and talk to when I was sad. I should have done it sooner, but we had been so worried about the stigma of telling anyone that we avoided it strenuously. Of course our families knew, but any time I talked with them they were always looking to me for information and encouragement, so it was a relief to have my own pillar to lean on now. She ended up being someone who made the time easier and although now we are no longer in touch, I wish her only the best that life can offer. I am forever grateful for that emotional help during that very difficult time.
I had a bizarre encounter one night when I was out with her, one that really shook me on a personal level. Basically we had all been out and met up with another group of people I didn’t really know. One of the guys invited us all back to his place and screened a movie he had made called 25 to Life. I had been unprepared for anything prison related happening to me when I wasn’t actually visiting one or writing about one, so while everyone else watched interested, I sat there silently sobbing. It was a well done film- very informative about what happens when you screw up via the Three Strikes Law. It was State not Federal, but still, having this topic in the room surrounded by people who knew nothing about my current situation (except that one girlfriend)... I was freaking out inside. I experienced a further inner freak out when it turned out the guy actually knew who Dan was from his life before meeting me, but I avoided connecting the dots for everyone and stayed quiet. This sort of thing happened to me a few times while Dan was in prison, and I always managed to handle it properly, but usually I had some sort of advance notice. This one flipped me upside down as I realized just how close all my worlds were to colliding.