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145. Earning Freedom by Michael Santos

145. Earning Freedom by Michael Santos

Earning Freedom: Conquering a 45-Year Prison Term, by Michael Santos Reading Chapter 13.2 Episode describes being in the hole at Lompoc Camp, and getting charged with disciplinary infractions, advocacy, prevailing. Months 232-233 ******* Confinement in SHU, “the hole,” is intended as further punishment to imprisonment. It is constant deprivation, leaving a person without access to phone calls, commissary, or recreation yards. The forced segregation can last for days, weeks, months, or years. Some men flip out when authorities send them to the hole. They retaliate by kicking on the doors, banging fists or heads against the walls, or becoming delusional.  But I’ll be okay, regardless of what this system does. During the decades I’ve served, guards have locked me in the SHU several times, but never for a disciplinary infraction. I’ve been through enough transfers and holdover cells that the close quarters don’t bother me anymore. I block out the screaming and noise from other cells. Carole sends me subscriptions to four news magazines. She sends three books each week. I finish reading two extensive biographies by Ron Chernow, one on J.D. Rockefeller and another on J.P. Morgan. I read the Bible and exercise daily on my tiny patch of cement floor. I didn’t expect the abrupt change, but it doesn’t paralyze me. The solitude allows me time to stare at the concrete walls and think. Only the taunting from petty bureaucrats like Jim Miller disturbs my serenity. Mr. Miller is the Camp Administrator at Lompoc, essentially the CEO of the camp. I met him during my first week here, back in July of 2005. After my hasty transfer from the Florence Camp, I needed some assurance that my published writings wouldn’t cause problems. If Carole was going through the expense of moving to California, we had to be reasonably certain staff wouldn’t transfer me again. After his gatekeeper, the dragon lady, let me in, Miller agreed to talk to me in his conference room. Miller presents an imposing figure. He stands six-five, wears cowboy boots, has a powerful build with an alabaster round head, fleshy cheeks, and blue eyes that remain half-closed whenever he addresses a prisoner. When I stood in front of his desk the first time we met, he leaned back in his chair to applaud me, a corner of his mouth rising in a sarcastic sneer. “Well, Mr. San-tos, you must be very proud of yourself.” He derisively hyphenates my last name with his affected drawl. “Why’s that?” I was not surprised that he knew my name. “You’re the first person I’ve met who comes up first when I Google his name.” “I wouldn’t know. I’ve never used the Internet.” “Let’s not kid each other, Mr. San-tos. You know exactly what you’re doing.” “Do you have a problem with my writing? That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. My wife is planning on moving here, and before she does I want to make sure I’m not going to be transferred.” He shrugged. “That’s entirely up to you” “I don’t do anything that violates the rules. But I have a new book coming out,” I told him. “Will that cause me any problems here?” He shook his head. “We’ll just have to wait and see. I don’t have a crystal ball, can’t make no guarantees.” When I went to see Mr. Miller for that face-to-face conversation two years ago, I was making the record clear about my work. I purposely avoided him after that meeting. Now that I’m locked in SHU, he appears at my cell, leans against the doorframe, and peers through the window cut into the door. I ignore him, though his big, clean shaven head fills the window and I can sense his contempt. He taps the window with his ring and I look over. “Got any questions for me, Mr. San-tos?” I shake my head. He jerks his head, gesturing that I should walk toward the door. “Your wife’s causing all kinds of ruckus out here, making extra work for me.” “I’ve got a few problems of my own,” I say into the doorframe. He nods his head, irritation evident in his tight-lipped expression. “I need you to sign these releases.” He slides a file with papers under the door along with a pen. “What are they for?” I ask. “They authorize me to communicate information to the people bothering me about your case.” “I’m an open book. I’ve got nothing to hide. You can communicate with anyone who asks about me.” “Sign the forms,” he gestures with his index finger. After signing, I slide the file back under the door. “I’ll need that pen back, Mr. San-tos.”
I slide him the pen. “You know you’ll never return to a camp, don’t you?” he grins, appearing quite pleased. “Do those 20 years that I’ve already served still count?” My question diminishes some of the pleasure he derives from taunting prisoners. “What’s that?” he asks. “The past 20 years I’ve served, don’t they still count?” Miller doesn’t respond but nods his big, shiny head and walks down the hall gripping his file folder full of signed forms. ******* A week passes and a guard finally comes, ordering me to cuff up. I grab an envelope that contains a statement I wrote to detail my version of events. Then I back up to the trap for handcuffing. The guard grips the chain and leads me from my cell down the corridor, through the gates, past the control bubble, and into an office with walls covered in dark acoustic padding for soundproofing. Behind a desk a lieutenant sits with his back to me as he types. He has a pale, bald head, and three rolls of fat droop at the base of his thick neck. “I’ve got Inmate Santos,” the guard announces. “That’ll be all, Officer,” the lieutenant says. The guard releases his grip on my handcuffs and walks out, leaving me standing in front of the desk with my hands cuffed behind my back. After he finishes typing, the lieutenant spins his cushioned chair around to face me. “Do you know who I am?” “I know you’re a lieutenant.” He nods his head. “That’s right. I’m Lieutenant Tremble and I understand you’re some kind of celebrity around here.” “I’m a long-term prisoner. That’s it.” “Good, I’m glad to hear we understand each other, because no matter how many people you have calling this prison, or how many letters people write, I’m not treatin’ you any diff’rent than I treat anyone else.” Firm but fair. That’s the BOP motto. But I know that if it weren’t for my wife’s success in mobilizing my friends and those in my support network, this lieutenant would’ve kept me stewing for a month “under investigation” before he called me in. “I’m investigatin’ the two disciplinary infractions you’re bein’ charged with,” Lieutenant Tremble says. “What are the charges?” “Conducting a business and unauthorized use of government equipment.  Specifically, you used a computer. Now Whadda ya have to tell me?” “I’m not running a business, and I had staff authorization for my work on the computer. I prepared a written statement that I want you to make part of the record.” “Let me have the statement.” I turn my back to him and he grabs the envelope from my cuffed hands. “It’s all in there,” I say, turning to face him again. The lieutenant opens the envelope and pulls out the three yellow pages. “You want me to include all of this?” “I want a full written record. This isn’t my first problem with the BOP and I’ve learned that documenting everything serves my interests well.” The lieutenant shakes his head. “Do you realize I’ve got to type all this?” “I take disciplinary charges seriously and I intend to prove I wasn’t doing anything that could be considered against the rules.” “Fine. I’ll read your statement later. Give me the quick version now.” I shrug my shoulders. “I don’t run a business. I write and type manuscripts for books. The books describe prison and encourage readers to lead responsible lives. BOP policy allows me to do this without staff permission and my Central File includes a letter from a BOP attorney specifically authorizing my work. I send the manuscripts home. My wife converts them into books. I assign away the rights to all royalties so I don’t have any financial or business interest in the work. I don’t have anything to hide.” “What about the computer?” Lieutenant Tremble asks. “Mr. Brown authorized me to use it after I completed my required duties. No one in the powerhouse is going to complain about my work.” “Well why don’t you think anyone from the powerhouse is steppin’ up to bail you out?” “I don’t know what they’re doing or why.” “Mr. Brown doesn’t have the authority to grant you permission to use the computer for personal work. Staff members don’t even have permission to use computers for personal work. These computers are for government work only. Besides that, I already spoke with Mr. Brown.  He says that he never gave you permission to use the computer for anything but government work.” I shake my head, not surprised to learn that my supervisor takes the cowardly route of self-preservation, denying the truth. “You know what that means?” The lieutenant smiles derisively. “I don’t.  What does that mean?” “I’m going to have to amend the disciplinary report. I’ll be adding a third charge of lying to a staff member. You lied when you told me that you had permission to use the computer for personal work.” “Did it ever occur to you that the staff may be lying?” “Be careful, Inmate Santos. You don’t wanna dig yourself in deeper, do you?” “Check the files in the computer. You’ll see that I typed plenty of documents for staff members.” “What kind of documents?” The lieutenant shifts, smelling a bigger fish. “Documents that don’t have anything to do with government work.” “You’re telling me that BOP staff members had an inmate typin’ their personal information? I don’t buy it.” “Check it out. When staff asked for my help, I complied. Those computer files will show that I typed letters pertaining to their personal real estate holdings, résumés, and applications for jobs with other agencies.” He’s incredulous. “Are you telling me that my staff members asked you to type their résumés? They gave you personal information?” “Well I don’t know whether they’d consider themselves your staff members, but I certainly typed up their personal work at their request?”  “Then it looks like I’ve got more investigatin’ to do.” “Then you better go about your investigating.  It shouldn’t be hard.  The files are all over the computer.” ******* I’ve been locked in the hole for a month and I’m keeping my family and friends apprised of my situation by writing a daily journal describing the routine I’ve created. Carole posts the articles on MichaelSantos.net, connecting me to the world even if I am locked in a box. When the guard escorts me out to visit Carole on Saturday morning, she delivers wonderful news. “I’ve been talking with a high-level contact in the regional office,” Carole’s eyes sparkle. “I don’t even want to say her name in here.” “Okay, I get it. What’s up?” “I’ve sent her all of your books. She’s reviewed your entire file and she’s totally impressed with your record. She saw all the efforts you made to let the staff know about your writing and she reviewed the documents you typed for your supervisors at the powerhouse.” “And? I’m still being charged with running a business, using the computer, and lying to staff.” “Not anymore. You’ve been totally cleared of those charges and you’re being transferred to another camp. Honey, this mess is finally over.” That news from Carole elevates my spirit. Any day I expect guards will pull me out for transfer. Instead, on Tuesday evening, May 22nd, Lieutenant Marx taps his steel key against my window, smiling with his nod for me to approach the doorframe. “Got a new disciplinary infraction for ya,” he grins wickedly, “hun’red series.” “What are you talking about?” My stomach drops like a brick. A 100-series disciplinary infraction characterizes it as being one of the greatest in severity, exposing a prisoner to potential new criminal prosecution. “We found your weapon.” He nods gleefully. “Weapon? I’ve been locked in SHU for 31 days. You’re telling me you found a weapon today? That’s ridiculous,” I yell into the doorframe. He slides the disciplinary report under the door. “Prove it.” He shrugs, grins, and vanishes from sight down the tier. When Dorkin locked me in segregation in April he separated me from access to my personal property. He and Mr. Smith packed all of my belongings into green duffle bags. They filled out property forms that detailed every item they packed in the bags, down to the number of Bic pens. I have copies of those property forms and they don’t mention my having anything that could be construed as a weapon. Yet this new disciplinary infraction Lieutenant Marx just delivered accuses me of possessing a “sharpened metal weapon.” I’ve been locked in high security penitentiaries and I’ve thrived through 20 years of imprisonment without problems. Now I have to argue against a charge that I packed a weapon in camp cupcake? I’m being framed. Regardless of the guards’ motivation, a 100-series disciplinary infraction exposes me to the possibility of criminal charges. I spend the evening writing a lengthy protest on my yellow legal pad. On Saturday morning, Carole comes to visit and I tell her about this latest disruption. “They’re retaliating against you because the regional director expunged the other charges,” Carole understands the gravity of this new problem as I tell her of the weapons charge.  She worries that this isn’t ever going to end. “Whatever it takes, we’re going to fight this. If there was a weapon in my property, one of these crooked guards planted it. I haven’t had access to my property for more than a month.” “Michael, I hate this place and everything about it. I’m calling my contact at the region as soon as I leave here. Even an idiot can see that you’re being framed.  We’ll get you out of this.” Despite Carole’s confidence, I feel like I’m in a viper pit. ******* I’m on the toilet when I hear tapping on the window. I don’t even have to look up to know Miller has returned. He gestures with his shaved head for me to step to the doorframe. While I finish using the toilet, his big head stays in the window. I take my time washing my hands, then step closer while drying my hands on the threadbare towel. “Got calls from National Geographic Television and BBC radio requesting interviews with you. Looks like your wife’s been busy.” “Is that what you came to tell me?” I speak into the frame. “Do you want to participate in the interviews?” “Yes.” “Sign these release forms.” He slides the folder under the door with a pen. I sign both and slide them back. Miller picks up the folder, and then he opens it to make sure I signed on the right spot. “The requests are denied,” he states with a sneer and walks away. ******* On Thursday a guard comes for me. He cuffs and marches me out from my cell, down the tunnel and through the gates to the soundproof lieutenant’s office. “That will be all, Officer.” It’s Merkle, the SIS. He walks out from behind his desk and unlocks my handcuffs. “Remember me?” he asks. “Yes,” I say, even though two years have passed since I last saw the SIS lieutenant. “Sit down.” A stack of papers sits neatly on his desk. “I’ve prepared an affidavit. I’d like you to read it over. If it’s accurate, I’d like you to sign it. If anything is inaccurate, I’d like you to tell me so I can correct it. Okay?” “Fine. Give me the affidavit.” The document describes my use of the computer in the powerhouse, emphasizing the résumés, job applications, and rental agreements I typed for staff members at their direction. “The affidavit doesn’t mention anything about the weapon planted in my property after I was exonerated from charges of lying to staff, running a business, and using the computer for personal work,” I point out. “That’s a separate investigation,” he says. “Can I use your pen?” He pulls a gold pen from the inside pocket of his blazer and passes it to me. When I sign, I appreciate the smooth precision of the roller ball. “What are you in here for?” he asks. “When I was in my early 20s, I sold cocaine. It was a bad decision.” I return his pen. “Nice pen.” “Didn’t the president’s brother sell cocaine?” He puts the pen back in his inside pocket. “That was Roger Clinton. The president pardoned him before leaving office.” “And ‘justice’ for all,” the SIS officer smirks. ******* I’ve been locked in SHU for 60 days on the Saturday morning when I walk into the visiting room and see Carole’s radiant smile. “You look like you have good news,” I ask after we kiss and sit across from each other. “Can’t I just be happy to see my husband?” “Oh, so you like seeing me in my orange jumpsuit, unshaven?” “I talked to my contact at the region yesterday. The regional director knows you didn’t have a weapon. Every charge against you is already expunged and your record is totally clear again. You’re being transferred to another camp.” “Which camp?” “I’ll know on Monday. It doesn’t matter. I want you out of Lompoc.” Returning to my cell after our visit, relief floods through me and I thank God for the many blessings in my life. Some may consider Lompoc Camp as a “crown jewel” in the BOP system, but it’s tarnished and toxic, top to bottom. Maybe something bigger will come from my being thrown in SHU on trumped up charges. Maybe this crown jewel will get a much-needed cleaning. I hear Miller’s voice. He’s talking to a prisoner in a cell down the tier. He doesn’t stick his big round head in my window to watch me today. As he walks back toward the gates, I knock for him to approach. “What is it, Mr. San-tos?” He leans into the door from the hallway. “Did you hear that your superiors at the region have completely exonerated me of all those charges?” He looks at me with his signature sneer. “I did hear something about that.” “I guess I’ll be going to another camp after all,” I smile. After more than two months in SHU I can’t contain the mockery in my tone. “Looks that way,” he responds with studied neutrality. “I’m requesting a furlough transfer.” With a furlough transfer, Carole would be able to transport me to the new camp where I would surrender, sparing me the indignity of chains and guards. He shakes his head. “Don’t count on it, Mr. San-tos. You’ll be traveling in chains.”

Duration: 25 min

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