Jul 13

Last Time Inside The Walls

Walls

USDB

Last Time Inside The Walls

Before I could leave the Fort Leavenworth, I had to attend an out-processing briefing. A trip back inside the walled fortress was necessary for this to happen. Since it was a prerequisite for my upcoming release, I left the LPU and headed back to the Disciplinary Barracks.

There was a protocol for walking to the DB. As soon as I left, an LPU guard would call the South Gate tower and notify them that a Trustee was headed their way. I had to make it there within an allotted time period. If I didn’t, a literal Army of soldiers would be dispatched to search and detain. This always kept a sense of urgency in my steps.

The briefing was being held in the education center. Ironically these were the same classrooms in which I had to take day classes upon first arriving. There were quite a few inmates in the room, most were wearing the brown uniform of Medium and Minimum custody. I might have been the only one wearing the LPU blue. An Army NCO was giving the briefing, telling us everything we needed to know.

We would receive a small sum of money totaling twenty-five dollars, which was probably for a couple of meals. We would also receive some money to travel home in the cheapest mode of transportation. Most of the guys here would be receiving a bus ticket home. Fortunately, my family would be coming to pick me up and so they were going to give me seventy-two dollars for gas. Being careful not to spend all of my tax return from 1989, I still had about three hundred dollars saved in my Prisoner Deposit Fund. So, I was leaving with enough to get me started.

The Sergeant gave us a lot of information but most of it we knew already. Some inmates were being released at the end of their sentence and others like myself were leaving on parole. Knowing that some of these guys were going to be completely free made me wonder if I had made a mistake. My desire to get the heck out of here was stronger though. He also talked about the fact that sometimes he saw some parolees right back in the DB after they violated their parole conditions. This would not be me.

There was nothing that was worth risking ever coming back inside these walls. At the end of the briefing, we were all handed a copy of our military service and prison records as well as our medical records. Inside the packet was also a set of military orders to be transported to my parents’ house. Because my discharge had not been finalized yet, I was still considered to be in the Army.

After the briefing, I headed out of the Education Center and walked slowly through the courtyard. This would be the last time I would ever step foot inside this place. Straight across from the building was Building B-6, where I spent about a third of my confinement. I just kept on walking.

Turning to the right and heading back toward South Gate, I faced the massive structure of the Castle. My time inside this place was not pleasant and I never wanted to go inside of there again. Thank God I wouldn’t have to. I’ve said this before, but the darkness that emanated from this building could be felt from the outside. More than a hundred years of inmates’ sorrow, pain and loss of life as they knew it, were locked up inside that building.

The sooner I could get outside of the walls that enclosed all of these places the better. With a quick step, I passed through the courtyard and made it to South Gate. They notified the LPU that I was headed back, as a soldier opened the door at the bottom of the guard tower. Stepping through that door one final time, I felt lighter as the weight of the DB was locked up in the walls behind me.

 

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The Fort Leavenworth Story

Jul 06

Redeemed

Redeemed

Redeemed

Redeemed

When the book arrived, I devoured it, reading and re-reading it. There is a saying that when a student is ready, the teacher appears. Man, was I ready. My mind was exploding with things that I had never heard before.

With every page Bob George would point me to a scripture that I would then go and look up in the Bible. Verses that I had read many times in the past but that had never been anything but confusing became clearer; as if God was sending me a clear message through His word.

The truth of each verse jumped out at me this time. It took me some time to piece it all together, but God’s message of grace and forgiveness was becoming very clear to me.

Romans 5:18a 

Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone.

First there was a problem: We were all born with a death sentence. Spiritually we are dead to God because of the sinful nature we acquired from Adam.

Romans 6:23

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Because I had sin in my life, the thing that was keeping me separated from God, I deserved to die. There was a way out and it was a free gift from God. Something Jesus did made it so I could live forever with God. An equation to the problem was getting clearer.

So far, this was nothing new; it was about where I had left off after years of attending church. But truth fell on truth, fell on truth, until I realized the equation wasn’t about me solving the problem at all. That had all been done for me.

Romans 5:6-10

6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.

The truth of the matter is that we are helpless. There is nothing we can do to fix the problem that we find ourselves in. And even though we are born in this condition, God still loves us. His love is so great that He sent His son to die for us, to take the punishment that we deserve to receive. Because Christ shed His blood on the cross for our sins in our place, we are made right in his sight.

Made right in His sight.

Saved from God’s condemnation or judgment.

These verses say, we were His enemies and He still chose to restore our friendship. Through the death of His son, we get to be called friends of God.

And then again.

Ephesians 1:7 

He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.

Our freedom has been purchased and our sins have been forgiven. In the past tense, he forgave our sins.

And yet, again.

John 1:29 

Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Jesus was the sacrifice in our place to take away the sin of the world. Not just my sin, all sin.

How did I miss this before? Sin is gone when I accepted Christ as my savior. I don’t have to worry about it ever again. As I kept jumping back into the Bible, the verses kept hitting me in the heart. Tearing down all of the misconceptions I had about the way God felt about me. It was overwhelming but I kept going.

Colossians 2:13-14

13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.

 

Hebrews 9:26

But now He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

 

1 Peter 3:18

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit. 

 

Hebrews 10:10-12

10 For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. 11 Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. 12 But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand.

 

Hebrews 10:14

For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.

 

2 Corinthians 5:19

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.

 

Romans 8:1 

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.

It didn’t matter that I was constantly trying to run away from everything. God chased after me.

I was not a disgrace to my creator. He no longer saw what I did in the past because he took care of the penalty for me. He nailed it to the cross.

Even though I had a dishonorable discharge, it could not define me. My identity was in Christ. To Him, I was perfect and holy.

It didn’t matter that I was in prison, because:

John 8:36

So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.

Freedom.

Not the freedom I tried to take for myself.

Not the freedom that I had just been awarded by the parole board.

Not the freedom that this current life was about to offer me.

But real freedom.

Released from the bondage of sin, my own thoughts, and the brokenness of my own flesh.

By God’s grace, I had been forgiven and I had been redeemed by my Savior.

 

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The Fort Leavenworth Story

Jun 29

Grace and Forgiveness

Forgiveness

Image used with permission from Lisa Bliss Rush. http://www.lisablissrush.com

Grace and Forgiveness

The first time I listened to the People to People broadcast, I was blown away. The host, Bob George, would take questions from the audience that usually were about some scheduled theme.

The topic was on grace and forgiveness. Having attended church growing up, I’d heard these words tossed around but really did not know what they meant. I knew that Jesus died on the cross for our sins so we could have a relationship with God and eventually make it into Heaven. That was about it.

Most of the time, I thought that God was angry or indifferent towards me. Because I was constantly screwing up, He had to be fed up or disgusted with me. The words,You have to get right with God, echoed in my mind all the time. How does anyone even do that? Humans sin all the time and we can never be perfect. Almost every decision I’d made up to this point had been wrong or resulted in some serious consequences.

And then I heard Bob say something like, “You don’t have to keep asking for forgiveness, you have been forgiven. Just say, ‘Thank you.’ and accept it.”

This was new; I’d never heard it put that way before. How many times had I tried to bargain with God and let Him down? How many times had I begged for forgiveness, thinking that God was still disappointed with me? How many times had I asked Him to come into my heart just to make sure it stuck this time, hoping it would change my self destructive behavior?

In conversation with another caller, Bob asked, “How many of the sins, that Jesus died for, were in the future?” The caller replied, “All of them, since Jesus died 2000 years ago.” This meant He shed His blood on the cross to forgive us for all the sins we would ever commit, before we were ever born. With every conversation, I was hearing a new message. My entire life, I must have been going to church spiritually deaf because, I couldn’t recall hearing any of these things.

Bob also explained that when we accept this forgiveness, God completely removes sin from us and that He can’t even see it anymore. We are considered perfect and holy in His eyes.

All of this was too much to handle. It was as if some kind of blindfold was ripped off and I could see everything in a new light. Bob backed everything up with scripture and I heard what he was saying but it was overwhelming. It didn’t occur to me to take notes. Because I was so absorbed by what I was hearing, I couldn’t go back and revisit any of this information. Fortunately, Bob had written a book called, Classic Christianity. Knowing that I needed more of this message about grace, I wrote a letter to the radio show and asked for a copy.

I did catch a verse, either at the beginning or the end of the show, that became a call to action for me:

John 8:31-32 (NLT)

31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Bob George said that if the truth sets you free then the opposite is true, error will keep us in bondage. Not only was I physically in bondage because I was in prison, but it seems I was spiritually in bondage as well. Since the Word of God is truth, I needed to read it to break free. So, I grabbed my Bible and started digging in. This time, I wasn’t reading it just to get through it. This time, it was speaking directly to my heart.

The words began to chisel away all of the self-imposed ideas I’d ever had about my relationship with my Heavenly Father. I’d swear, it was like someone had come in overnight and re-written the whole Bible. Every verse I digested pointed to not just what Jesus did for me, but why He did it as well as what stood to gain from it.

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The Fort Leavenworth Story

Jun 15

Strange Radio Program

Radio

Strange Radio Program

Strange Radio Program

Every evening, I would sit at my desk and catch up on reading and responding to letters. Once finished, I would plug my headphones into the radio that my parents bought me and listen to music. It was my escape to the world outside while I was still inside. Most of the time I would listen to the CDs I accumulated or borrowed.

Other times, I would just listen to the radio. One of my favorite stations was out of Kansas City. It was an alternative music channel. The hypnotic beats and rhythms of each song made me feel like I was back in the clubs of Houston. The lure to the night life and the mind numbing trance music was still strong. It is hard to explain why, but sometimes feeling nothing at all was better than feeling the pain of life and its struggles. This music could take me to that place.

For some reason, I decided to scan the radio stations to see if there was something else worth listening to. As I passed over each one I heard familiar pop and rock songs as well as country songs that were popular in 1992. Eventually, I hit a talk radio station that seemed like there was a heated discussion going on between two people.

One guy sounded like he was possessed or that he was trying to sound like he had a demon living inside of him. His voice would slip back and forth from somewhat normal, to an extremely low guttural tone. The show host was agitating him with Bible verses and talk about God. It was a very sensational exchange, but it captivated me. Not knowing what to think about it, but not being able to pull myself away from it, I continued to listen.

It was clear that neither of these two were going to budge on their viewpoints. During all of their heated debating, I gathered that host was a self-proclaimed exorcist named Bob Larson. The caller, Glen Benton, was from a Satan worshiping band called Deicide. Bob mentioned that Glen repeatedly branded an upside down cross in the middle of his forehead.

The whole show was certainly over the top and the validity of what was happening was pretty difficult to gage. It was definitely interesting. Other people would call in to test their mettle with Bob, but he always seemed to be able to talk over them with quick fire questioning and Bible verses. After which he would try to perform an exorcism over the air waves.

Even though I may not have fully understood what was going on in this show, I kept listening. As the show ended one evening, I decided to listen to the next program. It was called People to People with Bob George. It didn’t have all the excitement and drama as the previous show. So, I usually turned it off.

This night was different.

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The Fort Leavenworth Story

Jun 08

Decision

Decision

Decision

Decision

Waiting was not something I was good at. It always produced a level of anxiety that would drive me to the point of insanity. One would think that I would be an expert at it, since it was the way everything happened in the Army and especially at the USDB.

Over the four weeks following my parole board, wondering what their decison would be kept popping up in my mind. So, I tried to remain calm by staying preoccupied.   Keeping busy at work and in my personal time, to make the weeks go by with less stress, was my new mission in life.

On 27 July 1992, I received an official Army envelope, just like the one I got after the last parole board. There was nothing on the outside to indicate what was on the inside, but I knew what it was. The decision.

Not wanting to wait a second longer, I carefully tore the envelope open and slid out the documents inside. Right at the top of one of the pages, under the Military Review Boards Agency address were the words Certificate of Parole.

Decision

Certificate of Parole

Decision

Certificate of Parole Back

I made it.

Knowing that they believed what I had told them and that they believed in me, was such a good feeling. It was so amazing to know that I was trusted. Now I had a decision to make. To stay at the LPU for three to four months and have total freedom or to leave in a month with strings attached.

The date that I would be released on parole was 25 August 1992. The parole term would be effective until 11 November 1994. If I accepted this decision, I would have to report to a parole officer for a little over two years. This meant that if I violated any of the parole conditions during that time, I would be returning to serve out the rest of my sentence inside the walls.

If I decided to decline their decision and stay at the LPU, I would be getting out around December. This was because of all the good time I had accumulated from working in the mess hall. One of the perks of having a job that no one wanted, was more time knocked off my sentence.

Essentially I had the right to say; “No, thank you.” to parole. Even though I had earned it, if I wanted to stay and serve out my sentence, it was up to me. If I stayed, I would not have to report to anyone upon release. I would be completely free.

My decision was based on the fact that I did not care to spend one more day in this place. Not three months, three weeks, three hours or three minutes. Feeling pretty confident that I would not be having anymore life issues in the next two years, I decided to take parole.

Maybe this was an impulse decision on my part, but with every fiber of my being,

I wanted out.

 

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The Fort Leavenworth Story

Jun 01

My Last Attempt at Parole

Parole

My Last Attempt at Parole

My Last Attempt at Parole

My situation had completely changed since my previous attempt at parole.

My parent’s recent move to Omaha would allow me to move in with them, so I changed my destination from Connecticut to Omaha. My grandfather’s offer to live with him was gracious, and I was extremely thankful. It just made more sense to move in with my parents.

My father had enrolled me in Cosmetology school which covered the part about being a productive member of society. Having completed more than fifty percent of my five year sentence should have fulfilled the deterrent and retributive part of my confinement. There was no real reason to think that I would not be paroled this time.

Making parole this time was really important to me. My goal was to be released before my twenty-third birthday which was in September. If I didn’t make it, my release would be closer to the end of the year.

Even though my confidence level was high, after being turned down the last time, I couldn’t rule out the possibility of another denial. As I headed to my parole board, prepared for either decision, I felt a sense of peace. Once again, I sat in a waiting room anticipating hearing my name, when it was my turn.

An inmate who had just finished his board came through the door. There was no emotion on his face so I could not gage how it went for him. I heard someone from inside shout, “Trustee Mike, please come in.”

As I headed over to the solitary chair sitting in front of the board members’ table, I quickly surveyed the board members. Sitting on the other side of the table there were three soldiers in their combat uniforms. One of them I recognized from the last time as the Major who was in charge. They were all smiling and seemed friendly.

Standing at attention I stated, “Trustee Mike reporting as ordered, Sirs.”

They told me to take a seat. The initial questions were about my conviction. The board wanted to know if I was remorseful for my crimes. They also wanted to know what I had done up to this point to change. The list of rehabilitation classes I had taken was longer than before. There weren’t any more that were related to my crime that I could take, however, I did continue to attend the Narcotics Anonymous classes each week.

The level of disappointment I had for letting down myself, my family, the Army and God was so strong that I could not fully convey it in words. I couldn’t help but wonder, if these soldiers looked at me with the same disgrace I had for myself. The oath that I took to defend this country against all enemies foreign and domestic was thrown out the window when my choices placed me on the other side of that oath. With all my heart and soul, I did my best to explain that I was truly sorry.

They asked me some questions about my family and what my relationship with my parents was like. They asked if I had a job lined up or a backup plan for income that would keep me from relapsing back into my criminal behavior. It really helped that I had the support of my family to assist me with any challenges I would face. Not everyone who comes to the board has that kind of support upon release. With everything I had going for me outside these walls, I knew I would never be back.

After we were done talking, they thanked me and told me I was dismissed.

In their faces, I could see that they wanted to believe me. There was a glimmer of hope in their eyes when they looked at me. But, how many times had someone sat in this same chair, said all the exact same things, was released on parole and then came back inside the walls in a matter of months?

Many could not cope with the lack of structure when leaving the walls. Others could not fight the demons that brought them here in the first place. Some just wanted to come back because life inside was better to them than the life outside. Not everyone had the privilege of going home to a loving family. Some of these guys joined the military to escape their former life. Poverty, oppressive homes, places of no hope, going back would be worse than staying.

Because of this, I could understand the reservations the board might have with granting parole to someone like me. Last time it took about a month for me to get my results.

So there was nothing left for me to do, but wait.

 

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The Fort Leavenworth Story

May 25

Two Dollars a Day Inmate Job

Job

Two Dollars a Day Inmate Job

Two Dollars a Day Inmate Job

There were some benefits to working in the mess hall job, but not enough at this point to want to stay. When I was inside the walls there was a level of protection that came with being a cook. Since we were able to provide extra food for inmates at times, we were generally well respected. We were often left alone when others were not. At the LPU, there really was no threat to my well-being and so that aspect of the job was no longer needed.

After two years of working in the mess hall, I finally was approved for a new job working at the Post Commissary. Being at this new job meant I would get paid two dollars a day. It was better than what I was currently making, which was nothing.

On my first day of work, one of the blue inmate transportation vehicles came to get us. We headed off to the Commissary which was about two miles south of the LPU, in the center of the Post. As we pulled into the parking lot, I saw a small trailer positioned to the left of the main building. This was the trustee break room. It was here that we would eat lunch and hang out in between shifts. Inside the trailer were some tables and chairs, a T.V. and a fridge. A guard stayed with us there the whole time.

When I worked in the LPU mess hall, we used to make sack lunches for all the trustees that worked around the post. It looked like I would be on the receiving end of one of these every day. There were enough of us there to work in thirty minute rotations. When thirty minutes were up, we would switch places between bagging and break.

Some of the trustees stayed at the trailer while the rest of us headed up to work at the main Commissary building. This was the military version of a grocery store. It looked like any other grocery store you might find in the civilian world, but only military and their dependents were allowed to shop there.

After our shift we would go back to the trailer and take a break. Some guys would read a book or a magazine but most guys watched soap operas. Because these shows were an hour long and we were only in there for half hour intervals, we only got to see half of each episode. When we left, someone would always say to the guys staying, “Make sure you tell me what happened.”  Upon returning, they would expect a full report on what had transpired. It amazed me that these hardened criminals were so fascinated with soap operas. It was hard trying to avoid watching them because, there was an understood seniority and it was the only thing those guys wanted to watch.

Up until now, the jobs I’d had consisted of yard work, paperwork, being an Army Scout and then a cook. This would be my first time working in a place like this so I would have to learn quickly. It seemed pretty easy. As the food came down the belt, put it in bags and then someone else would push them out to the customer’s car, and then load them in the car. We alternated between bagging, and loading the cars. The latter was the better job, because it was not as intense as working on the line.

One thing that made it pretty intense was that there was a specific way that the groceries had to go in the paper bags. Meats would all have to go together, as well as frozen or cold items. Canned foods stayed together, but not too many in one bag or it would rip or be too heavy for the customer to carry. We had to be careful with glass containers. Chemicals had to stay separated from the food to avoid contamination. Bread, chips and eggs would usually be held out last so that they wouldn’t get crushed. Of course this is not how they came down the line. The conveyor belt never stopped moving so as the avalanche of groceries rolled in my direction I picked out and segregated the items to the best of my ability.

Job

Job

What happened next must have been a joke or an initiation. The lane I was assigned to had an older Korean woman at the register. She was notorious for being the fastest checker there. She sent the groceries down the belt so fast that they became almost projectiles. If groceries were backed up on her belt for even one second, she became very agitated. She would bark out, “Fahs-tah, fahs-tah,” which made her go even faster.

Eventually I caught on to the system and became more efficient, especially when in any of the other checker’s lanes. They moved at a much slower rate of speed and it was a bit easier to manage. When I rotated through the ballistic checker’s lane the next time, I was more prepared. Although I don’t think she liked people very much, I was able to finally keep up with her but when I was done, I really needed a break.

The Commissary customers were all active duty and retired military and their families. Most of them were pretty nice to us. They knew we were inmates but rarely brought it up or mentioned it. When we took groceries out to their car, we weren’t supposed to interact with them very much other than the normal pleasantries. Every once in a while, a customer who was unaware of our situation would try to give us a tip. Because we were forbidden to have cash we would have to decline. Sometimes the retirees were quite insistent. It was a little awkward when we had to explain why we couldn’t take it. We never really ran into any problems being integrated with the public.

It did cross my mind how easy it would be to jump into one of these cars and just drive away. At this point, I knew I was getting close to the end of my confinement and so there was no real desire to escape. However in the back of my mind, the thoughts were still there. For the guys that were going to be here a lot longer, I imagine this thought crossed their minds as well.

Or maybe it was just me.

It seems as if there is never ending lure, to the impulsive decisions in life that will ultimately derail us. That is, if we entertain them for too long.

 

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The Fort Leavenworth Story

May 18

Riot

Riot

Riot

Riot

After the murder, things went from bad to worse inside the walls. On May 11, 1992 there was a major commotion inside the Castle that led to a riot.

The Disciplinary Barracks Command wanted to prohibit the speaking of Spanish, ban colored head bands, and added more restrictions on smoking. They also wanted inmates to stand when a military officer entered the room. Most military protocol was dropped upon becoming an inmate and so this was absurd.

On top of that, about eighty percent of all parole attempts were denied. Inmates were upset with this percentage rate and it made them feel like it was nearly impossible to earn it. Inmates were also frustrated at the fact that most were forced to work without pay. There were very few paid positions available and if you refused to work your assigned detail, you were sent to solitary confinement. So it was work for nothing or go to the hole.

Over the previous seven weeks, tensions had risen over some of these rules that the guards were trying to enforce. Around 9 pm a fight broke out in one of the wings between two inmates. Within a few short minutes, five inmates were injured. Guards were able to stop the fight and assist some of the injured including evacuating the seriously injured to the Army hospital.

After the fight was broken up, fifty-eight inmates refused to be locked down. They didn’t act in a threatening manner, but gathered in groups and wrote a list of demands to be given to the commandant. At around 3:30 am, the Chief of the Security Battalion convinced the inmates to go back to their cells, promising that their demands would be discussed the next day.

It seemed as if the entire inmate population was trying to peacefully unite. They even elected a white, black and Hispanic representative from each domicile to an inmate council. Hoping to show racial unity and to discuss the demands with the Chief of Security. In the afternoon, they met and discussed the concerns and were promised only that their list would be given to the Commandant of the DB.

During recreation call that evening, about three hundred inmates banded together to plan another disruption. They felt like they were just being pacified and decided to hold a strike in which they would not comply with lock down and refuse to work the next day. A guard saw what was happening and quickly dispersed the group. They were told to go back inside to their respective wings.

At around 9:30 pm, more than six hundred Medium Custody inmates in three of the wings refused to lock down. Also around three hundred Minimum Security inmates from buildings B-5 and B-6 refused to stand for headcount. Inmates from one of the buildings walked out and occupied the courtyard.

After a three hour standoff, inmates in 3 and 6 Wings started to riot. They destroyed furniture and electric fans. They smashed video monitors and TV sets. The inmates started to arm themselves with homemade knives, and weapons made from pool sticks and furniture legs. Unarmed staff remained in the wings trying to restore order.

The inmates barricaded themselves into sections of the wings and even broke into the mess hall looking for weapons. The kitchen staff pro-actively moved knives and other potential weapons somewhere secure. They then locked themselves in a back office. The inmates were not able to find anything of use and left the mess hall.

Waiting in staging areas were about one hundred forty specially trained military police soldiers in full combat and riot gear. They were prepared to end the riot by retaking the prison by force. This ended up not being necessary. Several hours later, in the early morning of May 13, the disturbance was brought under control with minimal injuries and no fatalities.

Once again, around 2:30 am, the Chief of the Security Battalion convinced all inmates to return to their cells or buildings. Guards who were stuck in the wings as well as other staff were safely evacuated and order was restored.

The prison was put on 24 hour lock down with that being extended until further notice for 3 and 6 Wings. Many of the inmates would eventually lose their good time earned and faced charges such as, possessing a weapon, destruction of property, disobeying orders and incitement to riot.

It did sound like the DB Command was considering increasing the $25 given to inmates upon release and changing more work details to paid status. As far as all of the other demands, it didn’t seem like there was much that could be done. When it came to parole in the civilian prison system, first time offenders were granted parole about forty percent of the time. The USDB command felt like they held a higher standard when releasing military inmates than their civilian counterparts. There were no plans to change the way they granted parole.

Making it to the Local Parole Unit when I did could not have come at a better time. We were far away from all of this and only heard what happened. It seemed as if the entire DB participated and I have no idea what would have happened if someone said they weren’t interested in revolting against the system. It couldn’t have been worth it in the end.

I understood the pressure from living inside the walls was more than some could take, especially as long as some of those guys had been locked up. It just didn’t make any sense to me why anyone would want to fight a losing battle like that.

Did they really think that they were going to change the Army’s mind?

Did they think that risking all the rights and privileges that they earned up to this point was worth it?

What did they really have to gain from this, other than a blip on the history radar and a couple days of dangerous excitement?

And then I remembered, I ran away from the Army…

 

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The Fort Leavenworth Story

May 11

Murder

Murder

Murder

Murder

Once I had the chance to taste freedom, my goal changed from maintaining my sanity to doing whatever it took to get out as soon as possible. There was an option to serve out the rest of my sentence with an earlier release based on earned good time. However, I had a parole board hearing coming up and that meant I could get out even earlier. The latter was more appealing to me. So I began putting my second packet together in order to get everything moving along.

Most of the packet was good from my previous attempt a year ago. It needed some updating mostly because I would not be going to my grandfather’s house in Connecticut, I would be going to stay with my parents in Nebraska. Because my goal was still to go to Cosmetology school, I needed to find one in Omaha. There were about five schools to choose from and so I sent off for some information from each of them. When I received the brochures from each of them I noticed that one school in particular mentioned that they took collect calls. This was my only form of communication and so I took advantage of the opportunity.

A woman answered the phone and I told her that I was interested in enrolling. She asked me when I thought I would be ready to start. My response was, “Well, I am not sure. Right now I am in prison.” There was some silence for a moment and I am sure that she was processing whether or not I was serious or pulling a prank. Further explaining, I told her that I was up for parole and that I needed to either have a job or be enrolled in school for my parole to be approved. She quickly said, “We’re going to need some paperwork from you and you will have to pay an enrollment fee.”

This was not a problem because I knew that my dad would go up to the school and pay the fee for me. It would be later that I’d find out that there was some serious discussion on whether or not to accept an application from an inmate calling collect to enroll from inside the prison. They later told me the only reason they actually enrolled me was because when my dad went in to pay the enrollment fee they thought he seemed like a good guy and therefore they figured I would be alright. So, once again, my father was willing to jump in on my behalf.

With that taken care of, my next problem was money. I knew I needed more than what I had saved up in my Prisoner Deposit Fund and the $25 that I would get upon my release. There were quite a few paying jobs that inmates and trustees could apply for. The pay structure was that some jobs paid two dollars a day and others paid four dollars a day. This wasn’t much but it was more than nothing.

Of course we still were not allowed to handle any cash. Inmates found with cash were charged immediately with attempted escape. All the money went into our PDF accounts. Most of these paid jobs were on Post. There were a few jobs in a work release program that allowed Trustees to work in the local community. One guy had a job at KFC and was paid minimum wage, but there were only a couple of those types of jobs and they were very hard to get.

The majority of the paid jobs were already at maximum capacity. The only one that had any openings was the Post Commissary. Trustees were paid to bag groceries and take them out to the car. Since it was my only option, I put in my application for this job. In the meantime, I would do what the Army loved to make us do, which was wait.

During this waiting period, I heard some disturbing news from inside the Castle. An inmate had been murdered in 3 Wing. I didn’t recognize the name of the inmate so I don’t think I knew him. Somehow three other inmates got him to meet them on the back side of the 8 Tier cell block. Inmates were forbidden to be back there because there was roof access and no security cameras.

Two of the inmates held him while he was stabbed multiple times with either a screw driver or a shank and then he was pushed through an opening in the chain link fence that enveloped the entire cell block. If he didn’t die from the stab wounds, he would have died from the impact of his head hitting the cement floor after the six-story fall.

It sounded like it was hard to tell who committed the murder but they sent three inmates to 4 Base or solitary confinement. Someone must have told the guards that these three had it out for the victim. One of the inmates charged was my old workout partner, Bill Weeks. It was a total shock to hear his name as one of the assailants. Not because I didn’t think he was capable but because we used to work out together and he had kept me out of harm’s way.

This made me think about the time that Weeks asked me to hold all of his tattoo drawings when they were investigating him for prohibited tattooing. Or when he asked me about being a “snitch” when I first got to the Disciplinary Barracks. In prison, no one actually knew each other very well unless they were crime partners. Even then you could never really trust anyone and this was proof.

Bill was never court-martialed for the murder. They couldn’t pin it on him due to a lack of evidence. As far as I know, they never were able to charge anyone for the crime. Weeks was very concerned about retaliation if placed back in general population. Regardless of guilt or no guilt, he was sure someone would take him out. The Army eventually granted him a rare transfer to a Federal Penitentiary in California.

Up until now I had only seen or heard of some small fights from time to time. The worse of which was the incident that put one inmate into a coma, (Click here to read about it) but this murder situation was surreal. Danger was present and I am sure that even though I was in a den of lions, I was being protected. Things could have and probably should have been worse for me.

It had been almost a year since I’d left 3 Wing behind and I am so glad that I made it out of there before this incident. I will never forget the darkness and the unsettled feeling from living there.

 

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The Fort Leavenworth Story

May 04

Back to Prison

Back to Prison

Back to Prison

Back to Prison

The day I had to return to prison, I woke up feeling ready. Going back was not something I wanted to do, but I was ready to complete my sentence. Ready to get it over with, especially because this taste of freedom had reminded me what I was missing. Looking out of the window I saw that the snow was still falling. There also was a small accumulation of snow on the ground but it didn’t amount to much and didn’t seem like anything to worry about.

My dad had planned to leave around lunch time so that we would have plenty of time to get back to the Disciplinary Barracks before the end of the day. Because it would be awhile before I would be back in Omaha, I requested one last trip to Arby’s before I left. After I ate my roast beef sandwich, I ordered another one to take with me for dinner.

We decided that we shouldn’t wait any longer to head back to Fort Leavenworth. The forecast was calling for more snow and we wanted to stay ahead of it. So, my parents, my two youngest siblings and I, got in the car and headed off towards Kansas. After about an hour in the car the snow started to fall harder. The wind created swirls of blowing snow as well as heavy drifts on to the road. It was piling up pretty quickly and visibility was reduced to the point where you could no longer see very far in front of the car. The only way to even see where to go was to follow the tracks made in the snow by previous vehicles.

Dotted along the sides of the interstate were car after car that had slid off the road and gotten stuck. There were times that I thought we were going to end up in the same predicament. In the back of my mind, I could hear the voice from my briefing explaining all the consequences of not making it back on my return date. There was no way to get in touch with any one and we were still somewhere between Nebraska and Kansas. We were all pretty worried that I would not make it back in time which would bring severe punishment. Would they take the weather into consideration? Since there was no way to find out, taking the risk was not worth it.

Knowing that he had to get me back, my dad plowed through as we continued to pass vehicle after vehicle that had not been fortunate enough to stay on the road. The trip took much longer than expected because we couldn’t drive very fast. But, the closer we got to our destination, the more the weather seemed to let up. With what I can only describe as divine intervention, we made it. Once we arrived at the LPU, it was as if nothing had ever happened. There wasn’t any snow, and the temperature was normal for April. It was the strangest situation.

My family dropped me off and I said my goodbyes. Saying farewell to my family was not hard, because I had just spent an entire week with them. It felt more like, see you soon than, good-bye. I told them that I would give them a call the next day to make sure they made it back to Omaha. As they left the parking lot and headed off, I turned around and walked back into the administration building. They briefly searched me for contraband, and told me to change back into my LPU blues.

The uniform felt comfortable, like an old friend. This was not my home but I had spent more time at the Disciplinary Barracks than I had at my first duty station at Fort Polk. It dawned on me that April was my two year anniversary since arriving at the DB. So I had been locked up for a total of two and a half years of my five year sentence. Knowing that I’d served half of my sentence meant that the possibility of making my next parole board was highly likely. This gave me the confidence that I would be getting out sooner than the full completion of my sentence. This made getting back into the routine of being in prison easier to get back into.

Back inside my building and in my area, some of my friends stopped by to visit and hear all about my experiences. Everyone was eager to hear what it was like on the outside. They wanted to know all the details. Trying to describe everything to the best of my ability while answering specific questions was a lot of fun. Even some of the guys I didn’t normally talk to came by to hear bits and pieces of my adventure. You could see their minds wander outside of the LPU to Omaha as I talked about all I had seen and done.

Someone asked what the food was like and I suddenly remembered I had the Arby’s sandwich in my bag. For some reason, the desk Sergeant either missed it in my shake down or completely overlooked it. Pulling it out of my bag, I said, “Who wants to share this with me?” Everyone’s eyes lit up and I tore that roast beef sandwich into a bunch of little pieces for everyone that was there. There was plenty of Arby’s sauce packets to go around. It was cold but not one person complained. It was a small pleasure, and I was glad that I could bring a little outside to my friends inside.

I watched everyone savor the one bite that they got. As the crowd dispersed, the only words that were uttered here and there were, Thank you. Some of them couldn’t even talk. It was as if they all had eaten a little slice of heaven. It wasn’t that the food was that good; it was the memory of a life before prison. A small portal to a day before the crime, the trials, the shackles and the bars.

No matter how much you moved up in custody, you were still not free. Who knew that one bite of a sandwich could taste like freedom? It was my pleasure to be able to share a part of that freedom with these men I’d come to call my friends. So, I had just been home for a week, I had made some friends happy, and I was gearing up for my next parole board.

Life was looking pretty good.

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The Fort Leavenworth Story