Leaving the United States Penitentiary

by Jay Goodman

One of the things I have tried throughout the years in my writings is to explain how prison life truly is. Not from a Hollywood version, but from my standpoint of what it’s been like for me, a man who has 16 long years in prison. The road has been long. I have accomplished a lot in here, and have grown into a man that I believe both my dad and mom would be proud of, if they were still alive.

I have also suffered a lot during these years, which I am sure most people would think that it’s just because of the life I’ve lived. And to a point I’d have to agree with them, I do understand now in my life that everyone has to answer for our mistakes, there are consequences for our actions and I understand my actions lead me to where I am. But, how can the human beings that are sent to prison be rehabilitated under the conditions that I’ve written about throughout the years? Yes, I get the need for prisons, but why would anyone want to see prisoners leave here worse than when they arrived? It seems like no one ever asked the question, why are people leaving prisons all over our country and none of them seem to be rehabilitated? Why are they leaving prison and committing worse crimes in the crimes that brought them to prison to begin with? Why are prisons being built in record numbers? One would think that someone in Washington would wonder why things are so out of control in all the United States penitentiaries, hell, in a lot of federal correctional institutions as well. Which is just a step down from the U.S.P.’s. No one seems to wonder why these places are not getting better? Any major company that sees their business failing would quickly start asking some serious questions from the people running the corporations. It would be the natural thing to do. But, for some reason nobody is trying to figure out any of these questions out in here. I understand why Texas doesn’t want to change; their prison system has become a big business. But now that I am sitting in federal prison and have seen firsthand how it’s being run, I am not exactly sure why they are allowing it to be run like this. I have wondered if it’s because they feel we are just prisoners, let them pollute their minds with drugs, and if they’re killing each other who really cares? Like I have been saying, it’s not like the things I’ve been writing about are just some unfortunate instances. These things I’ve been writing about go on at all of the United States penitentiaries. The stabbings and killings go on at a regular basis. And again, what’s been done about it? Nothing. Why wouldn’t the Federal Bureau of Prisons be doing whatever is needed to change this prison system? And I wonder also why someone in Washington isn’t saying something? I am fixing to move to the Federal Correctional Institution, which is right next-door to this place. It’s supposed to be a little better than this United States Penitentiary that I’m at. I asked one of the guards how it was? And he smiled and said “it’s a little better than here.” I am looking out my cell window each day wondering if this place can be fixed? I know one thing for sure, it will never be fixed from within. The corruption is everywhere you look. As KY told me, even the ones who are not selling drugs and phones are corrupt because they see what’s happening but do nothing to stop it. I see what he means now, and I understand his frustration. He stepped on my cell door last night, and wish me luck. I cannot help but feel sorry for him. He came to prison as a young guy with a 10-year sentence. Now here he sits almost 30 years later. I can’t help but ask how could our prison system be so out of control that no one has stepped forward on what’s going on? KY came here and spent most of his 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and now he’s working on his 50’s. A lot of people would look at him as nothing more than a killer. Which is true, but nobody is looking at who turned this man into a killer. And before someone says no one can be made a killer, if most people were put into the right situation where you knew without a doubt, you had to kill or be killed, you would quickly learn you would do whatever is necessary to survive. And this is exactly what I am writing about. Why are all of these prisons allowed to operate like this? Why isn’t anything being done to change this prison system? Whether it’s state or federal prison, the main goal should be rehabilitation. Instead of focusing on rehabilitating the men who come here, the prison system set this man up, to make sure he could be a murder. Then set him up to see if he would rat, then set him up to see if he would talk to the FBI. And just to put a feather in the captains hat they allow this young guy to be charged with murder. Because of the prison system here, KY still sits after almost 30 years. The insanity of this whole situation is beyond madness. Our country is quick to point out the way other countries treat their prisoners, but right here in the United States, we have prisons like the ones I’ve been writing about allowed to exist. And this is nothing new, it’s been going on for as long as this prison system has been around.

Every single day I have looked out my door as the prisoners get out of their cells. And every single day they huddle up in their groups. Everything they do from use the phone, to working out, or taking a shower, one of their friends have to stand guard, to make sure no one will stab them. The guard to the other staff members are well aware of this, they see it every day just like I have. But nothing is done about it. No wonder KY hates the ones that are not involved in the criminal activity as much as the ones who are. Can anyone imagine what living under these conditions does to someone? No wonder depression and suicide are so high.

Another thing I see is after decades under these conditions’ life means little or nothing to these men. It’s like the men lose all of their emotions, no sympathy for no one, no empathy, it’s like they’ve lost the spirit that lives inside them.

I was talking with a guy who has cut all ties with the outside world; which I felt was kind of crazy. I mean everyone in here hangs onto their family and friends, it’s all they have left. So, I asked this guy why he cut all ties with his family? He said, “because this is my life now. I am never going to leave prison. I don’t want to hold onto something that I’ll never be able to have. When I see my wife, children, or parents, what am I going to say? I’m sorry over and over again.” “Are you sorry for what you did,” I asked. Every single day I wake up in here, I wish that I would’ve done things differently. Then I ask him, “don’t you believe you could still be there for your children emotionally,” I asked. “How can I teach my children right from wrong when old dad has a life sentence?” “Well, if your children start having trouble in school, or getting into trouble, what better example do they have then what happened to their dad.” Why it’s true that life goes on, but it’s also true that you never stop being a dad. Sometimes the sadness in some of the eyes of the men I’ve met is overwhelming. These federal prisons are flooded with men that have either life sentences, or 40, 50 or more years. A lot of these men receive their time under what’s called mandatory sentences. When most people hear that a person has received a life sentence, they imagine they must’ve killed someone. But the truth is, is a lot of these men in federal prison receive life for drug charges. Or they receive such a big send that if they live long enough and get out, they’ll be so old that they will be right at the end of their lives.

I was told to pack up, I’m getting ready to leave this place. As the guard open my door, I walked down stairs to KY’s cell door and said goodbye. It was still early in the morning but I knew he had to be up so they could all come to the day room to protect each other. We both said good luck to each other and I told him good things are waiting for him.

As I walk down the range to leave, I saw everyone looking out their cell door. I didn’t have far to go, this prison I was moving to was right next-door. I didn’t know what type of place it would be, but I prayed it would be a step up from this mad house I was leaving.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez