Misery Mountain

by Jay Goodman

My first morning at the Hazleton prison was difficult. It seemed that everyone who worked there had an attitude. Hey, are we going to medical? “No.” Do we get to use the phones? “No.” Can we get a few sheets of paper in an envelope to write our family?

No. Another thing, every question we asked if they didn’t say no, they would say, we don’t know. I mean they basically only showed up at our door to count. Most of the time when people arrive at a prison, they see the medical department right away. Naturally when new prisoners show up there might be people who are diabetic, or who have heart problems. It was crazy how no one would help anyone that had chronic health issues. Finally, a guy who is an epileptic suffered an attack. He was directly across from my cell, so I saw everything that happened. Truthfully, the only reason the guard found him was because it was count time. When the guard stopped at his cell door, I saw him get on his radio and make a call to someone. I figured it was a serious because the guard never stops during count time.

Next, he started kicking the cell door trying to talk with the prisoner. I could tell the inmate wasn’t responding because the officer kept asking him if he was all right. When the ranking officer showed up and looked in the cell, they got on the radio and called for the response team which consists of about 10 or 15 guards about the size of a football players. When they showed up, they have a plastic shield damn near as big as the cell door. After talking for a while, they all lined up behind the guard with the shield, while another guard open the cell door. The inmate was lying face down on the floor in a puddle of blood. The guy with the shield ran in and put the shield on top of the prisoner. While the others grabbed a hold of his arms and legs. At first, my cellie and I thought his cellie either killed him, or beat him. But, after they handcuffed this guy, we saw this man was actually in a cell by himself. When the guards picked this guy off the floor, I could see blood in his hair and running down his face. I also seen that the guards were being rough with him. I was thinking whatever happened to this man, what the hell are they being rough with him for? As they carried this man down the stairs, I noticed that his eyes were rolling back into his head. The ranking officers kept trying to ask him questions but he was in such a daze he was unable to answer them. Something else I noticed was that there was no one there from the medical department. Which is a very unusual because when someone gets hurt the medical department is the first person they radio for. The guards put him in a wheelchair and rolled him out. Several hours later when he came back, we found out that he had an epileptic attack. He said that he had not taken his medication in days. The next day when he asked to speak with the doctor about getting his medication, he was told “no.” This guy suffered another attack that day, and busted his head open again. Now he has stitches in his head and in his face.

But he still didn’t get his medication until the following week. Now I got to the United States penitentiary on the 10th of November. On my second morning we heard a horn go off, and then someone came over the speakers telling everyone to go to the back of their cells. About an hour before this they had opened the church. After everyone arrived, a man walked up to another guy and stabbed him in his neck, back, and side. The shank, which is a homemade knife, was around the size of a butcher knife. Needless to say, this man died a short time later. So, the whole prison is put on lockdown. Unlike the Johnny sacks in Texas, where we only received one bologna sandwich and one peanut butter sandwich, they bought us a little box. For breakfast, we get one box of cereal, one fruit bar, a carton of milk. Lunch, a small pack of peanut butter, fruit bar, dinner, we get a frozen piece of bologna, fruit bar, and a small bag of chips. This went on for weeks and weeks. We would get three showers a week sometimes that is if the guard who worked the morning shift did his job and gave them to us. And if he didn’t, the second shift guard would say, “I am not going to do the work of the first shift.” Never mind we haven’t had a shower in days, never mind we had nothing to do with the guard on first shift. Did the second shift guard write a report on the first shift? “No.” Did he call for a ranking officer when we asked? “No.” Why wouldn’t he? Because he knew he was wrong. I was quickly learning that these guards would lie, and abuse their situation just as the Texas guards did. Sometimes if the prisoners would ask for some toothpaste or soap, they would say they didn’t have any, which was a lie, because he would ask the guard on the next shift and they go into their office and bring a box out and pass it out. We were not allowed to make commissary, so we didn’t have soap, shampoo, toothpaste or deodorant. Why I always wondered wouldn’t they want their prisoners to be clean? But as time went on, I started seeing that this was their mindset. They didn’t care if we all stunk, the overall guards like to see is suffering. Never mind the prison population as a whole had nothing to do with this man getting stabbed. Never mind that they had the guy in isolation who did the stabbing. They use the situation to lock down the entire prison so they can come to work and get paid for doing nothing. A lot of the guards would come in do their account, then go inside their office and sleep. We wouldn’t even see them again until it was time for the next count, even though they are supposed to do a safety check several times each hour. This went on for weeks. After several weeks, I received a letter from my cousin Debbie, who was worried about me, because I had not called her or written. She seen on the Federal Bureau of Prisons website that I had been transferred to the Hazleton prison. But when she would call here to check on me, they would say “I wasn’t here.” She wouldn’t say “well the computer says he is there”

Finally, Debbie just decided to write me a letter. She told me that she had been calling the prison over and over, but each time they would be very rude to her. I received a letter a few days before Thanksgiving, it was so nice to hear from Debbie. I cannot tell everyone reading this how I felt sitting in that cell wondering if anyone knew where I was at. We had been eating out of boxes for almost three weeks. When Thanksgiving morning arrived everyone kept asking if we were going to eat a hot meal? The guards answered, “they didn’t know.” Usually the two meals you can count on being good are Thanksgiving and Christmas. Everyone was excited about eating something hot. And not just hot but some good food. When the food came in you could have heard a pin drop, it was boxes. Even the lady guard who passed out the boxes was saying “I’m sorry guys.” It’s always been hard for me to understand why prisons punish 3000 people for the actions of one man. I learned fast that the federal system does just like Texas does, they punish everyone because one or two prisoners, why? Because they want the inmates to be the ones messing up. They have these tactics in place to make prisoners police other prisoners.

My cell window faces the cell block door, and I started talking with sign language with a man who had been at this prison for seven years. He was telling me that this prison was known as “Misery Mountain.” That they were always on lockdown. When I asked him what he meant? He said that they come off lockdown and the institution will put them right back down. When I asked why? He told me, “Life here means little to nothing.” Truthfully, it’s usually the prisoner’s fault. Someone gets stabbed, or killed. But if that doesn’t happen right away, they will find some hooch, or drugs, and walked the entire prison down. He went on to tell me, “when the prisoners get put in population at this prison the staff gets each of them a shake.” I said are you serious? He said, “very serious.” Then he went on to say, “but if the guards are sent into a cell block to search it, and they find one, the institution will lock us down for 30, 60, sometimes 90 days.” He told me that they haven’t got to call home in months. He said, “this COVID-19 has been a dream come true for them.” As I said good night to him and went to bed, I wondered why I kept ending up in places like this? I know I broke the law and had to pay the price, but it seems that if there’s a terrible prison around, I’ll be sent to it. I was also thinking how could a federal prison in the United States of America be allowed to operate like this. Why would the administration want a prison to be run down like this? I mean every prisoner would be given a shank as they were put in population. Who on earth believe something like that would be happening in the 21st-century? But it is happening, and this was just the beginning of what I was about to learn.

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