From Inside Supermax: Part 2 of 8

This post is a continuation of a series of questions posed to and answers provided by Jacob Ind from inside Colorado’s Supermax. Read Part 1 here.

What kinds of things are allowed and prohibited in General Population that might surprise people? How does that differ in Ad-Seg?

Ad-Seg is like prison within prison and is radically different than the General Population. It is no exaggeration that compared to Supermax, G.P. feels like the streets. In Ad-Seg you’re locked in a cell 23 hours a day, five days a week and 24 hours a day the other two. We’re allowed our TVs, but that is about it to occupy our time. We can get three library books a week from the library, but those go very quickly. Those who are fortunate enough to receive letters get to occupy themselves with writing but for most, their lives revolve around TV.

In G.P. there is a plethora of things to keep ones self occupied. Recreation is very important and there is usually some kind of sports league going on and weight meets to prepare for. I played on a softball and volleyball team when I wasn’t training for the weight meets. There are also inmate bands who practice every night as well as informal tournaments inmates hold among themselves. Every night there are basketball and handball games, pinochle matches, and even nerds playing dungeons and dragons.

During the day, people can avail themselves of numerous opportunities. There are vocational classes which teach everything from web site building to carpentry and there are industry jobs which someone can take into the free world as a career. Most guys have their days full between work and recreation.

Hobbies are also real big with guys in General Population. It will never cease to amaze me when I see a big burly tattooed convict crochet pink teddy bears or hats and scarves. A hobby which is against the rules but highly popular is tattooing. I’ve seen tattoos done in prison with motors stolen from CD ROM drives which blow away a lot of work I’ve seen from the streets. Many a prison tattoo artist have gotten out and made a good living doing it on the streets. Some guys spend all day tattooing.

Life in General Population can be very rich and productive while time in Supermax is bleak and stale. With so much free time it would be an ideal environment to learn, but educational opportunities are scarce in CSP. Those who need a GED can work on that, but there is no secondary education and we are prohibited from taking correspondence courses – even religious ones. Ad-Seg is down time, which is why so many people deteriorate over here and drama queens rule. In G.P. most guys are too busy to waste time on worrying about who has problems and how they can try to bully everybody. In CSP the drama queens plot and scheme all day long on who has done something they don’t like and how if this guy, or that guy is killed and if these guys start enforcing some prisoner rule the system will somehow become better. It is an incredibly negative environment full of dysfunctional guys with nothing better to do than spread their misery.

How is a person able to earn his way from Ad-Seg back to General Population? On the Frontline special when Andrew Medina was profiled, we were told that he’d been there for five years and the authorities said he hadn’t made enough progress to be sent back into General Population.

One of the most aggravating claims DOC makes is that guys can “earn” their way back to General Population and out of Supermax. There is a level system in CSP designed to allow a person to be rewarded for positive behavior through more phone calls and visits but there is a limit to how far that goes. Theoretically, once someone completes all of his recommended rehabilitative classes and reaches Level 3 for three months, he will progress to the reintegration unit and, upon completion of that program, go back to General Population. However, there is no rule or policy that says the inmate has to be allowed to progress into the reintegration program. There are guys who have not had any write-ups for years, have taken their classes, and have remained at Level 3, who have been repeatedly denied movement into that program. Andrew Medina was a perfect example of that. He’s a quiet kid who is not mixed up in the drama queen bullshit so prevalent here. He behaved and complied with everything they told him to do, but it had no bearing on him moving out of here.

The Level system and the reintegration program (called the Pro-Unit), while it sounds good on paper, is a bureaucratic nightmare. The whole purpose of a Supermax prison is to contain the most dangerous inmates in a prison system, who cannot be managed at normal prisons. Once the inmate is no longer a danger, he is to be released [into General Population], yet in Colorado people are housed in Supermax far longer than necessary, at a tremendous cost to the taxpayer, for the most ridiculous reasons.

Inmates at Supermax start off on Level 1. This lasts one week as long as he doesn’t get any “Chron Entries”. A Chron Entry is a notation in a log of “inappropriate behavior”. Unfortunately, there is no definition of inappropriate behavior. It is whatever an officer feels it is. Sometimes it is a minor rule infraction like sliding a string to another cell to pass a magazine (called “fishing”) and other times it is behavior which violates no rule whatsoever. I’ve seen Chron Entries for talking too loud at night (most guys are up late anyway), for having a “bad attitude”, and my favorite, trying to dictate cell assignments (the inmate had the gall to tell a sergeant who was switching an inmate from one cell to another that a lieutenant had promised another inmate that cell). It’s one thing if an inmate violates a rule, but getting penalized for conduct there is no rule against and therefore we have no reason to think is wrong? That is, well, retarded. Uncouth, I know, but what other adjective fits?

Level 1 inmates don’t have their TVs and get one phone call and visit a month. Level 2 inmates get their TVs and get two phone calls and visits a month. It takes 90 consecutive Chron Free days to attain Level 3 and Level 3 is the highest Ad-Seg level. Level 3s get 4 phone calls and visits a month. It takes 90 consecutive Chron-Free days and completion of the rehabilitation classes to be eligible for the Pro Unit.

So this is how it works in practice. If I am caught passing a magazine, I have to spend at least 3 more months in Supermax. It makes me such a dangerous, vicious animal, I need to be locked in a cage and cannot be trusted to be around other people. And heaven forbid a few months later I break an unwritten rule like telling an officer what a higher ranking officer promised another inmate, and that makes me a crazed madman, undeserving of human dignity for yet another three months. What’s worse is that the exact same behavior which results in a Chron Entry can result in a loss of Level – all depending on how the officer feels at the time. So passing a magazine can brand me a rabid, foaming at the mouth monster for six more months (3 months to get Level 3 back, 3 months before being eligible for the Pro Unit). This creates a situation where people remain in Supermax, not because they are still a threat, but because they’ve been caught in petty rule violations.

The Pro Unit is even worse of a nightmare. The Pro Unit constitutes Levels 4-6 and is considered a program. In the Pro Unit, we can have limited human contact. This means getting kicked out of the Pro Unit is equated with refusing programs. Refusing programs places an inmate on restrictive privileges until he can get into a new program, which can take 4 months or more. On R.P. status an inmate can’t have his TV, use the phone, get materials from recreation like art paper or crossword puzzles, buy food from the canteen, etc. It also bumps the guy down to Level 1 so he has to start all over again.

Getting kicked out of the Pro Unit is extraordinarily easy. The stressful part is that you can get kicked out of the Pro Unit for having done nothing wrong at all. Your success is contingent upon other people’s behavior. I’ve been in the Pro Unit twice. The second time I was there I saw someone get kicked out for refusing to snitch on another inmate. He was playing cards with a guy when someone came up and sucker punched the other guy. It was all caught on tape and the cops even admitted they knew he had nothing to do with it but said if he didn’t tell them who sucker punched the guy, he would be kicked out of the Pro Unit. Now, they know who did it, and had him on tape doing it, they just wanted the guy to snitch him off. They wanted him to risk his life by becoming a snitch just to play their stupid game. So he was busted back to Level 1 and condemned to at least another 6 months (probably a year) of Supermax, not because he proved himself a danger, but because he didn’t want to endanger his life.


So, as you can see, staying in CSP has nothing to do with being a danger or a threat. They often keep guys in here who have long since ceased to be a problem. Getting out of CSP has far less to do with positive behavior than it has to do with working your way through a bureaucratic nightmare with multi-tiered review committees, petty games and playing the system.



2 responses to “From Inside Supermax: Part 2 of 8

  1. Pingback: From Inside Supermax: Part 8 of 8 « Compassion in Juvenile Sentencing

  2. Pingback: From Inside Supermax: Part 7 of 8 « Compassion in Juvenile Sentencing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s