June 19, 1995

Column 3

The classification Committee consists of three people. I'm not sure what the qualifications are to be on the Classification Committee, but one member is a counselor. I'm not sure what a Counselor's duties are. I have only seen one a couple of times in the years I've been here. I'm not sure what the other two Committee members do in the prison. I would imagine that they are responsible for keeping the files on the Inmates updated.

In the A/C, you appear in front of the Committee in handcuffs and dressed in your underwear. A prison guard's standing next to you during the entire proceedings. The Committee reviews the file that accompanied you from the County Jail, as well as any Court documents such as your Death Warrant.

The main concern the Committee has is whether you have any enemies on the Row (I am assuming they mean besides them) and also the nature of your crime could have a bearing on what the Committee decides. During the brief hearing, they will decide on where to house you. Usually you are assigned to "Condemned Row II" in East Block. The Committee also determines which Yard to place you in, depending on which cellblock you are put in.

There are two classifications of Condemned Inmates. "Grade B Condemned", that are housed in the A/C. These are usually prison gang members, or Inmates that have a history of stabbings while on the Row. If you are a "B" inmate, you stay in the A/C and your file is reviewed every six months when they will determine if they should keep you in the A/C, or upgrade you to a "Grade A Condemned". I was amused at the titles. I felt like an egg, or a piece of meat, relieved that the inspectors had stamped me with passing marks.

Since I had been elevated to the intoxicating heights of the Condemned "A" Inmate, I did not spend more than a week in the A/C. But if you have been classified a "B" Inmate, you resign yourself to the fact that you're going to be living an existence that is frugal and restrictive, even by Death Row standards. You have only the items that I mentioned in the previous column. But you are allowed to buy a TV and Radio . . . if you have the funds to do so. There is also a modified version of the "A" Condemned Canteen list, which you can order a very limited amount of Canteen from. Usually items like writing paper, toothpaste, stamps, envelopes, instant coffee, etc. When you get your canteen, they take any items that contain plastic out of its container. For instance, a jar of instant coffee is poured into a bag, which is given to you, and the jar is thrown out.

The prison gives you your meals, clean laundry (once a week), soap, toothpowder, typing paper (about 10 sheets) a pencil stub (exchanged for an old one), or ink pen filler, and 2 rolls of toilet paper. These are issued every 1st and 15th of the month. If you run out of toilet paper, you had better hope that your tier guard is cool and will get you another roll to see you out until the supplies are passed out again. If he/she isn't cool, then you're out of luck.

In the A/C, you are not allowed a cup, so in order to drink your coffee, you have to use the milk container that you get every morning with your breakfast. The guard has a huge plant-watering bucket with a spout that is at least 18 inches long. The guard will stand away from your tray slot and pour the scalding hot coffee into your milk container, you have to hope that the aim is good...otherwise you will have scalded hands. There are only two meals in prison (not just Death Row) you get a breakfast and supper served. They pass out a bag at lunch, which has bread and some sort of mystery meat. I don't know what this meat is. I have never eaten it in all the time I've been here. I don't know of many others that eat it either. You also get a piece of fruit in the bag. Sometimes you will get a little bit of peanut butter.

When you are classified as an "A" Inmate, you are sent to Condemned Row II immediately after classification. Usually within a few hours. You are handcuffed (or have waist-chains on) and a guard escorts you to East Block, which I touched on in the last column.

When you leave the A/C for East Block, you walk deeper into the prison, past the lower yard on the right, through the upper yard, past the two Dining halls and kitchen (for mainline prisoners). It is about a five-minute walk until you get to East Block. The three most striking things that you notice when you enter East Block is first, it is very dimly lit and shadowy. The second is the constant roar of over 500 men living in a relatively small area. The third is the smell. Prison has a distinct smell that you never forget. The over-riding smells vary, depending on the time of day, but there is always this underlying aroma that is always there.

In my next column, I will talk about East Block, touching a little on what the day-to-day life is like.