Dockery v. Epps - Witness Profiles
On a typical day at EMCF, Christopher woke up at 6 A.M. and tried to make his way through the next 16 hours without getting beaten or robbed. The task is made harder because For years, Christopher was denied the eye drops he had used all his life. His sight got progressively worse, and he was in constant pain from the pressure on his eyes. Christopher says he paid prisoners to help him fill out medical forms requesting an appointment with a glaucoma specialist. Not only did he never see a specialist, but at one point the prison stopped giving him any medication at all because the corporation running the prison at the time refused to provide anything but life-saving medication. So he sat alone in his unlit cell – the light bulbs had been taken out and the sink hanging off the wall – listening to the radio day after day; his worsening sight made him a target of abuse by guards and fellow prisoners.
For years, officials at EMCF kept Christopher among the general prison population rather than placing him in a safer section for disabled prisoners. He paid for protection, but the prisoners took his money and did little to help him. He told guards of the constant theft, and the guards ratted him out to perpetrators. Sometimes the guards made the prisoners come out of the cells and then locked the doors behind them. Christopher reports that when he was locked out of his cell, he did not have any protection from abuse. "You just getting beat up out there on the floor while [other prisoners] take you, drag you in the shower and beat you." All that kept Christopher going his five years at EMCF was "knowing my little girls are out there waiting on me to come home. A lot of things I want to do with them, see them grow up, play at school and get that first boyfriend, learn how to drive, ride bikes, graduate from high school, get married and go to college. All that stuff."
Kenji Hobbes was released from EMCF just over a year ago. His mother, Cynthia Hobbes, does not know exactly what happened to her son; the prison's medical records are inconclusive. "But I do know that when my son left he was a normal man, and when he came back he was not," Cynthia said.
At the time Kenji went to prison, he was working as a building maintenance supervisor. "He's always been good with his hands," Cynthia said. "He can build a house." But since his return home from EMCF, he uses his hands to take apart and put together his car and truck like it's a puzzle. "It's so heartbreaking," Says his mother. He doesn't drive. He can't work. Anything that reminds him of the prison sets him off. Cynthia remembers one night when he saw a commercial about a medication's side effects and said "'See mama. This is what they did to me. Look at that. They've got you on TV. They've got the medicines.'" Cynthia says that all she does is "pray and hope that he can come back and be normal. [He's] 27-years-old and on disability. That's not what I wanted for my child and I'm sure that's not what he wanted."
Willie Hughes says he survived EMCF because of luck and his family. "It's a nightmare on Elm Street, but it's for real," he said. Before his release in 2013, Willie saw an active trade in weapons, drugs and alcohol at EMCF.
"People [threw] pounds of weed and dope over the fence and it's out there for everybody to see," said Willie. "The mental health counselors knew. The warden knew and nobody cared." Willie saw staff pimping out prisoners, and prison nurses and doctors taking prisoner medication they couldn't afford themselves. "I gave up," said Willie. "One of them gangsters was going to kill me or one of them guards was going to kill me." He says he feared for his life; stabbings were so common, the prison shut down the cafeteria to limit prisoner interaction. Willie attributes much of what he experienced at EMCF to the private prison corporations managing the prison – formerly the GEO Group and now MTC (Management & Training Corporation). They manage to make a profit, so there's little incentive to pay the staff properly or ensure adequate health care for the prisoners. Willie almost lost his toe, his leg and only occasionally received the insulin he needed to control his diabetes. He told a fellow prisoner "when I get out of here, I'm going to write a book about this place." The prisoner told him not to bother because nobody would believe him.
Captain Naidow, a shift captain at EMCF, said that sometimes the cell blocks look like something out of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," with prisoners banging their heads against the walls, self-mutilation, and hallucinating. Prisoners will scream for help and pound on doors, but guards are often nowhere to be found during emergencies. One prisoner had an asthma attack and the other prisoners had to yell continuously for help because no officer was watching the pod. Not only are staff absent, reports Captain Naidow, but they are corrupt, "working with gangs, extorti[ng people], [and] bringing in contraband." According to Naidow, EMCF staff have been caught facilitating sexual assaults by unlocking cell doors for the perpetrator. He's seen staff gas or strike prisoners unprovoked.
Naidow said the high levels of violence at the prison are owed, in part, to gang activity, in which staff take part. "Part of the problem here is insufficient staff training. Part of the problem is recruiting staff for $10/hour jobs in a less populated area, and sometimes rehiring staff who have been previously terminated." He said that when GEO Group left, much of the staff was fired only to be hired back a few months later by MTC, the private prison corporation that took over.