“In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”
Hunter S. Thompson
More than twenty years ago I began writing about SoHo and Manhattan. I’d had the pleasure of growing up in lower Manhattan and experiencing the old Wall Street when everyone in the business knew that the only way to make money “on the street” was to have privileged information. In other words, those who engaged in what is now known as Insider Trading, made money. Whether traders knew something about a new issue, had a friend in the S.E.C,, knew a politician overseeing an investigation, or had a mole in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the old “buy and hold” plan made investing in the stock market a long drawn out affair. Those were the days when brokerage houses made their money on commissions. It was only after Ace Greenberg changed the model and allowed stock brokerage houses to sell stock in their own companies that customers became less important than the Richard Fuld Lehman-style risk-taking.
In the 1980’s Drexel Burnham developed junk bonds and Michael Milken worked his magic. The Savings and Loan crisis, the implosion of Long-Term Capital Management, the collapse of the Ruble and then The Great Recession brought on by the junk bonds made famous by many of the corrupt banks mentioned in ‘The Big Short’ put a lot of people in jail for simply falling prey to their criminality. During the Savings and Loan crisis it was about a thousand bankers. After the banks loaded borrowers up with phony loans based upon CDOs, the victims were the borrowers.
I was one of the schmucks who paid for the profligacy of the banks. Not for nothing, however, I wrote a lot — which was more than the D.A. who conducted his Vendetta Prosecution against me, as a journalist, for writing about his criminality and that of the politicians in The Town of Southampton, He’s now in prison and I’m out. Although, Thomas Spota, the former D.A. in the Hamptons is collecting a healthy $9,000/mo. pension and has $17 million in the bank, according to Newsday. I have zero, the minimum social security and totally unable to work legally. Shades of Steven Donziger.
My first book is entitled “Up & Away” and periodically I’ll publish an episode. I’m not a fan of self-publishing. I hope you enjoy this true crime — although enjoyment may be a misnomer.
Up and Away ©2020
“It is a small nondescript one-story building located within a compound 20 miles from the Canadian border in upstate New York. It is surrounded by two sets of 15 foot high razor-wire fences. And there are several sniper towers which had views of all movement near the perimeter fences. Here, in this rural upstate compound, an embedded investigative reporter spent four years surreptitiously interviewing inmates, Correction Officers and civilian workers and recording the events in their lives in this Medium security prison. He had been incarcerated in the North Country.
The Infirmary sat by itself near the entrance to the prison with a back door where buses pick up prisoners for medical trips, ambulances pick up seriously ill inmates and hearses collect bodies for the morgue. The building houses a doctor’s office, nurse’s office, dentist’s office, x-ray technician’s room and a pharmacy. It also houses the sergeants’ offices where disciplinary hearings are held, as well as the photographer’s office where I.D.’s for all of the inmates are processed. Benches along the hallway to the back entrance are lined along the wall for inmates waiting to be tested for “dirty urine,” and for those waiting to see the doctor or nurse only for blood tests. Blood donors and those who wanted flu vaccinations also lined up there. The front of the Infirmary consisted of a series of parallel wooden benches for those waiting to see the doctor, dentist or nurse or for medication pick-ups.
In order to oversee the inmates on these benches, there is a desk with one Correction Officer (C.O.) on duty who maintains strict silence among inmates and directs the Infirmary traffic. As prisoners sit waiting, several C.O.’s, nurses, occasionally the doctor, the dentist, they all joke with each other and poke fun at the inmates. The C.O.’s and civilians trade comments about their diets, love affairs, Department of Corrections directives or other gossip like a recent prison escape as the inmates sit listening silently. A few inmates are escorted into the Infirmary. The inmates are wearing handcuffs and manacles and dragging shackles on their ankles, coming directly from the SHU or Special Housing Unit, also known as The Box. It’s not unusual for those inmates to be bruised, bleeding or limping along as their accoutrements rattle. Accompanying them from the Box, the C.O.’s escorting the men laugh and joke about how certain inmates spontaneously fell over or threw themselves into a wall and hurt themselves in a sudden fit of depression.
Often, inmates being chauffeured about in wheelchairs by a nurse or other orderly, are allowed to sit unattended in the hallways, waiting for treatment.
The Infirmary was usually the first stopping point for those entering the prison. A place where most inmates repeatedly came for medical and dental treatment throughout their incarceration.
These are true stories of life in an upstate New York prison.
A long line of inmates in their green shirts and pants snaked along a wall waiting for their medication from the nurse. Inmates in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s as well as several in their 50’s and late 60’s and 70’s stand in line and then shuffle behind each other — with only 5 at a time allowed to get up from the wooden waiting area benches — after Correction Officer Blowman screams “You deaf? I told you to get the fuck up?” The 79 year-old white guy, Murray, shuffling along on the line, is in prison for having hit his wife. His hearing is bad; he suffers from dementia and often does not know where he is. The media reports about the thousands of non- violent inmates in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s in the New York prison system being considered for early release were a fiction emanating from Albany’s PR office. Everyone inside the prison knew that. Albany knew it, the Corrections bureaucracy knew it, and the Corrections union knew it. There was no value in having fewer inmates since that reduced overtime. Reality was that more older inmates were being imprisoned, not fewer. C.O. (Correction Officer) Blowman, himself in his early 60’s, retiring after 25 years, showed no sympathy for the aging inmate. The old man is just another paycheck and he’s long ago been numbed by what is around him. Blowman is balding, sports a goatee, and has 80 pounds of adipose fat strapped around his belly. He looks pregnant as sits with his feet up on the desk chewing on his 4th donut for the morning. He’s known as a ballbuster among the inmates and he laughs at the old man shuffling along as he heads for the nurse’s station. Blowman enjoys harassing the old guys.
The nurse and her assistant, two plain white, middle-aged upstate women in their 40’s are slightly obese and grim-faced. They’re working at the only job available in upstate New York where the town has grown up around the prison like a cancerous carbuncle. The women hate the inmates, especially the black ones, and barely acknowledge their existence, yet they know that this job is easy and well paid. And, that this is their only career choice. Like the C.O.’s, they know that making $75,000 plus overtime a year somewhere else upstate is a fantasy.
At the nurse’s station they hand out little tan envelopes of pills to a few of the guys before Murray reaches them on the line snaking along the wall. The noise is deafening, as the floors are being washed and waxed by an inmate who is oblivious to anything going on around him. One of the nurses hands the old man his packets of meds after he reports to her, “Thalberg, G-2,
11A365.” The nurse is about to hand him two envelopes but the assistant drops one of them and the pills roll out onto the floor. A few land under Murray’s standard-issue black boots. He steps aside to locate them and then bends down to pick up the pills, nearly losing his balance, and then hands them back to the nurse. She takes the pills from him and then shoves them all back into one of the envelopes and hands them to the old man. He watches all of this and looks askance at her and then takes the envelopes without uttering a word and walks away. “Next!” she says.
Murray notices a black 30 year old in a wheelchair in the corner on his way out of the Infirmary, past C.O.’s Blowman and Zimmerman, the latter being the cop who runs the Law Library and who also works The Box where he is known as a “Beast.” He has the affable demeanor and look of Dudley DoRight and is also known as “Timber!” by a few who know that he’d been the victim of a falling tree. He, himself, had been cutting the tree down with a chainsaw one winter when it landed on his head in the minus 29 degree cold. He hadn’t been quite right after that accident and proudly talked about his 220 over 125 blood pressure and incessant headaches ever since. The head pain was often alleviated by beatings he was rumored to have administered in The Box. For him, it was therapeutic.
The inmate in the wheelchair appeared to be nodding off and wasn’t moving. One end of a tube was sticking in his vein and the other end was lying loose in his lap, unfettered or connected to anything. Blood is slowly leaking from it but is partially absorbed by a blanket thrown over his lap. All of this is within the sight line of C.O. Blowman at the desk where he has his feet up, but he’s busy cursing out inmates and joking with Zimmerman and the nurse who just came on duty. The shapely nurse is giggling at the attention from the two C.O.’s and Murray is too confused or afraid to say anything to them about the guy in the wheelchair, so he saunters out.
The floor buffing machine continues to whir on the floor. Cleanliness is very important but it is also noisy and one could hardly hear anything. Debris is being blown all about the Infirmary — into its treatment rooms, pharmacy and waiting area. Domo, a young inmate being treated for asthma (slim, medium height, 20’s, black male with a bald head), is sitting next to Bigs who is there for chest pains (a 30 year old black guy who weighed 325 lbs.) and they both try to avoid the noxious air that they are forced to breathe by pulling their undershirts up over their noses. The smell of rancid mop water and cheap floor wax permeates the Infirmary. Domo is here in prison for a 5-year bid. He was none too bright and had been making his living on the street by breaking into vacant homes, foreclosures known as zombie houses, stealing the copper pipes and selling the metal to a junkyard. The last time he did this, however, after cutting and removing the pipes, he decided to lay down in the basement of the vacant house for a short nap. When he awoke, he failed to notice of smell of gas. According to him, he was watching T.V. two days later and learned that the house had blown up after erupting into a ball of fire. He was ratted out by a friend and arrested. When the cop asked why he didn’t leave after ripping out the pipes he told them, “I was tired.” Other versions of this story unfolded as time went on.
The noise from the machine is deafening and debris is flying all over the Infirmary but the inmate operating it is staring intently at the young nurse’s ass while she is talking to the two C.O.’s. Dirt is blowing into inmates’ faces as they wait on line for medication. Blowman sees the inmate staring at the nurse’s ass and screams, “What the fuck are you looking at, shithead?”
The inmate operating the buffer looks at Blowman and then looks away. His job in the Infirmary, considered a good one, would soon be over. He’d gotten a ticket and his punishment was to be transferred to the Mess Hall, considered the worst job in the prison. Up and 4:00 a.m., back to the dorm at 7:00 a.m., then back to the Mess Hall again at 10:30 a.m., and off again from 3:00 p.m. until 6 p.m. Working with food, cooking, cleaning, preparing the meals, was a job that only the least educated prisoners got. And, the civilians working in the Mess Hall were the most abusive.
“Shitty,” as the buffer was called, didn’t really like to work. This was partly due to the fact that everyone knew he was a little fucked up. Physically, that is. He constantly needed to use the toilet and emitted a tremendous amount of gas. No one wanted to be near him because he smelled of shit. And, he had trouble controlling his bowels. Some inmates were convinced he had some kind of illness, possibly a parasitic infection, or perhaps even Hepatitis. Literally, he was known to shit in his pants and had been observed with feces trickling down the cuffs of his pants. His dorm mates barely slept due to the farting noises and smell. One inmate even wrote a song about him. So, naturally, he was given a job in the Mess Hall.
Another line of inmates formed along the hallway wall, opposite to the medication office, heading towards the sergeant’s office. This was near the room by the Exit door where buses were boarded and ambulances arrived. It was the room used for strip-searches and there was a lot of commotion and yelling by the C.O.’s. There had been a surprise search in the prison and a couple of dozen inmates were rounded up for a “Piss test” looking for evidence of drug use.
“You refuse to piss, you go to the Box, you piss dirty, you go to the Box, you don’t shut the fuck up on line, you go to the Box. Now, line up and if you can’t piss when you’re told, you go to the Box. You got that? Now, you,” he motions to the first inmate on line, “go with him.”
A C.O. holding a little plastic cup, wearing blue plastic gloves, leads an inmate to the single bathroom and leaves the door open where everyone in the Infirmary is able to watch. He hands the inmate the little plastic cup and says, “Okay, piss.” The C.O. stands next to the inmate with the plastic cup and stares at the black guy as he unzips his pants and pulls out his penis. “Let’s go,” he says, “we don’t have all day.” The cop smiles as he focuses back and forth between the inmate’s penis and his anxious face, “S’matter ya dick not working. You a homo? Don’t give me that shy bladder shit.”
Later they all learn that the nurse assistant who’d been watching the guy in the wheelchair had gone out for a cigarette and left him unattended. She’d simply forgotten about him and gotten into a conversation with another nurse.
He’d bled out in the hallway — while she was bullshitting.
Suddenly, the Exit door swung open and two orderlies arrived to collect the guy in the wheelchair. They unhooked the tubes from his arm and placed him on a gurney, zipped him up in a plastic bag and wheeled him out the back as the inmates and C.O.’s watched them take the inmate to the Morgue.”