Gay + HIV(+) + Jail (Allegheny County Jail) = Prejudice and Fear
Allegheny County Jail
Abuse in Allegheny County Jail
Since I have already alluded to the irrevocable and irreversible facts that I am gay, HIV(+) and 'vacationed' in Allegheny County Jail, it seems the right time to write about a rather negative experience I had involving all of these facts. These facts will again be incorporated in how they have also affected my current stay in a homeless shelter. A place theoretically free from all prejudice. A claim that looks good on paper as many claims do.
I will leave the actual nightmare process of intake at ACJ and other occurrences at ACJ, what it is like to survive in such a place, for other/another article(S). This article will deal with the hell a certain correction officer, a Mr. Hamed, put me through. What he did to me is nothing less than a travesty and criminal. A bigger travesty is that, so far, there has been no repercussions for what he did to me. However, first things first.
I started off my stay at ACJ being very, very quiet. As I wrote in another article, in uncertain areas, I speak little, listen intently and learn. As I discovered, being quiet actually draws attention, sometimes unwanted attention.
From intake, one goes to a classification unit (POD) and in 3-5 days one gets assigned a regular POD/housing unit. Since I was a probation violator and therefore already sentenced, I was placed in the sentenced POD, 1C. This pod is generally more relaxed than the other pods and desirable for a number of reasons. It is also known as the workers pod. 1C supplies the majority of the workers, who work for no pay (illegal but they get away with it) and do all the grunt work, hard work that keeps the jail operational and saves the jail - and taxpayers- a great deal of money. There will be a future article on this.
Many inmates are astute. They have a learned and sharp ability to pick out other inmates they can 1) take advantage of 2) get help from in some way - not always a bad thing. After about 6 weeks I told my favorite CO - MS Allen - that I wanted a job. She said she had been studying me- I had never had any conversation with her up to this point- and said she wanted me to be her CO worker. This would mean I kept her desk area clean and organized and also cleaned her bathroom. Particularly keeping her focused on paperwork was an important aspect and one I enjoyed. As she was to tell me a number of times, I kept her paperwork flowing in the right direction without being obvious or obtrusive about it. I started this job the end of September, 2013 and with only two short absences from the job. I continued to have it until I left in October of 2014. One of these sabbaticals will be dealt with in this article.
POD 1C is considered by many staff members as the most important pod in the jail because of the workers. However, we had no regular CO to run the pod. MS Allen was the closest we had but it was never officially her pod. She only got assigned the pod the most.
Sometime in October of 2013, we started to get a CO, a Mr. Hamed on the 3-11 shift. He was disliked by most inmates very quickly because of his sarcastic answers to questions and sour disposition. In the beginning, he did not show the unfathomable depth of his negative persona. I was actually OK with him in the beginning. He utilized me rarely then and did not focus his negativity on me....yet. As the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz told Dorothy, "Everything in it's own time, my pretty." That time was about to dawn.
My job as a CO worker was in general a very good thing. I opened up a lot. Other inmates started to ask me to be the conduit to the CO on duty. They saw I truly liked to help people but was firm and could not be bullied to do things that would get me - or them- in trouble. As in any slice of life, there was petty jealousy from a few but so be it.
Mr. Hamed began to get the 3-11 shift more and more. Even though he was only part-time at that point, and therefore not eligible for a regular assignment, he had the backing of (excuse the use of this word but here it is appropriate) BITCH, Captain McCall. I never (thank you Lord Jesus) had to deal personally or directly with her but numerous officers, staff members and inmates told me horror stories about her so she properly earned the designation of bitch... and a few more I will be a gentleman and not use.
Once Mr. Hamed was on our pod more often, his true and evil persona revealed itself more and more. He and MS Allen loathed each other. As he utilized me more and more, I overheard all the terrible things and names he would call MS Allen. Yes, she was disorganized much of the time but she kept the pod running properly. More importantly, she liked helping inmates so she was popular and respected, ergo, making Hamed bitter and jealous.
Two things affected Hamed's attitude towards me 1) It was well known throughout the prison of my close relationship with MS Allen and how well we worked together 2) Most inmates were terrified, for good reason, of Hamed and would use me to approach him for things or info they needed. This infuriated Hamed and he let me know in no uncertain terms. It was like walking on eggshells around him.
My guardian angel/inner voice told me to never let my guard down. This only prolonged the inevitable. He would snap at me for little or no reason. Another pod job I had was taking care of the laundry and the uniforms of the workers. Every other CO kept the room open for me as it was a busy job. Hamed refused to do this. The inmate had to approach him and ask him for permission for me to do whatever needed done. This could take some time. Sitting on a chair at the control desk opening cell doors is busy work! Of course he made us wait just to be the prick he is. It got to the point where I asked my fellow inmates to try to get what they needed me to do before 3 PM so we did not have to deal with him. This helped to a certain extent.
Eventually, my anxiety level stayed at a heightened level every time he was on the pod. A number of CO's told me he had it out for me which they could not understand as I was pretty much liked. He favored a few inmates whom were prejudiced and red necked as much as him. These were the guys who snitched and in general were extensions of Hamed. I had a few problems with a few of them. This came to a head- the first time- in the first week of November, 2013. He had decided the pod was filthy( of course blamed MS Allen) and every time we worked we were given heavy duty cleaning duties. I actually liked it, regardless.
Once, right after 8:00 count, the pod workers would work until count cleared. We were told that some of us had to scrub the edges of the upper tier walkway. When I asked him how he wanted it done, he yelled at me that it would be the same way I had done it the night before when the lower tier was done. I calmly and meekly explained I was not part of that crew. He acted as if I did not tell him what I told him and said he would not explain it to me again. I calmly backed away from his inane talk and decided to ask another inmate, I will call him Joe as I forget his name. I walked up to him and very nicely asked him how I could help. He turned to face me with a screwed up face and yelled "What?" I chuckled and said,"You know Joe, I could get angry too if you keep giving me that mean looking face." Joe admittedly had a bad temper, a common personality trait in jail and the shelter I am staying at. He literally flipped out and of course the screaming of faggot at me began and other epitaphs equally derogatory. Then he commenced to walk to the upper tier, threatening to kill me, push me off the upper tier, names, etc. Hamed found all of this hilarious. He laughed hysterically which egged Joe on. He never stopped.
I walked up to Hamed and between his guffaws, I indicated Joe as explanation why I should be given a different duty. He asked me if I was refusing to work. At this point my stomach was in turmoil and I could barely talk. Again, I indicated the impossibility of working with Joe and indicated other areas that needed attention. He sat down at his desk and began pounding on the desk. Was I dreaming? He said to take it in. He gave me my first write up for refusing an order and insulting other inmates! This was preposterous. I was locked in my cell for 48 hours. Several staff members and officers wanted me to write an official complaint which I did. As Sergeant slaughter told me, he was aware of Hamed's attitude with me and I needed to start making a paper trail. What a trail it turned out to be.
Things with Hamed went up and down for a while. He actually approached me once and asked for my advise on how to get along better with MS Allen. I was taken aback but did not lower my defenses. I simply said, with a smile, "Communication".
In January he was very difficult again. Once when Hamed was searching my cell for contraband, the third time that week, he noticed my cards of meds. At that time, ACJ wisely allowed those of us on important meds to self medicate. With the new warden and medical group, they decided to go back to the medical cart which no one was pleased with. It was another nightmare, which current lawsuits will bare out but that is another article.
He slyly asked me "If you don't mind telling me, what are these meds for." I said, "It's not so much I mind but you are not allowed to ask but they are for things like GERD and cholesterol." , which was the truth, an incomplete truth. Not long after, when I was waiting in the med line, I saw Hamed indicate me to the med nurse and ask her something. She shot her eyes at me and then whispered the answer into his ear. His resulting smile was not unlike the elongated smile of the Grinch or the Cheshire cat. I felt like a resident of Whoville about to be attacked by the pre-changed Grinch.
Around this time, ACJ insisted that when we left our cells, we had to close the doors completely. This meant that each time we wanted to enter our cells, we had to have the CO on duty hit the button to let us in. Only Hamed seemed to mind this. He got to the point where we could only enter ever 30 minutes at official times. Pushing buttons is tough work. Once when I returned from my shower, I stood at the door with my hand on the handle indicating I needed in. This had always been proper with all COs including Hamed. He yelled up, "If you are not going to yell out your cell number, I won't let you in. 1) I have a soft voice and often am not heard 2) being sensitive about my voice I was always apprehensive someone would make fun of it. Sensitive me. Anyway, I acknowledged that I heard him and calmly waited. After 5-10 minutes he left me in, shivering as I was still damp from the shower and pods are notoriously cold.
After the 8:00 count and finishing my duties I saw Hamed was still angry with me. I VERY gently said, "Mr. Hamed, please remember that I am soft spoken and usually stand at my door until I am let in. I am often not heard". He angrily said, "I can't believe you can't yell loud enough and I don't appreciate the way you spoke to me earlier in the evening." Again I was dumbfounded. I had no idea where that came from. I finally said, " Mr. Hamed, this is the first time I have spoken to you all day and for that matter I rarely speak to you unless it is duty related." He responded," that's another thing that irritates me, you rarely talk to me." I wanted to say "Yes and I also do not play with hand grenades or poisonous spiders and snakes." but of course I just stood there not knowing how to respond without him going into some idiotic tangent.
He then yelled, "Take it in and you are fired, you no longer work for me." I calmly said, "OK but I still work for MS Allen and the rest of the CO's." Maybe not the wisest thing to say but at some point one has to defend oneself to try to maintain some pride and dignity. CO's like Hamed, take jobs like police officers or correctional officers because of control issues. I think they feel they have little to no control in their regular life and then take jobs where the playing field is not even or askew = unfair. Their control in these positions can rarely be questioned, especially if it is unreasonable. Like fishing in a barrel to use that overused but oh so true expression.
This is where Hamed made his conversion from king of the pricks to his pure, unadulterated evil persona. After we were locked in, he announced I was to pack it up and move from cell 215 to cell 106. This made no sense but later did when he could use the move to humiliate me. He had been waiting to use my HIV diagnosis to humiliate me and boy did he ever. He had all the other pod workers go to cell 215 and scrub it top to bottom, with gloves, telling them I had AIDS, not even HIV(+) saying I was a danger and threat to the everyone because that they would "Catch it". Many inmates believe all the old, incorrect tales about HIV.
Again, I finished my 48 hour lock in. I was still a CO worker and laundry person for everyone except Hamed. On the following Monday, one of my favorite CO's worked the 3-11. I reminded him that the laundry cart would be back at around 9:30 and would need to pass it out. He was happy to comply and knew I was very fast at it. I did so with no problem.
The next day, Hamed found out I was in the laundry room. He again wrote me up saying I was in a restricted area and I had bullied his personal laundry worker out from the laundry room. Me bully? Never! As I was told by the other CO's, I was only not allowed in the room when Hamed was there, which he was not. This room, the Laundry/Interview Room was good naturedly referred to as Peter's Office as I maintained a library in it, the laundry, uniforms and allowed other inmates to come in and vent their frustrations to me to calm them down.
This was Hamed's third write-up and could be used to get me removed (beamed off the pod) and put on another, higher security pod. MS Allen was furious with Hamed. she had a meeting with a Captain who said he would stop or throw out the write-up but she had to send him an official e-mail to give him the basis to do this. God bless MS Allen but she had a bad day focusing and never did the e-mail. Before she left, she came to my cell and said, "Don't worry, you're not going anywhere." I said nothing but I knew better - so should she have. As soon as she left and Hamed came on, he picked up the phone and I knew my fate.
At the magic hour of 8 AM, he announced over the cell intercom that I was to pack up. I was going to another pod. I was handcuffed and had to drag all my possessions behind me. This was at Hamed's insistence. I was sent to POD 3A that Friday night. come Thursday, I was still locked in my cell. A Mr. Gillespie who was kind to me and disliked Hamed, called classification. The write-up had been dismissed the day after my arrival but no one had called the pod to let them know.
Messages got to me from many CO's to keep positive, that they were working on getting me back. Hamed's Captain McCall had "illegally" had me classified as never to be allowed to return to level one. It took 2 weeks to get someone to stand up to McCall and get it rescinded. Exactly two weeks later from the day I left, I returned. Many guys gave me a warm welcome, if not for me, then that Hamed had been stood up to and did not get his way. Either way, I felt good. One nice thing about 3A was I was celled with a Muslim. His name is James and was very nice. I tutored him and got to know his religion better. CO Greenawalt "bumped" Hamed off the pod the day I returned to make my transition back to the pod go easier. I was very grateful. MS Clark, someone I like a lot, came the next day when Hamed was there to loudly welcome me back in front of Hamed. Again, I was warmed and grateful by this action. Hamed actually looked humbled.
Other inmates had told me what Hamed did the night I was removed from the pod. Again, he had my cell scrubbed telling everyone I was a danger as I had AIDS and was very contagious. he then fortified this by telling inmates I was a 1) prostitute 2) transsexual 3) sexual predator. Of course all lies and fallacies. This actually endangered me as inmates have no patience for any of those designations. As I found out, inmates will rid the pod of anyone with any of those designations one way or the other.
I had a number of confrontations with one - two inmates that lasted several months. MS Allen, bless her, told everyone that everything was a lie, total fabrications. Of course she knew nothing of my HIV status which was better as it made her defense of me all the more believable.
After another complaint, an internal Investigation occurred. This investigation/complaint was backed up by other inmates and MS Allen. As I never heard anything again, a sergeant told me it was probably swept under the carpet in the hopes nothing would come of it. Adam took my complaint to an outside group, a group I believe called A Human Rights Commission. They took it seriously but almost one year later, it is still being investigated. What Hamed did was a major breaking of HIPPA and potential criminal laws were broken but this is just one more example that commissions and laws set up to protect us are often nothing more than a pretty wrapping on an empty box. Laws and regulations protecting us are great when they are enforced, have teeth. The teeth in this case were and are merely made of paper.
At least 1 out of every 10 Americans is incarcerated on some level be it federal, state, county, etc. This is much higher than any other modern nation.
Allegheny County Jail
Knowing the truth about HIV
Pittsburgh Aids Task force
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