I Got Locked Up in the Hole for Interviewing the WTC Bomber by Judge
“What they get you for?” Pete Pretzel, a 49-year-old “good ol boy” from Tennessee questioned in his southern drawl as I threw my bedroll on the top bunk.
“Writing for a magazine.” I responded shaking my head in disbelief as I handed him my lock up order.
“Well, I’ve heard it all now.” He said sitting back down on his bed and pulling out his incident report for an assault to show me he was back here on “good terms.”
The Special Housing Unit is the end of the line for convicts that choose to do time their way. It’s a prison inside a prison for those of us that can’t be controlled through the intimidation and scare tactics of the present day BOP.
I’ve been incarcerated for over 160 months and through that span I’ve received incident reports ranging from rioting to possession of antibiotics. (I actually did more SHU time for the latter.) Each write up or “shot” has brought me back to to what prisoners call “the bucket” or “the hole” for extended periods of time.
My shortest stay lasted only three days for tobacco possession, while my longest vacation kept me back in no man’s land for five months. This extended stay was courtesy of fighting off two gang members in an altercation at USP Pollock in 2009. And now I found myself in the hole for writing an article.
I felt bad for Ismoil, the World Trade Center bomber I interviewed , because he had just gotten out of ADX Florence, after almost 20 years, and now he would probably be sent back there just for doing an interview with me. I tried to let the cops know that Ismoil didn’t know he was being interviewed for VICE.
“Hey look, Ismoil didn’t have anything to do with this.” I told the short pudgy Spanish Lt. as I tried to save my friend from the same fate that awaited me. A true convict will always take the blame for his fellow comrades. Regardless of race, religion, or creed because we’re all in this struggle together.
“He didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. He just thought I was interested in all that shit.” I said but the Lieutenant rolled his eyes like, “Yeah right.” I later found out that they locked up Ismoil too. Put him in the hole because he had the audacity to do an interview. Talk about censorship.
I waited to hear news about what was going to happen to me, about when I was going to get out. I wasn’t busted with drugs or stabbing anyone. But it took a month of misery before I was pulled out of my cell to meet with the head of the S.I.S. department. (The prison’s special investigative service)
“I’m not gonna drag you anymore than I have too.” Said the bald headed, middle aged man with an overly hairy black goatee. “I’ve been following your articles on VICE for the last several months.”
“Ok. Did you like them?” I asked.
“They weren’t bad actually. But this last one I can’t stand for.”
“Oh yeah? I didn’t write anything bad about you guys or any ‘fuck America’ type of shit.”
“No, it was surprisingly well written.”
“So what’s the trouble?” I asked inquisitively as if maybe my grammar was the cause of my current misfortune.
“Well, first you can’t go around interviewing terrorists.”
“No terrorists. Check.” I said causing my bearded interrogator to roll his eyes in disdain.
“And you can’t put your name on anything.” He said in a slightly firmer tone.
“Alright. No terrorists. No name. I got you. Can I get the fuck outta here and back to the compound now?”
“Ha… I don’t think so.” He chuckled out. “I’ll be giving you two incident reports and shipping you out of here.”
“Two shots? For what?” I questioned as I scrunched my face like I just inhaled a vicious fart.
“That would be for acting as a reporter for VICE magazine and not receiving the wardens approval to conduct an interview inside the institution.” He said smugly.
“That’s in the fucking rulebook?”
“A violation of program statements 1480.05 and 540.2, that are included in the rulebook that you signed for when you entered the prison.” The Lt. proudly boasted digging up these obscure, never before used rules out of a tiny booklet that you needed a microscope to read when you first step off the prison bus in shackles and chains.
But that wasn’t the worst of it.
“You’re fucked.” Said the middle aged, red haired unit manager.
“I know.” I said hanging my head on the opposite side of the steel door. “Another pen.”
“No, CMU!” She said scolding.
There are two Communication Management Units in the federal Bureau of Prisons. One in Marion, Illinois, and the other is above death row in Terre Haute, Indiana. The inhabitants inside these hell chambers are high profile mobsters, IRA soldiers, drug cartel leaders and terrorists. (https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/01/28/another-kind-of-isolation#.l6iv7MuHo)
At these two facilities, all contact with the outside world is completely controlled by the Federal government. Their sole purpose is to deprive the incarcerated of any communication or knowledge about what is going on in society. It’s for anyone the U.S. government deems a threat.
Mail correspondence is allowed with only select members of your family, and even then letters are scanned and shown across a TV screen to the secured convicts. All phone calls, if you’re lucky enough to get one, are highly monitored and allowed twice a month with one member of your immediate family. No newspapers are allowed inside the facility and only selected magazines in an attempt to keep current events from touching the inmate’s ears. The same with radio and TV, most stations are blocked, keeping the inhabitants in a virtual black out from civilization.
Convicts are kept inside one unit for the remainder of their stay in prison. They don’t leave the unit for anything, and the only way to leave the CMU is through your outdate. Which is either from the courts…or from God. Basically it’s a living graveyard. A hole within the hole designed to severely break down those misfortunate enough to find their way inside. I couldn’t believe it. Only two years left and I was being sent to a CMU. Treated like a terrorist because I interviewed one.
My family pushed non-stop from the outside world making phone calls to anyone that had a say in my situation. They called everyone they could find that could sway the powers that be from burying me. I also had inmates of each race going to the higher ups everyday vouching for my character and pushing for me to get a normal transfer. There was also multiple staff and other government employees in the ears of those pulling the trigger on my fate.
When the onslaught reached it’s peak, the Associate Warden came to my cell and asked me to call off the attack. He informed me the institution was no longer pushing for the CMU and I would be getting shipped to another prison.
“A transfer to a medium?” I questioned hopefully.
“I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one.” He said burning off down the range. This was the same man, who only a week prior, was browbeating me through the door for breaking “his” rules. Mockingly telling me he had a special place reserved for a prison reporter of my caliber.
I started writing as a way to release all the horrors I’ve witnessed over the years in the netherworld of corruption and violence. What began as a form of therapy, morphed into something that could become a career. It’s filled me with a hope that maybe I can get out of prison and make a living doing something I loved. That was very close to being taken away, and can still be ripped away at any moment, as the threat of the CMU looms larger with each new article I write.
I’m in a new institution now. Another penitentiary. But better then the CMU they threatened me with. I can’t say how my transition back into civilization is going to go after fifteen years of incarceration. I’ll either be shell shocked or make a seamless transition back to society.Throughout my thirteen and a half years in prison, I’ve done everything I can to stay busy and keep my mind occupied. I fill my days with the band room, teaching classes, playing soccer, running and writing.
This latest setback has only made me want to write more. Although I’ve always been able to adapt to my environment, the CMU would’ve been a back breaker.
The confinement inside a unit twenty four hours a day for years is almost the same as a death sentence to me. But I won’t give in to my oppressors. I will continue to write despite the obstacles they put in my path to deter me.
If you like this read Thoughts on Prison Guards by Judge.