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No, Prison is Not Like a Hotel. It is HELL!

Published: Jul 08 2023

Written By: Rita Williams

Rita Williams actively and persistently fights for her husband’s rights and freedom. She shares her perspectives on Twitter @countwrites and on her web page above.

The kids and I finally saw Ryan this past Wednesday. It was so good for our hearts, but incredibly bittersweet. We hadn’t hugged him in nearly seven months. While I’m at home with the kids and hug them daily, he hadn’t hugged ANYONE in that time. That’s a long time. We ate vending machine junk food, played board games, and it was the happiest I have been in months.

For two hours, things felt almost like normal. It felt kind of like just being together in a public place more than being in a prison. For that, I have to thank the staff at G. Robert Cotton Facility. We left in high spirits.

I didn’t know it, but the happiness comes with a price. Because you begin processing everything. Soon after, the emotional crash caused me to spiral. I was very emotional on Thursday and Friday. I felt like I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

While things felt the same between all of us, Ryan was noticeably different. The scariest and saddest part was that Ryan has lost so much weight. He is the thinnest I have ever seen him and I’ve known him since he was a 17-year-old boy. It was scary to see how small his wrists had become. To feel how thin he is when placing my arms around him. I kept looking down at this legs and realizing how thin they had become, too. Earlier in the week, his Aunt had found old pictures of us and shared them with me. My husband, the love of my life, is thinner now than he was when I met him in 2002. In total, Ryan has lost 40 lbs. over seven months.

No one should have to see a loved one like that. It’s psychological abuse that I fully believe a unnecessarily cruel and vindictive Judge and Prosecutor wanted to inflict this on us. He isn’t even supposed to be there. Judge Michael Schipper and Christopher Elsworth and their “Off the Record” plea deal put him there. And they’re keeping him there because they are refusing to address his motions. They keep kicking the can down the road and want to wait until August 8th to address the motion, when it could save taxpayers money and be done ex parte.

In days prior, I ran into someone on Facebook (let’s call her H) who thought comments demanding Ethical Treatment and Human Rights were “funny.” She made multiple uninformed and offensive statements, believing Prison is “like a hotel” and that “it’s easy” for Incarcerated Individuals because they get air conditioning, cable, a gym, and good food. This person is not only young, but has grown up in a sheltered little small town. She will likely live her whole life and die in that county, never challenging her world view. She is not college educated. Confirmation bias and tunnel vision were in full-effect. This is the willful ignorance I try to be patient and educate people through. But you can’t always break through.

These beliefs and statements are ignorant and harmful. These lies come from blowhard politicians so they can keep their buddies in Prison Industries paid. It’s very big business. And these shameless people say it to people everyday who can’t be bothered to fact check. It’s a lie that society needs to stop repeating, and that politicians should be fined for. Very few politicians, small town cops, judges, prosecutors, visit prisons and know what the true conditions of prisons are. I don’t regret the conversation, because it gave me inspiration to write; to challenge this small-minded thinking. There are MANY ways that prisons are awful, but I’ll go with the basics for this post.

The Food

The food is disgusting and barely edible. Bologna sandwiches and “cat head” meatballs are staple meals in Michigan DOCs. People have to supplement with junk food from the Commissary Catalog or they would waste away. The food is also quite literally watered down. Water is added to things like rice because it’s “too thick.”

No Air Conditioning

There IS NO air conditioning. Ryan’s unit has been hovering at an average of 85 degrees. “Good!” A “Tough on Crime” believer might say. But remember that Correctional Officers have to sit in those conditions too. Would you want to go to work in that all day? There’s cable but families pay for it, NOT taxpayers.

Yes, there is cable, but prison is definitely not a hotel. Not everyone has a TV. Incarcerated people have to buy their own. And the cable bill is paid out of the Prisoner’s Benefit Fund, paid BY FAMILIES. Taxpayers are not footing the bill.

There is SO much wasted time and potential in prisons. If people have jobs, they are paid pennies. Most incarcerated individuals make less than a dollar a day to produce products for the State of Michigan.

What do Taxpayers Pay For? Cruelty.

Taxpayers in Michigan pay an average of $48,000 per year to inflict this pain on people and families. Most of the budget goes toward upkeep of very old buildings. So what are taxpayers getting for their money? Malnutrition, mental abuse, emotional distress, and splitting up good families. This experience as a whole has made me question so much about life, societal expectations, and the way that we as a culture are told we should be living.

Everything Most People Believe about Prison is a Lie.

The Criminal Justice system is in no way fair. If it were even a little bit fair, my husband would still have hearing in his right ear, Judge Michael Schipper and Christopher Elsworth would not have given him a fake plea deal; they would be honest people and let him come home.

The Current Public Perception is Politicized and Dangerous

In Blind Injustice: A Former Prosecutor Exposes the Psychology and Politics of Wrongful Convictions, Mark Godsey discusses just how skewed public perception is and how this impacts juries.He quotes renowned Criminal Justice Scholar Professor Keith Findley:

“The presumption of innocence is under constant assault from jurors’ natural assumption that if someone is arrested and charged with a crime, he or she must have done something wrong. It is also vulnerable to the media frenzy around high profile cases, the fear-driven politics of crime, and the highly punitive nature of our culture and the innate cognitive processes that produce tunnel vision and confirmation bias.”

Indeed, research suggests that the presumption of innocence exists more in theory than reality. In studies, mock jurors predict a 50 percent chance of voting to convict – before hearing any evidence. Other research shows that while simulated jurors initially assign low probabilities of guilt, they abandon the presumption of innocence promptly as prosecution evidence is introduced.

The public narrative is being driven by people in places of power who have everything to win and nothing to lose, while the rest of us are punished and taxed.

It’s Horrible but We Can Fix This.

I wish the system really was fair. If it were, my husband wouldn’t be scarily thin. He would be safe and working on building our woodworking business, teaching Scout groups about woodworking. That was the plan. I am so angry that anyone, especially Barry County Michigan in my case, send so many people there when diversion programs are most cost effective and beneficial. People deserve better.

In closing: write your elected leaders, have these hard conversations with people, expose what prison really is, and demand that we start treating people with dignity.

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