At times in life we are all tested and sometimes expected to make changes however terrible they may seem to be. Recently I've had such a test, and it's up to you to decide whether or not I made the correct decision.
I've spent the last fourteen years incarcerated for a crime I didn't commit and had no knowledge of. That, in itself, is something I have to deal with daily and quite frankly--it drives me damn near to chronic depression! There was only one thing that had kept me from going out of my mother-bleeping mind--single cell status.
In 2007, after four years of lock-up, I came to the realization that I no longer had the patience to live in a bathroom with another individual. So I came up with a way to have the institution at Graterford give me a single cell. Basically, I told them that I was assaulting my cellmates in an inappropriate way while they slept. You get the idea without me spelling it out, right? Well, it worked. Man, if you could've seen my fist pump when I came out of that office and they told me they were giving me a single cell! I got one over on you bastards! So, for the past ten years I've ridden that wave, the brilliant creation of my superb illustrious imagination. Playing the state for the suckers that they are--and man did it feel good!
For those who have been following my essays, you know I was transferred from Graterford to Houtzdale in 2014. I've been staying relatively low-key here, minding my own business, staying misconduct free (no misconducts in two years) and basically just studying Arabic and memorizing Qur'an. However, as is the case with life, when things are going smooth the evil one will come and throw a monkey-wrench into your situation!
In February I was called into Counselor McIntosh's office for my annual review. She is used to having the inmates flock around her like moths to a flame. On the other hand, I've never spoken to the woman since I moved onto the unit about eight months ago.
"This is your annual review, Mr. Mitchell," Mcintosh says.
"Already?" I reply, still shocked that another year has passed so fast.
"Yes, there‘s a new policy being implemented where we‘re reviewing single cell status Z Codes every year. Could you tell me why you should have a single cell?"
Really? Oh, you're gonna love this--eat your heart out, kiddo! "Well, I don't know how to say this, but I was given a single cell because I have the bizarre fetish of ejaculating into the faces of my cellmates while they’re sleeping.”
She tries to act like what I said has no effect on her--but her eyes say something different. The eyes never lie.
"I see, was this ever documented?"
I shrug. "As far as I can tell, it should be in my file. Graterford did the paperwork."
"Alright then, Mr. Mitchell. This will conclude the annual review,“ she says, shuffling paperwork in front of her.
Do call on me again next year, gnat brain! "Thank you very kindly, ma‘am. Am I permitted to leave now?"
"Yes, here is your review sheet," she says, passing me a single sheet of paper.
This time a mental fist-pump instead of a physical one, since I knew I wouldn't be bothered by these people here at Houtzdale asking me anything else about my single cell. But I underestimated the mind of the gnat. They would be prepared to test my "compulsion" even to the extent of causing severe legal liability to the state.
Three or four weeks later I was summoned again into the same office. She was there--but this time there was also a unit manager, a superior to check me out. The unit manager asked me the same mundane questions about the single cell. I relayed to him what I’d told his subordinate. It seemed they were trying to put up resistance, so I informed them that if they give me a cellmate I would assault them. The particular way I assault them, mind you!
"You know we can issue you a misconduct for threatening another person," she said.
I know this is bait. Thrown out there to see if I’ll back down. Gauge my reaction to the threat of a write up. True to form, I was unwavering. "I guess you'll have to do what you have to do--and I‘ll do what I have to do."
With that, the "meeting" was concluded and I went back to my cell. Later that night I received a misconduct for threatening another person and was scheduled to see the hearing examiner within the next seven days. I mean, what else could I do? Obviously, they were backing me into a corner and I had no choice but to stand my ground. I had to keep my sanity--and by that I mean my single cell.
Two days after the misconduct I was called to the security office where I was grilled by the captain and lieutenant about my "assaults" at Graterford and whether or not charges had ever been filed against me. I was made to jump through a few more hoops before I was told I could return to my cell. I could feel that these people were truly concerned about my keeping a single cell. How kind of them, I hadn‘t imagined they cared about me so much!
The next day, I had my hearing with the examiner. For him, the misconduct was almost laughable. Even the C.O.s who were in the room knew that the write-up was a load of crap. Fortunately, the hearing examiner saw through the attempt of the unit manager and counselor to get me thrown into the RHU (hole) for threatening an "imaginary" cellmate.
"Mr. Mitchell, you've been honest with me in relating your version of events concerning this misconduct. Usually, I give people hole time for threatening—but you haven't been in any trouble so I'm going to give you twenty days cell restriction," he says.
Another mental fist-pump. "Thank you, sir. As you can see I've pretty much been on my best behavior."
“Keep it that way," he says finally, as the computer two-way screen in front of me goes black. Leaving me there with two C.O.s.
"That's bullsh**t!" one of them says.
"Mitchell, I'd appeal that if I were you. Obviously, you have a psychological compulsive disorder and you shouldn't be punished for being sick," says the other.
My thespian talents are being wasted here at Houtzdale. I should be in
As it turns out, cell restriction isn't such a bad deal. You are allowed to keep your privileges to some extent: use of your tablet, phone, television--but you're not permitted out of your cell after 10:00 am, unless you're going to chow, commissary or to your religious service. I was cool with that. Hell, I stayed in my cell most of the time anyway. That was the end of the drama with the single cell. They'll definitely leave me alone, now! Or so I thought.
After about twelve days into cell restriction, , I was summoned again to the unit managers office. I was thinking, what the hell is going on now with these idiots?
"What can I do for you?" I ask, upon entering the office.
"Yes, have a seat Mr. Mitchell. Your vote sheet came back about your single cell. It's been determined that your Z Code is being withdrawn."
Utter devastation. Heart immediately drops into stomach.
"But I'm a sick man! I'm afraid I’ll act out on my urges if I'm given a cellmate," I say desperately. Not a threat so much as a plea.
"Then the individual will be able to file assault charges on you with the state police," he says, straight-faced.
The taste of defeat. Of course, I thought about devising a plan with anyone they put in my cell to exact revenge. I made copies of the misconduct that said I would assault anyone they put in my cell and sent the copies to family members. The cellmate would say I assaulted them having copies of a misconduct report that said I would do as much. He would provide them to one of the many attorneys who‘d be willing to jump on this un-losable lawsuit. The only catch would be that they'd probably lock me down in the hole forever and I'd be charged with that kind of assault and convicted. The conviction would only increase the likelihood of the winning the suit.
The cellmate would break me off a small portion of the settlement he'd receive from the state. If I went through with that plan, there'd be no way the institution could finagle itself out of their liability.
Instead, I went into more in depth contemplation. I weighed the pros and cons of the scenario and decided it wasn't worth the effort. So, how would I work to my advantage what’d happened with the snatching of my single cell? Like they say, there's a reason for everything.
When I was sent here from Graterford three years ago I had no idea my codefendant was being housed in this institution. I knew he had been housed at SCI Greensburg, but unbeknownst to me he had been transferred here to Houtzdale. You wouldn‘t believe how happy I was when I found out he was here! I hadn't seen him since we were wrongly and unjustly convicted--and I welcomed the chance for us to do a whole lot of catching up. During this time together we‘ve been able to work on our case and contact various innocence projects. Although, the innocence project endeavors have been futile thus far. I'm at the point of giving up and facing the fact that I'm going to die in prison for something I didn't do.
I figured that if they were going to force me into a cell with someone, then damn, it ought to be him and not anyone else. This was the "proposal" that I came up with and relayed to the unit manager. Maybe he saw a glimpse of a future liability issue. In any event, he accommodated my request and I moved into a cell with my codefendant the next day.
There is a lot I must adjust to after living in a cell by myself for so long. I have to get used to someone being in my space, and vice versa. However, there isn't a better person I'd rather go through this re-acclimation with. Better to do it with a friend and someone I knew on the streets than with a total stranger. Still, it's a hard process--but at least I'm comfortable.
I should've known that the powers be would test my resolve. In the end, I've chalked it up as a win. We're not always going to get what we want in life, but the divine most high will make sure we get what we need. What I needed was to be in a cell with my codefendant. That was a blessing in and of itself. I don't know where this journey will end, but I'm trying to make the path as pleasurable and smooth as possible.
Until next time friends, or my next crisis, that is.
Mwandishi Mitchell GB6474
Houtzdale, PA 16698-1000
Mwandishi Mitchell is an innocent man serving time at the State Correctional Institution of Houtzdale. After serving ten years of his wrongful conviction, Mwandishi realized he had a talent in creative writing. Besides pursuing his writing career, he continues to fight in court reverently in pursuit of overturning his wrongful conviction. A published author, Mwandishi has two books, The Prodigal Son and The Prodigal Son 2, which can be downloaded and read for free at www.prisonsfoundations.org
Mwandishi’s writing can be found here and his poetry here.