By: Gunther Fiek
Posted by: Bob Chatelle
One’s journey through life can be hindered by detours that cannot be avoided. While a path closes, another one opens. We oftentimes choose our own but it is when one is chosen for us, and how we decide to handle it, that it will still take us to our destination. This is the uncertainty of prison life.
Almost six months ago, on the evening of September 26, 2018, my stay in prison would take a sudden turn, again. I was in my cell mingling around that night around 10 p.m., while my bunkmate, along with other guys, were in the dorm’s dayroom doing about their business — probably watching TV, playing cards or just socializing. I usually like to take advantage of any opportunity that I have to be alone in the cell. I would close the thick metal door, and then enjoy the peace and quiet found inside which can be a rarity in prison life. Suddenly, I thought I heard the building CO (Correctional Officer) call my cell number: 233 Top! (I slept on the top bunk). I immediately sensed that something was not quite right.
My cell was located on the top range towards the far end of the dorm. With all the noise outside of my cell, I thought that maybe I hadn’t heard right. I open the door and stepped out of my cell. A few guys waved their hands to get my attention and told me that the CO was calling for me. I hurried downstairs to her desk. She saw me approaching her desk and knew who I was. “Fiek, you’re 233 Top?”, she said. I nodded with a “Yes ma’am.” “Pack all your property, you are being transferred,” was her reply. Transfer? I was shocked, to say the least.
The GDC can randomly transfer anyone at any time for “population redistribution.” That’s what they call it. They claim that S.O.P (Standard Operating Procedures) states that inmates are routinely moved to another facility after a certain amount of time spent at one prison. Although I have never seen the policy on paper, with some sections of the S.O.P available to us in the prison’s law library, that time frame varies depending who in administration you question. But regardless of what they say or policy mandates, one thing that I do know for sure is that your average inmate does stay in the same facility for several years. That’s what I have observed during my years of incarceration, and in the six facilities to which I have been assigned. I personally know many men who have been at the same facility for over 10 years. I would rather be left alone, and stay in one place and not be moved around as a commodity stored in warehouses. With good reason, some prison reform advocates call the prison system in this country “human warehouses.” (But I’ll get into that subject sometime in another post). Nevertheless, I also personally know of a very few men who have been in the same facility, same dorm, and same cell for over 15 years. That would be my preference. I’ve done enough moving around growing up. As a friend mentioned to me, “being suddenly uprooted from an environment and plunked down in a new one must be upsetting and unsettling.” Yes, that’s how it feels.
Some men submit a request, that may or may not be approved, to be transferred to another facility for diverse reasons – a fresh start, new environment, fresh faces, or for a class or trait program available at another prison. Meanwhile, others may be transferred for disciplinary reasons or other security concerns. And there are many factors that determine to which facility you will be going such as security level, length of sentence, crime, disciplinary history, or classes/programs needed to be enrolled among other factors. In many occasions, some inmates are just plunked down wherever there is an open bed without taking in consideration of any factors previously mentioned.
Still, however, my inevitable transfer to another facility didn’t make sense to me, or to any of some of the other guys in my dorm who were just as puzzled as I was upon hearing the news. After all, I did not request a transfer, I’m not and never have been a disciplinary problem nor a security concern. Many questions ran through my mind as I headed back to my cell to pack-up: Why was I being transferred? Where was I going? I had been at the facility, Dooly State Prison, for almost six years and I was seeing myself there for many more. I was involved in assisting in whatever capacity needed, and was assisting the Chaplain with the Hispanic worship services and the Catholic ministry. I was also the Kairos community leader, which is a ministry of men of faith. Additionally, I was enrolled in a class called Statewide Lifers/Long-Term Offender Program which was six months in length and I only had about five weeks left to graduate. Upon completing that class, I would automatically be enrolled in the Pathfinders program, enabling me to become a GDC mentor to other offenders within the department.
It took me a while to pack up all that I have. It was around midnight by the time the building’s CO did an inventory of my property. I then had to take it to intake to be stored and then wait for the bus. There was around 12 of us who either were being transferred or going to back to their respective county of conviction for a court hearing. The sergeant on duty advised us that it will be between 3 or 4 a.m. before the bus arrived. Transfer nights are usually on Monday and Wednesday nights. Technically, we don’t leave until early the next morning but an inmate who is going somewhere is notified between 10 and 11 in the evening to have ample time to gather all belongings and for the COs to complete all paperwork. That was the reason why I sensed something out of place when my room number was called that late in the evening.
I found out I was being transferred to Coffee Correctional Facility. A private prison owned and operated by CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, a for profit organization. I have only served time at state facilities but never at a private one. I had mixed feelings concerning private prisons based on what I have read and from shared experiences by other inmates who have been assigned to these private facilities. The GDC contracts with two private companies who operate four facilities in Georgia which houses state inmates. But my biggest concern, and probably the first thing that came to mind, was the distance. I already knew where the facility was. Coffee Correctional Facility is located in Coffee County, in the small town of Nicholls, Georgia. That’s about a 4.5 hour drive for my family , each way, down I-75 South and through several rural roads. That bothered me tremendously. Needless to say, the ride in the GDC transfer bus was long, and I was still trying to make sense of my transfer out of Dooly. And the uncertainty of my “new home” and what kind of environment I will find myself in made me a bit anxious.
What would disturbed me the most, though, was that soon after arriving to my new home, and while being processed, I would learn the reason given for being transferred out of Dooly. It now made sense. For whatever reason, someone wanted me gone — some people just have hate – evil – in their heart.