Tag Archives: Canon City

Shit in a Sack

?Cell House Three with 'Dog Cages' on the second floor, left.
From the front page of the Pueblo Star-Journal and Sunday Chieftain?, Dated Sunday November 6, 1977. The banner headline on the front page cried out in large bold lettering: NEWSMEN TOUR PRISON AND VIEW “LIVING HELL” By Bill Gagnon.

Canon City- A three-man reporter-photographer team from The Pueblo Chieftain and Pueblo Star-Journal stepped out of the bright and warm summerlike weather here last week and into a medieval chamber of horror- Cellhouse 3 at the Colorado State Penitentiary.

?Once inside the grim building, they were stunned by the sight of humans caged in filthy cells and living under the most wretched conditions imaginable, denied even the most simple and basic necessities of life – soap, towels, soaks, clean clothing, blankets and sheets. Yes , they even are denied the necessary materials to scrub and clean their steel hovels.

?For 24 hours a day, seven days a week, these unfortunate creatures are kept locked in their filth-covered cages with nothing to do except learn to hate an indifferent and unthinking society that keeps them there.

?Treated and looked upon as subhuman beings, even medical and dental services available to them are mediocre and to the point they are almost nil. And letters sent to them by loved ones outside the high, gray walls sometimes is delayed for weeks at the prison before being delivered to them.

?While these conditions observed first hand by the Pueblo news team in the prison’s so called “punitive segregation” section made a grown man ill, they were compounded by those seen in the narrow and darkened steel barred isolation cells in the solitary confinement wing. There, faceless and silent occupants huddle and cringe in the darkness amid the pungent stench of filth within the close confines of these cesspools like cubicles, almost concealed from those outside.

?Those confined to this living hell in the infamous Cellhouse 3 are stripped of all human dignity and respect. An aura of frustration and despair hands heavy throughout this living example of man’s inhumanity to man.

?Yet, despite such barbaric treatment, some find an inner strength which turns to outrage and they cry out to the world; “You can’t do this to me; I am a man!” But few outside the walls hear, or want to hear them.

?But the voice of one of these tortured men, David Anderson, in the form of a letter sent to the editors of these newspapers describing the deplorable conditions in maximum security, was heard. And it resulted in the assignment of this news team to investigate the shocking allegations.

?Note: the article also contained several photos of the conditions, and covered two full pages of the newspaper.

While I was confined there, Gerald Hayes, one of the prisoners, sat down in his cell, with an old razor blade, cut off his index finger.

With blood dripping from his hand, he scrawled a message on the wall of his cell “God! Help us, Convicts are people too.”

Gather round children, I’m about to tell you a true story. ?It happened nearly 40 years ago in the Colorado State Penitentiary. It happened in cell house three.

?Cell house three was isolated from the rest of the prison, it was built to house death row prisoners and other prisoners deemed problem prisoners.

?If you caused problems in cell house three, they would then send you to a special tier called the “Dog Cages” This was their jail within a jail within a prison. The “Dog Cages” was a 24/7 lock down in your cell. The only exception was when you were let out of your cell for an hour to take a shower. Some men lost their minds under those conditions. It was quite easy for a prisoner to become so confused after months, that he could not distinguish one day of the week from another.?

Many of the prisoners there committed self mutilation or suicide. In my efforts not to end up hanging from a dirty bed sheet as so many others, I chose humor as a means to hold on to my sanity.

?This is the story of one of those efforts.?

Since the beginning of time when we first started locking men in prisons, the prisoners have made knives for self protection. These homemade knives were called a “Shiv” or a “Shank” and over the years the prisoners found ingenious ways of hiding their “Shank” from the prison guards who were continually searching for the “Shank”.?

For many guards, finding a prisoners hidden contraband, made their day. And for some guards, finding a “Shank” was as near a sexual experience as they could get. They became ecstatic.?

With the hidden “Shank” and the prison guards lustful hunger to find it, I began to set up my plan.?

The chief “Shank” hunter of cell house three was well known; he was Lieutenant D. A. Davis, who was in charge of cell house three on the swing shift. Lt. D. A. Davis loved his job and the power he held over the prisoners lives, he never missed an opportunity to torment the prisoner with late delivery of their mail or medication, the two most important things to a prisoners.?

D. A. had on several occasions during the cold winter months, set the steam heater on the “Dog Cages” at the lowest setting, the control for the heaters were off tier in the control cage, there were many windows on the tier broken and snow would often blow onto the tier. Another little trick that seemed to give D.A. a lot of pleasure; when the food cart came to the cell house from the main dining room, he would let it set until the food was cold. He took joy in making the prisoners suffer, making sure to remind them he was in charge of every aspect of their lives’. ?

D.A. could also be cruel to the other prison guards. He was a Canon City hometown boy, who thought of the prison as their cottage industry, if a guard was from another city or another race ( D.A. was white) D.A. would made them also feel his wrath. guard Rodriquez had two strikes against him; he was Spanish from Pueblo.?D.A. was one of those spit and polish guards, sharp creases in his shirt and trousers, Lieutenant bars sparkling, I think he was afraid to sit down while in uniform for fear of wrinkling his trousers. He was an overweight heavy jowl bully with shifty eyes that seemed always searching as if his deeds would catch up with him.?

While Rodriquez was a complete opposite of D. A. in manner and dress.?

Rodriquez was a small quiet man, his uniform was always a little rumpled, in the several years I knew him, I never once saw Rodriquez mistreat a prisoner. He once confided to me that he thought being locked in a prison cell 24 hours a day was punishment enough and that he was not going to add to it. The empathy for the prisoners in his face was easy to see. He said that he had taken the job as a prison guard as a last resort only to take care of his family, after failing to gain employment in other areas. All the prisoners respected him for the kindness he showed them. Because of the way D.A. treated Rodriquez it could be said that he suffered as much abuse from D.A. as the prisoners did. ?

Rodriquez seemed always to have a slight smile whenever I made D.A. the brunt of one of my schemes, but he never said so with words. I think the enemy of our enemy can become our friend, it was Rodriquez who tossed the newspaper clipping ( Living Hell ) on my bunk one day, the news article was consider contraband and unavailable to the prisoners until I received that copy.

The Plan:
Timing was needed for my plan to be successful; It needed to happen just after D.A came on duty for the 3:00 swing shift, and there would need for one of the prisoners to be out of his cell for a shower. When a prisoner is out of his cell for showering, is the only time he would have access to the exterior windows you see in the photo above.?

I had acquired a small 8 inch by 12 inch plastic bag, in the bottom of this bag I place a 8 inch wooden stick and then took a nice big healthy shit in the bag, adding a smidgen of water so as to make the mixture runny. I rolled up the bag tightly and then wrapped it again in an old newspaper so that the contents were not visible. When you felt this concoction of stick, plastic and paper it felt like there could be a “Shank” hidden within. ?

The Hide:
I tied a short string in the center of this concoction and had the prisoner out for his shower lower it out the exterior window so that it hung between the second floor and the first floor. The time was about 3:15 and D.A. had just came on duty. The guard tower just yards away from the cell house had a clear view of the exterior of the cell house and I was sure what his reaction would be when he spotted it hanging there outside the window.?The prisoner out for his shower waited until the tower guard was on the back side of the tower before he lowered the bag out the window and tied it off on the bars.?

And just as I had planned; The tower guard spotted the bag hanging there a few minutes later, the Tower guard took out his binoculars for a closer inspection of the bag. Ah Ha! what are those convicts up to now? and then the next step, the guard picked up his phone to call the cell house and alert them to the mysterious bag hanging out the window on the “Dog Cage” tier. I heard the cell house phone ring.?
The Jig is up! D.A. the “Shank Hunter” was on the job.?

D.A. hollered out Lock-Up! meaning for the prisoner out for his shower to go to his cell. The cell block door slid open and D.A. came walking in as if he were doing a head count of the prisoners. He walked casually to the end of the tier, not looking at the widow where the bag was tied, on his return trip his demeanor was much different as he excitedly jumped to the window and pulled the bag up, ripping the sting from the bars. Glancing around he darted for the tier door with his prize in hand….of course, I hollered out “D.A. Come Back Here With My Shit!?

The prisoners all locked in their cells exploded in laughter.

?D.A. was still not sure of his prize as Rodriquez later told me of what happen when D.A. entered the cage. He feverishly began ripping opening the bag and discovered the sack of shit, he threw the bag on the floor and it splattered up on his pants. His face turned beet red with embarrassment as he remarked to Rodriquez he didn’t want to hear any talk of this incident. D.A. began to wretch and struggled to keep from vomiting. Of course we prisoners knew that we would have some new punishments coming from D.A., but hearing the laughter was so therapeutic, there are those moments when suffering and punishment reach a point that we don’t care what happen to us. ?

D.A. took a short leave to go home and change his pants.?

When Rodriquez came on the tier, he walked right up to my cell with the biggest smile I had ever seen on his face, and said I know you did it David and it was beautiful! my reply was “What are you talking about?”

The Moral of the story; When Shit Happens… make sure you’re not the one holding the sack.

The New Slave Ships Have Arrived

The year was 1960, and there was only one men’s prison in Colorado at that time, located at Canon City. There was a women’s prison that sat next to the men’s prison. There were three small satellites off the main prison: the ranch, dairy farm and garden. And there was the young men’s reformatory at Buena Vista, for a total of three prisons. In 1960 the population figures for Colorado was nearly two million people, in 2010 it was a little over five million; In a span of fifty years Colorado gained three million people. In 1960, it took 3 prisons to confine the convicts of two million people living in Colorado. By 2006 there were 30 prisons in Colorado, while adding only three million people to the population. Hold on here a minute; something doesn’t add up: 2 million people needed 3 prisons, now 5 million people need 30 prisons?!

It would be safe to assume that this growth in population were of people about to commit a crime, judging from the growth of new prisons compared to the population growth.

That’s quite a growth from 3 prisons to 30 prisons in 26 years; but then we didn’t have the “Prison Industrial Complex” in those years; Corporation private prisons. Their motto should read “If there are no prisoners; there is no profit”

If you and your family were out on a Sunday drive in 1960 and happen to drive by “Old Max” on Hi-way 50, you would have noticed a sign in front of the prison that advertised “Visitors Welcome” the sign went on to tell you that you could enter the prison for fifty cents on a guided tour at certain hours. This fifty cents was to go into a prisoner burial fund, for indigent convicts who died while imprisoned. They would then be buried in a pauper grave yard and sentence was complete due to death.

A few years later these tours were discontinued for fear that the prisoners might take the tourist hostage, also the Prison Administration had decided that it was better not to let the taxpayer see the condition of the prison they were paying for.

My wife and I decided to take the tour.

I had the feeling of a rat in the trap when the large steel door slammed shut behind us. After taking only a few steps, we left behind a warm sunny day and stepped into a dark gray world. The doom and gloom seemed to lurk at every corner, the guards in their towers, stared down at the tour, rifles at ready. We had the feeling that this tour, was a bad idea.

There was a guard about 70 years old who served as our tour guide, he wore a guard’s uniform and walked backwards as he pointed out the finer attractions of the prison; like the hole or the gas chamber. We were not allowed to go into these building as the old guard explained; we could be taken hostage.
However we were taken to the curio shop where the convicts were allowed to sell their hobby work, and it was here that the old guard gave us some stories on the history of Roy Best an ex-warden who was discovered with state cattle on his personal ranch and convicts were used as ranch hands. The old guard told how Warden Best would tell all newly arrived convicts: “While serving your sentence, you are allowed to make a dollar any way you can, Just make sure it’s not my dollar.” He also told a story of what happen when two convicts were caught in a homosexual act; they would be taken to the curio shop and handcuffed to a steel rail, they both would be made to wear a woman’s dress, for all the tours to see. It didn’t matter who was pitcher and who was catcher, they both had to wear a dress.

There were two yellow lines painted on the concrete about six feet apart, we were warned as tourists of all the harm and mayhem that could befall us if we stepped outside of the yellow lines and it was here that some of the tourist began thinking about what a mistake this was and could they get their fifty cents back. And of course the convicts were well aware of the rule of crossing the yellow line while a tour was in the prison or of talking to any of the tourists; it meant a certain trip to the hole. As the tour progressed through the prison, I noticed that many of the tourist heads kept bobbing down, making sure their feet didn’t touch the yellow line.

As we neared the end of the tour we came to where three convicts were waiting for the tour to pass before crossing the yellow line; There was an older lady with white hair near the front of the tour, when she saw those three convicts, (who were all dressed in white pants and shirts) she whispered to the old guard.

“Who are those men?”

The guard turned to look and then began to name the convicts.

The old woman stopped him and said ” No! I mean are they convicts or are they civilian employees?”

“They are convicts,” the guard replied, “they are allowed to wear white because they all work in the hospital.”

The gray haired lady then exclaimed with the most bewildering look on her face “my goodness! They look like anybody else”.

It’s been over fifty years since that white haired lady spoke those words, but her words are burned into my memory as if she had only spoken them yesterday.
What the white haired lady never realized is those convicts were sons, with mothers and fathers.

As all convicts are; they are the sons and daughters, the brothers and sisters, mother and fathers of us all.

Like that old white haired lady’s words “They looked like anybody else,” society looks at prisoners and sees them all the same, maybe that’s because they are all dressed the same or their mailing address is the same. They eat the same food and spend the long boring days together. It’s true that while you are a prisoner, the rules of a prison or jail apply to all, a sort of “One size fits all.” Yet the crime that sent these men and women to prison are as different as day and night.

Willie “The Actor” Sutton, a bank robber from back in the 40s use to dress up as a policeman when robbing a bank. Willie would never put any bullets in his gun; he wanted to make sure that no one was injured while robbing the banks, you might say Willie was a little different kind of criminal, but when he was in prison, he dressed like all the other convicts.

Back in the 50s the prison at Canon City had a rule: all prisoners shoes must have a “V” shaped notch cut into the heel. This was intended to make it easier for the guards to track escaped convicts. In theory the rule seemed pretty “air tight.” The drawback was that the convicts all knew about the notch, and would simply fill the notch or remove the heel. It took a few year for the guards to figure out why they weren’t finding any tracks of escaped convicts with a “V” notch in the heel.

The old white haired lady was right about one thing; they do look like everyone else. But the underlying problem that sent them to prison are very different.

From the New York Times: U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations.

“The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations. Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences. The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College London.”

In reading the above and the complete 1700 word article you will not find the word ‘Corrections” used once.

Webster’s Dictionary: Correction; 1 a correction or being corrected, 2 a change that corrects a mistake; change from wrong to right or from abnormal to normal.

As you are reading this story you may have noticed that I do not use today’s language to describe prisons, convicts, guards and wardens, as “Correctional Facility”, “Correctional Officer”, “Superintendent” or “Inmate”. To call them “Correctional Facility’s or Correctional Officer” is the height of hypocrisy. The truth is the guards can’t correct the problems in their own lives let alone solve the many complex problems of the men and women they guard.

The word correction was introduced by the prison industrial complex to fool the public into thinking they were solving the problems of the people they were warehousing and collecting all of those tax dollars for.

Again! hold on here a minute; If they are correcting all the problems of these errant people? Then why are we building so many new prisons and filling them with men, women and children?

You might be asking yourself “How did America, end up with so many criminals? The truth is “We didn’t.” The American Prison Corporations quite simply found it very profitable to imprison citizens.

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) simple minded solution to the problem is to build more prisons and pass new laws which will produce more criminals for their prisons.

Looking to the CCA and their lobbyist is equivalent to hiring the fox to guard the hen house.

This all leads to a greater bottom line profit for the CCA but does little to solve the crime rate, the recidivism rate or help those prisoners who truly need help. And it certainly does not slow the growth of new prisons. “The breeding grounds of crime”.

Confronting Confinement, a June 2006 U.S. prison study by the bipartisan Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, reports than on any given day more than 2 million people are incarcerated in the United States, and that over the course of a year, 13.5 million spend time in prison or jail. African Americans are imprisoned at a rate roughly seven times higher than Whites, and Hispanics at a rate three times higher than Whites. Within three years of their release, 67% of former prisoners are rearrested and 52% are re-incarcerated, a recidivism rate that calls into question the effectiveness of America’s corrections system, which costs taxpayers $60 billion a year. Violence, overcrowding, poor medical and mental health care, and numerous other failings plague America’s 5,000 prisons and jails. The study indicates that even small improvements in medical care could significantly reduce recidivism. “What happens inside jails and prisons does not stay inside jails and prisons,” the commission concludes, since 95% of inmates are eventually released back into society, ill-equipped to lead productive lives. Given the dramatic rise in incarceration over the past decade, public safety is threatened unless the corrections system does in fact “correct” rather than simply punish. For a copy of the complete report and the commission’s recommendations for reform, see

From: U.S. Prisons Overcrowded and Violent, Recidivism High — Infoplease.com

In the words of George Carlin; we add syllables to soften the meaning of words; From the Colorado Central Magazine; (The polite modern terms are inmate, not prisoner or convict as in historical years, and corrections officer instead of guard.)

The Huffington Post published an excellent piece yesterday by reporter Chris Kirkham describing how the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) wants to buy up state prisons, all under the guise of helping state governments deal with their budget shortfalls.

Called the Corrections Investment Initiative (sounds so positive, right?), it’s a sickening display of exploitive behavior — perhaps best underscored by the fact that the CCA stipulates in its “investment” overture that, as part of the deal, the states need to keep the prisons packed. Their language for it:

“An assurance by the agency partner [the state] that the agency has sufficient inmate population to maintain a minimum 90 percent occupancy rate over the term of the contract.”

In reading the above article I did not notice anything pertaining to correcting the prisoner’s problems that sent them to prison. I did read the words “Helping state governments deal with their budget shortfalls” Whenever someone comes to me and tells me they can save me money… But I have to spend money in order to save money, it’s right here I become suspicious of their motive, “Thank You, but, No Thanks'”

“The Corrections Corporation of America” and that white haired lady have something in common with one big difference; the white haired lady saw us all the same looking like anybody else but she had no motive for profit when she looked at us, she can be forgiven for her mistake.

“The Corrections Corporation of America” sees the prisoners also all the same; as a free labor force to manufacture goods in their prison industrial program. For the CCA it’s a win-win proposition, the taxpayer pays for housing their captive work force and then they again made a profit off the manufactured goods. It appears “The Corrections Corporation of America” has found a new way to reconstitute slavery. The only thing missing are the slave ships from Africa; we are already here so there is no need of the ships. However they will need to lobby the congress for new laws to insure the prisons are full of able bodied workers. And of course the lobbyists don’t work cheap; they have a large overhead in the moneys they must contribute to our elected legislator campaign fund.

The money travels from the taxpayer’s pocket to the government coffers, from the government coffers to “The Corrections Corporation of America” and then from their checking account back to the Colorado Legislator reelection fund, a vicious cycle that never ends. They are all so busy stuffing their pockets with the taxpayer’s money they have little left to correct the problems of the prisoners that got them the money in the first place.

In conclusion, with solutions; The unsuspecting, hardworking taxpayers have been taken for a ride for too long. It’s time we told the Prison Industrial Complex; “The Jig is Up.” It’s time for a revolution.

There is an old saying among the convicts; All the convicts in prison combined, never stole more money than one banker or corporation stole with one swipe of their pen. “While the poor man was out stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, the banker was stealing the poor man’s house”.

One of the very best and clear examples I can give, happened right here in Colorado. For years and years the prisons have been filled with “Pot” smokers, the public was told; These are criminals, depraved drug addicts that will rob, steal and rape your daughter.

When the opposite was more true; ‘Pot” smokers are very relaxed, looking only for some Twinkies to munch on while watching cartoons.

And now that Colorado has de-criminalized marijuana, we are left with a bunch of taxpaying ‘Pot “smokers living normal lives, working and contributing to society. I’m sure that it’s not much consolation to all the men and women who suffered for years in prison, classified as a criminal, not to mention the families that were destroyed. Men and women who were filled with hate in this prison system, then released to commit a real crime.

Back in 1960, I was not taken as a hostage while touring the prison, but in 2015 we are all being held as hostage by the CCA (Private Prison Corp.) for our tax dollars.

You can help change that by contacting one of the local or national groups to end mass incarceration.

————–
About the author: David Anderson is an ex-convict, who had escaped from “Old Max” twice. He was serving three life sentences for crimes of which he was innocent. It took seven years for these convictions to be reversed. He walked out of the prison on April 29th 1983.

Great Moments in Tea Party History p.1

ColoradoCOLO. SPRINGS– Our city council is holding a special meeting this evening to address budget cuts to affect city services. Accustomed to the usual petitioners upset about lost bus routes and closed community centers, councilman Tom Gallagher wants to hear from the other side. He’s put out the call to see the anti-tax fervor which has delighted him at the local Tea Party rallies. Gallagher and Lamborn at yesterday’s town hall, seem to feel buoyed by this rising tide of white ignorant arrogance, an uncharitable anger at immigrants, social welfare and the black man who “occupies the White House.”