October 27, 2009
By Joe Santana • 1:22 AM EST
Joseph Raymond Santana. Former Echoes from the Street staff writer and youth assistant, reporting from inside Hartford County Correctional Facility.
Editor's Note: The phone rings on a Sunday night a few weeks back. An official robotic male voice, not very friendly, says "Hello, This is Global Tellink, and this call originates from a Connecticut Correctional Facility and may be monitored or recorded. You have a call from" (the voice pauses) "Joe Santana," says the person on the other end of the line.
Mr. Roboto continues, without missing a beat "an inmate at the Hartford Correctional Facility. To accept this call, press five now." I press five, and before Mr. Roboto turns over the line to Joe, he gives me a pitch for prepaid collect calls from prison. Then I hear Joe's voice: "Hey Ken." At irregular intervals during the call, Mr. Roboto reminds me that this is Global Tellink and that this call is from a Connecticut Correctional Facility.
With about 13 minutes, Mr. Roboto reminds us that we have but 120 seconds remaining. Mr. Roboto marks time again at 60 seconds. After a minute, silence. Usually the conversation gets cut off in mid-stream, although we try to time it and wind down appropriately. It's always an awkward ending. It's hard to squeeze a lot of life into 15 minutes.
Joe Santana joined the staff of Echoes from the Streets in January 2001, months before we ever hit the presses. His first article explored the history of hip hop. At the time, he was a freshman at an alternative high school because of some difficulties.
But he could write, he had excellent people skills and he showed potential for a reporter. Echoes sent him to New Mexico to report from the Taos Pueblo Native American Reservation with buildOn, the international educational aid organization based on Stamford, CT that builds schoolhouses abroad and encourages community service here in the US. Joe's cover story from September 2002 is here.
Joe earned his GED, and wrote about that triumph. As the years rolled on, his enthusiasm for telling stories was matched only by his propensity to attract trouble.
I wish I could say it is not painful to watch as a person, a friend, an employee, a mentee and a father makes mistakes, compounded by the built-in prejudice of the criminal justice system. It is.
But Joe still loves to write. I have been encouraging him to send this letter for some time. It came in the mail last week, pencil on three different sheets of paper. I offer it to you in its entirity. I look forward to publising more work from him.
Joe Santana, inmate number 306658 E2C4 at Hartford County Correctional Facility, 177 Weston Street, Hartford Connecticut 06120, always loves to get mail. Feel free to write him back. -KK
Well hello everyone. My name is Joseph and I am an inmate at H.C.C.C. I am here because I have made some poor choices in my life, and this is the way I am taught to correct my mistakes. It's a sad story in general, but in this letter I will not be discussing what I should have done.
I will be writing about the process inmates go through before or after sentencing. So pretend that I am an undercover journalist sent to jail to get the first scoop of life in a correctional facility.
Let's start off with whatever police department you're booked in. In my case, I had a choice of either West Hartford or Hartford. I told my bounty hunters to bring me to West Hartford because the officers there would actually treat me like a human being.
When I got there, I was searched thoroughly, told to take off laces and anything else I could hang myself with. Everything that was in my possession was bagged and put away.
Next was the finger printing, which in my case had to be done four times for four different warrants. I would like to thank the WHPD for serving all of my warrants in that one arrest. You might be asking "What's so great about it?"
The reality is would rather serve all these warrants nowthan to be caught off guard later in the near future. So because I was served all four, my bail is 10 percent of $325,100. Although there are bondsmen who will take you out of jail for five percent or even three percent.
Either or, I don't have anyone in my family who can put up that kind of money. After you sign all the paperwork and finish up with your phone calls, you are placed in a cell to wait for court the following morning.
Waking up to BK coffee and a croissant isn't the worst thing in the world, but it will never beat waking up starving at home.
Then me and four other people were shackled together at the wrist and individually shackled at our feet. We are then placed inside of a paddy wagon that contains somewhat securely on our way to the Lafayette Street court.
Court itself is another process. By now I am really stressed out. I have the slightest of ideas what the judge is going to say and how he's feeling for the day and which judge it is. Trust me, all of this matters.
You get out of the paddy wagon (aka the ice cream tream) to be searched and placed in three different cells, questioned by a public defender about who you are, where you are from, if you're married, do you work, do you have dependents and a lot of other information that you think is going to help the court, then finally told by the judge to go to hell.
As frustrated as I sound writing this, it is exactly how I felt going through this. It takes eight to 10 hours to get out of Lafayette to then get to county jail, which is another five hours. County is the last of the traveling and handcuffs and shackles.
After all of us in the chain gang carefully step out of the ice cream truck, we are unshackled, uncuffed and searched. We are placed in one of four cells to wait.
Then we are lined up, stripped of our civilian clothes, then told to lift up our genitals, turn around, bend over, spread 'em and cough. This is the most humiliating part of the process. To be examined by a correctional officer. Not a doctor or a nurse, but by some random nine-to-five worker.
Depending on your bond amount you are placed in a dormitory or a tier of cells. The tiers are lined up by three floors.
Since my bond is high, I am in a cell. Cell doors are popped open from 6 a.m. to 6:25 a.m. for breakfast; then at 9:00 a.m. for recreation. At 10:30 it's lunch, then 11:00 a.m. back in cell.
At 1:30 p.m. it's recreation again until 3 p.m. Then dinner is at 4:30 until 5:00. Then last recreation is at 6:30 p.m., until 9:45.
At night it is hard to sleep because of the random noises, people arguing, yelling, talking and co's talking crap. I usually don't get to sleep until 4 a.m. when everything is quiet. Thank God I am now in a one-person cell.
The last cell mate I had was a kid who was responsible for the death of his neighbor. That was a scary night because at any moment, he could have taken his frustrations out on me. I just want to get to my kids in one piece.
In my tier, there is one phone for 14 inmates. In jail there's always a variety of people. But a majority of us are either African-American or Hispanic. Maybe 20 percent is white.
I have noticed that a lot of us are here for violent charges. There's one caucasian kid from West Hartford who was handcuffed to me, he stated that he and his mother were in an argument that led to him hitting her.
Which brings up a valuable lesson in jail: never discuss why you are in jail to anyone in jail. This is for many reasons, but the obvious one is because of jealousy and envy. Then comes the anger.
There could be one person in jail for loitering and there could be someone in jail for statutory rape. You could be in jail for doing something noble, and in jail for 30 years could be upset about it. I have seen one older guy get beaten up by eight guys because he had sex with a 17-year-old.
I remember one kid was almost knocked unconscious by a group of 20 kids on their way to chow because he told his cellmate he worshipped Satan. These inmates that are abused by other inmates become stress objects.
Most inmates become bullies so that they won't become the victims. Me myself daily have to prove to these bullies that I am no chump because if I don't, I will starve or chewed and swallowed. Life in here is very stressful because I want to stay to myself. But that is taken as a sign of weakness.
I am challenged every other day for breakfast lunch and dinner. I'm scared that one day I will have to fight an individual which will only delay my chances of freedom. In jail assault charges are the same and DOC is very quick to issue you more charges.
I just want to go home so bad. I feel so stupid being in here. I was already told that I am suspect due to my conversation with Ken about this letter over the phone. I am becoming desperate with my thoughts.
I want to tell the judge that I will plead guilty to everything just as long as I am released. I wish I had money to get myself out. I would go back to Porter and Chester and finished the three semesters I had left. I would seek counseling, and most importantly, I would hug my girl and three kids and never let go.