The following has been transcribed (with minimal edits for clarity and format) from handwritten letters by our correspondent “Leather,” who is currently serving a sentence because of charges related to a family dispute, subsequent warrants, and the labyrinthian carceral state in general. Leather was previously incarcerated at the Orleans Parish Prison but has recently been transferred to a facility in Ferriday.
How to Adjust
Most people don’t realize jail and prison are two different places, because jail is where you go while fighting a charge, prison is where you go to do your time. First you go to an intake facility where you get classified, medical exams, shots, etc. Once they have classified you you’re shipped to a maximum or low-level, LDOC [Louisiana Department of Corrections] or private camp where you start your sentence. Some camps have good time classes [for] parenting, risk management, or re-entry, and for every month you do in classes, you can earn a month. Six months of classes you can earn a year, which is the most time you can earn off your sentence (only a year). Prison is different from jail, like I told you. You’re sent to a camp somewhere in a faraway place from your city. In my case I was sent to good ol’ Ferriday, LA, [which] I’ve never heard of. And let me tell you, it sucks. First thing I realized is they did none of the things an intake center jail does, just checked us in and put us in a dorm for 14 days quarantine, even though they never tested us for the coronavirus. Next, the phone service changed, which meant family and friends would have to set up another phone account, which costs money. Being 4 hours away from New Orleans makes it hard for family to visit you way out here.
The change starts soon as you hit your unit. In county jail there’s lots of female guards. Now you’re dealing with straight rednecks (I hate to say it but it’s true). Now you’re dealing with more men deputies who are more serious. I don’t know if they hate Blacks or inmates but they don’t tolerate any foolishness. It’s so much different than the county jail. There’s inspection every morning at 10 a.m. Everybody has to make up their bed, get dressed, and straighten up everything around their bunk or they punish us by turning the T.V. off for the day, or they take our microwave. This is crazy because if one of us is out of place we all suffer.
We’re locked up in the middle of nowhere so it’s hard but inmates here are very resourceful, and if you got money you can get some luxury items. You can get a telephone, mojo, coke, meth, and heroin. If you wonder how it gets in, it’s simple: the deputies most likely. You can get a phone here for $300 with a charger. There’s guys in here making major money with these phones. They have Green Dot accounts, cash apps. They’re on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, dating sites. Inmates are everywhere.
There’s cameras on my dorm, because this is a non-smoking unit, but you would never know it. Inmates walk around smoking and on the phone like it’s legal. If the deputies watched the cameras on any given day they would see all kind of stuff and could stop it if they wanted to, but they could care less. I watched three guys beat the crap out of this one guy, after chasing him for 10 minutes around the dorm. Poor guy went against jail house code. But me, I come from the old parish. That was a real jail, with real inmates, where a fight would be one-on-one, not three-on-one. That’s cowards. And one night there was 5 guys with knives about to stab one guy over a phone. This just shows how fast shit can get real in here.
It’s funny, because all of us are from different parts of Louisiana and believe me, everybody in the Boot (Louisiana) don’t get along. You got Lake Charles beefin’ with Baton Rouge, and New Orleans beefin’ with Shreveport and so on. It never stops. It’s rough in here. What do you expect? They’ve pretty much done away with cells and have stuffed 75 people in a dorm with 60 beds, so there’s people sleeping on the floor. There’s two toilets, three urinals, two showers for all those people.
The day starts at 6:00 a.m. with breakfast, a spoon of grits, a half spoon of eggs and a biscuit, oatmeal, or cold cereal. After that you can go back to sleep or watch T.V. or whatever you want. Most go back to sleep. Some get up, read their bible while it’s quiet, some exercise, watch the news and get ready for yard call. Yard call is where we go outside for an hour, maybe from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Then there’s inspection at 10:00 a.m. Lunch is at around 11:30 a.m. Now lunch here in Ferriday, LA (Concordia Parish) is pretty good, they just don’t give you enough food. Lunch consists of chicken and rice, red beans and rice, mashed potatoes, sometimes a fish patty (not enough food to feed a toddler), a scoop of rice, a spoon of vegetables (hardly enough for a growing man). But this is all part of being punished: filthy living conditions, little food, no sunlight…
As I grow older I find myself re-adjusting myself more and more to fit in with life’s everyday changes. We have to re-adjust ourselves, learn social distancing, learn to wear a face mask, not come in contact with too many people. It’s hard, besides everything else we have to teach our children to protect themselves from: corona, AIDS, STDs, the police who are supposed to protect and serve us. You even have to be careful of the church we send them to, because more of the people we trust are our worst enemies. So we must be mindful of everything. So how can we afford to lose one to incarceration, when it takes a village to raise a child? Now-a-days remember: All lives matter.