A Rubber Band and a Paperclip

We received this from Nevada-Cure:

By Gilbert Paliotta

I’ll start from where things went bad for me…. In 1998, Ely State Prison Administration housed me in a cell with a known “Gang Enforcer” (that’s how he was listed in their files) who was recently transferred to this prison from another one due to his numerous assaults and batteries on other inmates. A week before they housed me with this guy, he had been released from the “hole” (punitive segregation) for cracking open the head of his last cellmate with a metal hotpot and ripping his eyeball out of its socket.

Administration moved me in the cell with this guy; and, to save you from the gory details, a fight ensued and he lost his life.

Did I mention that he was over six feet tall and a solid two hundred pounds and that I am only five nine and one seventy? That up until 1998 I was labeled as a “ model inmate” (nothing to brag about but it’s better than being labeled a “Gang Enforcer”)? That ESP administration had prior knowledge revealed by the sheriff’s office that this guy was ordered to “hit” (kill) his last cellmate and yet they continued to cell me up with this guy?

I was found guilty of murdering my cellmate even though it was clearly self-defense. In my prison disciplinary hearing I remained silent because I was facing criminal charges by the State of Nevada, but the disciplinary committee simply found me “guilty” without allowing me to defend against allegations, sentenced me to the maximum penalty in punitive segregation and illegally placed me on “high risk potential” (HRP) status, the most extreme and restrictive status an inmate can possibly be placed on, even worse than death row, not an accusation but a proven fact.

The warden at the time (McDaniel) left me on the HRP status until 2005, long after my punitive segregation sentence had expired, ignoring my repeated attempts to be taken off said status and sent back to the general population. He stated he would not take me off HRP status until he considered me “no longer a threat to staff and inmates”.

In 2005, Warden McDaniels finally removed me from HRP status but did not send me back to the general population. He told me to give him six months. It’s now 2012 and I’m still not back in general population.

They keep me on “administrative segregation” under the guise of “safety security” reasons, which is a contradiction or the warden would not have taken me off HRP in 2005.

During this time I filed a Civil Rights complaint (or rather I tried to) regarding the prison holding me hostage all of these years in segregation, it was dismissed. Had I had some help, that would not have happened. I had them dead to rights on that lawsuit.

Since they continue to keep me segregated when they have released other inmates who have been found guilty of murder of another inmate back to general population, I am beginning the steps of filing another separate complaint. This one will be from the date my prior lawsuit was dismissed.

And it gets worse…Physical abuse as retaliation

Administration didn’t like that I filed a lawsuit against them. In 2008, the guards assaulted me while I was handcuffed and had leg restraints on. Two days later, they assaulted me again while I was handcuffed and restrained. Of course, they twisted it up saying it was the other way around but how does a person attack two guards while he’s in full restraints?

In 2009-10 I was engaged to be married and was receiving visits every three months from my fiancée’ who traveled all the way from England.

Again, administration disrupted my life as I knew it. That lawsuit! After one of my visits with my (now) ex-fiancee, they said they found a pair of panties on prison grounds and that she gave them to me. This is major. I was strip searched three times before and after visits by five different guards and at no time was a pair of panties or any contraband for that matter ever found in my possession or on my person. During my disciplinary hearing (they charged me with possession of contraband’ for these alleged panties I allegedly received from my fiancée). I requested numerous witnesses, who all told me that they would testify on my behalf, and the video surveillance from the visiting room on the date of my fiancée’s visit to be introduced as evidence. The sergeant and lieutenant who handled this disciplinary hearing flat out refused to call any of the witnesses (all of whom were ESP staff) and refused to introduce the video surveillance.

They found me guilty of “possession of contraband”, sentenced me to a year punitive segregation and took my visiting privileges for one year.

I now have a civil action pending in federal court that is at the summary judgment phase.

In the process I lost my fiancée because she’s terrified to come back, thinking next time they will do something else worse to her.

My family members are hesitant to visit me for those same reasons.

Allow me to back pedal in time.

Eleven days after my last visit with my ex-fiancée (Michele), a pair of panties was again found on prison grounds!! The sergeant sent guards to my cell, strip-searched me and tore my cell apart, breaking items of my property in the process.

Get this, I was nowhere near where the pair of panties was found nor was I even outside. In fact, I had not even gone outside my cell since they lied about the first pair!

All of this is documented in the lawsuit and can be proven.

Also, during my disciplinary hearing (which is recorded) the lieutenant even stated, “No one is accusing you of being in possession of contraband.” He still found me guilty.

I’m waiting to see what the repercussions are going to be for filing this lawsuit I have now in federal court.

Maybe I just don’t care no more. After losing my fiancée I silently pray someone puts me out of my misery because I am in the process of writing a separate civil action in state court challenging the prison administrations lack of institutional protection of the laws in regards to religious practices: not allowing inmates to freely practice their religion.

I’ve been through the riots; I’ve fought administration both physically and on paper. It is impossible to do this alone. All I have is a rubber band and a paper clip.

I read these so-called prisoner support groups articles about how they fight for us, stand with us , etc. I find that to be carrots on a stick. To be honest, I don’t think they even exist. What “help” or “support” have they given to us? Nobody I know has benefited from their services.

I am not accusing you of anything, I don’t know you.

It’s just that I’m so fed up with of this. Losing someone you genuinely love because of the actions of someone else is crushing.

Have you lost a loved one or had an engagement called off? I sincerely hope that you haven’t nor ever have to experience that, but, if you have, multiply that by a dozen, topped off with the loss of seeing your family members as well.

Michele and I overcame major obstacles, living in different countries, me in prison, us being different nationalities and personalities among other things. Now imagine all of that being destroyed because ESP administration wanted to destroy the last bit of happiness I had in life.

I try to better myself each everyday both mentally and physically by reading everything I possibly can and maintaining a workout routine. I share whatever knowledge I have with anyone that asks but I’m limited. I cannot reach beyond these prison walls without support.

No one thinks they will ever be in such a position as I am in, but if it can happen to me, if can happen to someone you love. Please support prisoners in their fight for justice and fairness.

Gilbert Paliotta #46244
ESP
P.O. Box 1989,
Ely, NV 89301

A Suspicious (and Lonely) Death in Maine State Prison’s Lockdown Unit

March 19, 2010

SOLITARY WATCH GUEST AUTHOR
Guest Post by Stan Moody

Editors’ note: Our first guest post on Solitary Watch News is by Stan Moody, a former state representative and chaplain at the Maine State Prison, where he ministered to inmates in the supermax unit. Moody, who currently serves as pastor at the Meeting House Church in Manchester, Maine, is the author of the books Crisis in Evangelical Scholarship and McChurched: 300 Million Served and Still Hungry.

In February, Moody testified at a hearing in the Maine State Legislature on a proposed bill to limit solitary confinement in the state’s prisons. As part of his testimony, he told the story of a prisoner who died alone in his segregation cell; he tells the same story, in more detail, in this guest post. More of Moody’s writings can be found at www.stanmoody.com.

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I wrote this article on St. Valentine’s Day, a day that conjures up a wide range of experiences, from first love to the famous massacre on February 14, 1929…

There are 4,000 or more people incarcerated in Maine at the moment. Keeping watch over them are hundreds of prison guards, most of whom would rather be home than spending love’s holiday doing cavity search or bed counts. Happy Valentine’s Day!

There is a widow in upstate NY who reels from a double-whammy of a brilliant, successful husband who confessed to a sexual assault and the memory of his ashes arriving 6 months later from Maine State Prison (MSP) with the notice that he had died of “natural causes.” Then another whammy–finding out 6 weeks later, after she had buried him, that it was a homicide and that prison officials had known as much within minutes of his death–officially, within 2 days.

There are others who come to mind who are reeling, as well, from conflict over what to do about this situation that, if brought into the light, will explode into a full-blown crisis. Maine Department of Corrections officials are on pins and needles, wondering what is going to happen when this explodes. I was scheduled to give testimony on the conditions at the supermax unit at MSP that I feel gave rise to the death of inmate Sheldon Weinstein, a prospect that threw a wrench into my Valentine’s Day.

I have a picture in my mind of the Attorney General’s Office vainly searching for a good option to prosecute somebody for this death without smearing the prison system. It has been nearly 10 months since Weinstein died alone in his cell of a ruptured spleen presumed to have been caused by an inmate assault 4 days earlier. It is not as though they had to go looking for a suspect or that the evidence was scattered over 50 states. Nobody was going anywhere. Justice is slow and nearly blind, but it gets slower and blinder when a state agency is implicated.

It is easier to digest this story if we can somehow de-humanize people caught up in the meat grinder we call justice–guards and prisoners alike. Whether you like it or not, however, all players in the justice drama are human beings, Weinstein included. It is that very humanity that cries out for reform of the efficient, military, detached environment that we call Maine State Prison.

It may be time for me to share my story.

It was Friday, April 24, 2009. I was finishing my rounds as Chaplain at the Special Management Unit (Supermax) when I came to the end of the dreaded B1 corridor, looked in and saw Sheldon Weinstein sitting on his wheelchair with his legs across his bunk, 10 feet away. He smiled when he saw me and joked about how old men like him and me were targets in prison. I saw his hugely black eye and asked him if he had other injuries. He pointed to his stomach. He then asked me if I could help get him some toilet paper. He had been using his pillow case, but since he had no pillow, it didn’t matter anyway, I suppose.

I spent probably 10 minutes talking/shouting with Sheldon through a steel cell door. I then left and asked a guard on duty to see that he got some toilet paper.

I came in the next morning and was told that Weinstein was found dead at around 6:00 pm that evening. His posture had been reversed. He was lying across his bunk, with his feet in his wheelchair. He had yellow complexion, suggesting liver or spleen, his stomach was distended, and rigor mortis had begun to set in, indicating that he probably had died within an hour or two after I left.

My amateur diagnosis of cause of death was ruptured spleen, confirmed by autopsy within 2 days. Almost universally, the reaction of captains, guards, sergeants and inmates was, “Good riddance!” “One less mouth to feed!” One prisoner, however, had taken it upon himself before the assault to wheel confessed sex offender Weinstein to the chow hall to prevent him from being spit upon.

When they found him, Weinstein did have toilet paper.

There is a prisoner in segregation who is awaiting indictment for murder. I have had a number of conversations with that prisoner. If I were his attorney, I would be licking my chops over this one. Did Weinstein die of an assault, or did he die of medical and security neglect? If there is a murder indictment, will any prison staff be implicated as accessory? Since someone brought toilet paper to him, and since he was unlikely to have been able to maneuver to the cell door, and since his sitting position was reversed, did he die from the assault on the previous Monday, or did something further happen to him on Friday?

Has the pathology report on the condition of the spleen been analyzed by other medical professionals to determine if it were likely to have taken four days to bleed out?

Adding intrigue to the situation, the guard whom I asked to provide toilet paper was placed on Administrative Leave almost immediately. The guard who was on duty in the housing unit where Weinstein was assaulted was fired.

The test for first degree murder is malice aforethought–that is, that the person or persons involved plotted and intended to kill. That, however, is problematic in the case of Maine State Prison. Here’s why.

Assaults of inmates by other inmates not only are common there but may be, some believe, tacitly encouraged. In Weinstein’s case, it began with the decision to place him in a minimum security housing unit notorious for attacks on sex offenders. Beating sex offenders and “rats” (people who give the names of those who beat them) was so common that it had become routine. The victim would be given the signature black eye and be placed in segregation for his own protection for months, while those who carried out the assault would often be out within 10 days.

I have written an exhaustive narrative on the circumstances surrounding the death of Prisoner Weinstein but will hold that narrative until I sense that there is movement toward justice in this case. There can be no rationalization for his crime. Yet, he was not sentenced to the death to which he was consigned. He had a surprising background that defies common stereotypes of sex offenders. The way in which prison officials handled the matter with his surviving family speaks volumes about a profound failure of conscience.

The death of Sheldon Weinstein has changed my life remarkably. While both prisoners and guards cannot seem to get beyond his crime, I was confronted with a real life situation from which I could not in good conscience walk away. It has cost me dearly in terms of my political stature and will, I presume, continue to do so. It has opened my eyes to the fallacy that nearly all people in government, at the end of the day, are good people who really want to do the right thing. I have seen a level of contradiction that I could have gone on blithely the rest of my life without seeing.

Will Weinstein’s death be subjected to the level of investigation it deserves? Will his death become a catalyst for addressing the system of favoritism and influence peddling that prevails at the prison? Who can know the answer to these questions? Thus far, there has been no indication of change to a system that mirrors the “blue line of silence.”

My hope is that there will be a few Department of Corrections employees who will summon the courage to speak out against systemic practices within the prison that are the root cause of discrimination and inconsistent discipline.

Sheldon Weinstein: brilliant; Jewish; sex offender; dead within 6 months of incarceration. Who cares?