In an exclusive first-person story written for the Florida Courier, former State Representative Dwayne Taylor describes his experience as an inmate in Atlanta Federal Prison.
Editor’s note: After a four-day jury trial in Orlando in August 2017, Dwayne Taylor was convicted of eight counts of wire fraud in connection with alleged misuse of campaign funds. His convictions are under appeal.
BY DWAYNE L. TAYLOR
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
It was a little more than a year ago that I had to self-surrender to United States Prison Atlanta Prison Camp in Atlanta, Ga., to serve a 13-month federal prison sentence for a political white-collar crime.
That day will forever be etched in my mind and I remember that day quite vividly. How and why I would come to serve this sentence is another story that I will write about and share some other time.
By the way, I have never been in prison before.
Turning myself in
It was a cold day in January 2018, maybe one of the coldest days that year. I was staying at a hotel downtown Atlanta and took a rideshare to the prison.
We drove for about 30 minutes before arriving at the parking lot of the prison. The driver turned to me in the back seat and asked me nervously, “You have to go in there?” I said to him, “Yes, unfortunately I do.”
The place looked like something that came from a 1950s horror movie. I could only imagine Dr. Frankenstein, the Werewolf, Dracula and the Mummy all living in there.
It stood on a very large hill. All I can see over this gothic-looking building was dark gray clouds, thunder and lightning flashing, and a tsunamic rainstorm high above. The sun was shining everywhere else, but when I looked up at that monstrosity, that is what I saw.
Beginning the process
I tipped the driver and aimlessly walked around the parking lot not knowing what direction to take until a guard told me where intake was. Once inside, I was taken to the processing area for incoming inmates.
Now this is where the transformation began. I went from a well-respected honorable human being to the absolute scum of the earth. I no longer had a name to be called; now I was a number.
I was stripped of all my civilian clothes and shoes and given a short-sleeved red jumpsuit and a pair of shoes. The inmates called the shoes “Jackie Chans” or “Bruce Lees” because they looked like the type of shoes they wore in all their movies.
Before I could get dressed, the corrections officer instructed me to take my underwear off completely. There in the middle of this cold room, I stood naked with a guard who told me to “grab my joystick, bend over and cough.”
The guard had a weird look on his face as though he was enjoying my naked body. It made me feel extremely violated. Yes, #metoo. The whole incident took about five minutes before I was told to put on the new clothes, then escorted to a small cold holding cell.
My ‘glam shot’
This was time that inmates begin to “hurry up and wait.” I was pulled in and out of the cell to sign forms and take my “glamour shot” sporting my new red prison jumpsuit.
I was not given any warm clothes or blankets to help fight off Jack Frost. But I did notice all the guards had on thick jackets, sweatshirts or sweaters, so I know it was freezing cold. In between all of this, I tried to keep warm by placing my arms inside of the jumpsuit. But that was not working, and I started to shake and shiver.
By this time, I was starting to get hungry and wanted something to eat. It was around lunch time, so I asked the guard for some food. The guard came back with a brown paper bag and threw it to me. Inside was a slice of cheese, a slice of bologna and four slices of bread. There was also a piece of an apple.
Everything in the bag was cold and impossible to eat. I tried to anyway. I took one bite and just shot it to the garbage can. I put my arms back into the jumpsuit and continued trying to stay warm. I hurried to be taken to different staff personnel.
A mental health counselor determined if I was mentally fit to be placed in general population (“GP”). He asked me a few questions regarding my mental state. I told him I was okay but a little bit nervous because I had never been in prison or done time, so I didn’t know what to expect.
After returning back to my freezing-cold cell, I waited two hours before I was seen by the medical staff. This was very important, because I have an autoimmune disease that was not discovered and diagnosed until I was in my early 40s. Over the last five years, I’ve had to be injected weekly with a very expensive and important biologic to prevent my body from attacking my organs. This disease is deadly and is extremely painful when left untreated.
No life-saving meds
I met with the medical staff and informed them of all of my medical issues and gave them a list of medications I was receiving. I asked if they had read the medical issues listed in my PSR and they said, “No.” NO!!!!
A “PSR” – a Pre-Sentencing Report – is a very comprehensive report conducted by the federal probation staff to give the sentencing judge a clear and through picture of the person he or she is about to sentence. It includes everything from education to health conditions.
All of the information in the report must be verified by the probation officer conducting the report. I was quite surprised when I was told they didn’t even look at the report.
The medical staff went on to tell me if my medication was not on the Bureau of Prisons’ list of approved medications, that I would not be receiving them. I told them how much I needed my medication. They both smirked as if they knew I would not be getting anything.
Keeping my cup
The processing period seem like it took forever. They gave me a washcloth, hand towel, one sheet and a spread for my bed, and a small six-ounce styrofoam cup. Inside the cup was a broken piece of soap, a small toothbrush, some toothpaste and a disposable razor. Keeping the cup was important because you only received one.
I was finally moved into the transit unit known as DCU 1 with about 40 other inmates that came in that day. The unit orderly gave all the inmates their new assigned cell. Everyone wanted a bottom bunk, but they were first given to inmates like me who were older and had health problems.
I was escorted to my cell by a guard who opened the door and locked it behind me. Inside the cell was a toilet, sink, a small desk with a metal seat and a bunk bed with a blue thin mattress on the bottom and nothing on the top. It was late in the day and the dimly-lit light in the cell stayed on long enough for me to put the one sheet and spread on my pillowless bed.
No sense of time
I didn’t have a watch because the intake guard took it. There were no clocks on the wall to indicate the time, so I sat on the side of the bed until I could no longer keep my eyes open. Finally, I rolled up the hand towel and used it as a pillow and laid down.
I was unable to sleep because it was super-cold inside the cell. It felt like the air conditioning system was blowing cold air into the cell, and the small windowpane located near my head was seeping cold air from the outside.
This is how my first day in federal prison ended.
Moldy, filthy cell
The next morning, I was awakened by the guard unlocking the small portal in the door. The orderlies would serve the breakfast tray through the portal.
As the sun came up and the lights were turned on, I could see how filthy this cell was. I saw black and green spores of mold, and mildew stains on the walls. (Later during my stay, the unit manager would order some of the inmates to come in and paint over all of the areas to prepare for an inspection.)
The air vent that was blowing cold air had old toilet paper over part of it. The sink that was an arms-distance from the toilet also had green mold on it, and this was the only place to get drinking water while you were inside the cell.
The water had some floating particles in it and under normal circumstances was not drinkable. I would mix the small KoolAid packs that inmates received with their lunch to try and take away the smell and the taste of the water. But most of the time I did not drink it, and later would become dehydrated.
Always a line
Occasionally when the inmates were allowed out of their cells, I would drink water from the one fountain we had for more than 200 inmates. There was always a line for water and to use the microwave.
We were allowed out of our cells too often. We stayed inside breathing that horrible air more than we were out, including one time we did not come out for almost three straight days.
I remember hearing a conversation between an inmate in the cell next to me and the unit manager. The inmate asked the unit manager, “What did we do wrong for us to be locked down for these days?” I remember the unit manager saying that we didn’t do anything wrong, he just wanted us locked down because he felt like it and he would let us out when he felt like it.
Cold inside and out
It was just as cold outside of the cell as it was inside, but this would allow inmates the opportunity to take a shower, use the computer or make a phone call. The shower stalls had more mold and mildew and the showers remained nasty even after they were cleaned.
Many times you only had time to do one of those things before we were told to go back to your cell. The lines and wait time to do any of those things were long.
Inmates used the computer to send and receive emails to approved family members. Phone calls were limited to only 15 minutes, and you could only call people from an approved list as well.
The staff ignored me when I asked how to use the phone and computer, but the inmates would later show me how to log in on the computer and use the phone. It took three days before I could send a message to my family to let them know I was okay.
On some days during time out of the cell, we could exchange items like socks, T-shirts and underwear. Everything that was given in return were all USED items, including underwear.
Yes, inmates are not given new items, but items previously worn by other inmates. A used pair of underwear worn by another inmate! I could not think of something more disgusting than that. This was one of the most humiliating and humbling experiences in my entire life.
For weeks, I went without the proper mediation. The prison decided they would not allow me to receive any of my regular medications. It took years for my doctor to find the appropriate dosage and brands that were the best for my medical illnesses. The prison decided to give me what they wanted me to have, even if they were ineffective in treating me.
I began to ache and became stiff. I had chest pain and difficulty breathing. Couple this with the intense cold-weather storms with no warm blankets or clothing and my illness was exacerbated. This went on for weeks.