Our Voices > Dispatches from Inside

‘This isn’t the BOP. This is Hazelton’

Dec 6, 2023

By Gregory Anthony Waters

This is one post in an ongoing series on abuse, neglect and corruption at the Hazelton federal prison complex in West Virginia – often called Misery Mountain.

The conditions and circumstances keep worsening at an exponential pace at FCI Hazelton (the medium-security prison in the complex). A reporter at USA Today wrote earlier about the prison complex that, “All signals are blinking red.” Well, now they are blinking like a strobe light and should be blinding us all. Much like meteorologists calculate windchill factors and heat indexes, perhaps the so-called justice system should create an inhumanity score for federal prisons, which then would be consulted when considering requests for sentence relief. If that were to happen, the score for the Hazelton Federal Correctional Complex would be off the charts due to corruption, sexual harassment, both physical and verbal abuse, boldface lying, and total disregard for the Bureau of Prisons’ own policies.

Corruption and lack of accountability

I have attempted numerous times to exercise my rights by filing administrative remedies in protest of staff disregard of BOP policies, but the C.O.s just stall, lose the forms or outright shred them. And the resulting pushback has placed me in a very unsafe position. My legal mail is being read before I get it (itself a violation of policy).

Corruption at Hazelton is rampant. We were recently locked down for 18 days after a shakedown of the cells produced contraband phones, shanks (knives) and methamphetamine. And guess what? Three of the COs and some of the prisoners were investigated (and at least one was walked off the compound) for helping to smuggle them in, yet the flow hasn’t stopped. We haven’t been on the rec yard in over three months, yet (cell) phones and tobacco products are always around. Hell, staff even smoke on federal property. As staff likes to say, “This isn’t the BOP. It’s Hazelton!”

Spoiled food and black mold

I own a restaurant with my wife, from which we served food to the needy during the worst months of the COVID shut-down. So, i know food service. This institution is feeding/selling expired and spoiled food – 15-year-old pecan pies, 18-month-old Cheetos and six-month-old croissants, for example. When I cited these examples in my compassionate release petition, the judge dismissed them as inconsequential. I tend to think that if he bought such dated items from the local grocery store, he wouldn’t just shrug his shoulders. I guess he and other people who work in the judicial and correctional system regard all of us inside as inconsequential as a 15-year-old pie.

That reminds me of the female officer who called a fellow inmate an animal when he shouted from behind his locked door for a roll of toilet paper during an extended lockdown. I work as a dishwasher, and the kitchen, which prepares food for 1,628 persons, is overrun with black mold. That same mold infected an open wound on the hand of one of my fellow workers, William Milliron, causing it to swell to the size of a softball. The institution merely painted over the mold, and it just popped through again.

Harassment and mental abuse

And then there is the blatant harassment. I get that when we have visitors, a strip search is standard operating procedure. But it should be done professionally. When a neighborhood friend visited recently, and a white C.O. did the strip search, he ordered me to pull back on the foreskin of my penis! (And I am circumcised.) I don’t think that would have happened if I was white or didn’t have a history of filing administrative grievances.

Personally, what has been most damaging is the disregard for my mental and physical health. Like 45% of all federal prisoners, I struggle with mental illness – in my case, severe depression and anxiety. The worst thing that can be done to people with such afflictions is to lock them in a small cell for unexplained, indeterminate periods of time. And although the COVID pandemic is now under control, Hazelton continues to lock us down nearly half the time. Yet when Sen. Joseph Manchin inquired on our behalf, the warden denied it – a blatant lie.

On top of that, Hazelton staff have refused to allow my transfer to a prison that offers a residential drug abuse program (RDAP), a program mandated by my sentencing judge. Supposedly, people who are closer to release are given priority, but while I was refused an interview, someone else who’s out date is a year after mine got it. (Could it be because he’s white, I’m Black and Hazelton is located in a good ol’ boy part of the country?) if you’re rated high-medium on recidivism risk, it’s almost impossible to lower your score because they refuse us the programs! Thus, I am becoming one of the 80% of prisoners who don’t receive adequate treatment for our drug dependence. Data show that 95% of those who don’t get that help will return to alcohol and/drug use upon release, with 70% going on to commit new crimes. I don’t want to be among them.

I also worry that I will meet the fate of fellow prisoner Christian Castro. Diagnosed with a severe case of epilepsy, he was placed in the special housing unit (the “hole”) to protect him from harassment due to the mistaken impression caused by his regular seizures. However, one day he had one of those seizures while a correctional officer was conducting the daily count. When Christian was unable to come to the door of his cell and stand at attention as required, the C.O. beat him so badly for not being compliant that he had to be sent to the outside hospital.

I’m only three years from release…but will I survive Hazelton?

Editor’s note: Greg isn’t exaggerating. Read the scathing letter written to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland by Sens. Manchin, Capito, Durbin and Grassley.

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