----- Original Message ----- From: Kay LeeSent: Saturday, October 13, 2001 12:23 PM
Subject: VALDES TRIAL - DAY ONE FRIDAY OCTOBER 12TH
Three in the morning came way too early. After staying up half the night making signs like our big sparkly "Making the Walls Transparent", we were all gulping down coffee between yawns and loading the car. But - when you are on a mission, all things are possible and with renewed energy, we hit the road as planned at 4am.
We drove the three hours from Titusville to Starke under cover of darkness. The three of us, Joann, Kelsie and I, spent the hours making up chants for the Bradford County Courthouse: "DOC, we're looking at you...How many others have you done this to?" and the chants for Florida State Prison, where we planned to vigil afterwards: "Warden, warden, hear our plea...No more guard brutality!"
Lindy had driven from St. Pete and for awhile we thought we had lost her when communication was cut off by our dying cell phone. None of us had exact directions but, just as the sky was beginning to turn from black to blue, we pulled up at the Denny's' Restaurant two blocks from the courthouse and, like serendipity at its finest, there sat Lindy waiting for us. Our team was complete.
We thought we had penetrated enemy lines for sure. Heck, Starke is not just another little prison town. It's THE prison town that put up a big sign at the local church right after the guards killed inmate Frank Valdes: "Correctional Officers, Look up! God Loves You!". (I always figured they forgot that God Loves the prisoners too.)
So, we figured we were in for hard stares, kids giving us the bird, and adults throwing eggs (Hey, I have already been through all that before in this town.) All four of us were wearing our MTWT t-shirts (Thank you, Bea) that say on the front, "THE LAW SHOULD APPLY TO PRISON GUARDS TOO!" and on the back, "Florida Department of Corrections" with a line drawn through "corrections" and "CORRUPTIONS" written in bold red.
We were pretty surprised when the people who stopped us to ask about the shirts were really polite and interested: The desk clerk next door said, "Oh, does the trial begin now? God, I'm glad I'm not on that jury!" A family visiting their prisoner in Union CI donated three dollars and we gave them a shirt. One man said he was sent from the Washington DC department of corrections to help out at Union (What's that about?) and his response to our t-shirts was, "There's corruption in the prisons in DC too!"
At 8:00am, we drove over to the courthouse, unloaded our signs and went to work.
We walked past the piles of construction out front and stood by the street where lots of people could see us. We held up signs with messages like, "HONK! D.O.C. Corrupt!" and "Call the Feds!" We were really surprised how many car horns we did hear, although I mentioned to the others not to get too excited; that some of the honkers could be uneducated people who thought "D.O.C." meant doctors (and that's a-whole-nother issue).
Well, we weren't there very long before a young cop stopped to question us. I always appreciate the presence of the cop cars, because people who don't pay attention when you're out there alone, always rubberneck when that flashing light is spinning.
The cop wants to know what we think we're doing. I say in essence, "Valdes trial, free speech, public property." He says in essence, "Speech is free. Don't want you to get hurt. Have a good day."
The only other notable incident involving a cop, was when an officer pulled his cruiser into the driveway and asked Kelsie what we were doing. She replied, "Protesting corruption in the prison system." He took the flyer, smiled and remarked as he drove off, "I can buy that."
Lindy shakes hands with Judge Turner.
Meanwhile, Lindy goes back to her car to get another sign. A man in a suit sees her pulling "Pray for Prisoners" out of her car and he says, "Pray for me too. I'm the judge in this case."
We did have one very aggressive negative reaction from a couple in a pickup that matches the description of many guard vehicles; you know, big truck, darkly tinted windows. The couple stop on the road, the man driving asks for a flyer, only to throw it rudely back at us. He drove off squealing tires and screaming, "I'm a guard and my name is (unintelligible). Come and get me!"
Another pickup truck drove by us a little later. The driver read the signs, grinned and held his D.O.C. badge up to the window. I swear, the DOC presence was everywhere!
Anyway, about 11:00, as we were packing up our signs, a very nice fellow stopped his sedan beside us in the parking lot and called us over to the open window. He said when he saw us, he just had to talk to us. He then told us a long, detailed, very sad story about his cousin, the D.O.C. employee Frank Valdes was sent to prison for killing. He felt the inmate kind of 'got what he deserved'.
I explained that we cannot allow ourselves to react on the same level as the people we put behind bars or we are no better than criminals ourselves. We did finally agree that there are some bad apples wearing uniforms, and we did agree that there are prisoners who should not be in prison. We shook hands and parted with a little more understanding of each other's views.
Our little crew then drove over to the complex of prisons in Starke/Raiford, Union CI, FSP, and New River CI (where Gary Waid first reported the ongoing beatings in a series of letters to Florida media). Florida State Prison, where the Valdes murder actually happened, continues the severe abuse of prisoners to this day and I like to remind them that we are watching.
We park in the grass beside the entrance road to New River CI and I'm giving the others quick instructions, because I've vigiled there at FSP a lot of times over the past couple of years and I know that the tower calls the warden when they see us drive up and I'm sure prison employees will descend on us within minutes. And, as usual, they showed up very quickly.
We were told we couldn't picket there. I told them that I had established that right years ago. They finally agreed to our right to free speech on public property (the right-of-way by the side of the road.)
We were told to move our cars, but they didn't know where we should move them to. So, they finally said we could leave our cars where they were.
Major Jarvis from New River CI came down to introduce himself. "WHY do you want to do this NOW and HERE?" I explained that we were doing it NOW because the Valdes trial started today and HERE because this is where the murder took place. He responded, "The only people who will see you today are prison employees." I told him that was fine. I explained that, although there is a core of unprofessionals we want to get rid of, all in all we believe most DOC employees are fine people doing their best with a difficult situation." He agreed. We talked a little about both of us wanting professionalism from employees of the DOC. He wished me the best, and then he moved over with the other employees, who sat in their vehicles on the grass and talked while we did our job.
The others ladies with me moved across the entrance road to show the signs to waving prisoners on the Union yard. I stood by the road in front of New River, watching the faces of the people passing by. Major Jarvis was right. The observers were mostly prison employees. Although many looked unpleasant, no one bothered us with the small crowd of DOC employees sitting right beside us like our own personal vigil security.
All in all they were not an unpleasant bunch, and since we could see we were holding them from their regular work, we politely kept is short and after maybe 30 minutes, we packed it up and headed home.
It was good knowing that so many supporters on the internet were aware of each stage of our protest, thanks to Joyce's email updates. Thank you also to everyone who made the trip possible. Your concern made us fearless.
It was a productive day.
I sure do Love my FREEDOM OF SPEECH and urge everyone to use all their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms often. If we don't, it is certain we will lose them.
1290 Overlook Terrace
Titusville, Florida 32796
Making The Walls Transparent (MTWT)
*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*A Times Editorial
A case for cleaning up our prisons© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 11, 2001
The beating death of Frank Valdes, a death-row inmate at Florida State Prison, allegedly at the hands of the men who were there to guard him, raises deeply troubling questions about the state's continued tolerance of brutality at its prisons.
Why is it that we can't seem to keep sadists and brutes out of state uniforms? And why is the grievance procedure at state correctional facilities, the one internal mechanism an inmate has to alert prison management to problems of excessive force, so unresponsive to legitimate complaints?
As Times staff writer Adam Smith vividly described in a recent story detailing the state's case against eight corrections officers indicted in Valdes' death, Valdes died a much more painful death than he would have faced from lethal injection -- his sentence for the murder of a corrections officer.
On Friday, the trial begins for five of those guards who allegedly broke Valdes' body and punched and kicked his face so brutally that he was barely recognizable. According to fellow prisoners on X-wing, Valdes was left in his cell for hours after the final assault, groaning in pain and gasping for breath. Medical personnel were not summoned until Valdes was dead.
It's hard to explain away a corpse, but the corrections officers tried, claiming, as a group, that Valdes' injuries were self-inflicted -- that he launched himself from his bunk, head-first. The story unraveled, however, when the medical examiner found Valdes had suffered 22 broken ribs and a smashed face and had a boot print on his torso, not the kinds of injuries that are self-inflicted.
Whether these men are ultimately convicted is less important than how the prison system deals with its serious staffing and systems problems.
The grievance procedure at Florida State Prison is apparently a bad joke. Prison officials had been warned just days before Valdes' murder that rampant abuse was occuring in X-wing -- the prison's building for incorrigible inmates. An inmate wrote in an emergency grievance that prisoner beatings were occuring regularly and pleaded for an investigation "before we are killed." In a response that shows how the officiousness of bureaucrats contributes to an environment that tolerates prison brutality, the inmate's emergency grievance was rejected because his request was found not to be of an emergency nature and was therefore improperly filed.
The prison's personnel problems are sadly obvious and should have been so to prison administrators for a long time. Instead, prison officials gave supervisory and training authority to men like Sgt. Montrez Lucas, who apparently thought beating inmates and getting away with it was some kind of sick game. He taught new recruits ways to avoid excessive force charges: When kicking an inmate, be careful not to leave a boot mark, he warned his class. Lie on your reports; just make sure everyone has the same story, he told another. By the way, the medical staff will sometimes help with the coverup, he confided.
Lucas proudly showed one class a stack of excessive-force allegations he had beaten over the years. Yet this man was moved along in his career and promoted by James Crosby, warden of Florida State Prison at the time of Valdes' death.
Crosby, too, has been promoted since Valdes' death; he's now a regional prison director.
What is Florida's Secretary of Corrections Michael Moore thinking? Crosby is at the helm of a prison so full of brutal guards and inept or indifferent grievance administrators that a man died under his watch. And what is the system's response? Promotion.
Frank Valdes and the men who occupied X-wing are unsympathetic characters. Their crimes put them behind bars and their attitude got them a pass to X-wing. But that doesn't make them fair game for sadists in uniform. This is Moore's problem, but he seems to be too busy looking for another job to pay attention to the system he is charged with administering.