Tragic video of guards watching a mentally ill inmate bleed to death in Arizona: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/20130222tony-lester-doc-video.html?nclick_check=1
The trailer for my Locked-Up/Banged Up Abroad episode just came out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nlz6v2U7Cpo
This clip is the first from an hour I recently spent answering questions at Priors Field School, Godalming, Surrey.
I'm from Steyning Grammar School, today for my PSHE lesson I had an assembly with you, talking about your amazing story. I was so interested in what you had to say and thought it was incredibly horrifying. Although, you along with T-Bone did inspire me a great deal. I wanted to thank you a hell of a lot for coming in and sharing with us, it made me feel extremely lucky to be me. I have subscribed to your YouTube channel, liked your Facebook page and seen your website. I saw that you have a book telling more stories and I am planning to actually buy a copy! I've always thought that media was showing prisons to be nothing like they really are and you have defiantly exposed this. I think you are the most respectful, inspiring and brave man I have met. I just have a few questions I would like to ask:
Again, thank you so, so much for coming in. You have inspired me so much.
I’m glad that my talk and T-Bone’s story inspired you a great deal. I always enjoy visiting Steyning Grammar School. Here are my answers to your questions:
What were your first actions/thoughts as you came out of the prison?
I was wondering what the free world was going to be like, and if I’d be able to cope after following prison rules for so long. I was excited, but nervous, and disorientated from being in transportation for three days with hardly any sleep. It was wonderful to see my mum, dad and sister at the airport, and to be able to hug them. We went for Indian food, but I was unable to eat meat after converting to vegetarianism in the jail where I couldn’t eat the mystery-meat slop known as red death. For the first few days, just walking down the street, I felt like I was in heaven. I’d stare at shop windows amazed. Being able to choose and buy my own food and clothes thrilled me no end. With no noisy guards and prisoners around, I slept for about 13 hours, but kept waking up wondering when the guards were going to announce “chow time.” Having lost everything, I appreciate the small things people take for granted. In many ways, prison did me a lot of good.
How did you come out of prison in the end and when did you?
I was released and deported to London in December 2007 because I’d finished the amount of time I had to serve.
How long were you imprisoned for?
I was in prison for 5¾ years.
Did you ever have suicidal thoughts when inside or out? (You do not have to answer that)
Suicidal thoughts helped me get through many an anxious night when I was facing a 200 year sentence. Such thoughts gave me a sense of control over a situation in which I felt helpless. I had a way out: I could always end my life rather than spend the rest of it locked up. But I couldn’t bear the thought of my family and girlfriend being told that I was dead. Looking at their photos gave me the strength not to kill myself.
What were your family's reaction when you were arrested?
My mum can answer your question best right here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mup6EK329q0
What do you do now as the criminal record would of obstructed many career opportunities?
Writing and doing talks keep me busy. Because no firm would hire me due to my criminal record, I went self-employed. I consider myself lucky because I really enjoy what I do. I used to be all about making money, but I learnt the hard way that my success-at-all-costs attitude was soul destroying. It’s what we’re worth inside that counts, and that means maintaining friendships and helping people.
I hope you remain inspired and do well in life.
Click here for the previous Question Time: http://jonsjailjournal.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/question-time_9.html
Shannon talks about the murder of a mentally ill inmate whose penis was sliced off by his cellmate, and more about the perils of prison blogging.
Click here for Part 1
Please support the fantastic work One For Ten are doing: http://www.oneforten.com/
Eight years ago, I met Shannon Clark in an Arizona prison, a non-violent offender, serving almost a dozen years for robbing $800-worth of goods that were later returned to their owner by the police. In 2005, I introduced him to Jon’s Jail Journal as “Shane” and started posting stories about him to the Internet. Fascinated by the concept of blogging, Shannon spent hours in my cell, pouring over print-outs of my old blog entries. Endlessly, we debated blogging and discussed my blog readers’ comments. By the end of 2005, and with outside help, Shannon managed to launch his own blog, Persevering Prison Pages, which has championed human rights and attracted media attention.
For speaking out, the prison came down hard on Shannon. His good time was pulled, effectively extending his sentence by a year, and in the past year he was moved from prison to prison five times. Getting moved is extremely stressful and disruptive. Despite this, and in defiance of senior prison staff, Shannon kept blogging. He’s a brave soul indeed.
Shannon was recently released, so I interviewed him about the perils of prison blogging. Part 1 of the audio is in the YouTube video.
Shannon is now living happily in a house with his new girlfriend from the UK, who originally found out about him through Jon’s jail Journal.
Ex-convict give pupils a tough talk on pitfalls of drug crime|: http://www.crawleyobserver.co.uk/news/local/ex-convict-give-pupils-a-tough-talk-on-pitfalls-of-drug-crime-1-4762048
I'm from the school you spoke to on Friday morning. I'm sorry I didn't talk to you afterwards I was trying to take everything in but can I just say that I honestly thoroughly enjoyed your talk and it really has opened my mind up to a lot of things. I even spent Saturday watching some of your YouTube videos and explaining your story to my boyfriend which led to a rather heated discussion about how prisoners should be treated!
I would just like to ask a little question really, and that is just how do you feel about people taking drugs now? Obviously you don't want them going through those hard times but do you think drugs are acceptable if you take prison out of the equation?
I ask this because I have seen someone die due to drug intake in front of me, had to deal with a sister who would sleep with older men to get drugs (and several times ended up pregnant, youngest 13) and a brother who went to prison for drug dealing and it absolutely killed me to think of what he could have gone through in there. I don't think people that deal or do drugs are bad people at all, and don't deserve to go through experiences like you did.
Lastly I would just like to say how much I respect you for deciding to go into schools to share your story and warn us of be dangers and reality that is out there. I've always thought of the negative consequences of drugs and am rather anti-drugs for my own personal use after my experiences but I had truthfully never thought of the realities of what prison could do to you and what you have to endure.
Thanks again for your talk it has truly enlightened me,
Thanks, Claire. Your story is really moving, and I appreciate you sharing it. So sad to read about the devastating consequences drugs have brought to your brother and sister, and that someone died right in front of you.
You asked how I feel about people taking drugs, and if drugs are acceptable if prison is out of the equation. I’d rather young people didn’t do drugs, and channelled their energy into positive things. In my opinion, the present equation of how society treats drug users is all wrong. People tend to do drugs because something is missing from their lives, or they have some kind of inner turmoil. I feel that a lot of them are vulnerable young people, and should be given counselling, therapy, drugs education and be guided into positive activity. Instead, they are rounded up and thrown into prisons where hard drugs are readily available. Where I was incarcerated, scared young people ended up joining gangs and graduating from doing soft drugs before their arrests to shooting up heroin and crystal meth. Surrounded by criminals, they learnt that way of life. They had little chance of adapting to society when they were released with drug addictions that had multiplied in strength. They nearly all came right back to prison. It’s a disaster for society and the taxpayers, but big business for prison industries and politicians. 1 in 100 adults are now in prison in America, and private prisons are paying politicians to tighten laws even further. I don’t want vulnerable young people going through hard times like that here in the UK, but with the US private prisons setting up shop here, it’s going to get more like America.
I wish you happiness in life,
Shaun Attwood Chris Dorner
When I first started writing to Troy Merck an innocent man on Death Row in July 2011 as is usual we went through the stage of trying to find out as much as we could about each other. He asked me about my family and I shared everything I could possibly think of at the time including the fact that my youngest son has dyslexia. This was his response:
I was born with something called Foetal Alcohol Effect. It’s a milder version of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. ADHD is one of the things that manifest with it. That and the condition with my eyes. It’s called ptosis.
I have an IQ that ranges between 145 – 125 which is rare for someone with F.A.E. but because of the ADHD and the eyes, not to mention being dirt poor, I hated school. I broke my teacher’s ribs in 3rd Grade and would run off as soon as I got off the bus. I just could not sit still and focus for the length of a class so I stayed in trouble with the teachers and was fighting everyday with the kids who picked on my eyes and ragged clothes.
As a result I got very little education. About 3 months into the 8th Grade. But only two grades did I actually go for more than half the year. 5th and 7th. In the 4th I went for 33 days and in the 6th I went on full day and two partial days. They passed me both times.
They didn’t know how to deal with Special Needs kids at that time up in the mountain schools.
Then he added,
Alright I’m gonna get this in the mail to ya so it’ll be on it’s way tonight. I’ll write about the family but that’s a full letter unto itself.
Up until that letter written in October 2011 I’d had no idea about anything that had happened in his childhood. Now I was curious, but I didn’t have to wait long. Just a few short days later I received another letter which completely blew my mind.
To say my family was dysfunctional is an understatement and my childhood was far from idyllic.
My Mom was a few days past 14 years old when she got married to Jesse Whitmire who was 25. He’s the father of all my sisters and brother as far as anyone knows but there’s always a chance that he’s not. Apparently, Mom’s tail got hot early on, long before she got married and the ring on her finger didn’t stop her if she got the chance for some strange.
No one knows for sure who my Dad is. She was divorced and remarried to Hubert Merck when she got pregnant with me but by all accounts he had been in Vietnam for about a year when it was discovered she was pregnant with me.
She always told me Jesse was my Dad because he kept coming round to see the other kids and get a little while Hubert was at war. Who knows?
She had had Rosie, Roberta, Stacy and Tony and decided she didn’t want any more so when she got knocked up again she caused herself to miscarry. She did that twice and had one still born before she had me. She didn’t want me either and tried all the same methods she had used before to cause a miscarriage but as she used to tell me as she was pounding my head in, I just wouldn’t die.
I mean that Charlotte. She would be beating me to a bloody pulp and screaming about trying to kill me in the womb and say stuff like “You little bastard, I don’t know why you just wouldn’t die. You’ve always resisted me for some reason”. Even at 4 or 5 years old I was so stubborn. I’d be a bloody mess and yet still say something like “You should have kept your drawers on.” And she’d really go nuts then.
I have no doubt she would’ve killed me as a kid if she thought she could get away with it. At 10 years old I was placed in a Christian Childrens’ Home. She was given the choice, do it yourself or we do it.
Despite all that I love my Mom and had lots of fun. Hell, for the most part I’ve done whatever I wanted since I was a baby. I’d get my ass beat for drinking, playing around with some girl, or taking off from home as a kid, but so what? I’d get the hell beat out of me anyway, so why not do what was fun? Also I hated being dirt poor, so I learnt how to get out and get money by hook or by crook, which means I’d work or steal, it didn’t matter to me.
So that was me. The wild mountain boy with the fucked up family.
As you can imagine I really didn’t comprehend what he had just told me. Having 2 young boys myself, it seemed inconceivable that anyone could do this to their own child and I know that the majority of parents would feel the same. I know we all lose patience with our kids from time to time, and although I really try not to judge people, I was finding this really hard to deal with.
After a while we started talking about me visiting and for some time that is what consumed our letters. Then we had to start thinking about his case again in early March this year when oral arguments were scheduled for his post-conviction appeals and state habeas corpus. That was when we started talking about me writing about his childhood so people could understand him more clearly.
This is the last that he wrote to me about his mother. Since then he’s told me it’s just buried too deep and he doesn’t want to go down that road anymore, which I can understand completely. I was worried about how I was going to portray his Mom in anything that I wrote as I was finding it extremely hard to be objective.
I love my Mom and forgive her, but don’t worry about how she comes off. Just tell the truth. Having people understand what really happened is what’s important.
And the fact is Mom was more than a bit nuts, especially when it came to me. She blamed me for “ruining her life” as she would put it. She would say that she would’ve killed me when I was born by putting me in a ‘tote sack’, tying a rock around it and throwing it in a river or lake. People in their right minds don’t say things like that to kids that are 2,3, or 4 years old. She would get me down on the living room floor and stomp me as hard as she could until she was too tired to stomp anymore, sometimes just because she was mad that I didn’t die before I was born when she was trying to kill me.
Baby, at those times she was fucking crazy. Honestly I suspect she had some sort of bi-polar disorder, but no one in the country knew anything about that crap back then.
Plus Mom was hooked in prescription drugs and that too was something people didn’t think too much about back then. They knew how to tell a drunk or a dope addict but if the legal medication was being prescribed by a doctor then there really couldn’t be much wrong with it, or so they thought. I feel sorry for my Mom more than anything. She needed help and never got it.
At that point I decided to look into court documents to see if I could find out more. The abuse he had suffered at the hands of his mother was well-documented from her trying to self-abort by rubbing turpentine on her stomach and drinking excessively as well as a whole host of other things, to the sustained attacks that he had to endure as a young boy. So by the time I went to visit him in May I was expecting the stories he told me which usually ended with ‘I got my ass whooped for that one.’
But one story stood out amongst the rest, one story that made me go back to my hotel room and weep. He had told me of a time in his life when his sister’s boyfriend used to take him fighting. This was a place where children used to fight against one another and the adults used to wager on the outcome. Troy always used to do well, because even though he was small for his age, he was a lot stronger than he looked so he always surprised his opponent. However, one night was different. One night he was handed a knife and when he turned to see who his opponent was, all he saw was a dog sitting there. Troy refused. There was no way in the world he could harm a dog. He was beaten severely, but he still refused. Every threat was made, and still the physical attack continued, but he would not do anything to harm that animal.
I had a lot of time in between visits to process everything that he told me, we spoke about it a little in our letters and when I returned in November for Thanksgiving weekend I was expecting a lot more of the same type of stories. Nothing prepared me for one particular story which I will share with you now. Troy had just had his hair cut quite a lot shorter than it was the last time I was there. I was teasing him saying that it wouldn’t be long before they wouldn’t have to cut it because he would be bald! (He’s going a little thin on top) ‘You can see my scars better now,’ he said ‘See that one?’ pointing to a silver line that ran about 2 inches on the top of his head, ‘Mom did that with a table leg.’ He went onto tell me about the last ever time that his mother beat him. She had her boyfriend tie him to a chair, and she took a leg that propped up the table that was in their trailer. She proceeded to beat him. His screams were heard outside and the kids from the park went and got his sister who lived nearby. When she got there Troy was a bloody mess and his mother was still pounding him over the head with the table leg. She managed to wrestle with her mother and stop her assault. Then she turned to the small boy tied to the chair. He was sat with his head bowed, breathing heavily and when his sister knelt down by the side of him and asked if he was ok, a quiet voice replied ‘Just untie be before they kill me, I don’t want to die tied up.’ She took him back home with her and cleaned him up and he stayed there overnight. The next day he went back to his trailer, took the shotgun out of his room and chased his mother around the trailer park. After that day, she never touched him again. She knew that if she did he would crack.
He once said to me that she couldn’t control what she was doing, but she knew well enough when it was time to stop, that she had pushed him so far. He had grown up in a home filled with violence from before he was born and he had to adapt to survive. But even through that he kept his humanity, and his capacity to love. The man he is today is in spite of his childhood, not because of it. He is intelligent, funny, very strong minded and opinionated, and yet he is loving and gentle when he needs to be. That is the man that Troy Merck is, not the monster that the state want you to think he is, and that is the man that I fell in love with, a man that shouldn’t be where he is, a man who should be free!
Click here to read Charlotte's blog about visiting Troy on Death Row.
Please support One for Ten, who are exposing the endemic corruption in the US justice system that has resulted in hundreds of innocent people ending up on Death Row:
Please support One for Ten, who are exposing the endemic corruption in the US justice system that has resulted in hundreds of innocent people ending up on Death Row:
Dear Mr Attwood,
I'm the student who walked out of your speech today and would just like to apologise. I knew I was about to faint so I knew I had to stop myself from either doing that or throwing up or worse.
Your talk was incredible and opened up my eyes (especially as I have recently become hooked on the TV show 'Prison Break'). What you had to say hit particularly close to home as I had an uncle die from drug use so it is an emotive subject for me as well.
I just wanted to ask a few questions as I didn't get a chance to after your talk:
1. Do you think the people who are in those types of prisons deserve that type of treatment?
2. Prison life must have been so different to your previous high-flying millionaire lifestyle, how did you cope?
3. Did you do anything bad in prison? In order to protect yourself from being beaten up by other prisoners for example?
4. Do you think it is the physically or mentally weak who are at most risk in places like that? And how quickly do they adapt?
Thank you very much for your time, I truly enjoyed your talk until my departure and I can say that you achieved your aim of inspiring a young person not to do drugs and mess with the law!
Thank you once again,
Sorry to read about your uncle. I can’t imagine what you and your family went through. I’m glad you liked the talk. It's receiving messages like yours that makes everything I went through seem worthwhile. I hope my story stays with you and continues to influence you in positive ways. Now, onto your questions:
1 Prison shouldn’t be easy. It is a punishment. But it should be humane because when a society treats its prisoners like animals some of them will behave like animals when they return to society. The key to getting crime down is education and rehabilitation, but US prisons offer none of that because they profit by prisoners coming right back. They get around $50,000 per year per prisoner. Scandinavia has the lowest reoffending rates in the world, and the most education and rehabilitation in their prisons.
2 I coped through strong family support. By reading, writing, blogging and trying to turn the situation into the educational opportunity of a lifetime. By exercise, including yoga and meditation. By associating with prisoners who were doing positive things or fun things like playing chess.
3 I stayed away as best I could from doing anything bad in prison. I had to stand up for myself, but I never started any trouble.
4 Yes the physically and mentally weak are most at risk in prison. If they don’t adapt fast, they suffer abuse from prisoners and guards. I saw it happening constantly in there.
I hope you do well in life, Tom.