If you’ve ever contemplated giving up, don’t. You don’t know how strong you are.
You don’t know your limits until it kills you. Adversity can squeeze deeply unrealized character from you. The fire will push the boundaries of what you think you can endure. Therefore, if you can overcome your own self-perceived limitations, you will truly become indomitable.
To whom this is for, thus assume the form of the fire that burns you, and then burn ten times hotter.
The Furnace Creek area of Death Valley California is the hottest place on Earth. In 1913 temperatures maxed out at 134.06 degrees Fahrenheit. Recently, in 2020, it was still the hottest recorded location on Earth, at 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, in the Summer of 2012, the 8x12 cell where I was confined in solitary confinement was only 4 degrees cooler than the hottest place on the planet, where I lived day and night for 13 months.
I’m talking, about no fan, no air conditioning, or adequate ventilation. Temperatures reached up to 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Night and day. Heat that begged you to take your own life. Heat so hot that your skin burned, covered in heat rashes, where even falling asleep, if possible, could kill you from dehydration.
McGraw v. Mejia, Civil Action No. 3:13-CV-740-L
Every waking moment was a moment spent in pain, hearing the screams of the afflicted begging for ice.
One man committed suicide on his first night there. Others fainted from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Some were sent to the hospital. Still, one sadistic guard turned the heater on one day, while another guard tried to locate the ancient climate controls and turn the heater off. The screams that day were unrelenting until it was turned off.
If you were smart, you opted to sleep on the metal bed frame, or on the floor. You lived in your underwear because it was too hot to wear clothes. Isolation is so maddening that your mind splintered from lack of environmental and social stimulation.
That kind of persistent brain-busting heat will change a person on the soul level. Regardless, knowing my disposition was life and death, it was time to solider up or fall, lest I be buried and forgotten as some nameless social degenerate.
But I am not most men. I find ways to endure tribulation.
I had to surgically remove two extremely infected toenails with a stolen razor blade because I could no longer walk. By winter, I showered in freezing ice water, and ultimately contracted pneumonia. I was even illegally polygraphed by Nurse Gifford.
There were no limits to what I had to survive.
I came from a soft, prestigious upbringing on a trajectory to Juilliard. I was a child prodigy and classical concert pianist.
But before 1991, I was a different person, living a complete life before I was adopted. I was a wild feral child, devoid of any parental bonding, feeding myself from the garden, dressing myself, and breaking into homes for food. I learned how to survive from an early age.
In this photo, I was 10. I opened a concert for Roger Williams
at the Crystal Cathedral in Anaheim, CA.
On the contrary, I should not have survived anything I went through in prison. I almost died too many times.
How it all Began
I was in prison for hacking, and as soon as I was convicted and sentenced on March 17, 2011, authorities at Seagoville FCI revoked my ability to use Corrlinks, the inmate messaging system we used to send and receive emails.
Incident Report from 01/31/2012
Nobody even emails these days, let alone takes the time to sit down and write letters. So, image losing the ability to email, was the equivalent of communication suicide. So, I found an inmate that was willing to let me use his, so I could keep up with my loved ones and communicate with my appeals attorney.
He never used his email access before, so it threw up a red flag with Special Investigative Services (SIS) and before you knew it, he was approached, played dump, and told them I must have hacked into his account. Do you know what means? FBI investigation.
I won't bore you with the details. But my having email access somehow “posed a security risk to the orderly running of the institution”. Not computer access. But, email access. Okay. That’s cool.
So, what now? I was delivered up into chains and cast into solitary confinement.
There is no law here. Only the law of the strongest.
When you go on a hunger strike, you are making a strong statement. You are saying, “My health is declining, and eventually, I could die. Unless you act and meet my demands, my unnecessary death will be on your hands.”
That’s the message, anyway. Whether or not your captors have any respect for human life is another matter.
Prison guards, knowing I was fighting the sentence I received on Appeal decided to unceremoniously confiscate all my legal materials while I had critical evidence in my possession to fight against my prosecutor’s oral testimony that I committed witness intimidation.
She framed me without a single shred of proof, and I had letters that would establish proof that I was innocent, which my trial lawyer, threw in the trash, accusing me of fabricating them.
The guards refused to give me any straight answer, which is a normal response. So, I declared a hunger strike in order to try to compel them to return my legal material.
This is normal. Guards confiscate legal work and obstruct legal mail all the time to exhaust time-sensitive court filings. I’ll get more into that later. If they can get away with it, they’ll do it.
I ended up starving myself without food or water for 4 days. The Special Housing Unit (SHU) Lieutenant Shannon threatened to have me strapped down to a gurney while being force-fed oatmeal through a tube in my nose.
“I just so happen to love oatmeal,” I told him, challenging him to do it.
He negotiated with me and guaranteed he’d find my “missing property” but in order to do that, I’d have to eat. I detected no deception. But I felt he knew where it was, and perhaps always knew. Nevertheless, I ate, and my things were returned the next day.
At this point, I was being illegally detained without any due process for months. My wife at the time could not find a single attorney willing to represent me, assuming I belonged there for the rule infraction.
Certainly, I am not surprised by the vices the government uses to try and break a person, coerce them into compliance and a state of programmability.
Though my mind splintered into three different directions and formed a disassociated identity disorder, and I experienced intense, constant auditory hallucinations, my resolve to survive knew no bounds.
Sadly, right as I was informed to get ready to go back into the general population, complaint letters I had written to their overseers in the Grand Prairie Regional Office made their way back to the Warden’s desk. Retaliation from the Warden’s office kept me entombed in this 8x12 cell those long and hard months.
Seagoville FCI staff, from the warden’s office to the lowly turn-key, are infamous among prisoners everywhere for weapons their SHU in order to threaten, coerce and retaliate against the inmate population.
At some point, I obtained the help of an attorney who heard of my plight in that place. Soon after, my mail began to be obstructed. Prison authorities, desperate to retaliate in some way, delayed all my mail for weeks, even legal mail.
Attorney letter addressed to the warden
One guard secretly told me they were reading all my mail. So, I used this to my advantage. I knew that a former kitchen officer had filed civil complaints against some of his own co-workers for retaliation and racism. Knowing that he no longer worked there, I alluded in letters that a former officer at the facility was presenting testimony in my civil proceeding.
In an effort to hit closer to home, I disclosed in letters that one of their own Lieutenants was acting as a cooperating witness in my civil complaint. I did this in an effort to sow distrust among their ranks and create an element of fear and anxiety.
I wrote about it frequently and sent it through the mail. Thus, it came to pass that guard would sometimes ask me about the lawsuit, and who all was involved. But I had nothing for them. My own attorney was a ballbuster, and prison officials were retaliating against him as well. They’d all find out soon enough.
They had a few other tricks up their sleeves. I filed for presidential clemency through the Office of the Pardon Attorney, only to have the Facilities officer, whom I didn’t even know, come to my cell door and inform me that my pardon application had been denied.
I found it extremely suspicious because it takes several months to receive a response on a clemency application. The more I dug, the more I realized this man didn’t know anything but was being used. “I’m just following orders, he told me.”
I handwrote this complaint regarding mail fraud for my mother to type and send to
the Post Master General.
After this, I learned to sneak my outgoing mail out to other inmates so I could smuggle letters back and forth to the outside world without detection.
That’s when I knew that Seagoville FCI employees aren’t above even committing mail fraud, let alone torture.
Whatever. I was building allies among some of the guards. One let me fix the inmate’s law library computer. Others were helpful in disclosing information or bringing me things for creature comfort.
Incriminate the Enemy By Asking Questions
Stop making pitiful statements. But rather, ask questions and control the narrative. Then, record what was said, and use it to incriminate the enemy.
As an inmate, you can’t gain access to the courts to redress local grievances without first exhausting the administrative remedy procedure. It’s an extremely lengthy process subject exclusively to the mercy of prison officials.
How can you gain access to the courts, if guards persistently obstruct your ability to exhaust local administrative remedies? I’ll tell you how.
I ended up keeping a secret ledger of every attempt where I asked for the administrative remedy forms, the date I asked, the verbal response of the guard, and when or if I ever received the form at all.
Moreover, I learned to ask loaded questions in an attempt to steer the answers the guards would give me, essentially setting up the battlefield to my advantage so I could quote them in my lawsuit.
One time I asked Lieutenant Shannon, “Are you guys keeping me back here because of what you think I can do with a computer?”
“You're damn right!” He said, looking me in the eyes and smiling. “We go by who you are, and what you’re capable of.”
When Surrender Doesn’t Constitute Defeat
My new attorney was making waves among the staff involved in my illegal detention. He couldn’t be intimidated. This man had represented Zetas cartel members and perceived these desperate guards as being beneath him.
Since I had a class action lawsuit against several of the prison officials, their next course of action was to split me away from the other plaintiff so we could no longer communicate, let alone work together.
One day a guard ordered me to pack my things and be extracted to a different cell, away from the other plaintiff. At first, I refused. The guard gave me an ultimatum - either I get ready to cuff up and let them extract me, or they dispatch the Special Response Team (SRT), which is the Bureau of Prison’s version of SWAT.
Anticipating my answer, the SRTs were outside my cell, ballistics gear ready. This is the Bureau of Prison’s license to commit violence, and believe me, most of them look forward to the action.
The SRTs were waiting along the side of the wall where I couldn’t see them without angling my mirror to try and see around blind spots from my grated window.
I let them extract me. It wasn’t about holding down the cell or letting them beat me half to death. The walk from that cell, after over 11 months in solitary stirred up the entire inmate SHU population. It was at this point that I earned the respect of many of my captors.
“You see this?” I cried out. “This is what you do when you get a lawyer and fight for your rights!”
In the end, my attorney filed a temporary restraining order, and a judge ordered prison officials to send me out on a medical evaluation immediately. But in order to avoid any responsibility for my condition, they quickly shipped me away to Beaumont FCI.
A declaration from my mum was filed by my lawyer in the civil case.
You’ve got to have tact when your enemy has you dead to rights. Live to fight another day, so you can establish new conditions to control the battlefield.
Respect from your enemies is a victory.
Power to the people.