Editors’ Note: Tewhan Butler, a leader of the Bloods in New Jersey, is five years into a 30-year in federal prison sentence. His writing appears, along with that of other former gang members now serving time, on the website Live from LockDown, a project of Raise UP! Media. On Live from Lockdown, he describes his situation this way: “Having been prosecuted by then-US Attorney and New Jersey’s current Governor, Christopher J. Christie – Tewhan “Massacre” Butler is currently serving his 30-year sentence in the Special Management Unit of a United States Penitentiary under the Federal jurisdiction of the US Bureau of Prisons. The Special Management Unit is beyond maximum security and is for inmates deemed by the Bureau of Prisons to need extraordinary levels of supervision. Butler is confined 23 hours or more each day, allowed only one phone call a month and one family visit by teleconference per month. Live from LockDown is meant to illustrate this harsh reality for those still in the streets.”

Last month, Tewhan Butler received word that he had earned his way to a transfer from USP Lewisburg in Pennsylvania to USP Pollock in rural central Louisiana, a high-security prison where he may nonetheless be somewhat less restricted than he has been in Lewisburg’s Special Management Unit. In the following post, title “The Process,” he describes his long route from prison to prison. (Ironically, shortly after Butler’s arrival, Pollock went on lockdown following a fight among inmates, meaning all prisoners faced round-the-clock confinement to cells with no visits–conditions similar to those at the SMU.)

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Again, I find myself in pursuit of the penitentiary’s dangers. I am told to pack up. My turn has come. I couldn’t fill the plastic bags with my property quick enough. For the past twentymonths, I fell in love with my dictionary, thesaurus, world almanac, Book of Morals, and the world’s best poets to have ever lived. For a brief moment they are forced to be boxed-up and not heard from again until we reach Level 6 Penitentiary Pollock. Level 6 means violence. Violence. Sleep. Violence. Wake-up. Violence. Only a few escape such violence…

After having my things ready to go my door was unlocked and opened by a unit officer, a stand-in officer and a Lieutenant. There were no intimidating looks and NO cuffs. I, to a certain degree, was free; certainly a long time coming…

In the unit’s dayroom I joined nine others who had successfully completed the aches and pains categorized as “The Program” (S.M.U.). The date was November 29, 2011. The time was 4:45am. Only once a week is the penitentiary’s rule of absolute silence ignored, and this day was one of them. The nine of us begin yelling to those we have journeyed with who still have to travel through extreme hardships, “Keep your head up”, “Stay safe” and “Remain solid”. Such words on the inside speak of a man’s care for another who struggles. We have those we would want to stand beside and fight with to the end. However, the Federal Bureau Of Prisons (FBOP) understands this and separates comrades by thousands of miles in attempt to block the brotherly love. Our shouts are returned. Then, “Let’s roll men” the Lieutenant ordered.

Personally, I could not wait to roll. With plastic garbage bags in hand, we nine overly-disciplined prisoners followed the footsteps of those in uniform to R & D (Receiving and Discharge). Once inside R & D, we were reminded that we were not free at all. “One straight line gentlemen; now strip!”

The Process–“Open your mouth; show me  your gums, hands, sack; turn around; bottom of your feet- left, right; bend over; cough. Now put your clothes back on!”  Humiliation to the tenth power. We are not seen as men but as property.

Following The Process, we were thrown into a bullpen to wait for hours. There was nothing to eat with the exception of two stale pieces of bread and two slices of bologna. Hunger pains mixed with anticipation’s butterflies. Almost there…

In walks three officers. The clanking of chains filling the room with their noise…

One by one we are cuffed, shackled, waist-restrained, and leg-ironed; each with a tightness to numb whatever they touch. Again, my mind tells me that I’m almost there…

The bus ride was painful as the iron dug into my skin with each bump in the road. How refreshing were the sights. One never knew when would be the next time the free world would be seen. I cherished each passing car, pedestrian, building, and home. The small things removed from my life for years, I stare out the bus window wishing I had understood then the importance of freedom. It was mine to lose, and I lost it. Before I knew it, we were pulling up along side maybe a dozen or so Greyhound buses with escape-proof tinted windows- interior fitted with bars and gates. The all white Federal plane lands moments later and out comes United States Marshals with shotguns and automatic rifles in hand. The perimeter is heavily secured. We were at Harrisburg Airport but far away from the fancy airplane services you know…

The name calling begins. So and so, what’s your number? Your number? “26852-050.” I step off the bus and take my place amongst the other men and women dressed in pumpkin seeds, paper pants, dingy t-shirts, and shackles. The sight before me is one I could have never imagined. I’m almost there…

We enter the plane. Hundreds of prisoners packed like sardines. Prepare for take off. In case of emergency do not panic. Listen to the Marshal’s instructions and you’ll be fine. A man with his wrists strapped to his waist and his feet chained together could never be fine in the case of emergency…

We are in the air. Next stop FTC (Federal Transfer Center) Oklahoma City. One would never know what the outside looks like, as it’s located on the fringes of an airport and the plane pulls up directly to the building like they do the terminal at the airport. Upon exiting off the plane, we immediately enter FTC OKC…

Corrections Officers line the walls of a corridor which is about half of a football field’s length. With bright lights and everything white, it resembled a mental institution. After we all are unshackled, we are handed yet another bag lunch of two slices of bread and two slices of bologna and directed to a bullpen with one toilet, one sink, no tissue, and at minimum 100 inmates. The game is now one of patience…

The Process is repeated and after the strip out there’s photo, medical and psychological evaluations and back to the bullpen. It all takes hours on top of hours…

I reach my cell, their cell, at 11:45pm. Before I am able to situate my bedroll (blanket, sheet, hotel-size toiletries) I am told that I will be leaving in the morning. The morning being 2:45am. Physically drained, I call for sleep. However knowing that I am almost there my body wont rest. I am forced to go through the entire process again, as if I just had not done so hours ago. Prison is not a place of convenience…

Back on to the plane we go. Maybe the flight will be short, as Louisiana is not a far distance from Oklahoma City…

We take off. Hours later we land in Pittsburgh. The swapping of prisoners begins. Five here. Ten there. Unload. Reload. Fair exchange a body for a body. The automatic rifles are tucked when all is done. The buses roll away and the Federal plane hits the runway…

Finally, Alexandria, Louisiana–United States Penitentiary Pollock. They say it’s a place of rocking and rolling. A non-stop work call. The faint-hearted do not belong here. I enter with a lion’s roar. What comes next? We shall wait and see…

I shall keep you posted…

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