The Hidden Prison and Other Fears
On May 23rd, Representative Benjamin Swan came into MCI Shirley at the request of the American Veterans In Prison (AVIP) to discuss issues pertinent not only to veterans but to all prisoners in general. What issues affect veterans will ultimately have an effect on everyone. We initially reguested that the Honorable Representative meet solely with our AVIP qroup, but the Superintendent here (Kelly Ryan) wrote me a letter stating that the event was open for everyone.
We had supplied Mr. Swan with a copy of an agenda (see at the bottom) regarding topic issues, which he read well before his attendance here. After the forum we opened up for questions and answers from Mr. Swan, and he told us that we were the most well organized and articulate men he had met, and he wished that the legislature could have heard all we had to say or at least been able to film our presentations. He said that the trip from Spríngfield to these prisons was a long one and he has made many in the past, but that he was so happy to have made the trip for this forum.
Representative Swan is a cosigner to SB 1139 on compassíonate release, one of the subjects we expounded upon in our talks with him. We asked him to go back into the hospital here and see the five or síx veterans laying back there in serious conditions, as these were the people this bill would emcompass.
AIl in all it was an extremely educational and productive meeting, and we thanked Representative Swan profuseIy for his time and consideration.
Sitting in the audience were several staff members of the prison. It seems they did not appreciate the subject matter we discussed, and as I was leaving a captain (Crowley) said to me: "Be careful." I did not ask him what that meant. I knew this prison has never had such a presentation to any legislators in its entire history, and therefore I felt the administration would not approve of us revealing facts to anyone outside their control. Keeping legislators or lawmakers from being able to peek inside the razor wire is to their advantage in that they continue to remain a hidden society. We broke no rules in exercising our 1st amendment rights, and we had ample research material to present to Mr. Swan containing facts and figures of how the money in prison was beinq mísspent and how the draconian parole board acts with impunity, responsible to seemingly no one for their actions. We discussed the lack of care given to the elderly and how the 55-year old and older is the fastest growing demographic in prison today.
The following day at approximately 11:40 a.m. my cell door opened. I rolled my wheelchair out thinking it had opened for lunch, only to be met by Deputy Superintendent Karen DiNardo, Captain Don Crowley, and Sheila Kerry, Director of Classification. The following is a transcript of the ensuing conversatìon:
K — (Karen DiNardo)
J — (Joe Labriola)
K: We can't have happen what we had happen yesterday. You ambushed me.
J: How so?
K: This agenda. These are not veterans' issues: parole, commutation, compassionate release.
J: It does apply to veterans and all of us. Right now there are at least 5 or 6 veterans in the hospital here that are in various stages of dying, and nobody is speaking up for them. It's our job as veterans to look out for one another.
K: You don't know how many veterans are back there.
J: I know of some.
K: Benjamin Swan can go back into the hospital anytime he wants. He doesn't need you to ask him to go back there. It's not your place to ask him. Benjamin swan was supposed to speak to the entire population and not just the AVIP.
J: I have a copy of a letter from Mr. Swan stating that he was looking forward to meeting with the AVIP. It does not say anything about the entire general population. It was the Superintendent that opened this up for everyone. I wanted to keep it low key and intimate just for my AVIP chapter and Mr. Swan alone.
K: On Tuesday you have a memorial servíce in the prison chapel. You are not allowed to speak at it.
J: I am not allowed to speak at a memorìal service about men that I served and bled with? I had planned on telling everyone about Kenny Miller and Frank August, two of my best friends that gave the last full measure of devotion. That is what a memorial is all about. If you've seen memorial services on TV, you have see that's how they do it.
K: I've been to plenty of of them. You have an outside guest speaker coming in to speak.
J: Oh? Who?
J: So you are saying that the first amendment does not apply to us in here?
K: I am telling you that only Deacon Art Rogers and Pastor Tom and the Imam along with Gabe are the only ones who will be allowed to speak at the memorial service. It is an ecumenical service only.
J: I want to get up and read a poem I wrote for my friends who were killed in Vietnam.
K: That's not a memorial service.
J: We sure have a different opinion on what constitutes a memorial service.
Karen and her entourage got up and left at this point.
1530 hours, May 24th, 2013
The meeting agenda
AMERICAN VETERANS IN PRISON
HONORABLE BENJAMIN SWAN
- Call to order / Moment of silence / Pledge of allegiance — Billy D.
- Opening prayer / Intro of commander — Mike S.
- Welcome / Introductions — Joe L.
- Description of meeting format — Tim M.
- Joseph Labriola, Commander
- Voting Rights of Veterans in Prison — Restoration
- Benefits for Veterans in Prison — Expansion
- Issues Involving Incarcerated Veterans — Task Request
- Timothy J. Muise, Parliamentarian
- DOC Budget / Healthcare-Salaries-Staffing Ratío
- Compassionate Release / Costs-Savings-Social Impact
- Task Request — Visit HSU
- Christopher DeMarco, Vice Commander
- Family Reunification Day for Veterans / Holiday Events
- Task Request — Support FRD w/ Comnissioner
- Michael Skinner, Chaplain
- State of Parole in Massachusetts
- Lifers Returning to Minimun Security / Classification
- Task Request — Parole Bill for Legislature
- William Doucette, Sergeant at Arms
- Veterans Court
- Progressive Measures for Veterans
- Task Request — Work to Establish Veterans Courts Statewide
- Shawn Fisher, MaCURE Representative
- State of Commutation in Massachusetts
- Hospice Care Proposal
- Task Request — Speak to Governor Concerning Commutation
- Joseph Labriola, Commander
- Question & Answer segment
- Closing & thank you — Commander Labriola