Forest fire imperils prison – our correspondent in extremis and robbed of everything
Letter from Richard J. Lester: August 4, 2004, and note on bloated prison officer pay
Sorry it has been such a while since I wrote. So much has happened.
You may be aware, there was a massive forest fire on the mountain to the rear of the prison. It was a tragedy, so many trees and animals lost to nature. It was ignited by a lightning bolt and spread quickly. It could have been dealt with early on, but by the time the fire approached the prison and the powers that be decided to act it was too late and too few resources could be had to regain control. As you know, I have acute emphysema and my breathing is taxed in the first place, but when the smoke began to fill the air it was all over for me. The institution transferred me to the Federal Correctional Institution at Tuscon, Arizona, and I was confined in Segregated Housing with no contact with the outside world. I was there 8 days and 9 nights. When I returned to Safford, the guards had turned over my property left in their trust to a Mexican inmate who works in the laundry. Of course, he robbed me of everything, my watch, my tennis shoes, my rosary, my scapular, my postage stamps, and I was left high and dry without as much as a pair of shoes. I went without shoes for two full days and nights, as Tuscon had failed to transfer my money. When it finally arrived, it was too late to shop, and I waited yet another day. I now have shoes but of course no money – bummer. The inmate in the laundry is now wearing my nice stainless steel watch on his wrist and God only knows who’s romping around in my nice shoes.
This happened early July. Since my return from Tuscon I contracted a lung infection that took me to the mat. Of course, there is little or no hope of medical attention here. It's a matter of wanting to survive. But I am now on the mend and should be up to sorts by next week, thanks be to God.
P.S. Ron, my law partner in here, asked me to forward this article on government overtime.
[Enclosed reprint of article by Mark Gladstone, Mercury News Sacramento Bureau, entitled “What People Earn: Steep Prison Overtime a Way of Life.” Beneath a photo of Dick Cheney ($198,600) follows an account of the salaries of prison personnel.
“Lt. Conception (sic) O. Gonzalez at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, earned the most overtime, $116,589. His overall pay was $197,000 - $74,000 more than the director of the corrections department.
“A year earlier, Gonzalez was also the highest paid lieutenant or sergeant in the [California] Department of Corrections, with gross pay of $160,000, according to the controller’s records, obtained from the office of Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo. His exact number of overtime hours was not immediately available.
“The highest paid guard, Theron Laudermill, earned $154,351 in gross pay, including $92,000 in overtime. He could not be reached for comment.
“ Working for the state’s prisons may require weeks on the fire lines with inmate crews or guarding hardened criminals, but the job has its rewards: 391 correctional officers received overtime last year that pushed their pay over $100,000.
‘The average overtime for these six-figure wage earners was $44,700, according to a Mercury News analysis of figures obtained from the State Controller’s Office. And at least 25 earned more than the correction chief’s salary.
“It is cases like these that have helped drive overall costs to $929 million during the past four fiscal years, according to a legislative analysis. That’s $338 million, or 72 per cent more than the state had planned for overtime.
“’The overtime wasn’t because there were riots and they went on lockdown. It just seemed to be the normal operating procedure,’ said state Sen. Byron Sher, D- San Jose, whose budget subcommittee oversees the Department of Corrections. ‘It’s a way of life. The budgeted figures don’t seem to have any reality to them.’”
The Committee on Unjust Sentencing has sent a money order to Mr. Lester’s
POW account to help compensate for his losses.