Archived Story

A glimpse into a South Dakota prison

Published 10:12am Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Column: Pothole Prairie

A letter arrived last week from an inmate of a prison in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Normally, I quickly glance over any letters from inmates and toss them in the recycling bin. Most of them complain about the same thing — poor treatment behind bars. And I have no doubt some of what they claim is true and some is quite exaggerated. Jail is bad. Prison is worse.

However, it’s just about Easter, and even Jesus was once in the custody of the authorities, so it inspired me to give this lawbreaker a break. I decided not to trash this letter. I thought: How about giving readers insight into one of these letters?

The man says his name is Jim Lawrence, inmate 38312. He actually typed the letter fairly well with proper spelling and grammar, though his use of vocabulary is rather excessive, like he is trying hard to show he is educated by using big words.

The 50-year-old complains about the food, health service, lack of due process, the intercom, informants who lie and a lack of any real effort at rehabilitating the men in the place. He says he has competed 11 years of a 25-year term for theft by deception. So he has lied before. He could be lying about all this.

Why he sent the letter to the Albert Lea Tribune, I don’t know.

Let’s start with that intercom, for that’s some of his best writing:

“Throughout the cell hall approximately 40 loudspeakers (emphasis on loud) are mounted on the walls which constantly and repetitiously discharge announcements at a decibel level which vastly exceeds normalcy. The microphone for transmitting bears no foam cover, therefore most announcements are indicative of spitting and sputtering. Inmate phones are mounted along the cell hall walls; phone calls to family members, legal counsel, etc., are routinely disrupted and thereby cost sacrificial. The intercom is used when paging meal times, notice of visits, recreation periods, library and health service releases, showers, religious services, workers release, phone calls, haircuts, extracurricular activity, special announcements — even insignificant affairs such as multiple broadcasts daily that beds are to be made before 9 a.m. Implemented as well is a ‘last call’ announcement shortly thereafter broadcasting of the original announcement, which is also verbalized repetitiously. This implementation merely made matters worse; now inmates lag behind waiting for a repeated ‘last call.’ The intercom system is a torture mechanism.”

As for the food and health services, Lawrence says he has not eaten at the chow hall for four years now because of health violations he says he has witnessed in the kitchen. He eats ramen noodles and potato chips instead. He says his health records have been altered and medications for vitamin deficiency have not been delivered.

Here is what Lawrence says about lying informants:

“The administration’s utilization of (alleged/credible) informants is excessive and misappropriated. The instant correspondence is advanced as a result of personal ramification regarding credibility of alleged informants. This inmate was recently detained in segregation for an alleged assault on another inmate based on information from ‘credible’ informant sources. This individual has not encountered physical confrontation in his 50 years of existence, exhibits no violence on his record and in fact despises violent behavior. This inmate also experienced immense loss of property due to erroneous ‘credible’ informant gossip, property of which was expensed by family members. The discontented and distrustful informants have embarked upon modus operandi which enables havoc upon the compliant and complacent. Utilization of these informants has long been an abuse of discretion by a dissipated authority.”

True or not true, I’m fairly sure his prison stories alone are a solid deterrent to crime. Time behind bars is not just time, it’s insanity.

 

Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.