The Dehumanization of Adam Longtree
(Language.) 1. White-collar criminals out on bond get to wear white-collar attire to court. Adam Longtree’s attorney, a salaried Public Defender with a questionable commitment to the task, had him dressed in a dark blue suit with a white shirt and a bright red tie. Add clean-shaven, with every hair in place, and an endearing smile, Adam looked more like a figurine on top of a wedding cake than a hardened criminal. Unfortunately for Adam, the jury based its conclusions more on the facts of the case than on his appearance: “Guilty” on all counts.
In such a circumstance, the world comes crashing down in a hurry. Adam barely had time to smile at his crying mother in the gallery and mouth the words “I’ll be ok” before two burly bailiffs slapped the cuffs on him and led him through a side door to his new life. The hard steel restraints seemed too tight, and his hands bound behind his back strained his shoulders. Adam wondered why all the shackled bad guys he had seen on TV never seemed to be in such discomfort.
As there was no chance of escape, Adam was confronted with the disturbing reality that after never having harmed a living thing in his life, he was now deemed to be a possible threat to the physical well-being of other human beings. He was embarrassed to be so labeled, and knowing that affixing such restraints was standard policy did little to diminish the shame he felt at that moment. He hated that his mother had to see him like that. Subtract 50 Human Points.
2. The handcuffs were shifted to the front for his bus ride to his interim stay in the system, but ankle-biting shackles were added to make sure he didn’t make a run for it. His partner on the hard plastic bench seat provided a good news/bad news circumstance- the guy was a remarkably large man so only half of Adam’s butt rested on a solid surface for the nine-hour bus ride, but as an alumn of the system, Adam’s new best friend was able to provide valuable information on his future accommodations. Adam’s final destination according to Charlie was “sweet”; the interim location at Terre Haute was a “hell hole”, but it would be survivable as it would only be for a day or two.
The windows on the bus were blocked out so Adam’s only view was of his similarly depressed fellow travelers. The restroom facilities were difficult to reach and virtually impossible to use. For nine hours with nothing to do and nothing to see, Adam could only think about what he had done, where he was, and where he was going. Without distraction, the troubled mind can take one to dangerous, lonely places. Subtract 25 Human Points.
3. The CO manning the BOP Welcome Wagon at Terre Haute had never taken an Emily Post course on etiquette and manners.
“What’s your number?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know your fucking number?!”
“I just got here.”
“Jesus Christ, how fucking stupid can you be?”
Adam had never been talked to that way. The fact that he couldn’t react in the manner his father had taught him made it even more difficult to accept. Subtract 25 Human Points.
4. “Ok, strip. Now lift up your sack. Now turn around and bend over.”
Enough said. Subtract 500 Human Points.
5. The cell was worse than Adam had imagined- a filthy 8’ x 10’ concrete block room, bunkbeds with the last guests’ soiled linen still in place, a badly torn sheet of foam rubber for a mattress, a small stainless steel sink, a shower in the corner of the room, and a toilet without a hint of any sort of a privacy partition, all wrapped up in stale 80˚ air. The one or two day layover in Terre Haute slogged on to a mind-numbing seventeen. No TV, no radio, meals shoved through a slot in the iron door, a roommate who snored like a volcano, locked in that hot box 24 hours a day with just one brief excursion out of his cell in those 17 days for a “mental evaluation”. (“Are you thinking of killing yourself?”- “No.”; “Have you ever tried to kill yourself?”- “No.”; “You’re good.”)
No phone. Seventeen days and Adam couldn’t make a phone call. Hours of staring at the bottom of the bed above him, time kept by the banging of iron announcing the arrival of a meal tray. He had no idea if his family was ok, and they likely had no idea where he was. It was as though he longer even existed. Subtract 200 Human Points.
6. Adam put it off as long as he could. He grudgingly accepted the fact he couldn’t go on indefinitely without using the toilet. Peeing was not an issue; turn sideways so his back was toward his roommate, and it was close to normal. It was the other. Disgusting, humiliating, degrading, as Adam tried to accomplish the feat in record time while his cellie, just several feet away, tucked his head under his pillow and pretended to be someplace else. Subtract 300 Human Points.
7. Flip the script; Adam’s cellie’s turn on the toilet, and Adam’s head under the pillow. Subtract 300 Human Points.
8. Moving Day. 5:00 AM. Banging on the iron door.
“Get up. Get ready. You’re leavin’. Both of you.”
Adam dreaded the handcuffs and ankle shackles, but there was a sense of relief in that he would finally be heading for that “sweet” spot his new best friend, Charlie, had told him about. Considering the distance, Adam expected another miserable bus ride, so he was puzzled when they took him to an airport. It was the FedEx model of shipping inventory- send everything/everyone to a central hub and then forward it/them to the intended end destination.
Flying Con Air offers limited amenities. No cocktail cart, no little bags of peanuts, and the blocked-out windows diminished much of the usual joy of air travel. Adam realized that for all intents and purposes, he was in the cargo hold. Subtract 75 Human Points.
9. Upon arrival at the Oklahoma City Transfer Center, the inmates were deposited in a large concrete block room without chairs or benches. It was so crowded that Adam couldn’t even find a place to sit, so he stood there for the next two hours, all the while hoping he would not need to use the lonely-looking toilet in the corner of the room. Film footage of cows or sheep being herded from one place to another wove their way into whatever neurons were still firing in Adam’s embattled brain. Subtract 75 Human Points.
10. Adam finally had access to a phone. With 100 guys and two phones in the Unit, Adam would stand in line for more than an hour to make a call. Bittersweet. Happy to hear their voices; sad to hang up knowing he wouldn’t see them for years. He had missed his mother’s birthday and his nephew’s T-ball game. Adam sensed the sadness and pain in his mother’s voice, and he hated himself for it. The feeling of helplessness, the sad realization that he couldn’t do a thing about any of it, was taking its toll. Subtract 75 Human Points.
11. After twenty days, a loud banging on the door at 5:00 AM.
“Get up! You’re both moving. Get up and get ready!”
A sad thought hit Adam as he prepared for the next leg of his journey- he could pack up everything he owned in less than five minutes.
Adam had already learned that the worst day in a prisoner’s life is moving day, long and uncomfortable with the handcuffs and ankle irons. As he boarded the plane, he had no clue as to where they were now headed, but another alumn knew.
“No, that’s not possible. That’s where I came from.”
For reasons Adam would never understand, the BOP had shipped him from Terre Haute to Oklahoma City for three weeks and then back to Terre Haute to catch a bus. He was a piece on a game board, or perhaps more aptly, the steel ball in a pinball machine, bouncing around from one place to another seemingly without purpose. Adam had no control over where he was nor when he would be there. Subtract 50 Human Points.
12. Another wretched bus ride, seven hours of hoping he wouldn’t need to use the toilet, and Adam finally arrived at his “sweet” spot. It was seventeen hours after being awakened that morning, most of that time in discomforting shackles. Subtract 50 Human Points.
13. Although Adam had always been under the custody and control of the BOP since day one, as a new arrival at his “permanent” location, he was subjected to another strip search. Subtract 500 Human Points. (No matter how many times Adam would undergo the experience, his assessed point value for a strip search would never diminish.)
14. Adam spent the next 24 hours trying to figure out what was so “sweet” about this “sweet” spot. He was taken to an old building that housed inmates in an open dorm setting, 80 grown men, two to a cubicle, in one large room. Adam stood at the end of the room thinking he would die there. He wasn’t sure how he would die, but he knew he couldn’t survive in there. Knowing that he did it to himself didn't make any of it any easier.
His cubicle consisted of bunk beds, one small desk, and two lockers. A 4’ wide aisle separated him from the guys in the next row of cubicles. There was a small table at the end of the room where loud, boisterous guys played cards or dominoes until 1:00 AM, which was an hour before the guys across the aisle stopped rapping. Adam quickly learned the word “privacy” doesn’t exist inside prison walls. Sleep, precious sleep, was the only antidote to his new surroundings, and Adam couldn’t get any. Subtract 150 Human Points.
15. Prison issue- stiff work shoes, 6 pairs of boxer shorts made of a thin, paper-like material Adam had never run into before, 6 pairs of socks, 3 T-shirts that Goodwill wouldn’t accept, worn khaki pants a size too big, and a khaki shirt a size too small. Adam looked forward to Thursday, his Unit’s Commissary day. His family had put money on his books, so he would be able to buy some normal person clothes.
The line for Commissary was outside, so Adam stood in line in a light rain for an hour and a half waiting to turn in his order form for tennis shoes, real underwear, a T-shirt, shorts, sweatpants, a sweatshirt, and a few snacks. When he was just 5 guys from the door, a CO stuck his head out the door and told those still in line that they would be closing early, and they’d have to come back next week. Adam noticed that he seemed to be the only one who was upset about it; the other inmates took it in stride, as though this was a normal part of prison life. On the slow walk back to his Unit, the sad reality hit him- he didn’t matter. Subtract 100 Human Points.
16. His cellie was a regular K-2 user.
“Adam, can you give us a minute?”
That was the signal. He didn’t need to be asked. He wanted to be as far away from that stuff as possible as users were sent to Seg for a time. The problem was that he had nowhere to go. There was a small TV room in the Unit, but other inmates had staked out claims to all the chairs under a time-honored of seniority. Adam would stand in an area next to the microwave, or sometimes to mix it up, he’d hang out at the ice machine until the smoke cleared in his cubicle. Standing there, with nothing to do and nowhere to be, Adam was confronted with a dangerous blend of challenges- boredom, helplessness, and hopelessness, all pulling together to crush the human spirit. Subtract 150 Human Points.
The word would soon be added to Adam’s lexicon of most hated words. It sounded too much like “Feeding time!” The inmates would all line up, three times a day, at the locked door waiting for a CO to come open it. Then they would march in single file to the “Chow Hall” to be fed. There were no dishes, only a hard plastic tray that reminded Adam of a dog dish. The utensils were all plastic so they couldn’t be used by inmates to kill each other. Adam remembered a time when he ate off a plate with a real knife and fork, but he was growing accustomed to his new dining experience. That’s how he ate now. Subtract 75 Human Points.
18. “Ten-minute move, ten-minute move!”
And Adam moved. He had 10 minutes to get from one place to another, and he responded automatically and quickly. His life was now controlled by an unknown person sending signals through a staticky loudspeaker. He was a dog jumping through a hoop at its owner’s command, or a moderately gifted monkey getting a treat for ringing a bell. He couldn’t plan a next move; he could only respond to the next command, day after day after day. Subtract 150 Human Points.
19. A long-timer told Adam early in the game that he couldn’t beat himself over the past. He couldn’t undo any of it, and he would have enough trouble dealing with the here and now. But with so much empty time on his hands, guilt and regret often camped out in his brain, eroding Adam’s few remaining traces of self-worth. Subtract 150 Human Points.
20. One evening, standing at the razor wire-topped fence in the rec yard, haplessly gazing at the real world so close yet so far away, Adam, almost without thought, commented to another inmate.
“This is my favorite time of the day, the setting sun, the wind dies down, it all seems so quiet and peaceful.”
“Mine too. It means another day is almost over.”
That’s all it took. Adam understood. None of it mattered. It was futile for his mind to resist. The only thing that meant anything was the calendar as the days ticked off until the time he would leave. The shackles, the complete lack of privacy, the inability to control anything, lining up to be fed, even the occasional strip search, all of it was now his life. Adam raised the white flag; there was no point in agonizing over any of it.
Acceptance. The prison was his address; he would live there for the next five years, and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. Adam would no longer concern himself with what was going on out there in the real world; the prison was his world.
Adam was mindful of the irony. The first human was also an Adam, made in the image of God. That’s what his parents had in mind when they named him. A moment of self-reflection by today’s Adam revealed little that suggested the image of God. It had all been sucked out of him. The rite of passage was complete. Adam was now “institutionalized”. Subtract any remaining Human Points.