In the final hours of January 26, 2020, the lights were dim in a triangular unit at State Correctional Center. The mood was relatively normal despite the abnormalities of confinement. From smacking cards on cold steel to making 20-minute collect calls, incarcerated men were passing time the best way they knew how.
As a pair of gang members walked past striking me with mean grits, my back was pressed against the wall with my arms crossed. Like most nights during unit (pod) recreation, I was chilling, listening to music, and minding my own business.
“Whoop! Whoop!” an inmate yelled when a corrections officer named Stevens entered the pod. The police sirens was to alert anyone who was breaking the rules. “2-time! … 3-time!” Two more officers came in behind C/O Stevens. It takes one officer to conduct a security check. If there’s two or more officers–wearing plastic gloves–they’re fixing to shakedown.
The officers’ footsteps became everyone’s focal point. Well not everyone. After I heard the alert and saw the officers, I, unlike the majority, continued strolling down my music playlist. “They’re about to shakedown,” I thought before I resumed bobbing my head.
C/O Stevens and his crew marched directly to my cell, which was on the opposite side of the pod from where I stood. I was clean so I didn’t care. I expected C/O Stevens to shout my name, but he didn’t. According to operating procedure, both inmates must be present during a cell search; however, not all officers follow DOC’s protocol.
The instant my cell partner, Twin, stepped out of the cell, an officer patted him down. Stevens and the other officer proceeded the cell search. The officer who had frisked Twin stood by Twin while his coworkers lazily did their job.
Once the shakedown was completed, Stevens came out my cell carrying a small trashcan full of juice, rotten fruit, and candy. It was not my mess. Twin did not have outside support so brewing homemade wine was one of his hustles. The officers left the pod without looking for me, so I thought maybe Twin had taken ownership of his wine.
When we locked down, I asked Twin what happened. He told me they took his wine but didn’t say anything. “They just took it and left out,” were his exact words. His story seemed a little awkward, but not unbelievable. After all, some of the officers would rather pour out the wine than do the paperwork.
The following morning on standby for breakfast, my cell number and last name came on the intercom. “301, Torres-Robinson report to the booth.” I put down my sugarless coffee and walked to the control booth.
“What’s up?” I asked. “You have to go down to A/B breezeway,” the booth officer instructed. Without further inquiry, I adjusted my state blues and headed to A and B building.
When I got to the breezeway, I was met by an officer, Sgt. Rogers, and a inmate advisor named TJ. I was confused. “At approximately 10:57pm I C/O Stevens and C/O Johnson entered offender Torres-Robinson cell for a random cell search, upon conducting my search I found homemade wine in the small cell trash can, ” Sgt. Rogers read me my infraction for possession of contraband.
I had been charged for the wine that C/O Stevens confiscated.
“I wasn’t even there,” I said with my eyebrows raised. Sgt. Rogers paused and looked at me in disbelief. You know the look someone gives you when they don’t believe you.
The inmate advisor, TJ, just looked at me with a shy smile. All kinds of thoughts began racing through my shocked brain. How is this happening to me? What did Twin tell the officers? Did the officers ask Twin and he denied it? Or worse. Did Twin tell the officers the wine belonged to me? My thoughts were bouncing all over the place. I was an innocent man about to be prosecuted for something I didn’t do. What a horrible feeling!
When I returned to my pod, I shared my frustration with my fellow inmates. My cell partner was just as shocked as me. “That’s crazy how Stevens lied like that. If you need me to I’ll go tell the watch commander it was mine,” Twin offered eliminating him from my initial thoughts. “Nah man, you won’t have to do that because I’m going to beat this. The cameras will show that I was standing in the pod when they searched the cell. I’m good,” I said with confidence. For insurance, I asked Twin to fill out a Witness Statement form. I also submitted a Witness Request form and a Reporting Officer Response form.
A few days before my hearing, I caught up with the inmate advisor TJ to have a prep talk. Judging by the look on his face, I knew he had some bad news.
“Stevens answered the Reporting Officer Response but you aren’t going to like it,” TJ said. C/O Stevens did not tell the truth. On the R.O.R form, I asked Stevens three simple questions: 1. When you found the trashcan, was I present? He said yes; 2. Where did you find the trashcan? He lied; Did you ask me or my cell partner who did the wine belong to? He said yes.
Had C/O Stevens told the truth, I wouldn’t have had a hearing. Instead I was going to Kangaroo court.
But that was okay because once the hearing officer reviews the camera, it’ll prove my innocence. “Forget that Response form. All we have to do is tell her to check the camera, and she’ll see I wasn’t there,” I said. “Because it’s a 200 series (minor offense), she’s not authorized to pull up the video footage,” TJ explained.
I was stunned. I was going to be found guilty for something I didn’t do I thought silently.
As I laid on my rusty, still bunk that night, I prayed and prayed. Stressful as the situation was, it wasn’t anything I could do. It was beyond my control. So I let it go and I gave it all to God.
February 14, 2020
On the day of the hearing, I felt free of all worries. The matter on hand was no longer a stress factor. “Everything is in God’s hands now, not mine,” I thought.
When I walked into the small hearings room, I sat aside my inmate advisor, TJ. In front of us was a large, wooden and metal desk that separated us from the hearings officer, Ms. Weeber–a heavyset Black woman with shoulder length dreads–who was sternly looking at her computer screen and loudly tapping on her keyboard. The Reporting Officer, C/O Stevens did not have to be present because it was a minor infraction.
Once Ms. Weeber turned on the tape recorder, she firmly asked me multiple questions. Clear and respectfully, I answered all of her questions. TJ–who was reluctant to challenge his supervisor–added his mediocre defense.
When Ms. Weeber finally allowed me to tell my version, I told her nothing but the truth. The wine was not mine. Period! When I finished, Ms. Weeber reverted to her laptop. After a few, long quiet minutes, the jailhouse judge rendered her decision. “Not Guilty!” she said on the technicality C/O Stevens did not state who claimed ownership in the charged description.
Overwhelmed by joy, the only words rolled off my lips were “God Knows The Truth!”