Someone was tampering with my mail by delaying it, ripping it or just tossing it.
Whenever I complained, the same excuse reared its head: I was under investigation for a misunderstanding with a guard and my mail needed to be reviewed.
All incoming and outgoing mail is subject to search and scan in a prison. That is, except legal mail—privileged communications between an inmate and her attorney or the courts. Legal mail cannot be opened and read. At least not legally.
My attorneys and even one of the court clerks noted that the legal mail I sent to them appeared opened and re-sealed. This is a big no-no for the prison staff. Nothing contained within the envelopes was that secret, but the illegal review was delaying my mail and screwing up my cases.
Accusing the staff of this would be futile; I knew that. I had to catch them.
My mind scanned the ways I could force an officer to show his hand, that he read my legal mail. I could threaten to harm someone, and the prison would have to report it. But then I would face another charge. Didn’t need that.
Officers in any prison are required by law to have an inmate who expresses thoughts of self-harm evaluated by a mental health professional. Threatening a phony suicide was not an appealing idea because depression and suicidal feelings are significant problems in women’s prisons and not joking matters. But it looked like the only option that would not land me in deeper doo-doo.
I knew that when I eventually told the doctor that I wasn’t suicidal, my word might not be enough, especially in a crazy situation like this. I needed backup, so I called my attorney. She was celebrating her birthday at Applebee’s which was a stroke of luck since she would not have agreed to participate if she were sober. She agreed, and backup was in place. I dropped the envelope in the mailbox.
Two days later, a beefy guard appeared at my cell door and ordered me to come with him. As he escorted me, I noticed in his hand my “I’m going to kill myself!” message underlined by his pink highlighter.
Smiling, I asked, “Where are we going?”
“Mental health unit,” he told me. I was thrilled. The plan was working.
At the unit, he handed me and my farewell note to a social worker.
The social worker paged through my medical chart during the evaluation. Before she went any further, I revealed the plot, offering my attorney’s name and number. With a severely disgusted look on her face, she dialed the phone. She got the confirmation she needed quickly, but her expression didn’t change.
I apologized for using resources this way. Faking a suicide plan is mean, fear-inducing and manipulative. I was not proud of what I had done. “It’s just that they’re screwing with my legal mail,” I said. “At least now they know that I know what they’re doing.”
Still unsmiling, she said, “Don’t worry. It’s brilliant. You totally caught them.” Her scowl had never been directed at what I had done, but what they had. She even wrote down the plan and its success in my chart as proof of the misconduct if I needed it later. She knew that the correction officers would never admit what they were doing or that I dogged them.
That was three years ago. Then, for a while, my legal mail went out faster than a Kardashian runs to a red carpet. The guards and I have reached a certain peace. Not all prison guards are bad guys; a majority of them are actually the best public servants you can find. Even the one whose misunderstanding with me kicked off this series of shenanigans is an OK dude. I doubt they know I feel this way—they probably think I hate them, but I don’t. I just wish I could see the looks on their faces when they wonder how I got the envelope containing this essay past them.
Chandra Bozelko is an inmate at York Correctional Institution in Niantic. Readers can write to her at:
York Correctional Institution
201 West Main Street
Niantic, CT 06357
Previous prison diary entries:
• Inmate’s Court Journey: Dump-Dumped & Probed
• Love As Contraband
• The Sandusky-Komisarjevsky Connection: Today’s Victim Is Tomorrow’s Killer