Sunday, October 20, 2019

Visiting an Indian

A trip to Moshannon Valley Correctional Center 
New York, July 2018 
author: Ed Kritsky 

William Haskell “The Prairie’s Edge”
I visited Roman at his ‘new place’ in July 2018. He now lives at Moshannon Valley Correctional Center (MVCC), which is closer to New York than all the other places he had been to. I haven’t seen him for a number of years, and since 2015 he hadn’t had a single visitor. My trip from New York took about 5 hours, driving West on I-80.

His facility is located at a small town of Philipsburg, PA. His postal address 555 Geo Drive, Philipsburg doesn’t match a real one, which is 239 Graham Station Rd. This street is marked with a large white and blue sign ‘Moshannon Valley Correctional Center’.

As one drives up the hill, one sees a large area with manicured lawns and high fences, topped with razor wire. Beyond the fences – large cream-colored building that look like warehouses. All this is surrounded by tall forest trees, from all sides.

This is a private prison, maintained by GEO corporation, which owns 71 such facility around the United States. Supposedly, contracts with private prisons cost US Government less money, but who knows. There’s more talk lately about abolishing the scheme as it may be not as economical as they thought.

Listed below are some images taken by Google satellites.

Prison entry, marked with red, starts from Route 322

Another view, showing a large parking lot and MVCC buildings
Yet another, close-up image. Large bright square on the right – vehicle control area, where they check cars and trucks entering and leaving the place.

They got fine baseball and soccer fields there, keeping inmates in better shape and probably keeping their minds away from doing mischief. This is where Roman runs his marathons.

MVCC is for people who have less than 5 years of their sentence left. The inmates are foreigners, who will be deported to their respective countries, when their time runs out.

And one more photo showing the fenced passage for visitors through 3 gates. They meet the inmates in the building on the left.

This is the entry way for all visitors, where one is issued a pass. One leaves all his belongings in the lockers (must pay 25 cents) before entering.

One cannot just come to visit. You must be approved in the process that can take up to a couple of months. Roman can only have 2 people on his visitor list. If a third person wants approval, one of the people approved earlier must be deleted off the list. On visiting days inmates can spend several hours here with the family and friends.

Sculpture: John Coleman “1876, Gall – Sitting Bull – Crazy Horse”
Most people who work here are courteous and smiling, which isn’t the case everywhere (and that’s speaking from experience). Most employees at this facility are locals. Prison pays better salaries than what they were making before they built it, 10 years ago. Here 200 guards take care of approximately 1700 inmates.

Before they let you in, your left hand is stamped with special ink that glows in the ultraviolet light. This guarantees that inmate wouldn’t escape by swapping clothes with a visitor.

When I enter, I immediately see Roman. He wears a head band with curious symbols. What’s the deal, I ask. Turns out, he’s now a member of the Lakota Indian tribe. He didn’t elaborate how he became one. Where he comes from American Indian blood isn’t easily found. But this is all real and official; else he wouldn’t be permitted to wear a Lakota headband.

Painting: Logan Maxwell Hagege “The Rising Clouds”
There’s about 50 people in the visiting room. We sit on plastic chairs facing each other, with small plastic tables between us. Most other families put munches and drinks purchased from the vending machines onto these tables. Visitors share coffee, water, sandwiches and chips and warmed chicken wings with their inmate relatives. Geo Corporation must be making some good money here.

Smoking is not permitted. The room is monitored with cameras by 3 guards. The meeting area is surrounded by a red strip painted on the floor. Once they enter the room, inmates should not cross over it. They also use separate bathrooms while there are being observed by the guards at all times. Most inmates are young and middle age men, there no women inmates that I saw. Everyone wares khaki short-sleeve shirts and pants, it is the uniform here. Few people speak Russian in the room. Kids play Connect Four games.

One can take a picture with an inmate. It is done by an authorized inmate with a camera. Only paper photographs are available, and they will be given to your inmate few days later, to be mailed outside.

Photo: Inmate walking area
There are people from over the world staying here. Except the guards there are no American citizens. Every one will be deported upon their sentence completion. Inmates can phone outside to approved phone numbers, they are allotted a certain number of minutes every month. According to Roman, everyone is doing something, working in facility workshops, making money for the Geo Corporation. One of the occupations here is to raise and train guide dogs for people with visual disabilities.

Roman and I spoke about a lot of things, as we haven’t seen each other for such a long time. One of the questions I asked him was about how he viewed his own life, does he think the years of incarcerations were lost, wasted. His reply – nothing was wasted. Life has dealt him this particular card and it is what it is. He has changed, wastes no time, reads a lot, learns languages and trades and despite being inside, knows about the world around us a lot more that the average guy. With the help of his friends, he maintains several websites, where he writes about places he has been to, life and death philosophy, people and times long passed.

I want him to find his peace and place is life, when he is released. The rest will fall into place.

Ed & Roman, July 2018

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