The story I am about to tell you hasn’t been enhanced for drama. It hasn’t been fabricated. I couldn’t make this up. The story I have wanted to tell others for so long now is real. Its my story. Its also the story of so many other men like me. Who were incarcerated in Pennsylvania’s worst experiment since the creation of the registry. Not surprising. Its a story your only going to hear about here. Unless you know someone who went through it or you lived it.
It all started on an October morning in 2016. I had been on parole for a while and was doing my groups and keeping to my conditions. I kept curfew, I paid my supervision fees, and I went to my treatment program. But I had so much trouble finding a new place to live. The homeowner where I lived was selling the home and it would be hard for me to move with them. Searching and searching kept bringing me to one dead end after another. To make it worse, my parole agent kept denying places I did find for petty reasons. I appealed each one but each appeal felt more like a joke.
On the morning of the day I was taken I got a call that I needed to come to my parole officers office (an hour drive). I arrived there and sat for over an hour while he “researched something”. After the long wait I was escorted to a car and was told once inside that I had a place I could go and he was taking me there. I asked where but as you can imagine I wasn’t told much. We drove so far. It must have been for 2 hours. Finally we arrived at a restaurant. I figured from the look of the area we had to be close to a halfway house. I was taken to another car and the man who was behind the wheel told me to get in. I was compliant because why fight your PO? I got in and was told nothing as he pulled out onto the highway. He talked a little to me but wouldn’t tell me who he was or where we were going. I was scared. My PO had given my phone to my family. I couldn’t bail out this guy drove 70 and besides that would be absconding for sure.
After another 3 hours on the road we came to SCI Greene. A Level 5 max circuity facility. I protested where we were but was told to shut up. We approached the facility and I felt for sure that was where I was headed. Prison wasnt good for me. I simply couldnt go back. But once we rounded the hill we pulled up to a heavily fortified smaller building partially under the ground at the base of the hill. I was totally confused. This was Progress CCC. Thats what the sign told me. But it looked more secure then most State prisons. We got buzzed in and I was routinely intaked. I got searched, harassed, my stuff taken, and placed into a blue inmate uniform. They told me they had to check my clothing and do an inventory. I was issued a prison cardboard box of state soap, shampoo, and toothpaste. I then got escorted to a large room with cell dormitories on each side of it. Inside I was taken to my bunk and got a locker. This was prison nothing much different then what I was used to. I asked for a phone call but I got laughed at.
The residents were nice. They told me their stories as they listened to my own. Each had mostly all come from State prisons. They were either SVP or Tier 3 registered offenders. Some lower levels but mostly all high. A few were like me they had become “homeless” and were brought here. One man told me he had been there a few years. The others were of various lengths of time. All crushed my hopes as they told me of the lack of help and the lack of resources. There were no materials to find a place to live. There were phones but you needed phone cards from the outside (expensive and rare). I called my family each day. I missed my freedom so much. Most days I sat open mouthed and watched hours of tv either that or read some of the maybe 300 books available. There wasnt much else to do. The rules were enforced hard core by the officers and conditions were horrible. The ceilings leaked badly when it rained. Sometimes the showers brought things up in their drains onto your feet. At night you were cramed so deep into a dorm you couldnt get out of bed without waking more then one person up. It was boring, not productive and stressful.
The food was served by SCI Greene inmates. They would say things (horrible things) to us as they gave us prison food. Low quality prison food. We were served lower quality food then the prisons. The inmates would then eat special food they made in front ot us. It didn’t matter we had 15 min to eat and go back to our existence in the day room or the dorm.
About a month into this I had about enough. I had yet to hear form any parole agent. The agent on site was a woman who came in and put a sign on her door to not disturb her. She showed up once a month. The counselors would tell you not to bitch and to keep writing letters home for help from family to find a place parole could approve. That is, if your counselor showed up at all. One counselor was sent home because he was high on Heroin.
I started to steal what little legal books they had and put them in my personal areas. I had no legal background and every lawyer I called wanted money or didn’t want to touch parole or the DOC.
I stated forming a case for Habeas Corpus and I figured I was ready to file. But I was about to get a huge wake up call about how justice works in rural PA.
I filed my first court action in Green county court. After a month I heard nothing back. So I filed a motion to act on my petition. Still I heard nothing. I called the probationary who would say she filed my work and that she cant give legal advice. I kept filing motions month by month with no responses.
I had no clue what else to do. Soon I got others to file. It started with maybe 5 and grew to 10 by 3 months later. We were really trying hard. But no responses were made only a few had Petition to Proceed In Forma Pauperis approved and returned. But the judge made no other actions.
So as the “movement” grew I filed in Lycoming county (the location I was put into the car), I also filed in my home county and in commonwealth court. The commonwealth court took a long time to answer. Lycoming county did answer but the judge was confused how I wasn’t given a Gagnon hearing to be put in custody. I explained it all by video to her and she said if she had the jurisdiction she would pull me out of there but she couldn’t.
By the fall that year we had 42 petitioners all filing nearly monthly motions for the judge to act. We assembled a list of things wrong with the facility and we had been in heavy talks with the prison society. I had written close to 400 letters about our situation and was getting a lot of good advice and chin lifting from a friend I was gaining at the Prison Society. He was the only official person to listen to me and it felt so good to have someone there for me. I am forever grateful to him.
Finally things started to happen. We had the facility worried bad that they were going to loose a lot in all of this and they took away any ability of us to make photocopies. So we started staying up all night to make the needed copies to keep our petitions going in the court. We were gaining momentum. But parole who had not been amused by any of this had a message for us.
It arrived one morning with no warning. A facility sweep. We waited nearly 8 hours in two rooms while an army of agents tore our dormitories to pieces. When it was all done the mess was unreal. Clothing torn, possessions ruined. It was a mess I have never seen before and I was in SCI Fayette when an inmate attacked a counselor. Worst part about it all was that a lot of our legal research was gone or destroyed. Legal books were missing or torn apart and writing materials were gone. They had sent us a message that they were not happy with what we did.
We spent the next few months being far more secretive about our actions. Many of the petitioners suddenly found themselves moved to open facilities. The petitions they submitted were dismissed soon after because they were no longer incarcerated. The judge was quick to act on those.
After a while there were 4 of us left who had court actions. The facility had a plan in place to addresses some of our concerns. They installed laptops that could get very slow internet and gave us half an hour once a week to use them for home plans. But where do you go online for anything like that?
After a while I filed with the board of judicial review and I filed about 9 private criminal complaints directed at parole officers, the facility director, a counselor, and the county judge for thing like negligence and judicial misconduct.
I got a letter within a few days from the judge that directed us to a hearing. 2 of the petitioners who were Tier 2 were suddenly released to another center. Eliminating their petitions. It left just two of us who were SVP and still there. We were handcuffed, bound in chains, and taken to the court house. When we go there the judge allowed me to speak for both of us and we did our best to explain our situation. Paroles only argument was that we were not in jail we were in a CCC and we were on parole not violated.
The judge asked to tour the facility and did so about week before the hearing so he was aware of the maximum security nature of it. He asked me if I had any remaining arguments then concluded the hearing with a message to the facility to work with us on what we wanted changed. He did not rule on our incarceration status and made it clear he didnt think he had the jurisdiction to release us.
In my remaining months there I saw a few things change. Not much but a lot of it required the state to plan things and enact new policy. So it was very slow. I had hearing in my county court where I was kept in the county jail for 8 days as an inmate. I threatened to sue the warden and he sent me back to Progress CCC. He would not rule on my petition saying he had no jurisdiction that it was Greene county who was the only judge to be able to rule.
My final day there before I maxed out my sentence saw the facility mostly the same. I was put on a buss, and I went home. I now live in my own home since I’m off of parole and I think about all that I left behind. From what I hear now they can have cell phones in there, they have the laptops, they cant be there for more then a certain amount of time and any SVP has to be 6 months to their max date before they can come there.
This experience has left me angry at the system and left down. An entire system was built that cant figure out what to do with us from the registry. I lost 2 years to that place just for being homeless. We have no compensation available, no recourse. I lost the chance to work or to be with my friends and family.
I wanted to share so much more. Words are hard to put together and I already wonder if this is to long for this format.
I want to share more with someone who can use this story to do help others.
Not sure how to leave information for someone to contact me.
Thank you for reading I hope it sounds the way I wanted it to.