From the May 2006 Idaho Observer:
Seven years abuse in an Idaho prison
On January 25, 1999, Rex Prewitt of Dover (near Sandpoint in Bonner County) was asleep on the couch when he was awakened at about 10:30 p.m. to the sound of his dogs barking. The Prewitt’s home was in the woods up a gravel road. Prewitt opened the door to see what the dogs were barking at. As the dogs rushed out the door, a flashlight was shined into his eyes. Then, before he knew what was happening, he was pepper sprayed and shot in the left hand and right shoulder. It turns out the assailants were Bonner county sheriff’s deputies Eric Skinner and Bill Tillson allegedly investigating a misdemeanor vandalism that occurred earlier that evening in Sandpoint. Rex claims he had no idea it was the police. Witnesses swore affidavits that Skinner and Tillson did not have their emergency flashers on, as they claimed under oath. The cops planted an unloaded pistol at the scene and testified that Prewitt opened the door and drew down on Skinner—claims that are not supported in hard evidence never brought before the kangaroo court. For being asleep on his couch and being shot by cops, Judge James Michaud sentenced Prewitt to 7-10 years in prison. The Prewitt tragedy has been the subject of many articles in The IO and, during his time in prison, we became very close to the Prewitt family. Prewitt, to his credit as a man, made the most if his situation as a fire crew chief and a cook who went out of his way to prepare good meals for his fellow prisoners. After serving seven years, Prewitt was paroled January 24, 2007. He is doing well, is putting his life and family back together and is patiently working the legal system to obtain relief for the medical neglect suffered while in the custody of the Bonner County Sheriff’s Department and, eventually, a new trial to reverse his 1999 conviction. Following is a brief statement by an innocent man held prisoner for seven years.
by Rex Prewitt
To all my family, friends who stood behind me and gave their support, you made my life better and you gave me hope.
It was late January 25, 1999, a cold winter night, I lay bleeding from gunshot wounds on my porch. Having been maced and shot by unknown persons my mind raced trying to comprehend all that was happening as I drifted into unconsciousness.
I was awaked by the voice of an EMT telling me I had been shot by the police. Again my mind raced trying to comprehend the surreal moment in time that I found myself in.
I was charged with assaulting an officer. To make a long story short, they never conducted a fair and unbiased investigation, they lost or destroyed evidence, my paid attorney became a turncoat, and they delayed medical treatment. I was sentenced to serve 7 to 10 years in prison for a crime that never happened, aggravated assault on an officer.
I endured 6 and ½ years of emotional and psychological abuse in prison. I was surrounded by young men who did not belong in prison but were there because of mandatory minimums for using drugs. The prison system was subtle in abuse, rather than beating prisoners, they subjected them to emotional and psychological abuse. Lights were on from 4:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. When you slept the guards shinned their flashlights in your face every hour , slammed doors and talked loud to disrupt our sleep. During seven years I was always tired, never having a proper night’s rest; it was not until I was released that I finally got to sleep at night.
The prison encouraged prisoners to use the phones to call home. The prison provided phones that charged outrageous amounts that often exceeded over $1 per minute for collect calls. Often families did not understand the pricing scheme and received phone bills that ranged from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars. Family and friends were also subjected to psychological abuse and hostility from prison guards when they visited inmates.
Inmates are always wrong in the guards’ eyes. "If your lips are moving, you are lying," is the quote of one guard.
With little to do in prison inmates become lazy and out of touch with reality. We are fed 3,200 calories a day, lots of potatoes, bread, rice and noodles. Most of the prisoners are overweight and that’s the way they want us.
The Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) is misnamed—its mission has nothing to do with correcting or rehabilitating criminal behavior. It’s mission is to punish the convicted.
It is a bureaucracy that perpetuates a fraudulent prison overcrowding crisis. Each year it releases propaganda in an attempt to get more funding to build additional prisons. The propaganda attempts to incite public fear, it is wrong and it is false.
For instance, in 2000, the IDOC opened a private prison in Boise. The next year the IDOC was telling the legislature it needed more money for additional bed space due to overcrowding, all the while, 50 percent of the prisoners in custody had served their minimum mandatory time but were not being paroled.
The next year the IDOC submitted to legislature that it would be housing inmates in the county jails due to overcrowding.
The next year they submitted a new plan to the legislature claiming they needed a new 1,200 bed facility to house mentally ill prisoners.
The following year the IDOC tried to frighten the legislature into giving it more money by claiming budgetary constraints may require a prison to be closed. That tactic was followed by the IDOC telling legislators its facilities were so overcrowded they were becoming unsafe and it was feared an inmate riot could erupt. Now they have finally shipped inmates to private prisons out of state and are once again asking for new prisons to be built.
This is a never ending circle. Governor Kempthorn has twice ordered "blue ribbon" commissions to look into prison overcrowding and see what could be done. Few of the commission’s recommendations have been followed. The solutions are simple:
• Repeal the ridiculous mandatory minimums legislated for drug offenses.
• Stop putting young men and women in prison for non-violent, low level drug offenses
• Stop building prisons and hiring guards.
• Start paroling qualified and deserving inmates in a timely manner.
• Start hiring more parole and probation officers and start developing community-based treatment and work programs.
It is absolutely unconscionable that the IDOC operates as a growth industry that subjects decent, often innocent men and women to the harmful effects of prison life.
Many men and women are affected by drug and alcohol abuse. Prisons are not the way to deal with these problems.
County prosecutors also need to be reprimanded and regulated for overcharging crimes, i.e., instead of charging a defendant with vandalism, the prosecutor tries to charge him with a burglary, simple possessions of drugs are often charged as distribution or manufacturing. The overcharging of offences is nothing more than trumping up false charges and it is wrong.
I often wonder how to tell the general public what prison life is like and how to relate all the daily injustice of the prison environment. It is abusive, it is abnormal, it is harmful, it is wrong. I can only speak from my experience. After surviving seven years abuse in Idaho I often wonder how long it will take until I can walk down a sidewalk and feel normal. How long it will take to be able to look into another persons eyes with trust and confidence. I wonder how long will it take to heal the hole in my heart. How long will it take to heal the part of my soul that was ripped apart. How long will it take until I am unafraid.
I also wonder how society expects men and women to reintegrate into society without assistance after being subjected to the abnormal environment and abuse that is found everyday in prison. How can society expect these people to walk down the sidewalk without fear?
Today background checks are ran on a routine basis for apartment rentals and jobs. It is increasingly difficult for anyone with a felony conviction to find decent housing or a job because of the discrimination that is being imposed by the stigma of a felony conviction and the nearly impossible conditions of parole/probation release.
I hope that society will begin to open its collective eyes. More and more people are being affected by the abuse of the criminal justice system and it will continue as long as society allows it. Please contact your state legislators and ask them to repeal mandatory minimums for drug offenses, ask them to stop building prisons and to reduce the prison population.
Again, to all my family, friends and others who stood behind me and gave their support, you made my life better and you gave me hope…..thank you.
Note: During the 2006 Idaho legislative session, the powerful police/prosecutor/corrections lobby convinced legislators to enhance penalties for a large menu of statutory (generally consensual, victimless or nonviolent) crimes. (DWH)
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