James Madison University
Shenandoah Valley Oral History Project, SdArch 29
Oral History Interview With: Greyson Daniels [SdArch 29-1]
Interviewer: Shannon Gavin
Place: Gemeinschaft Home in Harrisonburg, Virginia
Date: March 15, 2006
Audio File Size: 12.8 MB
NARRATOR: Greyson Daniels
INTERVIEWER: Shannon Gavin
PLACE:? Gemeinschaft Home in Harrisonburg, Virginia
Spouse: Not married
Occupation: Currently unemployed
The gentleman interview here has served time at Indian Creek correctional facilities for uttering. He grew up in eastern Virginia, near the Virginia Beach area, with his mother and three siblings. He grew up never meeting his father, and since then both have passed away. Greyson completed high school and attempted a few semesters at a local community college. He worked many jobs in the Virginia Beach area, with his favorite being a healthcare employee for a geriatric ward. He was charged with uttering in 2000 and his sentence was added on to after a violation. This was a first time offense with no prior record of any major charges.
??????????? This interview was aimed at giving the perspective of a housemate who had chosen to be placed in this facility, and to give his views on the topic. He had many opinions on the topic of court ordered verses choice enrollment at Gemeinschaft Home, as well as many other topics involving the criminal justice process in Virginia. The interviewee was very helpful and knowledgeable to my research and recording of this time of history, which led me to my second interview.
Shannon (narrator): First, I need your name.
Greyson (interviewee): Greyson Daniels.
S: And your place of birth?
G: Fort Eustis, you know, Virginia.
S: Where did you live before you came to the Gemeinschaft
G: Um, Newport News in downtown 29th and Chestnut.
S: Okay, I was actually just there a few weeks ago.
G: Oh really?
S: And anything about like your family? Do you have brothers? Sisters? Parents, things like that?
G: Anything about them?
S: No, just like do have other brothers or sisters?
G: I got two brothers and one sister. Mother and father deceased.
S: Are you like the older? Younger? Middle?
G: Oh, second to the oldest
S: Okay. And what education have you completed?
G: Highschool. A couple semesters of community college.
S: Okay, and was that in Newport News Area?
G: Yeah. Up in Hampton or Mercury, Commonwealth College or something.
S: Did you have any jobs in that area.
G: Uh, I had several. (laughs) I’ve been through everything from cookin‘, cleanin‘, in the health
S: What was probably your favorite job? Do you remember?
G: I imagine I guess, health care field. We were working with, in the geriatric department, workin‘ with Alzheimer’s people, Parkinson’s disease, and mentally illness.
S: It’s hard but it’s rewarding
G: It is very rewarding, you know.
S: I had a grandfather in one, well he was in one of those facilities but – . Staff there was great. What was probably your least favorite job?
G: Roofing. Cause I’m afraid of heights.
G: I had to go up there do it, you know. I got the experience and just didn’t like it. Yeah the money is good, I just didn’t like.
S: That’s because no one likes being up that high.(laughs) And the chemicals.
G: Yeah, it wasn’t bad, it’s just when you look down, you can get dizzy. So I had to let that go real fast.
S: Yeah, you just stared at the roof. (laughs)
G: That was the worst job ever.
S: How long did you work there?
G: About a week. (laughs) I quit real fast.
S: You’re like, I’m not doing this. Okay and what crime were you charged with before you came to Gemeinschaft?
S: When was that sentenced?
G: That was in, this is ’06, around 2000 I believe. But I came back with a violation.
S: Oh, okay. How much was your sentence that you were suppose to serve?
G: My original sentence was a year.
S: Um-hm, how long did you stay?
G: For my violation it was four years.
S: Wow. What was the violation?
G: [?]. So I’m just glad that they changed the law. Not to the point that I want to violate it again, but- Now they work on point systems. They aren’t really giving anybody the law or a period of time, because the system overcrowded with people, violations, driving offense, a lot of non-violent crimes. It’s just overcrowded the system. So they cracking down on that, and they not sending a lot of people, you just pay a fine. Something like that. It’s all about money now.
S: Okay, and how did you come to be placed in Gemeinschaft? Like choice? Or court ordered?
G: No, I requested to come here. My last month, like the institution, I mean I kept hearing about it here and somebody kept coming up there tell us. I said “I want to come here to see it was about. What they had to offer”. It’s a pretty good program.
S: Yeah. You’re glad you came then?
G: Yeah, I mean if you’re trying to change you know, some more education, learning new experiences up here in the mountains and stuff.
S: It’s beautiful. (Greyson laughs) It’s completely different from Newport News here though.
S: All the cows.
G: And hills, and mountains, and stuff. I’m like, man. It’s nice to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live up here-
S: All the time yeah. I go to school here and I’m like, okay I need to get out. (Laughter). Okay, how long have you been in the program?
G:Um, since September of two-oh-five.
S: Okay, and when are you expected to release? Soon you said earlier.
G: Tuesday. Next Tuesday. I can’t even sleep thinking about leaving here. For real.
S: Are you going to go back to Newport News?
G: I’m going straight back to Newport News. I am just addicted to the city. You know, I just like seeing a vast amount of people doing things. City got so much to offer. Up here it’s more like, to me, a retirement community. You know you’re going to lay back and have some children.? I’m just used to seeing cities.
S: The hustle and bustle.
G: Yeah, and buildings and stuff. And, the ocean! You know tide water. I likes to go on the Virginia Beach and seeing the ocean. Because there is no water here. So, I like that.
S: How would you say your overall experience was in jail?
G: My overall experience, um, I guess it was fair. I mean you know, nothing bad happened to me.
S: I was like, you can say whatever you want.
G: Yeah, nothing bad happened to me (Greyson laughs). You know I guess because I’m big and you know I can-
S: Hold your own.
G: Hold my own. You know, deal with individuals. The only worse ordeals in there are, you got to get use to taking a shower with ten, twelve other guys, using the bathroom sitting right beside them. You know that’s terrible. Yeah you know, you doing your thing and they doing their thing. (laughs).
S: Hard to get use to that!
G: No air fresheners. Yeah, that’s about the worst ordeal. It’s not getting up in the mornings or walking the line to the chow hall, that’s nothing. It’s just lack of privacy is gone. You just, a number for real. You know, they don’t care about- That’s the way it is.
S: Let’s see, what do you think the conditions were at the jail that you were at? Like were they clean and fair? You said fair-
G: It was fair, yeah. You know we had to do most of the cleaning anyways, so. Some of the guys didn’t like it but, you had to clean.
S: You had to do it if you wanted to live there.
G: Yeah, I mean you don’t want to catch no germs or anything, so you got to clean up.
S: Do you think that like Americans have any misconceptions about what the jail system’s like? Since you’ve been there, you know what I mean, like I haven’t been to jail-
G: Misconceptions? Yeah, I spoken to a few people who’s never experienced that and they think it’s just like on TV. You go there, you got a bunch of gangs, people raping one another, extortion, and doing drugs. You know, only some of that is true. Some institutions do have a lot of drugs. The raping, I don’t know anything about that because I’d never been in level four penitentiary. That’s, I heard goes on in there.
S: Can you tell me what the levels are, like I don’t even about levels.
G: Yeah. Like where I was at is like a camp two. It’s fairly low, decent. You know because minimum security, you know. But then you got like level fours, like Walter Ridge, Red Onion, Sussex One and Two, where they lock down twenty-three hours a day. One hour for rec. Some of them bring you a portable shower and you step right out your cell into the shower. Take your showers, step right back in. So those are where your murders, rapist, those type of guys are. So I don’t know-
S: You’re like, I don’t know too much about that.
G: Yeah, I can’t imagine what they go on in there though. But I’ve heard stories, some guys do get raped and the horror stories that go on, and people get killed, stabbed, cut. Fortunately, I never witnessed any of that.
G: Very blessed that I ain’t never seen it.
S: Okay, do have any like stories about the workers or the administration at the jail? (Greyson laughs). Wardens or-
G: Administration it is just crooked as the people that they housing, for real.
S: That’s safe!
G: They tell us, you know, tobacco products at particular, Indian Creek, and drugs you know, we not suppose to have that. But we don’t have the access to go out and get these things. So you got guards bringing it in and you have some administration, they turn their heads, and favoring guards and stuff. And then they flood the camp with this stuff, then they bring the dogs in there and try to make an example out of people. That’s all crooked and stuff.
S: That’s all backwards.
G: Yeah, and they just as dirty as they want to be.
S: Is there any particular worker you just did not get along with, you butted heads?
G: No, because I just mainly try to keep to myself when it comes to jail. I distance myself from them – some of them try to befriend you, I guess so they can find out information. False stuff, but I never let one get close to me, to know anything about me. So I just kept a small group.
S: Do you still talk to any of them? Like are any of them now your close group of friends?
G: No, I have a phone number for one. He was pretty decent, but I have yet to call him though. You know I still got that CO police thinking that, I don’t know. I still don’t trust him.
S: You’re like, I don’t know about you.
G: Yeah, he is still wearing his uniform, so I don’t trust him.
S: Okay, let’s see. What did you do like during the day while you were serving time? Like what activities or- got you through the day?
G: The first camp I was at was a road camp. During the day we worked out on the road, cut trees, pick up trash. We went into the community did a lot of work for them. You know, that was okay, I enjoyed that, cause it gives you time to go out, you know, exercise. At Indian Creek, it was just more of a therapeutic camp. All you do is group all day.
S: Talk, talk.
G: It was so boring. They wasn’t teaching anything and then the first people that was running it, they lost their contract and they brought in a new one called CiviGenics, and they was just as worse. They just wanted you to group all day and read books and not teaching you anything. Just, they don’t even come in there, they say we going there with this group of people. This one person stand up and volunteered and tried to teach the class, he teaching the class and he don’t even know what’s going on. So that was a waste of time for real. Waste of money.
S:Yeah, so you don’t think that program helped?
G: No, they didn’t help anybody. I know I didn’t learn anything. You know.
S: What freedoms did you have while you were there, like were you allowed to have hobbies or free time?
G: Yeah, we had free time in the morning like rec, basketball, football, weights, you know. Every month, every other month a different dorm got an opportunity to put on a talent show so the whole camp go over there and watch this talent show.
S: Thinking back now, it’s not as much fun as when you were there. But at least it’s something to do.
G: Some of them was good, some of the guys really had talent. But then the rest of the time was a waste of time.
S: You just wanted to get up there.
G:Yeah, it was just to go out, you know, do something different because they cancel all groups for that day. So that was alright, but other then that it was a third pity camp (??) see, you know. They don’t teach anything. Supposed to be teaching I guess right living or whatever.
S: Just a bunch of talk though?
G: Just talk. Don’t teach anything. Half the staff there that they hire turn over so fast. We had counselors come for a month, two months, quit and leave. They didn’t even like the program.
S: I was going to say, that does not give a lot of backing to the program. You wouldn’t have a lot of faith in it.
G: Right, when your own counselors come there for two months and leave, so what does that tell you? That your program is not working, you need to adjust it, change it. So you know.
S: Let’s see where they go from there. Do you have like a most memorable experience while you were there?
G: Most memorable?
G: (Greyson laughs) Um, let me see. I can’t think of any really pleasant ones.
S: It can be negative.
G: Now well, I would guess, the worst experience or memories I keep having, you like when you going in the shower, you know you don’t know what the next person is doing in the shower.
S: Yeah you’re not watching.
G: There’s a big wall. And you go around there shower, and you’re ready to take your shower and see a guy standing in there, and he’s trying to look at C.O. female and he’s in there masturbating.
S: Oh my gosh. And you’re walking in on that.
G: You run into that so much. Sometime you just like turn your head, try take a shower, sometime you get so tired of seeing it you just leave out the shower you know. But that’s the stuff you can’t get out your mind.
S: No, that’ll stick with you for a while. (Laughter)
G: Constantly.? It was all time. They got so bold that they wouldn’t go in the bathroom to do it, they’ll like stand by the bed area, by the-
S: They don’t even care if anyone’s around.
G: Nope, they just put it out and go to work. (Laughter)
S: People! (Laughter) That’s horrible, yup.
G: Yeah, so that’s a memory that’s like stuck in here, you try to get rid of but you can’t, because those experiences that you been through, so.
S: I know you’re like leaving next week, and stuff like that, but at any point if you didn’t finish this program would you be sent back to jail, or no? Because I know that happens sometimes.
G: Well, if I was pre-release still, yeah, I’d probably end up going back to prison where I came from. But when you turn post-release and you start seeing a probation officer and you get kicked out of the program, it depends on what reason you get kicked out the program. When you leave here-
??? (Open door, woman speaking interruption)
G: You got to go back. They call the Rockingham County Police Department. The sheriff probably pick you up, you just stay there for a couple days, then they send you back to your district to see the judge and your own P.O. and find out why you was kicked out and then that you basically didn’t commit no crimes or anything, they give you two weeks in jail and send you home. That just goes to show you that you didn’t learn anything or didn’t try to learn anything. So we had a lot of people go to jail from here. And it was because of small little things like owning a cell phone, you’re not allowed to own a cell phone. You get caught up in some drama with a female.
S: You’ll get sent back to jail for females in a relationship?
G: Yes, we have so many females send guys back to prison. You get caught in-
S: Girls are problems. (Laughter)
G: Yeah! Big problems here because you got some of them that actually prey on this house, because they know the guys just coming out of prison. They start working, they saving their money, women just be looking to “yeah, I want that one”. They out get them together, take them to the motel, give them a little bit. Then the guy hooked because he been locked up for three, four, five years.
S: (laughs) He’s like Woah, that’s great!
G: So his mind’s in the air. Then he make her all type of promises he don’t fulfill them, she’ll come up here, raise hell, bring hotel receipts, say he did this, did that. Next day you going back to prison.
S: Wow, I guess it’s good to keep to yourself then like you said, don’t trust people.
G: Man just say celibate for the next six months. Stay away, and you leave this program.
S: Yeah then you can go make your own mistakes.
G: Exactly. As long as you live in this roof, this house, this smallest, dumb rule will send you back to prison. But I guess they got rules for a reason though. I think we got a majority of the guys do make it though.
S: Good. So I want to get to the program here at Gemeinschaft. What is the basic outline of the program. How long are people usually here for and what rules do guys have?
G: The program is designed for six month stay. The first thirty days when you come here, you not really allowed to work, go out and look for a job. You just focusing on you groups, and yourself, you getting yourself together back into society. Then after that you allowed to go out and get a job, save money, they put you on a budget plan, they give you- they start from like $22 a week, then you work your way up to $45 a week. That’s the highest you get. And then you got some people who’s able to go home on furloughs, they call them transition visits. You got 52-hours or either 72-hours, when you get to phase three in the program you got 72-hours furlough, you know like your family house or the house that you going to live at. So I mean that’s cool, and you come back. We got a couple guys who mess up on that, came back late or whatever. Gone, shackles, you gone. Because you knew the rules.
S: Wow, it’s not forgiving.
G: You knew the rules, and then you know the consequences. And they are strict, and people break um that means you not ready. So they send you back. And then you know after you stay the six months here, somewhere down your fourth month you can request to stay here in the aftercare program. That’s a year, another year up here if you have a pretty good paying job, they got a couple houses that they’ll rent you a room.
S: Oh, so you don’t have to live in here for a full year.
G: Right. It’s more freedom there in the aftercare. You get to do whatever you want to do, except for you got to report back here twice a week for your groups, twice a week for your breathalyser, once a week for your urine analysis test. Which, that’s okay if you want to stay up here, I mean-
S: How often do people usually choose to do that extra year?
G: Quite regularly really. They so full now that they had to turn guys down, cause they don’t have the bed space. They got guys that went to the aftercare program, I guess they already had reservations in their head what they wanted to do. We had a couple go out and get drunk, go out and get high, I mean after they only been in the aftercare program for a week. They got sent back to prison. I tell them, “Ya’lls was gonna do that why did you stay”–
S: Yeah, why did you do that, or else you could have not just done the program, then gone and done all that.
G: Goin straight to your home and seen your P.O. and worked it out. He’d probably put you in another program. Now he had to go back to the jail system for a couple weeks, all that drama.
S: It’s a cycle.
G: Definitely. Lots of nonsense.
S: I noticed when I first walked in you guys have like three different plaques of the rules.
G: Yes. When the newcomers first come in, Ms. Amison, our executive director, she takes up there, lines em‘ up. They got to read the rules and she says her piece, extends her hand and says she’ll help you out in any way she can. But her rules are there for a reason. If you break them you got to deal with the consequences.
S: What are the consequences usually, does it depend on the –
G: It depends on which rule it is. You got house rules, major rules, and cardinal rules. House rules, pretty much easy, they’ll probably come to me cause I’m the house consultant. And if you get a write up, I give you a sanction or something to do, you’ll probably do some seminar, some community service, some extra duties on the E.O.D. desk, or some extra house cleaning. The major rules, more the staff would probably give you a sanction on that because they gonna be a little stiffer. Cardinal rules, you ain’t gotta worry about cause you leavin‘ up outta here.
S: Once you do that, don’t worry about the consequences.
G: Yeah. Cardinal rules, you gone. They like: owning a cell phone, fighting, stealing, inappropriate sexual conduct, there’s a few more. You break any of those you’re gone. Pack your stuff, cause you know you getting locked up. (Laughter)
S: You were mentioning the different stages of the program like the first thirty days and then the aftercare, but are there stages between those two?
G: Yeah, you first come here that’s level one, then forty-five days later you get the opportunity to phase up. Phase two that’s when you know the community sits around and the staff, you got a little sheet of paper that you read off, it has about fifteen questions on it about your stay and what you been doing in the program, and you working on yourself. After you read each one out, you got answer the question to your best ability then ask the community do they support you. The majority of the time the community will support you, but we got a few that might say “No, I don’t support you”, and they got to stand up and say why they don’t support you. And if it’s a negative behavior that you been committing then you have to work on it. You might not phase up, because somebody might say, “When I first came here, my attitude been, I guess, bad, but now it’s, I’m working on it.” But if you up there welling, telling a lie somebody-
S: Yeah, I was going to say, they will see right through that.
G: Yeah, they going to call it out. And they going to say why you think your attitude and your behavior is changed when it hasn’t changed, you still got the street mentality with you.
S: So you’re held accountable through all the people here
G: Exactly. They going to call you out on it (laughter). Definitely.
S: Is there a phase three?
G: Phase three, that’s where I’m at. Phase three you get to take a 72-hour furlough home, you get- you’re allowed to put a TV in your room. It’s a little TV, the thing is, my guess, seven inches, 6 inches.
S: Oh my goodness.
G: Oh yeah, she small.
S: You can’t even see really.
G: Yeah and then you really can’t pick up no channels. I get three channels. What else you get to do in phase three? You just get a little more privileges. I just ain’t been pursuing no privileges, I just want to complete the programs of all the phases. I haven’t even taken a 72 furlough, 72-hour furlough.
S: Oh, you didn’t even do it?
G: Nope, I just wanted to.
S: Was there a reason why you didn’t?
G: No, no particular reason. I went home on two furloughs: Thanksgiving and Christmas, and that was enough for me. So the rest going home, it’s just burning up money. Anytime I go, I have to take money out my account and then shucks, forget that!
S: You’re just like, I’ll save it up and come home.
G: Exactly, cause I knew I wouldn’t be short anyway. Yeah, but phase three is pretty good. You get a little more privileges.
S: You guys have house meetings here, Natasha was telling me about, like how are those run? Or what do you guys talk about there?
G: House meetings. We have two house meetings for the guys that work at night, they here in the morning, so we have like 11 o’clock house meeting. Here all the guys come together, we sit in there, I open up the group with a feeling check, a goal check, or a gratitude check. Everybody say how they feeling or what they grateful for. And then I asked for announcements and awarenesses, and if anybody got any concerns for the community and anything bothering them. That’s the time to express it, to let the community now what’s going on, what’s on their minds. Then we let the staff, they got their little comments in between there, then after the staff finish, I read out behavior reports and those are like, when I walk around in the morning and do the house inspection if you didn’t clean up or you forgot to do something, or it’s just dirty, I write them up. (Greyson laughs)
S: How are you given that position to do that?
G: How is I given that? That I don’t even know. (Laughter)
S: They just came to you one day?
G: Yeah, they just call me one day and say, we’ll we going to make you a house rep. So I said okay, so I became the house rep. Then, next thing I know I became the house consultant. I’m like dang.
S: You must be good at your job.
G: Yeah, you know I write (Greyson laughs) I think I do all the writing up around here. They be yelling, they be screaming at me cussing.
S: Stop writing me.
G: Yeah, they be saying, Daniel you be goin‘ home Tuesday, you still writing people up. I’m like what you want me to do? If I stop then you know, then I don’t know-
S: Yeah it’s not helping the program.
G: Yes, I say we have to sacrifice a few lambs to save the flock. So you all can be the sacrificial lambs, because you all didn’t clean up today, or ya’ll didn’t make your beds ups. And if there’s no write ups, Ms. Amison ain’t going for that, because we got forty-seven guys in this house, and she know everybody not doing what they suppose to do.
S: Um-hm, it’s come to be expected.
G: Exactly! Somebody’s not going to clean up. That’s just the way it is in the house. So, that’s my job to find out what’s going on. And another part of my job is, when the guys got issues and problems they take it to the house reps. The house reps, if they can’t solve the problem, then they bring it to me, then if I can’t come up with a solution, I take it to Mr. Farmer, the gentleman who escorted you down here, then we come up with a solution. So that’s pretty much how the chain of command works, and we’ll have a solution to that problem one way or another.
S: Everyone seems to respect him a lot, Mr. Farmer, is that his name?
S: A couple of guys were like, “We like him, he’ll help people out”.
G: Yeah he is a good guy. One of the counselors, Mr.Crumeal(??), he’s not here today. From my, just being here these six months, personally, I don’t like him. I mean maybe my feelings are a little more then that, I just can’t stand him. (Greyson laughs) I can’t stand his ass. You know and there are lot of guys who really don’t like him. For him to be a counselor, he just don’t know how to speak to people. And he worked his way up from the streets doing drugs, going to the penitentiary, the same penitentiary we came from, to going out, college, getting his little degree, coming back here working. But he still got issues, I mean deep issues, he need to be seeing a psychiatrist, because the man is crazy. He yells, he screams, he don’t take the time out to listen to you what you have to say, cause it’s going to be his way or no way.
S: I was going to say, you guys aren’t really allowed to bring your voice up, are you, around here, like yell and scream and stuff like that.
G: No, cause they teaching us to be respectable and learn to control our anger.
S: And then you have him doing this.
G: And then we got a counselor yelling and screaming at us. Me and him, almost got into a, day before yesterday, and we had this problem before where I’m trying to talk to him about a problem. He doesn’t look at me, and he raises his voice and say what he got to say, then he want to turn around and walk away, in the middle of while I’m talking. So I wrote him up for that one time, so he tried it again, and I said man, bump this I ain’t putting it on paper, and I had to call him back and said, “Where you going, I’m still speaking to you.” And we got kind of loud, and the people in the office came out and said “You alright?”
S:What’s going on? You need regulating? (Laughs)
G: They’s like “you need some help,” I said nah, I just had to tell him what was on my mind, you know, and not to keep disrespecting me. If I take the time out to listen to what you got to say, don’t turn your back on me and walk away when you finish. Listen to what I got to say. You might look at me as a resident or ex-offender or whatever, but right now I’m working in this office just like you, drawing a paycheck off the account you are and I’m still a man.
S: And coming through that system, like he should have more respect for you.
G: Exactly. So you going to treat me with some respect. So we got that ironed out for a little while, but it’s just more complaints from the guys about him. It’s just ridiculous. I can’t imagine how he’s been here this long.
S: Do you think the staff has problems with him as well.
G: I know they do.
S: You know?
G: I know they do, not too many staff really care for him, and I’m not just speculating, I’ve heard the staff say they just don’t like him. He has a very bad attitude and nasty deposition.
S: You can’t get away with that in this kind of facility.
G: Exactly, one day it’s going to catch up with him. And I hate to say I hope it don’t reflect on the whole house and staff in general, but he need to find another occupation. This is not the one for him and then he is always so quick to say, “I’ll send you back to prison, I’ll send you back to prison if you do this or do that. I”ll send you back.” Ain’t nobody want to keep hearing that over and over again, because eventually the person going to get tired and just leave. And then they say do what you got to do. So he’s implanting the wrong ideas in people’s minds.
S: That’s not what motivates you.
G: Exactly. He’s just terrible.
S: Through all the different stages did you have any setbacks at all through the program, like were you denied being upped-
G: No, I had no problems. I just went through it smoothly as possible, I made my transition as smoothly as possible because I didn’t want no walls, nothing to hold me back or hindering me from doing what I got to do for I was to leave here now. So I made it smooth, you know I sometimes held my tongue and didn’t say anything when I felt it was wrong.
S: That’s hard.
G: But I knew it was some things, times it was just the wrong time to voice your opinion. You got to know when to voice your opinion, when not to. So I learned when to pick my battles.
S: Very respectable.
G: Exactly. (Laughter) You can’t just jump out there, you get your head cut off.
S: Do you have any like pros and cons of the program, like you said this one gentleman would be one con. Do you have any others on your mind?
G: Some more cons-
S: Or pros?
G: Yeah, Peter-pay-for-Paul. I definitely do not like that. You know what Peter-pay-for-Paul is?
G: Alright, well Peter-pay-for-Paul is one person get caught doing something that’s a major rule, that no man got no business doing it: the whole house get sanctioned for it.
S: Like what kind of behavior?
G: Like if, let’s say he get caught with some, cell phone, or some pornographic material, or just doing something crazy in the house. Like one of the guys, one of the staff members found a liquor bottle in the house, ain’t nobody know who it belonged to, but they saying somebody had to know that this individual was drinking. Okay, maybe somebody did, but then maybe somebody didn’t. Maybe he really kept it a secret, he wants to drink to himself, but that’s not the case, because if one person was doing something in this house, they think that another person should know, that the other person should know they should have brought it to staff-
G: Everybody gets sanctioned. Because Peter going to pay for what Paul did. And that’s –
S: I’d never heard that saying before.
G: I hate that.
S: It’s hard.
G: We just came off a sanction, for two days without television and phones, which that didn’t bother me.
S: No one was allowed to have any phone calls.
G: No, not when we on sanction, no. You can’t use a phone, nothing. Something happened in one of the evening groups, that they wasn’t give the guy proper feedback and a couple of the guys started laughing. Okay, same thing, Mr. Crumeal (??) he was head of the class. Now he seen these individuals laughing at this man, and instead of him taking these two people out of the group and dealing with them on an individual level, he runs in the house, calls Ms. Amison. “Ms. Amison, they not doing this, they not paying attention. Blah blah blah blah.” Next thing you know, you come back, TV and phone restriction two days. How the hell is that helping the problem? The problem ain’t been solved, he didn’t even address the problem.
S: He just took it away, doesn’t even-
G: Yeah, it’s just like we kids. He took away our toy. But so what?
S: Yeah, you didn’t teach him a lesson about laughing.
G: Exactly. That’s why I don’t understand about what are we learning from that. That if we do something you going to take away our toys? So we can do it again. He didn’t address the issue. I was saying he is about the worst counselor I ever seen. God. (Greyson laughs)
S: You just get frustrated just thinking about it.
G: Yeah, man if he ever leave, I’m telling you.
S: Well you’ll be done with him in a little while.
G: Yes. I’m just glad he’s not my counselor.
S: I was going to say-
G: I’d probably been locked up.
S: He’d send you to jail you said.
G: Yeah. And they got some pros. Like I said, overall it’s a good program. And then you got guys who came from the institution who never worked before in their life. They help them go out and find jobs and guys really enjoy it. I know one guy, came back and he had his first paycheck he ever had. He ever worked for. He was ecstatic, because he never actually earned his own money. He been selling drugs all his life. He just kept looking at, holding it in his hand saying “I worked for this, I worked for this”.
S: Yeah, this is allowed.(Laughter)
G: Yeah you know, so I was happy for him. So it teaches some guys some life experiences, it really does. And you know, the program they take you out on field trips, county fairs, and stuff. And you know when you be on post release you be allowed to go out shopping by yourself, so yeah it’s okay.
S: Is there anything you would change about the program? Besides that one counselor.
G: Yeah, get him fired. (Laughter) Top of my list. And that Peter-pay-for-Paul, I would definitely eliminate that. What else would I change?
S: Like the length? Did you think that was an appropriate length?
G: Na, six months ain’t nothing. That’s easy, Hell you’ve been four years in penitentiary, what’s six months? It ain’t like there’s bars and stuff around here. You are allowed to go to work and go out on the weekends and stuff. No, six months is not that long. I guess just some of the structure rules, probably that, and cell phones. I don’t really see anything wrong with a cell phone myself.
S: Like you have other rules to prevent bad things from happening with a cell phone, like if someone used it to find a way to get drugs, and stuff like that. You have other rules set up to stop that.
G: I mean if you want to get drugs, you going to get drugs.
S: Cell phone or not.
G: Hell, you go right down the street to the doors. Cell phone to me, I guess it would be like a privilege. If you phase up to a certain level in the program you should be allowed to have cell phone, because-
S: Have they said a reason why your not allowed to have one?
G: No they never gave us a reason. We have forty-seven people here, and three payphones that we use, and it can be such a hassle waiting in line for a phone. I would definitely change that, I would allow guys maybe their last month or month and a half to get a cell phone, if they responsible, if they budgeting their money, if they have enough money on their account that they can pay this bill. Sure, it’ll teach them more responsibility, or how to budget money, pay these bills.
S: So you’re going to get a cell phone when you go home-
G: Exactly, I would definitely change that.
S: Daily life, is there a set schedule of what you guys do throughout the day? Do you have to eat at a certain times and-
G: Yeah we have to get up in the morning at, I prefer getting up at seven, just doing what I got to do, but you got to at least get up by seven-thirty you know. Do your house chores, go and do room inspections at eight-thirty. We’ll, myself and Crystal, we walk through the house and we check things out to see everything, you know, clean or whatever. And then breakfast is over at nine-fifteen, they got pre-release group at nine-thirty for all the pre-release guys, and then they got the house meeting. That house meeting, usually is a half an hour, unless you got a guest speaker. Then you got a twelve-thirty group. It’s either a goals group, or workshop, something they working on themself, so they do like three groups a day. Some of us don’t go but to two groups. Like I don’t go to pre-release, because I’ve been post-release for awhile. I don’t even go the twelve-thirty group. I been stop going, so I only go to one group a day. Three little groups a day, that’s nothing. But you sitting around here for the first thirty days ain’t working, you got to do something. It’s alright.
S: Is there a certain time you guys have to have lights out?
G: No. The backdoor stay open twenty-four seven. The TV stays on all night, you watch DVDs, use the phone all night. The only time the TV is off is like, seven-thirty in the morning to like five in the, five PM, because that’s when groups going on. Guest come through the house, a lot of activities going on, they don’t want people just lounging around watching TV looking like they lazy not doing anything. That’s why they got the TV shut off.
S: You hold a job right now in the community?
S: No? You guys aren’t forced to get a job?
G: Yes. (Greyson laughs) But I- When I first came up here, it was cold and it wasn’t a lot of people hiring. Some of the guys was fortunate enough to grab jobs, but they had certain skills like painting, electrician, college-
S: Oh you didn’t want to go roofing? (Laughs)
G: No, no, I left all that. I went to the temp company then, I did a lot of warehouse production work. Then I got into that, the lay off cycle. I got laid off from this job, then I got laid- that shit was just killing me. So, my last four weeks I told Ms. Amison, “Look, I just got laid off again. I got four weeks left and I put down the application, ain’t nobody going to hire me for four weeks. By the time they train me, it’s time to go home.” So she said, “Well, you did everything you need to do in the program successfully. I’m going to give you a job in the office.” So I worked in the office there.
S: That’s nice since you don’t have to find a ride anywhere or anything. (Laughter)
G: Exactly, when I get off all I got to do is walk upstairs.
S: Walk up to your room.
G: Yes, that was cool. I appreciated that.
S: What kind of things did you do in the office.
G: Answer the phone, take messages, do head count, urine tests, breathalysers, file, I did everything in there.
S: How are all the finances handled here?
G: The finances?
S: Because I remembered she said something about you guys set up bank accounts for everyone.
G: Yeah, I wouldn’t really say they bank accounts. But we all do have our own individual accounts here, that when you get your paycheck, you look at it okay, that I made this, sign it and turn it in.
S: To the Gemeinschaft?
G: Yeah, and that’s the last time you see it. (Laughter) But then again you get your little allowance checks, I’ll call it, once a week.
S: Does that come out of your own money.
G: Yes, yes definitely.
S: I was going to say, they aren’t just giving you money are they? (Laughter)
G: No, so you get your little allowance, you got to work with that. Either the $22 or the $45 a week. Mine was $45 when I was working steady, but then when I got laid off again, dropped me to $22. She said she didn’t want me to keep spending my money when I didn’t have no income. But when I start working here, I didn’t even worry about it, I just left it at $22 a week, because I wasn’t going anywhere.
S: And $22 works fine for you?
G: Yeah, that’s fine for me. Leave the rest in my books for when I leave. But yeah, everybody got their own separate accounts.
S: I know one gentleman when I first walked, he was like, “Yeah you’ll walk in with some money and walk out in bankruptcy” (laughs)
G: Oh Mr. Riddick.
G: When he came here (laughs), when everybody come here they give you like $120 cash or a check and you cash it, and they give you like a $20 phone card. So this is money they loaned you, you got to pay it back when you start working, that’s only fair. Okay, then when you start working they charge you $9 a day for room and board, so when he started getting his first check, I guess they snatched out the hundred and some dollars that he owed them, then they snatched out the rent money. (Laughter) And he thought he had this money, when he got ready to leave, he’s leaving today, his balance is zero, and he’s been raising hell all day.
S: He’s like I made money, where did it go?
G: Exactly. And then it’s gone. And they gave him his receipt. They broke it down and said, “This is what we gave you, we took it back, and this is what you owed us for rent and board..”
S: So they show you, they write it all down.
G: Exactly. They give you a print out of all your money and he still mad as hell.
S: What freedom does everyone have with their money? Are you allowed to take it all out?
G: No, definitely can’t take all your money out. Only when you leave you can take your money out. And if you got, maybe like an emergency at home or something you need to do, go on a furlough, you can withdraw money with your counselor approval. When I went home on my furloughs I took like hundred-fifty, one-seventy-five, and my niece called me and said she needed some money so I took some hundred and some dollars out with my counselor’s permission. I mailed it to her. So family emergencies, furloughs, and maybe shopping once a month you take a hundred some dollars out.
S: And you were saying you’re allowed to go shopping alone later in the program, so right now everyone has to, you go with someone?
G: If you in pre-release, like a lot of those guys are who just got here, they in pre-release. They have to go out with staff.
S: Uh-hm, so they have to go as a group? Is it a certain time?
G: Uh-hm. Yeah myself, I just got put in for past time and I’m gone.
S: How much does the program cost here, besides the $9 a day for room and board?
G: That I couldn’t tell you.
S: You don’t know? They just keep sending you bills. (Laughs)
G: Yeah, D.O.C. , they got somebody paying for us being here. So I don’t know if it’s grant, federal government, somebody. Yeah they paying the bills.
S: What is your level of interaction with residents. Are you guys just allowed to hang out sometimes and watch movies, or do they not really encourage everyone to hang out and stuff?
G: Oh, yeah they encourage you to interact. They want you to know everybody, that way in case somebody got a problem they’ll feel comfortable to coming to you and talking about it. And that prevents things from down the line happening, somebody said, “Oh, I didn’t know he was going through these problems. Oh I didn’t know he was going to run off or do something crazy.” That’s why they encourage you to interact. Know everybody and sit down and talk to, and that’s what some of the groups are for, just to get there open up.
S: So that’s why they think someone should know that the guy was drinking, I guess?
G: Exactly, you know, but something in that case-
S: Doesn’t always work.
G: No, because if I don’t want you to know something, you are not going to know. That’s just life.
S: Yeah, you’re not going to just sit here and pour me a drink too, you know? (Laughter)
G: I live with a guy for three years and I did not know that he was doing crack-cocaine for a long time, until the rent money kept coming up short. And the rent lady was beating on my door, talking about why you not paying rent. I said, “Well, I’m giving it to my roommate” and that’s when I first learned about drugs. And I lived with this man for three years and I had no idea that he was doing drugs. It wasn’t but two of us in the apartment. So that goes to show you that you don’t know what the next man is doing if he don’t want you to know.
S: What are the living arrangements like? How many bedrooms are here, who shares? Do you share?
G: How many bedrooms are in here? (Laughter)
S: You said there’s something like forty-five or forty-eight residents here-
G: Yeah, forty-seven guys here. Four. Five. Six. Seven. I’m thinking like eleven rooms. I think it’s like eleven bedrooms in this house, but some rooms got like six people in it, some have eight, some have five, and then there’s only a couple that got two men rooms. Now I sleep in a two man room.
S: Lucky. Did you use to live in the one of the eight or six? Or were you always lucky?
G: I lived in the five man room one time and I got out of there as quick as possible, because you got so many personalities in a bedroom. This person want to listen to that type of music, this person listen to tech music, this person snores, this person-
S: Up at all hours. (Laughter)
G: Yeah, he gets up and throws his dirty clothes off the floor. Man, you gots to hurry up and get out of there. So that’s another part of phasing up comes in. Once you phase up to a phase two you can qualify for a two man room, if there’s one available. If not, then you go on like the waiting list. If you become a house rep, and you phased up, you go to the top of the list. You immediately qualify for a two man room. So that’s another one of the pros. Shoot,, yeah I did what I had to do to get that two man room. (Laughter)
S: There’s no individual rooms though?
S: Okay. Let’s see, we already talked about house meetings. Your free time, do you guys do anything around here? Do you have any down time that you can chose what you want to do?
G: Yeah, like I said, I was just about to go lay down.
S: I know. (Laughs)
G: But, free time you know, if you post-release, like I said you can call you a cab, go to the movies, go to the mall, you and somebody else if they on post-release. You got quite a bit of free time, you able to do what you want to do.
S: If pre-release though, you’re not allowed to go do that kind of stuff?
G: No. If you on pre-release, the only time you get off pre-release into the original release date from D.O.C. Like those guys came last night, they release date might not be until June. So they be on pre-release until June. That means they have to go everywhere with a group or be chaperoned. That’s one of the cons about that, but that’s only because they still under the part with correction rules and regulations.
S: If you are on pre-release and you have a job though, how do you get to your job?
G: They provide transportation. They take you in, pick you up.
G: Post-release, they will take you if it’s necessary, but they encourage you to find your own ride.
S: Do you think that the community has a problem with hiring people from Gemeinschaft? Or do you think people have a hard time-
G: No, they, they ain’t go not real problem with it I mean, this community really reached out and tried to help the Gemeinschaft guys. They hire them, you know ask them to come do community service, church donates so much food here, we go out and do community service for the community. Yeah, this is a good community. They want to give the guys a second chance.
S: That’s good to hear. We were talking about meals earlier, are you allowed to chose what you eat here or do they just serve you and you have to eat that? (Greyson laughs) What’s the freedom with that?
G: They have a menu that they go by, it’s kind of close to what D.O.C. has, that they have to use. But the meals are okay, you know, every meal is not going to be great, it’s not going to be what you want. And therefore, once again, if you have money in your pocket from your weekly check, you can order out Chinese, pizza, Italian, whatever.
S: That can make some people jealous sometimes I would imagine.
G: Yeah, I mean but you know if you get a couple guys together and they call Domino’s on that 5-5-5 deal, you got three pizzas and it’s for six, seven guys. They keep cereal here, all types of cereal, you can eat cereal twenty-four hours a day.
S: (laughs) That’s what I would probably do.
G: Yeah. Peanut butter jelly, you can make sandwiches, you don’t have to eat the meal.
S: So you have freedoms, that’s good. Like you said, you can go out and eat if you’re on post-release? You said that the community, I was just about to ask about the community, but they think they open up to you guys and it’s a give and take kind of thing. Let’s see. Have you heard any like complaints from other residents about the program, certain things that maybe you don’t’ necessarily agree with, but-
G: The only main concern issue was a complaint the guys be having is the majority of them didn’t ask to come here. They did not want to be here. We were just discussing this yesterday, me and one of the counselors, that this should be a volunteer program. But instead D.O.C. just pick and choose people at random, who they want to send here. And you got guys who’ve been locked up for so many months, years and they bought to go home then all of a sudden somebody come pick them up and say they got to come up here for six more months. They like where is this in my closet, that the judge gave me six more months? So they be fighting it, and bucking, and they don’t want to be here.
S: Yeah, when they come here they aren’t open to the program?
G: Exactly, you know. And it makes their transition real difficult, because they say they’ve been kidnaped. And in a sense they have been kidnaped, it’s just D.O.C. is just filling up beds and instead of taking the time to screen people to find out who really want to come here. They just snatch up and throw everybody here, and they don’t get no results from anybody who’s fighting the program.
S: People who’ve volunteered to be here, are some of them ever turned away because there’s not room?
S: That’s just sad. People want to be here and they can’t and some people are here and don’t want to be.
G: Exactly. And they just can’t seem to get that straight, it’s so easy. We going to stop snatching up everybody and just find out the ones who want to come. There’s so many people that want to come here but don’t get the opportunity because they got people here who don’t want to be here. It’s a backward system.
S: Are there a lot of places like this offered in Virginia?
G: No, I only heard of this one and the Serenity House in Newport News.
?(Omission of personal comment from narrator)
S: How come you didn’t chose that one?
G: Because I’m from Newport News.
S: So you can’t stay in the area?
G: Yeah, I coulda went there, but I didn’t want to go there. The Serenity House is co-ed but, I just heard from inside they is just wild down there. (Laughter) They doing everything. So said, “Oh no, if I go down there, I might as well go home.” You know I’m not going to learn anything there. So, no I didn’t –
S: Make’s your homecoming that much more sweeter then. (Laughs) Get you to the city.
G: Right back in all the mess and trouble.
S: I know I did a tour here last semester, as a JMU student for one of my political science classes, and I was thinking while I was doing the tour, “I wonder if this bothers them, that people will just come in there to like see how they live and things like that.” Does that bother you guys at all, when people come for tours?
G: Well, sometimes.
S: I can imagine.
G: Okay, because the way you did it, I appreciate that. You called, you asked for a volunteer, you went through the proper channels, being very respectful. We had this one guy who used to come here a few months ago, he’s from JMU and I can’t even remember his name. He never asked anybody, I’m not talking about the staff, he asked the staff of course, but the residents. He would just come, sit down and whatever they was doing or saying to each other, he just sitting there writing notes. So I asked him one day-
S: What are you doing?
G: I asked, “What are you doing? Why are doing that? And who’s letting you do this? And did you asked anybody could you write down what they saying?” and he was like, “Uh, uh, uh. I thought it would be alright.”? I said, “Hell no.”
S: I’m a person ask me.
G: You writing down people’s feelings and their thoughts, you know, who was going to read this? What was going on? And for awhile he really thought it was alright, and a time he came through that door I screamed on him. I haven’t seen him since. I said it’s a major problem, you writing on people private conversations and stuff, and we don’t know where this is going. We didn’t sign no forms, consent forms, anything. He said, “Well it’s for my class,” I said, “I understand that, but before you just writing down what people saying, you need to ask them.” Is it okay. So, I don’t know, I never seen him no more after that.
S: Well, I guess you set him straight, he realized it wasn’t okay. (Laughter)
G: That was just totally disrespectful.
S: I agree, one hundred percent.
G: Walking in somebody’s job and just be spying on them, writing on them, you’d probably get a boot up side your head. (Laughter) You know what I’m saying?
S: I know I wouldn’t want someone writing down what I’m saying-
S: Like with out interacting with them, so you know what they are thinking. Like I am sitting just watching you and writing it down.
G: He just sat there watching, wrote down what we were saying.
S: I’d be like, “Can I read that when you’re done!”
G: I can’t, what was the dude’s name? I am also mad I can’t even remember his name.
S: Well, I have one more question and then you can go lay down if you have free times, something like that. If anyone was coming in to the program after you were leaving, do you have any piece of advice you would give them?
G: (laughter) Yes- for all the guys.
S: You’re like, tons!
G: First of all, if you going to get a relationship with a woman, try to keep it discrete. You know, don’t be meeting her here and meeting her there.
S: And don’t piss her off apparently.
G: Exactly, and cell phone. I can’t tell a person what to do and what not to do, but if you do get a cell phone, please don’t do it like some guys do. They just forgot they left the ringer on or whatever, they caught their self hiding it, and we going in the room, you know, inspection, and you hear this phone ring.
S: Ring, ring, ring.
G: What the hell is that, a cell phone? Then now we looking for it and we find it. Little silly mistakes. You know, be aware all times of your surrounding and what you’re doing. And just remember it’s so easy to get sent back to prison.
S: Just stick to the program.
G: Complete the program.
S: Yeah, six months of your life.
G: It’ll go by so fast and it’s so easy to do, make the best of it for real. Get some country air.
S: Literally, you got some cows right next door to you.
G: Oh man, when it’s warm, that smell blows right through the house. I say, man I miss the city smog. (Laughter)
S: Yeah people complain about it, but they are like “Aw clear skies”. I’m like, yea but smell the sky.
G: Riding through the Cargill and Tyson. Oh, all these produce plants, God they smell horrible.
S: Wow, I smell dog food sometimes.
G: Yeah, I can’t stand it. They talk about live up here, and I’m like Hell no. I’m never living up here.
S: You are like, six months is plenty fine for me.
S: It’s more then enough. Alright well, great.