In­mate’s writ­ings de­tail prison sys­tem hor­rors

An up­com­ing, self-pub­lished book by Harold Hemp­stead, the pris­oner who re­vealed the bru­tal 2012 shower death of in­mate Dar­ren Rainey, blasts the Florida De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions. Hemp­stead says guards starved some in­mates and put fe­ces in the food of oth

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY SANYA MANSOOR sman­soor@mi­ami­her­

Four years ago, Harold Hemp­stead stunned the Florida prison sys­tem — and un­leashed a ma­jor scan­dal — when he de­scribed to the Mi­ami Her­ald how of­fi­cers at Dade Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion had locked an in­mate in a small, rigged shower room, turned the wa­ter on full hot and left him, scream­ing for mercy, for nearly two hours un­til he col­lapsed and died, the skin peel­ing off his body.

Hemp­stead called it tor­ture. A lot of peo­ple agreed.

The Mi­ami-Dade state at­tor­ney and med­i­cal ex­am­iner called it an un­for­tu­nate ac­ci­dent, hold­ing no one ac­count­able.

As a “re­ward” for speak­ing out, Hemp­stead says, he was threat­ened by cor­rec­tions staff, put in iso­la­tion, shut­tled from prison to prison and forced to share cells with drug fiends and killers be­fore ul­ti­mately be­ing ex­iled to the Ten­nessee prison sys­tem. But from afar, he is still tak­ing shots at the Florida De-

part­ment of Cor­rec­tions, this time in a self-pub­lished book that por­trays what can only be de­scribed as a life lived in the pit of hell. He and the woman as­sist­ing him hope to have it avail­able on Ama­zon by Fe­bru­ary at the lat­est.

He calls it: “De­part­ment of Cor­rup­tion: Dar­ren Rainey, the Un­told Story.”

What he re­lates is shock­ing: Guards oc­ca­sion­ally starved in­mates, feed­ing them meal­time “air trays” filled with noth­ing. And when food was ac­tu­ally de­liv­ered, it might be laced with urine, fe­ces, lax­a­tives, med­i­ca­tion or clean­ing chem­i­cals. In­mates shiv­ered and sweated through wildly gy­rat­ing tem­per­a­tures in the un-air-con­di­tioned units. The plumb­ing at one fa­cil­ity was so dis­mal that hu­man waste would spill out onto the floor.

Hemp­stead has de­scribed in de­tail the makeshift Dade Cor­rec­tional shower, whose flow and tem­per­a­tures were con­trolled from a sep­a­rate room. He said it was used to ha­rass in­mates, in­clud­ing Rainey, who had soiled him­self. They could avoid the di­rect spray but not the bru­tally hot wa­ter lap­ping at their feet and could be over­come by the buildup of steam in the en­clo­sure, he ex­plained.

Hemp­stead, who shared a manuscript with the Her­ald, writes about a sys­tem over­run with gang mem­bers, where in­mates are rou­tinely sliced from mouth to ear with makeshift blades. Those gashes, in­flicted by fel­low in­mates, are called “buck fifties,” be­cause they typ­i­cally re­quire 150 stitches to sew up.

Hemp­stead’s de­ci­sion to tell the Mi­ami Her­ald in 2014 about the bru­tal shower death of Rainey, an in­mate suf­fer­ing from men­tal ill­ness, did not re­sult in crim­i­nal charges, but it did spark a furor that would lead to re­forms — in­clud­ing the exit of the sec­re­tary of the De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions, a height­ened fo­cus on in­ves­ti­gat­ing abu­sive of­fi­cers and an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the U.S. De­part­ment of Jus­tice.

De­spite th­ese re­forms, deaths in the Florida sys­tem, of­ten vi­o­lent or un­ex­plained, have hit un­prece­dented heights in each of the past four years, in­clud­ing a 25 per­cent spike in the most re­cent fis­cal year.

Hemp­stead’s ag­i­tat­ing got him shipped out of the state for his own safety. The trans­fer to Ten­nessee has given him a ba­sis for com­par­ing and con­trast­ing the two prison sys­tems.

Hemp­stead grew up in Pinel­las County, the prod­uct of poverty and squalor, and drifted into crime. His fa­ther died when he was 7. His mother was men­tally ill. While still in his mid­teens, he was re­cruited by po­lice de­tec­tives to work as a paid op­er­a­tive, feed­ing in­for­ma­tion to the cops, he says and St. Peters­burg po­lice in­ter­nal files con­firm.

At 22, Hemp­stead was sen­tenced to 165 years in prison for a se­ries of bur­glar­ies. It was a star­tlingly stiff sen­tence for a non­vi­o­lent crim­i­nal, meted out by a judge no­to­ri­ous for in­tem­per­ate out­bursts and later for his exit from the bench amid a scan­dal in­volv­ing the use of an of­fi­cial com­puter to ac­cess pornog­ra­phy. The 42-yearold in­mate has main­tained a record of ex­em­plary be­hav­ior be­hind bars.

Hemp­stead be­lieves his trans­fer to Ten­nessee in March 2017 was “100 per­cent to cen­sor” him. He says of­fi­cers woke him up around 3:30 a.m., slapped him and punched him in the back and ad­vised him he had an­gered the wrong per­son be­fore ship­ping him across state lines in a trans­port van.

Long be­fore the Rainey case, Hemp­stead had be­come a prison pest, sub­mit­ting thou­sands of griev­ances to the FDC dur­ing his more than 17 years in the sys­tem, in­clud­ing dozens about the death of Rainey that were ig­nored. He was shut­tled among al­most two dozen fa­cil­i­ties in Florida, giv­ing him a feel for the en­tire sys­tem.

He was es­pe­cially hor­ri­fied by the con­di­tions at the Dade Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion’s tran­si­tional care unit — where those with men­tal health is­sues were held and where Rainey died on the floor of a shower stall, stripped of his skin — and the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion wings at Columbia and Martin Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tions.

Hemp­stead’s book, which com­pen­sates for its lack of pol­ish with a stark au­then­tic­ity, out­lines his own plat­form for prison re­form.

Among the is­sues he says he wit­nessed and wants ad­dressed: pris­on­ers with con­ta­gious dis­eases and in­fected wounds work­ing in the chow hall; guards look­ing the other way as known sex of­fend­ers in­ap­pro­pri­ately touch chil­dren in vis­i­ta­tion parks; dis­abled in­mates who find it al­most im­pos­si­ble to nav­i­gate phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers at ar­chaic fa­cil­i­ties; and lax se­cu­rity at the front and back gates, al­low­ing in­mates and staff to smug­gle drugs and other con­tra­band into the com­pound, fu­el­ing an out-of­con­trol pe­nal drug trade.

He says a per­verse fea­ture of the prison sys­tem is that in­mates with spe­cial se­cu­rity needs, in­clud­ing for­mer po­lice of­fi­cers, ex-judges, trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als and those like him­self who had in­curred the wrath of staff, are placed in “pro­tec­tive man­age­ment” units that can be more treach­er­ous than the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion. He said that is be­cause the PM staffers feel em­bold­ened to im­pose harsh ret­ri­bu­tion away from the pry­ing eyes of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion and up­per-level staff. He said PM also can house some of the most vi­o­lent in­mates in the sys­tem.

Hemp­stead says a ben­e­fit of be­ing trans­ferred to Ten­nessee is that it has al­lowed him to see how a bet­ter-run sys­tem op­er­ates. In gen­eral, Florida in­mates must serve a min­i­mum of 85 per­cent of their sen- tence while Ten­nessee in­mates can usu­ally earn pa­role and a sec­ond chance through good be­hav­ior. Hemp­stead — a bur­glar, al­beit with a string of con­vic­tions, who claims he re­ally only fenced what other peo­ple stole — isn’t el­i­gi­ble for re­lease for more than 100 years.

The point, Hemp­stead said, is not to cod­dle crim­i­nals but to treat them as hu­man be­ings in hopes they will de­velop into pro­duc­tive mem­bers of so­ci­ety with a sense of pur­pose and a moral core.

Hemp­stead said Ten­nessee pro­vides gen­uine av­enues for in­mates to pre­pare for a life out­side prison. They can take skill­based classes, like cos­me­tol­ogy, bar­ber­ing and weld­ing. Ear­lier this year, Florida slashed fund­ing for prisons, cur­tail­ing or elim­i­nat­ing re-en­try and workre­lease ser­vices that pre­pare in­mates for life af­ter im­pris­on­ment. The de­part­ment says vo­ca­tional pro­grams weren’t curbed.

Hemp­stead said Ten­nessee puts a pre­mium on en­sur­ing that pris­on­ers with­out a high-school diploma work to­ward a GED. It op­er­ates a fully ac­cred­ited school sys­tem, of­fer­ing Adult Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion at ev­ery fa­cil­ity. Florida does not of­fer such ser­vices at ev­ery fa­cil­ity al­though it does say “ma­jor in­sti­tu­tions” of­fer pro­grams that lead to a GED.

Of­fi­cials with the Florida De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions de­clined to com­ment on whether they would con­sider what Hemp­stead has to say in his new book.

“All in­mates can make for­mal griev­ances with the de­part­ment for any com­plaints or is­sues dur­ing their in­car­cer­a­tion,” an FDC spokesper­son said in an emailed state­ment.

“The de­part­ment’s chief pri­or­ity is the safety and se­cu­rity of in­mates. All in­mates are housed and su­per­vised ap­pro­pri­ately ac­cord­ing to their clas­si­fi­ca­tion sta­tus, which ac­counts for their risk of pos­ing a dan­ger to those around them.”

The agency did dis­pute some al­le­ga­tions. For in­stance, Pa­trick Man­der­field, the FDC spokesper­son, said in­mates who are med­i­cally un­fit or have con­ta­gious ill­nesses are not al­lowed to work in food ser­vice, and prison staff su­per­vise vis­i­ta­tion and do not tol­er­ate in­mates mak­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­tact with any­one.

At the time of Dar­ren Rainey’s death, on June 23, 2012, Hemp­stead en­joyed spe­cial priv­i­leges in the tran­si­tional care unit as an or­derly. He had free­dom of move­ment in­side the prison and helped with the de­liv­ery of food, which is where he learned of some of the more per­ni­cious abuses by prison staff.

It is where he learned about “air trays” and the de­lib­er­ate con­tam­i­na­tion of food, as well as some of the other cus­toms.

He said “chem­i­cal war­fare” is when guards place bleach and am­mo­nia in pris­oner’s cells, usu­ally to get in­mates who are sup­posed to wear hand­cuffs to agree to be shack­led. The chem­i­cals would ir­ri­tate their eyes, nose and breathing and they would usu­ally com­ply within five min­utes. Hemp­stead was of­ten en­listed to help guards do this but some­times poured the chem­i­cals down the sink.

A “loaf” is what in­mates could be forced to eat when they were be­ing dis­obe­di­ent. It is cre­ated when the meal is blended into a sin­gle, mashed­to­gether amal­gam. It tastes ter­ri­ble. He said cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers would falsely ac­cuse in­mates of throw­ing their food trays as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for putting them on a “loaf” diet.

Hemp­stead be­lieves two in­mates at Dade Cor­rec­tional, in­clud­ing a blind man, were spite­fully de­prived of food for so long that they died. When in­mates re­ceived “air trays,” he would try to smug­gle them bags of chips when the cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers weren’t look­ing.

“Go­ing psych” is when in­mates fake psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems so they can be trans­ferred to a cri­sis sta­bi­liza­tion or tran­si­tional care unit. Pris­on­ers may cut their wrists, ex­press sui­ci­dal thoughts or wipe fe­ces on them­selves as a way to get into a TCU and away from staffers or fel­low in­mates who are tor­ment- ing them.

Hemp­stead is con­cerned that Roland Clarke, the staff mem­ber who placed the 50-year-old Rainey in the shower, not only avoided crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion but was ef­fec­tively re­warded with a much higher-pay­ing job as an of­fi­cer with the Mi­ami Gar­dens Po­lice De­part­ment. A re­cent story in the Mi­ami New Times de­scribed how Clarke was in­ves­ti­gated for im­prop­erly con­sort­ing with women while sup­pos­edly on duty pro­tect­ing the pub­lic.

In de­cid­ing not to pros­e­cute Clarke, State At­tor­ney Kather­ine Fer­nan­dez Run­dle ques­tioned Hemp­stead’s cred­i­bil­ity, sug­gest­ing his de­tailed time­line did not line up pre­cisely with what the surveillance cam­eras showed. The close­out re­port also stated the in­ves­ti­ga­tors could not de­ter­mine the shower’s tem­per­a­ture.

Hemp­stead’s re­tort:

“The Rainey case sends out a big re­sound­ing state­ment to all Florida prison staff that Of­fi­cer Clarke got away with Rainey so you guys can get away with any­thing.”

Hemp­stead wor­ries that a cul­ture of im­punity, as ex­em­pli­fied in that case and oth­ers, will ex­tend it­self to all sorts of harsh be­hav­ior, in­clud­ing starv­ing and beat­ing in­mates.

If he could con­vince only one per­son to read his book, he wishes it could be the next gover­nor of Florida, who could ac­tu­ally pro­vide lead­er­ship and im­pose re­forms.

What Hemp­stead ex­pe­ri­enced and saw is a symp­tom of a much larger prob­lem, ac­cord­ing to Howard Si­mon, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the ACLU of Florida.

“It is overly sim­plis­tic to say that the guards are all mon­sters. The guards are not mon­sters,” Si­mon said.

What they are is poorly paid, re­ceiv­ing a start­ing salary of $33,500, which is ac­tu­ally a dra­matic im­prove­ment from what of­fi­cers were mak­ing when Rainey died at Dade Cor­rec­tional.

So, how does a pris­oner pub­lish a book?

Judy Lessler is an athe­ist. She could never have imag­ined sit­ting down to read a book about the philo­soph­i­cal foun­da­tions of Chris­tian­ity. But that’s ex­actly what she did, so she could have a mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tion with Hemp­stead. She read about him in the New Yorker magazine, which did a long story on the Rainey case, high­light­ing Hemp­stead’s role and not­ing his deep re­li­gious faith.

Hemp­stead was born Chris­tian but only re­ally em­braced his Protes­tant be­liefs in prison. Lessler asked if he still wanted to com­mu­ni­cate, know­ing that she was an athe­ist. He said he did. They have been talk­ing ever since. And now Lessler, a farmer in North Carolina, is help­ing him pub­lish his words.

Hemp­stead first thought about writ­ing a book in 2014 but started work­ing on it in earnest last Novem­ber in Ten­nessee. He would spend 10 to 12 hours a day writ­ing it on pa­per, re­ly­ing on his mem­ory and old jour­nal en­tries.

Lessler is teach­ing her­self how to nav­i­gate copy­right rules and for­mat the book for Ama­zon.

“Even though I’m an athe­ist, I was raised in the church and they said one of the things you’re sup­posed to do is visit peo­ple in prison,” Lessler said.

“It doesn’t make sense to me that he is in prison for as long as he is for what he did,” Lessler said.

What doesn’t make sense to Hemp­stead is that af­ter six years, in­nu­mer­able griev­ances, sto­ries in the Mi­ami Her­ald and the New Yorker and var­i­ous TV sta­tions and state and fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions, the Florida De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions has not to this day talked to him about what he saw the day Dar­ren Rainey died.


Harold Hemp­stead

PE­DRO POR­TAL ppor­tal@mi­ami­her­

Pro­test­ers raise signs as State At­tor­ney Kather­ine Fer­nan­dez Run­dle speaks dur­ing a meet­ing to dis­cuss her fail­ing to mount a crim­i­nal case against guards ac­cused of putting Dar­ren Rainey in a sear­ing shower.

Windy Hemp­stead

Harold Hemp­stead and his sis­ter, Windy, who sup­ported his ef­forts to call at­ten­tion to Dar­ren Rainey’s death.

Au­topsy photo of Dar­ren Rainey’s legs.

Guards placed Dar­ren Rainey in a makeshift shower with tem­per­a­ture con­trols in an ad­join­ing room.

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