~ from the Glynn County Detention Center, reflection on collective punishment by Mark Colville

August 27, 2018 

by Mark Colville 

Postcards To Bodhi #4


So we’ve been locked down in our cells yet again, with no indication of how long it will last this time. Collective punishment– which, as I try to keep reminding myself, is an internationally-condemned human rights violation– is standard procedure here, a basic item in the tool box of an order rooted in cruelty, incompetence and the abuse of power. Sometimes one must summon significant mental energy to resist engaging in the demonic equation of what is normal with what is right.

A guy who I’ll call Jerrod was put here, in the bunk above mine, about three weeks ago. Jerrod is chockfull of psychoses from two tours as a marine in Iraq. This is not my personal diagnosis; the military has classified him as suffering from acute P.T.S.D. and given him full disability benefits for life. He’s facing multiple charges from a violent incident with his girlfriend, after which he jumped out of a speeding car, fled to the woods, hid out for five days and was finally apprehended in an abandoned house. Once hare in the cell, he slept for six days straight, rising only when we woke him for meals or medication.

During the second week Jerrod gradually woke up, and that’s when his environmentally-fed anxiety began to take over. If a team of professionals had been called in to design a program for Jerrod that would lead him to exhibit violent and psychotic behaviors, the daily life in this jail would probably check all the boxes in terms of the essential elements of that program. Despite being one of the few inmates here with a supportive father, a private lawyer and enough money to secure his release, the question of whether or not bail will be set for him remains unanswered by the court, and this is a tremendous source of torment and emotional volatility. In the meantime there’s no remedy for his constant claustrophobia and hyperactivity, exacerbated by the arbitrary lockdowns and complete lack of access to any physical recreation in this place.

For several days now, Jerrod has been telling me that he is going to snap. Unfortunately, if he or I were to tell that to one of the guards, their response would likely be… no, it would definitely be to place him in the isolation unit, where he’d be locked down for 23 hours or more every day in a cell less than half the size of the one he’s in now. Nobody who gives a damn about him would want to see that happen. The medical staff, apparently aware of what they were doing to Jerrod and where it was all headed, prescribed additional medications to get him through the weekend, but obviously that wasn’t enough.

Personally I find it remarkable that this man actually made it through the better part of a month without going off the deep end, and I readily attribute that to the overall compassion and patience of the people he’s been living with on this cellblock. But yesterday there was a war movie blaring on the TV- “Lone Survivor”, with Mark Wahlberg playing a soldier in Afghanistan whose entire platoon gets killed by insurgents (funny how we can occupy a country for 17 years and think nothing of calling them the insurgents, but I digress!)- and that must have hit Jerrod a little too close to home.

In here, there’s somewhat of an unspoken protocol to fighting. It’s usually not done out in the open where the cameras are, but inside a cell where it’s more easily contained and less likely to be noticed by the guards. Also, on this block at least, a fight will usually be stopped by fellow inmates before someone gets gravely injured, which reminds me a little of watching hockey games on TV in the 1970’s. And when it’s over, it’s done – there doesn’t seem to be any carryover of a dispute after two people have come to blows. While my personal ethic of nonviolence normally includes the obligation to prevent others from doing violence as well, I confess to a decided ambivalence about intervening in these scrums. This place is a pressure cooker, intentionally designed without any means to release the steam, so these men have fashioned their own release valve. Its effectiveness is proven by the fact that nobody ends up dead. And shame on all of us for allowing such hellholes, where this is the least violent alternative available.

I was on my bunk reading when Jerrod stumbled in an hour later, bleeding, swollen and overloaded with adrenaline. Evidently he’d made an error in judgement when choosing an opponent. “That ain’t my blood, Holmes! I fucked him up!!”, he kept muttering, oblivious to an open six-inch skull wound behind his left ear and an ugly gash above his right eye. Moments later, guards burst into our 4- man cell and shoved all of us up against the wall. Jerrod was handcuffed and hauled away while the rest of us were held with taser guns pressed into our backs. When one of the guards later turned to me and whined, “What happened?”, I could only mock his dumbfounded stare.

Hovering over all of this, as always, is the preferential option for violence, in the service of which our nation continues to sacrifice its children with little restraint and less self-reflection. But at the Glynn County Detention Center, it would be absurd to suggest that any accountability for that violence should ever be assumed by those who wear the uniforms, the suits and ties or the judicial robes. Jerrod, his mind twisted toward killing on command in basic training, his soul mangled by what he saw and did in Iraq, and his life ruined by the inability to manage healthy relationships anymore, is now paying for his sins in that isolation cell, after having been stitched up (and hopefully drugged up) at the local hospital. May God give him comfort. I’m told that the other guy involved in the fight (also placed in isolation) will be charged with an additional felony, probably aggravated assault, which would add years to his sentence. Meanwhile, the Brunswick court remains in no apparent hurry to adjudicate Jerrod’s case, and the jail staff has returned to its perpetual obsession over inmates pulling up their pants, not hiding food in their cells, and not having unauthorized pens that could be used as weapons (like the one that’s recording these thoughts, wink-wink).

And cellblock B-2 has been locked down again, probably just because piling all that blame on the poor slob with the mental health issues (and the guy he provoked) feels a bit too transparently wrong to the people who eventually have to punch out on the time clock and return to homes that have mirrors.

Back on my bunk, it’s daylight again, and I spent much of the night telling myself that this thing needs a re-write; it’s too angry. Then I turned to morning prayer and consulted the Prophet Jeremiah…

“Criminals lurk among my people; like fowlers they set traps,
but it is human beings they catch. They pass over wicked deeds; Justice they do not defend

by advancing the claim of the orphan
or judging the cause of the poor.
Shall I not punish these things?- oracle of the Lord; on a nation such as this shall I not take vengeance? Something shocking and horrible

has happened in the land:
The prophets prophesy falsely,
and priests teach on their own authority; yet my people like it this way:
What will you do when the end comes?”

(Jeremiah 5:26, 28b-31)


We need that dude to testify at our trial.

[Mark Colville, one of the Kings Bay Plowshares, was released on bond on September 4 after five months in jail to undergo a surgical procedure. The plowshares group is awaiting a trial date. Two of the seven – Fr. Steve Kelly and Liz McAlister – remain in jail. You can find their jail addresses and read more about the Kings Bay Plowshares here.]