~ from Hampshire Halfway House, The World of Fascist Franchises by Martha Hennessy, June 15

The World of Fascist Franchises

by Martha Hennessy  

June 15, 2021

I am now three weeks into my stay here at the Manchester, New Hampshire halfway house. My home confinement is blocked because I’m labeled a violent recidivist by the federal Bureau of Prisons. 

This morning I was denied my only walk outdoors because I neglected to remember to turn in my permission sheet for a daily itinerary three days in advance. A walk is the only thing on my itinerary other than Mass on Sundays. I am denied weekday Mass at 9:00 a.m. at a small, lovely church within walking distance, St. Catherine of Siena. 

A priest friends has sent a letter to my case manager and the director of this house requesting that my home confinement be honored as I meet the criteria of having served 2/3 of the sentence;  I have a safe home to return to,  I am financially secure, I have no medical history of drug addiction/alcoholism, and I had no incident reports while staying at a low security camp in Danbury. I have not heard from my case manager that he received the letter. 

Another priest friend has asked to visit me here and I have no answer to that question as well.

My husband is not allowed to visit, – no one is.

Other friends here in Manchester requested that I have breakfast with them and that is denied until I am approved to move to the next level in the program. That is contingent on my going to wage work, or volunteer work which has not yet been put in place. 

I am hungry much of the time. A friend sent granola and pumpkin seeds which were thrown out. We are not allowed to eat anywhere but in the dining room at specific meal times. No food is allowed in our rooms. We can pay for “order out” food, but it must come only during meal times. There is a nice fruit snack bowl that is kept at the front desk. There we must ask for fruit and eat it only in the dining room where we are not allowed to bring any bags, back packs, or purses.

There are five women and around 20 men being housed here. Most must go out to work. Twenty five percent of their wages must be saved; twenty five percent goes to the house to pay rent. This is temporarily suspended due to COVID. 

All of the case managers and higher staff that don’t work at the front desk are white. I learned today that the place takes in $100,000 a month for keeping people here. The director is sometimes seen, never says hello, and is from a corrections background.

The average stay for residents is four months, but I spoke with someone who has been here eight months. 

Everyone is drug tested weekly, alcohol tested daily, including me. I have to pee in a container in front of a staff person. The containers cost $1000 per 200 and are a solid waste disaster as is the waste from the kitchen. There is no recycling. 

It is very easy to  “violate” rules and have one’s stay here prolonged. 

The paperwork is convoluted and difficult to follow, thus no walk for me today.

People smoke in the building and that is used to ensnare, give incident reports, and hold residents longer. I often have to wait to use the toilet because women smoke in our shared bathroom. Then I am breathing in the smoke each time I use the bathroom. I have been warned by the other women to live with this and not to snitch.

In order to mail this article, I have to have an already scheduled, approved time to go out. Then I must find a mail box. Someone here bought stamps through whatever the arrangement is and paid 75 cents per stamp. I gave her stamps and envelopes and writing paper.

Our rooms are searched for food and other contraband on a regular basis. Male and female staff can enter our rooms at any time, and they check on us at regular intervals.

We must get permission to speak with media. 

While in quarantine I was allowed no exercise out of the room for ten days.

A friend sent a yoga mat and wrist weights which the staff refused to give to me. All packages that came the first two weeks had to be asked for and then opened in front of staff.

In terms of space, my “bunkies” like to sleep in, keep the shades down, and the A/C at 68 degrees.

After being moved upstairs, I was sitting out in the hall to do my stretches, readings, and writing. Each bedroom holds four people. One of the three bedrooms has been converted to lounge space, so the women don’t have to sit downstairs with the men. The TV has not been set up yet in this lounge room, so I am the only one to really use the space, a real blessing. There is a small TV in the bedroom that stays on all day with shows  depicting violence, sex, ridicule, and generally demeaning content for its viewers. The big TV downstairs shows either sports or Fox News. 

The in-house precautions for COVID are to wear masks at all times, wash hands, and spray high-use areas two to three times a day. The dining room is cleaned by resident labor and often goes two days without table top washing or floor cleaning. There was an active case here within the past few months, but information is not available. Because of COVID precautions, no visitors are allowed, yet residents are expected to work out in public. 

In order to reach home confinement status we must pass through different phases, and the time line for this movement remains unclear. After quarantine, I am still at phase two with no time outdoors for leisure and a 5:00 p.m. curfew. The walk that is allowed is designated and I must call halfway through the one hour walk to say I am turning around to come back. I am searched and given the breathalyzer each time I return to the house. My phone is checked on a weekly basis to make sure I am not viewing pornography, calling any other residents in the house, or any of my co-defendants.

My cell phone is my life line to friends and family. It took three days for them to approve it and let me use it after I first arrived here.

My husband, when dropping me off, was not allowed to come in with me. We thought that I would be checking in for an ankle monitor, watching an orientation video about the rules, and going on to home in Vermont. The first thing said to me as “Where is your suitcase?” and then, “You are going into ten day quarantine.” After I unpacked, they took my suitcase. 

My three year old granddaughter burst into tears when Grandpa arrived home without me on May 26th.

The staff in Danbury said the houses are not keeping people due to COVID. Not so for this nuclear abolitionist.

My prayer life has deepened out of sheer necessity. Sometimes, in the room where I stay with two other women,  I wake up on the top bunk  and I feel panic with the window blocked and the ceiling near my head. The bunkbed is very light weight and shakes whenever either of us occupying it makes the slightest move. I took the top bunk to placate my roommates who didn’t want to move up when I arrived. I take great precautions getting up and down in the dark.

So dear friends, these are the sordid details of my current life at a halfway house. The program gives no rehabilitation for folks, and talking and sharing is frowned upon. Community re-entry is supposed to be the purpose and goal here but community does not flourish here. 

I maintain my daily prison routine while missing the lovely month of June as my flowerbeds at home bloom wildly, sending out fragrance that my daughter describes as amazing.

God help us all!