Why you should care

Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Stone Ramsey
Sacramento, California

Every morning I wake up feeling like I have one foot in prison and one foot on the streets. Literally. Being attached to an ankle monitor is cumbersome, both mentally and physically. It’s like being attached to a neo–ball and chain. It was a part of my parole conditions. Yeah, you’re free, but then again, you’re not.

The first thing I have to do every morning is charge [the monitor] up, no matter where I’m at. Before I go to sleep, I must recharge. Every day. It’s an ever-present part of my life. Even though I live at home with my wife, I feel like I’m still in prison.

I have to wear it because I was accused of being a high-ranking gang member in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Prison officials claimed I was in the Black Guerrilla Family. I was validated and had to serve SHU [Special Housing Unit] time before I was paroled. That’s 23-hour lockdown, seven days a week. They need three points to classify you as a prison gang member.

Three points. Number one, they said I had direct contact with a member of the gang. Proof of direct contact could be a name, a letter, even a book with somebody’s name in it. Anything they find on you that’s a direct link to an associate or a member is a point. Number two was a tattoo. I had a dragon on my arm. And any dragon on your arm is associated with the BGF. The third was a note that they found. They didn’t even tell me what was in the note.

I had to walk out of a job orientation, because the company had a metal detector. I was too embarrassed to go through.

 

Any three points and you get validated. In a nutshell, they could validate a brown paper bag. If the brown paper bag was in the cell with the gang member and he ate food out of it, that’s a point. In other words, it was a sham. I spent two and a half years waiting at California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo for a bed to open up in an SHU. During that time, I was like a pariah. No one wants to talk to you. Because if you make contact with me — that’s one point! So when people see you walking with your escort on the yard, they don’t say, “Hey, what’s up, Stone?” It’s a real fucked-up feeling because you are in the hole, no TV, no radio. Two and a half years straight in a cell [is] a fucked-up experience. And in the SHU it gets worse.

It’s all gang members in there, absolutely. You get an hour out of your cell every day. When I got to Corcoran SHU, it was a totally different experience. Before I went I didn’t even have a cellie, but once [you get] there, they force you to have a cellie. Ain’t that some bullshit? It was crazy because once I got there, I got put in with all the notables: the Aryan Brotherhood, the Eme, the Norteños. It’s a lot of politics. The tension was palpable. Like you could grab that shit out of the air.

I was tossed in the hole just because of my affiliation with the Black Guerrilla Family. I’ve been out now two years, but I’m still on an ankle monitor. One thing about those draconian gang-validation policies is that they don’t offer inmates due for parole any prerelease or re-entry services. Inmates on the main line [regular prison yard] have access to programs, but in SHU we get nothing. They basically vomit us into society, traumatized and unprepared. I have been working, and doing everything possible to stay free, despite my ankle monitor.

Over a period of time, literally and figuratively, it becomes the irritated part of your flesh. It affects your psyche. I once had to walk out from a job orientation, because the company had a metal detector. I was too embarrassed to walk through. And can you imagine meeting a chick and your ankle monitor starts buzzing uncontrollably, because your parole agent wants you. Imagine being in bed with your lady and it starts buzzing? It’s happened to me.

In prison all you get in regard to overall hygiene is a shower, so I basically went 16 years without taking a bath. Now I have to take baths with one leg hanging off the side of the tub. I have a swimming pool and Jacuzzi in my backyard and I can’t even get in it.

I’ve got one more year wearing this thing. But it beats being back inside. I’ll take it, as long as it keeps me on this side of the wall.

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