Mindy Ragan Wood | September 17, 2015 Category: Red Dirt News
SHAWNEE, Okla. — Cathy Fulwider didn’t know she would speak with her husband for the last time on Sept. 6, 2015.
Thirty-one year-old Anthony Fulwider was murdered in the Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing on Saturday, September 12th , along with three other inmates.
“He was really making some good changes,” said his wife, Cathy. “He was on the waiting list to get his GED. He was trying to get out of the UAB gang. He asked to be transferred to another unit the first week of August. He told them he was willing to work. He signed up for a church program, a 30-week addiction course and he was so excited because he was going to get to complete it. When I talked to him he said, ‘I guess they’re not going to let me go to that unit.’”
It was last time she spoke to him. “He had seven years to go until he had served his 85 percent. I lost my dad in July. I took care of him in my home and watched him die every day. Now I’ve lost him (Anthony). I don’t even know how to deal with this,” she said. “I feel like this could have been prevented. It wouldn’t have happened if they had moved him. It’s senseless.”
Prisons across the state are experiencing deadly, organized violence according to officers and staff who witness conditions and brutality every day. Mostly the violence is gang-related, but some instances are one-on-one incidents.
As reported in June, gang violence in particular had become a problem at Lexington Correctional Center and Cimarron Correctional Facility. CCF is a prison owned by Corrections Corporation of America, and they reported 200 to 300 inmates were involved in a riot. All state facilities and the Oklahoma County jail went under a temporary partial or total lockdown to quell the violence that spread to other facilities.
As predicted by Red Dirt Report, gang tensions have increased. Saturday, three inmates were stabbed to death and a fourth died after an outbreak of violence again at CCF. All facilities were again put on lockdown. The Tulsa World reported the latest Bureau of Justice Statistics show Oklahoma now has the highest rate of inmate homicide in the country.
Other facilities are reporting stabbings, recently one at Oklahoma State Reformatory. Sean Wallace, Director of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, who speaks regularly to officers and staff said, “Jesse Dunn had a big fight break out. Also, Jim Hamilton down by Poteau had a big fight, 10 or more inmates. They say that fight was white vs black, whereas in Cushing and elsewhere it was whites vs whites: Irish Mob vs Aryan Brotherhood. William S. Keys had a big fight involving about 20, same day as Cushing; four were treated at a hospital and released.”
Why They Explode
Psychologists and criminal justice professors who have studied organized violence such as riots identify the causes and often say it’s far more than simple criminality. In society riots and looting occur due to poverty and perceived inequality. In prisons organized violence is more specific to conditions; both are from a sense of powerlessness and frustration.
Dungeon-like living conditions, poor quality or not enough food, lack of reform programs and activities, failure to protect inmate from violence like rape or assault, and frequent staff turnover and overcrowding are just a few proven causes of riots.
Red Dirt Report and other news outlets have documented the extreme staffing shortages, poor living conditions, and increased offender-on-offender violence due to overcrowding. State prisons were already 97 to 99 percent full, according to ODOC population reports in April 2014 when Director Robert Patton chose to accept state offenders who were being house in county jails. The state prison capacity has jumped as high as 112 percent.
Psychologists say these conditions among others create a sense of powerlessness. That sense of powerlessness leads to a power vacuum, and gangs fill it. With cell phones and contraband a chronic problem, gangs are more organized and armed. Officers say they don’t have enough staff to perform searches as often as necessary to stay on top it.
More Loved Ones Speak Out
A mother whose son is serving his sentence at Davis Correctional Facility said her son talks about how bad conditions really are. “Nicole” did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation toward her son.
“He worked in the kitchen for a little while. He told my daughter –in-law and me that the bologna has mold on it and there was food that came through there with a label that said, ‘not for human consumption.’ This is what they’re feeding inmates,” said Nicole.
She said her son has managed not to cave into the pressure to join a gang. “He told me, ‘I have to constantly watch my back. I can’t take off my shoes ever because I have to be ready to fight. You have to constantly be watching because there’s so much violence.’ Since he’s been there, they’ve had 2 or 3 murders and ever since then every time he turns around they’re on lockdown.”
Another mother whose son is also at Davis Correctional, said she fears for her son’s safety. She communicates and prays with other moms whose loved ones are incarcerated. “We are all afraid for our loved ones’ safety. That’s our biggest fear and worrying about them having to choose sides to stay alive. If you’re not with any certain group, you’re against them,” said “Terry,” who also asked us not to reveal her name.
“The feeling of helplessness is the worst. Not being able to do anything to help our loved ones.
Not getting any information from the prisons, never helps the situation. It makes it worse,” said Terry
Nicole said she knows her son has done wrong, but is shocked at the inhuman attitude she sees in comments regarding the loss of life and conditions at prisons. “What makes me mad and hurts me so bad is that people don’t care. They think because they’re prisoners, their life doesn’t matter. I get angry when I see people say things like, ‘Well we’ll save tax dollars. That’s one less inmate if they just kill each other off.’ I have to hold my tongue or I’ll go off.”
“Jessica” is another mother whose son is at CCF in Cushing. She said her son was beaten up at a prison before being transferred to the facility. “He said after 17 times he couldn’t feel anything and he just went down.”
She said her son had a broken jaw, broken nose, and a concussion and he was never medically treated. “A nurse visited him and indicated he should have been hospitalized,” said Jessica.
She also complained that she’s never been able to reach her son’s case manager at CCF but she was one of the lucky moms to get a call right when the violence had broken out. “He couldn’t say a whole lot. ‘The CO’s can hardly see,’ he said. ‘I heard it’s the UAB (United Aryan Brotherhood), they’re locking down each pod. I gotta go, Mom. I gotta go.”
He’s serving a five year sentence. She said she’s one of the lucky moms when she thinks about those who died. “Just because they did crimes doesn’t mean they deserved to die. There’s not enough money in the world to replace a son.”
No End in Sight
While the passage of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative would have significantly reduced the prison population through sentencing reform and rehabilitative programs, it has never been fully funded.
In July, Governor Mary Fallin ordered the state corrections department to ease its policies regarding early release credits. The Governor’s General Counsel estimated as many as 6,000 inmates would benefit from those changes and save the department $2.3 million in the next 18 months.
In the last legislative session, House Bill 1117 and Senate Bill 112 passed to allow offenders to earn earlier release time if they complete reform programs like education and substance.
Offenders are still required to serve 85 percent of their sentence for certain crimes, but they can begin to earn credits so they are released after serving that time.
For more information about criminal justice reform and the state of crisis in Oklahoma prisons, read our reports: Smart on Crime: Shocking Numbers and The High Cost of Tough on Crime
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