• Donald V. Watkins

The Other Side of Midnight is Near

Updated: 4 days ago

By Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on October 7, 2021


On Friday, October 1, 2021, FCI LaTuna prison officials transferred me to LaTuna's camp, where I am one of 209 "out-custody" inmates. I have not been in a camp setting since I was removed from FCI Talladega's camp after a correctional officer planted a cellphone charger in my dorm locker on May 12, 2020 on orders from his superiors. This event was later used as a pretext to block my early release from prison due to my age (then 71-years-old), my underlying medical conditions, and the surging Coronavirus pandemic.


By late April of 2020, a number of Talladega prison officials had learned that I submitted a confidential whistleblower complaint in January of 2020 to the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). My complaint detailed an ongoing criminal racketeering and drug dealing enterprise that operated from the warden's office at the prison. After these prison officials discovered that I had reported their misconduct to DOJ's Inspector General, they unleashed hell on me. I had warned the DOJ that I would be subjected to retaliation if my complaint was ever made known to Talladega officials. The DOJ simply ignored this warning.


A major problem for those Talladega officials who have tried to cover-up the racketeering activities at the prison is the existence of electronic evidence in multiple locations that document the fact that a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's office in Birmingham allowed one of the inmate contraband dealers to pocket a large portion of the tainted money he made from his illegal activities. Adding insult to injury, this inmate is one of the career criminals who was given an early release during the pandemic because of his "insider" hook-up at Talladega.


To this day, the DOJ has never questioned me about the racketeering enterprise at FCI Talladega or the documentation that proves it. Interestingly, the top prosecutor who ran the day-to-day operations of the U.S. Attorney's office in Birmingham while the criminal racketeering enterprise at Talladega was thriving in 2019 and early 2020 is Lloyd Peeples. FCI Talladega is located in Peeples' federal law enforcement jurisdiction.


Even with a change in presidential administrations last January and a change in job titles, Lloyd Peeples still runs the show in the U.S. Attorney's office in Birmingham, albeit from behind the scenes.


My Time Spent in the "Hole," Followed by "Diesel Therapy"


I spent six months in the "Hole" at Talladega's medium security prison, even though I was only supposed to serve 30 days there as punishment for the phone charger that was planted in my dorm cubicle. Prison officials later placed me on "diesel therapy," which began when I was shipped, via a bus ride, to the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta.


"Diesel therapy" occurs when prison officials subject an inmate to a long and arduous journey to his next prison destination, with uncomfortable layovers in between. It is designed to further punish the inmate.


My cellmate in the "Hole" at Talladega, who was actually caught using a cell phone, was shipped to LaTuna and arrived at the prison within three days after his departure from Talladega. In contrast, my journey to the same destination took almost four months.


I later learned from an internal FCI Talladega document that I was subjected to "diesel therapy" for "adjustment purposes" because (a) I supposedly engaged in the "greatest" level of "disruptive conduct" at the prison and (b) my "behavior and overall adjustment [was] considered poor." They were right. My complaint about the racketeering activities at FCI Talladega posed the greatest threat to the continuation of this ongoing criminal enterprise. They had to get me away from FCI Talladega, pronto!


After I arrived at USP Atlanta on the first leg of my "diesel therapy," I discovered that convicted gang members, drug kingpins, and murderers, who were awaiting trial on federal racketeering, murder, and drug charges, actually ran the prison. Correctional officers at USP Atlanta worked for these notorious and powerful inmates and often unlocked the cells of "campers" like me so that these gang members would have unfettered access to us.


Even though I had extremely low "camp" classification points, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) placed me in the custody and control of top gang members, convicted killers, and drug kingpins for two months at a U.S. penitentiary. This was a blatant violation of BOP rules. It became readily apparent to me that somebody with significant influence inside the BOP wanted me eliminated.

I was able to survive my ordeal at USP Atlanta only because I possess a unique set of skills and professional training that all inmates need and crave -- nationally-recognized legal expertise in criminal cases. I hold the record in American jurisprudence for winning the freedom of a client (Richard Scrushy) who faced the most criminal charges -- an 85 felony-count indictment in 2003. This client also faced up to 650 years in prison, if convicted on all counts. He walked free on all charges following a six-month trial and 28 days of jury deliberation in 2005. This case is featured in the May 2020 Netflix documentary titled, "Trial by Media", Episode 4, "King Richard," which had been viewed by some of the inmates who ran USP Atlanta.


In July and August of 2021, BOP officials in Washington moved 1,800 inmates out of USP Atlanta and closed the penitentiary amid widespread allegations of corruption among the prison's staff. Prison executives also allowed the physical facilities at USP Atlanta to deteriorate into an uninhabitable, rat-infested, unsanitary, and deplorable prison slum environment.


On the second leg of my "diesel therapy," I was flown from Atlanta to the federal transfer center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where I spent 23 hours per day locked in a cell for six weeks. During my time at FTC Oklahoma, I had two cellmates, both of whom suffered from confirmed cases of COVID-19. Fortunately, I did not contract COVID from them.


Life at FCI LaTuna is Good


I arrived at my final destination, FCI LaTuna, on March 5, 2021. I have written about my life at FCI LaTuna in two articles, "Life at FCI LaTuna" and "Mopping with a Smile." In short, life at LaTuna is good.


The first thing I noticed about LaTuna was the manner in which Warden Sandra Hijar and Associate Warden D. Whitmore ran this prison. They are very professional, hands-on, knowledgeable about prison management, and positive in their approach to how inmates should be treated. Hijar and Whitmore begin their interaction with incoming inmates by giving them a full measure of respect as human beings, regardless of the crimes for which they are imprisoned. Both executives quickly earned my respect in return.


I have always voiced constructive criticism of public officials when it is necessary to do so. Likewise, I have also commended public officials when they demonstrate outstanding job performance. Within these parameters, Warden Hijar and Associate Warden Whitmore run LaTuna in a firm, fair, and efficient manner. They solve problems promptly and take pride in doing so. Unlike many top executives at other federal prisons, Hijar and Whitmore do not engage in tactical inmate avoidance strategies. Instead, they are very accessible to inmates and are attentive to their concerns and needs. If there is a national model for "best practices" in prison management, it must begin with Ms. Hijar and Mr. Whitmore at FCI LaTuna.


After I arrived at LaTuna's Camp on October 1, 2021, I realized that the other side of midnight is near for me. Throughout it all, God never left my side and He answered all of my prayers.


Epilogue


I formed a lot of great friendships among the inmate populations at Talladega, USP Atlanta, FTC Oklahoma, and FCI LaTuna. Some of my friends cried when I left each facility, not knowing whether they would ever see me again. I was warmly greeted last Friday by a new set of inmates at LaTuna's Camp.


Before moving to the camp, I was able to use my six months at FCI LaTuna building bridges across the cultural and political divide that separates Hispanics, Native-Americans, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans. Working together, we were able to give birth a new and emerging political unification movement between these minority groups that will only grow in scope and intensity with the passage of time.


I am working diligently to forge a unified national political force among these minority groups by the time the 2024 presidential election occurs. As inmates, we may not be able to vote by 2024, but we can certainly motivate and inspire at least two million unregistered members among these minority groups to become registered voters in the key swing states between now and 2024. Once these targeted individuals are registered, we will educate them on which presidential candidate actually respects communities of color and which one has demonstrated his/her respect by positive, concrete, and sustained quality of life enhancement actions.


Finally, God has used my two years in prison to prune my garden of life. He purged the "sunshine friends" who were nothing more than weeds in my garden. God also planted some new and beautiful flowers in my bountiful garden. Furthermore, God's bright light is now shining on the true friends who stood up and fought by my side throughout my ordeal.


As a "political prisoner," I look forward to the day when I am able to be reunited with all of my family members, my true friends, and all of my political supporters who accompanied me along this long and dark journey to the other side of midnight.


In the end, "good" always triumphs over the "evil" of men and women who are condemned to a life sentence in the prison of racial bigotry, low self-esteem, and ethical lapses.






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