Diane Sawyer Comes to Prison (13) By Edna Merle 1 Vote
Prison life was infused with characters. In prison I knew a lot of violent inmates but most of them functioned normally with the regular population. One inmate I knew who lived in the predator dorm told me that after she and some friends had seen the movie Natural Born Killers they decided it would be fun to duplicate it. So they went out and terrorized some people. Then they killed them. Now they all have life sentences without parole.
It was in this building where the world renowned TV reporter Diane Sawyer came to visit. Supposedly she was going to live with the inmates for a weekend so she could share her experiences on TV. She slept in the “honor dorm,” the safest place to be in prison. That night she was presented a cake in the shape of a penis three feet long and a foot wide. Later, we watched in amazement on TV as the Deputy Warden gracefully stuck her finger into the cake and tasted the frothy icing. She said it was good. Ms. Sawyer smiled. She evidently was impressed with the creative efforts of the inmate who had made the cake. I remember staring at the TV with my mouth open, shocked, thinking “something isn’t right about this” and then laughing my ass off.
Ms. Sawyer put on the prison khaki elastic waist pants with the button-up shirt, wore her hair back in a pony tail, and slipped on the black work boots. She was an inmate. But you knew she wasn’t one of us because she walked down the middle of the walkway. There is a designated yellow line where prisoners must walk to the right of in a very narrow space about two or three feet. Not only did she insist on walking down the very middle with her entourage of camera men but she was also drinking a Coke out of what appeared to be a glass bottle. Glass is forbidden! And prisoners were most definitely not allowed to eat or drink their store-bought items outside of their housing units. It’s not even legal to carry a bag of peanuts in your pocket outside. So immediately we all thought “she can’t even walk on the right side of the road, she’d never make it through diagnostics!” Diagnostics is the initial intake housing unit of prisoners before they are classified. It is extremely strict, military like. Being classified determines the level of security the inmate will need, level of education and medical issues. All those things and more determine where an inmate will be sent to live and what type of job they may be capable of doing. Diagnostics is the worst phase of prison, the most uncomfortable and the most harassing.
We learned later that her motive for this visit was not to show the real prisoners. She focused on the characters in the violent building that could show her how to fabricate sexual devices. They were actually allowed to show her step by step how to make a dildo. She discussed relationship issues with a woman who played the man role. She wanted to know about her love for her “wife.” And Ms. Sawyer wanted to know how to make fire without matches. Her inmate friends showed her how by sticking lead and foil into the electric wall receptacles. Sex and fire sells. The deputy warden and other staff stood by watching all this happen as if they were condoning these activities that would have normally have sent anyone else to lockdown for many days. But these inmates were doing it for TV so it was OK. If the Fire Marshal had been there he probably would have shut down the building.
When we saw the actual TV documentary the majority of woman in prison were portrayed as practicing lesbians or bisexuals who only cared about their relationships in prison. And it appeared as if Ms. Sawyer was extremely interested in how the inmates illegally lit their cigarettes inside the buildings. I thought it was interesting that the warden allowed that to be exposed because when I complained about the smoke in the dorms he said, “Our buildings are smoke free.” That was funny because the nicotine was so thick in the dorms that the once stark white walls were golden-yellow and moist from people smoking inside. The smoke had nowhere to go because the windows did not open and there was very little ventilation. The TV report showed us as a wild-looking gathering outside at night on the yard with what looked like a fire in the background. I guess that was supposed to look like a campfire. The truth is no one is allowed outside at night. There is no “yard call” at night nor ever a campfire. How they created the scene to look like that amazed us all. I was embarrassed that the people I knew outside of prison would have seen that documentary and thought, “Oh, that’s what Edna Merle’s doing in there.” When the report showed on TV many of us called home to tell our families that’s not how it is in here. We do not live like that.
Two days after Ms. Sawyer left one of the “studs” she interviewed went into the library, grabbed her “wife” by the back of the head by her hair, threw her to the ground, and stomped on her face, breaking her nose. And she kept on stomping her face with her black work boots. This was no “punch in the nose”. Everyone there ran out of the library. Some locked themselves in the inmate’s bathroom. But all ran, and hid and feared the wounded girl would be dead soon and they’d be the next target. The librarian (media specialist) locked herself in her own private bathroom. The CERT (Correctional Emergency Response Team) came with their shields and suits, but waited until the perpetrator was finished before they apprehended her.
Meanwhile, blood had traversed its way 30 feet from where the incident occurred. Blood was later found inside the pages of many books and under bookshelves. The carpet in the library that day looked like it had been a ritual site for a slaughter or an execution. One lady I know that was working there at the time was so traumatized by the violence and the blood she had to clean up that she was never the same afterward. She said the blood went everywhere “like it was a vicious animal.”
This lady had suffered from serious post traumatic stress disorder. Her crime: involuntary manslaughter and kidnapping. Here’s what happened. Her ex-husband lived in her basement. She was out at the store. When she came home her boyfriend was there and told her to get the ex-husband to come upstairs. So she yelled for her ex to come up. When he did the boyfriend killed him with a baseball bat: beat him over and over in the head until he was dead.
The ex-wife was convicted of “kidnapping” for telling him to come to another part of the house and convicted of involuntary manslaughter because it was involuntary on her part. The sight of all the blood coming from her ex-husband’s body and head with the smell made an indelible mark she will never likely forget. So when she saw and smelled the blood in the library, it brought those memories back again; memories which weren’t so very far off.
I always liked her and I remember her as a very good person. She was a mother figure to many. She was short, chubby and had rosy cheeks that exuded good health. She was friendly and would always help anyone in need. You could never imagine that she would have had anything to do with the murder of her ex-husband. When she told me her story, I was speechless.
It was a horrible incident. We sent letters to Ms. Sawyer letting her know what her star stud interviewed had done with the hope that she would amend her segment. She didn’t acknowledge our letters, which had to be sent home first for our families to mail for us. Prison officials told us we could not send her letters or try to talk to her about any other part of prison life. If we did, they said, we would go to lockdown.
Soon that excitement and disappointment changed back into the regular daily grind of prison life and was forgotten. We felt dejected Ms. Sawyer had moved on without the real stories and real issues. The angst of our lives perhaps wouldn’t make a good story.
When I found the actual story report (see link below) it reaffirmed my belief that some of the truth had been omitted. And some of the events were also reported incorrectly.