JENNIFER AND LONNIE
Jennifer and Lonnie and family are living a “quiet, calm” life in the small, affordable town of Mena, Arkansas, with their three boys: Jeremy, Corey and Nathan, now ages 12, 4 and 2. They lived in the town previously, about seven years ago — it’s where Lonnie got his start painting aircraft. The family is now surrounded by old friends, and Lonnie is happily employed by that same aircraft painting shop where he got his start.
Jennifer stays home with the children but will be beginning work in August at the local humane society. Jeremy loves the town and is doing well in school and playing on the local little league team. He will be starting sixth grade in the fall. He likes collecting hermit crabs and frogs, and riding his bike. He and Corey have lots of neighborhood friends and play outside a lot.
Lonnie says one thing he learned in prison is that there a lot of people there who shouldn’t be — a lot of “very low-level, nonviolent offenders doing a lot of time.”
They say the drama of their time in Susanville is receding into memory, but they do think fondly of the people who supported them during that hard time — especially the people at Crossroads.
DAWAYNE AND BONNIE
Dawayne has been at High Desert for over a year. He’s been working nights and doing lots of overtime because there are a lot of guard shortages.
Bonnie says she spends a lot of time worrying about him because he works at the prison and is “risking his life every day,” since “at High Desert the inmates have nothing to lose.” He doesn’t talk a lot about work.
She says that Dawayne is a “working person” and what bothers him more than anything is that he feels like a “glorified babysitter” who gets paid a lot of money for doing nothing. Dawayne still wishes the mill hadn’t shut down — he would love to have his old job back. He liked the physical labor of the mill, coming home tired, feeling like he’d earned his pay. At the prison, he says, he feels like he’s just standing around “doing time.” He doesn’t have any aspirations to move up the career ladder at the prison. He’s happy to keep things status quo.
There is added stress on all of them — Dawayne has told Bonnie to be careful that nobody’s following her, he says there have been incidents where inmates’ wives have followed guards’ wives and threatened them. So people are nervous about that. Bonnie says there’s more gang activity in the town now. And regarding the correctional officers themselves, “there are bad C.O.’s and good C.O.’s, and the bad ones are really bad.”
Aubriana is starting kindergarten this fall and is excited about it.
MIKE O’KELLY AND MORNING GLORY DAIRY
In February 2007, a delegation of representatives from Susanville led by former mayor Lino Gallegari met with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and impressed upon him the importance of having Susanville’s local prisons maintain their current Good Neighbor Policy, specifically their working relationship with Susanville’s Morning Glory Dairy. The governor acknowledged their concerns and agreed to keep them in mind. Morning Glory’s Mike O’Kelly currently has in hand a copy of the Prison Industries waiver that allows the Susanville prisons to continue to buy his milk for at least another year. So the big war against the prison monopoly known as PIA (Prison Industry Authority) goes on, but the small battles, at least for the immediate future, continue to be won by Susanville’s local milkman.
Gabe’s been working at High Desert for two years. He’s getting a little more seniority to pick which jobs he does, which is better. Whether he likes being a C.O. or not depends on what his assignment is. Sometimes he hates it. Sometimes he likes it.
“Its been so hard the first few years. We’re at the mercy of the prison in terms of when you work. Every week your shift can change. So I’ve had moments where I’ve hated it. Daniel, my son, is like, ‘Does Daddy live here still?’ They sometimes go days without seeing me, so its stressful on family life. On the Fourth of July, the family got together at the lake and I couldn’t go. I’m missing out on a lot.”
“But now I’m through my apprenticeship [which takes two years] so I have a little bit of control over it. I plan to stay until I retire, at least 20 years. So I have 18 more years — I’ve got about one-tenth of it done and I definitely think about that. What keeps me going when things are really rough is knowing that I’ll get to retire someday. ”
“We have daily violence at the prison. We’re a level-four prison, which makes us one of the most violent prisons in the state. It can happen any day when you walk through those gates.”
Gabe feels that there’s a no-win situation in place at the prison which adds to the stress:
“You never know out there. You’re under scrutiny all the time from the officials, the press and the court system. I kind of stress out about it because when you use force you’re automatically under investigation. It’s a very complicated job. There are so many interests involved. The job is really, really stressful, both because of violence, and because once the violence happens and you step up and do your job, that’s when the stress happens. You’re forced to use force and then the scrutiny happens.”
In terms of Gabe’s attitude and whether or not it has changed, his wife Dinette says, “After he came back from the academy, he was really mean and critical. He was all into the army thing and it took a while to get over that but he’s calmed down now, gotten a lot better.”
PO KUTCHINS AND KATIE GALLOWAY, FILMMAKERS
The screenings at the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Ashland Independent Film Festival were amazing. The audience reactions were exciting and sometimes really moving. We had a woman stand up at an L.A. screening in tears, telling us of her difficult experiences in Susanville as an inmate’s wife. Some former inmates who came to the screenings told us they were so glad we had made the film — one said it was the first time she had been able to see the guards as real people. Many others said they hadn’t ever thought of the effects of prisons on the people who worked there, much less the communities that house them. And many people who screened it said that they had heard the statistics, but after viewing the film and seeing the personal stories, the numbers now really meant something to them. It felt like our main goal, to promote an informed dialogue about the issues, was in evidence. Hopefully the broadcast will continue this trend.
Since beginning Prison Town, USA, Katie moved with her family from New York to Berkeley, California. She teaches in the Mass Communications department at U.C. Berkeley, where she is also working on her Ph.D. in Political Science. Katie works part time as a film and television consultant, and is in development on several new documentary projects.
While making Prison Town, USA over the last five years, Po got married, had one baby girl, and directed and produced five television series. She is currently Supervising Producer on a comical documentary series called Parking Wars for A&E. She is also in development on a number of new projects, both documentary and fiction.