Persistence is Key with Grievance Denials and Games
I remember the first grievance I ever wrote. The blanket I was given barely covered me. Really it was only half a blanket, having been shredded by other prisoners for whatever reason. I was new in prison and wasn't really pressed for conversation with officers, so I wrote a grievance.
A few days later I was brought a complete blanket! I felt successful having petitioned for something and seeing results. The system had worked right? Not so much. Along with my fresh blanket came the return of my grievance—unprocessed.
Granted I was new to prison and Administrative Remedy Procedure, I thought these actions were common. My issue had been resolved so no need to process my complaint, right? I don't think so! I let this one go and started educating myself on the ins and outs of this procedure.
Over the years I heard several opinions of the Administrative Remedy Procedure by other prisoners. Some saw it as "snitching" or "dry snitching". Nearly everyone felt it was just an opportunity for officials to retaliate against us. I witness incidents *daily* that are grievance-worthy, but prisoners refuse to file them for fear they will be harassed or transferred; and, well, the things do happen!
I was never scared or discouraged in filing a grievance myself, but I certainly understand why a prisoner would be. Many times officers are unified, so if you grieve the conduct of officer A, he will send officer B to aggressively search your locker or cell. Other reprisals I've witnessed include: transfer to a new cell, section of the prison and even a new prison altogether; verbal harassment by the officer(s) grievances were filed on, and by other staff in the facility; malicious infractions against the prisoner who filed a grievance and punishments that are far too severe as a result of that infraction.
My grievance activity really began in 2015. On April 27th I was assaulted by an officer after picking up a piece of candy, which he (the officer) assumed was contraband. As the officer placed his hands around my neck I swallowed the candy, which led to me being "dry celled".
I was required to defecate in a bag three times for inspection by the officers, but on the third occasion the officers forced me to make the inspection; without protective equipment, hygiene or cleaning supplies. To my benefit, everything was on camera!
I spent three days in segregation and when released was charged with "interfering with staff duty". The officer who assaulted me said I "led him away from his search" when I placed a piece of candy in my mouth. Also, upon returning to population, I bought a Policy and Procedures Manual from a prisoner in my dorm.
I familiarized myself with policy related to use of force, close observation (dry cell), and Administrative Remedy Procedure. I followed every rule, such as—grievances can only be written about one incident and one grievance must complete step two before another can be filed. Most of my grievances were accepted and processed with no problem, but staff violated their own procedures with nearly every one.
My first grievance was on the assault/use of force. It was assigned the routing number 4630-15-0065. When I started receiving responses by prison administration, not only were they delayed, but the routing number had been changed to 4630-15-0066! Of course the obstruction was worthy of a grievance itself, so I filed one about that too.
Just six days after my obstruction grievance was accepted, I was transferred to the most dangerous prison in North Carolina. Lucky for me I had alleged threats of transfer on grievances I'd written and I requested no retaliation such as institutional transfer as one of the remedies for my grievances. All of this aided and supported another grievance on a retaliatory transfer.
A separate grievance was written concerning the dry cell incident as well. Response to this grievance alone admitted fault for the officers' conduct. All others were covered up, denied or ignored altogether.
As you can see, one grievance led to events that required others. Grievance Procedure in North Carolina requires grievances be written within ninety days of an incident so in my case that wasn't easy; especially when staff delayed responses past the time limit.
Grievance responses come in three steps and each step has a timeline which must be met, unless extensions are filed. The entire grievance process, acceptance through step three, is supposed to take ninety days, but rarely does this happen. Some of my grievances took over two hundred days to complete and even then the responses would claim that incidents never occurred.
Not only were response delays an issue, but Grievance Policy itself was violated when officials I made allegations against gave the response to grievances; grievances were left void of date, signature and indications of acceptance or rejection. All of these violations warranted more grievances and sometimes "corrective action" was said to be taken. However, the violations continued.
In April 2018, I filed a §1983 suit about each of these incidents; from the use of force to the final grievance response. Several of my claims survived the Judge's review and are still being litigated, but *none* of the grievance violations merited a Constitutional Violation. In other words, the prison system can continue violating their own procedures and won't be held accountable.
Grievances are considered "protected speech", so my retaliatory transfer claim is active. While the delays and obstruction to my grievances and responses did "hinder" my litigation, they didn't prevent it, so any claims of access to courts were dismissed. I am still seeking justice and accountability for these grievance issues. I do plan to appeal on some grounds, but I'm still exploring that as well. It's clear that grievance procedure is protected, but Administrative Remedy Procedure is not a process that is? I haven't figured it out yet, but I will.
What I have learned is that our right to petition the government for redress of grievances is one of our most important retained rights as prisoners. It should be exercised often, and without fear of consequences or retaliation. I encourage everyone to study your state's policy and procedure and apply it to your grievances. Also study your state's Administrative Remedy Procedure, so you file and appeal your grievances appropriately. Most importantly, stay strong and stand up for your rights.
We Demand Our Grievances are Addressed in North Carolina