“Just new running shoes,” I answered and stepped to the bars.
Unlocking the tray slot, the guard handed me a pair of Adidas and then dug back into the box and pulled out two one-pound boxes of chocolates.
“That’s a surprise!” I exclaimed, eyeing the boxes of chocolates. Turning the boxes over, inspecting them, the guard said, “Need to check with the lieutenant about something. I’ll bring the chocolates to you tomorrow.”
“Okay,” I said easily and went and wrote my friend Lisa, thanking her for the shoes and chocolates.
The next day the guard came by my cell, and said, “The chocolates were packaged in cellophane, so you can’t have them.”
“All right.” I shrugged. “I’ll send them back.”
“Can’t send back part of a package,” the guard informed me, “you have to send the whole package back.”
Shaking my head, I sighed, reached down, picked up the shoes, and started to hand them to the guard.
“No,” the guard objected. “I already issued you the shoes, so you can’t send them back.”
“What are you telling me?” I asked in confusion.
“You can’t have the chocolates and you can’t send them back either.”
“So what can I do with them?”
“Donate them to charity.”
“What charity wants a couple boxes of chocolates?”
The guard didn’t say anything, and it started to dawn on me I might be getting jacked.
“Okay.” I waved him off. “Go ahead and donate them, just give me a receipt listing the charity so I can send it to Lisa. She’s my friend who bought the package.”
“No.” The guard shook his head. “You’re not entitled to a receipt.”
“Keep the chocolates handy,” I said harshly, “I’m filing an appeal.”
I filed paperwork stating if you take something that doesn’t belong to you, the penal code describes that as stealing.
Almost a month later, the lieutenant called me into his office. On his desk was my appeal. Shoving it toward me, he snapped, “You need to sign this off right now. Not going to allow a murderer to call a sworn law enforcement officer a thief.”
“Give me the boxes or allow me to ship them to Lisa or give me a receipt listing the charity where the chocolates are being donated and I’ll sign off the appeal.”
“No,” the lieutenant barked. “You are voiding the appeal.”
“No, I’m not.” I shook my head.
The lieutenant wasn’t happy with me, but the judge sent me to Death Row to die, not make the lieutenant happy.
I sent the appeal to the warden, and then went to the law library and started researching the issue. I found I had grounds for a federal lawsuit. My claim was simple; government officials were depriving me of property under the color of authority.
As I drafted the complaint, I was fully aware how trivial my claim, and I kept thinking some supervisor would step in and the situation would go away.
A few days later, the lieutenant circulated a memo stating if Death Row prisoners placed personal items on top of their locker in the back of the cell the personal items would be confiscated. Several condemned men approached me and asked me to appeal the memo.
“It’s not that big a deal,” I tried to gaff them off. “You can put your property on the other shelves of your locker and under your bunk.”
“A tier cop has already taken a couple of TV’s,” one of the men objected, “and you know TV’s won’t fit on top of the locker. There’s not enough room between the locker and the ceiling. The memo is giving guards a license to steal.”
“Why me? I’ll write an appeal of the issue, but why do I have to sign it and represent?”
“The lieutenant is already mad at you,” one guy answered and they all nodded in agreement.
Sighing, I filed the appeal and went to meet with the lieutenant again.
“I wrote the memo because the fire marshal says the top of the locker has to be clear because the sprinkler heads for the fire suppression system are located there,” the lieutenant said reasonably.
“Why couldn’t you just put out a memo stating that, Lieutenant?”
“Because you dead men don’t listen.”
“Just put out a memo ordering us to keep the top of our locker clear, and if we don’t you can write rules violation reports for disobeying written orders and take away privileges, Lieutenant, but you can’t just steal our property.”
“Hunter!” the lieutenant barked. “I’ve warned you about calling my officers thieves!”
“Lieutenant, a couple of TV’s have been taken because an officer said they were on top of the lockers, but they won’t even physically fit up there.”
“Get your whining, sniveling butt out of my office,” the lieutenant hollered. “Get out! Get out now!”
Oddly enough, the lieutenant rescinded the memo about confiscating property found on top of the lockers and had the TV’s returned to the rightful owners, but the warden denied my appeal about my chocolates.
I sent the appeal about the chocolates on to the state capitol in Sacramento in order to exhaust my administrative remedies.
A couple months later, someone came from Sacramento to see me about my chocolates. “What’s this really about?” he asked. “Can’t just be about chocolates.”
“It’s about the state taking things from me without due process,” I answered seriously, but fully realizing how petty the issue.
“Well, I’m not buying anything you’re selling,” the state official told me. “I’m denying your appeal and you can hire a lawyer to file a lawsuit.”
“My federal complaint is already written, do you want a copy?” I asked and pulled a copy from my shelf and proffered it to him.
Taking it from me, he looked it over and said, “Don’t you think the courts have better things to do than deal with this?”
I shrugged and after looking at me again he went away.
A half hour later, he came back with my two boxes of chocolates, handed them over, and had me sign off the appeal. The chocolates were stale, but I ate them anyway.
To find more of Michael’s writing, please visit Life After Death Row.