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Behind the Barbed-Wire with Sherman Austin

by Anon Saturday, Jan. 17, 2004 at 7:47 AM

Update about the last visit to Sherman.

Approaching FCI Tucson from desert Wilmot Road, I immediately noticed the

surrounding barbed-wire chains that separate Sherman from the "free" outside

world. I sighed at the thought that within minutes I would be able to see

him, but within hours I would have to leave the facility without him. I

pondered what our reactions would be.

I continued through the entranced door, and the metal detector caught my

eye as well as the guards staring at me. I felt their eyes on me, and

thought that at any moment they would say, "So you're here to visit the

terror boy." Instead, figuring I was new, they just handed me a form to fill

out, and I turned it in with my ID once completely filled out. Some of the

questions on there were quite ridiculous, "do you have any cameras, weapons

of mass destruction, food, electronic devices, narcotics, etc." It became

almost a joke when I came to visit after this first time, just thinking that

anyone that would actually have any of this would check yes.

While I sat waiting to be called I still wondered why the guards stared.

They probably

wondered why someone so young would have an inmate for a boyfriend. Whatever

the reason was, they

seemed very curious. When I had gone back to visit for the holidays after

this first

visit, a couple of the guards remarked to Sherman "that girl comes here a

lot doesn't she," and "why are you here, if your from LA?"

"Visit for Austin," the guard called. I got up and checked into a visitor

book. Meanwhile the guards checked my clear purse that held about 10 dollars

in loose change for vending machines and a hotel key; pretty much the only

things you are allowed to carry in with you in a clear bag. They then asked

me to take off my shoes and to pursue through the metal detector. I passed

without a beep, but was then asked to read a board. It said that I was about

to be tested for drugs with a special ionic machine that works like a

vacuum. I had to raise my arms while they sucked particles off my clothing,

and they then ran it through a machine. I felt awkward, but imagined it was

less than what Sherman has to go through daily. In one of his letters he had

mentioned that about every week they'd give him a breathalyzer test to see

if he's been drinking. Any person that knows him knows that he's Mr.

Anti-drugs & alcohol. I guess it doesn't matter there. We'll I passed the

test, being Mrs. Anti-drug & alcohol, and they stamped my hand. Again I was

sat down until a group of visitors were checked in, then they lead us into a

boxy white room where we had to show our stamp to another guard. Once we all

cleared, finally we were taken to the visiting room.

On the way there the barbed-wire was more apparent like Sherman wrote to me,

"I think they purposely put it in certain areas, like right above the

entrance to the Food Court so it's the first thing you see when you get up

in the morning and go to breakfast. It's there to remind you that your "a

prisoner." I got a turning feeling in my stomach partly experiencing his

physical & mental sentence. I saw food service inmate workers about 40 feet

away from our path, but we were separated by a chain link fence. I wondered

if Sherman was around there since that is his job at the prison, which he

only receives 8 cents an hour pay (that's with a high school diploma). It

rounds up to a month, that's what his last monthly paycheck came out to.

In the visiting room there were rows of colored plastic chairs under

exhausting fluorescent lights. Different colors indicated different types of

prisoners, like green/blue chairs were for INS, hold-over, and pre-trial

prisoners. I got the choice of red, yellow, or beige. I choose red since it

was about the only spot available in the packed visiting room.

I waited anxiously constantly looking at the clock. One by one inmate's

were let out from a corner door after they were padded down by a guard.

After 20 minutes of waiting, Sherman appeared in khaki pants, a khaki

collared shirt, and black steel toe boots. At first he glanced all over the

place looking for me like a lost little boy. Once we locked eyes, our smiles

were unstoppable. We rushed to each other and were allowed to hug and kiss

for a few minutes. He hugged me so tight that my back cracked about four

times. It was so refreshing to feel him and smell his long dreads. After our

"allowed touch time" was up we sat down and held hands throughout the visit.

He put his arm around me a couple of times until a guard came up to us and

asked if I was Sherman's sister. Sherman responded "No, she's my

girlfriend." Then the guard said that we were not allowed to do that then.

What a load of B.S. we thought, and we couldn't say anything back because it

would risk loosing visits. We were still allowed to lean on each other and

hold hands. I felt like I was back in high school with all the rules,

fences, guards/security, and uniforms. Sherman said he felt the same way.

Still the guards weren't that bad, a lot of them were friendly and

talkative, they just do what they are told to make a living. Something's

slide, some don't, you just got to know the ropes and types of guards.

Sherman and I constantly stared at each other looking for changes. I noticed

he gained muscle & a couple of pounds. He also seemed taller since he stood

up straight from doing incline push-ups and bench presses. He works out

about twice a day, because he said that having this routing helps the days

go by faster. By looking at him I could tell he wasn't kidding about working

out. He sets goals for himself like by the time he finishes serving time he

wants to be able to bench press at least 300 pounds. When he first came to

the facility he was struggling with 65 pounds. After 4 months, he's now at

185 pounds max. Another reason he keeps a routine he says "it's good cause

it builds self discipline." Amongst his other physical changes were his

dreads that seemed a couple of inches longer, and his face seemed to have

years added to it from all the stress he's been going through. In pictures

he had sent me from the prison for my birthday I could see his boyish stare

seemed hard-edged. But at our visit he seemed to regain some of his glow,

also at the upcoming visits with his mother and again myself. I guess the

hardened look could just be homesickness and prison life, either way I was

glad to have the lively Sherman in front of me. He is truly an amazing

spirit with phenomenal abilities to transcend all the negatives of this

situation into something positive. I love this about him. Even though his

physical appearance is changing a little, his heart and mind continue in the

same path of maturing strength, compassion, love, and intelligence.

We talked and talked about a variety of topics. Sherman said he is very glad

to be receiving support letters and reading all of them. He's sorry he

hasn't responded to a lot of letters, but it's quite difficult with the

shortage of stamps, time, and energy. That place seems to suck the life out

of him. He has mentioned a variety of his favorites from all around the

world like from France, South Africa, and a large majority across United

States. Letters seem to be part of his motivation to move forward and stay

strong. He sends thanks and appreciation to all of you that have taken the

time to write to him.

We also talked about books he finished reading that I had sent him. He

finished reading the Elaine Brown story "A Taste of Power" and "Lockdown

America" by Christian Parenti. He just started on two other books. The main

one he's currently reading sent by his mother is called "Decolonizing the

Mind," and "Fast Food Nation." So far he's got plenty to read, but doesn't

mind receiving more. He shares his books with some of his fellow inmates,

especially conscience literature. He feels that others should be able to

read books likes "Lockdown America" to better understand their imprisonment

because education is a powerful tool.

Sherman also mentioned that in this facility he gets the chance to play

music. He plays bass guitar for a prison rock band, and he plays drums for

the prison chapel on Saturday evenings. Many other facilities don't offer

this, so it's good he has this opportunity while serving time. It also helps

him practice for when he comes out, because one of his main focuses will be

writing music with conscience lyrics. We're still not sure if he will be

able to use computers for this art due the 3 year probation. I guess we'll

know when he meets with his probation officer.

As we continued with our visit, inmates that also had visitors would pass by

us and say hello to him, "What's up Sherm Tank (Sherms or Shermanator)?" I

found it a bit amusing. I was glad to see this interaction. He would tell me

about some of them. Like one of the guys was the singer of the rock band

that Sherman plays bass for at the prison. From what I saw, Sherman hasn't

had a problem making friends. Especially since this facility seems to not

inhibit any racial tension. When his mother visited the first time, she was

approached by one of the inmates. This inmate told her that she shouldn't

worry about her son, because Sherman was being looked after. On my visit I

could tell that he knew different people and he was well rounded. I got to

see that other inmates were not the Hollywood stereotypes, well at least not

in this federal facility. They also had families and loved ones on the

outside, like Sherman said "they are regular people." Most of them are in

prison for non-violent drug offenses, it really made me think about the

prison system. I noticed that many of these prisoners seem to come from

low-income families and majority were people of color. I wondered how many

of them were able to afford a private attorney or ended up with a

plea-bargaining public defender.

Sherman and I also talked about his case. It's a hard topic to avoid,

especially when there is still hope for a plea-withdrawal. Sherman further

realizes the all the railroading and manipulation that was involved in his

case to set him up. He was used to "set an example to deter future

revolutionaries." Being in that place he replays and analyzes facts over and

over. The injustice doesn't fade away. For Sherman and those supporting him,

this case isn't closed.

Our first three-hour visit flew by. The guards announced, "Visitation is

over. Inmates to the red chairs. Visitors to the door." We were again

allowed to give a quick hug & kiss goodbye. I felt like shrinking small

enough, so that I could fit into his pocket or vice versa. We joked about

this, to break the sadness. While Sherman held me tight in his arms, he

reassured me that this nightmare sentence would be over soon and he would

come out upgraded version Sherman 2.0. I couldn't help but to laugh at his

goofy humor and feel comforted. His positive energy made me feel more serene

with the thought that I would be back to visit him soon.

To add some personal insight I'll end this quoting Sherman from one of his


"I'm going to try everything in my power to not go back, ever. I never want

to go back to prison. The reality of the situation is though I'm not in full

control over being a target, but I am in control of how much I will fight to

not get locked up again. I'd like to go to school when I get out. It's not

going to get rid of the reality of the situation though. They are going to

be on me for the rest of my life. Trying to look good isn't going to change

it. If I take college classes it's not for me to try to look good, but to do

something for myself. This isn't something I can simply run away from or

hide from by a change of lifestyle. The only thing that can bring this to an

end is some kind of social change. I can lay-low for as long as I want, but

it won't ever change the reality of things. That's why I didn't really lay

low during my case, because it wasn't going to change anything. They still

wanted their conviction and the Judge always had 1 year on his mind since my

first court appearance. That I couldn't control, so I just continued to do

organizing work and spread more word out in the open about my case. Like at

first when everyone was telling my mom and me to be very quiet about

everything, because it could "hurt my case." It was false, because the

Judges mind and FBI's mind were already made up from the start. So really if

you think about it, the only thing that could have been done strategically

was to be very vocal about it and continue would have at least

organized more people and increased awareness. Which is a key element that

eventually leads to change. That to me is more important in focusing on,

rather than "laying low," because it's not like you're loosing anything.

Your still going to struggle and end up in jail or struggle and live in

paranoid fear of running your whole life. Both things are a prison."

Report this post as:

Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 5 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
Free Sherman 1Planet1People Saturday, Jan. 17, 2004 at 11:32 PM
ADDED INFO TO THE SHERMAN STORY!!! Lupe Monday, Jan. 19, 2004 at 8:03 PM
ADDED INFO TO THE SHERMAN STORY!!! Lupe Monday, Jan. 19, 2004 at 8:15 PM
WRITE TO SHERMAN ME Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2004 at 3:04 AM
I'm feeling very sexy tonight Hex anon Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2004 at 3:26 AM

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