The New Forgotten Men and Women!
Major Tillery AM978
January 18, 2018
At the age of 11, I broke into my school to tear up the report cards. The reasoning behind my actions was that my mother threatened me with staying in the house on punishment if my report card was bad. This was in the 1960s, back then the courts had the power to sentence you as a juvenile to an indefinite amount of time in these institutions. So a child could stay locked away until they became an adult. Also at this time you had a special group of juveniles sent to SCI Dallas. Some for decades for petty crimes like truancy, shoplifting, etc. These men were given the name “The Forgotten Men.” Because of these kids the juvenile laws were changed, and indefinite sentences for juveniles were overhauled. Without public outcry these young children might still be in prison.
Now we have a group of “New Forgotten Man and Women,” the elderly held in Pa. state prisons. Take myself-- at the age of 33 I entered the prison in 1983 with a life sentence, without the chance of parole. At that time I was both mentally and physically strong. Even back then I noticed how older people were being treated; the lack of concern and programming for elderly assistance didn’t exist. Although I was 33 then, it struck me as wrong and on several occasions I complained to the administration on behalf of the elderly and mentally ill prisoners. This bothered me to the point that I filed a civil lawsuit on these issues. (Tillery v. Owens)
Now, some 35 years later the plight of men and women who’ve grown older in prison has become dangerously worse than ever. The state prisons have allotted budgets for security, salary increase, drug programs, sexual offenders program, but zero allotted funds for older people or programs for them.
However I was able to start one here at SCI Frackville and I’ve been trying to show the administration and others that creating programs for the elderly is possible even with limited funding. It is more of the thinking and mindset of the system than the money.
The DOC has a humanitarian problem as it relates to how people treat other people. I submitted a proposal to Supt. Brittain, afterwards I had an opportunity to speak with her, and on the surface she appeared to be interested in the subject of aiding the elderly. However, she let it be known that the priority was a new TC (treatment center drug program) at Frackville, along with more help for the transgender program. Let me make this clear --I don’t have any problems with other programs. ALL are needed.
But why must the elderly be kicked off the bus?? So, here we go again, the Elderly, the New Forgotten Men and Women! There’s no urgency for old people. This is an American problem which shows how morally bankrupt we are as a society when it comes to caring for old people. Imagine being old and waking up in the middle of the night, knowing if you fall back to sleep and miss standing for count you could receive a misconduct that may possibly land you in the “HOLE.” So at 60-70 years old you have to fight sleep for fear of retaliation from an untrained staff member, who has no idea of how to handle this and countless other situations involving the elderly.
If you are old here, you have to choose between going to eat and medication. The reason is you are forced to take a shower, and then about 15 minutes later you have to go out to eat in sub-zero weather. Who treats the elderly like this? Or allows the elderly to be treated so poorly in any setting? Needless to say I miss many meals and/or medication lines, as do most elderly men here. When I point this out I get the same condescending concern you give a child to shut them up, but no results. I spoke with the administration about how I can’t go outside because of the clothing issued, they tell me about DOC policy! I was sold a pair of gloves made out of the same thin material as your undershirt. The gloves available cost $1 so you can imagine what they’re like! When I complained about sending 60-70 year old men and women out in below zero weather without proper gloves or scarfs, again the answer is, “It’s not policy!” Yet they have on scarfs, sweaters hats, hoodies and gloves with extra lining. This is moral bankruptcy I continue to speak out about. Who would send anyone out in weather like this so under dressed; yet this is how the elderly are being treated on a daily basis. So many men like myself will not go out to get life saving medications and/or food because of the issues I’ve mentioned and many more.
My daughter, Rasheeda, on one of her many visits, explained to me about my mother’s illness before she died, and how she felt some guilt because she didn’t check in on her enough. My mother Ruth was 74 and lived alone, she had 3 younger brothers and she was the oldest child of my grandmother, Stella. Yet Ruth outlived them all. She was very independent and proud. She never used government assistance because she didn’t want them coming and asking about her personal business. So my children would check on their grandmother, who had a real relationship with all their lives. However, like all children they had their lives and Ruth is Ruth. My daughter told me with tears running down her face how my mother called her to come and go shopping for her because she couldn’t walk more than a few steps without being out of breath. My daughter told me that Grandma hadn’t eaten in two days because she couldn’t get up. This is very painful for me to write. But I was always thankful that I had good children. Rasheeda moved in with her and took care of her until she passed.
Now when I lay in my cell I think about my mother in that house; old and not being able to move, waiting for one of her grandchildren to come visit. What was she thinking? This gives me great guilt because I know she looked to me to take her place as head of our family, she groomed me for that. Not to be the head in the jailhouse.
Now I face the same fears. Not dying but to die among people and medical staff who would treat one of the dogs up here with more care and compassion than me. I’m not exaggerating, it’s true. I have it a little better than most older prisoners here, because after 35 years I helped raise a lot of these young brothers, so they check on me daily. But what about the others, the older people who are not Major Tillery? They get pushed around, cheated for phone time, medical treatment just flat out dogged by both staff and other prisoners. I only get problems mostly from administration. So when the old people come to me, I try to bring their grievences with mine. And like I started—Forgotten Men and Women in 1983 and now “Forgotten” in 2018 … .