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But there are other kinds of abuse that you wouldn’t think about. There were only a handful of officers that were bad, but those few can really do a lot of harm. The kind of thing that goes on today is less noticeable, but it's damaging. Things like leaving the lights on 24 hours a day. I went more than 30 days in solitary where the lights were on the entire time. It was this callous indifference of a particular officer. And other things, like slamming the doors when they do security checks. They come by every hour and give your door a loud kick. When you’re inside a cell and someone comes by and gives that big iron door a kick once an hour, the sound just ricochets between your ears. So systematic sleep deprivation is common. I would see men go into solitary and when they came out weeks later, their hair would be completely gray.
This kind of thing was typical from the officers who weren’t happy with their work, or were looking to inflict additional punishment on inmates. Some of thought prison wasn’t enough for us, that part of their job responsibility was to inflict additional punishment on us.
reason: You mention getting transferred to
Butler Lake, the maximum-security prison across the state, several
hours further away from your family. That transfer happened shortly
after your interview with John Tierney of the New York
Times. Do you think the transfer was retaliation—punishment
for talking to a journalist?
Paey: That’s what I was told. That’s what a friendly prison nurse told my wife after the interview. And just after the interview, one of the prison officers who was on good terms with me told me that the guard who sat in on my interview with Tierney had gone to his captain about writing me a disciplinary report—which is the first step toward sending someone to solitary. He said I had said thing in the interview that I shouldn’t have said, and that they were going to act on it. There are designated “transfer days” when they move inmates between facilities. About two weeks later, on a day not scheduled to be a transfer day, the sergeant came up to me at around midnight and told me to pack my things. I was being shipped out to Lake Butler. They had no explanation. I couldn’t decline the move. It wasn’t medical in nature.
The move was tough. The sun was up by the time they moved me. It was of those insufferable July days. The van they transfer you in has no air conditioning, and only the driver’s window opens, and only about an inch. So I’m dying in the back of the van, strapped down in my wheelchair in this suffocating heat, where you can’t move, and there’s no air circulating. I ended up falling over, and they had to drive back and do it all over. They ended up taking me an ambulance a few days later.
reason: You say you were put in solitary confinement at Lake Butler. Was that for your health—to keep you from other inmates? Or was that punishment, too?
Paey: Laughs. When I got up to Lake Butler, they didn’t know why I was there. They had no paperwork on my transfer. This is going to sound absurd. Even now I find it difficult to believe. But when my wife Linda began calling the Department of Corrections about my transfer, they told her that a particular doctor had ordered my transfer. Linda called this doctor, got her on the phone. The doctor looked at my transfer order and said, “I didn’t sign that. I don’t know who signed that. Somebody used my signature stamp to sign that. I had no part in this transfer.”
Now, what’s going on, here? I’m being moved out of my permanent camp, which is close to my home and family, I’m being moved to the Siberia of the Florida corrections system, and they put me in solitary confinement once I got there. And nobody knows who authorized it? And the doctor the paperwork says ordered it says she never ordered it? So where do you go from there? What do you do?
reason: And to be clear, this was punitive
solitary confinement. You weren’t isolated in a medical ward.
Paey: This place looked like a bomb shelter. Solid cement walls, no windows. You get in through a small hatch. I was pushed inside, and that became my home until Linda’s calls persuaded the doctor to come and see me in August. One of the doctors told me the heat index in there was 105. There’s no air conditioning. I’m in a cell where there’s no air movement. To survive, you strip down to your boxers. You use sink water to soak rags and put them on the back of your neck. They feed you through a slot in the door. There are no bars, like in the movies. It’s all solid, cement walls and doors. That’s where I stayed for two weeks until I started passing out. After that, they moved me to the hospital.
reason: How is your health now?
Paey: I think I’m doing well, considering.
reason: Are you getting the medication you need?
Paey: Well, at some point we’re going to have a cash crisis. When I got out of prison, I went down to Social Security, and they said they’d never seen a pardon before. Before I went to prison, I was getting Social Security disability, and was on Medicare A and B. Well, when you get convicted of a felony and go to prison, you lose all of those benefits. They’re not really sure how to handle it—if the pardon makes me eligible again or not. They’re now telling us that it may not be until next June until they know. That was terrible news.
reason: Aside from actually being able to pay for the medication—which of course is a significant problem—if you can find a way to pay, you’ll be able to get painkiller you need, and at the doses you need them?
Paey: Yes. I was told I’d be able to get the medication if I can pay for it.
reason: Is that true of everyone in Florida, or do you think you’re getting special access because of the high-profile nature of your case?