By: Mustafa Zulu, Contributing Writer
For the past two decades, up until April 27, 2015, I was living in solitary confinement at the only federal Supermax prison in America, ADX Florence in Colorado. I was housed and handled under the high-max custody level. No less than three guards had to escort me anywhere I went (it’s called a three-man hold).
On April 28th, the next day, I was in the custody of the state of North Dakota. All the body chains and shackles I’d been wearing for 20 long years were removed when I arrived at the state prison.
While transitioning from two decades of solitary confinement in America’s toughest federal prison — to General Population in a North Dakota state penitentiary, the phrase “Culture Shock” came to mind. I had braced myself for a drastic change, but I wasn’t prepared for the mentality of North Dakota state inmates.
Within an hour of my arrival, the deputy warden personally came to see me to not only spell out these differences to me but, to his credit, to also warn me just how pretentious and foul the inmates can be. A guard escorted me into a well-lit room where a pudgy guy — casually dressed with salt and pepper hair and pale skin — sat awaiting me alone.
“Mustafa, how are you? I’m deputy Warden Foster. I’m the guy responsible for bringing you here.”
I wasn’t at all used to sitting alone with top brass officials or them calling me by my first name! In the federal system, this type of fraternizing is frowned upon by both officials and guards. I was ready to leave.
“We often address you guys by first names here, Mr. Zulu, don’t take offense.”
I made a mental note that this man was sharp. He went on to explain that the inmates there were mainly small fish looking to hook up with bona fide gangs, especially guys coming from the feds. He assured me that I would be approached for said reasons. He asked me not to gang bang on his “yard,” and before I could finish denying membership to any gang he cut me off….
“I know all about you, and the DC Blacks [a prison gang]. I didn’t bring you here from ADX [the notorious federal Supermax prison in Colorado] not knowing who you are and what you’re capable of, Mustafa. I took a risk on you. Now, I’m asking you not to raise your flag on my yard, or I’ll send you back to that hellhole you come from. Things are entirely different here. We Dakotans are really laid back. Don’t make any knives, you don’t need that. These guys fight every now and then, but no knife play. Last stabbing we had was a year ago! Another thing, these guys will do shit like come up to you and ask you for food or something.Trust me they don’t mean any harm.They don’t know how you fed fellows see things…”
While I found the man to be frank and fair, I wasn’t buying shit he said about the inmates and not needing a knife! Who the hell was he kidding I thought, this was a penitentiary, right? (I’ll answer that question in a sec)
I was elated to be sent to General Population straight away, but I somehow forgot I’d now have a cellie! It hit me in the face like a brick the moment I was shut in a cell with an inmate!! His name was Adam, he was 31 but looked 41 and had a teenager mentality. At 6″ feet tall and about 215 lbs, he was accustomed to throwing his weight around.The more I think of it, he must’ve misread my shocked expression over having a cellie as fear of him. A quick sizing him up told me he wasn’t in any fighting shape, his mid-section was plump and as soft as a woman’s bottom.
What did scare me was finding out that he’d been sent to prison on a parole violation due to a failed piss test! This guy had no violent charges and had never served time in prison before. He was getting released in two months! What the hell type of operation were they running out here, putting me in a cell with a non-violent parole violator? He should’ve been sent to some type of drug treatment center, not to prison!
Anyway, the guy had a mouth like a garbage can. After the third time of calmly assuring him my first name was Mustafa, and not “Nigga,” I instinctively started identifying items in the cell I could use to kill him. Once when I was asleep, he nudged me awake for breakfast. I’d totally forgotten where I was and who I was with and so I jumped up and nearly attacked him. Another time while he was sleeping, I paced the cell for a good while trying to convince myself he deserved to have me slice open his throat for being that stupid to disrespect a man he didn’t know. I realized, thankfully, that I was the one being stupid. I not only needed a new cellie but also a new mentality. This is not the feds and I’m not that impulsive person I used to be.
The biggest shock came when I discovered there was a very high percentage of sex offenders in this prison. Some of the guards have told me that 75% of this prison is sex offenders. It amazes and disgusts me to see child molesters walking the yard with not a care in the world.
These creeps would get butchered, gang raped or worse in just about any other prison — federal or state. Just last month, they moved a white guy into my block whose case was on the local news. He was in for a sex crime so hideous even the rest of the sex offenders were sickened at the sight of him. The monster stuck a dildo up in a 5-month old baby girl! The damage caused the infant to go blind. I’ve never wanted to murder a person so bad. A neo-nazi gang insisted on handling it and gave him a beating. But it wasn’t nearly close to what he should’ve gotten. They were supposed to mop the floor with that creep’s blood. I still burn with anger for that baby and the parents. And I know many law abiding citizens would agree with me. There are some things in life we must kill for, that’s the raw truth.
To now answer that question about whether this prison is a penitentiary…
Hell no, this place is an adult daycare center compared to the feds! And I’m shocked beyond belief the way the North Dakota Dept. of Corrections has not been held accountable for the disproportionate recidivism rate amongst sex predators. They’ve created an adult daycare center here in ND, instead of a hardcore penitentiary in which rats, rapists and other vermin face some real gangsters, which would certainly serve as a better deterrent than these pussy programs .
On the positive side, while the educational programs offered are basic, you can enroll in college level courses if you have a good amount of money to spend for them. They charge us a fee for just about everything. Only 40% of the prison population has jobs. The pay is fair, as far as slave wages go. The commissary is good. You can buy pizzas, steak burritos, cheese burgers, various ice creams, health foods and many other snacks. They do overcharge us for everything, like a 19″ TV for $200, which only costs $50 in stores. Tennis shoes that will cost $40 in stores for $100 etc… There’s a great hobby craft list of stuff to buy also, like leather craft, beadwork, painting, etc… and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the ladies, a lot of eye-candy!!!
Overall, this place is a big upgrade from ADX, minus the cockroaches. I’m determined to prove the statistics wrong and not be those statistics showing a high rate of inmates returning to solitary after being released to General Population.
Despite the culture shock of this place, I must use this opportunity to reconnect with family, supporters and rehabilitation from the damages 20 years of solitary confinement has had on my mind, body, and soul.
Mustafa Zulu is serving 50+ years for murder.
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