Source: JAMES WOODCOCK/Billings Gazette

Every so often prisons get mass shakedowns. They do it usually earlier in the mornings when they can catch the most people off guard. They blow the emergency siren and send all the prison workers back to their cells, lock the units down, and lock each cell closed.

If you’re in a higher level with your sink and toilet in the room they shut the water off. They come in with a big group of COs, the special response team and usually the inspectors. If they’re training new COs, they have them there too. Sometimes it depends on the situation and why they’re shaking down that determines who’s there. They always come in with a big group though.

When the shakedown comes, they make an announcement to have on just shorts, a shirt, and shower shoes. Then they come to each room and pull guys out one by one to strip search them. Once we get strip searched, they zip tie our hands together behind our backs and usually put us all in the day rooms where they can lock us in and keep an eye us.

Keep in mind that most guys are waking up to this without being able to use the bathroom or brush their teeth or wash their face or anything like that. I know that I’m not happy being waken up in general and especially not for stuff like that.

Shakedowns are uncomfortable. The zip ties are usually put on too tight. If its winter, the room they keep you in is cold in just shorts and a shirt. Also, I know when I first get up I usually have to piss so now I’ve gotta hold it for who knows how long. Constitutionally they’re allowed to deny us access to the bathrooms for no longer than 2 hours, but they don’t always follow this rule. There have been some mass shakedowns I’ve been in that have lasted for 6 hours. It’s considered cruel and unusual punishment to keep us from using the bathroom for that long and they knowingly violate the constitution in situations like these.

It’s not just uncomfortable physically but also mentally. Imagine the government coming into your house, tying you up, and legally digging through everything that own, your clothes, your food, all your letters, pictures and even your legal work. Its degrading and makes you feel violated. They don’t just go through it, they throw stuff around everywhere and mix yours and your cellmates stuff up, they put clean stuff with dirty stuff and put stuff on the floor and often step on it and sometimes break things. Sometimes they take stuff they’re not supposed to too. Its dehumanizing and disrespectful. By their own policy, cells are supposed to be left in the same condition they were in when entered. I’ve never been in a mass shakedown where it was left anything close to how I had it. It shows they have no regard for our humanity, and they treat us like the animals they think we are. I take a lot of time to keep my house organized and neat, I iron and fold my clothes, keep my books and all my food organized, keep my bed made, and my house clean.

There are a few different reasons that they do mass shakedowns. Sometimes it’s just because it’s been a while since the last one. Sometimes it’s to train new Cos. But it mainly happens because too much stuff has happened over a period of time. If guys are constantly catching tickets, the COs are smelling smoke and alcohol all the time when they do their rounds, and a bunch of people are dropping “dirty” on their drug tests then chances are a mass shakedown is coming.

When they put the staff together to do the mass shakedowns they can usually afford to take their time so when they’re tearing rooms apart they look for any and everything: drugs, alcohol, weapons, gang paraphernalia, property that’s not yours or damaged property, or any kind of contraband. A lot of times they take stuff they’re not supposed to and once it’s gone, we can’t get it back. They operate under the impression that we’re all doing something wrong.

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