CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou Released from Prison: Here’s His Final ‘Letter from Loretto’
CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou has been released from the federal correctional institution in Loretto, Pennsylvania. He checked into a halfway house on February 3 and then went home to be with his family and serve the remaining 86 days of his sentence on house arrest. And, to mark his departure from the facility, he penned a final letter acknowledging everything he will not miss about being incarcerated.
Kiriakou was the first member of the CIA to publicly acknowledge that torture was official US policy under President George W. Bush’s administration. In October 2012, he pled guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) when he confirmed the name of an officer involved in the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program to a reporter. He was sentenced in January 2013 and reported to prison on February 28, 2013.
For much of Kiriakou’s prison sentence, Firedoglake has published his “Letters from Loretto.” (Firedoglake even published an illustration of one of his letters, which was done by graphic artist Christopher Sabatini.)
Kiriakou begins his final letter by expressing gratitude to all the people who supported him throughout his time in prison. He mentions a few of the friends he made while imprisoned.
Then, Kiriakou launches into 19 different things he will not miss: “staff lies,” “pretending to respect staff,” “bullies and punks with something to prove,” “nosy cops listening to my phone calls,” correctional officers (COs) “harassing my visitors,” staff acting like they’re doing him favors when they actually do their jobs, “waiting for four days to send or receive an email from my family or attorneys,” waiting days to receive mail, only to have it tampered with, “ten-minute moves” and locked doors during “ten-minute moves,” commissary, begging the staff for permission to buy stamps, medical, the cafeteria, standing in line, “involuntary servitude,” not being able to change the TV channel “because I’m white,” “count time” and pedophiles.
“People under the care of the medical unit at Loretto die with terrifying frequency,” Kiriakou writes. He recalls how a friend, Frank, was experiencing “chest pains and shortness of breath.” Medical asked the Bureau of Prisons’ regional office if he could go see a cardiologist and heard nothing for three months. While he was waiting for an insulin shot, “he had a massive heart attack” and had to be rushed by paramedics to a “local hospital.”
Another incident occurred where a prisoner wheeled another prisoner who was “clutching his chest and crying.” The 70-year-old prisoner complained that “he was having a heart attack.” The technician on duty responded, “Well, you’re just going to have to wait because nobody else has gotten to work yet,” according to Kiriakou.
He indicates that he will be reporting more on malfeasance in the Loretto medical unit soon.
After waiting days for mail, he would receive it after it had been tampered with or outright destroyed.
“All of my incoming mail goes to the mail room, where it is opened by a “slicing” machine, read, probably copied and sent to the FBI, stapled shut and finally sent to me,” he explains. “Easily half of my incoming letters are damaged by the slicing machine. When people send handmade cards, they are literally taken apart in a search for contraband.
The Special Investigative Service “often reads my mail and even cuts open my outgoing mail to see what I’m saying. They’re not even good at it, and they frequently make a mess of the envelopes.” He wonders if they ever got tired of reading thousands of letters, where supporters called him a hero.
The cafeteria often feeds inmates all-carb meals. He also adds that he will not miss seeing food marked, “Not for Human Consumption – Feed Use Only,” or “For Sale Only in China,” or “Broccoli-Floret-free.”
During his time at Loretto, he had 62 approved visitors but he could only keep ten on an “active” visitors list. He constantly had to be taking visitors on and off so people could get into see him when they visited.
Kiriakou explains, “When there’s a holiday, every counselor goes on vacation at the same time. Need to switch out a name? Tough luck, unless you can convince a unit manager to do it.” He approached a unit manager once after he had waited for “four days for a counselor to show up for work.” He managed to convince the unit manager to see him later and make changes but yelled at him for “waiting until the last minute,” since his visitor was coming the next day.
According to Kiriakou, “As I turned to leave, he stopped me. ‘Give me that list back.’ I handed him the five-page print-out. ‘I don’t trust you,’ he said. ‘Let me see that list. I want to make sure you didn’t steal any papers off my desk.’ I laughed out loud. Who did this mini-Napoleon think he was? It struck me as so incongruous that I just laughed, watched him leaf through the list, and walked out still laughing.”
Correctional officers often harassed his visitors, especially women, making them go buy clothes from local stores because their skirts were too “short.” The prison even had his children kicked out of the visitors room one day because of “overcrowding.”
At the end of his letter, Kiriakou expresses his appreciation again for those who have been there for him these past two years. He then declares, “By the time you read this, I’ll be home. Now the real work can begin—the struggle for human rights, civil liberties and prison reform. I can guarantee you that I am unbowed, unbroken, uninstitutionalized and ready to fight.”
There are many ongoing struggles at the grassroots level for Kiriakou to join. Some of these struggles have been fueled by events that took place while Kiriakou was in prison these past two years. And now, Kiriakou will be able to lend his voice and hopefully call attention to issues in the same way he stood up for fellow inmates and called attention to issues while he was in prison.
Farewell from the Federal “Correctional” Institution at Loretto, Pennsylvania! I’m leaving this morning to check into a halfway house and then to go home for 86 days of house arrest.
First, I want to say thank you. Thank you to Jane Hamsher, Kevin Gosztola, Brian Sonenstein and the readers and supporters of Firedoglake; thank you Medea Benjamin and the angels of Code Pink; thank you to the more than 800 people who wrote me more than 7000 letters (from 46 states and 18 foreign countries) since I arrived here and who kept me flush with books, magazines and news articles. I literally could not have survived this nightmare without your support, friendship and generosity. It means the world to me. And thank you to Heather. What I put that poor woman through over the past seven years…
I’ve made several good friends here at Loretto. Two of them have been transferred to other prisons and, even with legislative relief, they probably have many years in prison ahead of them. I’ll miss them, I’m pulling for them and I wish them the best. The justice system is broken in our country. We have a lot to learn about crime and punishment from more enlightened countries, especially in Europe. The current state of the Justice Department and its Bureau of Prisons is something that all Americans should be ashamed of. But that’s not the subject of this letter. That’s the subject of a future book.
I will miss absolutely nothing about prison. Indeed, I’m elated by what I won’t have to deal with anymore. Here’s what I won’t miss:
1. Staff lies: Before I even got to prison, a former CIA colleague who had done a couple of years in a camp warned me about prison staff. He explained that I would encounter a warden, several deputy wardens, a unit manager, a case manager and a counselor. His most important advice: “They’re all liars, and their job is to fuck you, not to help you.” Truer words were never spoken. “We’ll put you in for nine months halfway house.” A lie. “You’ll get six months halfway house if the nine months doesn’t work out.” A lie. “If you need stamps for all those letters you write, just ask us every week and we’ll authorize it.” A lie. The funny thing about all these lies is that I would have respected a staff member who just said, “Look. You’re a high-profile inmate, you’re a pain in the ass, we can’t send you on diesel therapy because the press would kill us, but we’re going to screw you while you’re here.” No staff member ever had the balls to state the obvious.
2. Pretending to respect staff: I’m just going to say it straight out. Ninety percent of the staff members here are semi-literate half-wits who couldn’t cut it anywhere else in government. Let’s face it. Most of them are here only because their parents are here and helped them get jobs. If I was a loser with nowhere else to go, and my dad was a BOP official in the regional office, maybe I would have ended up here, too. Wait. No I wouldn’t have. And so many of them try to come off as tough guys, wearing jackets and tee-shirts with slogans like “FCI Loretto Incident Response Team,” or my favorite, “Either You’re SWAT or You’re Not.” Well, guess what! You’re not! Many of the Cos are rejects from the military or from local police departments. And there aren’t any “incidents” at Loretto. It’s low-security, not a penitentiary. And another thing: My title is “Mr.” Maybe in a year or two, “Dr.” It’s not “Inmate.”
3. Bullies and punks with something to prove: So many of the dim-witted COs I’ve encountered are young power-hungry bullies in their first positions of authority, serving alongside their parents or siblings and constantly bragging about how tough they are. Walking down the hall just last week I heard one obviously disturbed CO bragging to another, saying, “You should hear how I fucked up this inmate the other day.” All I can say now is, “So long, tough guy.” He’ll have many more years in this prison than I ever did.
4. Nosy cops listening to my phone calls: My wife Heather is awesome. She’s so crazy smart and intuitive that we’ve developed a certain “code” that we use over the phone. She knows when I’m serious, when I’m conveying important information but don’t want to come right out and say it and when I’m making something up for the nimrod Cos and lieutenants who get their jollies by listening to other people’s private conversations. The joke’s on them. Losers.
5. COs harassing my visitors: The COs in the visiting room are almost universally decent folks. The guards at the front gate, however, can sometimes be bullies and complete idiots. Even Jane Hamsher was harassed once. The CO said she was too sexily dressed or something like that. She had to go to a nearby WalMart, probably where the prison administrators buy their $100 suits, and buy something to cover herself. My friend and former CIA colleague Ray McGovern had a CO bark at him for sitting on the edge of a low wall while waiting to be processed in for a visit. Ray told him, I’m sure in a much nicer tone than I would have used, to go fly a kite. Another friend, a woman, was sent to WalMart to buy pants because the CO on duty arbitrarily decided that her skirt was too short. I won’t even get into the incident where my children were thrown out of a visit because of “overcrowding.”
6. Staff members acting like they’re doing me a favor for doing their jobs: At any given time, a prisoner may have only ten “active” visitors on his list, so depending on who’s planning to visit, I’m constantly taking people off and putting others on the “active” list. (I have 62 approved visitors.) The problem is when there’s a holiday. The counselor is the only person who can switch out names on the visitors list. But when there’s a holiday, every counselor goes on vacation at the same time. Need to switch out a name? Tough luck, unless you can convince a unit manager to do it. I approached a unit manager after waiting for four days for a counselor to show up for work. It was the day before a visit, and he huffed and puffed before telling me to go to his office an hour later. I did, along with my visitors list. This unit manager never liked me. I don’t know why nor do I care. I vowed when I arrived never to seek the approval of anyone I don’t respect. Anyway, I handed this unit manager my visitors list, he made the changes, yelled at me for “waiting until the last minute,” and handed me my list back. As I turned to leave, he stopped me. “Give me that list back.” I handed him the five-page print-out. “I don’t trust you,” he said. “Let me see that list. I want to make sure you didn’t steal any papers off my desk.” I laughed out loud. Who did this mini-Napoleon think he was? It struck me as so incongruous that I just laughed, watched him leaf through the list, and walked out still laughing. I guess he really showed ME who was boss! Haha.
7. Waiting for four days to send or receive an email from my family or attorneys: Unlike other prisoners, I have a four-day delay on my incoming and outgoing email. Officially, this is because I’m somehow viewed as being “dangerous.” In reality, and I know this from BOP documents accidentally released to me through a FOIA request, that the BOP is afraid of the broad access that I have to the press. Anytime my attorneys, wife, brother or sister send me an email or I send them one, it sits in queue in the computers of the Special Investigative Service, where it is eventually reviewed and passed onto me. Needless to say, I rely on email for nothing, but I still send and receive it, if only to waste SIS’s time and money. You see, the time they spend reading my email could be used to investigate actual criminals. But my personal goal has become to waste as much of the BOP’s resources as I possibly can. Multiply that by 1125 prisoners and nothing gets done.
8. Waiting days for my mail, only to have it tampered with, destroyed or rejected: All of my incoming mail goes to the mail room, where it is opened by a “slicing” machine, read, probably copied and sent to the FBI, stapled shut and finally sent to me. Easily half of my incoming letters are damaged by the slicing machine. When people send handmade cards, they are literally taken apart in a search for contraband. SIS often reads my mail and even cuts open my outgoing mail to see what I’m saying. They’re not even good at it, and they frequently make a mess of the envelopes. Did I mention that most of these guys are rejects from local police departments and the military? And another thing: Aren’t they tired of reading 7000+ times that I’m a hero?
9. Ten-minute moves: Prisoners are only allowed to move from point A to point B during 10-minute moves (which are frequently seven or eight minutes). These moves are at 7:00am, 7:45, 8:25, 9:25, 10:25, 12:25pm, 1:25, 2:25, 3:25, 6:00, 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00. If you go from A to B and finish your business but can’t get back to A within the ten minutes, tough. You’re stuck there for an hour. My view is that they can shove their ten-minute moves.
10. Locked doors during ten-minute moves: During the moves, there are as many as 1100 people in the prison’s single hallway, all trying to get from A to B. What many of these sadistic bully COs do is to keep one of the double doors locked at the entrance to each unit so there are 1100 people going in both directions squeezing through one door all within ten minutes. Why do this? To encourage violence. If a fight breaks out because one prisoner cuts in front of the other to get through the door, or because two prisoners brush shoulders, COs can call out the vaunted “Incident Response Team.” Put down a fight and there might be a performance bonus or even a promotion in it for you. Remember either you’re SWAT or you’re not!
11. Commissary: This is the single worst experience in prison. The commissary is run by an incompetent boob who wouldn’t last 15 minutes in a 7-11 on the outside. Until he was unceremoniously transferred to the warehouse, the commissary guy would write and circulate lists of everything the store was out of. Some weeks it was faster and easier to write a shorter list of things that were actually in stock. Once the new things got things running smoothly, the boob was transferred back and put in charge again. They’re welcome to him.
12. Begging the staff for permission to buy stamps: I go through an insane number of stamps (and thanks to Billy Halgat I can afford it). Some weeks I get more than 100 letters and never fewer than 40. The problem is that prisoners are only allowed to buy 20 stamps a week. I wrote a request to the warden asking permission to buy 60 stamps a week. He gave a provisional approval, saying that I had to ask my unit manager every week for authorization to buy 60. This was a pain in the ass, but it worked until the unit manager transferred. I then had to get permission every week from the unit manager who wanted to know if I had stolen papers from his desk when I asked for a visitor change. He always said yes but would “forget” to inform the commissary so I was turned down every week. I went up to the warden at lunch one day and asked for blanket permission to buy 60 stamps a week. He said no. As I walked away, the Assistant Warden asked him, “What was that all about?” I turned to look, only to see the warden roll his eyes; they both laughed. From that day on, every stamp I bought was from a bookie or contraband dealer. That’s what happens when you try to follow the rules. I was a fool for even asking in the first place.
13. Medical: People under the care of the medical unit at Loretto die with terrifying frequency. I intend to report on and to write about the unit’s malfeasance soon. You already know about my own experience with Glyburide. Since passing out last August, I have never been called down to see a medical professional. My friend Frank complained for three months about chest pains and shortness of breath. He was told to wait: Medical would ask permission from the BOP’s regional office for him to see a cardiologist. Frank heard nothing for those three months and then one day, while waiting for an insulin shot, he had a massive heart attack. Paramedics rushed him to a local hospital, where had had successful surgery. He was in the hospital for two weeks, barely having lived through the experience. Two weeks ago, I happened to be in the medical unit when I saw a prisoner wheel in another prisoner who was clutching his chest and crying. The 70-year-old told the technician on duty that he was having a heart attack. Her response? “Well, you’re just going to have to wait because nobody else has gotten to work yet.” There are some very bad animals here, but none have been sentenced to death.
14. The cafeteria: Yes, it’s as bad as you imagine. What it comes down to is a low quality “all carb, all the time” diet. A typical dinner from last week was lasagna, rice, beans and bread. Disgusting. I also won’t miss seeing cases of food marked, “Not for Human Consumption – Feed Use Only,” or “For Sale Only in China,” or “Broccoli-Floret-free.” Even our Christmas baskets (which WE prisoners paid for with profits from the commissary) was full of off-brand cookies, chips and candies nobody had ever heard of. The Christmas cookies were marked “Made in Mexico Exclusively for Pedro’s Discount Mart, Tijuana.” I sold my basket for a book of stamps.
15. Standing in line: Like citizens of the Soviet Union, we stand in line for everything here. This is due primarily to unconstitutional overcrowding. From the time you wake up in the morning until the time you go to sleep at night, you wait in line to eat, take a shower, brush your teeth, go to the bathroom, buy food from the commissary, use the phone, photocopy legal documents, or even go to sick call. I’ve had enough.
16. Involuntary servitude: Seriously, that’s what it comes down to. You MUST work. If you don’t, you go to solitary. The problem is that we’re so grossly overcrowded that there aren’t enough jobs for everybody and there isn’t enough money to pay people. As a result, hundreds ofp risoenrs are “stand-by orderlies,” earning 60 cents a month. I made $1.08 a month in the chapel. And in UNICOR, where an army of illegal aliens makes cable for the US military, the prisoner-employees still make less than they’d make in a Bangladeshi sweatshop. How is this legal?
17. Not being able to change the TV channel because I’m white: Whether we like it or not, every new prisoner is hit in the face with every racial stereotype he’s ever heard. Absolutely everything in prison is racial. Where the TVs are concerned, the Hispanics control half of them and the African-Americans control half. White people are forbidden from touching the TVs. If you do, you get a sharp, “Hey! White people can’t touch the TVs!” This is followed by a meeting between the white shot-caller, the black shot-caller and the “Spanish” shot-callers. You must then apologize to the blacks and/or Hispanics for touching their TV. You get a beating if you do it again. For the record, I don’t watch TV here.
18. Count time: All prisoners must stand at attention and be counted at 4:15 pm and at 9:30 pm, seven days a week, as well as at 10:00 am on weekends and holidays. There are also non-standing counts at midnight, 3:00 am and 5:00 am. You would be shocked by the number of recounts necessary because some COs have trouble counting. I’m sick of it.
19. Pedophiles: I’ve said a lot about these guys in previous letters. The only good thing, at least for society, is that many of them will die in prison. The world will be a better place without them in it.
By the time you read this, I’ll be home. Now the real work can begin—the struggle for human rights, civil liberties and prison reform. I can guarantee you that I am unbowed, unbroken, uninstitutionalized and ready to fight. Thanks for being there for me these past two years. And PLEASE stay in touch! My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. My new mailing address is John Kiriakou LLC, P.O. Box 101612, Arlington, VA 22201.