Wednesday, November 14, 2007

November 7, 2007-D.C. Sniper burns cell

Dear Sis~
I was just sitting down to write you a letter when I smelled smoke. When I went to my door to investigate I saw a cloud of billowing smoke surrounding cell #22, along with the orange flicker of flames (it was 11pm and the lights were off on the pod, making the fire easily visible). John Muhammad (aka the D.C Sniper) lives in that cell and he'd clearly set his entire cell on fire. Then the fire alarm went off and the red strobe lights started flashing. About that time, the guards started streaming in, milling around his cell door, shouting his name, peering inside the dark cell. Eventually, there were 14 officers there in a Keystone Cops-like state of confusion and panic, some carrying fire extinguishers, one wielding a video camera, another holding the electric stun/shock shield. Nobody wanted to open his cell door, fearing an ambush. Meanwhile, the thick smoke kept billowing up toward the ceiling. After watching this for 13 or 14 minutes I was certain that Muhammad was dead. (I've seen guys die in their flaming cells under similar smokey circumstances). After 17 minutes (I was timing it) they finally opened his door, sprayed the fire extinguishers inside and pulled Mohammad out of his cell. Surprisingly, Muhammad was conscious and able to walk. He had wrapped himself in a wet sheet, like a mummy, and clearly he'd had his face pressed to the air vent in the back of his cell (the vent near the floor forces air into the cell, while the vent near the ceiling extracts air). So, whatever his motivation was in setting the fire, it clearly was not suicide. (Had he not taken protective measures he absolutely would have died from smoke inhalation). By this time the entire cellblock/pod was filled with smoke and we were all choking. I wrapped a wet towel around my head and stayed near my vent. Meanwhile, all Mohammad's property and paperwork, his clothes, sheets, pillow, mattress, etc. was pushed and pulled out onto the pod by guards wielding brooms and sticks, where it burned and smoked in a big smoldering heap...So, that's how I spent the last hour, watching this comedy of errors, with a damp towel wrapped around my head, thankful that Mohammad was incapable of engineering a more substantial fire or else we might all have suffocated (clearly, the guards would never open all our cells; we'd just die in here, as has happened in other prisons and jails in the past). I hope your night was better than mine!
Love, Bill

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