Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Prisoner’s life worth more than a pastry

The deaths of Elord Revolte and Maurice Harris might have escaped much attention from a public fairly overwhelmed by stories of cruelty, abuse and exploitation inflicted on prisoners in Florida lock-ups — except for that one detail that is seemingly incongruent with these latest scandals.

In both these despairing stories, my colleague Carol Marbin Miller reported about a mundane commercial pastry so important to prison life that it has become a virtual currency inside the cell blocks.

In juvie lock-ups, honey buns were the enticement guards reportedly offered young inmates to pummel certain other inmates whom staffers considered troublesome. On Aug. 31, Elord Revolte, 17, was set upon by as many as 19 fellow prisoners at the Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center, a place long dogged by allegations of such beat-downs.

Maurice Harris, also 17, was shot in Liberty City on Labor Day by another former fellow prisoner from the detention center. Police think it was a revenge killing for a guard-instigated cell block beating — known as “honey bunning” in prison vernacular — that Harris had given his suspected killer the year before.

So far, five guards and supervisors have been fired over problems at the juvenile jail. And state investigators are looking into allegations that guards have been orchestrating inmate-on-inmate brutality at a number of state detention centers.

This comes amid news that a coalition of 14 human rights groups have demanded that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate the state’s adult prison system. The coalition, led by the ACLU, demanded an “immediate intervention,” citing instances of torture, abuse, neglect and the suspicious deaths of 17 inmates.

Most of those allegations already had been cataloged in the Miami Herald, but these two recent cases out of the juvie lock-up have shown us just how little worth has been attached to child prisoners. Something as banal as a honey bun was enough to get them beaten. Maybe killed.

To be sure, a Mrs. Freshley’s Grand Honey Bun, with 680 calories and 30 grams of fat, has come to have considerable value behind bars. Back in 2006, Monroe County investigators discovered that certain wily inmates used honey buns to entice naive fellow inmates to give over their Social Security numbers, which were then used in a jailhouse IRS scam to collect fake tax refunds.

After a fight broke out in the Hernando County Jail over four honey buns in 2010, the Tampa Bay Times looked into the phenomenon and found that the Florida prison commissaries were peddling 270,000 of the sugar-and-fried-dough confections a year.

News archives include reports of prisoners beating one another to death over disputed honey buns, of honey buns served as the final meal for condemned prisoners, of a bail bondsman in Naples who gave an inmate hundreds of dollars worth of honey buns to refer clients his way.

But these two incidents in a Miami-Dade juvenile lock-up have finally shown us just how much value state prison guards have given to these jailhouse confections. Honey buns were worth the lives of two 17-year-old boys.