This is the PA Prison Report for Friday January 14th, brought to you by the Human Rights Coalition: Fighting for the Rights and Lives of Prisoners. HRC is a group of current and former prisoners, family members, and supporters, whose ultimate goal is to abolish prisons.
The News from Inside
An anonymous prisoner in the Restricted Housing Unit at SCI Mahanoy reports that another man incarcerated in the unit who suffers from seizures, is in serious danger due to the negligence of unit staff.
According to the report, on December 18 around 9:30 pm, 29-year old prisoner Jeffery Burton had a seizure and fell, injuring his head. Neighboring prisoners took notice, and when their calls for help got no response from guards in the unit’s control bubble, the prisoners began pushing their intercom buttons. This only resulted in officer Dorango turning off the intercoms as officers Ungurian, Barry and Guzenski, as well as Sergeant Banks and Lt. Hart, looked on. Many prisoners began kicking their doors and yelling for help as the prison staff looked out of the control bubble, smiling. Only at the 10pm change of shift, when officer Ungurian came on the block to retrieve his coat, did he respond to concerned prisoners who insisted that Ungurian check on Burton. Over a half hour after the initial seizure, Burton was taken to medical with his head still bleeding.
Mr. Burton suffered another seizure on January 4 and was seen by a nurse who denied him access to the medical department while telling a guard to make sure that Mr. Burton took his medication. During the previous week, when faced with another prisoner who was bleeding from the anus and who had returned from a shower to his cell with blood and feces running down his leg, the same nurse refused to give treatment and insisted that the man wait for “sick call”. The nurse would not give her name to inquiring prisoners.
The Human Rights Coalition-Fed Up! has received reports that Andre Jacobs, a Pennsylvania state prisoner in solitary confinement, has been physically abused, issued death threats, denied medical treatment, called racial slurs, and had his legal property illegally withheld and confiscated by prison staff at SCI Huntingdon in the past weeks. (watch YouTube video)
On January 3, 2011, prison guard Cook yelled out to prisoners on the solitary confinement unit, “You niggers are always complaining, we’re about to turn it up!” He then told Andre, “We already know you file paperwork, file a grievance and you’ll die here!”
On January 4, 2011, prison guard Cook told Andre, “We got a shitload of your legal mail out there. Either you sign an agreement to not try to sue about yesterday or you’re not getting it. That’s per Lt. Taylor and approved by Wakefield and Eckard [ranking staff].” After other prisoners spoke out, Andre was given some—but not all—of his legal mail.
On January 6, 2011, guard Uzenski made obscene comments when conducting a visual strip-search prior to escorting Mr. Jacobs to a physical. When Andre requested to see a ranking officer, Uzenski grabbed his arm, which was still in the door slot, and the other guard present slammed his arm in the slot, causing an abrasion. Uzenski said, “You got a problem with me looking at your f***ing c**k?! I’ll break you f***ing neck, nigger!” Mr. Jacobs was deprived a physical examination as a consequence, which he has been waiting on for 3 years.
In 2008, Mr. Jacobs was awarded $185,000 in a lawsuit against the PA Department of Corrections (DOC) in which he represented himself. Andre has been held in solitary confinement since 2001, when he filed his first lawsuit at age 19. He is now 28 years old.
Since that victory he has been transferred to three different prisons, repeatedly assaulted, attacked with electro-shock and chemical weaponry, strapped to the “restraint chair” for 18 hours at a time, held naked in a cell without property for 7 days on multiple occasions, deprived of food and water, and subject to other human rights violations. Andre has also been issued dozens of fabricated misconducts in order to keep him buried alive in solitary confinement.
The PA DOC chain of command has been made aware of these criminal violations on multiple occasions and have taken no action to hold perpetrators accountable.
Andre has recently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania over these acts of torture, naming more than 100 DOC and state law enforcement agents as defendants.
also at Huntingdon..
Another prisoner held in solitary confinement at SCI Huntingdon reports that guards regularly deprive people of their meals. When this prisoner filed a grievance on the matter, he reports he was issued a fabricated misconduct that alleged he cursed at a staff member. This prisoner is a diabetic, and was initially sentenced to 30 days of solitary confinement after receiving a misconduct for cutting in line to receive his insulin on a day when his sugar level was high. On another occasion, his cell was searched and an empty milk carton was found. For this minor infraction of prison rules, guards withheld his next nine meals and instead served him a “food loaf”. The food loaf is used by prisons as a punishment, often served half frozen and universally described as inedible.
Two men held in the solitary confinement unit at SCI Rockview report that a mentally ill prisoner is being tortured by staff. The prisoner was accused of attacking a psychologist with a pen three months ago, and has since been held in solitary confinement since. Both prisoners stated that the mentally ill man has been frequently deprived clothes, bedding, food, yard, showers, and other basic necessities, including mental health treatment. Superintendent Lamas and the Program Review Committee have remained indifferent despite being informed of the situation.
A supporter of the Human Rights Coalition and frequent reporter of human rights violations at SCI Forest recently reported an attack by guards against a prisoner named Carlos Taylor on December 18. The attack came about when Mr. Taylor began to question staff from the security department who were confiscating his commissary, one of the guards began to hit him in the head and face, and other officers came on the housing unit and began kicking and beating him. There has been no further word on Mr. Taylor’s condition.
News from the Nation
Letters continue to come to HRC from prisoners from across the country, signing on to a Statement of Solidarity written by HRC to show support for Georgia prisoners who recently enacted a general strike that involved at least six state prisons. The multi-racial strike was the largest in U.S. history and brought public attention to the abuse and neglect of prisoners in Georgia and nationwide. As of this report, over 3200 people have signed the statement of solidarity, including hundreds of prisoners.
This is the PA Prison Report for Friday January 28th, brought to you by the Human Rights Coalition: Fighting for the Rights and Lives of Prisoners. HRC is a group of current and former prisoners, family members, and supporters, whose ultimate goal is to abolish prisons.
The News from Inside
A prisoner in the Restricted Housing Unit at SCI-Fayette wrote to HRC last week to report a round of cell searches in December that resulted in multiple assaults by guards upon him and other prisoners.
Michael Edwards reports that a week before the December 17th assaults, he was warned by both his counselor and a Major in the prison to stop writing to the Human Rights Coalition, to Philadelphia-based PA House Representative Kenyatta Johnson, and to United States Attorney for PA Western District, David Hickton. A week later, during a round of cell searches, Mr. Edwards’ letters to all of the above were discovered and taken by guards, and he and others were assaulted. During the assault, he was repeatedly shocked with electroshock weapons. As of January 17th, Mr. Edwards was still spitting up blood, had blood in his urine, and had not received medical treatment, a full month after the assaults.
SCI Coal Township
Reuben Henry reports from the Restricted Housing Unit at SCI Coal Township that on January 20th after an altercation with his Unit Manager, he was handcuffed and then severely beaten by a group of guards. During the beating, guards struck him in the head repeatedly causing injury to his head and jaw. Officers under the orders of Deputy McMillian then stripped Mr. Henry naked and placed him in a restraint chair, where he was held for the next eight hours where he was forced to urinate on himself. He was then wheeled, still naked and covered in waste to an observation cell, which prisoners call the “hard cell” due to the lack of any furniture, clothing, or bedding. As of January 23, Mr. Henry had still not received a shower or medical treatment, and he reports that guards are threatening his life.
A prisoner at SCI Greene who was held in the Restricted Housing Unit from October to December of last year has written HRC to report on conditions there in Greene’s RHU. The prisoner, Larry Rush, writes: ..although I am no longer in the RHU , I would be remiss if I did not seek out the help of those (such as the HRC) who are in the position to shed light on the inhuman treatment that is taking place here at SCI-Greene, especially over on H-Block/B-Pod, such as:
1. Prisoners not allowed to go to the yard for their hour of exercise, as well as prisoners ‘burned’ for yard.
2. Guards ‘burning’ prisoners out of their trays of food, in order to have trays of food to sell to other inmates for their showers. This is done so the guards will have very little to do during their shift.
3. Discarding prisoners’ mail, going and coming
4. Stealing prisoners’ property and giving it to other inmates
5. Guards taking prisoners’ food out of their daily kosher food bag
6. Prisoners unable to buy sufficient writing material while in the RHU
7. Housing mentally ill prisoners in the RHU when they should be placed in a mental health unit.
Jailhouse lawyer Andre Jacobs reports from the Restricted Housing Unit at SCI-Huntingdon that he has again been assaulted by staff and is currently being deprived of bedding, toiletries, and his legal property. Mr. Jacobs, who won $185,000 in a 2008 lawsuit against the PA Department of Corrections, has since been repeatedly targeted for retaliation by staff in numerous PA state prisons.
Mr. Jacobs reports that on January 15, after again receiving his kosher meal with items missing, he notified staff, who took no action. At 11am, Mr. Jacobs, along with 4 other nearby prisoners who have witnessed the repeated harassment and retaliation against him by Huntingdon RHU staff, covered their cell windows in order to “enforce the chain of command” and bring ranking prison staff to the block to address the situation.
The windows stayed covered until 2pm, when Officer Redfern, Lt. Dunkle, Lt. Henry and Nurse Sheila at various times visited Mr. Jacobs’ cell door and threatened that if he didn’t remove the covering, he would be attacked with pepper-spray and cell extracted. Mr. Jacobs refused to uncover the window or leave the cell. He was then assaulted with pepper spray and taken from the cell by a group of guards. During the attack, officers punched him several times in the jaw, twisted his ankle, and banged his head into the wall.
After the assault, Mr. Jacobs was taken to a strip cage, where guards sexually fondled him in the process of cutting off his clothing. He is now being held without bedding, toiletries or his legal property in a windowless cell. He writes that on January 18, Lt. Taylor stated to him, “We had this planned for you before you even got here. One more move in this game of chess and you’re dead- you’ll never see that $185,000”.
Green Rock Correctional Center, Chatham VA
One of the roughly 1000 Pennsylvania prisoners on out-of-state transfer to Virginia has written to HRC from Green Rock Correctional Center to report what could have been a preventable assault upon another prisoner.
According to the report, late last year David Cantini was ordered to share a cell with a prisoner known to be “very violent” and a threat to others. All of Mr. Cantini’s requests to be transferred to another cell were ignored by Green Rock administration, despite the offers of other prisoners to share a cell with him and despite numerous pleas made by Mr. Cantini and others to guards, the administration, and Mr. Cantini’s counselor.
As feared, Mr. Cantini was in fact assaulted by his cellmate, who broke his jaw in two places. He now has a plate and screws in his jaw and was on a liquid diet, in excruciating pain, for months. The reporting prisoner stresses that in this instance, the blame lies not with the guards but with the administrative
staff of Green Rock prison.
This is the PA Prison Report for Friday February 4th, brought to you by the Human Rights Coalition: Fighting for the Rights and Lives of Prisoners. HRC is a group of current and former prisoners, family members, and supporters, whose ultimate goal is to abolish prisons.
The News from Inside
SCI Albion: In late January, several prisoners in the solitary confinement unit at SCI Albion wrote to HRC reporting that ten men had begun a hunger strike in protest of their conditions of confinement. The main grievances identified were the lack of heat in the cells and inadequate food portions. Several prisoners stated that the heat had not been working for the past week, and that this has happened multiple times before. Other grievances included guards depriving them of recreation, failure to provide clean clothes and hygiene materials on a regular basis, racial discrimination, and guard harassment.
The administration of SCI Albion has not responded to inquiries made by HRC into the situation. The phone number for SCI-Albion is (814) 756-5778. Ask to speak with Superintendent Harlow, and demand to know the state of the hunger strike and what actions the Superintendent is taking to address the treatment of the prisoners in his solitary confinement unit.
SCI Huntingdon: A prisoner at SCI Huntingdon who has asked to remain anonymous reported in an affidavit to HRC that on January 26, 2011, a prisoner in the solitary confinement unit cut his wrists after Lt. Taylor denied his request to see psych staff. Guards responded to the suicide attempt by attacking the individual with pepper spray, removing him from the cell, and placing him in an “anti-suicide smock,” which is a gown that is designed so that it cannot be tied into a noose. Even after the suicide attempt, no mental health treatment was provided.
The affidavit states that this individual has had an extremely adverse reaction to solitary confinement, and that he has a tendency to tear his bunk, toilet, and other items apart. He says that he acts this way because “the cells are too small” and he “black[s] out.”
SCI Fayette: Guards in the Special Management Unit (SMU) at SCI Fayette have been allowing inmate workers to taunt other prisoners, spit in their food trays, and destroy their mail, according to a report just sent in from the notorious solitary confinement unit.
Christopher Balmer, who has spent at least the last several months in the unit, reports in a signed declaration that guards have participated in the abuse by delivering the contaminated trays with full knowledge of their condition. He reports further that he has notified SMU personnel, his counselor, and the prison administration of the situation to no avail. The individuals notified include: Unit Manager Carl Walker, Officers Eicher and Gibson, SMU Lieutenant Clark, counselor Stephan Buzas, and Fayette Superintendent Brian Coleman.
The PA Dept. of Corrections claims that the Special Management Units at SCI’s Fayette and Camp Hill are intended to provide an environment in which prisoners who have spent extended periods of time in solitary confinement can, through a program of increasing privileges earned through good behavior, prepare for life in general population. According to dozens of reports received by HRC, however, the units instead serve as torture chambers in which prisoners only advance in the program by withstanding, without complaint, daily abuse by guards who have been given a “license to torture” by prison administrators who look the other way.
Prison Guards Fearful of Exposure: In a letter from one of the state prisons featured in past editions of the PA Prison Report, a solitary confinement prisoner reports overhearing a guard who has been named as by HRC as a participant in acts of abuse. The guard was reportedly nervous about the reports, and denied all the allegations. This is one of many similar letters received by HRC over recent years describing anxiety amongst prison staff whose mistreatment of prisoners has been exposed to the public by HRC.
New PA DOC Secretary: Gov. Tom Corbett nominated John E. Wetzel as secretary of the Department of Corrections on December 17, 2010. He will serve in an acting capacity until confirmed by the state Senate.
Wetzel began his corrections career in 1989 as an officer at the Lebanon County Correctional Facility. In 1992, he transferred to the Berks County Prison, where he rose through the ranks, serving as treatment counselor, supervisor of treatment services and training academy director. In 2002, he was named warden of the Franklin County Jail.
He was appointed as the corrections expert to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons in June 2007, a position he continues to hold. Since 2006, he has been a corrections consultant in the areas of operational and staffing analysis and vulnerability assessments.
Additionally, the DOC website reports that he has been part of several efforts which have reduced jail population. These include developing a jail industries program through a community wide advisory board to increase the job readiness of offenders; initiating the first, jail-based CareerLink access point in the state of Pennsylvania; developing a day reporting center which reduced the jail population by more than 205.
He lives in Chambersburg with this wife, Theresa, and their four daughters.
Justice for Terrell campaign
In 1994, Pittsburgh resident Terrell Johnson was convicted and given a life sentence for the murder of Verna Robinson. After newly-discovered evidence came to light proving that the prosecution’s sole witness against Terrell was lying, he was awarded a new trial. The trial, which was scheduled for February 7th, was postponed for the fifth time in order to accommodate the judge, who will be vacationing in Aruba. Jury selection is now scheduled for Friday, February 25th, and the trial is set to begin on Monday, February 28th. For more information on Terrell’s case and HRC’s efforts to support him and his family in their fight, visit: http://justiceforterrell.blogspot.com/.
Wednesdays: Write On! Prison Letter Writing Night at the LAVA space at 4134 Lancaster, 6-9pm. Come help us stay connected with the many prisoners who write to us with news from inside, learn to document crimes committed by prison staff, and help bring an end to the abuse and torture of our brothers and sisters behind bars.
If you’d like to know more about the Human Rights Coalition or would like to get involved, call us at 215-921-3491, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our website at http://www.hrcoalition.org./