When Good People Do Nothing: The Appalling Story of South Carolina’s Prisons

This was published on The Atlantic website, written by Andrew Cohen for The Atlantic on Jan. 10th, 2014:

A judge’s order in an inmate abuse case highlights the role played, or not played, by the state’s political and legal infrastructure.

In two months, America will observe the 50th anniversary of one of its most dubious moments. On March 13, 1964, Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was brutally murdered in Queens, New York. What made her case infamouslegendary, even—was that nobody responded to her cries for help. “Please help me, please help me!” she cried, over and over, and at least 38 people in her neighborhood who heard those cries did nothing to help her. They did not call the police. They did not come to comfort her. They did not, they later said, want to get involved. “When good people do nothing” is a timeless moral question, indeed.

One could say the same thing about the citizens of the state of South Carolina, who stand condemned today by one of their own. On Wednesday, in one of the most wrenching opinions you will ever read, a state judge in Columbia ruled that South Carolina prison officials were culpable of pervasive, systemic, unremitting violations of the state’s constitution by abusing and neglecting mentally ill inmates. The judge, Michael Baxley, a decorated former legislator, called it the “most troubling” case he ever had seen and I cannot disagree. Read the ruling. It’s heartbreaking.

Read the rest of this story here.

Letter from a Nevada prisoner dated Oct 11th, 2011

From: Nevada Cure:

The original of this letter is at the archives of Nevada-Cure. It was sent to Director Gregg Cox alongside a letter asking the Director to act in order to stop the abuses and excessive use of power at ESP and HDSP and wherever prisoners are vulnerable and on lockdown.

Thank you for writing me back. I received your letter on August 30, but am only now getting a chance to answer it. I have been going through so much in here for about a month because these so-called correctional officers have been denying me my meals and not only me but a couple of other inmates as well, and that senior c.o. in the bubble name Jesse Cox has been throwing away my fellow prisoners’ mail retaliating against us because of grievances and anything that we do or say. So me and several other prisoners had to do what we did to get the warden’s attention.

It’s obvious they don’t understand nonviolent protest because every time we get together and write a grievance these c.o. continue to do what they want to do “illegally” so we have to do what we have to do in a violent way to get these people to understand us. We are not animals, we are human beings that are locked down 23 hours a day in a maximum security prison in the middle of nowhere, a lot of us don’t have any family to help us (I know I don’t) and it’s hard to get people to hear our voice because the “C.O.” throw away our phone kites.

Just a few weeks ago I was removed from 4A to 4B after talking to the “caseworker” about what was going on and its like they don’t even care because after I told the caseworker what happened and why I was acting the way I was acting, they moved me to the other side (4B) with a bunch of really really mentally ill people who scream and bang on their door all day. Not only that, when they moved me into the cell, it was not clean at all. My water was turned off, my toilet was turned off and the guy who was in there before me left feces and urine in the toilet and I couldn’t flush the toilet because the co turned it off. I asked if they can turn it on so that I can flush it and the only answer I get is whistles and “chain chain chain, chain the fool” song that the c.o. sings to me just to provoke me. It keeps going and going.

That same day they refused to give me my dinner. I did nothing during chow time and they passed right by my door without even looking at me. So I flooded my room, tired of all the foul treatment, the cruel and unusual punishment, my lonely life without any help and everything else. Pencil in my hand I tell the Sgt. to go get the Cert team, come in my room and get me, I’m not cuffing up. You come in here and I’ll stab all of you. That day I was ready to die or get beat down by seven officers but it didn’t happen. They kept me in there all night until about 10 am the next morning. I was able to calm down and the warden came to talk to me. I told what happened. She acts like she cares but I know she doesn’t care at all. So I cuff up, get on my knees so that they can put the shackles on my ankles. The c.o. made a slick comment and I turned around to look him in the eyes and tell him to shut up and boom! I’m knocked to the ground with a closed fist by the officer. This isn’t the first time, so it didn’t shock me. One of the officers named Coleman that also had fun assaulting me while yelling, Stop resisting! Thrust his two fingers to the side of my neck going for my pressure point. I laughed at him because he wasn’t doing a good job at what he was doing, my body was supposed t shut down when he did that even though I was on the ground already, but it didn’t. The AWO was there, he seen what happened, why it happened, but he didn’t see it all (I wonder why?)

Well, I’m sorry for taking up your time with all this and not responding to your last letter. I will respond to your last letter, but let me tell you more. After that happened with the officers I was sent to the infirmary with no shirt, no socks, no shoes, put in a cell naked with a suicide blanket until I was seen by “mental health”. I was seen and cleared to go back to the hole. I was doing alright until one morning I was up ready to go outside so that I can get some fresh air and run a couple laps, a c.o. that did not like me told me that I couldn’t go to yard so I captured the food flap so that the Sgt. could come talk to me, he did and he said it was all a misunderstanding and I could have my yard time if only I would comply with their orders. I did. I got my recreation time and came back to my cell without any incident at all.

So I’m sitting in my cell reading a book by Chairman Mao Tse-Tung and here comes the mental health lady telling me she’s taking my yard and my phone. I didn’t care about the phone because I didn’t have anyone to call anyway and still don’t. So I ask how long are you going to take my yard time and she said, “As long as I want to.” I told her she couldn’t do that because I didn’t do anything and she walked away, so I flooded my room to get the sgt. or warden’s attention but to no avail. The C.E.R.T team comes and tells me they are going to clean out my cell and search it. They did and they also took me to another cell and strapped me down to a bed naked in a camera room and while they were strapping me down I told the CERT officer that I can finally look him in the eyes. He pulled my hair, pulled it so hard that my head lifted and turned my head the other way, pushed it down on the bed. A week later I got strapped down again for talking to another prisoner down the way from where I was and then they moved me to another cell and refused to let me shower and have a towel. So I flooded again. Nothing happened that night. The next morning mental health lady comes to my door and tells me that they are going to be taking my mattress every morning from 6 am to 6 pm. I told her no, you’re not. They took it from me and I slept on the cold dirty nasty stinking bug infested floor all night. They did not give it back to me at all. I was cold, without clothes, just a suicide blanket, naked sleeping on the floor. Did I write a grievance? No. Why? Because all I’m going to get is grievance denied, grievance denied, and grievance denied. I tell you this because nobody else listens to me at all. I hope that you understand the life I live in prison.

Well, as you probably already know, I will not be able to get a job here at Ely because of all the things I’ve been doing (It’s not my fault). They’re violating my rights; they’ve been doing it for the longest now. But there’s nothing I can do because I don’t have any help in here or out there. I hope that you can help me or get the IG or AG to talk to me because if this continues I don’t think I’m going to make it out of prison, and in my mind I don’t even think that I am going to get out of prison and I’m not even a lifer.

Now, on the lawsuit that I want to file is for something that happened down in High Desert. I did not want to shower in my room because it was dirty so the officer took me to the other shower up front in the infirmary to the shower. I started yelling and screaming, that’s all, and the officer opened the shower gate, snatched me out and slammed me on my face, punched me in the left side of my face, then my nose, causing it to bleed and then he put a pillow case over my head. I couldn’t see or breathe and I was down after that. I was scared, terrified and paranoid because of the cruel and unusual punishment and the excessive force that was used on me. (Like always). If you would like for me to send you a copy of my notice of charges I will do that because the c.o. even says that he hit me in the face and put a pillowcase over my head. It says that in my write up that he wrote (which I know is enough for a law suit).

Well, thank you for your time…

More Abuses at Ely State Prison reported

We received this letter too:
Sent on March 16/17th 2011, received on March 22nd via an emailprogram:

“On March 16, 2011, 2 Correctional Officers hand-cuffed me and took me inside a small
medical room to review some documents. Due to me being hand-cuffed from the back, I was unable to, and the nurse who had the documents told me that I would not be able to take notes.

So it was impossible for me to view the documents with my hands tied behind my back and without any pencil and paper to oppose two Motions I have in Nevada District Court No. 2:10-cr 01340 – ILIO LRL in Vegas.

I told the nurse I will inform the courts of this. And the Nurse and Correctional Officers became angry. The Correctional Officers placed me back in my cell. As I placed my hands out the flap for them to take the cuffs off, C.O. Mr Davis called me a bitch and pulled my right arm out of the flap with the hand cuff still on it, and the other C.O. began yanking the hand-cuff pulling my skin back. C.O. Davis raised his right leg up and attempted to break my right arm and missed. The other Officer kept yanking my arm with the cuff on it.

Afterwards they made threats to kill me, and the Nurses and the CERT team were just
standing there. Officer Davis said “Fuck your legal shit”; the Nurses refused to give me medical treatment. I now sit here leaking badly from my arm and I have large marks on my arm. I need help. Now, they just denied me dinner, I will starve.

Case nr: 10-16778, U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

Raymond Watison #1031835
Ely State Prison
P.O. Box 1989
Ely, NV 89301

Another report of a beating of a handcuffed prisoner at Ely State Prison

Received by mail, June 2010

Dated and mailed 5-18-10
To all concerned parties

On 1-15-10 while incarcerated at Ely State Prison, I was assaulted while handcuffed by two Senior correctional officers (S.c.o. D. and S.c.o. S.) under the Watch of a ranked officer by the name of Lieutenant M. This is no surprise to me. The fact that both these S.c.o. weigh collectively 600 plus pound attacking me like vicious animals is no surprise to me. What is a surprise to me is that a lieutenant would disregard my safety and stand by and watch as I´m slammed for no reason, head first into the wall, my face busted and he does not intervene. I´m then slammed to the floor by both these 6ft plus 300 plus pounds individuals and repeatedly punched in the face by one while the other sits on my back with his hand holding my neck to the cold floor.

Now I probably should have seen this coming, because when the lieutenant approached my door and ordered for me and my cellmate to turn around so we could be cuffed up. I ask him before cuffing up. ´Where´s the camera?´ This arrogant lieutenant made a gesture pointing at his eyes and told me his eyes were the camera.

Not wanting to give those officers the opportunity to try and justify opening the door and beating me worse then they did when I had the handcuffs on, I complied and turned around and was cuffed up, which is when the beating took place. How IS THIS? How can these people continue to carry on with no regard for our lives and keep getting away with it?

PLEASE help me understand. Is this what they are hired for? To try and beat us into submission causing us to receive stitches, endure pain, all the while charging us hundreds of dollars for getting less than average at best of treatment for the injuries they inflict on us.

PLEASE SOMEBODY, ANYBODY: HELP! The life that you could help save might be that of one of your loved ones.

PS You know, there´s always a twist to a story. Well here´s the twist to mine. The lieutenant whom I speak of, who stood by and let those officers beat me while I was in handcuffs, is the same one who allowed officers to go in and beat inmates in Unit 4 of this same prison on January 31st, 2010. And the officer who was stabbed (S.c.o. S.) is the same one who just two weeks prior to this January 31st 2010 incident was one of the ones who the lieutenant stood by and watched and allowed to slam my face into the wall and repeatedly punch me in my face while my head was held down by another officer. Coincidence? NOT HARDLY. IMAGINE THAT!

Legal assistance needed if possible.

Damien Dennis
#83992
P.O. Box 1989
Ely, NV 89301

The horror show that is Ely State Prison

I am an inmate at Ely State Prison (ESP) and have been for the last 9 years. I wanted to write and inform you about some of the horror show that is Ely State Prison. You can´t imagine the utter and absolute horror show this prison really is on the inside.

Here is an example from about 6 to 8 weeks ago. Officers went to a lock down unit to get a hot pot from an inmate. He refused to give it to them (this was on a Saturday: no wardens). So they extracted him. When other inmates began to yell at the officers for their extraction method, the number of officers grew and they did 6 to 8 more unnecessary extractions that sent 4 or 5 inmates out of the prison to the hospital in town to get treatment for their injuries. The lieutenant (Minik or Minnick) from that shift was fired about a week or so later. The shift sergeant from that shift (Bryant) was also the squad sergeant in charge of the Redman extraction that resulted in his death.

People in here die on a fairly regular basis. About three months ago a guy in unit 5 was beaten so bad over the course of 3 days by his cellie that he needed to be life-flighted out of here.

I have lived in general population and held a job in here for the last 8 ½ years. As I´m sure you know unit 8 is the only open unit in the prison and it is where the “workers” live. At one time, about two months ago there were about 140 workers. The administration is now in the process of getting that number down to 94 and housing all of us on one wing of unit 8 and locking down the other half.

Now I´m not sure if you know how this prison was designed, but to really understand, I´ll quickly explain. There are 8 units here, 4 units are considered general population, they are on one side of the prison; units 5, 6, 7 and 8. They each have an A and a B wing with 48 cells, 24 downstairs and 24 right above upstairs. Each wing was designed to house 48 people. Long ago, they put a second bunk in the 3 thru 24 cells (cells 1 and 2 are medical singles) that brought the number of inmates to 72 a unit.

About 3 ½ years ago they put second bunks in cells 25 thru 48, now they cram 94 inmates into a unit. In the lock down units it makes it loud and the stale air is brutal as well as the heat. In unit 8 as in the other units there are only 4 showers, 2 telephones and tables for 48 people to sit. Plus on the wall in the unit along with “no smoking” it says “Maximum occupancy 90,” which was probably put there by the Fire Marshall, but I´m sure the zero will be painted over and made into a four. That´s how they do things inside here. To start this process of getting down to 94 workers they have changed the times we are allowed out of our cells… well they actually took time away from us. See the pages I enclosed.

Here is another example. Some time ago an inmate sued the prison (ESP), because it was not handicap-accessible. After he won and the prison got some grant money to fix some things, they took the non-handicap accessible urinal off the “main yard.” So now there is no urinal on the yard. The officers here now look the other way while people urinate in an outside drain by the trash compactor. They will not let people go into the gym or back into the unit and then back out again. So if you want to stay outside you basically have to break the law.

Here is another policy that was started because people here and also at High Desert (HDSP) started refusing to live with someone in a lock down situation that has no end, for the main reason that it becomes very dangerous. They force you to live with people, especially here at ESP, in a small cell where you never have any time to yourself. They don´t tell you if the other person has HIV, Hep C or mental problems. The number of cell fights they have here at Ely is unreal. And until both inmates come to the door and get handcuffed, the officers will not enter a cell. So you could be getting your head split open and all they will do is gas the cell with pepper spray. And when under normal conditions if one person or both are leaving the cell, both people have to get handcuffed first. Well, on a regular basis one person will wait until his cellie gets cuffed first, then attack, because they know the officers won´t come into the cell until he cuffs up also. It makes for a very dangerous situation.

So in response people were refusing to cell with another person in a lock down situation and would go to the hole. Well since so many people were doing this, they changed the rules so that now you get none of your appliances for the first 60 days in the hole, then you petition for 1 appliance, and then 1 more, in another 60 days. Yet they can take them if you break any rules. If they don´t like you, you´ll never have your appliances.

Like I´ve said, you can´t imagine the horror show ESP really is on the inside.

Received per mail on May 20th 2010

Nevada prisoners being pushed to the edge

From: SF Bay View

April 13, 2010

by Marrio Moreland

Northern Nevada Correctional Center, Carson City

I am a convicted person serving time for voluntary manslaughter in the state of Nevada. Although this letter may not digest well with some, these will be true statements and facts about how we as human beings are being subjected to abuse and retaliation for exercising the little rights we do have inside these walls and gates that is separating us from society. This is only one of many letters sent out by inmates who are incarcerated in Nevada’s Department of Correctional Centers, pleading for help and justice!

We believe that we inmates are being used for political gain due to the economy and budget cuts. We are starting to believe we are being pushed to the edge so that the Nevada prison system can justify their request for more funds. In less than 60 days there has been two unjustified assaults on two different inmates by correctional officers here at Northern Nevada Correctional Center (NNCC). The two inmates’ names are Marrio Moreland (#79800) and Anthony Lewis (#96337).

On Jan. 7, 2010, an assault occurred on inmate Marrio Moreland. He along with his cellie was removed from their cell by five correctional officers for an uncertain reason soon after breakfast. Inmate Moreland was verbally abused by a correctional officer and then viciously slammed to the ground by the same correctional officer acting on a direct order given by his lieutenant. Later, following said assault, Moreland was then sexually discriminated against.

On Feb. 26, 2010, an assault with battery occurred on an inmate named Anthony Lewis. He is in fact a person who has several disorders: 1) cracked C-2 spinal cord, 2) paralyzed on the right side, 3) he has colones, 4) he drags his right foot and 5) he depends on a wheelchair for mobility. Mr. Lewis and his cellie were returning from the shower when the officer literally pushed this gentleman from his wheelchair, pinned him to the floor and viciously banged his head on the concrete floor several times for no explainable reason.

At the time of both these two assaults the inmates were in restraints. These two assaults are two of many that has occurred here at Northern Nevada Correctional Center (NNCC). I have no other choice but to reach out this way because other attempts to find assistance have been spoiled.

Because of what’s called “abuse of authority,” the administration has a grievance complaint system in place that the inmate population no longer trusts. This administration has given correctional officers the authority to either approve or deny inmates’ rights, also the right to act as their own chain of command, by trying to do away with the inmate grievance procedure and punish us for following and exercising our rights.

This action is causing correctional officers to become very aggressive toward inmates. They are not obeying their own rules and regulations day by day yet have no fear of consequences from the administration.

As this letter is being addressed, I am housed in a segregated unit that has birds flying around inside. The birds are dropping their manure on the serving table, flying over the food while it’s being prepared, landing on the carts while the food is on the carts. The sanitation is poor, the showers are not sanitized, inmates are now being subjected to a disease called Mersa – it’s a well known disease that’s caused by poor sanitation. These acts are inhumane to a human being of the United States of America.

The statements I’ve made describe only a few barbarous actions that occur behind these gates. It’s said that each person of the United States of America should be “emancipated.” The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863. Nevertheless, the great saying “liberty and justice for all” – whatever happened to that? Does it even apply to the Nevada Department of Corrections?
I am housed in a segregated unit that has birds flying around inside. The birds are dropping their manure on the serving table, flying over the food while it’s being prepared, landing on the carts while the food is on the carts.

I would like to add there’s a deaf inmate who has seizures living in a medically inadequate cell by himself. He has seizures and was saved only because of an inmate passing by and that was by the grace of God.

As I close, I pray that this letter will get to the attention of many, making them aware of the trauma that the inmates here at Northern Nevada Correctional Center are experiencing. The administration will probably retaliate against me, but what else can they do to me? They have stripped me of my dignity, so there’s nothing else to abandon me of. This is an issue that needed a voice and I am that voice.

My name is Marrio Moreland, 79800, P.O. Box 7000, Carson City, NV 89702. I’m just seeking help and justice!