Cecily McMillan (OWS Activist) Released from Rikers Island: Uses Platform to Challenge Systemic Injustices Incarcerated Women Face Daily

This is from: SparrowMedia, July 2nd 2014

[NEW YORK, NY] Imprisoned Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan was released from Rikers Island on Wednesday morning, July 2nd, after serving 58 days. She spoke publicly at a 1pm press conference outside the jail’s outer gates on Hazen Street.

This was the first time she was able to speak publicly after testifying in her trial. Cecily’s controversial trial garnered international media attention. She was supported by elected officials, community leaders, and celebrities. While serving her term at Rikers Island she was visited by members of Russian rock group Pussy Riot, themselves unjustly imprisoned in 2012.

The Following is Cecily’s Statement as read to members of the press at 1pm EST:

“Fifty nine days ago, The City and State of New York labeled me a criminal. Millionaires and billionaire–who had a vested interest in silencing a peaceful protest about the growing inequalities in America–coerced the justice system, manipulated the evidence, and suddenly I became dangerous and distinguished from law-abiding citizens. On May 5th, the jury delivered its verdict, the judge deemed me undesirable, and officers drove me across that bridge and barred me within. On the outside, I had spent my time fighting for freedom and rights. On the inside, I discovered a world where words like freedom and rights don’t even exist in the first place. I walked in with one movement, and return to you a representative of another. That bridge right there, that divides the city from Rikers Island, divides two worlds – today I hope to bring them closer together. Crossing back over, I have a message to you from several concerned citizens currently serving time at the Rose M. Singer Center.

“Incarceration is meant to prevent crime. Its purpose is to penalize and then return us to the outside world ready to start anew. The world I saw at Rikers isn’t concerned with that. Many of the tactics employed are aimed at simple dehumanization. In the interests of returning the facility to its mission and restoring dignity to its inmates, we, the women of Rikers, have several demands that will make this system more functional. These were collectively drafted for me to read before you today.

“First of all, we demand that we be provided with adequate, safe, and timely healthcare at all times. That, of course, includes mental health care services and the ability to request female doctors if desired at all times for safety and comfort. We often have to wait for up to 12 hours a day for a simple clinic visit, and occasionally 12 hours a day for up to a full week before we see anyone.

“The women of Rikers feel a special sense of urgency for this demand because of a particular event that occurred recently. About a week ago, our friend Judith died as a result of inadequate medical care. Judith had been in RSMC for a while, but was transferred to our dorm 4 East A, where I was housed, only a few days before her death. She had recently been in the infirmary for a back problem, and had been prescribed methadone pills for the pain for quite a while. A few days before she died, they decided to change the medicine to liquid despite her dissent. They gave her a dosage of 190mg, which any doctor will tell you is a dangerous dosage, far higher than what anyone should be taking unless it is a serious emergency. Judith was not allowed to turn down the medicine or visit the clinic to get the dosage adjusted.

“After three days on that dosage, Judith could no longer remember who or where she was and had begun coughing up blood, accompanied with what we believe were chunks of her liver. We attempted unsuccessfully to get her medical treatment for the entire day, at one point being told that this was “not an emergency,” despite the fact that Judith was covered in blood. That night they finally removed her to the hospital, where she remained in critical condition before passing away a few days later. This was a clear case of medical malpractice, both with the ridiculously high dosage of methadone and the refusal of adequate treatment. Stories like this are far too common in Rikers Island, and we demand that no more of our sisters be lost to sickness and disease as a result of inadequate medical care.

“Our next demand is that Corrections Officers should be required to follow the protocol laid out for them at all times, and that at some point soon that protocol should be examined to make sure that all rules and procedures are in the best interests of the inmates. We also demand that we have a clear and direct means to file a grievance that will be taken seriously and examined fully, so that Officers can be properly disciplined and removed from the area quickly when they abuse or endanger us.

“Recently my friend Alejandra went to file a grievance about being denied access to medical treatment for a concussion until she awoke one morning unable to move. When she met with the captain after filing the grievance, she was presented with a different sheet and a different complaint than the one she had provided and was forced to sign it. Inmates should be able to trust that situations like that will not concern, and that our safety and dignity be respected by those designated to supervise us. There is a clear protocol for officers already laid out in the inmate handbook, but it is seldom followed. Officers are allowed to make up the rules as they go and get away with it, which we find unacceptable.

“Our final demand is that we be provided with rehabilitative and educational services that will help us to heal our addictions and gain new skills, and that will make it much easier for us to adjust to the outside and achieve employment when we are released. Specifically, for our education we would like access to classes beyond GED completion, maintenance, and basic computer skills, access to a library, and English classes for those attempting to learn the language. We feel that the addition of these programs would significantly help us prepare for release and reentry into the world, which would lower re-incarceration rates.

“We also feel strongly that Rikers Island needs to have much better drug rehabilitation programs. Many women who come through here are addicts, and many women are imprisoned here because they are addicts. That’s the area in which reentry rates seems to be the highest. This is likely a direct result of the failure of the meager programs that we are given. Thus, it seems only logical that serious and effective drug rehabilitation programs be provided to those who need them, assuming that the Department of Corrections would like to help work to achieve a better, healthier society and keep as many people as possible out of jail.

“Working with my sisters to organize for change in the confines of jail has strengthened my belief in participatory democracy and collective action. I am inspired by the resilient community I have encountered in a system that is stacked against us. The only difference between people we call “law-abiding” citizens and the women I served time with is the unequal access to resources. Crossing the bridge I am compelled to reach back and recognize the two worlds as undivided. The court sent me here to frighten me and others into silencing our dissent, but I am proud to walk out saying that the 99% is, in fact, stronger than ever. We will continue to fight until we gain all the rights we deserve as citizens of this earth.”

Cecily McMillan is a New York City activist and graduate student wrongfully imprisoned for felony assault of a police officer after an incident at an Occupy Wall Street event on March 17, 2012. Officer Grantley Bovell grabbed her right breast from behind and lifted her into the air, at which other officers joined Officer Bovell in beating McMillan until she had a series of seizures. She was convicted on May 5th after a trial in which Judge Ronald Zweibel disallowed key pieces of evidence from the defense. On May 19th she was sentenced to a 90-day sentence and 5 years of probation after a large public campaign for leniency, which included an appeal to the judge signed by 9 of the 12 jurors, who thought she should be given no further jail time. The sentence on this charge is typically a term of 2-7 years of incarceration.

The Texas Department of Cowboy Justice: A case of lawless law enforcement

by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson

September 7, 2013, SF Bay View

Introduction

As I sit writing this, Lt. Deward Demoss passes my cell making segregation rounds. Further down the tier he exchanges words with another prisoner, then yells down to two unit guards, “Make sure Cell 118 doesn’t eat today.” “Yessir,” they both chime in. Such is the abusive impunity here in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s (TDCJ) Estelle 2 Unit (E2U). In fact, guards’ summarily denying prisoners meals in this manner is so routine, there’s a nickname for it here. It’s called “jacking trays.” And that’s the least of it.

'Texas' by Kevin Rashid Johnson, web

“Texas” by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson

I’ve not seen conditions such as exist here in E2U in a long while. The level of abuse is on a par with conditions I described in the autobiographical section of my book that once existed in the segregation unit of Virginia’s Greensville Correctional Center, where guards had a literal license to brutalize and abuse prisoners in the most extreme ways. And these conditions are not accidental.

In fact it’s been made quite clear that I’m here in Texas in direct response to my having brought undesired public scrutiny to Oregon’s and Virginia’s prisons through a series of critical articles and reports about conditions in their prison systems and having sued Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) officials in a recently initiated federal lawsuit.

Indeed, one of my claims in that case was based in part on ODOC officials threatening that if I began litigating against and circulating critical writings about them, I’d find myself permanently in the hole and/or sent to another prison system where I’d be made to suffer much worse than in Oregon. And true to those threats, and only six days before the date on which the federal court had ordered ODOC officials, including its director, to appear and answer in my lawsuit, I was hustled off to the TDJC.

This is an account of what I’ve experienced and witnessed in just a couple of weeks here, which can only be described as Cowboy Justice – as lawless as the Wild West. It is also an appeal to public support and activism.

Welcome to Texas

The above mentioned threats were initially made when I first arrived in Oregon from Virginia in February 2012. Then on May 22, 2013, I was told by ODOC Lt. Kenneth Neff, one of the defendants in my lawsuit, that plans were indeed in motion to transfer me to another prison system where things would definitely be worse. I documented his statement.

On June 14, 2013, I was awakened early in the morning, chained up, and put on a plane bound for Texas. With the exception of only a tiny box of items I was allowed to hurriedly select, all my belongings were left behind in Oregon.

The entire transfer was a setup.

The TDCJ was chosen not in spite – but because – of the fact that I had long dreadlocks and their rule of allowing no exceptions for them, not for religious reasons or otherwise. I was told as much by TDCJ Lt. L. Evans, who presided over the premeditated scheme to shave my head by force, which they knew I’d resist and came prepared.

On arriving in Texas on that June afternoon, I was taken by prison van from the airfield to the Byrd Unit (BU), which is the TDCJ’s intake and orientation prison, where all new admissions to TDCJ are received for orientation, testing, processing etc., which takes about 60 days. I didn’t last five hours.

When I arrived in Oregon in 2012, I went through a similar institution but was given an exception to their haircut requirements upon an ODOC chaplain’s confirmation that my hair was grown for spiritual reasons. No such consideration was given at BU.

On entering the BU I went through the routine procedure of a strip search and was then handcuffed to a thick belt secured at my waist, rendering my arms and hands immobile. I was also leg shackled. This was done in preparation for forcibly cutting my hair and neutralizing my ability to physically resist, of which I was then oblivious.

Then came the ultimatum: My hair had to be cut, either by consent or force. They presented it as though my submission under threat of force was actually an exercise of free choice on my part. Yet when powerless people do the same, it’s a crime: robbery, rape, extortion etc. I protested my spiritual rights.

Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson Self Portrait 2013, web

Rashid in a recent self-portrait

I had none, they replied. Then appeared a group of riot armored guards from hiding around a corner. By choice or by force, they repeated. Although it was a futile gesture, I was resigned to resist. So, against my limited struggles, I was strapped down to a gurney, held down by the armed mob, and had my head and face shaved completely bald.

This constituted the first act of lawless law-enforcement I was to experience or witness in the TDJC. I was outraged, violated in the extreme. Even more so when I found later that the TDJC does in fact allow exceptions to their haircut rule, specifically for Native Americans – which, where other spiritual orientations are not afforded the same consideration, is unlawful discrimination.

My resistance and outrage against the physical attack and forced haircut was then used to justify transferring me from BU – without undergoing the required 60 days processing and orientation process – to the filthy solitary confinement E2U prison. I’d only remained at BU for about four hours.

The welcoming ain’t over

When I arrived at E2U, I was met at the van by yet another mob of riot-armored guards. This group was primed for a more straightforward violent attack, which I verbally noted for the record. A female guard, Mildred Dickie, was initially filming my E2U entry on a portable audio-video camera.

A notoriously abusive E2U guard. Carlos Applewhite, physically moved a smaller guard who was originally standing beside me holding my right arm, took up his position, and repeatedly told me to shut up. Which I ignored and pointed out was both hostile and unprofessional.

I was taken to a holding cell and strip searched by Applewhite with Dickie filming and observing, which I protested as an unconstitutional cross-gender strip search. Applewhite then applied handcuffs – behind my back – and shackles, the latter so tightly I could barely stand or walk, which I also protested. The camera was deactivated at that point and Applewhite barked that I’d either walk or be dragged.

I was limped along by the mob to an office where I was instructed to sit in a chair. The door was closed and the armored group stood just outside of it.

Inside the office with me were B2U Assistant Warden Wayne Brewer, Major David Forrest and Capt. James A. McKee. Brewer was the only one dressed in civilian street clothes, so I inquired of him who he was. He responded, “You shut up, motherfucker, I’m doing the talking!” Then, as if on cue, Forrest and McKee rushed me and proceeded to manually choke and repeatedly hit me in the head and face while Brewer ran a stream of threats and verbal abuse past me, promising he’d break me or kill me. I was told then and repeatedly since that I am now in Texas where prison officials do simply as they please – and get away with it. Period. I replied, when I could breathe, that I wasn’t impressed nor intimidated, and to get on with whatever they had in mind.

When they got tired and saw they were getting nowhere, I was kicked out of the office and taken by the armored group to a filthy cell, which was to be my new TDCJ abode.

The cell I was put into is situated directly in front of another prisoner’s cell, Edward Long, 579657, who was just the day before viciously beaten by Applewhite while he was handcuffed behind his back. The evidence of the attack was blatant: a black ring around his left eye, a laceration along the side of his right eye held closed with sutures tape, a badly bruised face and back, and a grotesquely swollen mouth.

Furthermore, Applewhite routinely goes to Long’s cell to boast and taunt him, admitting how he “beat the shit out of” Long until he lay in a puddle of blood. Under the peculiar conditions of prison, guards actually convince themselves that beating handcuffed prisoners and mob attacking individual prisoners in groups of five or more using gas, body armor and other weapons, are accomplished acts of bravery to boast about and take pride in, instead of pure cowardice on a par with mob rape and large adults who beat small children who by nature and circumstance are at a decided disadvantage.

Applewhite also frequently threatens others with the same, and he and other E2U guards constantly act to provoke situations to speciously justify uses of force in general and cell extractions in particular, which consist of a group of guards with weapons and body armor invading the cell of an individual prisoner by force, whom they invariably beat once restrained.

Here in E2U multitudes of prisoners attest to being victims of beatings by guards. Although there are surveillance cameras throughout the unit, guards typically take prisoners into “blind spots” like offices, closets, elevators etc. where cameras are absent and beat them. During cell extractions they simply turn off or don’t train the audio-video cameras on the prisoner, while kicks and punches are thrown and his head is slammed onto the concrete floor or steel fixtures in the cells, and guards use their bodies to block the cameras.

But in many cases, as with Long, guards beat prisoners openly in video-surveilled areas and video footage is either “lost,” recorded over, ignored, or it’s claimed the use of force wasn’t captured on film.

E2U’s primitive conditions

On top of the rampant physical abuse, living conditions in E2U are barbaric. The unit is infested with roaches which are routinely found in our food or crawling on one while he is sleeping or just sitting still. And guards serve and handle our meals in the most unsanitary manner. Thermoses of juice and stacks of trays are served on the lids of wheeled trashcans. The trays are also routinely set on the filthy unit floor during service.

Guards never wash their hands, never wear head coverings and almost never wear gloves. Trays and beverages are set inside of roach-infested and contaminated metal boxes that are affixed to the outside of the cell doors, in which flies and roaches nest and rush to get at the food served and spilled inside the boxes.

Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson

Rashid in an older self-portrait

Guards also go cell to cell handling the filthy locks, chains and latches to open and close the boxes as they handle and serve the food, trays and beverages. The boxes are never cleaned, and we must also put all items passed into and out of the cells into them, including shoes, dirty linen, worn clothing, such as during searches performed each time we leave the cell.

Should one protest these conditions, he’s almost certain to get “jacked” for his tray.

The cells each have internal showers which frequently leak, causing standing water to remain on the cell floors. The shower drain frequently stops or backs up, and smells of raw sewage. There is no air conditioning, no windows at all. The vents are clogged with debris.

And in addition to the intense Texas summer heat and humidity, the cells remain damp due to lack of air circulation and steam from the shower, which never completely evaporates from the cells. The floor and walls are covered with mildew, and black mold spots the ceilings. The cells reek of mildew.

We are never given cleaning supplies such as toilet brushes, sponges, cloths, brooms, mops, disinfectants etc. The only cleaning supply we receive is a tiny bit of scouring powder once a week.

Prisoners with obvious mental and emotional illnesses scream, rant, bang and argue at fever pitch day and night. Many obviously suffering the effects of living under E2U’s solitary confinement conditions for years on end.

Guards at their whim destroy and trash prisoners’ personal property. Often when they are out of the cell, guards simply enter them and throw items out as trash, especially that of prisoners who challenge them through complaints or in the courts.

This is also done as routine summary retaliation against prisoners who dare speak out against or otherwise challenge abusive guards and conditions. My own address book, a number of pre-posted mailing envelopes and other items I brought with me from Oregon that were inventoried by ODOC officials when I left on June 14 were stolen by TDCJ Officials, evidenced by their exclusion from the inventory made of the same sealed box of property when I got here to Texas.

Meals are grossly inadequate nutritionally, with only half the prescribed meal portions served and entire courses not provided at all at nearly every meal. One literally receives one third the amount of food on the trays at E2U compared with what I received in the ODOC. And the ODOC strictly calculated meal portions and calorie counts to ensure that prisoners receive exactly or just above 2,500 calories per day, which is the legal minimum daily calorie intake for a sedentary adult.

No desserts are served – neither pastries nor fruits – although they factor into calculating daily minimum calorie intake. No condiments are given with the unseasoned meals – neither salt, sugar etc. – which also denies basic minerals. All prisoners whom I’ve spoken to on the subject in E2U suffer the continuous torture of constant hunger pangs.

Many who’ve been confined here for some time explain that food portions and quality have been cut to the extreme by the TDCJ to save money in the face of budget cuts, because of mismanagement of food supplies – prisoner workers in E2U contend that officials steal supplies of food – and to induce prisoners to conform their behavior to officials’ will to achieve privileged statuses in E2U on which they can purchase food and condiments from the commissary. Food is thus used as punishment, behavior modification and a scheme to generate money through commissary sales.

Due no process of law

Although I was never oriented into nor notified of the TDCJ’s rules and procedures, I received three disciplinary charges stemming from my resisting the forced haircut of June 14. On June 18 E2U counselor Staci Crowley came to my assigned cell to notify me of the charges and determine if I wanted to attend the hearings, which I told her I did. I only later found after she’d left that she lied, indicating I refused to attend the hearing. McKee presided as the hearings officer and found me guilty in my absence and without the benefit of my being able to present any defense.

McKee then turned around and presided over deciding my security housing committee hearing and had me assigned to administrative segregation based on his own corrupt guilty findings on the three charges. At the next committee hearing, Forrest, my other assailant, followed suit.

And as I said, guards flaunt their abusive impunity. When I was taken out to my first committee hearing on June 19, Sgt. Bret Wuellner and guard Venson Williams Jr. held me facing a wall standing outside the office where the hearing was to be conducted – the very same office in which I was attacked on June 14.

Another prisoner was in the office being “heard.” As he was being “escorted” from the office by several guards, Wuellner remarked, “Damn, what happened to his face?” The prisoner’s face was swollen and bruised – the obvious result of a recent beating.

California prisoner hunger strike solidarity drawing by Rashid Johnson, Red Onion Prison, Va

Rashid is the artist who drew this symbol of California prisoner hunger strike solidarity when he was still incarcerated at Red Onion Prison in Virginia. The drawing is now recognized around the world by people who care about prisoners.

Also, as I’d stood waiting for his hearing to conclude, another prisoner was “held” awaiting a hearing, sitting in a wheelchair approximately 10 feet from me. He too showed obvious facial injuries resulting from a beating. Concerning this prisoner, Wuellner remarked to Williams that he’d suffered his injuries – including being wheelchair-bound – in a “cell entry.”

Wuellner took this as an opportunity to tell me that here in Texas I was in for a “rude awakening.” He asked if in Virginia I’d ever had guards “put hands” on me. When I only gave him a blank look in response, Williams added, “Take it from a Black man: They do what they want here,” speaking of the ranking white TDCJ officials, “and get away with it.” Williams is a Black guard; Wuellner is white.

To Williams’ remark I couldn’t resist responding that the pathetic thing about him and others like him is he recognizes yet goes along with it. He replied, almost apologetically, “It’s just a job and I’m not going to be here long anyway.” He proved, however, on June 28 in his participation in the brutal assault of another Black prisoner in conspiracy with Wuellner, that he is as much party to the abuse as the most racist of TDCJ officials.

Since being at E2U, I’ve been confronted repeatedly with such obvious ploys as Wuellner’s and Williams’, calculated to intimidate me on the one hand and provoke me on the other. Indeed, this has been the basis of this entire TDCJ experience: to intimidate and provoke.

Indeed, since June 14, and on Brewer’s instructions, I’ve been subjected to frequent strip and cell searches every 30 minutes to two hours every day, around the clock, even during sleeping hours. This began as soon as I was assigned to E2U, following the office assault.

On the second occasion that I was confronted for such a search on that evening, by Sgt. Kyle Nash and two other guards, I questioned the basis and legality of the searches. Their response was to tell me they were frequently searching me “because we can” and used my questioning them as an excuse to attempt to escalate the situation to where force would be justified.

Nash summoned Lt. Patrick Eady to the cell, who stated outright that they were going to “do this the hard way,” and I’m “not going to like it.” He told the guards to “go suit up,” i.e., put on riot armor, and that he wanted them to take me into the back of the cell and “beat on” me. I’d never refused to submit to the search, only questioned it, so when they returned in riot armor, I went through the strip search, was handcuffed behind and brought out of the cell.

At that point, I narrated all that had occurred and Eady’s stated intentions for an audio-video camera that was present and presumably recording. I also stated my need to see medical staff for injuries to my face and throat resulting from the assault on me in the office. Following the search, I was taken inside the cell – out of view of the camera – laid on the floor in back of the cell and hit and kicked in the face and head, which I narrated for the camera to pick up.

On June 15, 2013, I hand delivered a sick call request to a nurse Kathy Burrow to be seen for my injuries which was logged in on June 16 but not acted on within 72 hours as required by TDCJ policy – obviously to cover up my injuries and allow a passage of time for them to heal. I was not seen until two weeks later and only because of outside protest of my situation after I’d managed to get word out.

Damage control

In obvious response to outside pressure, an investigation was staged, beginning long after the fact of the June 14 assaults and my complaints. First, I was seen by a nurse on June 27, who merely looked into my mouth and ears with a light, and gave me several aspirin. The following day I was brought out to see TDCJ Dr. Bobby Vincent, then TDCJ investigator D. Morris.

Just before being brought out of the cell, E2U Lt. Ashley Anderson came to my cell to tell me, in friendly tones, that Brewer had just informed him that he’d decided to end the frequent strip and cell searches he’d had me on since June 14. How convenient – just when I was about to be brought out to see a doctor and speak to an investigator about abuses, including the office assault which he’d arranged.

The doctor, himself a TDCJ employee, seemed more inclined to minimize the remnants of my injuries than to treat me. He admitted the only reason he was seeing me was because of complaints about my being assaulted. He claimed to find only “the slightest swelling” to my left jaw and not to feel a prominent bony protrusion on the right side of my throat, which even a layman can feel right now and recognize it to be abnormal and not present on the left side. No care was given.

'Defying the Tomb' cover by Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson

Order Rashid’s book, “Defying the Tomb,” from Kerspebedeb Left-Wing Books, at https://secure.leftwingbooks.net/index.php?l=product_detail&p=893.

I was then taken into an office to speak with the investigator Morris – again, the same office where I was assaulted. The “interview” was also attended by Capt. Lawrence L. Dawson, Sgt. Tracy D. Puckett and guard Carlos Amaya Jr. under the guise of providing security but obviously to pick up and pass on what all was said.

I provided a statement about the abuses I’d experienced and the conditions in E2U and emphasized several times that I requested a polygraph examination concerning the abuses and that those who’d assaulted me should be asked to submit to the same – which I know they’d decline – since whatever they said in reply to my complaints would obviously be given preferential consideration by any TDCJ “investigator,” not only because they’re officials and coworkers, but because they are among the highest ranking in the prison.
And this was a case that would prove quite embarrassing to TDCJ’s highest officials, since it would show the abuses are not mere deviant misbehaviors of low-level rogue guards but rather permissive abuse that runs to the highest administrative levels.

The entire force of an “investigation,” however, is as always staged for damage control and seldom provides any meaningful outcome, except only in cases where there is sustained and broad public outrage. And again, only enough is done to pacify that protest. It’s then back to business as usual. In fact, what Morris seemed most concerned about was whether I intend to sue the TDCJ over the abuses.

Still outta control

On that very same day that I spoke to Morris, yet another brutal assault was staged on a prisoner in E2U, involving Wuellner, Williams and the guard Amaya, who’d sat in on and listened attentively to my statement about the assaults on me, from which they obviously took pointers. The assaulted prisoner remains in the hospital as I write this.

I personally witnessed the setup.

The victim, Joe Laws, 553289, is one of the few E2U prisoners who’s refused to be terrorized by E2U guards. As a result of his resistance to their abuses, the guards both fear and hate him. Given this dynamic, an attack of the sort staged on June 28 was inevitable.

Laws allegedly had a run-in with guards earlier that morning. No immediate response followed, obviously because the investigator from the TDCJ director’s office, D. Morris, was at the prison. Also, the guards who attacked Laws used the exact same tactic to assault Laws as I’d explained to Morris that Eady had guards use on me on June 14 inside the cell. Only in Laws’ case they went to the extreme.

The guards who participated in the Laws assault were Amaya, a guard named Smith (believably Nathaniel Smith), Cody Gonzalez, Williams and one other – either Gregory Shipman or Michael Lewis – all of whom were “suited up” in riot armor. They were supervised by Wuellner, and guard Jalisa R. Jackson was operating the portable audio-video camera. When force is used, the guard with the camera is to film the prisoner at all times. However, as the guard did with me on June 14, Jackson stood far off to the side of the cell so the camera would not film activity inside the cell once the guards took Laws into the back of it.

Just 30 minutes before their shift was set to go off at 6 p.m., these guards confronted Laws in body armor for a staged cell search, in pretended response to the altercation that happened almost 12 hours earlier. Following a strip search, Laws was brought out and stood against the wall outside the cell while the cell search was enacted. Jackson “alerted” Wuellner the video camera was not working.

The riot armored guards then took Laws into the back of the cell and laid him face down on the floor, whereupon they acted to remove the handcuffs and back out of the cell in an orderly retreat. At that point Wuellner announced loudly that should Laws try to rise from the floor, force would be used.

Laws never tried to get up. Wuellner told the guards to “get him,” then announced with feigned excitement that Laws tried to rise, was “resisting.” On Wuellner’s cue, the guards rushed back into the cell and began beating and kicking Laws in the head and face. Smith was doing so with steel-toed boots.
The entire wing of prisoners witnessed the attack by sight and/or sound, and many began in outrage to kick their cell doors and yell at the guards in protest. Laws was beaten at length, following which the guards then retreated from the cell and hastily shut the door.

Wuellner then pretended to try and take photographs of Laws on a digital camera as TDCJ policy requires whenever force is used on a prisoner. However he quickly announced the battery was dead so the required still photos couldn’t be taken. Laws was left in the cell bleeding profusely from the head and face.
Their dirty work done, the group of guards left the wing to go home, it being the end of their shift and they being set to have the next four days off.

No nurses nor other medical staff are present in E2U from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. – a gross legal violation – so their attack was also timed to occur when no medical staff would be on hand to examine Laws, as is also required whenever force is used. The next shift was left to pick up the pieces.

Laws suffered a large gash in back of his head, the result of being kicked by Smith with steel-toed boots, several of his teeth were knocked out while others were driven up into his gums, a gash inside his mouth, a fractured jaw, his eye swollen closed, and other injuries.

GÇÿCollective StruggleGÇÖ by Kevin GÇÿRashidGÇÖ Johnson, web

As the drums of war beat against Syria, Rashid has given us a lot to ponder in this drawing he calls “Collective Struggle.”

As I collected the facts on everything, it took numerous prisoners kicking and banging on their cell doors and becoming primed to create havoc to get unit Sgts. Shelby Rayfield and Dustin Harkness to the wing and Laws taken to the hospital, where he has remained for several days. Guards who took him out confirmed he’d lost teeth and others were disfigured, he had over a dozen staples put in back of his head, his jaw was broken etc.

The attack on Laws was obvious retaliation and timed and conducted so as to minimize on-the-spot evidence of a beating and the extent of his consequent injuries. This entire “cover-up” was so amateurish as to be pointless, which only reflects how little these guards worry about consequences for abuse and how free they are of any sort of meaningful administrative oversight, beyond mere formalities.

In fact, as my own case demonstrates, E2U administrators themselves engage in just the same abuses. That couldn’t occur unless that clearance is given all the way up to the level of TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, which is exactly where the lawless executives of Texas take their cues.

Conclusion

In footnotes to this article I will cite the multitude of federal laws – the highest law of the land – violated by the conditions and abuses described throughout this article, demonstrating the genuinely “lawless” character of the Texas officials behind them, whose duty is foremost to defend, apply and “enforce” those very laws, so one cannot mistake the authority of these people or their institutions as anything but illegal and illegitimate.
And it reveals the hypocrisy of U.S. officials when they denounce other governments as dictatorial and terroristic for doing much the same and even less than what’s been done on U.S. soil to U.S. citizens by the U.S. government. Prisoners in Texas’ E2U need as much public support as possible. And it must be broad-based and sustained. Because what’s happening to us on the inside is fated for those on the outside as Amerika becomes more and more overtly a police state and laws become less and less a restraint on official impunity.

Dare to struggle! Dare to win!
All power to the people!

Rashid Johnson, a longtime prisoner in Virginia who was transferred last year to Oregon and recently to Texas, has been held in segregation since 1993. While in prison he founded the New Afrikan Black Panther Party – Prison Chapter. As a writer, Rashid has been compared to George Jackson, and he is also the artist who drew the image that became the icon of the California hunger strikes. His book, “Defying the Tomb,” with a foreword by Russell “Maroon” Shoats and afterword by Sundiata Acoli, can be ordered at leftwingbooks.net, by writing to Kersplebedeb, CP 63560, CCCP Van Horne, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3W 3H8, or by emailing info@kersplebedeb.com. Send our brother some love and light: Kevin Johnson, 1859887, Clements Unit, 9601 Spur 591, Amarillo, TX 79107.

Action call

by Karl Kerspebedeb
Since his article “The Texas Department of Cowboy Justice: A case of lawless law enforcement” was written, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson has been transferred yet again, this time to the Clements Unit in Amarillo, Texas.

Supporters had been calling on Texas officials to remove Rashid from Estelle, a unit with a documented history of staff violence and impunity. (Besides Rashid’s aforementioned article, see the recent piece on Truthout: “Beatings and Threats: Odyssey of a Prisoner-Advocate, From Virginia to Texas” at http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/18167-beatings-and-threats-odyssey-of-a-prisoner-advocate-from-virginia-to-texas.)

Yet while Rashid is now out of reach of the guards who abused him at Estelle, any impression that this is a “victory” will likely prove illusory. Rashid himself has written in a recent letter to supporters, “To the extent that you all’s hassling them prompted this transfer, I’m thankful – although from what I’m told, conditions here are no better than at the Estelle Unit.”

While we wait to see what happens at Clements, our priority at this point is that Rashid regain access to his personal belongings.

When he was transferred from Oregon to Texas in June, some 41 boxes of personal belongings were supposed to follow. Any property that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was unwilling to allow Rashid to have was supposed to be transferred to the Virginia Department of Corrections.
Furthermore, Rashid was supposed to receive his legal documents that he requires for his lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Corrections. So far none of this has been done, and Rashid is increasingly concerned about what has happened to his property – literally, everything he owns in the world.

Please telephone Virginia Interstate Compact Coordinator Terry Glenn at (804) 887-7866 and ask why Kevin Johnson, VDOC No. 1007485, has not yet received any of his property. It has been two months since Rashid was transferred from Oregon, and if he does not get his property soon, this will directly impact his ability to conduct his lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Corrections.

For more information, see the website rashidmod.com.

Write Rashid at his new address: Kevin Johnson, 1859887, Clements Unit, 9601 Spur 591, Amarillo, TX 79107. Make sure a first and last name are clearly printed in the return address section of the envelope or your mail will be returned.

Karl Kerspebedeb is Rashid’s friend, publisher and webmaster for http://rashidmod.com/. He can be reached at info@kersplebedeb.com.

America’s 10 Worst Prisons: Ely State Prison makes it to the Dishonorable Mentions (top 17)

America’s 10 Worst Prisons: Dishonorable Mentions
7 runners-up, from a “gladiator school” to America’s largest death row.

By James Ridgeway and Jean Casella
Wed May. 15, 2013, in:  Mother Jones Magazine

#1: ADX (federal supermax)
#2: Allan B. Polunsky Unit (Texas)
#3: Tent City Jail (Phoenix)
#4: Orleans Parish (Louisiana)
#5: LA County Jail (Los Angeles)
#6: Pelican Bay (California)
#7: Julia Tutwiler (Alabama)
#8: Reeves Country Detention Complex (Texas)
#9: Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (Mississippi)
#10: Rikers Island (New York City)

Read the complete introduction to our 10 Worst Prisons project.
Last of 11 parts.

Serving time in prison is not supposed to be pleasant. Nor, however, is it supposed to include being raped by fellow prisoners or staff, beaten by guards for the slightest provocation, driven mad by long-term solitary confinement, or killed off by medical neglect. These are the fates of thousands of prisoners every year—men, women, and children housed in lockups that give Gitmo and Abu Ghraib a run for their money.

While there’s plenty of blame to go around, and while not all of the facilities described in this series have all of the problems we explore, some stand out as particularly bad actors. These dishonorable mentions make up the final installment of our 11-part series, a subjective ranking based on three years of research, correspondence with prisoners, and interviews with reform advocates concerning the penal facilities with the grimmest claims to infamy.

Attica Correctional Facility (Attica, New York): More than four decades after its famous uprising, New York’s worst state prison still lives up to its brutal history. According to the Correctional Association of New York, which has a legislative mandate to track prison conditions, Attica is plagued by staff-on-prisoner violence, intimidation, and sexual abuse.

Communications Management Units (Marion, Illinois, and Terre Haute, Indiana): These two federal prisons-within-prisons, whose populations are more than two-thirds Muslim, were opened secretly by the Bureau of Prisons during the Bush administration, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is challenging the facilities in a federal lawsuit. “The Bureau claims that CMUs are designed to hold dangerous terrorists and other high-risk inmates, requiring heightened monitoring of their external and internal communications,” notes a lawsuit fact sheet. “Many prisoners, however, are sent to these isolation units for their constitutionally protected religious beliefs, unpopular political views, or in retaliation for challenging poor treatment or other rights violations in the federal prison system.” (Also see: Pelican Bay.)

Ely State Prison (Ely, Nevada): A “shocking and callous disregard for human life” is how an auditor described medical care at Ely, which houses the state’s death row along with other maximum security prisoners (PDF). The audit, which found that one prisoner was allowed to rot to death from gangrene, formed the basis of a 2008 class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU’s National Prison Project. The suit was settled in 2010, but by 2012 the prison still was not in full compliance.

Idaho Correctional Center (Kuna, Idaho): Run by Corrections Corporation of America, the world’s largest private prison company, ICC has been dubbed a “gladiator school” for its epidemic of gang violence. According to a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the ACLU of Idaho (PDF), the violence is not only condoned but actively promoted by the staff. The suit was settled, but last November, the ACLU said CCA appeared to be violating the agreement, which called for increased staffing and training, reporting of assaults to the local sheriff’s office, and disciplinary measures for staffers who didn’t take steps to stop or prevent assaults.

San Quentin State Prison (Marin County, California): This decrepit prison, which sits on a $2 billion piece of bayside real estate, is home to America’s largest death row. As of late-April, there were 711 men and 20 women condemned to die at San Quentin—you can find the latest stats here (PDF); the figure is constantly changing, despite a state moratorium on executions, because prisoners frequently die of illness or old age. Some even commit suicide rather than remain in solitary limbo.

Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola, Louisiana): At America’s largest prison, those who embrace warden Burl Cain’s pet program of “moral rehabilitation” through Christianity are afforded privileges while sinners languish in institutional hell. A former slave plantation, the prison lends its name to the so-called Angola 3, two of whom have been held in solitary for 40 years, largely for their perceived political beliefs. (In March, Louisiana’s attorney general declared, bafflingly, that the men had “never been in solitary confinement.”)

The federal pen at Lewisburg.
United States Penitentiary (Lewisburg, Pennsylvania): In this overcrowded supermax, the target of multiple lawsuits, prisoners are locked down for 23 to 24 hours a day in the company of a cellmate. One lawsuit alleges that prison officials deliberately pair people with their enemies, and that this practice has led to at least two deaths. The suit also claims that prisoners have been strapped to their bunks with four-point restraints if they resist their cell assignments.

Research for this project was supported by a grant from the Investigative Fund and The Nation Institute, as well as a Soros Justice Media Fellowship from the Open Society Foundations. Additional reporting by Beth Broyles, Valeria Monfrini, Katie Rose Quandt, and Sal Rodriguez.
##

Lost In the Hole: Mentally ill felons locked in own hell

The Salt Lake City Weekly published a 4 part story about Uinta 1, Utah State Prison, the supermax, where we have been publishing stories about written by one of its inhabitants, Brandon Green. A few years ago, we knew they were planning to write about the situation inside this draconian hellhole, and finally they did.

Written by Stephen Dark, posted in the SLC City Week Sept 26th, 2012.

Here is Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Page 4

Please also read: http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/blog-24-8503-inmates-leave-the-hole.html

Rallies against abuse of prisoners grow in Georgia

Sept. 20, 2012, via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Street protests against the brutal abuse of prisoners have grown larger in the Georgian capital, offering a tough challenge to the authorities in the runup to a tightly contested parliamentary election.

Read more: http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Rallies-against-abuse-of-prisoners-grow-in-Georgia-3879406.php#ixzz2702Ea1sO

Why Are Prisoners Committing Suicide in Pennsylvania?

Received via The Real Cost of Prisons, forthcoming in The Nation:

Great work Bret Grote and HRC. http://hrcoalition.org/
Don’t forget to check out their excellent publication The Movement-http://hrcoalition.org/node/97

“The DOJ investigation has the potential to further expose the utter depravity…of the prison system,” says Bret Grote of the Human Rights Coalition. The use of punitive isolation at CSI Cresson, he says, fits “squarely within the norm for how solitary units are run throughout [Pennsylvania], where instances of cruelty and insanity are deliberately multiplied by government employees as a matter of policy.”

Why Are Prisoners Committing Suicide in Pennsylvania?
Matt Stroud
April 18, 2012 | This article appeared in the May 7, 2012 edition of The Nation.

Research support for this article was provided by The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute and the Puffin Foundation.

By the time John McClellan Jr. was found dead inside Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Cresson last May, he had long been categorized as “special needs” for his history of addiction and mental instability. Yet prisoners and staff say the 42-year-old inmate was not living in one of the facility’s treatment units but in the Restricted Housing Unit, or RHU—otherwise known as solitary confinement.

Two months earlier, McClellan had written a letter to his father, a Philadelphia police officer, saying that five correctional officers had assaulted him, then filed false charges against him. John McClellan Sr. had already contacted an attorney; threats and abuse from guards were allegedly so frequent his son kept a makeshift calendar on legal-sized notebook paper to keep track. A former SCI Cresson prisoner, Tim Everard, who says he spent time in a neighboring RHU cell, recalls seeing guards kicking the younger McClellan’s cell door, calling him names and goading him to kill himself. When Everard told the manager of the ward that McClellan seemed suicidal, Everard says she brushed him off, saying of the impulse to commit suicide, “If he’s going to act on it, he’s going to act on it.”

On December 1 the Justice Department announced an investigation into SCI Cresson as well as SCI Pittsburgh in response to allegations of prisoner abuse. Since then, another inmate, who reportedly asked repeatedly for and was denied mental health treatment, has committed suicide inside SCI Cresson. An investigation by The Nation uncovered details of the claims at the center of the probe, through interviews with current and former Department of Corrections (DOC) employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. At least three sources with knowledge of the mental health procedures at SCI Cresson have provided corroborating evidence to the Justice Department, claiming that they were threatened with physical harm or false charges by prison authorities if they raised concerns.

Filed under the 1980 Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, more than thirty similar investigations have been launched by the Justice Department since 1996. Most involve jails holding pretrial prisoners, and at least ten involve claims of insufficient mental healthcare. The process is generally diplomatic rather than prosecutorial; the DOJ publicly releases findings and suggests changes. Institutions usually agree to abide by the recommendations. The DOJ can sue those that don’t; in extreme cases this can lead to a court order forcing a prison to operate under the supervision of a Special Master (as in the case of California, where the state’s entire prison healthcare system was put into receivership).

The investigation into SCI Cresson could have important implications beyond Pennsylvania. In addition to determining whether it “provided inadequate mental health care to prisoners who have mental illness [and] failed to adequately protect such prisoners from harm,” according to the DOJ’s official release, investigators will also consider the practice of subjecting mentally ill prisoners to “excessively prolonged periods of isolation, in violation of the Eighth Amendment,” with its ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Even if the particular abuse leveled at McClellan is found to be an aberration, holding mentally unstable prisoners in solitary confinement is a common practice in prisons and jails across the country. With major studies showing that prolonged isolation can aggravate—and even contribute to—mental illness and a small number of states moving to reduce their reliance on the practice, the DOJ investigation could be a significant step toward banning solitary confinement for mentally ill prisoners.

* * *

SCI Cresson was a tuberculosis sanitarium from 1912 through 1956, then a mental institution until 1982, when it was shuttered and abandoned. It reopened as a state penitentiary five years later. Today it is a medium-security facility housing some 1,624 prisoners whose crimes range from murder to drunk driving. Fourteen percent are locked up for parole violations.

Located ninety miles east of Pittsburgh, the prison complex sits off an old highway just outside the small town of Cresson (population: 1,711), known for its coal yards, mineral springs and lumber. Dense forest surrounds everything, including the prison, whose old brick buildings might seem peaceful if they weren’t surrounded by razor wire and thirty-foot fences.

Historically, Pennsylvania has been at the forefront of the use of solitary confinement, and it has continued to experiment with new forms of isolation. In 2000 the Pennsylvania DOC introduced the Long Term Segregation Unit, or LTSU, to house its most dangerous and disobedient inmates. Based on a similar program introduced in 1989 at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, the LTSU held inmates in single cells, isolated for at least twenty-three hours a day bereft of any property, including reading material. The treatment was supposed to last for thirty-six months at the most, with officials vowing to send LTSU prisoners back to the general population when their behavior improved.

A 2004 article in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review quoted DOC sources citing the extreme unruliness of LTSU prisoners—“the worst of the worst,” “despicable inmate[s]” who “just seemed to be incorrigible”—and also quoted attorneys and advocates concerned about the effect on vulnerable inmates. “It raises the question of mentally ill [prisoners] in this unit whose conditions are made worse by long-term isolation,” one lawyer said.

As Pennsylvania implemented the LTSU program, mental health experts warned that such sustained isolation could cause significant mental problems. In a 2003 report in Crime and Delinquency, Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, wrote, “There is not a single published study of solitary or supermax–like confinement in which nonvoluntary confinement lasting for longer than 10 days…failed to result in negative psychological effects.”

Lawsuits filed by prisoners supported this. In 2000 inmates at SCI Pittsburgh sued the DOC, claiming that long-term isolation caused mental health issues to get worse and, in some cases, to arise out of nowhere. In a 2003 ruling in Rivera v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, the state Superior Court determined that it was “not clear…whether the mental and emotional conditions demonstrated in the LTSU contribute or cause the extreme behavioral issues that landed these inmates in the LTSU or whether those types of conditions are in part caused by long periods of solitary confinement in such a unit.” But an appellate court later decided that the LTSU’s failure to address mental health issues did not violate the Eighth Amendment.

Nevertheless, about five years after it was implemented, the LTSU program was replaced with a new program explicitly designed to treat mental illness in prisoners with behavioral problems. Dubbed the Secure Special Needs Unit or SSNU, it was unveiled at SCI Cresson. Officials denied requests for information about this change, but a source close to the transition said it looked as though the DOC “actually wanted to make a positive change and to bring some treatment for people with serious mental health issues.”

Testifying before Pennsylvania’s House Judiciary Committee in August 2010, DOC deputy secretary Michael Klopotoski drew a distinction between SSNUs and other specialized housing units—specifically, the RHU (where McClellan was found), the Special Management Unit (SMU) and the Special Needs Unit, for mentally ill prisoners without behavioral problems. Whereas RHUs were designed “to securely house an offender who receives disciplinary sanctions” and SMUs “to securely house an offender who exhibits behavior that is continually disruptive, violent and dangerous,” SSNUs were designed to “provide a [prisoner] who has identified significant mental health concerns…the opportunity of a specialized treatment program to assist him/her in returning to a general population.” It’s supposed to last up to eighteen months—“unless extended by the SSNU Treatment Team.”

The SSNU is a five-phase program that gradually rewards prisoners with group sessions, time in chow halls and increased access to their property in exchange for good behavior. Phase 5 is solitary confinement; it includes twenty-three-hour-a-day isolation, minimal if any privileges and access only to “basic personal hygiene items.”

“Phase 5 is generally the starting point for an offender in the SSNU,” said Klopotoski, explaining that a prisoner will stay there until he or she “has remained misconduct free for a sufficient period of time.” The end goal is Phase 1; inmates who reach it can leave the SSNU and return to the Special Needs Unit. Sources say this is where McClellan was supposed to be.

But psychologists who have worked in the SSNU at SCI Cresson say that corrections officers (COs) or unsympathetic members of the SSNU Treatment Team can easily stall a prisoner in Phase 5, meaning that some prisoners remain in solitary confinement indefinitely.

* * *

There are conflicting reports about the degree of McClellan’s mental problems. One prison psychologist said he was schizophrenic. Another said he was merely an addict. His father did not believe he was mentally ill at all. His attorney disagreed.

What is known is that McClellan was hooked on crack cocaine at 20 years of age. He committed small-time robberies and accrued a lengthy rap sheet. The last judge who sentenced him, for posing as an undercover police officer and stealing $180, seemed frustrated by his inability to avoid trouble. “The defendant has…had plenty of adult time to seek help and to have straightened himself out,” wrote Judge Amanda Cooperman, sentencing him to five to eleven years despite guidelines that prescribed a maximum of eighteen months.

The elder McClellan said his son’s last prison stint didn’t become particularly difficult until 2007, when he was at a Philadelphia-area facility designed for drug rehabilitation. He got into an argument with a guard, who, according to McClellan Sr., discovered that the younger McClellan’s father was a police officer. The guard reportedly shared this information with his co-workers as well as with other prisoners. Fearing this could put him in danger—in the words of the elder McClellan, “Who knows if I put one of these guys behind bars?”—the younger McClellan requested a transfer to another prison. There, according to his father, he again encountered a retaliatory CO who reportedly shared the names, addresses and occupations of certain family members with his colleagues and threatened to hurt them. The younger McClellan sent letters to his father saying he filed grievances against the CO and was rewarded with additional time in the RHU.

“Every time he wrote up a grievance, it got worse,” his father said. “They would come back, write him up for something and put him in the hole sixty days at a time.”

The same thing happened as McClellan approached parole eligibility, with guards reportedly manufacturing charges to keep him in solitary confinement. The parole board would deny his release, the elder McClellan said, “because of the write-ups, because when he was in the hole he was seen as a disciplinary problem.”

By the time the younger McClellan arrived at SCI Cresson last spring, he was convinced he was going to die. He told his father that COs had threatened to kill him and make it look like a hanging. His mental state was gradually deteriorating, and he was reportedly on medication, although it is not clear what he was prescribed.

McClellan Sr. recalls telling his son on the phone, “It’s not going to happen. They’re not going to lose their job because they want to get rid of you.” But his son insisted, “They’re going to hang me.”

On May 6, 2011, McClellan was found hanging in his cell. The DOC did not release details, but his father says administrators told him he had hanged himself from the ceiling sprinkler system.

The elder McClellan has a hard time believing his son was capable of committing suicide. “If he did, the point is that maybe he just had enough. Maybe he just couldn’t take it anymore—the abuse, the harassment. I don’t know if I’d be able to handle it either.”

Sources collaborating with the DOJ investigation don’t believe that McClellan Jr. was murdered. But they do believe that a pattern of sustained abuse, compounded by extended periods of isolation and a lack of oversight among administrators, led a vulnerable inmate to take his own life.

* * *

While a number of officials oversaw McClellan as he deteriorated, one in particular has been repeatedly identified by sources as neglecting his duties at best or, at worst, purposely mistreating unstable prisoners. That man is SCI Cresson’s chief psychologist, James Harrington.

Harrington has been named as a defendant in at least ten civil rights cases filed by prisoners in Pennsylvania’s Western District since 1995. All but one have been dismissed, a number of them on technicalities like missing a filing deadline. But two pending suits filed last year allege that Harrington was complicit in the abuse of mentally ill prisoners. One source with knowledge of psychology procedures at SCI Cresson cites a behavioral plan, co-created by Harrington and implemented last year, prescribing “such barbaric treatment as removing [a prisoner’s] mattress for extended periods of time as a viable means of obtaining behavioral compliance.” In one complaint filed in June 2011, the plan was described as “relying heavily upon extended isolation…essentially designed to simply break the inmate down to where he is ‘willing’” to cooperate. This could take “2 years or more.”

Damont Hagan, who spent time in SCI Cresson between 2010 and 2011, filed a suit in October claiming that Harrington refused to approve his mental health treatment unless he stopped filing grievances over abuses in the SSNU. Another prisoner, Christopher Balmer, claimed that despite being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and paranoid schizophrenia, he was transferred by Harrington and other administrators from the SSNU to the RHU, where he was saddled with enough continuous solitary confinement time to stretch into the year 2039. In his complaint, Balmer wrote that solitary confinement causes him to feel suicidal and that ignoring his mental health problems amounts to “deliberate indifference to serious medical need.”

Hagan’s and Balmer’s cases were publicized by the Pennsylvania-based Human Rights Coalition, a prisoner advocacy group whose members contacted state legislators, the DOC’s internal affairs investigation unit and the DOJ. Lending weight to their claims is the suicide of another prisoner at SCI Cresson in March. James Willett, 24, was found dead while living in the general population. A source with knowledge of psychology procedures at SCI Cresson says Willett—serving a seven- to fourteen-year sentence for rape—had “repeatedly requested” mental health treatment but those requests were denied. A DOC press release said the county coroner’s office and the state police would conduct an investigation.

Willett’s suicide offers further evidence of what insiders say is the total corruption of the mental health treatment program at the prison under Harrington, who, according to the June complaint, has shown “profound willful indifference” toward the “suffering of lower functioning or profoundly emotionally disturbed inmates placed under his care.”

“The SSNU should be moved out of SCI Cresson,” the source says. “They have destroyed it. The [psychology department at SCI Cresson] needs to be flushed and started over with new staff.”

The role of James Harrington is particularly revealing in the case of former SCI Cresson prisoner Tracey Pietrovito. Tried at 18 for arson and murder, the young man with an IQ of 70, according to witnesses from local hospitals and social service providers, was a classic “unwanted child,” shuffled through as many as forty foster homes. Accused of torching a YMCA in the middle of the night, Pietrovito was held responsible for the deaths of four people, including a volunteer fireman. In 1988, Judge Albert Stallone sentenced him to life plus three-to-twenty years.

“I don’t know if Tracey ever got a break in life from anyone,” Stallone said tearfully, according to the Reading Eagle, “but perhaps he is getting one from me today.” That “break” amounted to a chance at freedom. Stallone speculated that, “in 17, 18, or 19 years, when the Board of Commutations feels this man is ready to be released,” Pietrovito would be set free.

That never happened.

Today, Pietrovito is 44. A SCI Cresson psychologist says that in addition to his developmental problems, he has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and antisocial personality disorder. Sources told the DOJ last year that Pietrovito was languishing in Phase 5, with no sign of being moved out. His mattress was removed, so he slept on concrete. He was stripped of his clothing and shoes and issued a nylon “anti-suicide smock”—a tear-resistant garment with an open back.

Sources say that while Pietrovito had tried to commit suicide in the past, he wasn’t suicidal when he was placed in Phase 5. He would sometimes become unreasonably angry and yell, but he hadn’t said he pondered killing himself. Yet, rather than allow him access to the anger management sessions that are part of Phase 5, Pietrovito was kept in solitary confinement 24/7, overseen by guards who simply did not want to deal with his mental illnesses.

Further details of Pietrovito’s confinement approach descriptions of torture. Sources say that guards would refuse to provide him with toilet paper for significant periods—forcing Pietrovito to wipe himself with his hand—and then refused to provide him with soap before he ate his meal, served without utensils. The only window in Pietrovito’s cell, they said, could not be properly shut, and temperatures frequently approached freezing. Pietrovito also said that he was afraid to eat because COs who slid his meals into his cell would sometimes hint that they’d put feces in his food—a common allegation among prisoners subjected to solitary confinement throughout the state. When Pietrovito refused to eat, COs would file exaggerated or false disciplinary reports, extending his time in the hard cell.

A former SCI Cresson psychology staff member reported that Harrington had been made aware of these allegations but that he responded with indifference. And the same source who described the “barbaric” behavioral plan Harrington helped devise wrote to the Pennsylvania Department of State last summer to complain about the treatment of Pietrovito, which included being mocked for his low IQ. At one of the monthly review sessions that are part of the SSNU protocol, Harrington also reportedly refused to go forward until Pietrovito agreed to sing “I’m a Little Teacup” to entertain the group. (Harrington did not respond to letters or to voice messages left at his home.)

Pietrovito was transferred to a different prison in August. Asked about the allegations, Susan Bensinger, a DOC press secretary, said the DOC is “always reviewing policies and procedures to ensure [prisoners] are receiving proper mental healthcare.” But the former SCI Cresson psychologist says, “This is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.” Indeed, sources point to a culture of fraternization and blurred professional boundaries among prison administrators. Of the four people who oversee the prison’s mental health unit, two of them are a married couple and the other two have been friends since grade school. Following the complaints about Pietrovito’s treatment, the COs were merely reshuffled—moved from the SSNU into the RHU where the younger McClellan and Balmer were housed.

* * *

DOC denied multiple requests to tour SCI Cresson’s SSNU, without explanation. The Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association declined to comment on the DOJ investigation. And Pennsylvania’s Open Records Office denied requests for information about training or instructions provided to COs before they work full time with mentally ill prisoners. However, course descriptions available online confirm what many DOC employees have said: there is a single training course required for all COs assigned to work in an SSNU to “provide an overview of the continuum of the mental health services delivery system in the PA DOC.” It lasts only six hours.

Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist at the Wright Institute in Berkeley known for his expertise on the effects of solitary confinement, says that this is insufficient—and also typical. “It is standard procedure to have COs with very inadequate mental health training,” he says. (In Pennsylvania, COs are required to hold a GED and to pass the state’s civil service exam to qualify for work.) The lack of training leads to escalating conflicts.

“Someone cuts themselves or gets unusually vocal or begins to act otherwise irrationally, and they’re seen as malingering. Those prisoners, they’ve never done that before. But it’s a bizarre symptom of solitary confinement. Instead of getting treatment—which is what they need—they’re punished further and accused of faking an illness or a symptom.”

Stuart Grassian, a Massachusetts-based psychiatrist who has interacted for years with prisoners in solitary confinement settings, concurs.

“Nearly every prison has one paradigm,” he says. “If you take a rational actor who can respond to rational forms of punishment, that actor may stop doing what you want them to stop doing if they’re punished…. But most [prisoners] are there because of a mental illness or an addiction. These people are impulsive, often emotionally out of control and with cognitive impairments. So that familiar prison paradigm often doesn’t work with these people. But unfortunately that’s often the only tool prisons have. So it’s like that old saying, If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

The result, he said, is a revolving door for solitary confinement; prisoners act out, get thrown in the hole, act out again, get more time in the hole—and so on. “To change that,” he says, “you need a total paradigm shift.”

Such a shift seems unlikely to come from the courts. In the 1982 Pennsylvania case Hewitt v. Helms the Supreme Court upheld solitary confinement, ruling that prisoners have no special right to be incarcerated in a prison’s general population. Another important decision came down in Madrid v. Gomez in 1995, which resulted in the removal of mentally ill prisoners from solitary confinement at Pelican Bay. Conditions there hovered “on the edge of what is humanly tolerable for those with normal resilience,” the court ruled.

But as Simon van Zuylen-Wood pointed out in The Nation last year, “Since the passage of the Prison Litigation Reform Act in 1996, which limited the courts’ ability to challenge prisons’ authority, deference to prison officials has been the norm. Courts have been reluctant to tell states how to run their prisons.”

Still, as the same article points out, some civil rights advocates believe that now is the moment to take on solitary confinement in court.

* * *
Read the rest here: http://www.thenation.com/article/167459/why-are-prisoners-committing-suicide-pennsylvania

This article appeared in the May 7, 2012 edition of The Nation.
http://www.thenation.com/article/167459/why-are-prisoners-committing-suicide-pennsylvania

See also the article about this in SolitaryWatch.com

Hawai’i prisoner held in private prison in AZ speaks out on money being earned on prisoners

I’ve been encouraging the prisoners I correspond with lately to write about their experiences, perspectives, etc. so I can publish them. This is one of the first responses I’ve received to that invitation. The author’s address is below if anyone wants to discuss his thoughts with him; he took some risk doing this so others could get a look inside the place. We’re going to keep in touch just to make sure he makes parole as scheduled without any problems from CCA.

So, heads up there, CCA. I’m inside your prisons, now, too.

– Peg, Arizona Prison Watch

—————————————-

January 27, 2011

To those who want to know the truth:

My name is Thad Thompson. I’m from Hawai’i. I’m currently incarcerated in Hawaii’s Department of Public Safety. I am presently at a private CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) facility named Saguaro Correctional Center over here in Arizona.

Where do I start, y’all? This place is a disgrace to all decent humanity. First of all, I’d like you to think about what it means to be a “private” facility. Yes it means that these places are owned and operated just like Walmart. THESE PLACES ARE FOR PROFIT!!! Everything they do, they are actually trying to keep people locked up so that they can make money. As a cowboy or cattle ranchers main product is cattle, his or her main focus is to exploit, or make money off of, cattle. And so as a private facility’s main products are prisoners we prisoners are exploited to make money off of. Things are bad and only getting worse.

To give you a specific example of how bad it is, listen to this. There’s this program here called the SHIP (Special Housing Incentive Program) which is a program completely devised and ran by CCA. They claim it’s a rehabilitation program. And by presenting this program to the State of Hawaii they got MORE money per head then the average for each bed occupied in this program. So if you think about this,  you’d see that these guys are locking us up in a program which has similar to Supermax housing for 18 months for no other reason but to get this extra money. They totally fabricated write-ups and situations to put anyone they want into this program. And in this program we’re going without proper hygiene (i.e. lotion, deodorant, etc.) warm clothing, or even cleaning chemicals. I could go on and on.

And then to top off all that these guys are literally making stuff up to issue out write-ups while in this program which in the end end holds people back longer in this program. What they’re doing is making sure this program is filled with as many inmates as possible!! More inmates means more money.

For another example of how bad things are and are getting worse, check this out. Hawai’i has had inmates in CCA facilities since 1995. In 2007 Hawai’i bought and built its own facility (this one) to be filled only with Hawai’i inmates as we were previously spread out among a few different CCA’s across the country. In 2010, only 2 1/2 years after arriving our population experienced its first and second murders (inmate on inmate) ever, since being involved with CCA facilities. And also we’ve had a severe beating of a staff member here which all shows that the amount of abuse being committed against us is starting to take it’s toll and the negative effects are showing. You can only beat a dog so much before it will start to act up and bite back.

I hear this abuse here is being explained all over the internet. Take a look. Maybe you can help. I’m still here!!!

E a me aloha,

Thad Thompson #A5013250
Saguaro Correctional Center
1252 East Arica Rd
Eloy, AZ 85131