Reject Suicide – Choose Life! And Change the World!

Reject Suicide — Choose Life! And Change the World!
(We Must Not Be Silent – Series)

By Keith Malik Washington

Peace and blessings sisters and brothers!

A couple of months ago, Net-Flix had a series which shed light on the topic of teenage suicide — “13 Reasons” or something to that effect.  I read about teenagers in Florida being influenced in a negative manner after watching this Net-Flix series.  Around the same time I was working on the content of Justin and my You-Tube video concerning the genocide in Chicago.  The word that popped into my head was nihilism.

It really hurts me to see young people choose death over life.  I just can’t explain to you the feeling of euphoria I feel when I fight for humyn or civil rights–and win!!  It’s awesome when you sacrifice your time, energy and resources for a cause you believe in and you become the change!!

If anyone should be contemplating suicide it should be me!  I’m in a maximum security prison in one of the most abusive and unjust prison systems in the United States.  Texas prison is horrible!  I’m not just in prison. I’m in solitary confinement for a trumped up and fabricated riot charge.  My cell is infested with roaches, and the heat index regularly reaches 105 degrees fahrenheit plus!  There is no airconditioning!  The water is contaminated and toxic!  I have been the constant target of religious discrimination.  I have been denied parole 5 times in a row–and the prison administration hates my guts!!

Wouldn’t suicide be the easy way out of this screwed-up existence?  But I choose life!  Not only do I choose life, I choose to fight!  And I fight hard as hell!!  Want to know why?

Britney Gulley is a female prisoner in Texas.  She is housed in Ad-Seg, which is solitary confinement in Texas prisons.  A few months ago when Britney was housed at the Lane Murray Unit in Gatesville, TX, she wrote a passionate piece which appeared in the San Francisco Bay View, a National Black Newspaper.  The article she wrote was about the horrible living conditions and treatment of wimmin at the Lane Murray Unit, especially those held in Administrative Segregation.

Britney sent out a plea for a help.  I heard her cry for help and I immediately took action.  There are many strong, intelligent, and influential wimmin who aid me in fighting the ultra-corrupt Texas Department of Criminal Justice.  I know a few successful media correspondents and I even contacted my friend Ollie Jefferson, a humyn rights lawyer who has volunteered to help Texas prisoners like Britney who have become victims of this cruel and inhumane solitary confinement environment Texas maintains.

I asked my friends and comrades to reach out and help Britney!!  But somehow Britney was forgotten about–there just is not enough help for wimmin in Texas prisons!!  Their voices are ignored and sometimes silenced!!

A few weeks ago, Britney attempted suicide!! She was not successful and she has been sent to a mental health treatment facility called Sky View Unit, located in Rusk, TX.  From Sky View Unit Britney wrote another impassioned article that was published in the July 2017 edition of the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper.  The article is entitled “Why So Many Suicides at Lane Murray Unit, A Texas Women’s Prison?”

Sisters and brothers, something is very wrong at the Lane Murray Unit located in Gatesville, Texas.  I don’t know about you, but those wimmin’s lives matter to Comrade Malik!!

Sisters and brothers, the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March, which is scheduled for August 19th, 2017 in Washington D.C., provides an excellent opportunity for us to shed a national spotlight on Texas and Lane Murray Unit.  I highly recommend you consider attending this historic event.

In the meantime, I am sending out a call to action for all female media correspondents, activists, and female legislators to contact Lori Davis, the TDCJ-CID Director and demand that Director Davis launch a thorough and fact-finding investigation at the Lane Murray Unit.  I am sending out a plea for help from the United States Department of Justice – Civil Rights Division.  Something is very wrong down here in Texas prisons!!

I am sending out a personal plea to the National Lawyers Guild, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and every feminist in Amerika with a conscience!!  Help me contact Texas legislators!!  We have a special session scheduled for the 85th Texas Legislature to begin July 18th, 2017.

Sisters and brothers, this is an exciting time to live and fight for humyn rights.  Without young people and young voices along with your passion and energy and gifts, the revolution dies!!  Please choose life!!  And as Jesse Jackson would say:  “Keep hope alive!”

Dare to struggle, dare to win, all power to the people!!

What You Can Do

Sisters and brothers, if you want to help solve this ongoing problem, please call the following Texas legislators and voice your concerns. Thank you!!

Senator Royce West – (512) 463 0123
Senator John Whitmere – (512) 463 0115
Rep Dr. Alma Allen – (512) 463 0744
Rep Garnet Coleman – (512) 463 0524
Rep Rafael Anchia – (512) 463 0746
Rep Marisa Marquez – (512) 463 0638
Rep Trey Martinez Fischer – (512) 463 0616
Rep Harold Dutton Jr. – (512) 463 0510

This text was also recorded for Malik’s YouTube Channel.


Keith ‘Malik’ Washington is a co-founder and chief spokespersyn for the End Prison Slavery in Texas movement, a proud member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and the Deputy Chairman of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (prison chapter). Malik has been instrumental in calling for the abolition of legalized slavery in Amerika and is very active in the Fight Toxic Prisons campaign.  You can view his work at comrademalik.com and write to him directly at:

Keith ‘Comrade Malik’ Washington
TDC#: 1487958
Eastham Unit
2665 Prison Road #1
Lovelady, TX 75851

A Prison Nurse’s Look at Sandra Bland’s Death

No Sellout

By Paul Spector RN, EMT-P, CPT. U.S. ARMY Ret.

I worked as an RN in a California State Prison where staged “suicides” occurred regularly. I fought for my patients, know how the cover-up works and have some insights. In 2012, I was hit by a truck, so this paper is done with a lot of help, individuals risking jobs and lives.

Behind badges and Rank, Sociopaths lurk in American prisons. Cameras are their enemy.
With scant information, some of our conclusions will be proven wrong. As more is known, we feel there will be more lies, inconsistencies and abuse uncovered. With more data will come more clarity, but the Code of Silence must be penetrated.

Prison deaths from mistreatment are mislabeled “suicide”, allowing continued abuse and avoiding lawsuits. I’ve spent 8 years trying to stop the practice that killed Sandra Bland.

Sandra’s capture, abuse and lynching is a hate crime…

View original post 1,437 more words

Jerry Brown Should (Still) Be Ashamed of California’s Prisons

This comes from The Atlantic, written by Andrew Cohen, April 8th 2013:

60 years ago, Pat Brown fought the mistreatment of the mentally ill. Today, his son, the governor of California, defends such mistreatment.

On January 8th, California Governor Jerry Brown ceremoniously declared an end to what he called the “prison emergency” in his state caused by epic overcrowding, chronic under-staffing, and the systemic mistreatment of inmates. “I mean, we’ve gone from serious constitutional problems to one of the finest prison systems in the United States,” he said, pitching a success story with which no federal court in the past two decades has ever agreed.

Not only was the prison system now the envy of the nation, the governor proclaimed, but the health care given to California inmates was so good that it was worthy of awe by ordinary citizens unencumbered by the bonds of custody. “Most of the people in prison get far better care for mental health problems or their physical well-being inside the prison than they’ll get once they’re released on the streets,” he said. And then Pat Brown’s son said this:

We’ve spent billions of dollars. We’ve hired hundreds, if not thousands, of professionals to make sure that we have excellent health care and excellent mental health care. And because of that, it is now time to return the control of our prison system to California. We have the constitutional obligation. We have the expertise and we’re ready to do it. There’s no question that there were big problems in California prisons — overcrowding, lack of health care, lack of mental health care, lots of other problems. But after decades of work, the job is now complete.

But it was not up to the Governor to unilaterally declare his state in compliance with its legal obligations to the inmates. The state long ago lost that right by persistently depriving prisoners of basic medical care under conditions that virtually every single reviewing court has deemed to be “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment. Not only were the governor’s remarks an insult to all those mistreated people, in and out of prison; they were also irrelevant as a matter of law. He still needed permission from the federal courts to reclaim state control over prisons — and, in January, he asked for it.

The Scheme
Sometime in the last few years, unwilling to pay the price of restoring basic constitutional rights to the inmates, frustrated state officials ginned up a new idea to wiggle out from under federal judicial oversight of their overcrowded and understaffed prisons. Instead of doing an honorable thing — complying in good faith with a a series of federal court orders requiring them to provide adequate medical treatment to thousands of mentally ill prisoners — state officials chose to do a dishonorable thing. They chose to cheat.

Instead of hiring enough psychiatrists and staff to help treat the inmates, or moving more quickly to provide inpatient care for the ill men and women, or following the recommendations of a court-appointed expert who urged them to alter their suicide prevention policies, California officials decided instead to interrogate mentally ill inmates without giving notice to, or getting consent from, the prisoners’ attorneys. State officials then used those interviews to argue in their January motion that California had complied with its legal duties to the inmates.

But such ex parte contact between officials and inmates violates California’s attorney ethics rules. (Imagine how a judge or jury would react to the use of a mentally ill person’s statements against that person in court.) Worse, at the same time that officials were unlawfully questioning these prisoners, they were denying requests for information about prison practices and policies made by the inmates’ attorneys. On Friday, a federal judge in Sacramento put an end to the sleazy scheme. He denied Gov. Brown’s motion and once again ordered California to obey the letter and the spirit of the Eighth Amendment.

The Background
If you know something about the recent history of California’s continuing failure to humanely treat prisoners, then you will find frustrating U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Karlton’s ruling in the case styled Coleman v. Brown. Once more, a judge had clearly set forth what officials must do to meet their legal obligations to the inmates. Once more, a jurist caught California blatantly disregarding its legal duties while pretending otherwise to the world. Once more, state officials have embraced a culture that dehumanizes inmates by diminishing their mental illnesses.

And if for some reason you know nothing about what’s been happening in California’s prisons these past few decades — if, for example, you didn’t pay attention when United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy declared California’s prisons unconstitutionally overcrowded — Judge Karlton’s ruling offers a quick summary of why the costly case has lingered unresolved for decades. It’s not that the state can’t comply. It’s that the state still doesn’t want to comply. It’s no more complicated than that.

Read the ruling for yourself and then compare it with Gov. Brown’s January announcement. For example, the “far better care for mental health problems” the governor said that state inmates now are receiving? That care is evidently so good, the actual evidence shows, that the state’s inmate suicide rate, which fell to 15.7 per 100,000 prisoners in 2009, has risen again to 23.72 per 100,000 prisoners in 2012. The most obvious sign of poor mental health treatment — the pace of suicides — is getting worse, not better, inside Gov. Brown’s prisons.    

Read the rest here: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/jerry-brown-should-still-be-ashamed-of-californias-prisons/274747/

Motion denied, Governor: Medical neglect is still killing prisoners

From: SF Bay View, March 22, 2013

by Mutope Duguma, Sitawa N. Jamaa, Abdul O. Shakur and Sondai K. Dumisani

Gov. Brown has declared that the prison crisis that allowed prisoners to die is over and that prisoners are receiving good care. His words, not ours.

It is obvious that the governor has not produced any data that supports his claim. Furthermore, the governor is deliberately misinforming the public, because he and the officials of CDCr – the secretary and undersecretary – are arbitrarily choosing not to provide the public with adequate information that pertains to the incompetence that continues to endanger prisoners by murdering them through direct medical neglect and incompetence.

Prisoners in cages await group therapy, Mule Creek State Prison, photo from U.S. District Court briefings

In this photo taken as part of federal litigation over California prison conditions, prisoners await a group therapy session at Mule Creek State Prison. How could being confined in tiny cages dissuade prisoners from committing suicide? – Photo filed in U.S. District Court briefings

We prisoners have read the Los Angeles Times article by Paige St. John, “California suppressed consultant’s report on inmate suicides,” dated Feb. 28, 2013, and we can only hope that justice will continue to prevail, by not only maintaining the oversight of CDCr’s “health care service,” as well as extend it to the very root of the problems that cause the very many deaths and suicides that are happening throughout CDCr.
Solitary confinement in California and throughout the United States is real. The lingering of human beings – i.e., prisoners – in these torture chambers (SHUs and Ad Segs) indefinitely has basically created the result that led to human beings dying unnecessarily inside these solitary confinement torture units.

Alex Machado, Christian Gomez, Armando Morales, John Owen Vick and Hozel Alonzo Blanchard are all men who should be alive, by all means, and the fact that the CDCr has reported 32 deaths by suicide in the year of 2012 alone should be more than enough reason for the oversight to be continued – and expanded as well. The CDCr’s own experts afforded them the procedures to follow in order to prevent such deaths. However, not only did the CDCr attempt to suppress this report and now the evidence in it, but the CDCr had the audacity to request that the United States District Court destroy that report.

The governor and the officials of CDCr are arbitrarily choosing not to provide the public with adequate information that pertains to the incompetence that continues to endanger prisoners by murdering them through direct medical neglect and incompetence.

Thankfully, for the lives of California prisoners, the judge refused to cooperate with such a conspiracy. Suppression of evidence like this is not an isolated act, because we prisoners know that the licensed vocational nurses and registered nurses and doctors do not responsibly oversee the CDCr health care services. Their actions are influenced by the local officials and officers who have total control over the prison.

Alex Machado, Christian Gomez, Armando Morales, John Owen Vick and Hozel Alonzo Blanchard are all men who should be alive, by all means, and the fact that the CDCr has reported 32 deaths by suicide in the year of 2012 alone should be more than enough reason for the oversight to be continued – and expanded as well.

Prison staff relationships are intermingled through personal relations – marriage, family, friendship – and are reflected by the transitions from health care services to corrections or vice versa. A good example as to how much the officials and officers control health care services can be seen in the two 2011 prisoner hunger strikes.

On July 2, 2011, prisoners held in solitary confinement in SHU and Ad Seg for years, subjected to torture and cruel and unusual punishment in violation of our U.S. constitutional rights, decided to go on a peaceful hunger strike, in which over 6,000 of us participated.

The only reason we received adequate health care services (medical treatment) during our July 1, 2011, hunger strike that lasted to July 20 is because the federal receivership oversaw the medical treatment; prisoners were weighed, vitals checked, vitamins provided daily. This prevented thousands of prisoners from suffering when many emergencies could have resulted in thousands of prisoners dying, due to CDCr Secretary Matthew Cate and Undersecretary Scott Kernan violating a verbal agreement to implement our reasonable Five Core Demands, an agreement that resulted in us ending our first hunger strike.

The only reason we received adequate health care services (medical treatment) during our July 1, 2011, hunger strike that lasted to July 20 is because the federal receivership oversaw the medical treatment.

Therefore, we decided to go back on our second hunger strike on Sept. 26, 2011, in which 12,000 prisoners participated throughout CDCr, clearly demonstrating that there is a widespread problem of deliberate medical neglect and torture inside CDCr solitary confinement units.

During our Sept. 26, 2011, hunger strike, which lasted to Oct. 13, 2011, the federal receivership allowed CDCr to oversee the health care services. The result of this action not only placed prisoners’ health at risk, but CDCr immediately implemented a policy protocol for overseeing the hunger strike that was catastrophic for prisoners: Thousands suffered and several died when CDCr was allowed to have control over the hunger strike, in which hunger strikers were denied medical treatment throughout the hunger strike.

The prison guards have no medical training yet were allowed to say to medical personnel that a prisoner was faking – “He’s not sick” – and oddly enough, the medical staff tended to allow this to be the authority on which they proceeded. Thousands of prisoners suffered behind this ill advised information. We received no daily checkups, no vitals checks, no vitamins, no weigh-ins conducted under CDCr medical supervision. Many times medical problems were treated too late and by this time the damage was done.

The conflict of interest lies in the relationships between the prison guards, who are responsible for providing security only, and those who are responsible for providing health care services, food and religious services etc. Unfortunately, the prison guards have structured the prison environment around the deprivation of the prisoners, simply to demonstrate its dominance over prisoners, which creates severe violation of prisoners’ constitutionally protected rights.

During our Sept. 26, 2011, hunger strike, which lasted to Oct. 13, 2011, thousands suffered and several died when CDCr was allowed to have control over the hunger strike, in which hunger strikers were denied medical treatment throughout the hunger strike. 

The Bill of Rights’ 10 original amendments and Reconstruction amendments 11 through 27 of the Constitution – particularly important in respect to prisoners, the First, Fifth, Eighth and 14th Amendments – are deliberately violated routinely. The many settlements of prisoner lawsuits in years past speak volumes to this fact.

Gov. Brown’s current changes have not rendered any justice or humane treatment of prisoners thus far, and the death count and the many prisoners held inside solitary confinement, who suffer from numerous ailments and torture, only seem to exacerbate this problem. Therefore, we prisoners can only hope, in the interest of our livelihood and humanity, that the courts expand their oversight and open up an independent investigation as to why prisoners are held unjustly in solitary confinement.
Send our brothers some love and light:

  • Mutope Duguma (James Crawford), D-05596, D1-117 up, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
  • Sitawa N. Jamaa (Ronnie Dewberry), C-35671, D1-117 low, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
  • Abdul O. Shakur (James Harvey), C-48884, D1-119 low, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
  • Sondai K. Dumisani (Randall Ellis), C-68764, D1-223 low, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

California suppressed consultant’s report on inmate suicides

This comes from the LA Times:

Feb. 28th, 2013
By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times

The report warned that California’s prison suicide-watch practices encouraged inmate deaths. Gov. Brown has said the state’s prison care crisis is over.

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown has pointed to reams of documents to make the case in court and on the stump that California’s prison crisis is over, and inmates are receiving good care.

But there is at least one document the administration wanted to hide.

New court filings reveal that the state suppressed a report from its own consultant warning that California’s prison suicide-watch practices encouraged inmate deaths.

Lindsay Hayes, a national expert on suicide prevention in prisons, told corrections officials in 2011 that the state’s system of holding suicidal inmates for days in dim, dirty, airless cells with unsanitized mattresses on the floor was compounding the risk that they would take their own lives.

His report described in detail inmates being divested of their clothes and possessions and robed in a “safety smock.” Hayes concluded that such conditions encouraged prisoners to declare they were no longer suicidal just to escape the holding cells. Many of them took their own lives soon after.

The state asked Hayes to create a short version of his report that omitted his damaging findings, to give to a court monitor and lawyers for prisoners, the court documents show. Hayes complied, but when inmate attorneys obtained a complete copy, the state asked a U.S. District Court to order it destroyed. The judge refused.

The report says the state’s handling of suicidal inmates is “seemingly punitive” and “anti-therapeutic.” Hayes noted that guards, not mental health workers, dictate many of the conditions of suicide watches, such as whether to allow daily showers. Hayes alleged prison workers sometimes falsified watch logs showing how frequently those inmates were checked.
Hayes found that in 25 of the cases he reviewed, seven prisoners had killed themselves within hours or days of being released from suicide watch. He found lapses in care — lengthy delays in checking on the prisoners, failure to attempt CPR — in 68% of the cases he studied. Hayes did give the state high marks for compiling exhaustive reports after an inmate’s death.

Contract records show that corrections officials recruited Hayes, a former consultant for inmate plaintiffs, to begin in 2010 a three-year project on suicide prevention, demonstrating the state’s resolve to improve inmate mental health care.

His first report was filed in August 2011. Hayes said in a deposition that none of the follow-up reports and consultations called for in his contract occurred.

“When your report landed, it was not roundly applauded and in fact was buried,” Robert Canning, a prison official overseeing Hayes’ work, wrote in a June 2012 email to the consultant. There were 32 prison suicides in California in 2012, above the national average.

Other new filings show that the staffing shortage at one prison psychiatric hospital is so critical the psychiatric staff has declared they have been working since Jan. 23 “under protest.”

The doctors in Salinas Valley State Prison’s psychiatric program, run by the Department of State Hospitals, say they routinely juggle caseloads of up to 60 patients a day, and in some instances have been assigned wards containing as many as 120 patients a day.

Read the rest here

Kevin Rashid Johnson and Oregon’s Isolation Torture Unit

On the blog Sketchy Thoughts, we read more background information about Virginia prisoner Rashid Johnson, incarcerated in Snake River Intensive Management Unit (IMU).

Please read it here:

sketchythoughts.blogspot.com/2013/02/kevin-rashid-johnson-and-oregons.html

The blog also mentions this article that was published yesterday:

Oregon Prisoners Driven to Suicide by Torture in Solitary Confinement Units :

Dear friends of Rashid,
This essay was written by Rashid in November or early December 2012. It was transcribed in mid-December, after which (as per our usual procedure) Rashid was sent a hard copy for final edits, corrections, etc. It was sent it to him more than once and we now believe that he never received it because he usually responds quickly with his final edits, but not with this essay. Therefore, we are now publishing it anyway (without any final corrections he would have made) because it throws a lot of light on the context in which Rashid’s recent crisis has occurred. This should be circulated far and wide.
Oregon Prisoners Driven to Suicide by Torture in Solitary Confinement Units

By Kevin Rashid Johnson

Introduction
I am not one prone to fits of temper. But a few days ago I almost lost it. My outrage was prompted by witnessing the steady deterioration of another prisoner, resulting from particularly acute mental torture inflicted in Oregon’s Disciplinary Segregation Units (DSU), which duplicate almost exactly conditions of torture practiced at Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, that were outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1800s. [1]
The prisoner, who’d been housed in a suicide precaution cell next to me in the DSU of Oregon’s, Snake River Correctional Institution (SRCI), went into an immediate depressed state upon being put into the DSU. Initially, he talked a little. Then abruptly withdrew. He stopped eating, to which the guards were unanimously indifferent. Several taunted him, “if you don’t eat it I will.” He then stuffed toilet paper and the cell’s mattress into the cracks around the edges of the door, apparently to seal off all outside sound and “barricade” himself in.
He blacked out the camera in the cell, and began talking to himself. He sat catatonic in the corner of the cell and naked for days on end. He was confronted only twice by mental health staff who indifferently left his cell when he wasn’t responsive to their half-hearted attempts to talk.
Only after I verbally protested the blatant apathy of mental health and medical staff to his condition, which was obviously due to their collaborating in his mental torture, was a nurse brought to the cell to physically examine him. Whereupon his blood pressure was found extremely low and both the nurse and accompanying guard expressed his mouth and skin showed obvious symptoms of severe dehydration – in addition to not eating, he’d also apparently not been drinking water for several days, although he was supposedly in a “monitored” cell.
The nurse had him immediately taken out of the unit, likely to the medical department since he didn’t return. The next day I was moved to another unit as well. That was on November 14th.
 A High Tide of Suicide
I never learned his full name. The guards and other officials called him only “Acosta” (presumably his last name). In the DSU where we were confined together, there are six suicide precaution cells. I was housed next to one of them.
These precaution cells have in-cell video cameras and prisoners confined to them are generally given only a blue nylon smock-like garment to wear, a nylon blanket, and a mattress. Throughout my DSU assignment at SRCI these cells were always occupied and a constantly changing rotation of prisoners were kept on watch as a result of suicide attempts and ideations. In 22 years of imprisonment, I have never seen such a consistently high and continuous series of suicide cases, which I immediately recognized to result from the extreme sensory deprivation of DSU housing.
 Compelling Idle Minds
Prior to my Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) assignment in February 2012, I’d spent 17 years in solitary confinement, enduring various extremes of sensory deprivation. During that time I witnessed numerous prisoners deteriorate mentally under the conditions of solitary. But in most cases, it took months to years because there was a limited amount of access to in-cell property and one could use the telephone periodically. However, in Oregon’s DSU nopersonal property is allowed, beyond a pen, writing paper, and, if one can afford it and has anyone to regularly correspond with, a few mailing envelopes. One cannot use the telephone to communicate with loved ones at all. One can’t have personal books even. Not even law books.
In DSU a prisoner may only receive up to three novels from a small rolling book cart kept in the unit. Many of which are missing bindings and pages. Such reading per se does little to stimulate the mind and denies one the opportunity and right to select his own subjects and fields of research and study. [2] The three novels may only be exchanged from the cart once per seek.
DSU prisoners are heard frequently complaining that having nothing else to do, they complete novels in two to three days, and are otherwise left completely idle and “bored out of their minds.” Meantime the deterioration sets in: the constant cell-pacing or catatonic states, incessantly talking to oneself, depression, irrational searches for stimulation, and of course, self mutilation and suicide attempts.
 Torture By Design
And ODOC officials know what they’re doing. They consciously use acute sensory deprivation (psychological torture) as a behavior modification technique, with the assistance of mental health staff whose professional role and concern are supposed to be maintaining prisoners in healthy mental states, notaiding in inflicting mental pain and injury on them. This is no different from the doctors and nurses who aided the gruesome medical experiments and tortures of concentration camp prisoners in Nazi Germany.
Indeed, I was moved from the DSU with the suicide precaution cells, when I spoke out in protest to and against one of the DSU staff, D. Jennings, as she indifferently left Acosta’s cell, asking why she was condoning his and all our mental torture under DSU conditions, referring to the high frequency of suicide attempts in the unit; and citing numerous studies of psychiatric and torture experts on sensory deprivation and its being a known form of psychological torture and one of the most hurtful and damaging forms at that. Her response was to walk away with guards laughing. She then gave me a scornful stare as she left the unit.
I’ve learned from ODOC prisoners, officials and ODOC’s own publicly accessible policies – the Oregon Administrative Rules (OAR’s) [3] – that ODOC officials very deliberately use psychological torture as a behavior modification technique, which is one reason the DSU is designed as it is. Those found in violation of minor or major prison rules are invariably sentenced to months of mental torture in DSU: typically four to six months at a time, which amounts to prolonged torture as a deterrent to rules violations.
Worse still is the ODOC’s Intensive Management Unit (IMU) where I am now confined. A housing status that lasts from seven months to indefinitely, during which a prisoner must pass through four levels – which requires that he reveal his every thought to his torturers.
Those housed in IMU who receive rules infractions are automatically placed on level one for a month, which is even more restrictive and extreme in sensory deprivation than DSU housing. And for every infraction he then receives, his level one assignment is extended. Such conditions often put prisoners struggling to maintain their sanity in a catch-22, where coping prompts resisting their torturing confinement, and that very resistance prompts infractions which intensify and prolong that confinement. [4]
On the level one IMU status, the prisoner may have only one novel per week, and cannot even come out of the cell for fresh air inside the walled-in enclosure, with only a small patch of the sky visible, that passes for an exercise yard.
Then, too, as a Security Threat Management (STM) lieutenant, Schultz, here at SRCI, boasted in my presence on September 18, 2012, he personally imposes indefinite statuses on select IMU prisoners where they are left in completely empty cells all day, given bedding and linen from 10 pm to 6 am daily, and are allowed writing supplies for no more than four hours per day. He actually admitted to me this was torture and violated the prisoners’ constitutional rights, but proclaimed himself immune from all liability (i.e. above the law), because ODOC policy empowered him to do pretty much as he pleases to prisoners as an STM official. [5]
I in turn sent Schultz a written request that same day pointing out that he wasnot in fact immune for violating the law because he believes his policy-making superiors gave him authority to do so. I then pointed out the sort of character he and his colleagues are, who presume to punish others by imprisonment for breaking laws, when they in fact have no respect for the very same laws themselves – and the highest law of the land that they are under oath to uphold at that, namely the U.S. Constitution. And although ODOC rules required that Schultz respond to my request within seven days, he never replied. [6] Yet, he sees to prisoners being tortured for them violating ODOC rules.
One prisoner who’s been confined in the ODOC for some time – Damascus Menefee – informed me of an ODOC scandal a few years back, where it was exposed in the media that several DSU and IMU prisoners had committed suicide, but were not discovered by officials for hours, because guards weren’t tending their posts and refused to make required security rounds in the housing units. As a result, the ODOC installed electronic devices in the DSUs and IMU that monitor and record the guards’ rounds in the units. What was also exposed during this scandal was that the conditions of the DSUs and IMU were causing an extremely high incidence of suicides and suicide attempts in the ODOC. However, nothing was done to change these conditions that still exist, and, as I have observed, continue to drive prisoners at an extraordinary rate into suicidal ideations and actions.
 History Repeats Itself 
As pointed out the DSU and IMU conditions replicate abuses outlawed over a century ago, at the Eastern State Penitentiary, where solitary confinement was first tried as a method of “reforming” criminals, but only proved to drive them insane.
Whereas DSU and IMU level one prisoners are locked in solitary cells with only novels, at Eastern State they were confined in solitary with only a bible to read, where they were expected to ponder and make penance (hence the name “Penitentiary”) for their wrongs. The actual effects of such confinement, as the Supreme Court found, were quite different:
“A considerable number of prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal were not reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of subsequent service to the community.” [7]
Unite to Fight Prison Torture
Today, as the world joins U.S. prisoners in protest against ongoing solitary confinement in prisons across the country – from the United Nations denouncing the practice of torture to mass demonstrations in support of hunger striking prisoners protesting solitary [9] — the ODOC has managed somehow to remain under the radar, where the most intense sensory deprivation is being inflicted on prisoners, and prisoners are literally dying to escape it. [10]
And it’s known torture; of the same sort inflicted in U.S. torture research labs like at Guantanamo Bay, where U.S. military personnel in collaboration with psychiatrists and psychologists, inflicted, studied and refined various methods and effects of psychological torture on detainees (especially sensory deprivation), which came out in the U.S. military torture scandals of 2004 and led to ongoing mass protests to close down Guantanamo. Professor Alfred McCoy also wrote an extensive historical study and exposure of U.S. military and CIA involvement in refining techniques of mental torture for decades.
Experts in the field know very well that sensory deprivation causes suffering and injury at least as extensive and often more severe than physical torture and injury. As psychiatrist and torture expert Dr. Albert Biderman observed:
“The effect of isolation, on the brain function of the prisoner is much like that which occurs if he is beaten, starved or deprived of sleep.” [12] Furthermore, studies find that sensory deprivation inflicted in solitary confinement even briefly actually causes physical brain damage.
“EEG studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement. In 1992, fifty-seven prisoners of war, released after an average of six months in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, were examined using EEG-like-tests. The recordings revealed brain abnormalities months afterward: the most severe were found in prisoners who had endured either head trauma sufficient to render them unconscious or, yes, solitary confinement: without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.” [13]
As said, these hypocrites running the DOC are fully aware of what they’re doing. They know they’re engaged in torture of prisoners as lawless as if they were water boarding and electrocuting us. That they pretend to have a moral authority to punish others for breaking laws they don’t respect themselves is what fueled my outrage, as I watched others around me retreat into insanity, mentally deteriorate and literally resort to self-destruction in efforts to stop their suffering.
Here on the inside, the hypocrisy of those in power is blatant. Because we “in here” so long disconnected from those “out there” are powerless in the face of our armed captors, our torturers feel little need to sugar coat reality and hide their true face as they do with the outside masses.
Here in Oregon the public seems oblivious to the abuses carried out in their names within its prisons; abuses that also unbeknownst to them they stand to suffer from, because these tortured souls around me will be returned back to those communities from whence they left. So for the sake of all concerned, it’s in these communities’ interests to end this prison torture and hold those responsible to account.
Dare to Struggle Dare to Win!
All Power to the People
[1] In re Medley, 134 U.S. 160 (1890).
[2] As the courts have held: “Freedom of speech is not merely freedom to speak; it is often freedom to read. . . Forbid a person to read and you shut him out of the marketplace of ideas and opinions that it is the free-speech clause to protect.” King v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 415 F. 3d 634, 638 (2005).
[3] All of the ODOC’s Oregon Administrative Rules can be read at:http://www.arcweb.sos.state.or.us. The OAR’s relevant to this article are OAR 291-011 (Disciplinary Segregation), OAR 291-055 (Intensive Management Unit), and OAR 291-069 (Security Threat Management).
[4] On this phenomenon see, Dr. Atul Gawadne, “Hellhole: the United States holds thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?” The New Yorker, March 30, 2009.
[5] See OAR on STM, op cit. note 3.
[6] Per OAR 291-109-1020 (4) ODOC staff are to reply to prisoners’ written requests (“Kytes”) within seven days.
[7] See, op cit. note 1 on page 168.
[8] On October 18, 2011 UN torture expert, Juan Méndez, denounced U.S. solitary confinement practices as torture and called on all countries to ban its practice except in extremely exceptional circumstances and for as short a time as possible. See “UN News: Solitary Confinement Should be Banned in Most Cases, UN Expert Says,” October 18, 2011.
[9] On July 1 and September 29, 2011 six thousand and 12,000 prisoners respectively in California prisons went on hunger strikes lasting three weeks both times, protesting, among other things, long-term solitary confinement in Security Housing Units. Mass support for these hunger strikes spanned the country.
[10] A prisoner confined next to me, as I write this, witnessed two suicides occurring during or about May and July 2012 at Oregon State Correctional Institutions – Segregation Units, in Salem Oregon. This witness being Zachariah Dickson.
[11] Alfred McCoy, “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror”, (New York: Henry Holt, 2006).
[12] Albert Biderman, et al, “The Manipulation of Human Behavior” (New York, 1961) p. 29.
[13] Op cit. note 4.

Voices from Solitary: “No Wonder There Are So Many Suicides”

From: SolitaryWatch
Dec 17th 2012

The following comes from a prisoner currently housed in maximum security housing at Utah State Prison, Draper. He has spent, by his estimate, seven years in either supermaximum or maximum security housing. He recently had a heart attack in maximum security and reportedly has received minimal health care treatment while incarcerated. He describes here the  Uinta 1 facility, where over 90 inmates are held in long-term isolation. –Sal Rodriguez

I spent the first two years of my incarceration in general population at a county jail. I had my first heart attack while at the county jail due to misdiagnosed Type 1 Diabetes. Despite my repeated attempts to get medical help, the officials repeatedly denied that there was anything wrong with me even though I exhibited all of the symptoms and signs of diabetes. Eventually, the misdiagnosed diabetes led to the heart attack.

I spent nine days in Intensive Care at the University Medical Center before being released back to prison where I was promptly placed in supermax–Uinta 1. I had not committed any violations to be placed in supermax other than having a heart attack.

I wasn’t considered a protective custody case, as I had just spent two years in general population. No reason was given for my being housed in supermax. I spent only a few months in supermax before being shipped out to another prison out of state. Once back in Utah I was once again placed in supermax without due process or reason, and I spent the next 20 months locked down. I have spent about seven years or more now housed in either supermax or max. I have never had any write-ups or violations to warrant me being housed in maximum security.

I can tell you that life in supermax (Uinta 1) is inhumane. There are inmates still being housed in that unit who have been there for eight years or more, who started off completely sane but now have lost all sanity. Suicide was common in the Uinta’s just a few years ago, forcing the prison to take preventative measures by installing new vent-housings that wouldn’t allow a rope to be tied to it for hanging. There is still many suicides that occur there, although its not like it used to be years ago.

The abuses still continue today with some of the torture techniques used in foreign interrogation. Cells are kept cold, lights are kept on 24/7, guards purposely make noise at all hours to prevent sleep.
Windows are covered by a small door that is only opened when the guard occasionally  looks in, as for count. Mental health care is a joke, as the mental health worker goes cell to cell not spending more than five seconds at each door and only asks “Are you ok?” It’s no wonder there are so many suicides. Mental health shows a lack of concern for those in supermax. It’s the general attitude there.

Creating broken men? A discussion on the U.S. domestic torture program

December 4, 2012: SF Bay View

by Zaharibu Dorrough, J. Heshima Denham, Kambui Robinson and Jabari Scott, NCTT Corcoran SHU

  “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or  mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as  obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession,  punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is  suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing a third  person.” – United Convention Against Torture, Art. 1, Sec. 2

We extend our heartfelt greetings to you, brothers and sisters.

Many discussions are taking place on the nature of the indefinite  solitary confinement program in the U.S. prisons and whether or not it  constitutes torture. The debate on what to do about the program itself  is being held at every level of social organization, from the U.S.  Senate to the United Nations, from the California Legislature to the  short corridors of Pelican Bay and Corcoran SHUs.

[Photo in original: Corcoran State Prison – Photo: Ben Margot, AP]

Academics from multiple disciplines, from psychologists to  sociologists, have all weighed in with the objective, scientific  analysis that indefinite SHU confinement is not only torture, but even  limited SHU confinement results in irreparable psychological damage.  Yet, as with the Bush era “torture papers,” the socio-economic and  political interests of the capitalist tend to supersede and supplant  objective evidence, moral reason and human decency.

Such debate, which only continues in the presence of arguments  contrary to the obvious reality of the U.S. domestic torture program in  SHUs across the U.S., is not only ludicrous, it’s reality, and it is  this lethal component to the debate which forces us to share a  perspective which should end the debate definitively, leaving behind  only the inescapable truth: Amerika maintains the largest domestic  torture program on earth. The state of California runs the largest  torture program in Amerika, and it continues to exist in your name, with  your tax dollars, because you allow it to.
A recent incident here in Corcoran SHU’s short corridor compels us to  give voice to the outrage we should all feel at the continued  maintenance of the indeterminate SHU debriefing process of the U.S.  domestic torture program: Another suicide, Armando Morales (Baby Paya), a  validated Mexican prisoner from Los Angeles who had been confined to  SHU for almost a decade, hanged himself after the IGI moved him from the  4B-1L-C-Section short corridor, to 4A-1R.
The reason(s) that Armando was moved are the typical ones associated  with the coercive tactics employed to break men’s minds: After his  girlfriend had been compromised by IGI and other state and federal law  enforcement, those same agencies mounted an effort to put pressure on  Armando, who was actually a baby in terms of what he did and did not  know, as it relates to the enormous pressure that law enforcement will  apply to coerce information from persons they’ve targeted.
In response to that pressure, he took his own life. Naturally, IGI  and the state will seek to escape any culpability, and their response to  this is that each person is responsible for his own conduct. We should  all recognize the illegitimacy of such a position – that this is nothing  more than an excuse to try and separate themselves from a situation  that they are responsible for by their reckless and barbaric disregard  for our humanity.

Amerika  maintains the largest domestic torture program on earth. The state of  California runs the largest torture program in Amerika. 


We know this primarily because the vast majority of us have been in  these tortuous madhouses for decades. One day is too long and not a  single illegal act or rules violation has been committed by us to  justify this, which is, by international law, unjustifiable.

But we also  know this because our research into the origins of the torture program  reveals that this type of systematic psychological degradation to coerce  information and create broken men is its purpose. The domestic U.S.  torture program carried out in SHU (aka SMU, control unit etc.) style  prisons finds its origins at a meeting of social scientists and prison  wardens held in Washington, D.C., in 1962, recruiting the findings of  Dr. Edgar Schein, which he delivered to them in his man-against-man  brainwashing. In addressing the group Dr. Schein stated:

“I would like you to think  of brainwashing not in terms of politics, ethics or morals, but in  terms of the deliberate changing of human behavior and attitudes by a  group of men who have relatively complete control over the environment  in which the captive populace lives.” 

The techniques he espoused would  also require, to be effective, a new type of environment conducive to  altering the very foundations of one’s perception of reality. For this  the state took Dr. Levinson’s sensory deprivation prison unit design and  a form of Skinnerian operant conditioning called “learned  helplessness.”
This last technique is a key factor of both validation based  indeterminate SHU confinement and the debriefing process. “Learned  helplessness” is a systematic process of conditioning to crystalize in  the imprisoned victim’s mind that he has no control over the regulation  of his existence, that he is completely dependent on the state and its  guards for the necessities of “life,” that he is helpless and must  submit to the state’s power and control.

Our  research into the origins of the torture program reveals that this type  of systematic psychological degradation to coerce information and create  broken men is its purpose.


This is, of course, contrary to core human consciousness and a linear  thought divergence into two options, “resistance or escape.” The  program is designed to apply maximum punitive coercion against  “resistance” from the outset – from physical removal from the general  (prison) population to sensory deprivation, using informants,  collaborators and agent provocateurs to erode trust amongst those of  like circumstances, punishing uncooperative attitudes, prohibiting  collective thought or expression while simultaneously employing group  punishment, arbitrary punishment and property restrictions etc.
At the same time, those who are capable of prolonged or indefinite  resistance through ideological consistency, political development or  force of will – like victims of crucifixion left to rot on crosses during the Roman Empire – they serve as powerful deterrents to those of  lesser psychological resilience or those in general population to not  resist and instead explore the second option: escape.
The state of California has made its escape option clear since taking  the Schein-Skinnerian-Levinson system to its heights in erecting the torture units at Pelican Bay SHU. There are only three escape options available to you: parole, debrief or die. Due to the successful  corporate influences of the prison industrial complex on the  legislative, political and, to a degree, cultural processes in the  nation over the past quarter century, most validated SHU prisoners are  serving mandatory minimum, enhanced or BPT (Board of Prison Terms) based  sentences and their very confinement to SHU is prohibitive to their  parole.

A cell in the Corcoran SHU

The Board of Prison Terms has repeatedly stated to validated  prisoners seeking parole:

 “If you want a parole date, you probably want  to think about debriefing.” 

This reinforces the psychological pressure  on those already weakened by the enforced conviction that they have been  abandoned by and isolated from society – and only through submission  and subserviency can they be socially accepted as human beings.
This form of “escape” – debriefing – is consistent with points 7, 8  and 9 of Dr. Schein’s behavior modification techniques: (7) exploitation  of opportunities and informers; (8) convincing prisoners they can trust  no one; (9) treating those who are willing to collaborate in far more  lenient ways than those who are not.
Again, our personal experience with  the state and its use of such opportunistic broken men against those of  us who are committed to resistance has been demonstrated here at  Corcoran-SHU on a number of occasions in which agents posing as  revolutionary progressives have tried to undermine the efforts of the  NCTT (New Afrikan Collective Think Tank), and when those efforts failed,  they locked up and debriefed.
It was only through our collective education and insight and  experience with these periodic Cointelpro-style attacks on progressives  which allowed us to identify and resist the attack and mitigate its  political disorder. But this does not negate the damage done by the  broken males to the unity and progress of resistance in the SHU  population.
Though political immaturity by some elements played a role in the  mistrust and disunity that resulted from it, in the broader population,  it is the nature of the domestic torture program itself to create such  broken males that we must understand is prohibited by the international  community – and the U.S. knows this in analyzing the effects of such  broken males on the psychology of certain elements in SHU. Other such  examples of torture being put to such use against those who resist in  Pelican Bay, here and across the U.S. is legion.

The state  of California has made its escape option clear since taking the  Schein-Skinnerian-Levinson system to its heights in erecting the torture  units at Pelican Bay SHU. There are only three escape options available  to you: parole, debrief or die. The Board of Prison Terms has  repeatedly stated to validated prisoners seeking parole: “If you want a  parole date, you probably want to think about debriefing.”

In the etiology of the U.S. domestic torture program, Marion Control  Unit was the first. When former Marion Warden Ralph Aron was asked why  the torture unit was built, he replied, “The purpose of the Marion (and  all) controls unit(s) is to control revolutionary attitudes in the  prison system and society at large.” These broken males thus serve to  not only damage or destroy progressives in prison but the attitudes and  ideas of progressives in society at large.

It was always meant to be this way. To be sure, Dr. Broder, the  psychotherapist who implemented Dr. Schein’s brainwashing program at  Marion envisions those paroled broken men as “therapeutic technicians”  who will take these techniques and warped views back into the community.  Some 30 years later we have a snitch culture that derides objective  facts in favor of a corporate media-created fantasy, and it owes some of  its existence to the disastrous effects of isolation, which leads to  the inevitable final “escape”: Death! Suicide rates in these sensory  deprivation torture units are magnitudes higher than those in general  population.
Speaking these words simply does not convey the reality of what we  all know intimately: the transient appeal of the void as an alternative  to endless isolation. We all know of the disastrous effects of isolation  because we have seen what it does, along with the pressures that the  state brings to bear on us all daily in its efforts to break us, efforts  that include compelling the taking of one’s own life.

“The  purpose of the Marion (and all) controls unit(s) is to control  revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and society at large.”

If this domestic torture program did not exist, Armando and so many  others would still be alive today. But his is only the “escape” view of  death. There is also a “resistance”-based view of death – that all of us  who will never be counted amongst the broken men not only understand,  but have demonstrated twice before, and may well be compelled to do  again: peaceful protest in the form of hunger strikes, mass single cell,  work stoppage etc.
Christian Gomez died [a year ago], not “escaping” these torture units  but “resisting” these torture units, and it is this dialectical view of  this final option – that death is an active and practiced form of both  escape from and resistance to indefinite SHU confinement – is the final  and definitive proof that it is, undebatably, torture.
During an assembly hearing on solitary confinement on August 24,  2011, a former Corcoran-SHU prisoner testified, “For someone to be  willing to lie down and die just for someone to hear the situation … in  the SHU program, they must be serious.” His assessment was correct. We  are serious. The question is, are we as a society serious about  upholding basic tenets of humanity. People are dying who could be saved  while you are reading these words.

A former  Corcoran-SHU prisoner testified, “For someone to be willing to lie down  and die just for someone to hear the situation … in the SHU program,  they must be serious.” His assessment was correct. We are serious. The  question is, are we as a society serious about upholding basic tenets of  humanity.

And now you know. This is a system that must be abolished. It is a  system that has robbed us all of some part of our humanity and has  caused us to lose our way as a nation. So many of us have stood idly by  as the U.S. has strode the world stage criticizing other nations for  systematic human rights abuses and demanding that others meet their  obligations to the world community, while they maintain the single  largest domestic torture program and the single largest prison  population on earth. If the U.S. is going to continue to insist that  other nations meet their international obligations under U.N. treaty  resolutions, they must do the same and adhere to the U.N. Convention  against Torture.
They have proven that they will not do so without compulsion. We must  ensure that they do so, as a nation of the people, for the people and  by the people. If we are doing anything less, we are complicit in the  state’s hypocrisy.
The Pelican Bay D Short Corridor has given us the proper onus for  unity in their historic “agreement to end hostilities” issued for Oct.  10, 2012. We call upon all of you brothers and sisters across the nation  in prison yards and hood blocks, in SHUs and barrios: Take up this call  also. Turn your attention not toward one another, but to those who have  condemned us all to languish at the lowest rungs of this locked  anti-poor society: the ruling 1 percent.

Many of us  have stood idly by as the U.S. has strode the world stage criticizing  other nations for systematic human rights abuses and demanding that  others meet their obligations to the world community, while they  maintain the single largest domestic torture program and the single  largest prison population on earth. If the U.S. is going to continue to  insist that other nations meet their international obligations under  U.N. treaty resolutions, they must do the same and adhere to the U.N.  Convention against Torture.

Join the movement – embrace, support, join or form your own local  Occupy or anti-prison industrial complex formation. Build coalitions.  And in doing so, change this world. Come, let us make peace.
Our love and solidarity,
Corcoran SHU NCTT:


  • Zaharibu Dorrough, D-83611, 4B-1L-53, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212 [53?]
  • J. Heshima Denham, J-38283, 4B-1L-43, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212
  • Kambui Robinson, C-82830, 4B-1L-49, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212
  • Jabari Scott, H-30536, 4B-1L-63, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212

  • NCTT stands for NARN (New Afrikan Revolutionary Nation)  Collective Think Tank. All are held in solitary confinement, an  internationally recognized form of torture, in the SHU (Security Housing  Unit) at Corcoran State Prison. See also their website at: NCTTCorSHU.org
    Published in: SF Bay View, Dec. 4th 2012

    “Waiting For The World To Give Us A Reason To Live”: Solitary Confinement in Utah

    From: SolitaryWatch, Oct. 24th, 2012
    By Sal Rodriguez

    Utah State Prison’s Uinta 1 facility serves as the prison’s super-maximum security unit, where inmates are held in solitary confinement. Inmates in Uinta 1 may be there for disciplinary infractions, notoriety reasons, protective custody, or because they are security/escape risks. The unit is divided into eight sections with twelve inmates in each section, for a total of 96 maximum inmates. Currently, there are 90 inmates in Uinta 1. The Utah Department of Corrections, in response to a government records request by Solitary Watch, claims it has no records regarding its use of segregation.

    Several inmates have recently written Solitary Watch about the conditions in Uinta 1.

    L., who has been in Uinta 1 for five months and previously served 28 months there, reports that he is only able to leave his cell three days a week, for a shower and 1 hour alone in a concrete yard. He reports that, in being transported to a 15 minute shower, “we have to wear a spit mask over our faces and handcuffed from behind with a dog leash hooked to us.”

    “The rest of the time except on the shower days we are locked down in our cells with the door window closed so you can’t see out,” he writes.

    A., who has been in Uinta 1 for a year, adds that, “just the other day, the [Correctional Officers] came and shook our cells down and took away all of our hygiene. They took away shampoo, lotion, conditioner, everything…they also don’t give us anything to clean our cells with.”

    A. is in Uinta 1 for his own protection, following what he says was a decision to leave gang life after much “self-study.” Despite this, he says, he is treated as if he committed a  serious offense.

    Inmate Brandon Green, who has frequently written on the conditions of Uinta 1, describes the environment in Uinta 1 as reinforcing a vicious cycle in which inmates placed in solitary usually end up back not long after they are released. Green, who has been in Uinta 1 for five years, previously served 18 months in Uinta 1 before a brief period on parole before returning to Utah State Prison. He has been held in Uinta 1 following an escape attempt and refusal to take psychiatric drugs, which he says will only harm his health.

    “So alone. So much internal turbulence with nothing like T.V., radio, magazines or conversation to hide [this pain] beneath,” he writes, “a man leaves this place to go to general population or to a less secure facility where you have electronics and a cellie. You can just count down the months before he will return…We learn we can do without anything. And we become content with nothing. The more they take away from us year after year, the more family disappears, the more one doesn’t want to go home, doesn’t want a wife and a job and bills and an Amerikkan future…It is like waiting for the world to give us a reason to live. But the world just keeps giving us reasons to not give a shit.”

    This situation leads many inmates to report severe mental health problems that are aggravated by the long-term isolation. The prison routinely responds to such crises by placing suicidal inmates in a strip cell, where they are to be alone in a cell with  and checked every fifteen minutes. Included in many of these cells are cameras.

    L. writes that “if someone is gonna kill themselves they take them and out to a strip cell and you sleep on the hard floor and treated like a dog.”

    A. reports that “if I lose control because of something I have no control over, they’ll punish me and put me on strip cell for three days…when a mentally ill inmate feels suicidal, they send us to the infirmary to be on suicide watch…then we get from suicide watch back to Uinta 1 and the staff put us back in the strip cell when we get back to Uinta 1.”

    In Uinta 1, suicide is not an uncommon occurrence. In 2009, two prisoners in Uinta 1 committed suicide. One was Danny Gallegos, who was found hanged in his cell in June. Another was a friend of Green, Spencer “Spider” Hooper, a “Pink Floyd fan and singer on medications for schizophrenia and depression.” Months after a previous suicide attempt, Hooper was found dead in February 2009, hanging in his cell.

    A. and L. also independently confirm that sandbags at the cell doors of inmates gather bugs, which enter their cells. “They got sandbags around all the cells but never pick them up and clean under them so there’s all kinds of bugs and dirt that comes right under our doors,” A. writes.

    Green also writes about the declining array of services provided to Uinta 1 inmates. “Years ago indigent captives received five envelopes a week. Now its one. We had five outside contacts a week. Now one. We used to be fed enough to stay full. Now we are starved. We used to have shampoo and lotion. Now we don’t. We grumble for an hour each time something is taken from us. Then move right along to inventing the creative willpower to survive with no penpals and mail, a full stomach or clean hair. Moving right along. We expect tragedy.”

    Solitary Watch will continue to report on Uinta 1 as more information becomes available.

    Brandon Green welcomes letters. His mailing address is:
    Brandon Green #147075, Uinta One 305, Utah State Prison, PO Box 250, Draper, Utah 84020. His blog, updated by an outside supporter, can be seen here.

    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