Monday, November 11, 2013

A rare look inside the Maine State Prison’s ‘supermax’

From: The Portland Phoenix
Nov 8th 2013
By Lance Tapley

"An almost-clean version of hell"
 
There was a stain of what looked like blood on the floor of the otherwise shiny-clean, empty Mental Health Unit isolation cell. “It’s Kool-Aid,” said my minder, a deputy warden. He smiled. But, as the saying goes, I hadn’t drunk the Kool-Aid.

The cell faintly stank of shit. Mentally ill prisoners and those made mentally ill by prolonged solitary confinement are driven to cut themselves and to try to throw their feces at guards.

In one of the Administrative Segregation cellblocks — pure solitary confinement — I heard undulating cries and saw shadowy faces behind the steel doors’ tiny windows.

The Maine State Prison “supermax,” or Special Management Unit, is an ugly place. Are my photos ugly enough? Trying to fit form to content, I used an old film camera and grainy-image-producing 400-speed, black-and-white film shot usually without a flash under fluorescent lights.

There were big limitations. I was not supposed to photograph prisoners, and my tour was rapid. That said, I was, possibly, the first journalist to visit and photograph the supermax — after eight years of writing about it.

Super-harsh supermax (super-maximum-security) prisons and their central feature of solitary confinement became a correctional craze 30 years ago. They became dumping grounds for the mentally ill and others who couldn’t follow prison rules or who simply irritated guards. At least 80,000 human beings are held in them nationwide. Maine opened its supermax in the coastal town of Warren in 1992. Ten years later it built the new state prison around it.

The supermax’s unforgiving conditions are not helpful, to put it mildly, in improving prisoner behavior. The evidence is overwhelming, in fact, that protracted solitary confinement damages or destroys prisoners’ minds. Human-rights groups consider it torture. And it costs taxpayers twice as much as “general population” incarceration.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

National Occupy Day in Support of Prisoners: Feb 20th



Website: Occupy4Prisoners.org

Read the book by Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Statements from People in Prisons for February 20th – National Occupy in Support of Prisoners Day

From: http://occupy4prisoners.org/statements-from-people-in-prisons/

(Please note that there are more statements being submitted, please continue to check back for more! If you are having an action on February 20th, please feel free to incorporate these statements as part of your program. If you have a statement to submit please send to occupy4prisoners@gmail.com.)

In Respect to the February 20th 2012 Protest
We are With You In Spirit !!!

TO: All Occupy Wall Street Participants

FROM: Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement Hunger Strikers in Solidarity (PHSS)
Sitawa Jamaa, s/n Dewberry C35671; Todd Ashker C58191; Antonio Guillen P81948; and Arturo Castellanos C17275

Corporate Amerika has coalesced its efforts around the exploitation of Human Beings, while using the political apparatus of the U.S. government, federal, state and local to institute policies that set in motion the creation of a corporate police state, which has targeted the poor as a surplus for incarceration and exploitation.

Those of us housed in solitary confinement throughout California and Amerika, support “Occupy Wall Street” and understand the necessity to resist against corporate greed. We will no longer willingly accept the subjugation, oppression and exploitation of Humanity.

Banks and the “prison industrial complex” are corporate empires that prey on the souls of Humanity. Therefore we officially join you all in Struggle.

One Love, One Struggle
Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement
---------
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Souls on Ice
(Col.writ. 2/2/23) @’12 Mumia Abu-Jamal

When I heard of the call, just raised in Oakland, California, to “Occupy the Prisons”, I gasped.

It was not an especially radical call, but it was right on time.
For prisons have become a metaphor; the shadow-side, if you will, of America, With oceans of words about freedom, and the reality that the U.S. is the world’s leader of the incarceration industry, its more than time for the focused attention of the Occupy Movement.
It’s past time.

For the U.S. is the world’s largest imprisoner for decades, much wrought by the insidious effects of the so-called ‘drug war’—what I call, “the War on the Poor”.

And, Occupy, now an international movement, certainly has no shortage of prisons to choose from. Every state, every rural district, every hamlet in America has a prison; a place where the Constitution doesn’t exist, and where slavery is all but legalized.

When law professor, Michelle Alexander, took on the topic, her book, the New Jim Crow, took off like hotcakes – selling over 100,000 in just a few months.

And where there are prisons, there is torture; brutal beatings, grave humiliations, perverse censorship–and even murders—all under a legal system that is as blind as that statue which holds aloft a scale, her eyes covered by a frigid fold of cloth.
So, what is Occupy to do?

Initially, it must support movements such as those calling for the freedom of Lakota brother Leonard Peltier, the MOVE veterans of August 8th, 1978, the remaining two members of the Angola 3: Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, Sundiata Acoli, Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, and many other brothers and sisters who’ve spent lifetimes in steel and brick hellholes.
But, the Occupy Movement must do more.

As it shifted the discussion and paradigm on economic issues, it must turn the wheel of the so-called ‘Criminal Justice System’ in America, that is in fact, a destructive, counter-productive, annual $69 billion boondoogle of repression, better-known by activists as the Prison-Industrial-Complex.
That means more than a one-day event, no matter how massive or impressive. It means building a mass movement that demands and fights for real change, and eventually abolition of structures that do far more social damage than good.

It means the abolition of solitary confinement, for it is no more than modern-day torture chambers for the poor.

It means the repeal of repressive laws that support such structures.

It means social change—or it means nothing.

So let us begin—Down With the Prison Industrial Complex!
----------
Lynne Stewart
This occupy rally is what Must happen at every jail in the United States–a direct challenge to Arbitrary Power that thinks it can lock up those with the greatest grievances against the system and systematically demonize them to their fellow citizens.

I speak now for all the 2 Million but of course. particularly on behalf of those political prisoners who actively fought and tested this unjust system and now suffer in SHU’s, and other forms of Solitary, for that. Many have been tortured for the last thirty years or more. When they were captured in the heady political days of the ’60s and ’70s, we were convinced that fundamental change was inevitable –indeed that it was right around the corner. It still remains inevitable but now we understand the protracted struggle necessary to breach this evil system.

I for one am recruited to accomplish the freedom of political prisoners and as my comrade Chairman Fred says “FREE ‘EM ALL” !!!
------
Khalfani Malik Khaldun
Greetings:
All power to the people. I am in support/solidarity with your work to expose the contradictions existing at San Quentin prison, and all prisoners across the country.

Please extend my clenched fist salutation to brother Kevin Cooper/those men on death row.

I am a political prisoner here in Indiana. I have been in prison for 26 years now, with 18 years in isolated confinement. I am currently being held in a Secure Housing Unit, where the conditions are cruel and unusual punishment, and there are deplorable violations of state and federal policy all across the unit.

Those in charge have used criminal tactics to keep many of us in perpetual isolation. We could use some organized, principled help here in Indiana. Could you provide me and e-mail or other address of other occupiers in solidarity against prison injustice? We need to organize a force here to Occupy the Indiana SHU. I have some committed supporters…along with others we can move mountains. I agree with Kevin: just never forget us.

Khalfani Malik Khaldun (L. McQuay) #874304, Wabash Valley Correctional Facility
SCU A-1205 PO Box 1111 Carlisle, IN 47834
---------
Kevin Cooper

We Dissent – An Occupy Death Row Production

A few of the definitions of the word dissent are: to withhold assent; to differ in opinion; difference of opinion; religious nonconformity; a written statement in which a justice disagrees with the opinion of the majority.

The above word “Dissent” and these few definitions speak in part to what all the different “Occupy Movements” are about.

While they all, each and every one of them, have different thoughts, ideas, tactics, agendas, and people who they represent, they all have, for the most part, “dissented” from what has been going on, and going on for decades, in this world and country.

We all disagree with, and do not want to be part of, the norm anymore! Nor do we want what is considered “normal” to be part of us, because the status quo is outright harming us on all of life’s different levels.

We all are saying in our own unique way that we don’t trust the people who are running the system, just as we don’t trust the system itself.

All across the world, people who don’t eat the same food, or wear the same garb, speak the same language, belong to the same religion or pray to the same named God, if they do pray, are dissenting.

Everywhere, people are standing up and fighting back, and speaking out from under the universal umbrella of humanity. This umbrella provides protection for the oppressed, from the oppressor.

The Occupy Movement as a whole is another form of the universal umbrella for human rights. From within this movement, we dissenters can speak the truth as to how the status quo, the ruler’s agenda, has a negative effect on “We the People” and this one planet we all must live on, and share.
Something must be seriously wrong and it is not us! The system is wrong and it’s has always been wrong and will always be wrong!

Some in the top 1% use their subordinates to ask, “What is it that they want?” Each movement within Occupy may want different things, especially since we all come from different places and have different real life and death experiences.

So while I can’t speak to what any one movement wants per se, I can speak to what all these different occupy movements don’t want.

We don’t want terrorism of any kind, against any people. We don’t want pollution of the air or water and other natural resources that Mother Earth produces; We don’t want a government that uses the mainstream news media to help a President send its people to war based on lies; We don’t want war in any of its forms; We don’t want sexism, racism, classism, or poverty!
We don’t want corruption, the death penalty, the prison industrial complex — either public or private prisons. We don’t want unions to be busted, nor do we want jobs sent overseas to other countries. We don’t want to go without healthcare or a good education. We don’t want police brutality or intimidation of any kind!

These few things mentioned above should go a long way to help people understand that there are two sides to every story, and while many seem to want to focus on just one side… “What is it that they want?” they must now come to terms with some of what we don’twant! If they do, then they will truly understand why we dissent. Everything that we don’t want is a very real part of what is wrong within this country and world, and it is having a very negative affect on the quality and quantity of life of the masses of people—the poor!

All these manmade ills are happening and have happened simply because of greed and the very real fact that the powers that be – They really don’t care about us!
So, we respectfully dissent!
---------------
Jane Dorotik, CIW

The 2.3 million individuals that we as a nation incarcerate has become one of the defining qualities of this country of ours. Never before in the history of civilization has a country locked away so many of its own people. Have we as society become so violent, so incorrigible that we must lock away so many? How did we get to this point under the guise of ‘public safety?’

The cost of incarcerating women is immense. The average annual cost to incarcerate a woman is $50,000 and the average cost to incarcerate a woman over 55 is a staggering $138,000. Because of their role as mothers, the costs and consequences go far beyond the criminal justice system. Their children are either raised by other family members or are sent to the state’s foster care system. Children whose parents are incarcerated are 4-5 times more likely to become incarcerated themselves, thus perpetuating the intergenerational incarceration cycle. Since 1991, the number of children with a mother in prison has increased by more than 131% and nationwide more than half of children whose mother are incarcerated are under age 10.

The prison system is a system gone awry, gravely compromised and rampant with abuses. It is a terrifying breeding ground for anger, hatred, sexism, homophobia and dominating exploitation of other human beings. We are warehousing people, punishing them and then returning them to society worse off than when they entered the system. The violence that then comes out of these prisons is a much greater threat to public safety than any foreign terrorist group ever could be.
--------
Krista Funk, Central California Women’s Facility
The bankers are legal racketeers. They are rewarded for their crimes. But the people at the bottom of the 99%, the poor, we are warehoused in the Prison Industrial Complex. They take away our ability to vote once we are inside because that might change the way things are. The rich get richer, the poor give up, and out of desperation they turn on their families and their communities. This cycle has to change!
-----------
Herman Wallace # 76759
Elayn Hunt Correction Center,
St. Gabriel, Louisiana

Most all U.S. citizens benefit in some way from the capitalist mode of production, a system that exploits underdeveloped nations as well as 99% of it’s own nation’s people. This creates a vast contradiction that causes much emotional pain.

In 1865, Union Generals admitted to Lincoln that they were on the verge of losing the war and could only turn the tides if Lincoln would free the slaves. Of course, slaves were never freed, it was only the form of slavery practiced in the South that was disrupted, moving from chattel slavery to wage slavery as has been so well documented.

Defy permits to occupy, civil disobedience is a form of struggle, and where there is no struggle, there is no change.

We must strengthen our forces by uniting with the Occupy movement and liberation movements throughout the world in order to disrupt the capitalist mode of production and send capitalism to it’s grave.

Free All Political Prisoners and Prisoners of Consciousness
All Power to the People
Herman Wallace
-------------
Robert King
First of all I would like to applaud and salute those in the Occupy movement for focusing on the hideous corruption of corporate America and the effects this corruption has on all of us in the 99%, including the well over two million individuals that fill our detention facilities and their families.

“Being in prison, in solitary was terrible. It was a nightmare. My soul still cries from all that I witnessed and endured. It does more than cry- it mourns, continuously. I saw men so desperate that they ripped prison doors apart, starved and mutilated themselves. It takes every scrap of humanity to stay focused and sane in this environment. The pain and suffering are everywhere, constantly with you. But, it’s was also so much more than that. I had dreams and they were beautiful dreams. I used to look forward to the nights when I could sleep and dream. There’s no describing the day to day assault on your body and your mind and the feelings of hopelessness and despair “

There is far more than a causal relationship between the Occupy Movement and the work so many of you are doing to change the criminal justice system.

The same people who make the laws that favor the bankers, make the laws that fill our prisons and detention centers. We have to continue to make the connection between Wall St. and the prison industrial complex. The growth of the private prison industry is just one symptom of this unholy alliance.

I stand in solidarity with the Occupy 4 Prisoners rally and hope these rallies shed further light on the insidious effects of prisons for profit and politics.
Free all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience,
Robert King
Angola 3
-------------
Steve Champion

I want to thank all the participants of Occupy San Quentin for being here today. Thank you for reading my statement.

My name is Steve Champion. I’ve been incarcerated for over 30 years and twenty-nine of those years and counting, have been spent on San Quentin’s death row.

We are living in a critical time in history. There is a global and domestic crisis going on. Our body politics is under siege because it is dominated by crony capitalism and social and economic indifference. We are fast moving toward a bicentric society of “haves” and “have nots.” If we fail to take a strong stand to transform this nation then we can expect an ill forecast for the future.

One of the most powerful unions in the state of California is the Correctional Peace Organization Association (CCPOA). As tuition for students are being raised, schools being shut down, cuts being made in the fields of Education, Social programs, Nurses and other care-givers, everyone is being forced to make a sacrifice. But we don’t hear cuts being made in the salaries of Prison Guards. Why is that? Because the CCPOA (through rigorous lobbying in Sacramento) have the ear of California State Legislators. They make huge campaign contributions to both the Governor and State Legislators. This allows them to peddle influence and get implemented the policies they want in place.

What this ought to tell those of us who are concerned about social justice, prison reform and the abolishment of the death penalty is we have to up the ante of our struggle. If we want to see the eradication of the death penalty and the prison, requires a multifaceted approach. It is not enough for prisoners to struggle on the inside; it is not enough to picket, protest or occupy specific places. Those things are important. But we also need to have a robust voice and seat among the decision makers who shape, influence and create policies that we vehemently oppose. We need to build a grassroots political organization to challenge those in power.

Too often, our social movements are on the defensive. We react as opposed to being proactive and taking initiative on programs we want implemented and policies we want changed. Building a grassroots political organization can facilitate a lot of the fragmentization that exist in our movements by uniting us. It would give focus to our objectives. If we don’t do this, then who? If we don’t do this now, then when?

The one percent who dominate the political and economic system in this country is not an accident. It was carefully planned. They want a government for the one percent and by the one percent, but not by the people.

We have to strengthen and intensify our struggle. We have to become more committed. We have to remember that our struggle isn’t a sprint, but a marathon. What we do today will alter the course of history tomorrow. Thank you.

Long live the struggle.
---------
Todd Ashker Letter of January 26, 2012
You all know we’ve been on a “counter propaganda” campaign here since Dec. 09 and much of what myself, Castellano, Sitawa, and Mutope have in mind in our writings about our struggle & resistance 24/7 is in line with our counter propaganda campaign!! Actually, I’d prefer criminal prosecution because 1) I’d be acquitted and 2) the publicity it would garner would be real great for the cause. Now that it’s not a DA referral (I expect due to legislative inquiry), I expect to be railroaded & found guilty administratively (first time guilty of a serious rule violation since Jan 94).

This will be used by the Board of Parole Hearings to issue me a longer parole hearing deferral when I go in Aug 2012 (probably a 7-10 year deferral). It will mean no art material or photos for a year, etc., etc., etc. This bogus CDC 115 RVR should be getting propagated out there as much as possible as well as other CDCR/PBSP dirty shit.

This is where I (and many others) stand on this struggle: For more than 30 years CDCR policy and practice has been “us vs. them” — viewing us as the enemy who they are at war with.

The 1st thing one does in war is propagate against and dehumanize the enemy. For 22+ years PBSP has been propagated as housing “the worst of the worst,” responsible for all the state’s gang problems.

We see it in reverse. CDCR (the prison industrial complex) are the criminals committing multi billions in fraud and many murders each year (law makers and courts are enablers and just as guilty). CDCR is housing us to put money in their pockets. All of which is part of the bigger problems – the class war in this country, the 1% vs. the 99% (the poor v. ultra rich). It’s no longer a “people of color v. white man” issue; it’s a “poor vs. ultra rich” issue. The so-called middle class is long gone.

We’re at war (the poor 99% including the prisoners) and the people in power are scared to death and they should be. Most of us should have been out long ago. A life sentence has never meant “life” until the last 30 years. Most of us are many years beyond our minimum eligible parole dates.
We’re not serving a legally valid sentence anymore. We’re here illegally, immorally, and unethically based on politics and money.

Our supporters need to propagate against the system at every opportunity and tie our struggle to that of the poor and disenfranchised at large.
This is just the start. We plan to force CDCR to open up all the level IV General Populations and spend money on our benefit, such as rehab programs, etc. and force change to sentences and paroles.

Our supporters need to see the system for what is really is and to educate people about it to bring more support in. It’s important to humanize and decriminalize us to the mainstream. Granted we’re “convicted felons,” but we’ve already served above and beyond any form of a valid prison term.
We shouldn’t even be recognizing that these CDCR “criminals” have any power over us. We really should be actively resisting our illegal confinement a lot more and our people outside should be doing so too, with all of our beings, until these “criminals” cut us loose or kill us.

Right now we’re waiting – waiting to get out to these General Population prisons. Then we’ll straighten out the B.S. on them so these people can no longer justify warehousing everyone. Then, we’ll go from there. People need to realize these “criminals” are the real enemy who we’re at war with and act accordingly in a smart way. The time is coming when they will fall and it’s not too far in the future. But we all must stay strong and do our part to make it happen. We need strong outside support. People should not fear nor be intimidated by CDCR’s “crime syndicate” staff. They’re really cowards in truth and need to be forced to get right.
As always, I send my best to all.
In solidarity and with respect,
Todd
---------
FROM CCWP WOMEN (Alisha, Veronica, Margarita)

Truth is…

The picture I’m about to paint can only be heard,
so listen closely to every word.

Innocent until proven guilty?
They can’t be serious,
In a system where
Drug dealers get more time
than serial killers,
juveniles get tried as adults,
before they become one.
I guess nobody musta warned’em
about playing with knives and guns.

Guilty by association?
That’s what it’s called
then they get hauled
off to the pen,
where some girls become boyz and some boyz
become women.
Sitting around
unaware of who they are,
wounded while in the belly of the beast.
I call’em invisible scars,
the kind that can’t be healed
by Neosporin and stitches.

Went in walkin’
came out switching.

Could you imagine what it’s like?
Being told that the beginning
is really the end of your life.
3 strikes and you’re out!
Some think it’s a game,
but it’s really outta my hands.
Lord knows, I’m not tryna do life
on installment plans.

Everybody wanna be a part
Of the occupy system,
I need to occupy my life and
find something to do with it,
otherwise it’s useless.

Some may mistake my words as verbally abusive,
But the truth is…

How do we expect our kids to grow
from concrete,
accept defeat,
have to fend for themselves
in cells where it is dark
and hot as hell?
More parents come to see kids in jail
than they do at graduations.
That’s cuz the new diploma
is parole or probation

Fucked up situation
No contender.

“Now I’ll be gone until November”
Listening to a public pretender
telling me to plea
Y?
Cuz I’m young, black, and sell crack in da streets.
Babies committing robbery,
1st degree.

Even with blind eyes
I could see it ain’t cool.
They building prison programs
and tearing down schools.
We all got an opinion
just like we all have a choice.
No one can hear you speak
if you don’t use your voice!

Alisha Coleman, SF County Jail

My name is Veronica Hernandez and I am a 20-year-old young woman that has been incarcerated since I was 16-years-old and tried as an adult at 17-years-old.

Prior to being charged as an adult I was appointed a no-good attorney that couldn’t have cared less about me or the outcome of my case and consequently; had put absolutely no effort into representing me adequately. There are no law libraries or legal services at Juvenile Hall so a juvenile rather it be for better or for worse had literally no choice but to be dependant on his or her court-appointed attorney and trust that him or her will lead them in the right direction. Unfortunately, for me that direction was to adult court where I now face a life sentence should I be convicted.

In California, 16-years-old are eligible to be tried as adults and in some states, the minimum age to be tried as an adult is 13-years-old and in others, there is no age limit at all depending on the nature of the crime. Regardless of the age, juveniles that are tried as adults are subjected to harsher punishments that juvenile court judges lack the power to impose such as life without the possibility of parole or sentences that are so outrageous like “43 to life” or “51 to life” that those sentences might as well be life without the possibility of parole.

Although a juvenile’s right to a hearing before a case can be transferred to adult court was established by Kent V. U.S. (U.S. Sup. Ct. 1966) there are still cases that get transferred to adult court without a hearing at all and that is known as a “direct filing.” The D.A> can file a direct filing on a juvenile that is 14-years-old or older and that contradicts California’s so-called minimum age of 16-years old or older to be eligible at being tried as an adult and a juveniles so-called right to a hearing.

The human mind doesn’t stop developing until the age of 25, so it is ridiculous that a judge can even be given the power to determine that a juvenile can never be rehabilitated and will remain at the same state of mind that the juvenile was in at the time of their crime was committed for the rest of his or her life. Aside from ridiculous…it is outrageous…oppressive…opprobrious…and something that needs to cease…abolish this oppression and give children the chance at life that each and everyone of them deserves.

Veronica Hernandez, SF County Jail
---------
My name is Margarita and I’m gonna tell you my story. I ran away from home at 11 years old and fucked up my whole life and career. My dad used to molest me when I was very young. I can remember as far back as age 2. He sure did some foul things to me. I didn’t know any better but he use to tell me if I said anything he would take me off the team. You see I raced downhill snow skiing on the U.S.A. women’s division ski team and I was very good at what I did. My father knew it to so he used that as bait. By molesting me and doing ungodly things to me that father’s wouldn’t dream of doing to their daughters.

I was very active growing up, a tomboy some would say. I raced motorcross, BMX, swimming, dance, karate, etc. I traveled all over for my snow skiing though. I ran away at my last speed skating race when I was 11 ½ years old. My parents were already divorced. I told my mom what Daddy did at age 6. Of course she didn’t believe me so she put cameras in the room and caught him on tape. Back then we wanted it kept quiet. My dad owned the leather factory and growing up in Black Hawk, California would have ruined his name. Anyways, I left and went to Los Angeles, from Los Angeles to Watts, California. At age 13 ½ I caught my first case and was convicted as a young adult; the first female for a 187 at age 14 to be convicted as an adult. I got 15 years to life and did 12 years. I started in Juvie and then transferred to Youth Authority and from Youth Authority to California Institute for Women.

Me and this other inmate caught an escape. We stole the fire truck at CIW and was transferred to Chowchilla. There I did my first stretch of 8 years; 4 in lock-down and 4 on the yard. They tried to give me 3 years more in lock-down for an assault on a C.O. He came into my cell and tried to rape me. So, when I was out in the day room, ironing my pants, I took the iron and hit him over the head with it. I stayed 6 months in confinement. I also had a petition going around letting all the girls sign it cause I wasn’t the first victim he did this to. But he wasn’t gonna keep getting away. I ended up with 560 signatures and he was escorted off the yard and his rights were stripped from him. No longer in the state of California or in the United States can he become a legal Correctional Officer in any federal or state prison.

After that I did my last 4 years at N.C.W.F. Stockton, California. I left Stockton and went straight to Delancy Street where I did 5 years and graduated here in San Francisco. I was sitting on top of the world. I had 2 cars, 2 bank accounts, 3 jobs, doing super good then one day I said, “Fuck it all.” I left my apartment in Oakland with everything I owned, closed both bank accounts and withdrew the money I worked hard at and my savings which was a total of $30,000 dollars. Down the drain. I smoked it, shot it, all that. But thank the lord and knock on wood that I never went back to prison but if I don’t stop and start giving a fuck I will be. I’ll be on the first train smoking. Which now leads me to San Francisco County Jail.

Margarita, SF County Jail
---------
Enceno Macy

The Chance to Make a Difference by Enceno Macy With no access allowed to computers or internet, prisoners in this state receive news only via major networks on a few prison-controlled tv channels. We therefore knew little or nothing of the Occupy Wall Street actions until police brutality drew reluctant media coverage. Quietly, many of us cheered. Prisoners are after all the most disenfranchised and voiceless segment of the 99%. Our very survival is totally at the mercy of an industry that makes obscene profits, grossly overcharging a literally captive market for out-dated, condemned food products, factory-reject clothing, expired medicines, and defective, unsalable merchandise. The Occupation has now faded from corporate news, but for a while there I dared to hope they would persist and maybe even score some victories against our corporate masters. I want to cry out now to each of them not to give up, not to blow this chance to make a difference. I was so young I blew my own chance without even knowing I had one, and trying to regain it has been a long, hard journey. The young mind, caught up in self, focuses mostly on the immediate future and the common daily occurrences that directly affect a youth’s current situation. Young people therefore often fail to comprehend the world as a whole. Other countries might as well be other planets, politics and global relations are grown-ups’ business, and things appear generally to be everlasting. Caring, compassion and empathy are often limited to the things and people closest and most familiar to us at the time: our family, friends, possessions and pets. Some kids may grow up more worldly, but the above is what I knew and was at 15 years old: simple and self-absorbed. I came to prison then – back when cell phones were rare and primitive and Palm Pilot was the only hand-held computer.

When I came to jail, Clinton was considered the closest thing to a minority president that we would get. Global warming and peak oil had not become common terms or concerns. Terrorism wasn’t being used to justify conflicts and military campaigns that depleted our debt surplus and contributed to a crashing economy. Our planet wasn’t being murdered as blatantly with countless pollutants in our air and water (or to be honest, I hadn’t noticed). Prison does different things to different people. For some it is a chance to regroup and prepare to try harder to get away with the things that put them in their cage to begin with. Others try to change, try to look at themselves and correct their flaws. Maybe they will seek the help of a church or A.A., or they attempt to exercise will power that they’ve never had. Some with long sentences end up trying to improve their education to advance their character, knowledge and understanding. Having gone through only my ninth grade year (and failing terribly) at the time I fell, it was imperative that I take the path of improvement.

I didn’t have a curriculum, only my mom’s encouragement and support from a few family friends. Often my interest would fade in and out, and I had no specific subject I wanted to learn about. To see my journey clearly, I need to be honest and share my progression and the reasoning behind it. Influenced by my surroundings (see my race article from a year ago), I first got into radical black literature. Growing up on the wrong side of the law, I equated the police and all authority as my enemy, a very basic association with why my life was so hard. The pro-black books I picked up referenced the police under a blanket that included politicians and the government as a whole.

This is where my adolescent anger turned, against “The Man,” or “Them.” That part of my education was generally negative. I think of it now as an old way of thinking, but what it did was open me up to the idea of oppression. From there my perception widened, and I saw that many different races and cultures fall into the category of the oppressed. For a couple of years, I studied many aspects of history and saw how governments always find someone to keep a foot on. I looked at all the attempts to change that had been made, and I saw the changes that were made were mostly for appearances and that things stayed fundamentally the same under the surface: there were always the haves and the have-nots. I was disgusted with people for accepting this, for believing what their government told them, and for how they treated each other.

I saw society as cold, selfish, and unfair. It seemed to me that social reforms and public outcry did nothing to address the true reasons why things were the way they were. I felt America needed a wake-up call – to be reminded of the basics and be brought back to their roots as humans, to be reminded of what it means to need each other. I thought the only true way things could be fixed was by breaking them. I was going to cause a revolution. I was going to build a nuclear bomb. This began my next phase.

I began to research how to build this bomb. My ambition was short-lived, as I discovered how hard it is to get uranium or plutonium. But I uncovered something else that totally changed my way of thought and the direction of my path. Understanding how a nuclear reaction worked introduced me to physics and, in turn, to theoretical physics. It opened my eyes to how big the universe is and how small my various concerns are within it. Studying physics made me think of things below the surface and causes of actions that may be subtle or indirect. I began to relate this to human nature, and to think about the circumstances that led people to think and act the way they do. What happened was that I discovered empathy. I no longer blamed people themselves for what they did and thought, but instead looked to things like upbringing, education and lack of diverse experiences as the cause. I learned that a person may treat another a certain way based on preconceptions of the other person’s style, culture, or race. For example, I ran into a kid early in my sentence who had been taught by his community that black people had special muscles, bones, and blood vessels that whites didn’t have; that’s what made him dislike and fear minorities and gave him a racist outlook. Could I blame him or hate him for what he had been taught? It was hard to see people in this new light. I hadn’t usually felt much sorrow for anything except myself before, but now I felt it for all the people who couldn’t fend for themselves – for babies born into such a deceptive and cruel world, for victims of bullying, for kids brain-washed to believe racist or sexist or political lies. Just when I was having this revelation, 9-11 happened, and this country went to bully a less organized, less advanced country out of their oil and way of life. To me, democracy may not have been the worst form of government, but even if it were the best, forcing it onto a thousands-of-years-old culture without its consent was wrong. To me, it was the same as a father (not unlike the one I’d had) beating his child to correct a flaw and causing far more damage than good. Meanwhile, all around me I saw people every day treat each other with the lowest level of regard and respect over the smallest issues. The mentality in here is to bring others down to build yourself up, and what I saw going on in the world was a horrifying mirror of what goes on in prison. Although I don’t agree with the murders and retain my own doubts about the truth behind 9-11, I look at the official story and ask anyone to think what they might do if they watched someone bully others over and over as the U.S. has done. Would you not wonder when your time will come? Would you not try to appear stronger and more aggressive than you are in order to put off the bully? Each person may differ greatly in opinions about it, but at that time I felt empathy for the alleged attackers’ desperation. I had to be much the same as they, acting stronger than I was so as not to fall victim to the gangs and predators that are the top of the food chain in here.

People in prison have plenty of time to think. Fundamentally, all we are doing is waiting – waiting to get out and begin to resume a life, or waiting to die. This is not living. The only part you might consider living is the mind, but for many lost souls, not only is their mind not living or even existing, it may already be dead. I kept mine alive by reading and learning, tried to keep up on headlines and the alternative versions of events that my mom would send me from the internet. While I have been waiting, my mind has brooded on how things could change. Hope for change is not enough. Too often hope is mistakenly used as a crutch by people who do not know what to do – not an excuse, but an unconscious substitute for taking things into their own hands.

By no means do I refer to someone ill hoping to live or someone with a life sentence hoping to get out. No, I mean a voter who votes for an asshole and hopes he will change things for the better. Then when the elected party fails to deliver on his promises, the voter keeps on hoping instead of demanding changes or taking assertive action. That isn’t hope, it’s delusion, the kind of delusion that feeds chronic gamblers. I am thirty years old and have never been allowed to vote. Maybe because it’s forbidden I have a warped view of what voting is: either a cruel joke or something people ought to take a lot more seriously.

Either way, I have serious doubts about the process, because necessary changes won’t be made through elections, which are too easily rigged by money. So when they ask, I encourage people to find out what they can do and then go and do it. Don’t wait for rigged elections or for others to lead you. Complaining of an injustice will do nothing to solve it or make it right: channel your anger or grief into doing what you can do, without dwelling on what you can’t. Otherwise, you may just be contributing to the problem. Outside the wire, many people take for granted the resources made available to them every day. They fill their cars with gas and complain about its prices, but never think of how many people died in order to power their vehicles. They get frustrated that wildfires, hurricanes, and tornadoes devastate their property and disrupt their lives, but reject the concept of global warming. Whether they want to believe the idea or not, what happened to the old saying, “Better safe than sorry?” Wouldn’t it be reasonable to avoid non-biodegradable products, shrink their carbon footprint, and use less fossil fuel and more recycled materials rather than contribute to the possibility that climate change is real? I have sat or lain awake many nights pondering how detached humans are from their connection to the earth. The slumbering breath of my cellmate is a background of white noise to visions of hunger and illness and suffering all over the world. As a youth I did not see my connection to the suffering.

I used to get down on myself for not being able to make any difference and for not having the discipline to do the few things I could do to help. But no one is perfect, as we all know. I came to understand that what I was capable of doing and what I could afford to do were two different things, and that I have to act within the confines of my situation. I am not rich or free. I have little control over what items I can recycle. I can not go door to door with petitions advocating change. For other reasons, you also may not be able to afford the time or resources, either, but doing what is possible, however small, may help you sleep better at night – maybe not totally at peace, but at least with a shred of satisfaction. To keep a goal of change always in mind, a person has to truly care about an issue or cause. Initial rage may die out – a product of the moment. Think of something like the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Do you remember how sad you felt? Or how much you hoped FEMA would be able to help? Do you still care as much as you did at first? If so, there are still plenty of victims in need of assistance. If you truly care and want to help, you might spend part of your next vacation helping build and repair houses in New Orleans. Just because those people’s sufferings are no longer in the news doesn’t mean they stopped existing or stopped needing what we can do. That’s just one example, illustrating how important it is to remember what caused us to feel concerned and want to take action – and to stick to it even after the issue fades from the news. There is blessing not only in being helped but in being able and willing to provide that help. You are lucky if you have the chance to make a difference, because some of us don’t have that opportunity. My many progressions and transformations, too numerous to mention, came from educating myself. Once I understood my connection to the things I saw wrong in the world, I looked for changes I could make to help. Efficient energy use is something I now think about daily, and the disaster of the tsunami in Sri Lanka inspired me deeply to want to be trained in search and rescue operations. I wanted so badly to go over there and save lives, even if it was just filling sand bags. Today it’s hard for anyone to help, as the economy shrinks, the jobless rate is higher than any time since the Great Depression, and people are losing their homes right and left.

I know even more things will hinder me in the uphill battle I face with my impending release because so many obstacles face ex-cons: Although our rules and laws are now officially colorblind, they operate to discriminate in a grossly disproportionate fashion. Through the war on drugs and the “get tough” movement, millions of poor people, overwhelmingly poor people of color, have been swept into our nation’s prisons and jails, branded criminals and felons . . . and then are ushered into a permanent second-class status, where they’re stripped of the many rights supposedly won in the civil rights movement, like the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, and the right to be free of legal discrimination in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits.

I am far from the kid who wanted to build a bomb, and though I have a voice from in here, I cannot make the difference that I want to, which is sad and frustrating at this point. My goal now is to equip myself with the knowledge and strength to be able to fight for a cause when the time comes. What would happen, I wonder, if just one relative or friend of every prisoner and ex-con in the U.S. got together in an Occupy event? That would be more than 2.2 million people – enough to have an impact, maybe? When that seems impossible, I tell myself over and over again what I wish I could tell the Occupiers:

whatever differences you try to make, there will be those who oppose you and tell you your goals are impossible. Don’t let them stop you no matter how powerful they are or how futile it may seem. Giving up makes all your efforts – and others’ – worthless. If you’re passionate enough and determined enough, you may find the satisfaction and peace I mentioned earlier.

Prison not only confines, it also limits my choices, so the differences I can make are few. But thanks to Planet Waves, I do have a voice, and maybe convincing others who can make a difference is the best action we can take. In some cases it takes only a single voice to change everything. The world is not ours, we are borrowing it from future generations. The only meaningful pursuit is to find something outside of ourselves to care about: to love the world and everything in it as the gift that it is.
---------
Sean Swain

Occupy, Liberate, De-Colonize: A Statement for Occupy Columbus from Prison by Sean Swain

In 2007, in a published interview I observed that if Ohio prisoners simply laid on their bunks for 30 days, the system would collapse. I wasn’t talking about just the prison system, but Ohio’s entire economy.

I came to that conclusion because I recognized that 50,000 [Ohio] prisoners work for pennies per day making the food, taking out the trash, mopping the floors. We produce parts for Honda and other multi-nationals at Ohio Penal Industries (OPI), making millions of dollars in profit for the State. If we stopped participating in our own oppression, the State would have to hire workers at union-scale wages to make our food, take out the trash, and mop the floors; slave labor for Honda and others would cease.

Ohio would lose millions of dollars a day in production. The State’s economy would not recover for a decade.

When I made that observation, I didn’t know for certain that I was right. I suspected I was. But more than a year later, prison officials came to get me. My cell was plastered with crime tape. All of the fixtures, including lights, sink, and toilet, were removed and inspected, something that I haven’t seen happen in 20 years of captivity. I was taken to segregation and slated for transfer to super-max.

The reason? My observation in a year-old published interview, that Ohio’s economy would collapse without prison labor. That’s when I knew my observation was right. The enemy confirmed it.

I eventually avoided super-max because friends and supporters made enough noise, but I am now on a Security Threat Group list even though I have never been part of any organization, and my incoming mail is screened.
I share all of this in order to underscore how seriously and irrationally terrified the state is about the possibility of anyone awakening the prisoner population to its own power. The state is hysterically shit-their-pants petrified of an organized prisoner resistance, the way plantation owners feared a slave uprising.

I was subjected to repression in 2008. Since then, the situation for the State has become even more dire. Given austerity cuts and privatization of a few prisons, the guard-to-prisoner ratio has drastically dropped, leading to more disruption in the standard prison operations. On top of that, the Kasich administration’s efforts to bust public workers’ unions, though a failure, has destroyed morale of guards and staff, the majority of whom now only care about collecting their pay checks. With each downturn in the economy, the prison system takes more essential services from prisoners- from medical to food to clothes -and thereby increases hostility and resentment of the prisoner population.

With very little effort, very little money, and a great deal of advanced planning, Ohio’s prison population could be inspired to completely disrupt the operation of the entire prison complex. If such a disruption were to occur, it would cause more than the economic collapse of the State that I already discussed. Such a disruption would ultimately seize from the State the power the power to punish. This would pose more than a simple political problem for the government: in such a scenario, it loses all power to enforce its edicts and impose itself; the government ceases to be the government.

Such a development would be a great benefit to the Occupy Movement. While Occupy directly challenges the crapitalist system, it must be remembered that the global crapitalist Matrix uses governments as factory managers. If you protest private bankers, you get beaten by public cops. Given the recent bail-outs, the public trust is nothing more than a corporate slush-fund. It is nearly impossible in this blackwater-enron out-source era to tell where governments end and corporations begin- and vice-versa.

The prison complex is an essential component to the larger crapitalist Matrix. If an Occupy-prisoner collaboration in Ohio could take the prison system out of the enemy’s control- if the Occupation could expand to the prisons -we can collectively create a prototype for the larger movement to replicate, building momentum that collapses prison complex after prison complex, paralyzing state government after state government, spreading like a computer virus, liberating and de-colonizing the most-essential and intimidating bulwark against freedom the empire relies upon: the prisons.
For those of you who are part of the 99% but don’t really want to identify with this segment of the 99% and object to the possibly causing all of these criminals to go free, I remind you: The most hardened and irremediable criminals, the most ruthless killers and rapists, currently run the Fortune 500; they dictate US foreign policy; they drive cars emblazoned with “To Protect and To Serve”. You serve the agenda of those criminals if you turn your back on these “criminals.” Without us, you’re not the 99%. If my math is right, without us, you’re only about 94%.
This 5% is only waiting for the invitation. You can let your enemy keep his slaves and possibly defeat you over time, or you can liberate his slaves and defeat him quickly. To me, it’s a no-brainer. It’s a matter of actually living up to what you present to be– something your enemy has never done.

We’re still waiting for that invitation.
------
William Noguera

Orange County Superior Court Department 39
Friday, January 29th, 1988 – in open court:

“William Adolf Noguera, it is the judgement and sentence of this court that for the offense of murder, you shall suffer the death penalty. Said penalty to be inflicted within the walls of the State Prison at San Quentin, California in the manner prescribed by law and at a time to be fixed by this Court in a warrant of execution; it is the order of this court that you shall be put to death by the administration of lethal gas. Said penalty to be inflicted within the walls of the State Prison at San Quentin, California. You are remanded to the care, custody and control of the sheriff of Orange County to be by him delivered to the warden of the State Penitentiary at San Quentin, California within 10 days from this date. In witness whereof, i have hereunto set my hand as judge of said Superior Court and have caused the seal of the said Court to be affixed hereto. Done in open Court this 29th day of January, 1988. Signed, Robert R. Fitzgerald, Judge of the Superior Court of the State of California, in and for the County of Orange. Good luck to you, Mr. Noguera.”

That sentence was read to me over a quarter of a century ago and I remember it as if it were yesterday. I remember thinking;

I feel like one,
who treads alone
Some banquet hall deserted
whose lights are fled
whose garlands dead
and all but departed”

I was alone, but something inside of me came to life…at that exact second. Since then, I have become an author and artist whose work has transcended these walls and given me a voice not easily silenced.

For this, I thank each and everyone of you who has come out today and let me know I am not alone and that my voice, even in the middle of a storm, can be heard…

I continue on because of you and because the hearts tally of the griefs I have undergone from childhood upwards, old and new, and now more than ever, for I have never not had some new sorrow, some fresh affliction to fight against…

In Solidarity

William A. Noguera
---
Leonard Peltier Statement
Monday, February 6, 2012

http://lpdoc.blogspot.com/2012/02/06-february-anniversary-message-from.html

06 February Anniversary Message from Leonard Peltier
Greetings to my relations, my friends, and to my many supporters the world over.

It is that time again. Another year has passed, and on February 6th I will be marking 36 years since my arrest. During all this time, my family and allies have discovered just how far the government will go to wrongfully convict and imprison someone they know is innocent. They do this as a message­first to Indians, and further to anyone who might stand up to injustice­as if to say, “We will do as we please”.

From the day of my arrest until now, through you my supporters, I have been honored with many activist and humanitarian awards. I thank you for keeping awareness of me and my case alive. Your commitment has really been a special experience for me.

In addition many celebrities, political figures, and organizations have called for my release, including 55 members of Congress. This last November, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) passed a permanent resolution calling for my release. Well let’s hope its not that permanent. The NCAI has committed to being directly involved with my case so that the message from Washington to Indian people does not remain, “We will do as we please”.

Still, despite all this attention and with all the leaders and people of conscience calling for my release, I have been kept in this iron cage. They have even kept me longer than their own laws say they can. With evidence corroborating that I did not receive a fair trial, with proof of government misconduct, with admissions by government officials that they do not know who killed those two agents that day at the Jumping Bull property, here I sit. “We will do as we please.”

Recently, as many of you know, an act was passed and signed into law that allows for indefinite detention of American citizens without charge or trial. This is perhaps the final straw, the final nail in the coffin of American freedom, the end of habeas corpus and due process. “We will do as we please.”

We Indians said it for generations: If they can kill us indiscriminately, they will do it to anyone. If they can take our land, they will do it to anyone. If they can kidnap our children and take them to prison schools, they will do it to anyone. If they can starve us and lie to us, they will do it to anyone. If they can wrongfully imprison us, they will do it to anyone. Now, sadly, this is another Indian prophecy fulfilled. “We will do as we please.”

Our ancestors and tribal people all over the world prophesized a time of upheaval and great change. I believe that time is fast approaching. I believe a part of this is the government’s ongoing overreach of its authority­until the people rise up and tell Washington, “You will NOT do as you please! We are NOT your slaves! We will NOT be subjugated! We will NOT be ruled by an iron fist! We will NOT allow you to steal our liberty or our justice!”

My friends, my relatives, my supporters­Be a part of this latest, perhaps the last “Indian uprising”. Make your voice heard! Be a part of the brave Movement to come, the Movement that will change the course of human history. Make change and hope and peace and justice a part of your personal legacy. Be the change that you envision and know in your heart must take place.

Do this, and on the day you take your last breath and prepare to meet Creator, you will know your life on this Earth was well spent. Close your eyes knowing you used your breath and energy to Creator’s good purpose. Smile as you cross over knowing you changed the world so that the next seven generations can know a good life. Do these things and know that I am with you. I will embrace you as my relations­in this life or the next.
Mitakuye Oyasin.
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,
Leonard Peltier
-------
Gerardo Hernandez

On behalf of the Cuban 5 we send you our solidarity on this the National Occupy Day in Support of Prisoners. We know first hand about the injustice inherent in the US judicial system. In our case we are serving long sentences for defending our country against terrorist attacks by monitoring groups whose whole existence is to carry out violent acts against Cuba. It is our hope that what you are doing today will bring attention to the plight of those behind bars and help bring about a more humane society that provides jobs, housing, education and opportunity instead of incarceration.
A big embrace to you all
Venceremos!
Gerardo Hernandez
Victorville Penetentiary

http://occupy4prisoners.org/statements-from-people-in-prisons/

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Maine Reduces Use of Solitary Confinement

From: SolitaryWatch:

July 25, 2011
by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella

A new article in The Crime Report describes a “dramatic reduction of solitary confinement” in Maine State Prison. The changes have taken place under the leadership of a new Commissioner of Corrections, Joseph Ponte–and under a Republican governor and state legislature. But as author Lance Tapley points out, the path to reform was paved by a grassroots political movement that last year pressed for legislation to limit the use of solitary confinement in the state’s prisons and jails. While that effort failed, it clearly influenced the subsequent reforms.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Top prison officials fired - This Just In - Portland Phoenix

Top prison officials fired - This Just In - Portland Phoenix

By LANCE TAPLEY | June 15, 2011

In a continuing shakeup at the troubled Maine State Prison, new Corrections commissioner Joseph Ponte has fired six top officials including its controversial security chief, Deputy Warden James O'Farrell. Prisoners, prison critics, and former employees had long complained that O'Farrell handled both inmates and staff callously.

The mass dismissal on June 10 came after a big security breach, the May 24 beating of inmate Lloyd Franklin Millet in the prison woodshop, allegedly at the hands of another inmate. Millet died on June 7 — the latest in a string of violent or suspicious inmate deaths in recent years.

Commissioner Ponte says the dismissals were made to save money and had "nothing to do" with the employees' performance. He had long heard criticism, he says, "that there were too many department wardens and captains." Besides O'Farrell, four guard captains and a training manager at the Warren facility were given pink slips, with two weeks' notice.

Read the rest here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Prisoner Rights Advocates Call for Probe Into Beating Death of Maine Inmate

From: MPBN

06/08/2011 Reported By: Tom Porter

An inmate severely beaten at the Maine State Prison in Warren two weeks ago has died. According to the Department of Corrections, 51-year Lloyd Franklin Millett, who was serving time for two murders, died last night at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Maine State Police are investigating, and prisoner advocacy groups are urging state authorities to do everything they can to bring those responsible to justice. They're also asking for a more thorough investigation of two inmate deaths that occured in 2009.

Read the rest here. Rest in peace.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Maine Cuts Supermax Population, Reforms Solitary Confinement Practices

From SolitaryWatch.com

by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella

As Lance Tapley reported last week, recent developments in Maine demonstrate the difference that reform-minded leadership can make to prison conditions, including the use and abuse of solitary confinement. Even as it has grown exponentially over recent decades, the use of solitary has generally been treated not as a human rights issue but as a matter of correctional policy. As a result, tens of thousands of prisoners have been placed in isolation largely at the behest of prison guards and wardens, with the approval of state departments of protections. Now, Maine’s corrections commissioner is instead using his power to reform state policies and procedures in relation to solitary confinement.

“Less than three months into his job,” Tapley writes in the Portland Phoenix, ”Maine’s new corrections commissioner Joseph Ponte has begun to dramatically reform the Maine State Prison’s long-troubled solitary-confinement ‘supermax’ unit.” Ponte has thus far cut the unit’s population by more than half, from 132 inmates to 60, and “has ordered that an inmate can’t be placed in the supermax for longer than 72 hours without his personal approval.” Ponte also issued new rules that have stopped “brutal ‘cell extractions’ by guards of uncooperative inmates” (a practice that was widely exposed by Tapley’s reporting and leaked prison videos several years ago). ”Extractions normally end with inmates strapped into a restraint chair. There were 54 extractions in 2010 and 74 in 2009, the Department of Corrections says, and before publicity about them in recent years the annual number was in the hundreds.” The article continues:

Read the rest here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Worst of the Worst: Supermax Torture in America

SolitaryWatch published an article mentioning this article:
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2010
By Lance Tapley
Boston Review
For photo and video, please go to the original article.
Mike James, photographed by Lance Tapley.

“They beat the shit out of you,” Mike James said, hunched near the smeared plexiglass separating us. He was talking about the cell “extractions” he’d endured at the hands of the supermax-unit guards at the Maine State Prison.

“They push you, knee you, poke you,” he said, his voice faint but ardent through the speaker. “They slam your head against the wall and drop you on the floor while you’re cuffed.” He lifted his manacled hands to a scar on his chin. “They split it wide open. They’re yelling ‘Stop resisting! Stop resisting!’ when you’re not even moving.”

When you meet Mike James you notice first his deep-set eyes and the many scars on his shaved head, including a deep, horizontal gash. He got that by scraping his head on the cell door slot, which guards use to pass in food trays.

WARNING: This video may disturb some viewers.

This video, leaked to Lance Tapley, shows a cell extraction at the super-maximum security unit of the Maine State Prison in Warren. Each such extraction is videotaped by guards to prove that mistreatment does not occur. The mentally ill prisoner is maced while he is forcibly moved from his cell, denuded, and placed in a restraint chair.

“They were messing with me,” he explained, referring to the guards who taunted him. “I couldn’t stand it no more.” He added, “I’ve knocked myself out by running full force into the wall.”

James, who is in his twenties, has been beaten all his life, first by family members: “I was punched, kicked, slapped, bitten, thrown against the wall.” He began seeing mental-health workers at four and taking psychiatric medication at seven. He said he was bipolar and had many other disorders. When a doctor took him off his meds at age eighteen, he got into “selling drugs, robbing people, fighting, burglaries.” He received a twelve-year sentence for robbery. Of the four years James had been in prison when I met him, he had spent all but five months in solitary confinement. The isolation is “mental torture, even for people who are able to control themselves,” he said. It included periods alone in a cell “with no blankets, no clothes, butt-naked, mace covering me.” Everything James told me was confirmed by other inmates and prison employees.

James’s story illustrates an irony in the negative reaction of many Americans to the mistreatment of “war on terrorism” prisoners at Guantánamo. To little public outcry, tens of thousands of American citizens are being held in equivalent or worse conditions in this country’s super-harsh, super-maximum security, solitary-confinement prisons, or in comparable units of traditional prisons. The Obama administration— somewhat unsteadily—plans to shut down the Guantánamo detention center and ship its inmates to one or more supermaxes in the United States, as though this would mark a substantive change. In the supermaxes inmates suffer weeks, months, years, or even decades of mind-destroying isolation, usually without meaningful recourse to challenge the conditions of their captivity. Prisoners may be regularly beaten in cell extractions, and they receive meager health services. The isolation frequently leads to insane behavior including self-injury and suicide attempts.

In 2004, state-run supermaxes in 44 states held about 25,000 people, according to Daniel Mears, a Florida State University criminologist who has done the most careful count. Mears told me his number was conservative. In addition the federal system has a big supermax in Colorado, ADX Florence, and a total of about 11,000 inmates in solitary in all its lockups, according to the Bureau of Prisons. Some researchers peg the state and federal supermax total as high as a hundred thousand; their studies sometimes include more broadly defined “control units”—for example, those in which men spend all day in a cell with another prisoner. (Nationally, 91 percent of prison and jail inmates are men, so overwhelmingly men fill the supermaxes. Women also are kept in supermax conditions, but apparently no one has estimated how many.) Then there are the county and city jails, the most sizable of which have large solitary-confinement sections. Although the roughness in what prisoners call “the hole” varies from prison to prison and jail to jail, isolation is the overwhelming, defining punishment in this vast network of what critics have begun to call mass torture.

James experienced frequent cell extractions—on one occasion, five of them in a single day. In this procedure, five hollering guards wearing helmets and body armor charge into the cell. The point man smashes a big shield into the prisoner. The others spray mace into his face, push him onto the bed, and twist his arms behind his back to handcuff him, connecting the cuffs by a chain to leg irons. As they continue to mace him, the guards carry him screaming to an observation room, where they bind him to a special chair. He remains there for hours.

A scene such as this might have taken place at supposedly aberrant Abu Ghraib, where American soldiers tormented captured Iraqis. But as described by prisoners and guards and vividly revealed in a leaked video (the Maine prison records these events to ensure that inmates are not mistreated), an extraction is the supermax’s normal, zero-tolerance reaction to prisoner disobedience, which may be as minor as protesting bad food by covering the cell door’s tiny window with a piece of paper. Such extractions occur all the time, not just in Maine but throughout the country. The principle applied is total control of a prisoner’s actions. Even if the inmate has no history of violence, when he leaves the cell he’s in handcuffs and ankle shackles, with a guard on either side.

Despite a judge’s order, officials refused to send Mike James to the hospital, arguing he had to serve his full sentence first.

But he doesn’t often leave the cell. In Maine’s supermax, which is typical, an inmate spends 23 hours a day alone in a 6.5-by-14-foot space. When the weather is good, he’ll spend an hour a day, five days a week, usually alone, in a small dog run outdoors. Radios and TVs are forbidden. Cell lights are on night and day. When the cold food is shoved through the door slot, prisoners fear it is contaminated by the feces, urine, and blood splattered on the cell door and corridor surfaces by the many mentally ill or enraged inmates. The prisoner is not allowed a toothbrush but is provided a plastic nub to use on a fingertip. Mental-health care usually amounts to a five-minute, through-the-steel-door conversation with a social worker once or twice a week. The prisoner gets a shower a few times a week, a brief telephone call every week or two, and occasional “no-contact” access to a visitor. Variations in these conditions exist: for example, in some states TVs or radios are allowed.

When supermaxes were built across the country in the 1980s and 1990s, they were theoretically for “the worst of the worst,” the most violent prisoners. But an inmate may be put in one for possession of contraband such as marijuana, if accused by another inmate of being a gang member, for hesitating to follow a guard’s order, and even for protection from other inmates. Several prisoners are in the Maine supermax because they got themselves tattooed. By many accounts mental illness is the most common denominator; mentally ill inmates have a hard time following prison rules. A Wisconsin study found that three-quarters of the prisoners in one solitary-confinement unit were mentally ill. In Maine, over half of supermax inmates are classified as having a serious mental illness.

Prison officials have extraordinary discretion in extending the stay of supermax inmates. Their decisions hit the mentally ill the hardest. Administrators can add time as a disciplinary measure, and often they will charge prisoners with criminal offenses that can add years to their sentences.

In 2007 James was tried on ten assault charges for biting and kicking guards and throwing feces at them. Most were felony charges, and if convicted he could have served decades more in prison. Inmates almost never beat such charges, but James’s court-appointed lawyer, Joseph Steinberger, a scrappy ex-New Yorker, succeeded with a defense rare in cases of Maine prisoners accused of crimes: he convinced a jury in Rockland, the nearby county seat, to find James “not criminally responsible” by reason of insanity. Steinberger thought the verdict was a landmark because it called into question the state’s standard practice of keeping mentally ill individuals in isolation and then punishing them with yet more isolation when their conditions worsen. After the verdict, as the law required, the judge committed James to a state mental hospital.

But prison officials and the state attorney general’s office saw the verdict as another kind of landmark: never before in Maine had a convict been committed to the mental hospital after being tried for assault on guards. In the view of the corrections establishment, James would be escaping his deserved punishment, and this would send the wrong signal to prisoners. Officials refused to send him to the hospital, arguing he first had to serve the remaining nine years of his sentence.

Steinberger wrote to Maine’s governor—John Baldacci, a Democrat—begging him to intervene and send James to the hospital:

He continually slits open his arms and legs with chips of paint and concrete, smears himself and his cell with feces, strangles himself to unconsciousness with his clothing. . . . He also bites, hits, kicks, spits at, and throws urine and feces on his guards.

This behavior was never in dispute, but the governor declined to intervene.

After a year of court battles, Steinberger finally succeeded in getting James into the hospital, though the judge conceded to the Department of Corrections that his time there would not count against his sentence. So James faces nine years in prison after however long it takes to bring him to a sane mental state.

Can supermax treatment legitimately be called torture? The most widely accepted legal definition of torture is in the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment—a treaty to which the United States is party, and is therefore U.S. law. In this definition, torture is treatment that causes “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental,” when it is inflicted by officials for purposes of punishment or coercion.

Severe pain and suffering as punishment are plainly the norm in supermaxes, and prison officials use isolation to coerce inmates into ratting on each other or confessing to crimes committed in prison. (A Maine prisoner told me about a deputy warden who threw him in the most brutal cellblock of the supermax and repeatedly interrogated him about an escape plot, which he denied any knowledge of.) Even in the careful words of diplomacy, and even when only mental suffering is considered, supermax conditions, especially solitary confinement of American prisoners for extended periods, have increasingly been described by UN agencies and non-governmental human rights organizations as cruel, inhuman, degrading, verging on torture, or outright torture. In 2008 the UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, recommended that solitary confinement “be kept to a minimum, used in very exceptional cases, for as short a time as possible, and only as a last resort”—limits that U.S. supermaxes violate in the course of normal operation. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which has been active in opposing abuses at Guantánamo, recently began describing supermax conditions as torture. And American judges have recognized solitary confinement of the mentally ill as equivalent to torture. A key case is the 1995 federal court ruling in Madrid v. Gomez that forbade keeping mentally ill prisoners in the notorious Security Housing Unit of California’s Pelican Bay State Prison.

This American system of administrative punishment has no counterpart in scale or severity.

Solitary confinement is by far the worst torture in the supermax. Human minds fare poorly in isolation, which “often results in severe exacerbation of a previously existing mental condition or in the appearance of a mental illness where none had been observed before,” Stuart Grassian, a Boston psychiatrist and authority on solitary confinement, writes in a brief for the Madrid case. Grassian believes supermaxes produce a syndrome characterized by “agitation, self-destructive behavior, and overt psychotic disorganization.” He also notes memory lapses, “primitive aggressive fantasies,” paranoia, and hallucinations.

Grassian’s is the consensus view among scholars concerned with solitary confinement. Peter Scharff Smith of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, who has surveyed in depth the literature concerning solitary confinement, writes, “Research on effects of solitary confinement has produced a massive body of data documenting serious adverse health effects.” Those effects may start within a few days, involve as many as three-quarters of supermax inmates, and often become permanent. Another expert on supermax confinement, psychiatrist Terry Kupers, writes, “being held in isolated confinement for longer than three months causes lasting emotional damage if not full-blown psychosis and functional disability.”

Video still of a cell extraction in progress.

The throwing of feces, urine, and blood at guards; self-injury; and suicide attempts are common. A 2009 investigation of Illinois’s Tamms supermax by the Belleville News-Democrat depicted Faygie Fields, a schizophrenic imprisoned for killing a man in a drug deal. Fields regularly cut his arms and throat with glass and metal, swallowed glass, and smeared feces all over his cell. The prison reaction to this kind of behavior was predictable:

Prison officials charged him $5.30 for tearing up a state-owned sheet to make a noose to kill himself. . . . If he hadn’t been charged with crimes in prison, Fields could have been paroled in 2004 after serving 20 years of a 40-year sentence. But Fields must serve all the extra time for throwing food, urine and committing other offenses against guards. That amounts to 34 years, or 54 years total, that he must serve before becoming eligible for parole in 2038, at age 79.

This American system of administrative punishment—except in extremely rare cases, prison staff, not judges, decide who goes into the hole—has no counterpart in scale or severity. There are solitary-confinement cells in other countries’ prisons and the odd, small supermax, such as the Vught prison in the Netherlands, but they are few. When Corey Weinstein, a San Francisco physician, toured prisons in the United Kingdom in 2004 on behalf of the American Public Health Association, he was shown “eight of the forty men out of 75,000 [in England and Wales] considered too dangerous or disruptive to be in any other facility.” Seven of the eight

were out of their cells at exercise or at a computer or with a counselor or teacher. . . . With embarrassment the host took us to the one cell holding the single individual who had to be continuously locked down.

The British and other Europeans did use solitary confinement starting in the mid-nineteenth century, taking as models the American penitentiaries that had invented mass isolation in the 1820s. But Europe largely gave it up later in the century because, rather than becoming penitent, prisoners went insane. A shocked Charles Dickens, after visiting a Pennsylvania prison in 1842, called solitary confinement “immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.” Americans gave it up, too, in the late 1800s, only to resurrect it a century later.

Officially called the Special Management Unit or SMU, Maine’s supermax opened in 1992, hidden in the woods of the pretty coastal village of Warren. Ten years later the new, maximum-security Maine State Prison was built around it. Literally and metaphorically, the supermax’s 132 cells are the core of the stark, low, 925-inmate complex with its radiating “pods.” Maine’s crime and incarceration rates are among the lowest in the country, but its supermax is as brutal as any. After allegations of beatings by guards and of deliberately withheld medical care, the state police are currently investigating two inmate deaths in the SMU. Grassian has told a legislative committee that Maine’s supermax treats its inmates worse than its peers in many states.

Still, supermaxes are more alike than different. As America’s prisoner population exploded—the U.S. incarceration rate now is nearly four times what it was in 1980, more than five times the world average, and the highest in the world—overcrowding tossed urban state prisons into turmoil. The federal system provided a model for dealing with the tumult: in 1983 mayhem in the federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, resulted in a permanent lockdown and, effectively, the first supermax. “No evidence exists that states undertook any rigorous assessment of need,” Mears, the Florida State criminologist, writes of supermax proliferation, but the states still decided they would segregate whomever they deemed the most troublesome inmates. Maine’s supermax is a case in point, constructed in the absence of prisoner unrest. George Keiser, a veteran prisons official who works for the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Corrections, puts it bluntly: supermaxes became “a fad.”

An expensive fad. American supermax buildings are so high-tech and the management of their prisoners is so labor-intensive that the facilities “typically are two to three times more costly to build and operate than other types of prisons,” Mears writes. Yet, according to Keiser, tax money poured into supermax construction because these harsh prisons were “the animal of public-policy makers.” The beast was fed by politicians capitalizing on public fears of crime incited by increasing news-media sensationalism.

‘This place breeds hate,’ one inmate said, ‘What they’re doing obviously isn’t working.’

There was no significant opposition to the supermaxes, even when it became clear that the mentally ill would be housed there. Legislatively mandated deinstitutionalization meant patients were thrown onto the streets without enough community care, and eventually many wound up in jails and prisons. Also, “for a time,” Keiser said, “there was a thought that nothing worked” to rehabilitate prisoners. With conservative scholars such as James Q. Wilson leading the way in the 1970s, “corrections” was essentially abandoned.

The supermax experiment has not been a success.

Norman Kehling—small, balding, middle-aged—is serving 40 years in the Maine State Prison for an arson in which, he told me, no one was hurt. When I interviewed him, he was in the supermax for trafficking heroin within the prison. I asked him about the mentally ill men there. “One guy cut his testicle out of his sack,” he reported, shaking his head. “They shouldn’t be here.” He added, “This place breeds hate. What they’re doing obviously isn’t working.”

Wardens continue to justify supermaxes by claiming they decrease prison violence, but a study published in The Prison Journal in 2008 finds “no empirical evidence to support the notion that supermax prisons are effective” in meeting this goal. And when enraged and mentally damaged inmates rejoin the general prison population or the outside world, as the vast majority do, the result, according to psychiatrist Kupers, is “a new population of prisoners who, on account of lengthy stints in isolation units, are not well prepared to return to a social milieu.” In the worst cases, supermax alumni—frequently released from solitary confinement directly onto the street—“may be time bombs waiting to explode,” criminologist Hans Toch writes.

The bombs are already going off. In July of 2007 Michael Woodbury, then 31, walked into a New Hampshire store and, in a botched robbery, shot and killed three men. He had just completed a five-year stint at the Maine State Prison for robbery and theft and had done much of his time in the supermax. When he was being taken to court he told reporters, “I reached out and told them I need medication. I reached out and told them I shouldn’t be out in society. I told numerous cops, numerous guards.” While in prison, he said, he had given a four-page “manifesto” to a prison mental-health worker saying he “was going to crack like this.” Woodbury pleaded guilty and received a life sentence. Unsurprisingly, a Washington state study shows a high degree of recidivism among inmates released directly to the community from the supermax.

Summing up the major pragamatic arguments, Sharon Shalev of the London School of Economics and author of a recent prizewinning book, Supermax: Controlling Risk Through Solitary Confinement, says, “Supermax prisons are expensive, ineffective, and they drive people mad.”

So what can be done?

Legally, solitary confinement is not likely to be considered torture anytime soon. According to legal scholar Jules Lobel, when the Senate ratified the Convention Against Torture, it qualified its approval so much that under the U.S. interpretation “the placement of even mentally ill prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement would not constitute torture even if the mental pain caused thereby drove the prisoner to commit suicide.” And despite the Constitution’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment,” courts have refused to see supermax confinement per se as unconstitutional. Lawsuits on behalf of the mentally ill have had more success. In New York a suit brought about the creation of a residential mental-health unit for prisoners, with another on the way, plus more time out of the cell for the mentally ill. Still, fifteen years after Madrid v. Gomez, court-ordered reform has been infrequent and its implementation contested.

Read the rest here.

This article is adapted from The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse, forthcoming from New York University Press, and based on five years of reporting for the Portland Phoenix.