For Skip Martin
Listen up America. The United States government rejects the basic economic and social rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Rejects them because they are deemed incompatible with the property rights and profits of the ruling class. Nor does the U.S. endorse the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Such rights are deemed incompatible with the Amerikan way of executing children, imprisoning them under horrific conditions, and working them in sweatshops and corporate farms.
It's long been said that the degree of civilization in a society can be seen by entering its prisons. Or by the way it treats its children. Or both. In both are found nightmares of cruelty and excess. In 1994 there were 3.1 million reports of child abuse and neglect in the U.S. Reported cases. One million were substantiated. 1,300 child abuse victims died in 1994. Between 1987-1995 approximately 700 New York City children died as a result of abuse and neglect. Between 1992-1994, 33 children were killed in child abuse incidents in New Jersey -- 29 of them under the age of five. All were under the jurisdiction of the state's child welfare agency at the time. These statistics represent battered, beaten, sexually assaulted, abandoned and murdered children-- often victimized over an extended period. Currently almost half the states are under court order or consent decree after failing to adequately protect children. They are consumer societies throw-away kids. From cradle to poverty; cradle to prison; cradle to grave.
The 90's brought us the deepest cuts ever in aid to families with dependent children and other health and welfare programs that primarily benefitted children. The same politicians that axed food, clothing and shelter also brought us the current stampede in prison construction. By 1998 these politicians began demanding laws that would enable the state to execute 11 year olds and put 12 year olds in adult prisons. Simultaneously, the inhumane treatment of children created a brief blip on the media radar screen.
Department of Justice and independent investigations revealed that "juvenile prisons" in Georgia, Louisiana and Kentucky harbored a long running pattern of guard brutality, medical neglect and abysmal conditions that shocked the conscience. Children and youngsters between the age of 11 and 17 routinely had/have their jaws, noses, cheeks and eye sockets fractured. Their eardrums are perforated. They're sexually abused, left naked for days on concrete floors, doused with chemical agents/pepper spray, locked in solitary, denied reading materials and educational programs--- ad nauseam. Children with "mental problems" were signaled out for particularly brutal treatment. The New York Times reported that in one year (1994), 11,000 juvenile prisoners attempted suicide and 1,000 committed acts of self-mutilation. In the Georgia and Louisiana run facilities, three-quarters of the youngsters are incarcerated for non-violent offenses (contrary to the image cast by mass media and politicians). Some of them are incarcerated for "status offenses" which violate no criminal law (e.g. running away, truancy, etc.). This degree of civilization is found in government operated and private (for profit) prisons.
The youngsters in these houses of pain-- be they prisons, tenement buildings, mean streets or exploited labor pools-- are the future occupants of Administrative Maximum (ADX-Florence, CO), Angola (LA) and Reidsville (GA) maximum security prisons. The gaping hole of the American Gulag awaits the survivors of abuse and neglect, of poverty and racism, who have the temerity to respond to their situation in an anti-social manner. But to get here from there they'll first get to your mama Or wallet.
"I will hold the candle, til it burns down my arm, I'll keep taking
punches until their will grows tired, I will watch the sundown until my
eyes go blind, oh I will make my way through one more day."
I've been locked in ADX for 3 * years. When I awake each morning it still feels like I'm being slapped in the face, only harder. It's not all of me you see in these words-- the rest are indictable as thought crimes against the state. My time in ADX was preceded by more than 5 years of lockdown at Marion penitentiary, which was preceded by 5 years of high security units.
In February, 1996 I first wrote about ADX from STEP 1-- the box car cells. Physical and emotion isolation, separation policies, use of restraints, the attack on one's senses that slowly corrodes, eating away at life and humanity. ("Trouble Coming Every Day: ADX-The First Year"). Predictably, the situation has deteriorated throughout ADX's 4-step obstacle course.
I'm still picking up birdshot from the last time guards cut loose during a confrontation. Violent confrontations between prisoners have steadily increased thru each year. It's the nature of the ADX beast to inflame, antagonize, confuse and generate animosity. Add the exploitable issue of racism and you have a prescription for continual turmoil and hostility. Administrators and guards are master manipulators in an environment where they have paramount control of cell/unit assignments, recreation schedules, inmate files, food, sick call, mail, etc. The prevailing product line is hate. Hatred of the police; hatred of other prisoners; self-hatred. It's got payback tagged all over it.
For all the infighting within walls of repression and shadows of despair there are also positive signs that ADX will also graduate those whose anger and consciousness is sharpened to a razor's edge. Those who take their own training and studies seriously. Those who reject the criminal mentality in favor of a more radical, politically oriented agenda which will be brought to other joints and eventually back home.
The largest representative group of prisoners at ADX is not the 3 or 4 high profile cases focused on by the media. It's those predominantly Black, predominantly young, predominantly poor brothers dragooned to ADX following the October 1995 "crack riots" -- the most widespread uprising in federal prison history. They are here for acts of resistance against a fundamentally unfair, repressive and racist criminal justice system-- as reflected in part by the "crack laws". Their actions also underscore time/sentencing as a major issue, and not just conditions. Their potential to ignite further resistance was immediately acted upon by the BOP-- hence, disciplinary charges and transfers to ADX/Marion. In some cases criminal convictions were obtained. I've seen no evidence that any outside organizations provided support to these prisoners, therefore most remain politically as well as physically isolated.
The largest organized gang in ADX is the guards and their honchos in the administration. They are manipulative, abusive and violent (among other incidents they formed goon squads to assault prisoners brought in from the "crack riots"). For those special moments they have an operations group (SORT) which specializes in the use of force. With a nod from the administration they strut around here in a provocative manner wearing T-shirts (purchased with a generous government clothing allowance) proclaiming: "The Final Choice" (with a drawing depicting a good squad charging a cell); "The Legacy Continues- Alcatraz, Marion, ADX"; and "ADX-ALCATRAZ OF THE ROCKIES". They embrace a sordid history of human rights abuses.
The essence of ADX is amplified in the segregation unit. The place is a madhouse. When I was there the guards had organized themselves into an assault squad and during one 30 day period they attacked several handcuffed prisoners. One prisoner was placed in 4-point restraints (metal rings on all seg bunks allow for this). If they think you're acting up in seg they strip you down to issue-- a jumpsuit, underwear change, canvas slippers and minimum hygiene supplies. You can't even keep the letters you receive. Mental instability and extreme frustration manifest themselves through continual screaming and relentless banging on anything that will produce noise, while others silently withdraw to the shadows within themselves, only to appear during the mandatory 14 day cell changes (a cell change every 14 days being simply another method of harassment).
In STEP 1 I was with 3 men who are now dead. Regarding the death of Skip Martin, ADX was negligent and deliberately indifferent to his medical needs. As his pain increased Skip put together a trail of documentation which shows how ADX let a small, cancerous tumor on his leg go untreated. When it got to the size of a softball they were giving him anti-inflammation pills and repeatedly telling him they'd send him to Springfield for treatment. They lied, delayed and by the time he got to Springfield he was down to his last 2 months of life. There have been deaths and suicides reported from other units but because of the vast separation I've been unable to look into the circumstances.
Mass media continue to depict prisoners as demons and ADX as holding "the worst of the worst". They define the parameters within which issues of crime and punishment are presented to the public. They create language and definitions. A kid steals a TV and winds up in a Louisiana juvenile prison getting his head and anus ripped apart-- the owner of the TV is a victim while the kid is a perpetrator and criminal. If that isn't skewered enough we're steadily propagandized to idolize the corruption and criminality of the wealthy and powerful. We're supposed to pay profound respects to a serial killer like Ronald Reagan, a.k.a. the butcher of Central America. So says NBC, owned by General Electric-- those corporate criminals who supplied the heavy machine guns and other weaponry to a Salvadoran government that used them to murder its own people. Too far afield? I don't think crimes against humanity are ever too far afield from a discussion of crime and punishment-- particularly when Reagan kicked off a deluge of prison construction and NBC/General Electric grants itself immunity in its bottom only view of crime.
That's not enough for ADX. In the past year they've targeted many alternative publications for suppression. (E.g. Prison Legal News, North Coast Xpress-- even the PEN Writing Awards for Prisoners). I've dozens of publication rejection notices from the ADX mailroom. What these publications have in common is-- articles by/about political prisoners and/or articles critical of the Bureau of Prisons/Department of Corrections. The ADX has a real concern that politically conscious and informed prisoners are not easily manipulated. Concerned enough to keep copies of some of my published articles in my BOP file (a fact I discovered thru the Freedom of Information Act). The articles are critical of BOP policies.
As a hate and misery generating facility ADX can claim success. It produces both in abundance. Yet neither the lockdown at Marion or ADX were able to prevent the uprisings that rocked the federal prison system in 1995. They've not prevented acts of sabotage or the spread of radical ideas. They've not prevented guards from being killed, nor prisoners. What I have seen them do is damage the minds of individuals whose constitution, personality or burden of other problems makes them especially vulnerable to the negative effects of prolonged isolation. ADX is relatively new with only a few dozen prisoners having been released or transferred. Several were indicted for armed robbery or homicide. Another was picked up for generic parole violations. The BOP is afraid to take responsibility for its own handiwork. When an ADX prisoner is within a few months of his release date he's quietly transferred to another prison so-- technically-- he doesn't hit the street directly from ADX. It's a bureaucratic bait and switch which spins the myth that "no one hits the street from ADX". From what I've seen of Marion and ADX, the former convicts hit the street running hard.
I'm another kind of example. During 1970-1971 I was in the infamous locked down prison at Brushy Mountain (Tennessee) where the razor strap reinforced a punishing existence of isolation and idleness. Brushy was a prison that drove men mad-- half the convict population according to an investigative piece broadcast by a Knoxville TV station. Two years after that piece ran Brushy exploded in riot and blood that shut the joint down. Three years after it ran I was involved in what the government refers to as "a revolutionary anti- imperialist organization created and established for the purpose of engaging in and conducting armed attacks on military, police and government installations." I went to Vietnam as a working class stiff and returned a radical. I entered prison a radical and exited a revolutionary. War and prison can have that kind of effect.
"Dem leave sorrow, tears and blood, dem regular trademark."
STEPS 2 thru 4 of ADX's insidious, insulting program came with incremental privileges-- bandaids after enduring the suffocating boxcar cells of STEP 1. Going from STEP 1 to 2 I was removed from the boxcars and for the first time in 8 years allowed to eat outside a cell with a small number of other prisoners. From STEP 2 to 3 I was allowed to walk the 50 feet from cell to recreation area without handcuffs on or a club wielding guard at my back. From STEP 3 to 4 I was immediately impressed by the fact that I ate better. Food, I've noted, is used as a tool of compliance. The most distinguishing feature of STEP 4 is being coerced into the "privilege" of working for 46 cents an hour.
The traffickers in bodies operate an ADXsweatshop with enslaved labor. It's very existence violates the UN StandardMinimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, and International Labor Organization Conventions. Federal Prison Industries generated over $500,000,000 (1/2 bil.) in sales last year with only a pittance trickling down to prisoners. Yet if we so much as utter "union", circulate a petition, call a grievance meeting or strike-- it's a straight shot back to the boxcar cells. We have few rights our overseers are bound to respect.
Another reason for the work program is to create a favorable impression on the congressional oversight and appropriations committees that pour money down this sinkhole. No one here-- including the guards-- sees it as anything more than a scam that provides the requisite look on official documents. In some ways it's not unlike jobs we've had on the street-- punch the clock and go through the necessary motions while pursuing a separate agenda.
The intellectual architects of ADX and its operations should be indicted for gross fraud. Such prisons-- proliferating across the country-- are the biggest con on the public since a money hungry hustler devised the pyramid scheme. Fears are jacked up way out of proportion to the danger represented by "street" crime. General Electric-- the largest toxic polluter in the U.S.-- represents a far greater threat to public health than all the burglars from coast to coast. Fear of Blacks, Mexicans, poor people, immigrants, youth-- even fear of prisoners in prison-- is all inflamed. Expectations and hopes are manipulated. False diversions are created as real economic and social problems go unresolved. Statistics go any which way some opportunist politician or think tank wants to take them. The public gets worse than nothing in return. They get the chickens that come home to roost.
Playwright Bertolt Brecht tells the following parable:
"A man living alone answers a knock at the door. When he opens it, he sees in the doorway the powerful body, the cruel face of the Tyrant. The Tyrant asks, "will you submit?" The man does not reply. He steps aside. The Tyrant enters and establishes himself in the man's house. The man serves him for years. Then the Tyrant becomes sick from food poisoning. He dies. The man wraps the body, opens the door, gets rid of the body, comes back to his house, closes the door behind him, and says, firmly, "NO."
There's a cost to being enslaved, and there's a cost to be the boss. There's also a cost for indifference. The primary aim of prisons like ADX-- and those childrens prisons in Georgia and Louisiana-- is to crush the human spirit. It's the logic of corrections that an incapacitated prisoner is not a management problem. The fundamental flow of that logic was exposed when 2 guards were killed in Marion's control unit. The response of the BOP? They brought in a mob of guards from other prisons who beat down Marion prisoners from cell to cell and subjected them to anal probes. What goes thru the mind of a man who was sexually or physically abused as a child and then finds himself chained and shackled with a guard's fingers forced up his rectum? The logic of incapacitation and submission is for the prisoners to withhold their violence and anti-social behavior for the streets. We see in these prisons a reflection of society's degeneration into the heart of darkness, with its moral guagmire and civil strife rooted in classism and racism.
The gap between rich and poor-- the widest of all industrialized countries-- is being filled with penitentiaries.
Incapacitating prisoners for the short or long term makes it far more difficult for them to hold jobs, advance their educations and raise families upon their release. But being damaged and debased does not make it harder to kill, assault and rob.
Whether you spin the statistics up or down, Amerika is a violent country. It's history is rife with bloodshed. The government demonstrates a propensity for extreme violence. People at the bottom of society too often try to mimic the values of those responsible for their oppression. Americans are noted for their lack of political consciousness and short attention span. They've bought into the prison system (sometimes literally) with the same mindset they buy sweatshop shoes and clothing. Changing this mindset is the major challenge facing community activists.
And it is a major challenge. About 3 decades ago as an organizer with Vietnam Veterans Against the War, I encountered a startling realization-- most Americans didn't care about a million and a half Vietnamese people dead from a hailstorm of U.S. bombs and bullets. The overwhelming majority of these deaths-- civilians. Americans didn't seriously perk up to U.S. military casualties until the draft was expanded. What then caught their attention was body bags and broken bodies finding their way to suburbia with alarming frequency. Likewise the financial and social costs of the war wasn't much of an issue until taxes were raised, domestic programs scrapped or under funded, and polarization drove a deeper wedge between people.
We're headed down that same road with the casualties of the so-called wars on crime and drugs, criminalization of poverty, and blatant racism which dictates a Black male has a greater than 1 in 4 chance of going to prison in his lifetime. The path of more wasted lives and misspent funds: of false promises and malevolent recidivism.
The masters of this war label us the "worst of the worst". But historically such labels have always been used by the privileged to characterize those who buck the system. Native American warriors, resisters of slavery, immigrants, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, rebellious youth, militant activists, communists.... They labeled the Vietnamese as "gooks", "dinks" and "slopes"....... They use language like a strip search and parade us naked down the street of public misperceptions. It's a problem but I'd be more concerned if they were saying good things about us.
During the height of the anti-apartheid struggle the African National Congress issued a call to the People! Make apartheid unworkable. With considerable commitment and sacrifice they did precisely that. We have the potential power within us to make the entire Amerikan gulag unworkable as an instrument of class and racist oppression. The system can't operate without the participation and compliance of prisoners. It can't function without public mandate and funds. Although that dawn is still beyond our reach, we can make great strides by working to increase awareness of our common struggle and develop an unbreakable solidarity.
1) Families and friends of prisoners hold the key to building a larger,
more expansive movement with deeper roots. As Black and Latino people are
more disproportionately and negatively effected by prisons, they need be
a larger part of the resistance. The BOP/DOC's have considerable success
recruiting guards among Blacks, Latinos and women. That we're not even
close to matching their numbers is a fundamental weakness that need be
2) There's been positive movement in the development of organization and networks focusing on killer cops and police brutality. There is common cause here that should lead to a common bond and working relationship.
3) Any organization that is actively anti-racist should also be active in a prison movement.
4) Organized labor should provide proactive support to prison workers. They should be with us, not against us. Support must go well beyond the AFL-CIO's present program on prison labor to cover issues such as prisoners unions, minimum wage, health and safety standards, grievance procedures, social security, etc.
5) There are important international agreements such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN Standard Minimum Rules For the Treatment of Prisoners, International Labor Organization conventions and others that offer an additional tool to forge working relationships with others fighting for social and economic justice throughout the world.
6) Educate to Liberate. Free books and literature to prisoners forms a gateway to greater literacy and understanding and increased political consciousness. It builds bridges between outside and in. Please help to supply prisoners with such materials or provide funds to programs that do (e.g. Left Bank Books and Redbook)
7) There are many prisoners needing and deserving support. Some- like MumiaAbu Jamal and Leonard Peltier- are relatively well known. I would like to draw your attention to 2 cases that are not hardly known at all and are in dire need of help:
A) The Lucasville Five (Lucasville Five Bulletin, POB 1591, Marion, Ohio 44301-1591).
B) Khalfani Khaldun (s/n Leonard McQuay) (Khalfani Defense Fund, Attn: Sonora McQuay, POB 1513, Gary, Indiana 46402). These brothers stood firm for prisoners rights, now they face execution.
Whatever it takes, for as long as it takes
Ray Luc Levasseur
Ray Luc Levasseur, 10376-016, PO Box 150160, USP Atlanta, Atlanta, GA 30315