For Kini Seawright, and all the other women who bury a loved one due to police or prison violence...

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Incarceration is Violence: snapshots from ASPC-EYMAN/Meadows.

I recently took AZ DOC Director Chuck Ryan to task about sending the sex offenders to Red Rock to decrease the over-crowding on those units before the other medium security yards where race riots are breaking out, simply because I so seldom hear about violence coming out of places like ASPC-EYMAN/Meadows. I also accused him of making a big deal of "routine" staff assaults of late in order to justify continuing to build his totally unnecessary $50 million Supermax prison at Lewis complex. I stand corrected, now, sorry to say, in light of what has recently happened. Besides, no assault is "routine" to the person who is the victim of one. I know, having survived quite a bit of violence in my life myself.

I've been hearing from employees and former employees of the AZ DOC in the wake of the sexual assault of a teacher on the Meadows unit at ASPC-Eyman this week- they are livid. There's some contention over what "fully-staffed" means. Some officers seem to feel as if not only is Meadows under-staffed, this teacher never should have ended up alone in a room with these particular prisoners. Meadows is the unit designated for housing about 1100 medium security sex offenders, about 330 of whom appear to be in "temporary" beds. That means the yard is a bit full. 

The opening of Red Rock didn't help relieve pressure on staff and prisoners at Meadows much, unfortunately, though I don't know how directly that would have impacted this situation with the teacher's assault. It appears they moved prisoners from Cook to Red Rock first, as that was the most over-crowded yard. Meadows should be next, I would think.

In any case, my apoligies if I have seemed to minimize staff assaults. No one's safety in prison is more or less important than another's by virtue of whether they wear orange, brown, or civies. The assault rate on staff appears to have been decreasing at the same time it's actually increasing among prisoners, nevertheless the staff are still so upset about the way the DOC has failed to address their safety concerns that one of the officers' unions, the Arizona Corrections Association, has dragged Judicial Watch into it - they're demanding records for an investigation. 

What I hear most from the sex offender yards, actually, is not how vicious the other prisoners are or how violent the gangs are (they really don't seem to run the SO yards), but how cruel some of the officers are.  Here's an excerpt from a man who was homeless, mentally ill, and an easy target for police when arrested and prosecuted for the rape and murder of an 88-year old woman over a decade ago. Even the Arizona Justice Project tried to get the DNA evidence re-examined because they believe he was wrongfully-convicted, for some reason the judge wouldn't allow it. 

" i have been There hrassed and ThreaTed by STaff and inmaTes asaltied  by STaff and ThreaTing black and blue marks on my arm For 30 Days and  For whaT because I senT in a inmaTe LeTTer or a grievance on STaff or  a inmaTe. No Help with it. My Cell maTe Said noT to Say any Thing  abouT. Time I am mad and and write a inmaTe Letter or grievance about  it All it dose is geT STaff mad a you and Then Tell everyone To Harass you They mess up your mail or your indigent or HNRS inmate LeTTers They are LosT or ? you donT geT your RefiLL meds. your Food is mess with They spit in it or mess it up They put some Thing in you Food. mae Time I did NoT EAT because of it. you donT get yourr maiL They Throw it somewhere and maybe if some one funds it you met get it Back. your maiL, or your mail is being given To a inmaTe ? He dans whaT He want with it He reads your maiL and Throws it away. ? or when They Take you To The Shower. They go in your Cell and Take Things or brake Things of yours your T.V. your Radio.... 

I wanT no more of This I wanT Peace. To be in Peace. I am Sorry. I want to go home. or. I want to go home soon I Pray I go home, I am innocent of this crime. Look at it. "

So here sits this possibly innocent man in prison, and yet most Americans would look at his crime, and say "good riddance" in response to his grievances - and the officers perpetrating this garbage on him know it. That kind of relentless abuse meted out to certain prisoners by guards who think they deserve torture on top of imprisonment isn't uncommon, nor is it limited to the sex offenders. 

Never mind that an estimated 8-15% of  convicted sex offenders, in one DNA-based exoneration study, may well be innocent. We too often presume that the "truth" comes out in the prosecution process and no one is in prison unless they're definitely guilty. Not that the possibility we are punishing "the innocent" in prison too harshly should be the only reason not to torture prisoners in America - torture should be banned regardless of the status of one's guilt or inocence.

Some officers I hear about over and over again are exacting their own kind of justice from prisoners, only it seems their abuse can never be "substantiated" when formal complaints are made, so they remain in positions of power - some even get promoted. I believe the heirarchy in those places encourages brutality by consistently failing to substantiate it. They know they can get away with hurting those guys, too, as there will be no public outcry in their defense.

As another example, last April the Meadows' Tactical Support Unit was called on to do a shakedown (thorough search for contraband) of the unit, during which several of the prisoners allege that that the TSU officers pushed them around aggressively and used racial epithets. Several prisoners from that yard also reported that a deaf prisoner was beaten by guards because he couldn't hear the orders being barked at him and respond fast enough. According to one witness, when the officers took him to medical to treat him for the injuries they inflicted on him, the nurse naturally asked what happened. "He fell," the TSU officers laughed Of course, in their own  incident reports - amended after the prisoners complained - the guards assert that they used the "least amount of force necessary to gain compliance" from the deaf guy, and mention nothing about him going to medical. The DOC asserts every one of their officers conducted themselves professionally. That kind of unjust treatment of prisoners can cause serious resentment and thus endangers all staff, ultimately.

Meadows was also recently the subject of concern about how the prisoners' mental health needs are being attended to - they were essentially rounded up, chained like animals, and taken to a mass video-psych eval this fall, which sounds like its a coomon practice, actually.  I often hear complaints from there about poor health care access as well.

In any case, my thoughts and healing wishes do go out to this teacher who was so brutally assaulted, and to the rest of the staff and prisoners at the DOC who have been victims of violence behind bars. If we counted the crimes perpetrated against people in prison with the community's statistics, the crime rates of those communities would be much higher and we might have to address them differently - like redistribute victim assistance resources, among other things. In fact, if crime against people in prison was reported as such, the USA would have the highest male-on-male rate of rape in the world. Think about that as you contemplate how necessary prisons are to contain and rehabilitate young drug offenders, check bouncers, or people who smuggled themselves into the country to find a decent job and support their family, for example. 

Bottom line is that prisons are heteropatriarchal, misogynistic institutions run entirely on violence and the threat of it. Prisons are designed to inflict harm on people's minds and lives without leaving a mark on their bodies, hidden in the shadows and margins of our social fabirc so the rest of us can sleep at night, certain that only the purest system of Justice is what lets Freedom ring in America for the rest of us. In truth, the US justice system works only for the privileged few, trials are contests between opposing attorneys, not effective methods of discovering truth, and prisons are essentially horribly dangerous places to both live and work. Those of you who clamor for a new prison in your town may want to reconsider how much these jobs are really the kind you want your children and grandchildren to grow into.  

In light of the above, our judiciary should really reconsider how many more drug addicts, sex workers, and homeless mentally ill people they want to throw into the lion's den. Many will simply be further victimized and traumatized, few will be able to afford to pay to get their GED or pursue other educational options in state prison, only 4% will ever get any kind of substance abuse treatment in there to rehabilitate themselves, and over 40% of prisoners are coming out infected with Hep C, a good many with new addictions to boot.
(See Corrections at a Glance for stats on substance abuse treatment, HEP C, and the reasons people are in prison)