Abuse Knows No Holidays in U.S. Prisons
As yet another year changes over, I am reminded how little the world knows of the truly inhumane conditions and treatments that pervade U.S. prisons. Yet Amerika’s rulers constantly pontificate self-righteously about other societies’ human rights violations and promote the U.S. Empire as a supposed bastion of democracy. What they never mention, however, is that the U.S. operates the world’s largest domestic prison system that also constitutes the world’s largest prevailing system of modern slavery, in defiance of international law—institutions that are the antithesis of democracy.1
For many on the outside, the season surrounding the New Year is one of festive and joyful gatherings; sentiments that do not in any real sense enter into oppressive U.S. prison life, where abuse knows no holidays. In fact, for many of us, holidays are reminders not of happy occasions, but rather, of abuses and indignities we’ve suffered or witnessed on those occasions. I have many such remembrances, like, for example, New Years Day, 2015, when I witnessed a mob of body-armored white guards beat a Mexican prisoner bloody.
The incident occurred in the segregation unit of the Clements Unit Prison in Amarillo, Texas where I’m confined. It began when a nurse distributing medications to prisoners in our housing unit did not deliver to the victim, Daniel Garza, his prescribed medications.
Garza in turn protested to have a ranking guard come to the pod to address and resolve the problem. Only ranking guards are allowed to contact medical staff to convey a prisoner’s immediate medical needs, which means line-level guards working a pod must relay any such medical issues to their ranking officer, who then decides if or if not medical staff will be notified or summoned. Otherwise, the prisoner must submit a written sick call request to the medical department, which takes several days to be received, processed and addressed by medical staff. Garza’s situation obviously called for immediate medical resolution.
Only because he persisted to have a ranking guard summoned, did one—a sergeant Jerod Orlds—finally come to his cell, but not to address his medical issue. Instead, Orlds, under the supervision of one of Clements Unit’s most notoriously racist and abusive guards—lieutenant Janon Broom—then confronted Garza with a group of guards, had him handcuffed from behind and taken out of the pod to a holding cell. Whereupon other guards packed all of his personal belongings up and proceeded to confiscate most of it for bogus reasons.
Their intentions were obviously to retaliate against him for persisting in having a ranking guard summoned to the pod, and to provoke Garza to act out or otherwise create a pretext to set him up for a use of force; both of which are illegal.2
After all of his property was removed from the cell, Garza was brought back still handcuffed behind by a mob of guards dressed in full body riot armor, with a nurse Humper following behind them with an audio-video camera filming the situation—a blatant violation of prison security policy. Only trained security staff is to operate video equipment, especially in situations of potential or actual uses of force by guards.
As the nurse remained off to the side of the cell where he could not see or film inside the cell, the mob of guards took Garza into the back of the empty cell and had him lay face down on the floor. They proceeded to take off his handcuffs and instructed him not to get up until all the guards had backed out of the cell and the cell door was locked, lest force be used to “control” him. This was yet another violation of Texas Department of Criminal Justice [sic!] policy (BP—03.46. Use of Force Standards), which specifically forbids guards removing a segregated prisoner’s restraints inside the cell in this manner unless they cannot be removed in the usual manner—through the hatch in the cell door—because the prisoner is combative and preventing it, which was not the case. Garza was fully compliant and calm.
The guards obviously hoped that Garza, incensed by the unjustified removal and confiscation—or literal theft—of his property, would indeed get up from the floor unrestrained and try to fight them. But, even if he didn’t, they intended to say he had. This is a common tactic used by Texas guards to speciously justify attacking prisoners, often while they’re still handcuffed. I’ve written about two such incidents. One, where a still handcuffed prisoner, Joe Laws, was stomped, beaten and literally had his teeth kicked out, and another, Dante Roberts, was beaten and stomped bloody, although he was at all times unconscious.3
After several of the guards backed out of Garza’s cell, they began yelling that he was getting up, whereupon they rushed back into the cell. What followed were clear sounds of a beating, as several guards bodily blocked the view into the cell, and the nurse stood well out of range with the camera, which was supposed to be kept trained on the prisoner at all times—indeed this is the very purpose of its presence during actual or potential uses of force.
A few minutes later Garza was brought out of the cell, handcuffed from behind and bleeding profusely from the face and head. Surrounded by the mob of guards, he was taken out of the pod.
I and several other prisoners spoke out in protest of the assault and requested witness statements so we could record what we witnessed, to be used by Garza should he file a complaint on the abuse of force, which most prisoners don’t do since nothing comes of such complaints, and abuses are covered up and condoned at all levels of authority. However, I recognize the value of creating a record of such abuses, which may be summoned for future purposes and uses in litigation, outside inquiries or investigations, etc.
After several failed attempts to threaten and intimidate us into silence, a lieutenant Quintin Wankel brought me and two other prisoners the requested witness forms, at which point Lt. Broom loudly remarked, “It won’t go anywhere.”
Immediately after Garza was brought out of the cell, a prisoner worker was brought in to clean and mop up the puddles of blood from the cell floor, removing the evidence of his substantial blood loss inside the cell.
It should be noted, at a time when world attention is being brought to bear on the plague of violent abuses of people of color by U.S. so-called law enforcement officials, the response of officials is that these abuses are the acts of only a handful of rogue officers and are not practiced or condoned by the overall establishment. It’s a lie. Not only are such abuses common to the establishment, but the overall culture enforces the silence of those who might otherwise speak out through collectively enforced fear and retaliation. The “Blue Line.”
In fact physical abuse and beatings of Texas prisoners by guards is so common that the federal courts have found a “culture of sadistic and malicious violence” exists that involves “the seeming inability of correctional officers to keep their hands off prisoners.”4 What’s worse is since these findings, the media has reported that Texas guards “are using ‘major’ force against inmates more often…”5 In the face of such findings, on October 1, 2014 the TDCJ modified its prisoner grievance procedure to bar prisoners from filing grievances on “excessive or unnecessary” uses of force if the involved staff do not themselves first report having used such force [!?].6 This clearly reflects not abusive conditions attributable to a handful of “dirty” guards, but a system-wide “culture” with formal policies implemented to block prisoners’ ability to even file complaints that would ultimately go nowhere anyway, by officials at the highest levels of power.
What must be understood, is the police and prisons are a joint institution and body of the U.S. executive, or “law enforcement” branch of government. They practice a common culture of sadism, terrorism and brutal violence against communities of color and the poor, and share tactics between themselves. The same value system and culture that has them beating and murdering prisoners is the very one that has them doing the same on the streets to people of color and the poor. The struggle to expose and end police violence must also extend to prison abuses where this terror knows no holidays.
Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!
Kevin Rashid Johnson’s writings and artwork have been widely circulated. He is the author of a new book, Panther Vision: Essential Party Writings and Art of Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, Minister of Defense, New Afrikan Black Panther Party, (Kersplebedeb, 2010).
Write or email:
Kevin Johnson, TDCI # 01859887
Clements Unit 9601 Spur 591
1 The 1948 U. N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights states at Article 4, “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” Ironically, the U.S. drafted and ratified this treaty, yet upholds and enforces the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which authorizes slavery as criminal punishment. It states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” As to the blatant practice of slavery by the U.S. prison system, see my prior articles, “No Incarceration or Taxation Without Representation: Amerikan Slavery in the 21st Century.” http://rashidmod.com/?p=963.
It should be noted also that the above treaty banning slavery is part of the “Supreme Law of the Land,” where approved by the U.S. Senate under Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, and otherwise under the Nuremburg Doctrine.
2 A prisoner has a protected right to receive prescribed medical care, and retaliations for seeking to have such rights protected is unlawful. See, e.g., Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F. 3d 378, 394 (6th Cir. 1999). Also it is a violation of the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when prison officials deliberately “provoke an incident so as to allow” them to attack a prisoner “under the guise of maintaining order or defending” themselves. Miller v. Leathers, 913 F. 2d 1085, 1088 (4th Cir. 1990).
3 See, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “The Texas Department of Cowboy Justice: A Case of Lawless Law Enforcement.” http://rashidmod.com/?p=856, and “California Ends Solitary for Gang Validation, Texas Prisons Persist in the Abusive Practice.” http://rashidmod.com/?p=1333
4 Ruiz v. Johnson, 154 F. Supp. 2d 925, 986 (S. D. Tex. 2001)
5 “Force Against Texas Inmates On the Rise,” Texas Tribune, http://texastribune.org/2014/04/03/force-against-texas-inmates-rise/
6 In the TDCJ’s prisoner newspaper The Echo, Vol. 86, No. 9 (November 2014), p. 5 it was announced that the TDCJ’s Offender Grievance Operations Manual was reorganized effective October 1, 2014 in several respects, including adding that:
“Grievances that do not describe a reported use of force that was excessive or unnecessary do not warrant any further action and shall be considered not grievable.”