To Eat or Not to Eat
We cannot live by bread alone: Texas abuses prisoners with denied food and bread and water diets
Food is routinely used by U.S. prison officials to summarily punish, torture, abuse and retaliate against prisoners. This happens with especial frequency in administrative segregation (solitary confinement) where prisoners are confined inside locked cells all day every day, and must have all meals delivered by guards. Under such circumstances we remain at guards’ total mercy “to eat or not to eat.”
In the segregation unit of the Texas prison—Clements Unit—where I am confined, guards frequently refuse (or “jack”) prisoners’ meals, especially mentally ill prisoners, starving them for days to weeks on end, and longer.
No deterrence to guards abusing food
“Jacking” meals occurs so regularly that most segregated Texas prisoners have been, or expect to be, at some point denied meals. And whether the victimized prisoner is “respected” by his peers and guards afterward is determined by how he in turn reacts.
The expected reaction is for the “jacked” prisoner to “run the team,” that is, at the first opportunity, to act out in some manner that will require a team of five or more guards to dress out in full body riot armor and forcibly invade his cell and restrain, and more often than not, beat him. The process is formally called a “cell extraction” or “cell entry.” The teams of guards who perform the cell extractions are suited up in body armor, gas masks, etc., exactly as police were seen dressed out in their militaristic occupation of Ferguson, Missouri to suppress public protest of the police murder of Michael Brown.
To “get his respect” the prisoner is expected to go through with the entire cell extraction process, which consists of his being sprayed multiple times with gas, and the team of guards then opening the cell door and rushing in, tackling and/or beating him to the floor, handcuffing him from behind and then beating him further as he is held down defenseless, which entails sly or open punches, kicks, choking, slamming his head against the concrete floor or steel fixtures inside the cell, gouging his eyes, squeezing his testicles, bending his fingers backs, etc. Often guards conceal small weapons on their persons and use them to stab, cut or jab the prisoner.
The beatings are typically carried out under cover of a supervising ranking guard yelling repeatedly for the subdued prisoner to “stop resisting!” This is done for effect and to make it seem that the prisoner is being combative and the guards are struggling to control him.1 This is a standard game which police also play as cover for beating, Tasering, and also shooting people. It is such common practice with so-called “law enforcement” officials, that I’m confident most every prisoner in Amerika who has witnessed or endured even a few cell extractions, and most civilians who’ve witnessed or suffered beatings at the hands of the police, will attest to it.
Most prisoners are intelligently unwilling to suffer the compounded abuse of “running the team” on top of having been jacked for their meal. However, if the jacked prisoner doesn’t run the team he becomes the target of ridicule by others as being a “bitch,” “ho,” etc., and is disparaged as weak, and is thus likely to be jacked yet again and ostracized to a greater or lesser degree. It is largely to avoid ridicule and attendant victimization that many prisoners are induced to run the team, and thereby save face. This is all a cultural reaction that officials have conditioned prisoners to adopt to our own disadvantage, which I’ll explain.
Officials have taught prisoners over the years to resort to “running teams” because, unless a prisoner employs uncommon tactical ingenuity, he can almost never come out on top of such odds, even if he be in the best physical shape. And because guards enjoy a complete tactical advantage and almost invariably subdue the isolated prisoner quickly and suffer no injuries in the process, cell extractions bolster their sense of invulnerability, and embolden them to abuse us in the absence of fear of harm to themselves or other consequences. So by racking up repeated “wins,” the guards, while outnumbered by us at least ten-to-one, enjoy the highest morale; the overall segregated prisoner body, by resisting them in a manner that ensures and results in routine “losses,” is left demoralized and submissive to mistreatment.2
Because of the relative advantage that segregated confinement presents to guards, one finds that it is those most inclined to sadism and cowardly abuse that choose to work in segregation units and super-maximum security prisons. Moreover, even the courts have long admitted that poor salaries and training render guards “more vulnerable to the corrupting influence of unchecked authority than most people.”3
Also, prisoners are conditioned to fear injuring guards in turn, under administrative threat of criminal prosecution if they do, which means an extended prison term, often an aggravated sentence, which might result in spending one’s entire life in prison.
And in the final event, officials use instances of our running teams or responding to abuse with physical self-defense and deterrence to villainize us as being belligerent, assaultive, etc., painting a completely one-sided picture of events and making their own abusive violence appear only a measured and professional response to dangerous and out-of-control criminals,4 rather than their acting under cover of absolute power to inflict compounded abuses on a completely disadvantaged, disempowered and isolated segment of the community.
Which brings me back to the issue of officials using their monopoly on our access to food as a form of abuse.
The legality of restricted prison diets
Texas prison officials subject prisoners to bread and water diets, even though by law and human necessity we cannot live by bread alone.5 Furthermore, the basis, upon which restricted diets are imposed, are also forbidden by law.
Prison officials may lawfully impose restricted diets on prisoners temporarily and only in response to, and to control, food-related misbehavior. Such restrictions may not be used as punishment.6 And even still, restricted diets must provide adequate nutrition, which a bread and water diet does not.
But here is a recent example of the abusive impunity of prison officials, in this case the wholesale use of illegal bread and water food restrictions as arbitrary punishment, even when prisoners have done nothing wrong.
Bread and water to deter prisoner witnesses
I’ve had several articles published about abuses at this Clements Unit, which quote or reference prisoner witnesses who communicated their accounts to me via written notes, which I have quoted from. Numerous Clements Unit officials have stated to me that they’ve read my critical articles online. In response, administrators have tried to discourage our passing notes between ourselves and have explicitly threatened witnesses.
On February 19, 2015, Michael Gruver, the Clements Unit major who oversees the prison’s segregation unit, claimed to have been monitoring surveillance cameras mounted in the pod I’m housed in, and allegedly observed numerous prisoners passing items between cells.
In turn Gruver ordered a guard, Joshua Brandl, who was then leaving to go home—it was shift change—to write disciplinary charges on several prisoners. Gruver specifically directed Brandl to fabricate the charges to say fourteen prisoners had manipulated the locking mechanisms on the handcuff ports on their cell doors and opened them. Brandl wrote the charges.
Additionally, Gruver had each of the fourteen prisoners put on food restriction, although none were alleged to have committed any food-related misconduct. All fourteen prisoners remained on food restrictions for seven days.
On food restriction a prisoner is given only a “food loaf” three times per day, delivered in a paper sack. At Clements Unit the food loaf is nothing but a greasy novel-sized block of cornbread with little else in it. The restricted prisoner must drink only water from the sink in his cell. Therefore, food restriction at this unit is literally a bread and water diet.
Almost none of the fourteen food-restricted prisoners were able to eat the food loaf for more than a day, and most went the entire five days refusing to eat it at all because it is so unappetizing and wreaks havoc on one’s digestive system.
Actually the “food loaf” recipe is supposed to contain a variety of ingredients from the regular menu, blended together and baked into a “loaf,” which can be eaten without utensils, also an instant beverage is to accompany the loaf. This to “control” the misuse of food, utensils, etc., although this is not how loaf meals are prepared at Clements Unit. When complaints are made officials simply lie and claim the proper ingredients are included.
Several days after Brandl wrote the false disciplinary charges, he apparently returned to work with a heavy conscience and admitted he was concerned that several of the prisoners he lied on might retaliate against him. He came to our pod, at which point I called him to my cell door and asked why he’d fabricated reports on the others. All fourteen prisoners were served with the disciplinary charges written by Brandl on February 25. Brandl replied that Gruver ordered him to do it, but that he would tell the truth at the disciplinary hearings, that he’d in fact never observed the prisoners open the cuff ports on their cell doors but was told by Gruver to fabricate the reports saying he had.
Brandl honored his word and all the disciplinary charges were withdrawn before any hearings were conducted, but not before all fourteen prisoners were made to suffer a bread and water diet for five days, all as part of an administrative backlash and group punishment for prisoners bearing witness to witnessed and suffered abuse.
Meal jacked as I wrote article
As an example of how regularly prisoners’ meals are arbitrarily taken by guards, at the very time that I was writing this article, a guard, Abraham Dolleh, refused the prisoner housed in the cell directly across from me—Jeffrey Sylvan #1649281—his lunch meal, (this occurred on March 9, 2015).
Dolleh “jacked” Sylvan’s lunch because as he was coming toward Sylvan’s cell serving lunch, Dolleh called another prisoner several vulgar names. When he got to Sylvan’s cell, Sylvan, thinking the guard was cursing him because Sylvan had been talking loudly to another prisoner, asked Dolleh who he was talking to. Dolleh responded by then cursing Sylvan and then refused to give him his lunch tray although Dolleh had already unlocked and opened the cuff port on Sylvan’s cell door in preparation for serving him his meal.
When Dolleh vulgarly told Sylvan he wasn’t going to give him his lunch and to back away from the cell door so he could lock the port back without any danger of Sylvan making physical contact with him, Sylvan then stuck his arm out the slot to prevent its being closed and demanded his meal.
In turn Dolleh took out his portable canister of OC gas and stated to Sylvan to move back or he’d say Sylvan was attempting to cut himself with a razor blade and would thereupon empty the canister of gas on him7. Sylvan then backed away from the door and Dolleh closed the port cursing Sylvan and refusing his lunch.
Today the entire world is bearing witness to an ongoing pattern of exposures of, and mass protests against, murders by Amerikan police of unarmed people of color and militaristic occupation and terrorism of our communities, which has gone on for decades. This sudden visibility has occurred not because the government nor mainstream media exposed it. It came about because members of the victimized communities exposed it themselves using social media outlets to make an end run around the government and press, who otherwise whitewashed, denied, and concealed these realities, often behind perpetuating racist criminal stereotypes against these communities.
Recall also that just prior to the police murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri this past summer and the militaristic police response to the community’s righteous protests, which prompted this exposure, politicians and the media were loudly proclaiming that Amerika had finally risen above its racism and become a “post-racial society.” The whole world now knows that was all a lie. But remember, we prisoners do not have access to video recording technologies nor social media. So our suffering goes largely unknown to not just the world, but even our own communities.
This is why we must devise ways to expose the darkest recesses of Amerika’s lawless law-enforcement system, namely its prisons. And it must be realized that the prisons and the tortures, brutalities and abuses occurring within their hidden confines are an extension of, and organically linked to, the federal, state, and local police that are the very forces targeting the poor and people of color for selective mass imprisonment in Amerika.
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 Defying the Tomb: Selected Prison Writings and Art of Kevin Rashid Johnson, Featuring Exchanges with an Outlaw, (Kersplebedeb, 2010).
TDCI # 01859887
Clements Unit 9601 Spur 591
His website is: rashidmod.com
1 Medical staff and guards tend to downplay any injuries suffered by the prisoner and dismiss them as the result of the prisoner himself being combative and/or falling and striking a hard surface inside the cell during the cell extraction.
2 This culture which plays on male prisoners’ masculine sensitivities works to the guards’ benefit and the prisoners’ disadvantage by inducing prisoners to “fight” the guards from a position of pitting their weaknesses against the guards’ strengths. I often point this out to my peers, and illustrate the point with a revelation I heard made by a U.S. military commander during 2003, as he boasted to the media how easily U.S. forces took Iraq’s capitol city, Baghdad, during the illegal imperialist Iraq invasion that year. The officer told how U.S. military intelligence forces had studied Iraqi culture and thereby developed a profile of its military-aged males. From this the U.S. learned that Iraqi males (like most males in patriarchal societies) are highly sensitive about their masculinity. This was turned to the Iraqi’s disadvantage. At first, the commander said, U.S. attempts to enter Baghdad were quickly and soundly repelled by Iraqi defenders firing on them from concealed places and planting IEDs. Unless the hidden Iraqis could be induced to come out into the open and fight face-to-face, they would keep the advantage and the city could not be taken. So, what the U.S. did was make gradual incursions into the city in armored formations with a megaphone on top of the tanks. From the megaphones they blared over and over in Arabic that only women hide from their opponents, and that “real men” meet and fight their opponents face-to-face. The commander laughingly recounted how in response to such taunts, the hidden fighters gave up their advantage and rushed out of buildings and other hiding places in droves harmlessly firing at the tanks and armored vehicles, only to be mowed down in turn by the vehicles’ heavy machine guns. The city’s defenders were thereby eliminated and the U.S. and allied forces quickly took Baghdad.
3 Landman v. Peyton, 370 F. 2d 135, 140 (4th cir. 1966)
4 As I’ve demonstrated in numerous past articles on Amerika’s abusive prisons, the guards and administrators are the ones who perpetuate all sorts of criminal acts in their abuses of prisoners, and indeed commit federal crimes every time they violate a prisoner’s constitutional rights as their abuses described herein do. See 18 United States Code, Section 242. It is only, as with the murderous police in society they are afforded de facto immunity from prosecution by merit of being so-called law enforcement officers. The system protects and insulates its own.
5 A bread and water diet is unconstitutional. See, Jenkins v. Werger, 564 F. Supp. 806, 808-09 (1983); Landman v. Royster, 333 F Supp. 621, 647 (1971).
6 Food restrictions must be used only to control the behaviors for which they were designed. LeMaire v. Maass, 745 F. Supp. 623, 635-36 (1990), vacated and remanded on other grounds, 12 F. 3rd 1444, 1456 (1993).
7 I discuss the practice of guards at this unit using fabricated claims that prisoners have acted in self harm or suicide attempts, to speciously justify assaulting them with OC gas and taking all their property, usually against prisoners they dislike or who anger them. See Kevin “Rashid” Johnson. “Prison Assisted Suicide—The Texas Way.” The full article can be read at rashidmod.com, also at Socialist Viewpoint, November/December 2014, Volume 14, Number 6, www.socialistviewpoint.org/novdec_14/novdec_14_28.html