In this edition:
A prisoner battles against staff retaliation at Rockview, Food Deprivation and Tampering at Frackville, Pelican Bay hunger strike enters its third week, Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement Announces National Platform, and more…
News from the Inside
Tarrell Rister continues battle against staff retaliation at SCI Rockview: Tarrell Rister is engaged in an ongoing battle against SCI Rockview’s tactics of retaliatory assault, spurious charges, confinement in the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU), and mail tampering, which come in the wake of a lawsuit he filed against the prison in July 2010.
Held in solitary confinement in the RHU since January 2010, he was assaulted on May 19, 2010 by prison guards Taylor, Detwiler and Watson during a general cell search. The assault left him with badly cut arms from the wrenching of his handcuffs and a swollen and abraded face from being slammed to the ground. Rister filed numerous grievances with the prison over this assault, all of which were ignored or responded to with boilerplate assurances that the investigation was ongoing. Other grievances filed with regard to verbal harassment of a sexual nature and his ongoing confinement in the RHU on false charges were similarly ignored.
Because of this inaction, Rister filed a lawsuit on July 29, 2010 seeking damages for excessive force, verbal harassment and unwarranted solitary confinement. Named in the lawsuit are numerous SCI Rockview staff, including Superintendent Lamas, Superintendent’s Assistant Rackovan, Unit Manager Grandlund, Deputy Thompson, Sergeant Best, Lieutenant Nixon, and Correctional Officers Angelo, Craig, Detwiler, Heredia, Tischler, and Watson.
On June 21, 2011, the court ruled on the prison’s motion to dismiss the charges. Numerous charges were thrown out because of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, a statute which prevents prisoners from filing civil rights lawsuits without first fully exhausting the administrative remedies available within the prison. Only the excessive force complaint was not thrown out. The court found that the prison ignored Rister’s grievances and essentially did nothing to investigate this charge. Further evidence presented in the proceedings showed that the grievances filed regarding harassment were ignored, and that the prison attempted to produce as evidence an undated, unsigned letter which stated the grievance had been investigated and dismissed as frivolous. But, because Rister’s lawsuit is filed on the grounds of a violation to his eighth amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, the harassment charge was dismissed because verbal abuse is not considered to be a violation of the eighth amendment.
After the lawsuit survived the motion to dismiss, Rister was assaulted by guards on July 28, 2011, in an attack previously reported on the PA Prison Report on August 15. Reports indicate it was Superintendent Lamas and Deputy Superintendent Marsh who condoned the attack in an effort to get Rister to drop his lawsuit. Further retaliatory actions soon thereafter included denying Rister food for a period of time and denying food to a witness to the July 28 assault. Further, the prison falsely accused Rister of being the aggressor in the assault, and Security Captain Eaton has since requested the Pennsylvania State police investigate Rister for criminal assault.
The prison reportedly continues its efforts to stop Rister’s lawsuit through mail tampering and other punitive measures. A letter sent by the HRC to Rister, which arrived at the prison on August 22, was not delivered to Rister until September 6. Rister reports much of his mail is being tampered with; letters sent out are not reaching their destination and letters sent to him by friends and family are not reaching him. He has also been confined to a 24 hour camera cell with no desk, and as of now has RHU time through 2014 or 2015. Despite SCI Rockview subjecting Rister to assault, filing of false misconducts, mail tampering and retaliatory placement in solitary confinement in its efforts to force him to drop his lawsuit, Rister continues to seek some measure of justice through the courts.
Food Deprivation and Tampering at SCI Frackville. Timothy Dockery reports from the Restricted Housing Unit that during the past year correctional officers Bickowski, McCormick, Walter, Troutman, Solonsky, Comisac, Walford, Wickersham, Martinex, Kufro and Wedon have been placing harmful, unidentifiable objects in his food, while he has been housed in both the RHU and in the Secure Special Needs Unit. In this report Dockery claimed finding pebbles, roaches and some unknown substance in his food on many occasions, and also experiencing physical effects he believes to be from the tampered food that include pain and bloating in the stomach, itching in the abdomen, and pain in the heart. Dockery was able to find other prisoners experiencing similar effects from the food as well as prisoners being routinely denied meals by the same guards serving the tampered food. In all, three other prisoners housed in the Secure Special Needs Unit have written affidavits claiming that one or all of the guards named in Dockery’s report have denied or tampered with their food. They all claim the abuse began sometime in the beginning of this year.
Dockery’s report emphasizes that the four individuals who are claiming that their right to food has been violated by the prison were confined in different locations within the prison, each prisoner independently asserting similar acts of food tampering and deprivation by prison guards. Dockery concludes that the abuse experienced by these four men most likely points to systemic abuses within the prison. It is common in cases of prisoner abuse for guards to target multiple prisoners, knowing that their inability to communicate hinders them from organizing unified resistance to the abuse, or from being able to prove systemic violations.
Third Annual Freedom March for the Wrongfully Convicted in Pittsburgh:
Members of the Justice for Mike Deloe
and Justice for Terrell Johnson
organizing campaigns rallied with family members and supporters on October 3, as part of a national day to bring attention to wrongful convictions in the nation’s criminal legal system. Mary Ann Lubas, Director of the Pennsylvania arm of the National Freedom March for the Wrongfully Convicted
, began organizing the event in Pittsburgh three years ago, when her son Michael DeLoe was convicted of a crime that never occurred, while jurors slept through the trial.
The rally brought together formerly incarcerated people and family members of the wrongfully convicted to speak about their experiences trying to navigate the system and prove their innocence after they or their loved ones have been wrongfully accused. Lubas spoke about the execution of Troy Davis and cited statistics of wrongful convictions and why the death penalty should be abolished: “In the past 30 years, 273 people have been exonerated from prison sentences based on DNA evidence. Those that have been exonerated spent an average of 13 years in prison. 130 people have been exonerated from death row, and an estimated 10% of all people in prison are wrongfully convicted.“
Across the Nation
Renewed hunger strike enters its third week as prison escalates retaliation: Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity reports that the numbers of hunger strikers in California prisons began to drop this week after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) intensified retaliation. The hunger strike was initially launched on July 1 in protest of CDCR holding prisoners in long-term solitary confinement in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) for alleged links to gang activity. Prisoners temporarily suspended the strike on July 20 after CDCR agreed to meet some of their demands and promised to initiate a process of policy review. The strike was resumed on September 26 due to CDCR’s failure to make good faith efforts toward implementing changes to policies that have led to more than 500 prisoners being held in solitary confinement in excess of ten years, and another 500-plus who have been held at least five years.
Prisoner hunger strike representatives at Pelican Bay State Prison were moved from the SHU to Administrative Segregation following the resumption of the strike. Lawyers who were finally able to have one visit last week report that the CDCR has the air conditioning on high in 50 degree weather. Ronald Yandell, one of the strike leaders, was quoted in the New York Times
: “We’re freezing. The air-conditioner is blowing. It’s like arctic air coming through, blowing at top speed. It’s torture. They’re trying to break us.”
Medical conditions are also worsening for strikers throughout the state. We’ve received reports that after 12 days of no food, prisoners are once again losing severe weight and fainting. One hunger striker at Pelican Bay was denied his medication and consequently suffered from a heart attack and is now is an outside hospital in Oregon. “I’m ready to take this all the way,” J. Angel Martinez, one of the strike leaders at Pelican Bay State Prison, said in a message conveyed through a lawyer this week. “We are sick and tired of living like this and willing to die if that’s what it takes.”
Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement Announces National Platform: The Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement
, an alliance of individuals and organizations who are committed to building a movement to dismantle the current criminal legal system, issued a national organizing platform following their inaugural gathering in Alabama in March 2011. The goal of their platform is to “develop a common voice, pursue a common political reality and secure a common interest” amongst people and organizations across the U.S. who are working to end mass incarceration.
The organizing platform consists of 14 demands that are focused on restoring human rights to all people in the U.S. regardless of their incarceration status. The demands focus on the collective liberation of people who are disproportionately affected by policies of mass incarceration and assert that the social and political structures of the criminal legal system that are rooted in racism and torture need to be changed. The list of demands includes equality for all people, the right to vote for all people, respect and dignity for children and families, an end to immigration detention and racial profiling, an end to cruel and unusual punishment and inhumane prison conditions, an end to economic exploitation of people in prison, the release of all political prisoners, an end to juveniles sentenced to life without parole, and an end to state sponsored murder through the death penalty.
The Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement will have their next meeting and strategy conference, “Strengthening our Actions and Voices thorough Unity” in Los Angeles on November 2.
Philly area: Wednesdays are Write On! Prison Letter Writing Night at the LAVA space at 4134 Lancaster, 6-9 pm. Come help us stay connected with the many prisoners who write to us with news from inside, learn to document crimes committed by prison staff, and help bring an end to the abuse and torture of our brothers and sisters behind bars.
If you’d like to know more about the Human Rights Coalition or would like to get involved, come to Write On!, to our monthly general meetings (second Monday of each month, 6pm), or call us at 215-921-3491, email firstname.lastname@example.org
, or visit our website at http://www.hrcoalition.org
Write On! – Letter writing to prisoners and HRC work night every Wednesday at 5129 Penn Avenue from 7 -10pm. To get involved with HRC/Fed Up! in Pittsburgh, email@example.com
or call 412-654-9070.
You’ve been listening to the Human Rights Coalition’s PA Prison Report. HRC is a group of current and former prisoners, family members, and supporters, whose ultimate goal is to abolish prisons.
Keep up the fight!