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Us Against Them

July 14, 2016

In 1973, there was a psychological study, “The Stanford Prison Experiments,” in which a group of individuals volunteered to role play as correctional officers and another group played prisoners. Over time, those playing officers began treating the prisoners with such cruelty that the experiment was called unethical and shut down.

Why did those pretending to be guards become progressively cruel to the inmates? The belief that prisoners are less than deserving of humane treatment because of their crimes against society coupled with the authority that correctional officers have creates a hostile environment and leads to the false notions that their abusive actions are permissible as a form of justice.

Nowhere in the transcripts of any sentencing hearing does it state that a prisoner is to be subject ted to maltreatment, neglect, or abuse by any correctional officer; in fact, there are rules against it.

On January 9, 2015, two correctional officers called me obscene names. In so doing, they violated the California Code of Regulations, Title 15, which states in part, “Employees shall not use indecent abusive, profane or others improper language while on duty.” They also violated Section 3050(1) by withholding m y meal as a form of punishment. The officers took it a step further by telling me I should just kill myself, even though they were aware of my past suicide attempt and the treatments I was receiving for my mental health issues.

Often staff get away with such behavior toward inmates, because inmates aren’t sure of what steps to take in recourse, are afraid of retaliations such as cell searches, property being lost or damaged, or mail coming up missing. There have been myriad cases of officers throwing inmates to the ground in cuffs and beating them while yelling, “Stop resisting!”

Most have no faith in the system that their complaint will be heard and taken seriously. When I filed my complaint against staff, it was noted as an “allegation,” and the statements within were “claims,” while the fabricated rules violation report the officers wrote against me was taken at face value to be true, and so, I was found guilty. My complaint was minimized by the investigating lieutenant who said I was uncooperative and gave inconsistent stories. He ultimately found that staff”may have” violated one or more of CDCR’s policies. I remember thinking I’d have been better off cell extracting and fighting staff, which many choose to do rather than go through the so-called proper channels of a farcical appeals process and still not be heard.

The “us against them” mentality exists on both sides of the cuff. Ever heard of the Green Wall, once the largest prison gang in California? Inmates wear blue, Correctional officers wear green. In Corcoran SHU (Security Housing Unit), the Green Wall was running and betting on what was known as “Gladiator Fights,” releasing two inmates of rival gangs from their cell and letting them battle. They were also shooting inmates for sport. Someone blew the whistle on them in the nineties, and they’ve been mostly disbanded. Corcoran is still know for it’s violence between staff and inmates.

Mistreatment and abuse in prisons continues to be a problem throughout the U.S., especially with the growing number of mentally ill inmates. As a result of this growth of inmates with metal problems, prison are trying to adjust with staff who have not been portly trained to deal with mental health issues and substandard treatments.

In New York’s Rikers Island, 129 serious injuries were documented that required more care than the prison could provide. 77 percent of these injuries were received by mentally ill inmates. A lack of training and discipline has led to the death of more than one inmate at the hands of officers, including a schizophrenic man who was locked in solitary confinement and ignored. Staff passed his cell everyday and neglected to report or attempt to alleviate his deteriorating state. He had flooded his cell multiple times, so staff called the plumber to shut off the water running to his cell. As he lay in his own excrement, Officers sprayed aerosol air fresheners to protect themselves from the smell. In need of medical attention, he lay there for six days without his medications or water to drink. Finally, he was carried from his cell and placed on a gurney where he went into cardiac arrest and died. His death was declared a homicide, but no charges were ever filed.

Another man was beaten to death by officers as he attempted to hang himself. In trying to prevent a death, they’d caused one. Another inmate reportedly died in custody after ingesting toxic soap. When officers and medical staff reported to facility captain that this man needed medical attention, the captain advised his staff not to call him unless there was a need of a cell extraction or there was a dead body. “Do not call me if you have living, breathing bodies,” he reportedly said. this death was also ruled a homicide, and the former captain was charged and sentenced to serve five years. I am sure when he is need of something he hopes someone listens.

(Information on deaths in prison was gotten from articles published on the Internet.)

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