Torture conditions in U.S. prisons
Gabriel Gonzalez was 21 years old when he was sentenced to die for the murder of a pawnshop owner, a crime that he insists he did not commit. Along with Kenneth Foster Jr. and Rob Will, Gabriel co-founded the Death Row Inner-communalist Vanguard Engagement (DRIVE) Movement, which engages in nonviolent, direct action protest to fight for better conditions on death row and in opposition to capital punishment.
Here, Gabriel describes the effects of isolation and segregation on prisoners.
THE U.S. criminal justice system is remarkably ineffective, absurdly expensive, grossly inhumane and riddled with racism. The slaughter of youth of color characterizes many big city police departments. Sentencing practices have led to the imprisonment of over 2 million people in state and federal facilities, with another 3.5 million under other forms of social control.
October 17, 2008
THE U.S. criminal justice system is remarkably ineffective, absurdly expensive, grossly inhumane and riddled with racism. The slaughter of youth of color characterizes many big city police departments. Sentencing practices have led to the imprisonment of over 2 million people in state and federal facilities, with another 3.5 million under other forms of social control. Never in history (!) a state has kept more percent of its citizens under arrest than the USA today.
The use of sensory deprivation as a form of behavior modification began as an experiment with the political prisoners--members of the Young Lords Party, Puerto Rican independence activists, the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, white members of the Plowshares, the Black Liberation Army, Muslims, jailhouse lawyers and prison activists were suddenly removed from the general population and placed in isolation. They were placed there for who they are and what they believe.
The former warden of Marion Penitentiary has been quoted as saying that the purpose of a control unit is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and society at large.
There is no way to articulate the excruciating torture of sensory deprivation. Picture living in a cage, about the size of a bathroom. You are there 23 hours a day, day in and day out, year in and year out. You are allowed one hour a day out in a cage the size of a tiny living room. You are allowed one five-minute phone call every six months, which is monitored. Your mail and reading material is maliciously scrutinized and censored.
When leaving your cage, you are subjected to a dehumanizing strip search which includes a genital and anal probe, and then handcuffed. You are completely under the control of prison guards who carry pepper gas and long, black batons that some refer to as "spic and nigger beaters."
Sensory deprivation and isolation are brainwashing techniques. The world of control units and super-max prisons is a world in which isolation and segregation for long, indefinite periods of time (or permanently) has led to a psychological brutality of ugly proportions.
The expanded use of these units has led Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the World Organization Against Torture/USA to cite the U.S. with their concerns. The use of isolation units breaks the United Nations Covenant Against Torture and the United Nations Covenant for the Treatment of Prisoner, both of which the United States has signed.
The political function that sensory deprivation and brainwashing serve is inescapable. The police, the courts and the prison system all serve as social control mechanisms. The economic function they serve is equally as chilling. America is enchanted with this form of neo-lynching and slavery. The wall of silence that has been built around death row and prisons in general, as well as prisoners has got to be broken down.
We need organizers for public demonstration and education; community groups, churches and mosques; grassroots organizations to help the community mobilize against this torture and dehumanization; attorneys to litigate unjust and inhumane prison conditions and policies; letter writers and media campaigns; people who will become a nation-wide emergency response network for phone calls, faxes and e-mails; and intervention by people seeking to meet with prison committees and administrations when we protest conditions, treatment and brutality.
Prisons are one of the largest growth industries in the U.S. The expansion of the prison system in America has been a boom to everyone from architects, to plumbers, electricians and food vendors, all with one thing in common--a paycheck earned off the backs of free prisoner labor and execution. With the full cooperation of politicians and media, the public is being sold a "war on crime" and a "war on drugs" as the cure for the constantly hawked, yet non-existing rising rate of crime.
Prison issues are class issues--the rich exploiting the poor for economic gain. The insidious crippling of our poor, young people on death rows and prisons is expanding, and none of this is about the rate of crime. It is about capitalism, it is about racism and classism.
Support the DRIVE Movement to end the death penalty and the torture of sensory deprivation, inhumane conditions and prison abuse. Inaction in the face of injustice is acceptance and collusion with state oppression and state-sanctioned murder.
Say no to the death penalty. Say no to control and isolation units and the torture of sensory deprivation!
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