United States death penalty and prisons


On Tuesday, the state of Ohio executed death row inmate Kenneth Biros, who died 43 minutes after the state prison’s execution team began administering a one-dose injection of sodium thiopental: here.

This video from the USA is called Fault Lines – Mental Illness in US Prisons – 17 Sep 09 – Pt1.

Part 2 is here:

At the end of 2008, 1 in 31 US adults was under the authority of the corrections system, a ratio far higher than any other nation: here.

Mistaken Science Leads to Texas Executions: here.

A British grandmother facing execution in Texas following what has been called a “catastrophic” trial has received high-profile backing in London: here.

The dirty truth about the death penalty: here.

On May 2, 1960, Caryl Chessman was sent to his death in a California gas chamber after the state’s liberal Democratic Governor, Edmund “Pat” Brown, refused to grant clemency or a stay of execution. Chessman was 38: here.

On June 14, 2010, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s challenge of a court order requiring the state to reduce its prison population by 46,000 inmates: here.

After a combined 46 years in jail, Texas inmates likely to be exonerated after discovery of wrongful convictions: here.

Cornelius Dupree Jr., 51 years old, has been formally cleared of charges that had landed him in a Texas prison for 30 years. In a Dallas courtroom on Tuesday, State District Judge Don Adams told Dupree, “You’re free to go,” exonerating him of a 1980 conviction for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon: here.

William Fisher, Truthout: “If you are unlucky enough to be doing time at one of the federal government’s two ‘experimental prisons’ – which it calls Communications Management Units (CMUs) – you are categorically banned from any physical contact with visiting friends and family, including babies, infants and minor children. Severe restrictions are also placed on your access to phone calls and letters, as well as work and educational opportunities…. Two federal prisons are being used as CMUs and overwhelmingly hold Muslim prisoners and prisoners with unpopular political beliefs. Opponents charge they are practicing religious profiling, retaliation and arbitrary punishment”: here.

In US Prisons, Inmates Sold Into Sex Slavery. Claudia Nunez, New America Media: “In prisons across the country, gangs are selling their fellow inmates into sex trafficking in order to increase their power and profits. Ex-convict Scott Howard, a survivor of the prison sex trade, described being smuggled from prison to prison over a two-year period. His ‘owners’ – members of a white supremacist gang – sold him to a group of Norteno gang members, who forced Howard to prostitute himself in exchange for $7 to $20 per sexual encounter, an abuse that was repeated over the course of many years”: here.

The breaded chicken patty your child bites into at school may have been made by a worker earning twenty cents an hour, not in a faraway country, but by a member of an invisible American workforce: prisoners. At the Union Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Florida, inmates from a nearby lower-security prison manufacture tons of processed beef, chicken and pork for Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises (PRIDE), a privately held non-profit corporation that operates the state’s forty-one work programs. In addition to processed food, PRIDE’s website reveals an array of products for sale through contracts with private companies, from eyeglasses to office furniture, to be shipped from a distribution center in Florida to businesses across the US. PRIDE boasts that its work programs are “designed to provide vocational training, to improve prison security, to reduce the cost of state government, and to promote the rehabilitation of the state inmates”: here.

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the 1971 uprising by prisoners at the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York and its bloody suppression by state police called in by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. The Attica rebellion was a major historical event, reflecting the acute social and political crisis of American imperialism at the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement, which coincided with a militant strike wave by industrial workers and the aftermath of the ghetto riots of the 1960s: here.

10 thoughts on “United States death penalty and prisons

  1. Executioner missed death rehearsals

    US: Lawyers for a condemned inmate on death row who survived a botched US execution by lethal injection last year say one of the executioners failed to attend all the required rehearsals.

    In a filing in federal court last Friday, Timothy Sweeney and Adele Shank said that the executioner known as Team Member 21 did not attend all the rehearsals for the execution of Romell Broom, who was scheduled to be put to death on September 15 and has since sued to stop a second attempt.

    The filing states that Team Member 21 was one of two people who failed to find a usable vein in Mr Broom’s arms on the day of his execution.

    http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/85402

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  2. Country outlaws death penalty

    Mongolia: President Elbegdorj Tsakhia has announced a moratorium on the death penalty, saying: “The majority of the world’s countries have chosen to abolish the death penalty – we should follow this path.”

    In a speech to MPs, many of whom favour the draconian punishment, the president suggested commuting the death penalty to a 30-year severe jail sentence.

    “From tomorrow, I’ll pardon those on death row,” Mr Tsakhia declared.

    http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/85551

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  3. Man tortured into confession is freed

    United States: A black US citizen who was tortured into confessing to a murder in 1986 walked out of a courtroom a free man on Thursday, ending the latest chapter in a scandal that has engulfed the Chicago police department for years.

    Prosecutor Andrew Levine said his office agreed to drop the charges against Michael Tillman, who endured a crude form of waterboarding at the hands of detectives, after concluding that there was not enough evidence to convict him without the coerced confession.

    In 2006, authorities confirmed what the black community on Chicago’s South Side had known for years – that detectives in a police station called Area 2 Headquarters routinely tortured suspects to extract confessions in the 1970s and ’80s.

    http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/85599

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  4. SUPPORT THE GEORGIA PRISONERS STRIKE!

    SIGN THE ONLINE PETITION to the Obama Administration and the Georgia Corrections Commissioner NOW!
    at http://www.iacenter.org/prisoners/gaprisonstrikepetition

    Sign online to tell President Obama, Attorney General Holder, Georgia Governor Perdue, Georgia Attorney General Baker, Georgia Corrections Commissioner Owens, the Georgia Legislature, the Georgia Congressional Delegation, Congressional leaders, U.N. Secretary General Ban, and members of the media you want no violence and no reprisals against the courageous Georgia Prison Strikers and you want their demands met.

    click HERE to sign. (scroll down to view petition text).

    According to reports from family members and prisoner rights advocates, thousands of incarcerated men engaged in a coordinated strike starting Dec. 9. They refused to go to work or participate in other assignments or activities, but stayed in their cells, calling it a “lockdown for liberty.”

    Using unauthorized cell phones, the prisoners have been able to organize among themselves and to communicate with news media and supporters.

    What is so extraordinary about this action besides its statewide character is its unity among the prisoners – Black, Latino, white, Muslims, Christians, Rastafarians – to achieve their central demand to be treated as human beings, not slaves or animals.

    The Georgia Department of Corrections (DOC) has refused to provide any information to date but did release a short statement on Dec. 9 claiming that no job action had taken place and nothing unusual was happening. However, the DOC acknowledged that based on the “rumor” of a strike, wardens at four facilities had ordered a general “lock down” of the institution to prevent any disruption. A lock down means that all prisoners are confined to their cells and no visitors or phone calls are allowed.

    Inmate families and community organizers such as Elaine Brown, former head of the Black Panther Party and long-time prisoner rights activist have received numerous phone calls recounting instances of violence and intimidation by prison guards and officials in response to this peaceful protest.

    At Augusta State Prison, at least six prisoners were dragged from their cells and beaten, resulting in broken ribs and other serious injuries.
    At Telfair State Prison, guards rampaged through the cells, destroying personal property while searching for contraband cell phones.
    At Macon State Prison, the prison authorities first shut off the heat as temperatures dropped below freezing and then on the second day of the strike, also cut off the hot water.
    An unknown number of prisoners have been taken to the “hole” at the various facilities.

    Georgia has over 100 prisons, work camps and other detention centers with the 5th largest prison population in the US. It is estimated that 1 in 13 adult Georgians are under some sort of legal control by the state – in prison or jail, on parole or out on bond with charges pending or under some sort of court or correctional supervision.

    In a message sent from a prisoner on Day 3 of the strike, he urged “Don’t Give Up Now! On Monday, when the doors (to the cells – editor) open, close them. Do Not Go To Work.”

    Prior to the strike, the prisoners issued a statement outlining nine specific demands:

    · A LIVING WAGE FOR WORK: In violation of the13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.

    · EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.

    · DECENT HEALTH CARE: In violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.

    · AN END TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS: In further violation of the 8th Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.

    · DECENT LIVING CONDITIONS: Georgia prisoners are confined in over-crowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.

    · NUTRITIONAL MEALS: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.

    · VOCATIONAL AND SELF-IMPROVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.

    · ACCESS TO FAMILIES: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.

    · JUST PAROLE DECISIONS: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.

    The conditions that have caused these men to take such a courageous action are duplicated in prisons and jails across the US. News about their historic strike has been censored with next to no coverage throughout Georgia. The New York Times did print information about the strike following calls by prisoners to the newspaper (Dec. 12, 2010).

    Solidarity is needed to ensure the safety of the prisoners and the improvement of their conditions. Calls to the following Georgia prisons are encouraged, demanding no retaliation or reprisals and full compliance with the prisoners’ demands.

    Macon State Prison – (978) 472-3900.
    Hays State Prison – (706) 857-0400
    Telfair State prison – (229) 868-7721
    Baldwin State Prison is at (478) 445- 5218
    Valdosta State Prison – (229) 333-7900
    Smith State Prison – (912) 654-5000

    SIGN ONLINE AT http://www.iacenter.org/prisoners/gaprisonstrikepetition NOW!

    SAMPLE PETITION TEXT:

    To: Georgia Corrections Commissioner Owen, Georgia Atty General Baker, Georgia Gov. Perdue, Attorney General Holder, President Obama

    cc: Georgia Legislature, Georgia Congressional Delegation, Congressional Leaders, U.N. Secretary-General Ban, members of the media

    Stop the violence and abuse against the courageous Georgia Prison Strikers! Grant the prisoners’ just demands of respect for their humanity and human rights!

    Beginning on Dec 9 the prisoners in at least 6 facilities across the state of Georgia carried out a united non-violent strike, sitting down and refusing to perform slave labor for no pay. Demonstrating unity and solidarity among all prisoners, [list .. in the reports somewhere sites about 6 different groups including rastas, etc..will try to find that for here] the prisoners have issued a set of demands tha boil down to one: they insist on being treated like human beings. Yet the response of the Georgia prison system has been violence and more abuse.

    At Augusta State Prison, at least six prisoners were dragged from their cells and beaten, resulting in broken ribs and other serious injuries.
    At Telfair State Prison, guards rampaged through the cells, destroying personal property while searching for contraband cell phones.
    At Macon State Prison, the prison authorities first shut off the heat as temperatures dropped below freezing and then on the second day of the strike, also cut off the hot water.
    An unknown number of prisoners have been taken to the “hole” at the various facilities.

    I demand that this abusive treatment cease immediately, and that there be no reprisals against the strikers. I further demand that the prisoners’ just demands be met immediately. The list of them itself speaks volumes condemning and exposing the totally inhuman and barbaric conditions in the Georgia prison system. They must be addressed immediately. They are:

    · A LIVING WAGE FOR WORK: In violation of the13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.

    · EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.

    · DECENT HEALTH CARE: In violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.

    · AN END TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS: In further violation of the 8th Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.

    · DECENT LIVING CONDITIONS: Georgia prisoners are confined in over-crowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.

    · NUTRITIONAL MEALS: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.

    · VOCATIONAL AND SELF-IMPROVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.

    · ACCESS TO FAMILIES: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.

    · JUST PAROLE DECISIONS: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.

    Hands off the Georgia Prison Strikers! Grant their just demands immediately!

    Sincerely
    (your signature appended here)

    SIGN ONLINE AT http://www.iacenter.org/prisoners/gaprisonstrikepetition NOW!

    Like

  5. Dear Friend,

    Immigrants are for sale in this country. Sold to private prison corporations who are locking them up for obscene profits!

    Here are the top 3 things YOU need to know about the Private Prison money scheme:

    The victims: Private prisons don’t care about who they lock up. At a rate of $200 per immigrant a night at their prisons, this is a money making scheme that destroys families and lives.

    The players: CCA (Corrections Corporation of America), The Geo Group and Management and Training corporations—combined these private prisons currently profit more than $5 billion a year.

    The money: These private prisons have spent over $20 million lobbying state legislators to make sure they get state anti-immigrant laws approved and ensure access to more immigrant inmates.

    How is all this possible? They profit from locking people up.

    Will you stand with Cuéntame’s “Immigrants For Sale” campaign and become part of a nationwide network of Prison Watchers as we follow and expose the players, the money and the victims in this corrupt money making racket? YES, I WANT TO!

    Yours,
    Robert Greenwald, Axel Caballero, Ofelia Yañez
    and Brave New Foundation’s Cuéntame team

    I invite you to join Cuéntame on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

    Like

  6. Florida urged to halt death

    The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has urged the US government to prevent the execution of Cuban national Manuel Valle in Florida from going ahead.

    Mr Valle, who has been on death row for 33 years, is now facing execution after the Florida Supreme Court today lifted a stay which had been granted earlier this month.

    However, the commission has asked for the execution to be postponed to allow the investigation of concerns including the apparent failure to provide Mr Valle with consular access and the possibility that a new execution drug may cause him intense pain.

    Mr Valle’s case is the latest in a growing list in which US authorities have failed to live up to their obligations under international law to provide consular access.

    http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/108636

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  7. http://www.thenation.com/article/163270/after-attica-uprising

    After the Attica Uprising

    By Liliana Segura

    Created 2011-09-09 08:46

    – – – – – – – –
    “This was not justice. Nor were the right lessons learned. To return to the numbers of people incarcerated in 1971, approximately four out of five people imprisoned today would have to be released.”
    – – – – – – – –

    On the morning of September 9, 1971, Attica Correctional Facility, the largest and most secure prison in New York State, went up in a flame of resistance and rage. Just over half of the men incarcerated there-more than 1,200 people-took 38 prison guards hostage, in a demand for their basic human rights. By the time their rebellion was forced to an end on September 13, 43 men, prisoners and guards alike, were dead. Thirty-nine of the dead were shot on the orders of Governor Nelson Rockefeller.

    To fully understand the prisoners’ rebellion at Attica forty years ago, one must first understand the complexity of 1971, which was Dickensonian in its unfolding: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. We were a nation of hope, with the possibility of revolutionary change within our grasp. Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH was born that year. Thirteen Democrats, with imaginations shaped as much by their own dreams as the Black Power and Civil Rights Movements, founded the Congressional Black Caucus. Broad swaths of the American citizenry felt empowered enough to stand up against unjust government policies; sixty percent of the electorate opposed the Vietnam War. Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” was more than a beautiful song. It was the soundtrack that nourished the spirit of a movement. This was the best of 1971: its unmitigated hope.

    But for those who knew the worst of that year, they recall events that unfolded with the brutality of a serial killer. Horror was a persistent thing. Soon after the government turned its weapons on its own children in 1970, killing four and permanently paralyzing another student at Kent State University for the crime of peacefully protesting the US invasion of Cambodia, 1971 would give birth to what many now refer to as “Black August.”

    On August 21, George Jackson, prisoner, author and Field Marshal for the Black Panther Party was shot and killed at San Quentin Prison in California for allegedly trying to escape his sentence of one year to life for robbing a gas station of seventy bucks. Jackson’s seminal work, Soledad Brother, a collection of prison letters published the year before, had firmly planted him in the seat of the hearts of people the world over, but with no group more so than America’s prisoners. The official explanation for killing him-that he’d hidden a gun in his afro-was summarily rejected by many, especially black prisoners who viewed it as an execution.

    The next day, at Attica, the response to Jackson’s death was a silent prayer and fast. Eight hundred men-African American, Latino and white-arrived for the first shift at the mess hall all wearing black somewhere on their clothing and sat in silence, refusing to eat. The staff knew something was brewing. Jackson’s death had sparked uprisings in other prisons. But Attica, with its fortress-like construction, seemed to an arrogant administration to be immune to such unrest.

    It shouldn’t have. A month before, a group of prisoners known as the Attica Liberation Faction had submitted a petition to the state’s correction commissioner, Russell Oswald, demanding an end to the “brutal, dehumanized” conditions at the prison. Chief among their list of twenty-seven complaints was horrible overcrowding; Attica, designed for 1,600 men was over capacity by at least 600 people. Prisoners got one shower a week and only one role of toilet paper a month. At Attica, brutality and beatings were a matter of course, as was the routine use of solitary confinement-otherwise known as “the hole”-where men were locked in strip cells for 24-hours a day, where they would sleep naked on a concrete floor. Toilets were a hole in the floor. This was justified as a disciplinary measure, but prisoners themselves were often the targets of race-based attacks by members of the all-white staff who oversaw a population that was more than 60 percent Black and Latino.

    But racism and brutal conditions on the inside were only a part of the story. On the outside, just two months before, President Richard Nixon had declared the War on Drugs, which sent out a coded but defining message out about crime, and who is a criminal. Nixon, we now know, believed that when it came to society’s ills, “you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.” If in Vietnam the enemy had been “anything that moved,” for those tasked with waging this new war, the enemy was now anyone behind the wall.

    ***

    Attica Correctional Facility is a sprawling complex that includes four separate yards, lettered A through D. They converge at a point referred to as “Times Square.” On the morning of September 8, 1971, there was a minor scuffle in A Yard. Under orders of Superintendent Vincent Mancusi, the two men involved, Ray Lamorie and Leroy Dewer, were forcibly dragged out of their cells later that night to be taken to the hole.

    “These guys were being beaten through the halls,” a former prisoner named Albert Victory recalls. “That’s the way it was done. Men just couldn’t take it anymore.” One outraged prisoner threw a soup can at a guard, and was relegated to his cell-“keeplock”-as punishment. The next morning, thanks to a careless mistake by a junior officer, prisoners were able to free him so that he could go to breakfast. Mancusi found out and ordered yet another punishment, but when the guards tried to carry it out, the prisoners turned on them. The rebellion began. A mob of prisoners tore down the gates that led to Times Square and opened the passages to the rest of the prison. In the process, a guard named William Quinn was gravely injured.

    In Victory’s recollection, it “spread like wildfire.”

    At first there was a feeling of euphoria. The prisoners came together and organized themselves into committees. Black Muslims were selected to set up a security perimeter around the hostages-their most valuable bargaining tools-to make sure they were kept safe. They drew up a list of demands. They wanted more visits with their loved ones. They wanted religious freedom and food that met their religious beliefs. They wanted access to educational opportunities that would help them when they got out.

    “What the inmates said had validity,” says Michael Smith, who himself was taken hostage in D Yard. A new corrections officer, just 22 years old at the time, Smith had actually seen a similar list of demands weeks before, when members of the Attica Liberation Faction drafted them to give to Commissioner Oswald. By Smith’s description, “they were humanitarian demands for religious freedom, medical care and education.”

    But at the core of everything, recalls another Attica prisoner named Arthur “Bobby” Harrison, “was that we were sick of being dehumanized. We wanted to be seen as human beings.” Harrison joined Victory and all the other men in D Yard that day. They were determined, too, to show that they could be more humane than their keepers.

    “We sent the wounded out for treatment,” Victory recalls. Among them was William Quinn. “We called for outside observers to come in and hear what we were saying. We wanted our story told.”

    The prison administration had little choice but to comply. Among the observers they brought to Attica at the prisoners’ request were journalists, attorneys and even Bobby Seale of the Black Panther Party, who helped push for a negotiated settlement. In theory, Oswald agreed to most of their demands. But there was little to make his promises binding, especially given that previous requests had been ignored. And, more importantly, the prisoners also wanted a promise of amnesty, given all the potential charges surrounding the rebellion itself. This would prove to be a crucial sticking point: the authorities already considered this to be too much to ask, and when Quinn succumbed to his wounds on September 11, his death marked the end of negotiations. For the prisoners, the question of amnesty became even more urgent: New York, after all, was a death penalty state. But the state could not be seen as capitulating. Appeals by the observers to bring Nelson Rockefeller to Attica to avoid a use of force failed.

    “It was raining the morning of September 13,” Bobby Harrison recalls over the phone on another rainy day 40 years later, standing beside his mother’s graveside. “Every time it rains, I’m right back there.” Helicopters now buzzed overhead. State troopers and guards from Attica and other prisons were positioned on rooftops with all manner of firepower: machine guns, big game rifles, shotguns. In a last ditch effort to force the state to negotiate, prisoners marched eight blindfolded hostages along the catwalk above the yard, threatening to slash their throats. Michael Smith was among them and in a terrible irony, Don Noble, a prisoner who had protected him during the initial takeover, was his designated executioner. But before Noble would have to make any life-or-death choices, the helicopters dropped canisters above the yard. Tear gas permeated the air, blinding the prisoners below. Then, without warning, the shooting began, the bullets as indiscriminate as the expanding cloud of poison.

    It lasted about seven minutes. “Men were being picked off,” Bobby Harrison says, his voice rising. A friend of Harrison’s named L.D. Barkley who had been very vocal on the bullhorn the leaders used to address the crowd (and who was in Attica for a minor parole violation on a previous charge of forging a check) was shot 15 times at point-blank range. Smith and Noble were shot multiple times but survived.

    In the end, ten guards and 29 prisoners died on the morning of September 13, 1971. (Another four people died under uncertain circumstances over the course of the previous days.) Early reports blamed the hostage deaths on the prisoners, saying they slashed the guards’ throats. But every autopsy would determine that to a man, all the victims were killed by gunfire ordered by the state of New York.

    After the attack, prisoners were made to lie facedown in mud and feces. They crawled from D Yard to A Yard, where they were stripped naked and forced to make their way through a gauntlet of guards who beat them with anything they had. Inside the cellblocks, guards had littered the floor with broken bottles. Prisoners walked-if they could and if not, they were made to crawl-on top of the glass and were shoved into the 6 x 9 cells.

    Albert Victory remembers being in a cell with ten other men. “For most of us, our gunshot wounds went initially untreated,” Victory says. “Some of us were taken to the hospital in trucks that contained the bodies of the dead. But only the most seriously injured. …I only had two gunshot wounds. We were sent to the prison hospital. When I went to the prison hospital, I was beaten the whole way there. Beaten the whole way back.”

    At Attica, life had returned to normal.

    ***

    From the perspective of contemporary prison administrators, the story of Attica is embarrassingly primitive, with its images of rifles, Vietnam-era tear gas and the obviously bloody hands of the state. Forty years later, America seems to have learned from the uprising, not a human rights lesson but an Orwellian one. Prisons today are replete with techniques for high-tech, fool-proof management, complimented by PR savvy to control the message. Today’s prisons are designed to ensure that the Attica brothers’ central concern to be seen, heard and treated as human beings is not so much met as effectively neutralized.

    Prisoners aren’t only disappeared from the outside world; their ability to communicate with one another is also routinely suppressed in order to prevent the recurrence of any future Atticas. This fact makes modern prison protests, a number of which have occurred in the past year alone, all the more remarkable.

    Last December, the biggest prison strike in US history took place, across at least six Georgia penitentiaries. It started as one-day work stoppage-prisoners refused to leave their cells-but stretched into a week. Coordinated via contraband cell phones, the protest was partly over Georgia’s refusal to pay prisoners for their work. But it reached a boiling point due to the daily grind of violence, isolation, lack of education, inadequate medical care and insufficient family visits. As a 20-year-old man incarcerated at Hays State Prison in Trion, Georgia told a reporter for the New York Times, contacted by cell phone, “We locked ourselves down because…we can’t be treated as animals.”

    Then, this summer, prisoners in the Secure Housing Units-solitary confinement-at California’s Pelican Bay Prison staged a protest too, using the only recourse they had: a hunger strike to protest, among myriad other human rights violations, the cruel policy of indefinite solitary confinement. From July 1 to July 20, they refused to eat or drink. They eventually resumed eating because as one of their advocates, Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, explained, “people were in grave danger of dying.” But there are reports they will begin another hunger strike this month.

    Many of the demands today are disturbingly similar to what the men at Attica asked for. But there is a difference between Attica and these protests. Where 40 years ago civil rights leaders and journalists showed up at the request of prisoners to document what happened, no flag bearers arrived to support the hunger strikers this summer or the prisoners in Georgia. “We contacted Cornel West, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Tavis Smiley,” explains Nunn. “But the prison population has been so demonized that supporting them is now seen as a political liability.”

    ***

    The uprising at Attica was the worst this nation has ever seen. The use of troops against the members of the population, outside of massacres against indigenous people, was the bloodiest since the Civil War. The committee that investigated, known as the McKay Commission, was deeply critical of Rockefeller’s management of the situation and the former governor, who would go on to be vice president, would eventually admit that he wouldn’t recommend the use of force like that again. After decades, prisoners and guards who were in Attica those days in September, were compensated by federal and state authorities.

    This was not justice. Nor were the right lessons learned. To return to the numbers of people incarcerated in 1971, approximately four out of five people imprisoned today would have to be released. The demands coming out of Pelican Bay and Georgia could have been written by the Attica Liberation Faction.

    But Eddie Ellis, a radio journalist, prisoner reform advocate and former Attica prisoner who was locked in one of the secured areas of the prison during the uprising, says that the bloodshed at Attica did something important. “Attica exposed what was being done to people and it also showed what men were able to do in a few short days when we work together.” That history will serve us, one way or another. The choice, as it has always been, is up to us.

    Additional reporting by Robin Templeton [1].

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  8. Pingback: Botched death penalty in Ohio, USA | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  9. Pingback: London Grenfell Tower dead by cyanide | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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