A tour through the circles of hell

O'Shea, Patrick



A Tour Through The Circles of Hell By Patrick O'Shea Correction office David Hale was horrified by the barbaric and brutal actions of his fellow officers. "I can't describe it to you --I've never seen beatings like that," he recalled. "At least 50 guys got it, maybe more. I seen them carry one inmate down the hall with a guard on each leg and one on each arm. The assistant warden comes down the hall and grabs the inmate's testicles and starts yanking on them, saying, 'Who's doing it to who now, boy?'" According to Hale and court testimony from more than 50 prisoners at the federal prison at Marion, Illinois, an assault force of guards entered the cells outfitted in helmets, plastic shields, bullet-proof vests, and armed with specially designed riot gear. Their name tags were removed moved from their uniforms so that it would be impossible to identify them when it was over. Moving from cell to cell in squads, they shackled the prisoners' hands and legs, and then proceeded to inflict severe beatings with steel tipped boots and three-foot riot bludgeons, each with a steel ball affixed to the end. "Rib-spreaders," as they are called, are designed to separate intercostal rib cartilage and cause acute pain without fracturing bones or leaving any evidence of bruises. They are favorite weapons for this reason and have become part of the regular equipment at the prison. After all the prisoners locked in the cell block were beaten, the assault team entered the hospital and proceeded to beat prisoners who were bedridden and under medical supervision. In many cases, they ripped of prisoners' underwear and conducted forced rectal searches that amounted to rape. Hale testified: " Certain guards were bragging about how far they shoved a riot baton up an inmate's rectum." One prisoner was injected with an unspecified drug and lost consciousness for two days. This assault occurred on October 27, 1983. Since then, Marion has been in a state of a 23-hour lock down. The entire prison has become a Control Unit. Control Units originated with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The federal government has long been a leader in developing sophisticated techniques of behavior modification. As far back as 1963, under the direction of Dr. Edward Schein, experiments with repressive methods were underway. James Bennett, Director of BOP at that time, approved Dr. Schein's ideas. By late 1968, the Bureau of Prisons had sent Dr. Martin Groder to the federal prison at Marion to begin monitoring the behavior of prisoners confined to the notorious "H Block," later renamed as "The Control Unit." The Marion facility, opened in 1963 as a replacement for Alcatraz, is the only Level Six prison operated by the federal government. Located 360 miles south of Chicago, Marion sits in the midst of Crab Orchard National Wildlife Preserve. It is surrounded by swamps, an abundance of razor wire, and numerous fences and gun towers. The facility houses between 350 and 400 prisoners, most of whom are political prisoners. Since Groder's arrival, Marion has become a model for other federal prisons and for state prisons in which extreme behavior modification is practiced. Human Rights Watch, an international human rights agency that has condemned the prison, refers to this phenomenon as "Marionization" and notes that 36 states have established their own super maximum control units. "His skin was peeling back and raw meat was visible. I will investigate the extensive use of gas and the presence of a paramilitary force at Cedar Junction (Walpole)." Massachusetts State Senator Royal Boiling, 1988 "Marionization" in Massachusetts Despite the fact that Marion was singled out by Amnesty International as imposing conditions that "amount to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment" and as being in violation of the United Nations standard minimal requirements for the treatment of prisoners, Marionization continues unabated. The most recent state interested in the Marion model is Massachusetts. Led by Ronald Duval, Superintendent at Walpole state prison, senior correction ofiicials visited Marion. When he returned, he told reporters from the Boston Globe, "We absolutely liked what we saw." It figures. Duval's disregard for human rights is no surprise. Duval stood accused by his fellow officers of brutality against prisoners in a 1991 incident at MCI-Cedar Junction (Walpole). During the event in question, which took place in the hospital unit in the basement, Duval, then the Director of Security, ordered his guards to shut off the recording video while he repeatedly kicked a prisoner in the face who was being restrained by handcuffs and waist chain. Had it not been for a disgruntled guard, who himself participated in the beating of the prisoner, and who later signed an aflidavit against Duval, the incident would have received little attention. Department of Correction spokesperson Robin Bavaro, when questioned about the incident at Walpole state prison and about the subsequent promotion of Duval to the office of superintendent, replied, "It is the department's policy not to comment on personnel issues with anyone, at any time." When Duval says he liked what he saw, one must acknowledge that he is not alone. After all, the construction of this facility cost $300,000 per prisoner, making it the most expensive prison ever built in Massachusetts. How does this expensive, new generation super-maximum facility differ from high level security prisons, and what justifies the enormous expense? The Departmental Segregation Unit- Forerunner of the DDU In 1985, prisoner Jorge Bidot burned to death in Cell 27 in the notorious Departmental Segregation Unit, known as Ten Block, at MCI-Walpole. The details of the case alerted court ofiicials that something was seriously wrong with the administration of the DSU. The hearing about the inquest took place in Wrentham District Court on March 20, 1985, and uncovered the following facts. Inmate Jorge Bidot committed suicide by setting his cell on fire and stuffing toilet paper around the door to prevent fresh air from entering his cell. Expert testimony concluded that the door was jammed because the use of toilet paper created sufficient pressure against the bolt in the worn lock to prevent the guards from unlocking his door. According to the report, however, Bidot could have been rescued despite the failure of the lock and key. The report concludes that: Although the key could not open the solid door of Bidot's cell, an emergency lever was located at the end of the lower left and right tiers. This lever was housed in a box just outside each tier. Expert testimony indicates that this lever would have unlocked Bidot's solid door on February 4, 1985. All guards questioned were familiar with the use of that handle [on the upper tiers, but not on the lower tier where Bidot died]. At some point in the first month of a Correction Officer's training, he is taught the general use of emergency Levers... Had the handle been pulled that night, it would have released all the steel doors on the cells in the lower right tier. The officers attending to the emergency on the night of February 4, 1985... testified that they were unaware of the purpose of the handle. One officer, however, who did know of its purpose believed it had been damaged in earlier riots and never repaired. Sergeant Marshall, at the time of Bidot's death, knew of the existence of the handle, since he used the closet in which it was prominently housed as a storage area. Common sense would suggest that one of many correction officers should have tried the handle on the night in question. Marshall did not bother to test it. Bidot died. When the state police arrived to question the prisoners, most of them were reticent because they feared reprisals. The one inmate who did speak openly with the state police was placed in isolation. Privately, and through correspondence with their attorneys, many inmates questioned Marshall's willingness to open Bidot's door. He had been known to throw lighted cigarettes onto the beds of sleeping inmates. Blocks to Attorney/Client Confidentiality When these and similar facts were reported during attorney visits, the administration became fearful and replaced the wire mesh screen dividing the DSU visiting room with a plexiglass wall that interfered with the free flow of information. Ann Greenblatt, an attorney with the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, reported in her affidavit that she objected to DSU staff that "the prisoner and I were not allowed to have a contact visit; rather, we were placed on opposite sides of a solid plexiglass barrier. The barrier has a small voice box, but it was necessary to shout to make oneself heard by the person on the other side." Thus, it was impossible to exchange and review documents in a confidential manner. Legal paperwork would have to be carried by a guard to the attorney, or from an attorney to the prisoner, through a locked door where the guard was not visible to either party, thus allowing the guard an opportunity to peruse the paperwork. Furthermore, Greenblatt asserted that her in-person discussion with prisoners in the DSU had been continually monitored except for periods when the monitor-officer had left his assigned station. [Mail between attorneys and clients was interfered with, and clients' phone access was deliberately hindered.] Anyone who complained was subject to discrimination. After a number of complaints, the court finally intervened and ordered that inmates should have direct access to counsel. In her petition Attorney Greenblatt stated: The petitioner, whatever its status may be in this proceeding, is presently seeking an order permitting MCLS staff to meet with DSU inmates (1) without the imposition of any mesh or plexiglass barrier; (2) without the necessity of conversing via the telephone device; (3) without DSU inmates being required to wear jumpsuits; and (4) without being required to set up an appointment 24 hours in advance. In addition, the Department of Correction attempted to bar paralegals who were employed by the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services. Dianne McLaughlin, who had worked for 14 years with the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, had her Visiting privileges revoked and was accused of violating Walpole visiting rules and a state criminal statute as well. McLaughlin believes that the DOC was responding to her criticism that during her visits to the men in the DSU, a guard had been posted within eight feet of herself and her client, and that the guard could listen to her conversation without any difficulty. She requested that she be allowed to see clients in a place that allowed visual surveillance but not auditory surveillance, and her request had been denied. The Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County agreed with Ms. McLaughlin and demanded that she be allowed access to prisoners without making application to do so, that legal visits be carried on without auditory surveillance, and that continuous visual surveillance by DOC personnel was uncalled for. The court further enjoined DOC employees from reading, censoring, withholding and confiscating legal papers. It allowed prisoners to have legal visits without being required to wear handcuffs, waist chains, leg irons, jumpsuits, or other impediments whose purpose clearly was to harass. The suit that was occasioned by his death (Carl Hoffer, et al. v. Michael Pair, Commissioner of Correction) called public attention to the fact that correction officials systematically violated prisoners' human rights in that unit. In a blistering report delivered on March 3, 1988, State Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Liacos took the Massachusetts Department of Correction to task for countless violations of law. Judge Liacos ruled that the Commissioner of Correction not only operated the DSU in flagrant violation of established due process provisions of the Massachusetts Constitution, but that he was also in violation of numerous state statutes governing the treatment of prisoners confined to segregation. The Court ordered that the commissioner enact a series of sweeping reforms. Between March 3, 1988, and December 13, 1989, the Court rejected three separate proposals of new regulations submitted by the Commissioner of Correction on the grounds that they did not conform to constitutional requirements. Either the commissioner had a great deal of difliculty understanding and interpreting the Massachusetts Constitution or he had been operating the state's prison system outside its mandate for so long that he could not imagine working within its parameters Finally, the Court accepted a set of regulations for the management of January 15, 1990. The Court was most critical of classification procedures. According to the specific regulation governing classification (103 CMR 421.07), in order to be sent to the DSU the prisoner "must pose a substantial threat to the safety of others; or pose a substantial threat of damaging or destroying property; or pose a substantial threat of interrupting the operation of the state correctional facility if he is confined in the general population of any state correctional facility." According to the attorneys who monitored the case and the judge who reviewed the procedures, the hearings were so meaningless and unfair that there was no way of determining whether any of the prisoners in DSU deserved to be there by the standards established in 103 CMR. Many attorneys argue that confinement to Ten Block frequently was retaliation for filing lawsuits against prison administrators, for seeking religious freedom, or for engaging in prison politics. The Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County found that the DSU classification hearings were conducted in a fashion that violated the most basic rights of due process. The purpose of the hearing, in theory, was to serve as a safeguard to ensure that individuals who were not "a substantial threat to the safety of others" would not be placed in segregation for extended periods of time without review. This is not what happened in reality. In some cases, prisoners spent as many as 10 years in DSU. The Court noted that, "The caseworker does little to assist the inmate before or during the meeting; tape recording of the meetings is rare; eyewitnesses are extremely rare; and the case worker meets with the board just before the meeting starts and this is not provided for in the Regulations...Most meetings regarding placement in segregation are perfunctory and there is a lack of fairness." Numerous court cases document that prisoners in Ten Block have been beaten and tortured. Afiidavits and court transcripts read like a page from Weld's "tour through the circles of hell." Jack Shea testified that on April 25, 1988, he was placed in handcuffs and leg irons and transferred from the main section of the prison to Ten Block. As he was escorted to the DSU, Shea was beaten mercilessly by the guards. One guard smashed him in the head with a billy club while others repeatedly punched and kicked him. He was bleeding so badly from the assaults that the guards had to take Shea to the hospital unit for medical attention to stitch him up before his placement in Ten Block. After receiving treatment, Shea was taken to Ten Block and placed in a cell. He tried to get some sleep hoping to escape from the pain. Suddenly he heard a loud commotion. Shea testified: "While I was still lying in bed, half-asleep, an officer sprayed me with mace right in the face. I turned away to protect my eyes. The next thing knew, the officers had rushed into the cell and pinned me under a large plastic shield. One of them rained punches on my face, head, and back. While the beating continued, the officers handcuffed and shackled me. They took me to the office." Shea testified that while in the office, "Lieutenant Marsolais told me, 'I'll beat you every day...I don't like you...I never did like you.' A captain who was present just laughed. Marsolais also added, 'If you tell anyone what happened, I'll put you in four-point restraints and beat you again." Raymond Brisson filed an affidavit on May 10, 1988 in which he asserted that at 4:30 A.M., he woke to find guards in riot gear and helmets standing in front of his cell. They asked him to stand to be handcuffed. He complied and was placed in leg irons and escorted to a cell without a mattress. He requested a mattress but was denied. The next morning he was again placed in handcuffs and leg irons and dragged to the ofice of Lieutenant Eugene Marsolais. Along the way one of the ofiicers tugged at the leg irons so that it would rip and cut the skin. One officer wrenched his neck while another twisted his arm. Marsolais put his face right next to Brisson's and screamed, "Any time you break a rule we are going to ride you and gas you. I don't care how many times we have to do it." A few hours later they gassed his cell and rushed in equipped with full riot gear and beat him mercilessly. He was then dragged to the first floor visiting room. One of the guards stood on his back while Lieutenant Marsolais bellowed, "Do I make myself clear?" That afternoon he was gassed for what seemed to him like hours. His face burned and he went blind and deaf. They took him to the hospital unit where they placed him in four point restraints for two days. During this time all his requests to see a doctor were denied. Brisson was subsequently transferred to the federal system. The most outrageous case involved a man who has testified to losing his testicle as a result of being beaten by several guards. The following excerpts are reprinted directly from the court transcripts. "At approximately 1:00 P.M. on November 24, 1991, the prisoner was returned to his cell by several prison oflicials. Officer Goncalves ordered the prisoner's cell door opened and then entered the cell. While Officers Lydon, Midwood, Grossi, Doe, and Roe either held the prisoner or looked on, Officer Goncalves maliciously and sadistically, for the purpose of causing harm, struck the prisoner in the groin with his knee, and then strangled and beat the prisoner. Lieutenant Billings, who was in charge of the Departmental Segregation Unit in Block Ten on November 24, 1991, watched the assault and did nothing. The officers left the prisoner naked in the cell, crying in pain. The prisoner's repeated request for a physician were ignored for hours. As a result of the assault, the prisoner suffered pain, as well as psychological and physical injury, including a ruptured testicle which was surgically removed on November 27, 1991. The prisoner's name is being withheld at his request." The Department of Correction has not taken disciplinary action against any of the officers involved in these incidents. On the contrary, Eugene Marsolais has been rewarded for his management of the DSU by being named Director of the DDU at MCI-Walpole. The taxpayers have already spent millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements as a result of these violations of law. When Odyssey inquired as to the exact sum of taxpayers' money that has been awarded to prisoners as a result of civil litigation, we were informed that "Your request is denied, inasmuch as settlement agreements entered into by the Department contain specific non-disclosure clauses precluding any party from revealing the terms of the agreements or disseminating any settlement documentation." In other words, the DOC asserts that the taxpayers of the Commonwealth have no legal right to know how their money is spent. The department, in effect, has signed away the rights of all private citizens to review payments to prisoners for civil litigation claims. Odyssey's review of the DSU budget also revealed that extravagant sums of money were allotted to procure weaponry that far exceeded any possible use. For example, John Marshall signed a one-year budget-request that included 30 grenades, 30 chemical agent projectiles, six 38-caliber guns, two 37-caliber guns, six mini-14 rifles, and six 12-gauge shotguns for a total cost to the taxpayers of $7,193.24. Given the fact that all prisoners in the DSU are locked in their cells 23 hours each day and that only one prisoner draped in three sets of chains is allowed out of his cell at a time, what possible justification is there for purchasing this arsenal? A review of the DSU orientation hook confirms that "all inmate movement within and outside the unit will be in full restraints as follows: cuffs behind the back, waist chains, and leg restraints escorted by two ofiicers." In response to these allegations of wrong doing, correction officials placed the blame for their violations on an outdated and overcrowded segregation unit. Their failure to comply with the statutory regulations governing the unit supposedly was going to be corrected when a $30,000,000 state-of-the-art disciplinary facility was opened. The Departmental Disciplinary Unit Designed to confine 124 prisoners in sound-proof sensory deprivation cells for up to 23 hours a day, and devoid of all standard vocational, educational, and recreational activities, the Departmental Disciplinary Unit (DDU) will serve, according to Duval, as a valuable deterrent. Long experience with Ten Block proves that the opposite is true. Duval himself admits that the recidivism rate for prisoners confined to Ten Block during a five year period was 40 to 50 percent. Prisoners are not, in fact, deterred by extended periods of harsh conditions of isolation. The psychological profiles of prisoners at Marion reveal that some prisoners become more passive, whereas others became more violent and desperate. Dr. Craig Haney, a social psychologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz and authority on prisons calls Marion "the most psychologically oppressive environment I've ever seen inside a correctional institution." He warns that because the number of assaults may drop, "that doesn't mean it is working. Just because prisoners have not gone off enmasse doesn't mean they're not ticking away on an individual level." Another psychiatrist and prison expert, Dr. Bernard Rubenstein, has testified in federal courts that he is alarmed at the health problems associated with long- term isolation. He believes that conditions in control units like the DDU cause irreversible physical and psychological damage. "I don't think human beings were meant to be limited to that degree for long periods, no matter what they've done," Rubenstein says. "It's what happens to astronauts if they are in a state of weightlessness for too long. There are certain kinds of changes in bodily systems [that occur], and there is no way to stop them." Similarly, the conditions have an effect on prison guards. Don Houseworth, a psychologist and former deputy director of Michigan corrections, warns of the dangers to prison guards. They begin to lose all empathy for the prisoners. "If you prepare a guard consistently to be on the lookout for violence, and if you describe the prisoner in non-human terms, pretty soon he will perceive that person in non-human terms," he says. The process of dehumanizing others is a common psychological defense that enables prison guards to commit brutal acts against prisoners without suffering guilt. But dehumanizing others affects one's own humanity. It is not surprising that stress and alcohol and drug abuse are so high among prison guards who work in these maximum security environments. Burn out is common and many of the guards have marital problems. One state Director of Corrections said about Control Units, "In this kind of atmosphere it becomes possible to think of abuse as normal, and if you are not careful you have a staff out of control." What is the ultimate purpose of Control Units? According to penal expert Hans Toch, super-maximum security prisons are used as symbols to assure citizens that prisons are under control and that disruptive prisoners are held in check. During a social period when public anxiety about issues of crime and violence are on the rise, Control Units convey the impression that the criminal justice system is responsible and eflicient. In Massachusetts, Governor William Weld took advantage of a media event by personally opening the first cell door at the DDU. The event was orchestrated weeks in advance and was designed to bolster his image. Legal Challenge to DDU Attorney James Pingeon for the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services claims that, "The DDU is operating in violation of law and is, in effect, an effort to circumvent the Hqfizr decision. Commissioner DuBois' concession that the DDU is more severe than the DSU only confirms that it is currently operating as an 'isolation unit.'" Commissioner Larry E. DuBois, as Regional Director of the North Central Oflice of the Bureau of Prisons, was the very same individual who gave the order to permanently place Marion in lock-down status. Extracted from DuBois' sworn April, 1992 afladavit, he concludes, "After due consideration, I decided to establish a unit comparable to the Control Unit at Marion. It had been intended by my predecessor, George Vose, as a new DSU. I determined that the project should be used instead to institute what would be known as a Departmental Disciplinary Unit." In other words, DuBois is seeking to approximate in Massachusetts those conditions he established and employed at Marion, conditions which have been declaredin violation of United Nations standards of human rights. Conclusion Super Maximum Security prisons, or Control Units, as they have been euphemistically labeled, are the most expensive illusions of security that public money can buy. Confining a minute percentage of the state's prison population in cells that are more expensive than suites at the Hyatt Regency promotes neither prison security nor public safety. Perhaps even worse, Control Units dehumanize both the prisoner and society. While the United States self-righteously condemns the inhumane treatment of prisoners elsewhere, it simultaneously supports methods of punishment that are medieval and barbaric. Condemned world-wide by organizations such as Amnesty International, We can feel nothing about their proliferation but shame.

Author: O'Shea, Patrick

Author Location: Massachusetts

Date: April 1, 2017

Genre: Essay

Extent: 10 pages

If this is your essay and you would like it removed from or changed on this site, refer to our Takedown and Changes policy.

Takedown and Changes Policy
Browse More Essays