Systemic torture and abuse @ Red Onion

Peek, Talib

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Talib Peek Virginia Systemic Torture and Abuse @Red Onion After a grueling nearly nine hour prison bus ride across Virginia handcuffed and shackled we finally arrived to be processed through the intake sally port of southwestern Virginia's Red Onion State Prison. Red Onion or "the onion" as it's referred to by most prisoners, their friends and family is Virginia's designated Super Maximum Security Prison. On paper it's classified as security level 6/high 5 with a federal bureau of prisons influenced step-down program for transitioning problem and dangerous prisoners back into general population. In reality 'the onion' is one of two prisons [Wallen's Ridge is the second] built in the furthest corner of Virginia far from prying eyes and oversight. Since 1998 these two prisons have been the dumping ground for not just the dangerous members of VADOC's population it is where Virginia sends those who need to broken. Whether you have one year or one hundred years to serve is irrelevant. Young and old. Drug addicts or murderer. Violent or simply afraid for your life you are warehoused in cells next to obvious mental health cases, paper pushers (prisoners who complain I have filed a lawsuit over the conditions or treatment or simply got on somebody's bad side) gang members, informants and victims as well as a few of Virginia's criminally infamous such as Malvo - The D.C. Sniper. To discribe 'The Onion' as a dangerous prison would be an understatement. True - because of the high concentration of gang members here [bloods and crips] - any day in population can very quickly go downhill but your worst threat here is the staff. Every day is a high wire act as you do everything in your power to interact as little as possible; to say as little as possible; to do what you need to do in order to get transferred away from this place. None of that means a thing if you become, for whatever reason, the focus of some staff member's animosity. No amount of patience, humbleness or having sincerely taken responsibility for the crimes which landed you in prison can erase the pain, terror, rage and bitterness experienced from the denial of justice after having been beaten, having hands, arms and/or legs broken; after having your teeth kicked in or punched out; after having eyes blackened and the bones in your face broken. Maybe you were repeatedly gased or sexually assaulted? How about when your meals are withheld and you are starved for days with no administrative recourse? How do you respond when you're given the order to stick your face into your toilet and blow bubbles in order to receive your meals or medication? Year after year of these kind of experiences and observations continue to grow and fester at places like Red Onion. Perpetuated by those hired to help rehabilitate and make our society and communities better and safer how are we surprised at the results? Red Onion is divided into sections - A and B side and C and D side. Each building has six pods (ie A1, A2, C1, C2...) with long term segregation concentrated into C building and D building where you can be held indefinitely. On the bus ride at the trade out point where prisoners who'd made it off of 'The Onion' were swapped out for prisoners that would take their place we were warned that no matter we should do everything in our power to avoid being sent to B building. It sounded crazy that B-building, which was a general population building, would be more hated and feared than the long term segregation unit where it is widely known that all kinds of horrible abuses occur. The reality is that when you are handcuffed, shackled and dog leashed for every movement once you step off that bus there are no options as to where you think you can choose to be housed. The look on the faces of my fellow prisoners peering through the 4x24 vertical security glass in the cell doors was a mix of sadness and fear watching as I was moved from the intake pod in A blg to B-3 which I was told was the orientation pod for long term segregation. It was where they moved you to break you, to humiliate you, to put you in situations in order to ellicit a response so that they in turn can justify their over use of the cell extraction. I didn't really put a lot of weight on that info though until I was actually put in that pod. When I was shuffled into B-3 pod the first thing I noticed were the bright yellow placards hanging above each of the bottom tier's cells declaring them to be mental health holding cells - most were equipped with cameras. Not really a benefit since the people watching the cameras are the same ones metting out the abuse. I was assigned to cell #9 at the rear left corner of the twenty-two cell pod. Once the handcuffs, leg shackles and transport/restraining leash were removed I was able to fully observe where I would be held for orientation and was fully disgusted. I immediately asked to be moved to another cell - my request was promptly denied with a smile. Knowing that the last thing the staff were going to do was to move me I pleaded to at least be given cleaning supplies to decontaminate the cell. If one of the c.o.'s who was familiar with me hadn't told the B-blg staff that I didn't seem to be a trouble maker I doubt that I would've been allowed the pair of latex gloves, sponge and half a bottle of watered down generic disinfectant I finally received. At the 'Onion this is the best you can hope for. My meager amount of personal property- books, mail photos and state issued clothing/bedding were all contained in nylon laundry bags placed in the center of the cell - the only spot in the cell that looked the least disgusting. Armed with the pair of gloves and chemical soaked sponge I attacked the steel bed first. Painted almost fire engine red it's frame began at the wall and ended at the floor with no gaps - only a two inch recess on top where the security mattress went. I tried not to breath in the stench of the cell as I scrubbed at what appeared to be stains of blood, snot, feces, food and I don't know what else. I had to rinse the nastiness from the sponge in the nearly as nasty "stainless" steel combination sink-toilet praying the weak chemical disinfect would offer me some kind of bacterial protection. Once I'd cleaned the bed (didn't have to worry about cleaning under it because there was no under the bed) I moved my bags to that space and finally had to look at the worst of work ahead. The walls had graffiti trails of feces, dirt and grime. On the wall where the sink toilet was set there was nearly a half inch thick layer of what looked like a mixture of blood, spit/phlegm and masturbatory ejaculate (that's my way of describing it as best as I can) spread out over a three foot area. I can't even really describe how bad it looked. There was no way the sponge I had would've gotten the job done so I had to sacrifice one of my deodorants using the emptied out hard plastic shell to scrape layer after layer of slimey bodily fluids from the walls dumping it into the toilet. I had no more disinfect and there was no hot water running in the cell so i used several of the little half ounce max-security packs of shampoo to clean with still praying I wouldn't inadvertantly tear the thin latex gloves I'd been given. It took nearly three hours scraping layer after layer of that slime from the wall fighting my gag reflex the whole time and wondering what kind of human being could put another human being in a cell like that. Starting with Friday night [August 14th 2015] I began my crash course of how black lives absolutely don't matter and especially not at Red Onion. You receive your meals via a steel pass-thru box welded onto each cell door - this is to prevent any physical / unauthorized contact between prisoners and staff. You have approximately 3-5 minutes to eat before they return to collect your tray. If you take too long to eat / return the tray to the box your next couple of meals will consist of an empty tray. How do they get away with that with all of those cameras in the pod? First of all 95% of the staff is involved on some level in the abuse - those who aren't simply look the other way and avoid getting involved in having to blow the whistle on their own relatives. Check out the familial connections here and you'll find the McCoy's, Mullins', Collins', Sikes', Messers', Flemmings', Swiney's, Dixon's, Deel's - not all of them bad but in Southwestern Virginia bordering Tenn and Kentucky, family is expected to protect family whether you're the nurse, the supervisor or foot soldier. Secondly, through years of practice: staff keeps a few empty trays after each meal so that when they decide you don't get to eat for a couple of meals (or days) these trays are kept on the feeding cart. Since all trays are placed in the pass box with their lids on any one passing by or observing video due to a complaint will only see the prisoner get a tray just like all the other prisoners. Only the prisoner finds out once the steel slide giving him access to the box retracts since the tray lid is always removed once the tray is secured within the box. Yeah you can kick and scream, curse and refuse to take the empty tray but that won't do you any good - the c.o. will simply shut the slot leaving the tray in the box to be picked up in a few minutes as if you received your meal. If you cause enough of a ruckus guess what? They'll simply end up gassing you, beating you bloody and leaving you on strip cell - mission accomplished. Another of The Onion's favorite moves is the welcome party / housewarming gifts. An example of this is how the cell was when I was put in it. More devious is when they know you are going to be moved to a specific cell (or orchestrate such a move) and pre gas the cell. Usually a supervisor or one of his close confederates will enter the cell and spray as much pepper spray as they can in every corner of the cell, the floor, walls and especially the bed area before exiting closing the door behind them to keep it inside. They bring you to the cell then - if you immediately react to the toxic fumes and attempt to refuse entry (remember you're in handcuffs, shackles and restraint leash) this gives cause for a possible beatdown and being placed on strip cell. If you try to tough it out - you become that day's entertainment. If it doesn't effect you enough guess what? - they'll simply gas another cell and move you again into that one. And you really wonder why so many are released from prison a hundred times worse than when they entered? You spend year after year being beaten, gassed, starved and chained naked to a cold steel bedframe with your phone calls blocked and your mail intercepted and thrown into the trash, hoping to get a shower at least once a week or your hour of dog kennelled out of cell "rec" when allowed - after you experience years of this kind of physical and psychological torture how do you think you'd be effected? Imagine if you were actually innocent and experienced this type of treatment... On Friday afternoon there was an altercation between a c.o. and a prisoner. According to what was explained by the prisoner after the incident the floor officer had called him out into the sargent's office area out of view of the cameras to chastise him ("D.C." - Wall) for not being submissive enough after being told to lock down. When Wall didn't give the demanded level of fear/tail tucking this enraged the c.o. who felt it was his right to strike Wall in the face with his walkie talkie. Of course Wall fought back and in due course the radio code for a fight / officer in distress (10-33) was sent out. Now I only have Wall's statement as to this earlier order of events however it is not an order of events that hasn't happened before in multiple variations so I give him the benefit of my past knowledge. What I do know for certain is what I saw with my own eyes afterward. When the 10-33 call goes out all c.o.'s are expected to respond. From the window slot in the cell door I watched. First there was opening of the main door. In the breezeway area under the security control booth several officers called for and had dropped down to them a set of tie down chains and locks. Cell 8 was opened and checked to make sure nothing was inside. Next came about six c.o.'s all of them excited and amped up. Then came the loud barking of the attack dogs. Straining at their leashes their barks thundered crashing off the walls as they waited for the entrance of the mash of men they'd been escorting. Arms interlocked as if in a kind of rugby scrum six to eight c.o.'s, including one of the worst supervisors on the mountain (a Lt. whose name I have mentioned already before), came to the solid steel entrance of the pod. Secure within their midst was Wall. Handcuffed and shackled with a multitude of white hands latched on to him his feet barely touched the ground. Yet and still the officers feined difficulty guiding the barely conscious man through the doorway bashing him face first into the edges of the door several times. There was a c.o. videotaping all of this but there is a skill to this as well - a convient shaking of the hand, covering of the lens or simple turn away from what was criminally prosecutable has killed many a lawsuit over the years. Once in the pod I could see how badly Wall looked. Followed by several other officers (Sgts Lts, a captain among others) Wall was dragged, blood trail following in his wake, towards cell 8 cursed and punched along the way. Following behind all of this - what had become an evil modern day lynch mob of nearly thirty white men were two or three nurses. Women who were supposed to aid, to heal, to preserve life but were more bound to their family names than to the preservation of humanity. In front of cell 9 Wall was savagely stripped bare of his already ragged clothes. Throughout this whole incident the only voiced concern from the multitude of officers and supervisors present came from the video camera operator who warned all of them to "Remember the cameras", to not get caught. Stripped nude wrapped in a suicide gown and chains Wall was dragged into the cell to be chained to the bed. Watching from cell 9 I could hear as they cursed and beat upon him some more. Fully restrained what could he possibly do? Finally deciding he'd had enough the officers retreated allowing the nurses to examine him. Their proclaimation was that he only had a few scratches - "he was alright". And right before they all left several officers turned to where I was watching from cell 9 and smiled asking "And how're you doin this evenin'". If they were hoping for a second half of the day's fun and games I definitely wasn't about to give it to them - I said nothing. For the next couple of hours several officers came to view and taunt Wall as he bled in cell 8. When the shift changed at 6 pm he continued to call out for medical attention. Finally going quiet I hoped he hadn't succumed to his injuries. He wouldn't have been the first prisoner I'd seen die but I didn't want to have such a bad end trapped in my mind for the rest of my life. Fortunately the nightshift (Lt) supervisor came through making his round through the building. Of course he'd been briefed about that day's incident but upon looking in on cell 8 I doubt he expected to see that amount of blood and injury. Calling for an immediate medical extract the Lt (one of the better ones and an outsider to the area's clans) brought Wall out of the cell and I saw the damage done. I have not allowed myself to cry for many years while held behind these walls but seeing the destroyed eye and face swollen as if stuffed with grapefruits and crusted with blackened blood I shed tears that night. This is America's "justice system"... this is how too many black and brown lives are destroyed under the guise of rehabilitation. I write about it but, like the words of countless others before me, they will only be scoffed at and ignored, maybe given to academic discussion by those who spend their lives engaged in discussion but it is almost a given that no actions will be made to change this reality. Not in my life time and extremely doubtful in any lifetime that comes after. 2-7-16 Talib Transcribed in 2017

Author: Peek, Talib

Author Location: Virginia

Date: October 19, 2016

Genre: Essay

Extent: 12 pages

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