Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Report from the Georgia Prisoner Hunger Strike

2014-04-02 []: (the following was a letter sent to SPARC with the full intention of it being published and circulated to raise awareness around the conditions in the GDCP that have driven prisoners located in the Special Management Unit to go on hunger strike. Below the reader will find an initial letter, followed by an article detailing different aspects of life in the prison, and finally a PDF file of the author’s written legal complaint)
Well, I’m writing to you again because I have written an article concisely breaking down some of the things that is happening here at the SMU facility where I’m housed. I am sending this to you along with a copy of the civil complaint filed by me and several other inmates here regarding our rights. I would like for you to show this to your SPARC cohorts with hopes that you all can assist me with bringing much exposure to the conditions of the significant hardships that is placed upon us by prison officials here in Jackson, Georgia.
If I could be of any help to the SPARC team I am eager and willing to donate some of my time to participate in any work that will bring truth to the struggle that many of us have suffered from. I am a man of evolution and elevation who refuse to allow an evil spirit to break me of moral quality nor strip me of human dignity. There is so much that could be said of the inhumane treatment and the conditions of confinement and incarceration, I will desperately dedicate much time to shed some light on what’s being held in the dark. I am a POW and I will continue to strive harder to overcome the obstacle of oppression that try to dismantle my spirit.
Again, I would like to thank you for sending your warm wishes and expressing concern for me and my comrades, for it is definitely needed at this time in our lives. If there is any help that I am able to provide for your SPARC team then please feel free to contact me. Than you for your time and effort. May peace be unto you,
[signed] POW Robert Watkins
Legal Complaint []:
1. Classification – When an inmate is transferred to Georgia Diagnostics and Classification Prison/ Special Management Unit (GDCP/SMU) we are placed in an isolated unit on solitary confinement where we are stripped of all personal property without disciplinary sanctions or infractions being imposed, which is a due process violations. We’re held in these conditions indefinitely and we’re not given the proper classification hearing that we’re entitled to upon our initial arrival

2. Designed Cells – Upon placement after our arrival at this unit we are placed in cells that imposes psychological effects, physical and mental deterioration. Several of these cells are designed for destructive prisoners who misuse certain property, SMU staff has placed any inmate in these particular cells. There is a concrete slab that sits five inches from the ground where we are forced to sleep. A shower is installed in the cells and a drainer on the ground where all kinds of insects crawl from. This is dangerous because we’re forced to sleep on the ground which makes us easy access to these deadly insects. The drainer on the ground in the cells sometimes flood with feces and urine, this over-flooding also damage the belongings and legal paperwork that is on the ground due to there being no locker boxes and desk in the cells as is in other wings at this facility and general population. The windows in the cells are blocked (door window and back window), preventing all sunlight from entering. The Muslim prisoners are unable to offer prayer due to the blockage of daylight. All cells are designed to prevent the prisoners from conversing amongst each other.

3. Sanitation – Statewide procedure clearly states that all prisoners are to keep cells sanitized daily but we do not receive daily cell sanitation, we’re lucky to receive cell clean out once a week because officers are not willing to work which makes their job less hard. After showers we are not given any cleaning utensils or other cleaning chemicals and supplies, when defecation is excreted in the unit we are forced to eat meals while defecation is in the air. It is left desposed of for days at a time until someone cleans it.

4. Property – When a prisoner arrives to this facility he is stripped of all personal property without cause. Legal and religious material is confiscated. The property is withheld for months until the inmate moves to another wing at the facility. Such action must only be taken when disciplinary sanctions are imposed, which is also a violation of due process.

5. Recreation – E-wing is the dorm that all new arrivals enter. This is also “the hole” for those who’ve been housed here for years. We are denied out of the cell recreation for which we’re entitled to an hour a day for five days a week. In the other wings SMU officials have limited outside recreation to two days of the week, E-wing is denied completely. Statewide procedure states that all incarcerated prisoners are to receive an hour of out of cell recreation each day for five days a week, for it is a basic human need. SMU officials have continuously denied us recreation.

6. Visitation – After arriving to this facility all prisoners are denied visits for a thirty-day period then after completing the thirty days they only receive visits once a month for two hours. General population is allowed visits on weekends and holidays from 9am – 3pm. All facilities statewide operate under the same procedures.

7. Telephone – Telephone privileges are limited to one call a month. E-wing is not allowed the use of a telephone. This is another method orchestrated by SMU officials used to prevent inmates from exposing these violations to the media and family. Inmates housed in confinement at other facilities are allowed telephone use as is in general population throughout the state. We’re all under the same standard operative procedures.

8. Grievance Procedure – In order for us prisoners to being these violations to civil court we must first exhaust all administrative remedies by filing a grievance within the institution – SMU officials have established a recent tactic where our grievances are being destroyed when it threatens security and administration. Attached to all grievance forms are the receipts that are to be signed by consolers as verification of submission. SMU officials have orchestrated the grievance process to where ‘we’re not receiving our receipts when given to the counselor. Sometimes these receipts are not returned and the grievances are destroyed, which leaves us without proof of submitting the grievances.

9. Medical – At every facility statewide suppose to have a medical unit with medical personnel available 24 hours daily. At the SMU facility there is no medical staff available 24 hours daily, there’s only two nurses stationed here from 7am – 6pm on Mondays – Fridays and 4am – 4pm on weekends. There is no infirmary stationed to house the ill and treatment for other injuries nor the mentally-ill prisoners who inflict self-mutilation. On 7-17-2013 an inmate was found dead in his cell and was left there deceased nearly 24 hours before an officer noticed. I’ve witnessed this prisoner on several occasions complain about internal injuries to officers and medical staff, but no action was taken and his complaints were ignored by all staff. When he passed away SMU officials along with medical staff hid this tragedy from the media and the prisoner’s family. I have reason to believe that the investigation is on-going to this day. Medical staff are in cahoots with the administration here. When prisoners are physically abused by prison staff these nurses falsify documents in our medical files as if these incidents never existed. When prisoners give these nurses medical request forms for immediate medical treatment these request forms are sometimes destroyed, which has been a major problem for the past several years I’ve been housed at this facility.

10. Laundry – Laundry at this facility has been another problem as well. We are allowed to send out laundry twice a week when policy states daily. Even on the days laundry suppose to be washed it some times don’t go out to the laundry. The laundry officer washes laundry at her own will. When inmates need clothes or other bathing material the laundry officer has the tendency to procrastinate on supplying clothing, sometimes it takes months before we receive clothes.

11. Food Portions and Preparation – For the past two years there has been an ongoing issue pertaining to the food trays that we’re being served. We are receiving inadequate food portions, all food portions are not full according to the menu, we are not receiving the 2,800 calories that we’re entitled to daily. Instead we are getting half of the 2800 calories. We’re grown men being fed as if we are toddlers. There is no lunch being served on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and on holidays. However due to the decreased portions on those days our breakfast meals and supper meals are to be double portion, but we’re not receiving these increased portions. As of lately there has been a massive hunger strike amongst several of us prisoners who are making a non-violent stand for many different reasons which inadequate food portions and preparation as one of the reasons. There has been a constant problem with insects floating in our food (mostly when we’re served beans), SMU officials fail to rectify the problem and continuing to allow food service to serve us these filthy trays. When the prisoners complain about these servings kitchen stewardess along with prison staff boldly refuse any correction and tell us to starve to death, this is currently active.

12. Mail – Mail has also been a constant problem. Administration staff has ordered their agents to tamper with incoming and outgoing mail, especially that of the political prisoners. They do not want us exposing the harsh conditions of SMU. This action is also done to prevent prisoners who’ve been abused from pursuing litigation against prison officials. All hunger strike prisoners mail is always tampered with or confiscated. Practically every violation that SMU officials have made against prisoners housed here has been unheard of because prison officials will literally break other laws, confiscating mail so that the truth of this facility would remain hidden from security. We are sometimes denied certain law books and religious books.

13. Religious Service – I’ve been housed at this facility since 7-27-09 and never had I once seen nor spoken to a chaplain or no person of chaplaincy at this institution. Every time I request an interview with a chaplain my request goes unanswered. Muslim prisoners have filed several complaints regarding certain conditions at this facility that violates their religious rights. These violations have yet to be met.

14. Counseling – Counseling has been another matter that we have raised lately. Mental health counselors are not providing sufficient counseling to the mentally ill prisoners who’re on the MH caseload. Some inmates make threats of self harm to counselors and other departmental staff, most times these threats are not taken seriously or ignored. These threats are usually carried out. Nothing is taken seriously when it concerns the inmates. Even general counseling at this facility is inadequate. According to the Established Statewide Standard Operation Procedures (S.O.P.) counselors are to make rounds in each unit once a week. This policy is not being adhered to. We are lucky to see counselors once a month. Counselors are also part of the corruption that circulates within this facility, they assist with the administrative staff on withholding certain information from prisoners and with concealing the mistreatment that we are enduring at this facility.

15. Security – There is nothing safe or secure about this facility. There are barely any officers assigned here, there are plenty of former staff members who’ve quit or resigned due to the horrifying conditions and cruel treatment that us prisoners are experiencing, there’s MAJOR breach of security here with the shortage of staff and officers. We are left inside our cells for hours at a time nearly everyday without officers conducting their thirty minute routine checks to ensure inmate safety while being confined 24 hours daily. This is one of the reasons that prisoner died and was found in his cell hours after his death, officers fail to make rounds as policy states. There are six wings at this facility housing thirty-two inmates per wing, there is not enough staff here to work the units. Is a prisoner happens to die in his cell he will never be discovered until hours later until officers feed trays, that is the only time we see an officer. It’s even harder for diabetic inmates.

16. Discipline – When an inmate commits disciplinary infractions we’re to be sanctioned professionally then disciplinary procedure disclosed in S.O.P. However, this procedure is consistently being violated by SMU officials, who have not used proper procedures, instead they create their own rules and tactics that supersedes state policy and law. They will impose corporal punishment upon us as a sanction which is prohibited in statewide policy. This violation has continued to be in effect due to the lack of outside help for certain prisoners. Food has been withheld and often used as a form of punishment where inmates are not fed their meals at times. These issues remain secret because there’s no way such action can be proven, unless there is outside support.

17. Assaults – Most of the prisoners housed at this facility have been subject to some form of assault made by correctional officers whether sexual or flat out brutality. Several of these officers have history of assaulting prisoners. These incidents are brought to the attention of the administrative staff, but most of these complaints are disregarded to where nothing is done to resolve the incidents. There are officers who are currently assigned to the unit of their victims. They continuously harass them and often retaliate in other ways when policy states that both parties are to have no interactions. These officers make threats to harm their victims again and also refuse to feed their food trays and deny them everything they’re entitled to. Staff members at this facility implement a variety of fear tactics to keep us quiet from spreading the truth and ultimately to the place fear in our hearts. There’s only a few of us who have remained solid by standing up for what’s right, it is only a small number of us. When we take non-violent or any other peaceful actions, such as hunger strikes, to bring some form of justification to the unlawful and unnecessary sufferings that we’re bearing, prison officials will then place us in isolation then strip us of our property and clothing, place us inside a cold cell to suffer even more with hopes to break us to coming off hunger strike, this is another method used to maintain control over us, break our integrity, and dismantle our structured unification amongst each other. There are other tactics used against us such as placing us on stripped cell after gassing us with tear gas in a cell with no bedding material, completely nude for days at a time. We are left in the cell choking and gagging from the chemicals without given a shower or opportunity to rinse them chemicals off of us.

18. Law Library – Every prison has its own law library where prisoners are able to purchase legal material and other material that we’re entitled to. At the SMU facility we are denied certain law material that allow us access to the courts. This is done to impede us from knowing our prison rights as well as human rights. Prison officials have conspired with law library personnel to deny us any material that threatens the SMU facility rules and regulations. They do not want us to know the rules that they are suppose to follow. When we request certain material pertaining to prison policy the law librarian will deny us the material and send us a typed letter stating that we are not allowed any material that threatens prison rules. I have proof of this actual letter.

All that I have spoken in this article regarding the violations of the prison rules, state law, and federal law at this facility is true, at this current moment these violations are still in effect. All prisoners housed at this facility have been suffering tremendously from inhumane treatment that we are enduring. We are still being abused physically, sexually, and mentally by prison guards and other officials at this facility. The administrative staff (Warden Bruce Chatman, Deputy Wardens June Bishop and William Powell, and Unit Manager R. Logan) has continued to hide such rampant corruption from the public and families of the inmates housed here. When family or other loved ones call the prison concerning the deprivation and dehumanization that we’re encountering, prison officials will deny any wrong doing then make false accusations about us as a reason to justify their actions. These prison officials have policy and procedures to adhere to. When a prisoner commits disciplinary infractions we are punished for the action within the institution. When prison officials violate statewide policies and procedures there is no action taken as sanctioned imposed upon them. We are shown everyday that we have no rights and that they can treat us however they want and nothing will be done about it, we are treated like animals every day when we are not breaking prison rules, still we’re being punished just because we’re in prison. In their eyes, prisoners have no rights, prisoners are not considered humans. Literally it is fixed in their minds that we are not humans and that we’re bad people. There is nothing about this facility operating accordingly to policy and procedures, and law. Everything that we are entitled to has been taken away from us.
When prisoners come together in hunger strikes these prison staff will punish us even more with brutality and placing us in isolation until we break. It is a right that we have to place ourselves on these strikes, but the prison officials at SMU punish us for striking as if we’ve done something wrong. This is done spitefully and without reason or cause.
There has been another huge problem that has occurred lately where I along with several other prisoners who’ve been sexually assaulted and harassed by an officer (Lt. Michael J. Kyles) within the past 2 months. This same officer has a history of assaulting inmates while their in handcuffs, but SMU administration has continued to allow him to supervise at this unit where his victims are housed. Policy states that any-all sexual allegations are to be taken seriously and in a manner as to avoid future misconduct or threats made by prison staff. Lt. Kyles Is not supposed to be assigned around us while the investigation is ongoing. On the days when Lt. Kyles is on shift he would make it his first priority to step on the range of those who have complaints against him shooting more threats towards us. We file complaint after complaint, bringing the issue to the attention of all SMU staff, yet our complaints are treated without due respect and not taken seriously. We are denied the telephone so that we cannot report assaults to the sexual abuse hot line (PREA), which we’re entitled to.
Every event that I have written about in this article falls on the hands of the warden (Bruce Chatman) and the rest of the administrative staff of SMU, they are the individuals who’s responsible for the care and treatment of the prisoners, safety and security of all inmates, ordinary runnings of this facility. The administration are the individuals who authorize and approve everything that has taken place and is currently happening at this facility.
These problems are still existing and has been happening for the past several years that I’ve been housed at this facility yet prison officials have placed limitations on our outside support. There are no rules, policy, regulations, or procedure that authorize the way that the SMU facility is being operated and the way that we’re being treated and held captive at the special management unit here in Jackson, Georgia.
Sincerely, [signed] Robert Watkins

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