This Must Stop

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” –Benjamin Franklin

I’m sorry folks, I did not want to post this article, but I feel I must. I do not urge anyone else to read it, some of it is that sickening. In a way, it may not even be news, more a confirmation of things we fear and suspect are happening. But no matter how grim our expectations might be, well, this is worse. If you’re aware of what was done in Argentina’s Dirty War, you’ll have some idea. True, there’s nothing here about forcing mmen to eat their own genitals, or drowning people in cesspools, but it’s bad enough. And you may or may not be surprised by where these atrocities took place. Surely, they could not happen in a nation that takes immense pride in its love for freedom and justice, a country that so loudly protests human rights abuses anywhere in the world. Surely not.

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Record 346 inmates die, dozens of guards fired in Florida prisons
Daily Kos * Wed Jan 14, 2015 at 11:20 AM PST
byShaun King
The United States has a prison crisis of epic proportions. With just five percent of the world population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, the United States has, far and away, the highest incarceration rate, the largest number of prisoners, and the largest percentage of citizens with a criminal record of any country in the world.
http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/09/17/3568232/the-united-states-had-even-more-prisoners-in-2013/
http://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie.html
The highly respected Prison Policy Initiative breaks it down:
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The U.S. incarcerates 716 people for every 100,000 residents, more than any other country. In fact, our rate of incarceration is more than five times higher than most of the countries in the world. Although our level of crime is comparable to those of other stable, internally secure, industrialized nations, the United States has an incarceration rate far higher than any other country.
Nearly all of the countries with relatively high incarceration rates share the experience of recent large-scale internal conflict. But the United States, which has enjoyed a long history of political stability and hasn’t had a civil war in nearly a century and a half, tops the list.
If we compare the incarceration rates of individual U.S. states and territories with that of other nations, for example, we see that 36 states and the District of Columbia have incarceration rates higher than that of Cuba, which is the nation with the second highest incarceration rate in the world.
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http://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/
Now, what we are learning is that the United States is not just imprisoning people at an outrageous pace, but that men and women are dying in these prisons at all-time highs, often at the hands of guards, in the most awful and brutal ways imaginable. The state of Florida, it appears, is ground zero for the deaths of prisoners, and the crisis is so deeply corrupt and out of hand that it needs immediate national intervention.
In 2014, Florida recorded at least 346 deaths inside of their prison system, an all-time high for the state in spite of the fact that its overall prison population has hovered around 100,000 people for the five previous years.
http://www.dc.state.fl.us/pub/mortality/
Hundreds of these deaths from 2014 and from previous years are now under investigation by the DOJ because of the almost unimaginable role law enforcement officers are playing in them.
http://news.wjct.org/post/doj-investigate-florida-prison-system
Below I will highlight some of the most egregious stories.
Jerry Washington filed a sexual harassment complaint against two officers in the Santa Rosa Correctional Institute. A few days later, after the officers learned of the complaint, they threatened to kill Jerry. Jerry filed another complaint with the prison about the death threats. Afraid for his safety, he wrote his sister a letter and included copies of both of the grievances he had filed. You can read the letter and copies of the complaints here.
http://www.miamiherald.com/incoming/article4459469.
In the letter he tells her very clearly that if anything happens to him, she should know that it wasn’t an accident.
Seven days later, Jerry Washington was killed in prison. According to the Miami Herald:
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/special-reports/florida-prisons/article4458707.html
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In letters to the family, two of Washington’s fellow inmates claimed that several corrections officers warned the inmate that they were going to “f— him up,” when they returned to the prison for their weekend shift.
“They were going to get him that weekend, which would have been on pick-a-nigga Friday,” one wrote Washington’s family, using a slang version of the n-word. “It’s a saying that the officers have … that comes from slavery when the master goes to the slave quarters on Friday to pick a nigger to hang.”
In detail, the inmate, whose name is being withheld by the Miami Herald, claimed that one of the sergeants placed drugs in Washington’s food that day and an orderly served the 5-foot-8 inmate his poisoned meal that afternoon.
By dinnertime, Washington was seriously ill, inmates told DOC inspectors. He was found sprawled in his cell at 9:20 p.m. on Sept. 16, but he was still alive, and officers and other staff reported he was able to sit up and talk.
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Jerry died a few hours later and the family has been given few details on what happened after 9:20 PM until he was pronounced dead at 6 AM the following day.
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What isn’t redacted from the report is the bulk of statements provided to the DOC’s investigator by seven inmates — most of whom told the same story: that Washington feared for his life and that Sgt. Marcus Stokes, Officer Pugh and Officer Charles Asbel were conspiring to harm him because he had filed complaints against them.
One inmate, Aaron Porter, went further — stating to inspectors that he overheard Stokes, Pugh and Asbel planning their revenge on Sept. 16.
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Before we move on to the next case of the murder of Randall Jordan-Aparo, Jerry Washington and his fellow inmates in Santa Rosa mentioned in their letters to Jerry’s family that they were being “gassed” by the guards. Jerry thought it might actually cause him to die. Jerry and a fellow inmate both mention it here,
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“I just want you to know how they are playing,” Washington wrote. “I got real, real, real bad blood pressure, and if they gas me and jump on me [and] I happen to have a stroke or a heart attack … don’t ya’ll believe nothing they try to tell y’all.”
He enclosed copies of the grievances he had sent to the inspector general’s office and told them to call several sexual violence groups, including one in Florida.
At the same time, the fellow inmate was also writing the Washington family about alleged prison abuses and said he had been sexually harassed like Washington. He claimed corrections officers were watching them and making sexual remarks to them in the showers, gassing them for no reason and refusing to feed them.
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I had actually never heard of inmates being gassed before until the death of Randall Jordan-Aparo. He died, completely covered in the gas, his body a tinted orange, with stains of it on the wall of his cell.
According to the Miami Herald:
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article1985286.html
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Randall Jordan-Aparo died weeping and gasping for breath on the concrete floor of his prison isolation cell, naked except for his white boxer shorts.
Incensed that he had cursed at a nurse, guards at Franklin Correctional Institution in the Panhandle fired nine blasts of noxious gas into his 13-by-8 cell through a slot in the door and, ultimately, left him there, sobbing.
“I can’t breathe, I can’t take it no more, please help me,’’ he pleaded.
Five hours later, the 27-year-old was found lifeless, face-down on the bare slab. His mouth and nose were pressed to the bottom of the door, as if trying to gulp fresh air through the thin crack. His hair, legs, toes, torso and mouth were dusted with a faint orange residue, a byproduct of the gas. A paperback Bible was under his shoulder.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement sent two investigators, Michael Kennedy and Michael DeVaney, to look into what had occurred. Their conclusion, summarized in one paragraph: The “disciplinary actions” taken by guards had no bearing on the death.
“They just said he got sick,’’ Jordan-Aparo’s father, Thomas Aparo, recalled being told by corrections officials.
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Hearing these claims, inspectors from the state began looking into the case right away. After reporting their findings, they began suffering retaliation themselves almost immediately.
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They interviewed inmates, studied the use-of-force report, the video captured by surveillance cameras, audio of the incident and photographs of Jordan-Aparo’s body. Among their findings:
• A claim by prison staffers that Jordan-Aparo was being “disorderly” before his death was false.
• Initial reports downplayed the fact that Jordan-Aparo was complaining about experiencing extreme pain and simply wanted medical attention, preferably in a hospital.
• Contrary to claims that his cell had been decontaminated after the gassing, photos clearly showed residue everywhere — orange smears on the floor, in the sink and in the toilet bowl. There was a dense orange cloud above the bunk where Jordan-Aparo would have sat.
• Although reports said Jordan-Aparo was issued a fresh set of clothing after the gassing, he was dressed only in dirty, orange-stained boxers.
• Nobody assigned to investigate the matter administratively from the Department of Corrections watched the “use of force” video showing Jordan-Aparo being gassed.
Their conclusion: Jordan-Aparo died as a result of medical negligence and the “sadistic, retaliatory” use of chemical agents on a sick and helpless inmate who did nothing wrong. And that staff reports following the death contained inconsistencies, errors, omissions and outright lies.
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Less than a year away from being released, Latandra Ellington wrote a disturbing letter to her aunt detailing that an officer in the prison was threatening to beat and murder her. Neal Colgrass from Newser details the short time frame between Latandra writing her aunt the letter, her aunt calling the prison, and Latandra being found beaten to death.
http://www.newser.com/story/196984/inmate-writes-chilling-letter-ends-up-dead.html
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On Sept. 21, Latandra Ellington wrote her aunt about prison officer “Sgt. Q” who, she says, threatened to beat and murder her. Further, he would flip his badge around to obscure his name. Wrote Ellington, “Auntie, no one knows how to spell or say this man’s name. But he goes by Sgt. Q and he works the B Shift a.m.” Her concerned aunt called the Lowell Correctional Institution on Sept. 30 and talked to an officer who said he would “look after” Ellington. The next day, the 36-year-old was dead. A private autopsy paid for by the family shows that Ellington—who had seven months left to serve—died of blunt-force trauma to her stomach consistent with kicking and punching, according to the family’s lawyer.
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While Reuters reports that 32 prison guards and officers were fired across the state this past September related to dozens of cases of abuse, corruption, and death, one should lose a lot more than their job for poisoning, gassing, or beating inmates to death.
http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/21/us-usa-prison-florida-idUSKBN0HG05120140921
This is not enough. It’s not even close to being enough. These officers should be indicted and convicted of murder and given the stiffest penalty allowed under law. They’ve not only abused their power, but they’ve abused it at the expense of citizens who are virtually defenseless in our country. It’s unacceptable.
With the hope that it motivates you to push the cause of prison reform and justice for the officers who murdered these men and women, I’d like to tell you the story of Darren Rainey.
Fifty years old, battling mental illness, and serving two years in the psychiatric ward of the Dade County prison for the victimless nonviolent offense of cocaine possession without the intent to distribute, Darren Rainey would soon experience a death so cruel and so violent and so unthinkably heinous that we would expect such a thing to happen only in a country governed by a so-called evil dictator. It’s almost too ugly to type.
After allegedly defecating in his cell, Rainey was handcuffed and locked into a tight shower cell and blasted for nearly two hours with water that was over 180 scalding hot degrees in temperature. Begging for his life, screaming apologies and remorse so loud that other inmates could hear them, the officers kept the water so hot and forceful that the steam began to melt off Darren Rainey’s skin. Video shows Rainey forced into the shower at 7:38 PM and he was pronounced dead at 9:30 PM.
Mark Joiner, a prisoner in Dade County, was called in to clean up the chunks of skin left behind. He detailed it for the Miami Herald:
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article1972693.html
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Mark Joiner was roused from his cell earlier than usual on June 24, 2012.
He was handed a bottle of Clorox and was told it was clean-up time.
Joiner was used to cleaning up cells in Dade Correctional Institution’s psychiatric ward, and many of them were frequently brimming with feces and urine, insect-infested food and other filth.
Joiner thought he pretty much had seen it all, from guards nearly starving prisoners to death, to taunting and beating them unconscious while handcuffed for sport. He recalls one inmate was paid a pack of cigarettes to attack one sick inmate whose only offense was to ask if their mail could be delivered before bedtime.
On the floor of a small shower stall he was ordered to clean, he saw a single blue canvas shoe and what he later realized was large chunks of human skin.
The skin belonged to Darren Rainey, a 50-year-old mentally-ill prisoner whom the guards had handcuffed and locked in the cell the night before. Witnesses and DOC reports indicate Rainey was left in the scalding hot water for hours, allegedly as punishment for defecating in his cell.
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Rainey’s official cause of death, in a clear case of a coverup, was listed as a heart attack, but Mark Joiner and other officials know otherwise.
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Joiner remembered and said he also later made a written record of what he saw and heard the night Rainey died.
He had a view of some of what happened and was ordered to clean up the shower the following morning. He said he placed all the skin he found in Rainey’s shoe.
“I heard them lock the shower door, and they were mocking him,” Joiner said, as the guards turned on their retrofitted shower full blast and steam began to fill the ward.
“He was crying, please stop, please stop,” Joiner said. And they just said “Enjoy your shower, and left.”
Joiner went to sleep, not knowing that it would be the last time he would see or hear Rainey alive. Witnesses would later say that after two hours, at temperatures of 180 degrees, Rainey collapsed, with his skin peeling from his body. Rainey, who was serving a two-year term for possession of drugs, was carried to the prison’s infirmary where a nurse later said his body temperature was so high it couldn’t be measured with a thermometer.
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Darren Rainey, tragically, had only one month to go in his sentence.
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/01/14/1357661/-Poisonings-beatings-gassings-Record-346-inmates-die-dozens-of-guards-fired-in-Florida-prisons?detail=email

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About l. l. frederick

I'm pretty ordinary, so I find any number of things in the world interesting, among them: books, music, flowers, food, social justice, politics and (sometimes!) people. As for my writing, I've decided that I can be subtle and tasteful when our only problems are esthetic ones. Or when I'm dead, whichever comes first. In the meantime, read at your own risk.
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9 Responses to This Must Stop

  1. I know why you posted this Linda. I am almost sorry that you did, but I understand why you did and I must say that after reading it, I sat back and the tears flowed down my face.

    I have been trying so hard to find it in my heart to ‘love’ all people regardless, but when I read such as what I just read, it renders all of that pointless and a raging inferno of grief, shock and yes hate rears up! And in my opinion, my hate is not misplaced. I see plenty of justification right in this very post.

    • Shelby, I am truly sorry to pass along this painful piece — I’ve fought myself for days over posting it, I know it’s horrifying. And it’s only one of so many unthinkable things people are doing to each other. Will it help anyone, anyone at all? Damned if I know. Why in hell aren’t thousands if not millions of us in the streets, at the Florida state house, at the DOJ offices, plaguing our posturing president and corporate lackey Congress people, demanding thorough investigations of these crimes against humanity? And prosecutions! Because they don’t know, because they don’t care, because they don’t want to know? Well, I know a blog post won’t change the world, but it’s what I could do right now. I’m hunting for petitions and groups already involved in this area, I can’t seem to let it go. Maybe I’ll have to start them myself. Damn, I purely hate Florida in the summer. Be ironic if that’s where I have to be at some point, wouldn’t it?

      No, your hate and outrage are not misplaced, I only wish there was no basis for them. I tend to feel I only hate people when they’re hateful. And yeah, we sure can be hateful!This shit is monstrous, and the system that allows and fosters such cruelty and indifference needs to go, preferrably to the hell they think so many of us unworthy, insignificant souls will end up in. Thing is, hate can so easily eat us alive before we can do anything about our problems. I’m not sure how we deal with that, but I’ve learned (too little too slowly, always) that apathy won’t help, inertia just plays into the plans of the status quo. Thank you so much for your honest thoughts, and give me any ideas you have for carrying on this struggle, among others. – Linda

  2. What I find most troubling is the obvious impunity with which these prison officers carry out these atrocities. Instead of being punished for these crimes against humanity, they know the system will be rewarded. If this depravity can’t be punished under national law, it sure can under international law. With the US steadily losing influence in the global arena, I predict it’s only a matter of time before some of these sadists find themselves in the dock at the International Criminal Court.

    • Hell yes! Prison guards and officials would never do such flagrant shit if they weren’t pretty sure they’d get away with it. It’s clearly not just isolated “rogues” — it must be system-wide, or done in any facility where it’s unlikely to cause much fuss. I was a little surprised they’d actually threaten the state inspectors — that alone shows how law enforcement sees the power structure, with regulators subservient to the industry, not protecting the public.

      ICC here we come — that’s what it’s for, restoring some justice in countries where the government is terrorizing their own people. Thanks for your comment. – Linda

  3. This is a tragic and troubling situation, Linda. It reminds me of Zimbardo’s “prison experiment” – http://www.prisonexp.org/. It’s a troubling study that shows how easily people assume the roles they’re given. I imagine poorly educated guards who finally have positions of power, and the primary models they have experienced and been socialized to accept unquestioningly – those that use power in violent ways. The name “corrections” says it all. It’s a punitive system designed to reprogram those who are convenient targets. It reminds me of the role poor whites played as overseers of the slaves.

    Your discussion also reminded me of an older article I read about a project intended to highlight the inhumanity of capital punishment: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/06/death-row-photography_n_4644109.html. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the project.

    • Carol, Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! Sorry I’ve taken so long to respond, but I missed it somehow. Besides, this rates more than my usual smart-assed quip … when I can think of one.

      The pieces you shared are disturbing indeed. Not too surprising though, sad to say. We call ourselves “reasoning man” but sometimes I feel that must be sarcasm. How do we imagine we will get rid of violence and cruelty with ever more violence and cruelty? It’s a wonder we don’t also try putting out fires with gasoline.

      I know you’re familiar with Milgram’s experiments in the 1960’s testing obedience to authority, examining people’s willingness to inflict pain, as they believed, on other people.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment
      There are questions about his methodology, but they still seem to illustrate some discouraging aspects of human behavior. Yet I find it interesting that peer pressure appeared to have considerable influence on people’s responses,. We know we are apt to do unimaginably awful things as part of a group, but this suggests we may also be more likely to resist our tendency to act and react with cruelty and indifference, when we have support and encouragement from our comrades to do better things. The power of solidarity!

      How we can build on that possibility in the prison environment I don’t know. As you say, the whole point of prisons is negative and oppressive, a stark revelation of the grim, coercive nature of our whole power structure. At a minimum, there must be accountability for the worst abuses — and for those at the top of the food chain, not just for low-level scapegoats. It’s an uphill struggle, like so much else, but what good are we if we won’t even try to prevent further injustice and suffering? Again, thank you for commenting, and for your kindness and encouragement. – Linda

      • Thank you for such a thoughtful analysis, Linda, and for sharing your crucial insights about the role of peer influence in choosing how we exercise power. It is true that there’s a choice. I so wish that at least at the community level, we focused more on restorative justice models…

        • Carol, “Restorative justice” seems a wonderful approach to me. Not maintaining a brutal pecking order, not crime and punishment, not law and order, not self-interest backed by force — but justice for all the community, and doing the difficult work of restoring harmony when it’s been lost, trying to solve our problems constructively. We may need to evolve before that can happen. But damn it, we have learned to use forks and flush toilets, so I feel we are capable of taming ourselves at least to the point of seeing and respecting everyone. Our current system seems pretty miserable, so why not try something completely different?
          …………….

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