[Pnews] Behind 12-day statewide Pennsylvania prison lockdown: Control, power, money

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Oct 30 14:32:34 EDT 2018


  Behind 12-day statewide Pennsylvania prison lockdown: Control, power,

*/by Major Tillery/*

The lockdown of 47,000 prisoners in all 25 Pennsylvania prisons began 
Aug. 29, 2018, and lasted for 12 days. Department of Corrections (DOC) 
Secretary John Wetzel backed by Gov. Tom Wolf said the lockdown was an 
emergency measure to protect prison guards. They claimed there was 
widespread illness of guards from physical contact with synthetic drugs. 
This is false.

For every prisoner, the lockdown was 24 hours locked in his or her cell, 
most double-celled; a minority, one-man to a cell. No yard time; no time 
outside the cell on the block; infrequent showers. Food brought to cells 
by guards.

No law library. No commissary. No contact with the outside world. No 
mail, no phone, no visitors. Prisoners missed court dates – no transport 
of prisoners was allowed. No medications for several days.

Even mail from the court and DAs addressed to a prisoner was “returned 
to sender.” Those conditions were worse than solitary confinement, the 

The lockdown looks like it was a planned pre-emptive action so that the 
National Prison Strike didn’t spread to Pennsylvania prisons. The “drug 
emergency” was a pretext to isolate, repress and control prisoners.

Not only during the lockdown, but to set up permanent restrictions on 
visitation and personal mail, ending confidentiality of legal mail, 
ending prisoners’ ability to purchase newspapers, magazines and books, 
and putting this all totally under the control and complete censorship 
of the DOC. All incoming letters, newspapers, magazines are being 
digitally copied and retained by the DOC. Prisoners get lousy paper copies.

      The lockdown looks like it was a planned pre-emptive action so
      that the National Prison Strike didn’t spread to Pennsylvania
      prisons. The “drug emergency” was a pretext to isolate, repress
      and control prisoners.

The estimated costs for these changes in visiting procedures, mail and 
book purchases, including paying for drones in the name of security 
measures, are expected to be $15 million to start and then at least $4 
million a year for the mail processing.

But the DOC says they don’t have the money to treat and cure the 6,000 
prisoners who have the deadly hepatitis-C virus. They do nothing about 
the toxic contaminated water prisoners have to drink and use to wash up 
and shower. They refuse to provide adequate medical care and social 
programs for elderly prisoners. There are over 10,400 prisoners over the 
age of 50, almost a quarter of the inmate population.

For the past year I’ve submitted proposals and grievances to get SCI 
Frackville to provide medical, housing, clothing and social programs for 
elderly prisoners. Only the “50 and Over Life Enhancement Program” was 
set up.

On behalf of a class of elderly prisoners, I filed a complaint on Oct. 
2, 2018, to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro as well as DOC 
Secretary John Wetzel and SCI Frackville Superintendent Kathy Brittain 
asking for a “forensic audit” because of “misappropriation of funds” by 
Activities Manager CO Damiter.

CO (Correctional Officer) Damiter’s attitude to the elderly prisoners 
and his racism is shown when he said to me: “If it means pretty Nikes on 
my children’s feet, I’ll put my foot on every old prisoner’s neck.”

      *Truths about the lockdown*

The word from a guard on the block was the lockdown was about the prison 

The DOC banned newspapers with articles talking about the planned strike 
– like SF Bay View and Workers World newspapers. After the prison strike 
ended and the lockdown lifted, the prison gave me those newspapers.

The Department of Corrections (DOC) records and the expert opinions of 
toxicologists and doctors does not support the “drug emergency/guards 
sickened” pretext. The DOC’s own records show that the prisons were not 
“flooded” with new synthetic drugs. There are no reports of any mailroom 
staff being “exposed” or reporting symptoms. The DOC records do not 
support actual illness, testing or treatment.

The Philadelphia Inquirer published an article on Sept. 7, 2018, with 
the headline, “Pa. prisons spend $15M after guards were sickened by K2. 
But what if it was just in their heads? 
“[T]oxologists say one likely diagnosis for the staff illnesses may be 
‘mass psychogenic illness’ – that is a sort of contagious hysteria 
fueled by fears of dangerous exposure.” The director of medical 
toxicology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of 
Medicine is quoted saying, “Mass psychogenic illness happens all the 
time. We see it all the time with law enforcement.”

      The word from a guard on the block was the lockdown was about the
      prison strike.

What the DOC doesn’t talk about is the prison guards smuggling drugs and 
selling them to prisoners. This is a money maker for the guards. Where 
are the records of incidents of corrections officers’ drug use and sales 
into the prison? In Frackville, they sent out the drug dogs and caught 
two guards in the parking lot. Has anyone checked the records of prison 
guards in drug treatment programs and suspensions for drug use?

Instead of the DOC giving treatment and dealing with the aspects of why 
prisoners want drugs and work toward solutions, the DOC response to any 
problem is retaliation and punishment. There is no attempt to deal with 
a problem with humanist aspects – but to control through punishment.

      *Prisoners react to the lockdown*

The water at many Pennsylvania prisons, including SCI Frackville is 
dirty and contaminated. For a short time after complaints from family 
and friends and prisoners’ grievances, we got bottled water. The DOC 
insists the water is safe. But the guards continue to get bottled water!

During the lockdown the temperature was high. My cell was hot. The 
prison gave out bottled water every day to inmates to tap down and stop 

And at first, guards acted like the lockdown wasn’t their fault. That 
changed when the rank and file guards realized they had to do the work 
normally done by prisoners. They were angry. They complained when they 
delivered and picked up food trays, trash, swept up.

 From the first night of the lockdown, the food on the trays was all 
messed together. Jello was running through the other foods. It looked as 
if the food was tampered with. Prisoners were worried and complained. 
Guards said, “You all eat what the f— we give you.” We were being 
treated like animals.

A prisoner strike began after that. It was incited by the guards’ 
actions and hostility. By the third day, 80 men on B-wing of B block 
(BB) refused to take trays. This strike continued through the whole 

DOC officials tried to stop the strike from spreading through the 
prison. They sent in 14 or 15 “negotiators.” These were guards and 
staff, including nurses and CPS workers (prisoners who are certified 
peer specialists.) They all wore black t-shirts with the word 
“Negotiator” printed in white letters.

The negotiators ignored older prisoners, including me, those of us who 
frequently stand up for prisoners’ rights and file grievances and legal 
challenges. The younger guys were targeted.

The “Buckeyes” – guys always looking for favors from the administration 
– tried to discourage other prisoners from solidarity action. But we 
heard that on other cell blocks prisoners refused food trays.

When the prison began to open up and aspects of the lockdown lessened, 
small groups of prisoners were brought out to the kitchen, given ice 
cream sandwiches and some extra food. This was to get things to cool 
down and take the temperature of the jail.

This was to get BB prisoners to stop the food strike early. Not all 
prisoners took this bribe. When the prison ended the lockdown on Sept. 
9, there were still 14 men from BB refusing trays.

Afterwards, officials broke up B wing. Three guys were taken off the 
block. A young prisoner on the mental health list was put into the hole, 
investigated for instigating the strike. He had mental problems and was 
just yelling from the stress of being locked in his cell around the 
clock. Other guys stood up for him. Unit Manager Rita Styka made it 
clear he was ill. But he didn’t get out of the hole until Sept. 21.

      *New repressive policies follow the lockdown*

When the lockdown was called off by the DOC, the bottled water stopped. 
I complained to Superintendent Kathy Brittain, who said giving bottled 
water to the prisoners “was a courtesy” and that she gave the tap water 
to her children and “made them Kool-Aid pops.” This is unbelievable – 
the water is very dirty. Frackville prison guards and staff still get 
bottled water.

The DOC announced a 90-day prohibition on purchasing food in visiting 
rooms or taking photos. The prison officials say they are reviewing 
visiting room procedures to make sure no drugs get into the prison using 
the food and drink vending machines and taking photos. This is ridiculous.

The only reason for this is to punish families and dehumanize prisoners. 
It means fewer visitors and shorter visits.

The prisoners are mostly Black and Hispanic and come from the larger 
cities. The prisons are in rural areas, hours away from the cities where 
prisoners’ families live. Not being able to get vending food and drink 
prevents visits from children, older people, people with medical 
problems. That is the point.

      The only reason for this is to punish families and dehumanize
      prisoners. It means fewer visitors and shorter visits.

This is an attack on the social values of Black families. In the first 
days after the lockdown ended, there were more guards than visitors in 
visiting room. Guards were heard saying things like: “This is how it 
should be,” and “Why were they visiting? Don’t these people have jobs?”

The other new rules are to prevent us from getting mail directly from 
family and friends, to stop communication and dehumanize us. They are 
also interfering with legal mail.

The changes to visitation, mail, including legal mail, as well as 
getting books and newspapers are intended to be permanent, no matter 
what they say now.

      *The sick, the elderly, the lifers*

The conditions here and the DOC’s hostility to prisons’ medical care, 
conditions of confinement and rights should cause concerns that a prison 
strike could spread into Pennsylvania.

There are over 47,000 men and women in Pennsylvania prisons. 
Pennsylvania has the second highest percentage of elderly prisoners in 
the U.S. As of Jan. 1, 2018, the DOC reported 10,442 inmates over the 
age of 50. There are roughly 5,400 inmates serving life without parole 
(LWOP) in Pennsylvania. These are men and women who have little to no 
hope of getting out of prison alive.

Prison medical care is inadequate; it is mostly negligent. Add that to 
being elderly with decades of prison life, including the quality of the 
food and now the bad water.

The leading causes of death in the state’s prisons are heart disease, 
cancer and liver disease. Over 6,000 prisoners have active hepatitis-C, 
which often results in liver cancer and has many secondary symptoms 
including skin conditions and arthritis.

Although hep-C can be cured, the DOC refuses treatment until a prisoner 
is so sick he is close to death – because of the cost. In Mumia 
Abu-Jamal’s lawsuit, the federal judge ordered the DOC to provide the 
cure and ruled that the DOC’s argument it costs too much is 

Some of us have been able to get the hep-C anti-viral pills, but only 
after the threat of a lawsuit. And even then, prisoners have died within 
days of receiving the first few treatments.

      Prison medical care is inadequate; it is mostly negligent. Add
      that to being elderly with decades of prison life, including the
      quality of the food and now the bad water.

Prisoners health and lives are not considered worth the money. But 
Pennsylvania is spending tens of millions of dollars over the next years 
for punitive so-called security measures to stop a relatively minimal 
problem of drugs into the prison.

Since December 2017, with the support of other elderly prisoners, I have 
tried to get remedial policies to stop the disrespectful and abusive 
treatment of seniors at SCI Frackville. This is for housing unit 
adjustments, additional blankets and cold-weather clothing – gloves, 
hats, turtleneck shirts – as well as an activities program for seniors 
and a mentoring program with younger prisoners. The DOC denies these 
accommodations for elderly prisoners.

For months I’ve worked to get adequate programming for elderly prisoners 
at SCI Frackville (those 50 years and older). Other men also are helping 
with this. Every step has been a fight. Requests for provisions are 
denied for lack of funds.

I’ve filed grievances and we have tried to get out the word. There are 
70 of us who are now in the program. We were supposed to get two hours a 
week, now it’s down to one. There are unreasonable and nonsense 
restrictions. No funds are allocated toward the “50 and Over Life 
Enhancement Program.” Men can’t bring in newspapers to read, because CO 
P. Damiter, the activities manager, said he “doesn’t like it.”

      Prisoners health and lives are not considered worth the money. But
      Pennsylvania is spending tens of millions of dollars over the next
      years for punitive so-called security measures to stop a
      relatively minimal problem of drugs into the prison.

The money for the activities programs comes from DOC budget allocations 
as well as from the inmate welfare fund, which is profit from the 
prisoners’ commissary. From records we got a hold of, CO Damiter sends 
large payments to friends of his to teach basketball, soccer and 
football to Black and inner-city prisoners.

These positions were never put up for a bid; no African-Americans or 
Hispanic-Americans have been considered for these jobs. It seems like 
Damiter is getting kickbacks. There needs to be an accounting of the funds.

      *DOC policies of punishment and harassment*

*Confiscation of all inmate boots without compensation*: Earlier this 
year, the Pennsylvania DOC punished all Pennsylvania prisoners for the 
alleged action of one prisoner, confiscating expensive property without 
compensation. In February 2018, one inmate, wearing Timberland boots, 
was accused of stomping a guard who died days later.

As punishment, the head of the prison guards’ association called for 
banning and taking boots from all prisoners in the state. The DOC 
ordered all prisoners to give up their boots. Maybe half the prison 
population owned these boots and had paid over $100 a pair.

The DOC took the boots without compensation. We were told if we wanted 
to mail our boots to a charity, the DOC said they would pay for the 
mailing of boots – out of the inmate welfare fund. At Frackville there 
were at least 300 grievances.

Prisoners across the state filed legal cases in state and federal courts 
to stop the DOC from seizing the boots. There are differing legal 
grounds including the taking of prisoner’s property without due process 
and violating medical orders for some prisoners.

The DOC tried to get one judge to rule on all the filed cases without 
even giving notice to all the plaintiffs. This was challenged, and the 
judge reversed himself. These separate and spontaneous actions speak to 
the underlying rumblings among prisoners state-wide. There hasn’t been a 
court decision yet.

*Other abuses and harassment against prisoners*: Inmate legal files were 
destroyed or damaged by guards at the new $400 million high tech prison 
complex named Phoenix. There was increased harassment of visitors and 
prisoners at Frackville prior to the lockdown targeting women visitors, 
sending them away or only allowing non-contact visits.

This included an 80-year-old grandmother who traveled from New Jersey to 
visit her grandson who had to turn around and go home – because the body 
scanning machine is set to go off if a bra has even the smallest metal 
hook and eye. Prisoners are upset. Visitors were angry.

When it comes to health care, aging, family and visitors, legal and 
personal mail, books and newspapers and all conditions of imprisonment, 
there is no aspect of the DOC policy that deals with humanity and 
respect. The prison system is corrupt and repressive.

      *You can help*

Tell the Department of Corrections:

  * End the new restrictions on visitation, personal and legal mail and
    buying newspapers, magazines and books
  * Do the audit of SCI Frackville Prisoner Activities Account!


  * DOC Secretary John Wetzel: 717-728-2577
  * DOC Eastern Region Deputy Secretary Michael Wenerowicz: 717-728-4122
    or 4123
  * SCI Frackville Superintendent Kathy Brittain: 570-874-4516

Email Ra-contactdoc at pa.gov <mailto:Ra-contactdoc at pa.gov>

Call and write:

  * Kamilah Iddeen: 717-379-9009, Kamilah29 at yahoo.com
    <mailto:Kamilah29 at yahoo.com>
  * Rachel Wolkenstein: 917-689-4009, RachelWolkenstein at gmail.com
    <mailto:RachelWolkenstein at gmail.com>

/Send our brother some love and light: Major Tillery, AM9786, SCI 
Frackville, 1111 Altamont Blvd., Frackville, PA 17931. Visit his 
website, //JusticeForMajorTillery.org/ 
Tillery’s investigation is ongoing. He badly needs funds to fight for 
his freedom. Contribute via //JPay.com/ 
<http://ymlpsend2.net/32a3aueejaaaehuubavahbeadauusu/click.php>/to Major 
Tillery AM9786 PADOC./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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