[Pnews] Behind 12-day statewide Pennsylvania prison lockdown: Control, power, money
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
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
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
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
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
* 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
Tillery’s investigation is ongoing. He badly needs funds to fight for
his freedom. Contribute via //JPay.com/
Tillery AM9786 PADOC./
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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