[Pnews] Why the Vaughn 17 Case Matters to Us All

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon May 6 11:03:09 EDT 2019


  Why the Vaughn 17 Case Matters to Us All

May 6, 2019

/Editor’s note: Shandre Delaney is a prison abolitionist. Her son, 
Carrington Keys, was released from prison on May 15, 2018, after serving 
20 years. He spent 10 of those years //in solitary confinement/ 
Since then, Delaney has become a vocal advocate for her son and all 
prisoners. Read her piece with the Community Based News Room //here/ 
  She is a regular CBNR contributor on criminal justice./

Imagine sitting in a windowless 6-foot by 9-foot room the size of a 
bathroom for 23 hours a day, unable to communicate with family or anyone 
on the outside. The lights are on 24/7. The only drinking water you have 
is brown from rust. You constantly hear mentally ill people screaming 
and harming themselves. Within days of this torturous isolation you may 
begin to feel mental breakdown. Is this Guantánamo? Abu Ghraib? A 
torture chamber in some distant land? A torture chamber, yes, but a 
homegrown one. This is solitary confinement in a state prison near you.

This quote is from an article 
wrote in 2014.   I was deeply worried about my son, a jailhouse lawyer 
and activist, during his 19-year incarceration.  For nearly 10 of those 
years, he was tortured and retaliated against in solitary units 
throughout Pennsylvania, especially at Camp Hill, the processing prison 
for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

The letters I received from SCI Dallas in March 2010 were heart- 
wrenching.  He and five others held a peaceful protest and were brutally 
assaulted by armed guards and then later faced bogus riot charges. 
Charges that were brought as retaliation for filing complaints against 
the officers who attacked them.

The men came to be known as the Dallas 6.  It took seven long years for 
them to beat the charges.  Throughout those seven years and many years 
before and after, these men were retaliated against in every manner one 
can fathom.

Here it is in March 2019, and Ireceive a message that men from a 
Delaware prison are being retaliated against within solitary confinement 
in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the years may change, but the story 
remains the same. Their family members were worried because the men got 
a 5-minute call within 72 hours of arriving, but none after. They hadn’t 
heard from them in weeks.  When they did, the letters were written on 
the back of orientation papers because the men were only givena small 
pen, one envelope and no paper. They complained of being denied meals, 
showers and other basic human rights that prisoners are entitled to. 
They talked about being walked on a dog chain to the showers.

They are locked in cells 23 hours without any belongings from the 
Delaware facility. During the move, their personal property was either 
“lost” or “damaged.”.  They were not allowed to buy commissary or 
purchase writing materials.

I spoke to some of the family members who wished to remain anonymous in 
fear that their loved ones will be further retaliated against. Oneof 
them was finally was able to get a visit, but it was behind a window 
while he remained handcuffed.  In most states, prisoners are usually 
incarcerated far from their home city, and it takes a lot to travel to 
visit. My heart goes to any family who now has to travel to another 
state for a visit.

The families spoke to a representative of the Delaware DOC about what 
was going on with the prisoner’s’ property and the men’s solitary 
confinement placement. They got the runaround from both Delaware and 
Pennsylvania. Typically, it is very hard to get the truth out of DOC 
officials. Cover-up seems to be their mission at every turn. So now 
there is the dilemma of having to deal with two state governments, which 
is very advantageous to Pennsylvania and Delaware prison officials. 
  They can now both point the finger, and neither the prisoners nor 
their families can get resolution.

        *Vaughn 17 Uprising*

I learned that the men being retaliated against are part of the Vaughn 
17 <https://vaughn17support.org/about/>.  Their story is a prime example 
of what is happening in prisons all over the country. Prisoners living 
under horrendous, inhumane conditions —, physically, mentally and 
environmentally —, take a stand.  They fight for change the best way 
they can by filing grievances and complaints, which causes retaliation 
and further oppression.  There are peaceful protests by prisoners and 
phone calls by their loved ones on the outside. On any given day, there 
is a hunger strike is going on in some prison across the United States.

There is always a lot of effort, but there is also a lot of pushback. 
  When filing grievances and hunger strikes don’t work, how will your 
voice be heard?  This iconic quote by Martin Luther King says it best:. 
  “A riot is the voice of the unheard.”

On February 1st and 2nd, of 2017, a riot took place in protest of 
inhumane conditions at Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware. 
  One guard was assaulted, and another killed. Seventeen men were 
indicted and charged with riot, murder in the first degree, assault, 
kidnapping and second-degree conspiracy.

The trials were broken up into groups.  So far, nine men have been to 
trial. Only one of them has been charged with murder. Many of them were 
found not guilty and exonerated of the charges.  There are upcoming 
dates for the last two groups of men in May and October of 2019. A list 
of demands 
revealed the reasons behind the uprising and the conditions that led to 
it. Patricia May, a prison counselor that was taken hostage and released 
unharmed, told officials 
“inmates in the Delaware prison are sorely in need of better conditions, 
counseling and programs to help them rehabilitate. … [T]he state is 
jailing prisoners for ‘way too long’ and corrections officials are 
‘antiquated in our thinking about treatment.’ They have to take these 
reforms seriously. If you take all their (inmates’) hope away, what do 
they have left?”

Delaware’s Governor Carney ordered an independent review 
Vaughn Correctional Center, and it was found that there was 
overcrowding, understaffing, mismanagement, poor communication, a 
culture of negativity and adversarial relationships among prison staff, 
administrators and inmates. Due to the investigation, reforms were made 
in how the state treats its inmates.

There was a $7.5 million settlement on behalf of the prison staff 
affected by the riot.  There are ongoing lawsuits 
the prisoners focusing on their mistreatment before and after the 
incident.  Well before February 2017, the prisoners were complaining 
about racism, abuse and torture.  After the incident, prisoners said 
they received no medical or mental health treatment and still were still 
being beaten and abused by the guards.

        *Interstate Transfers and Solitary Confinement in Pennsylvania *

Prisoners who speak up or dare protest the inhumanity of their 
surroundings are often are transferred to places where they can be 
further punished and abused. Sent away as to quiet their voice. 
  Especially in the case of prisoners who are activists, jailhouse 
lawyers or those who have had confrontations with guards. In this case, 
a guard was killed, so there is no doubt a higher level of intensity in 
the retaliation these men will face a higher level of intensity in the 

Immediately following the uprising, Vaughn 17 prisoners were sent to 
Pennsylvania to face the same conditions they left in Delaware.  Not 
just the Vaughn 17 prisoners are here, but due to a guard shortage, 
Delaware contracted to send over 300 prisoners to Pennsylvania at a cost 
of 40,000 per day.   Those with short time left on their sentence are 
not supposed to be transferred to Pennsylvania, but in the case of the 
Vaughn 17, they were sent here anyway.

Some of the men, despite being exonerated, are receiving the same 
treatment as those charged with a crime and have been placed in solitary 
confinement. It is believed they were moved to Pennsylvania to 
retaliate, and this is not hard to believe. Their prison records were 
coded so they automatically would be  placed in solitary confinement. 
This type of activity has been seen for years. My son was in general 
population in Pennsylvania, but because he was targeted, when he 
transferred to county jails for court, he was placed in solitary due to 
retaliatory coding and to further harass him.

Through my work with the Human Rights Coalition, tracking conditions in 
solitary confinement in our abuse logs 
everything being reported by the men sounds very familiar.  These were 
the same complaints I heard from my son and in the hundreds of letters 
we receive from Pennsylvania prisoners.   Back in 2018, when the first 
prisoners started arriving from Delaware, I immediately began receiving 
letters that men with no misconducts or history of previously being in 
solitary, were being automatically placed in solitary.

Some were feeling the psychological effects and started feeling 
suicidal. There is no real psychological counseling in these units. I 
asked Pennsylvania Prison Society 
<https://www.prisonsociety.org/>visitors to do wellness checks, as they 
are able to make unscheduled visits and see prisoners sooner.  What I 
hear from the prisoners is that what constitutes a mental health 
assessment, is a drive-through session whereas a psych staff walks by 
the door and asks how you are, doesn’t stop, just keeps it pushing.  Our 
tax dollars are paying for this.

There is a reason we do solitary well in Pennsylvania.  Eastern State 
Penitentiary in Philadelphia is the first penitentiary in America and as 
well as the birthplace of solitary confinement.  The thought was that 
the solace of isolation and a Bible would somehow reform the souls of 
the incarcerated. Hundreds of years later, the idea has spread all over 
the country and the world.

Solitary grew with the “get tough on crime” policies of the 1980s and 
1990’s. During that time, the number of solitary units rose, and a large 
number of “supermax” prisons were built.  The cost of solitary 
confinement <http://princetonspear.com/7x9-fact-sheet>at $77,000 is 
almost triple the cost of those incarcerated in general population.

Just as the prison system has its disparities, there are disparities 
among who is in solitary.  Black people represent 38 percent% of the 
prison population but are 60 percent of those in solitary.  Solitary is 
used as retaliation against the marginalized and disadvantaged 
populations such as Muslims and immigrants. Solitary is the number one 
tool of oppression in prisons. It is most often an effort to mute voices 
and break the spirit.

On April 19, I received a press release 
seven of the men were moved.  This was on the heels of a phone zap — 
call-in campaigns to put prisons on notice for abuses — organized by 
several organizations.  Once again, there has been no contact to the 
outside. The family members remain vigilant, and a network of 
organizations will be working with them.

 From my observation, there are two major reasons the Vaughn 17 
prisoners were brought to Pennsylvania for two major reasons.  One, to 
retaliate against prisoners who dare fight the system. Two, because 
incarceration is another capitalistic branch of the economy.  Although 
the costs of incarceration are high, there is a billion-dollar industry 
in prison profiteering, which provides kickbacks, is a billion-dollar 

The Pennsylvania prison population is decreasing 
and instead of moving toward a positive transformation, what do we do 
but replace that population with prisoners from another state?  That 
says a lot, and none of it is good. The fact that solitary confinement 
has been weaponized should really cause concern. It does harm to people 
and should be abolished.

As prisons are a microcosm of our greater society, we must understand 
that every aspect of life inside of prisons mirror an aspect of society. 
  The prison system is filled with racism, disparities and oppression.

Change can happen if we listen to the voices of those on the inside. 
Prisoners are merely are asking to be treated as human beings. They 
cannot continue to be muted and suppressed. That would be waiting for 
the powder keg to explode.

Starting in Delaware, Pennsylvania or another state, systemic changes 
need to occur simultaneously in our entire country. Now and immediately.

/For updates and to learn more about the Vaughn 17, //go here/ 
<https://vaughn17support.org/>/, or contact Fariha //Huriya//at 
vaughn17 at protonmail.com. /

/Our //Community Based News Room/ 
the stories of people impacted by law and policy. Do you have a story to 
tell? Please //contact us at CBNR/ 
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Based News Room, please //donate here/ 

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