Posts Tagged ‘life inside’

“In 2014, amid mounting criticism and legal pressure, the Federal Bureau of Prisons imposed a new policy promising better care and oversight for inmates with mental-health issues. But data obtained by The Marshall Project through a Freedom of Information Act request shows that instead of expanding treatment, the bureau has lowered the number of inmates designated for higher care levels by more than 35 percent. Increasingly, prison staff are determining that prisoners—some with long histories of psychiatric problems—don’t require any routine care at all.

As of February, the Bureau of Prisons classified just 3 percent of inmates as having a mental illness serious enough to require regular treatment. By comparison, more than 30 percent of those incarcerated in California state prisons receive care for a “serious mental disorder.” In New York, 21 percent of inmates are on the mental-health caseload. Texas prisons provide treatment for roughly 20 percent.

A review of court documents and inmates’ medical records, along with interviews of former prison psychologists, revealed that although the Bureau of Prisons changed its rules, officials did not add the resources needed to implement them, creating an incentive for employees to downgrade inmates to lower care levels.

In an email, the bureau confirmed that mental-health staffing has not increased since the policy took effect. The bureau responded to questions from a public information office email account and declined to identify any spokesperson for this article.

“You doubled the workload and kept the resources the same. You don’t have to be Einstein to see how that’s going to work,” said a former Bureau of Prisons psychologist who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a pending lawsuit regarding his time at the agency.

The bureau said it is “developing a strategy” to analyze this drop in mental-health care, consistent with a Justice Department inspector general’s recommendation last year. Although only a small fraction of federal inmates are deemed ill enough to merit regular therapy, officials acknowledged that 23 percent have been diagnosed with some mental illness.

Data shows the reduction in care varies widely depending on location. At the high-security penitentiary near Hazelton, for instance, which is near the medium-security facility where Rudd was housed, the number of inmates receiving regular mental-health care has dropped by 80 percent since May 2014. At the federal prison near Beckley, West Virginia, the number fell 86 percent.

Although hiring and retaining mental-health staff is a challenge for all prisons, it can be especially difficult for remote facilities. A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that about half of rural communities in the United States don’t have access to a psychologist, and 65 percent don’t have a psychiatrist.

“Most people who have gone through the time and expense to become a psychologist … do not want to live in a really rural area,” said Doug Lemon, a former chief psychologist at two federal prisons in Kentucky. “You can say, ‘Doug Lemon’s lab [should have] five psychologists,’ but if he can only hire three because he can’t get anyone else to work there, guess what? He’s stuck meeting the same mission with three instead of five.”

Staffing shortages elsewhere in the federal prison system have forced the bureau to require some counselors to serve as corrections officers, a situation that worsened under the Trump administration after a lengthy hiring freeze designed to cut spending. In 2016, the bureau had instructed wardens to stop using psychologists for tasks not related to mental health, except in emergencies. But media reports illustrate how counselors and case managers are still being asked to do odd jobs.

“The catchphrase in the bureau was ‘Do more with less,’ ” said Russ Wood, a psychologist in federal prisons for 24 years. “The psychologists were getting pulled off to work gun towers and do prisoner escorts. We’re not really devoted to treating.”

A bureau spokesperson said that all staff are “professional law enforcement officers first” and that the agency does not consider mental-health care to be the primary role of counselors or social workers.”

– Christie Thompson & Taylor Elizabeth Eldridge, “Treatment Denied: The Mental Health Crisis in Federal Prisons.” The Marshall Project. November 21, 2018.

Art by Owen Gent.

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“I don’t put the blame on prison guards. They’re only workers. They’re not inanimate things, cement walls that can neither see nor hear nor think. Most of them didn’t choose their jobs; they ended up there because they thought they had no other choice. I’ve spent a total of twelve years inside walls, behind bars and fences, and I’ve never met a prison guard in whom I saw no trace of myself. I never met a guard who had dreamed that patrolling a convict yard would be the daily content of his life. Very few of those I’ve met admitted to never having dreamed, never having imagined themselves proud of projects undertaken with one or several genuine friends. Was our point of departure the same, and were we at some point interchangeable? How much has each of us contributed to what each has undergone? If a guard ever dreamed, was it of prisons and camps that he dreamed, and was he my jailer-to-be already then?”

– Fredy Perlman, Letters of Insurgents.

Published by Black and Red Press, Detroit, 1976.

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“Inside Kingston Penitentiary – Ten Years After Canada’s Most Infamous Prison Riot,” Saturday Night. September 1981. Pages 34 & 35.

Part onePart two.



TERRY Decker, Thirty-Six, Was Attacked and Taken Hostage During The 1971 riot. ‘First they moved us into an air duct. They kept us there for a couple of hours. Then they started locking us away, three to a cell. They made us take off our uniforms and put on inmate clothing. They figured there wouldn’t be any trouble if the people outside didn’t know who was an inmate and who wasn’t. They moved us every couple of hours from one range to another. I don’t know if they did it to confuse our guys, or the inmates who might have wanted to get at us.’

The hostages were treated with an unpredictable mixture of violence and consideration. ‘I was punched pretty good,’ says Decker. ‘They flattened a disc in my back and burst a blood vessel in my eyeball.’ At the same time, he and the other hostages were given double rations. ‘If the inmates got one sandwich, we got two. And tobacco – we had more than we could ever have smoked. I have no complaints there.’ Decker was released as a show of good faith during the negotiations. He’d been held for forty hours. ‘As I was coming out, one lifer said to me, ‘It pays not to be a dog, eh?’

Four months after the incident, he returned to work. He required extensive physiotherapy and cortisone shots in the spine, but since 1973 his health has been sound. Of the six guards held hostage, Decker is the only one who still works in security – he’s now at Collins Bay penitentiary. Two of the hostages have died; one quit; one took a medical pension; one works as a groundskeeper at Millhaven. Only a portion of the prison has been restored. Several ranges have never been reopened, and the top two tiers of the functioning ranges remain sealed off. Prior to posing for this photograph, Decker had not set foot in the part of the prison where he was held hostage since the riot ten years ago. ‘I was in fear for my life all the time.’

‘THERE’S No Call For This Trade Outside,’ Says The Instructor In the Mail bag repair shop, where these inmates were photographed during a coffee break, ‘but it helps the guys do their time and provides a few dollars for upkeep.’ Last year inmates in the shop repaired five thousand bags a week. The penitentiary earns a dollar for each mailbag it repairs, but eighty four cents goes to materials. Work programmes at Kingston – like hobby and recreational activities – are curtailed by outdated facilities. The only work of rehabilitative value is data processing. Inmates are coding the records of the National Museum of Science and Technology into computer banks. ‘We’re going to get a lot more terminals,’ says Andrew Graham, the warden. ‘It’s a popular programme, and it’s a skill that’s very much in demand on the street.’

Inmates used to be paid a pittance. Last May, however, the federal pay scale was revised to coincide with civilian minimum wage rates, less the eighty-five percent of income that Statisticcs Canada calculates a single man would spend on food, lodging, and clothes. Depending on the nature of his work, a prisoner in a federal institution came between $3.15 and $5.90 a day in maximum security, $3.70 and $6.45 in medium, and $4.80 and $7.55 in minimum. Twenty-five per cent of his pay is withheld as compulsory savings. An inmate serving a lengthy sentence now has the opportunity of returning to civilian life with a few thousand dollars, rather than a few hundred.

There are good reasons for the graduate pay scale. The first is the cost of incarceration. To keep an inmate in maximum security costs $35,800 a year, versus $22,600 for medium security and $18,400 for minimum. (In a community correctional centre – where inmates work at civilian jobs and return to custody each night – the cost is $11,500. The cost of parole is $1,600 a year.) The graduated pay scale also encourages inmates to behave well in order to qualify for an institution with a lower security rating – and a higher pay scale.

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“Guards Use Tear Gas: Reformatory Riot Follows Open House,” The Globe and Mail. September 25, 1962. Pages 01 & 12.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Guelph, Sept. 24 – The first open house in history at the Ontario Reformatory here last weekend affected about 30 inmates today – they rioted.

Superintendent Charles Sanderson said some disturbance usually follows any unusual program, such as the open house that attracted more than 10,000 persons to the institution.

The prisoners were subdued within 15 minutes after guards pumped large quantities of tear gas into the dining room. There was considerable damage, but no injuries were reported.

Mr. Sanderson said the prisoners did not attempt to leave the dining room, but smashed crockery and windows. They were removed to a prison yard after the outbreak and more than 350 inmates eating in an adjoining room were also removed for safety.

There had been a couple of incidents in the dormitories during the weekend that led him to expect trouble, the superintendent said, ‘but I didn’t expect anything as serious as this.’

About 30 inmates overturned and broke about 25 windows Saturday night and there were a couple of fights between prisoners, Mr. Sanderson said. One guard received a broken nose attempting to break up one fight.

‘Their fun involves vandalism,’ the superintendent added.

About 15 men involved in the dormitory disturbances were today transferred to the maximum security at Millbrook.

The men in the large dining room were brought back into the building just before 5 p.m. They had been confined in a prison yard since noon.

About 250 men who were in the small dining room remained in another room.

Mr. Sanderson said the 250 inmates of the reformatory will spend the night in the prison yard and will not be given any food until morning.

‘It is unfortunate that we have to leave all the men out because we are not yet sure who all the troublemakers are,’ he said.

The staff at the reformatory was doubled in strength tonight with about 80 men on duty. Guards are watching from rooftops and other locations with tear-gas guns ready.

Mr. Sanderson said that it was the prompt use of the tear gas that prevented the trouble from becoming more serious.

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“Inside Kingston Penitentiary – Ten Years After Canada’s Most Infamous Prison Riot,” Saturday Night. September 1981. Pages 32 & 33.

Part one. Part three.
‘THE Cells Are Opened at 7 In the Morning,’ Says An Inmate Sentenced To life. ‘Breakfast is at 7.30. You go the kitchen by ranges, then back to your cell with your tray. You’re locked in with your food until 8 while the medication trolley comes around. From 8 to 11 you work. Back to your cell at 11, lunch and maybe a sleep until 1, then back to work until 3:30. Supper, until 6. After supper, you can be out on the range, playing cards or watching TV. Or you can go to the exercise yard in summer, the gym in winter. Lockup is 11 o’clock. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.’

Routine, repetition, numbing boredom. The inmate’s lot is grim; but less so than it once was. One of the major reforms of the past decade is a programme of family visits. At present these are restricted to maximum-security institutions (whose inmates are ineligible for the termporary absences available to medium- and minimum-security inmates), although they may soon be extended to medium-security prisons. The programme was introduced last year at Millhaven, where a white mobile home stands inside the security fences. There is a small fenced yard for children, with swings and a teeter-totter. The authorities provide food and other necessities. The purpose of the programme, an official explains, is ‘to keep the family together, to maintain some continuity so the inmate’s got something to go back to. It’s not to dangle a carrot for good behaviour. It’s not even to cut down on homosexuality in the institution – those are side effects.’ A similar programme was started in Attica in New York State three years ago. ‘It’s early to make any sweeping statements,’ says the official, ‘but the people there the recividism among the men who got visits is way, way down.’

At Kingston, there is no programme of conjugal visits. Inmate’s contact with family and friends consists of letters and supervised visits. The inmate above asked to be photographed so that his girlfriend could have his picture.

WITH Waxed Moustached, Medal Ribbons, and Military Bearing, Tom Rathwell, the supervising keeper (or head guard) at Kingston, appears as anachronistic as the penitentiary itself. In fact, he is respected – even liked – by virtually all the inmates. ‘I don’t know who they’ll get when he goes on retirement,’ says a bank robber. ‘I mean, he’s a man you can trust. I remember one time we had a sit-down strike in the gym. The guys wanted to kill the warden – they had iron bars and they were ugly. Then, after a day-and-a-half, the door opened – boom! – and in walked Tom Rathwell, right in among us. He went around to all the ringleaders and wagged a finger under their noses – ‘This is your doing, don’t think I don’t know that.’ He made them feel like kids. After that, we all caved in.’

A veteran of the Second World War, Rathwell, sixty-one, joined the penitentiary service in 1947. Except for a few months at Millhaven, he has spent his entire career at Kingston. ‘Things were much tougher before ‘71,’ he says. ‘Everything was very military. Men marched everywhere in lines, they weren’t allowed to dress sloppily, they had to be very polite with the guards. If they called you by your first name, you were supposed to charge them. It didn’t help. You can’t treat people like that. I try to be straight with them. If they ask about their parole, or what their chances are of a move, and I don’t think they have a hope, I tell them. If you say, ‘That’s up to the classification officers,’ it just makes them mad.’

A Kingston inmate handed a note to the photographer and asked that it be given to the writer. The note reads, ‘While speaking with Mr. Rathwell the other day he made a comment which I thought worth passing on to you. He seldom uses bad language, but this is what he said: ‘They told me when I started here thirty-four years ago to treat all prisoners alike. It was bullshit then and it’s bullshit now.’

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Expanding the Carceral State
While the federal government was no more willing to step into state prisons on behalf of Muslim prisoners than it was in Albany, Georgia, on behalf of nonviolent protestors, the activism of the Muslim Brotherhood continued to receive attention from the state capital in Albany, New York. The writ-writing campaigns of prisoners had helped prompt a national response and the attention of the courts, but it also caused an arm of the state to reach deep into incarcerated communities. Wardens and state corrections officers authorized prison surveillance and, in some cases, even dedicated a staff member to internal supervision of the Nation of Islam. This surveillance was meant not only to absorb and report but also to disrupt and subvert. It also provided the raw material for state knowledge production that could quell prison activism. Prison officials soon emerged as arbiters of religious orthodoxy, determining who and what constituted legitimate Muslim practice.

As they looked to Muslim religious practices such as eating, prayer, and use of Arabic for markers of identity and political agitation, prisoners turned to informal strategies of daily resistance to combat state intrusions. Through its intervention, the state also assigned political meaning to religious practice, further politicizing incarceration and the practice of Islam within prison walls. State surveillance began with prison officers, who had the most daily contact with prisoners. One institution devoted an officer to keeping a list of all active members, searching their cells, and confiscating any literature relating to the Nation of Islam. Seizing materials slowed the spread of conversions and were a source for state intelligence. An area of concern was prisoners’ use of Arabic. The language not only served a cultural and religious function but also flummoxed prison security. For example, Bratcher gave specific instructions in his letter to Malcolm X: his mother would write him of the minister’s reply in red

ink with “three lines of Al-Fatihab” (referring to Al-Fatiha, the first surah in the Qur’an). One state report noted that it “would seem doubtful if the majority of the prisoners can rea[d] and write Arabic but if notes are picked up that seem to contain no meaning maybe they would bear investigating.” Several months later, six pages of Arabic to English and English to Arabic translation were confiscated. 

Another surveillance strategy that relied heavily on prison officers was the scrutiny of Muslim eating habits. The refusal to eat pork in prisons recalls Malcolm X’s own imprisonment in the late 1940s when he and other prisoners protested its prevalence in prison diets. At Attica Prison, Bratcher wrote to Warden Walter Wilkins asking for permission to carry food from the mess hall to his cell so he and other Muslim prisoners could eat after sundown during Ramadan. One prisoner was even charged with wasting state food for throwing away his bacon and refusing to eat it. Daily political acts such as throwing away bacon even escalated to more formal strikes. In Milan, Michigan, where Elijah Muhammad had once been incarcerated for draft resistance, prisoners took part in a three day hunger strike against pork, which eventually resulted in Muslim-prepared food and a separate dining section. 

These actions were challenged by prison officials who quickly seized on dietary restrictions as a way to monitor and challenge the legitimacy of a prisoner’s religious beliefs. “In order to check the authenticity of the Muslims,” Woodward’s memo noted, “each officer has been required to submit to the principal keeper’s office a report on whether or not the particular prisoner in question is eating pork. The members who are eating pork will be … included in next month’s report.” Another institution itemized prisoners’ eating when pork was served in the mess hall: “Of the above total [of 70], 30 prisoners either refused their ration or gave it to another prisoner, and additional 16 prisoners took their ration to their cells and only two were actually observed fasting.” By monitoring prisoners’ eating, writings, and literature, prison officers acted as foot soldiers in the state’s surveillance of the Nation of Islam. 

From this narrow base of day-to-day surveillance, reports on Muslims in prison also radiated outward to the state and federal levels. The success of the NOI’s organized prison litigation continued to trouble prison officials. The first to present on the NOI at the ACA’s annual conference was the noted penologist Donald Clemmer, who authored his foundational study The Prison Community in 1940. By 1963, topics such as “The Black Muslims and Religious Freedom in Prison” and “The Black Muslim in Prison: A Personality Study” surfaced at the conference. The academic communities of penology and criminology emerged as part of the state’s developing knowledge production about the NOI. 

The 1960s also marked a shift from rehabilitative strategies to psychological warfare and new technologies of violence, and Muslim prisoners were often the first subjected to these new experimental practices. As Alan Gómez notes, bibliotherapy was replaced with isolation, sensory deprivation, and brainwashing; Muslim prison litigation helped “propel this shift.” Edgar Schein, a professor of psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presented a paper in 1961 to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons entitled “Man against Man: Brainwashing.” Bertra S. Brown of the National Institute of Mental Health responded by contacting prison administrators and suggesting that they “do things perhaps on your own—undertake a little experiment of what you can do with Muslims.” As Gómez persuasively argues, the ascension of Control Units, Special Housing Units, and Adjustment Centers, were all outgrowths of the experimental use of excessive solitary confinement by prison officials during the late 1950s and early 1960s. These punishments and techniques, he concluded, were “initially experimented with on Muslim inmates [but] later used en masse on political activists [and] became the model for the entire prison regime.”

– Garrett Felber, ““Shades of Mississippi”: The Nation of Islam’s Prison Organizing, the Carceral State, and the Black Freedom Struggle.” The Journal of American History, June 2018. pp. 90-93.

Photos are from Ann Arbor Times, September 6, 1966.

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“In the days after her brother-in-law’s death inside the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre, Tracy Sharp watched in disbelief as negative comments made by people who never met him started to pile up on social media.

“One less person on our tax payers [sic] dime,” read one.

“Thin the herd,” read another.

But one comment in particular stopped her cold: “Who cares,” wrote Kevin Hale, whose Facebook profile says he works for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

“Is this the kind of people that work there, treating them like animals?” she wondered.

“If these are the kind of people who are supposed to be in control and looking out for these guys, that doesn’t bode well.”

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the ministry would not say if it’s investigating Hale’s comments or if he will face any sort of reprimand because it does not comment on “human resources matters.”

“The personal opinions expressed by our employee do not reflect the values of our ministry nor of the vast majority of correctional staff,” wrote Brent Ross.

I care and so do the families of all of these other people who have died. – Tracy Sharp

Christopher “Johnny” Sharp died at the Barton Street jail Friday afternoon of a suspected drug overdose. His death comes just months after a marathon inquest into eight overdose deaths at the facility the produced 62 recommendations aimed at improving everything from security and health services to surveillance.

The ministry has six months to respond. In the meantime, inquests have also been announcedinto the deaths of two other HWDC inmates — Brennan Bowley and Ryan McKechnie.

Not just a mug shot

Beyond questions about how drugs continue to get into the jail and kill inmates, Sharp’s family is left struggling to understand why people would go out of their way to attack a hurting family trying to hold onto memories of the man they loved.

“Johnny isn’t just a mug shot and a rap sheet,” said Tracy. “He was a person and like a lot of addicts and people who get caught up in the system, he wasn’t always like this.”

Carol, Johnny’s mother, remembers the 53-year-old as a gentle boy with a mischievous sense of humour before addiction and 30 years spent bouncing between jails, prisons and halfway houses.

As a child he loved sports and art — later in life he became a tattoo artist who created his own complex designs.

Tracy knew Johnny for almost 15 years and said some of her her fondest memories are of him playing with her kids.

“He was just so sweet, I only know the sweet side to him. I don’t know that rap sheet Johnny."”

– Dan Taekema, “‘Who cares?’ asks corrections worker after inmate dies inside Hamilton jail.CBC News, September 14, 2018.

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“As the five men waited for the SaMarion case to reach trial in the summer of 1962, they planned a hunger strike protesting solitary confinement. The prisoners claimed that Bratcher’s segregation was “an excuse by the warden . . to make him seem that he was crazy concerning this trial that was coming up.” Writ writing had exacerbated fears among prison officials and became one of the most successful strategies for Muslim prisoners. The Nation of Islam successfully flooded the courts with writs across the country. Between 1961 and 1978, sixty-six reported federal court decisions were made on suits fled by prisoners affiliated with the Nation of Islam. In California the number of habeas corpus petitions rose from a mere 814 in 1957 to nearly five thousand by 1965. At San Quentin in 1965, prisoners were churning out almost three hundred petitions per month. As Judge Brennan noted at one trial, these were not “cases where uneducated, inexperienced and helpless plaintiffs are involved … these applications are part of a movement.” Prison litigation became the “peaceful equivalent of a riot” by catalyzing public support and bringing national attention to the otherwise-hidden struggles of prisoners.

One of the largest structural challenges to prison organizing was physical isolation from the outside world. Activists relied on what Berger has called “a strategy of visibility” to make their struggles known. Testifying has its political roots in slavery and has been carried forward through the black feminist tradition. As Danielle McGuire points out in her work on the role of the struggle against sexual violence in the civil rights movement, “testimony must be seen as a form of direct action and radical protest.” Black prisoners saw the courts as political pulpits, a breach in the walls allowing them to take their claims before the world outside. As James Jacobs wrote, “it is as if the courts had become a battlefield where prisoners and prison administrators, led by their respective legal champions, engage in mortal combat.” Sostre later wrote that the “court is an arena. It is a battlefield—one of the best. We will use these same torture chambers, these same kangaroo courts, to expose them.”

Nowhere was this more evident than during Malcolm X’s testimony during the SaMarion trial. Bratcher realized that the state would be mobilizing witnesses to testify against the Nation of Islam’s standing in the Muslim world and wrote to the minister that the “‘Key’ witness I am depending on to ‘seal’ our victory is ‘You’ Minister Malcolm ‘X.’” This set the stage for a four-day showdown between Malcolm X and the state’s witness, the Columbia University professor Joseph Franz Schacht. While Malcolm X admitted openly in court that he had an eighth-grade education, no formal theological training, and could not speak Arabic, Schacht had a “masterly knowledge” of the language, and his book Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence, which argued for the historical development and sociological implications of Islamic law, was considered a seminal text in the Western study of Islam. Yet Malcolm X weaved around the meritocratic probing of the state. When asked if he had a degree in theology, he noted that if “my understanding of the word ‘theological’ is correct, the study of God, the science that deals with religion and the study of God, I studied theology in that sense under the Honorable Elijah Muhammad about our God.” When pressed on the length of his education, he replied: “I am still studying.” When interrogated on whether or not he was ordained or had a written certificate that permitted him to proselytize, he reminded the court that “Jesus sent his disciples forth with no written certificate or anything but his approval.” Malcolm X’s

testimony was so convincing that when Schacht took the stand and listed his membership in the Royal Netherlands Academy, the Arabic Academy in Damascus, and an honorary degree in Law from University of Algiers, the judge responded: “I don’t think it is quite thoroughly clear at this time to qualify him as an expert.” 

While Henderson had, in effect, apologized for and excused his racism in the same remark, his open respect for Malcolm X’s opinion shifted the tenor of the case. As Griffin recalled, Henderson was “impressed by Malcolm and his testimony … [and] respected Malcolm for his clear statements and responses.” Bresnihan, likely attempting to curry favor with the judge, then began adopting the phrase the “American Black Man” in his questioning. Malcolm X’s use of the courtroom as a political stage reveals the importance of testimony as a form of nonviolent resistance. His testimony lasted three days, and was over 20 percent of the two-week trial transcript, successfully compelling the judge to rule that the Nation of Islam was a religious organization. But more importantly, Malcolm X’s  political views took center stage and fundamentally altered the rhetoric and discourse of the case.

The case at Attica Prison also underscores the important role that the jailhouse lawyer played in organizing legal challenges from prison. Knowing that most prisoners were not qualified to draw up their own legal challenges, prisons such as Attica maintained rules prohibiting legal assistance. For example, “rule 21” at Attica stated: “Prisoners are prohibited except upon approval of the warden to assist other prisoners in preparation of legal papers.” This strategy was reproduced nationally as a means of combatting prison litigation efforts. In Texas, administrators employed a similar strategy, forbidding writ writers from possessing the legal materials of a fellow prisoner. In California this was known as Rule D-2602. Even if a prisoner wanted to use another’s paperwork as a template, officials concluded that any legal material in a cell not pertaining to that prisoner was evidence of prison lawyering. Just as grandfather clauses and poll taxes worked as state mechanisms to disfranchise southern black voters, rules governing legal access and jailhouse lawyering sought to curb legal literacy and prisoners’ access to the judicial system. Thus, when Sostre wrote to Walker, he urged him to copy the writ into his notebook, then flush it down the toilet, but not to “let this lay around. This is dynamite.” He then listed the “most essential weapons in fighting Shaitan” (Arabic transliteration of “the devil”): legal paper, an ink eraser, one dollar of postage stamps, a loose-leaf binder, and a ball-point pen.

Trough cases such as Pierce v. LaVallee, SaMarion v. McGinnis, and later, Cooper v. Pate, the NOI brought about judicial oversight such that, by 1974, the Supreme Court declared that no longer was an “iron curtain drawn between the Constitution and the prisons of this country.” Yet, while the Supreme Court strictly forbade any “direct or indirect interference by prisons or state authorities” in prisoners’ access to the courts, prisons obstructed court access through measures such as rule 21. They also limited legal advice, intimidated writ writers, and disrupted the legal process through solitary confinement.

Despite these attempts, Muslim prisoners were more organized than the often uncoordinated strategies of local prison officials and state policy makers. In one example in California, San Quentin Prison officials set up a small office where three prisoners transcribed writs onto standardized forms and processed them on a duplicating machine. Meanwhile, the California Department of Corrections attempted to clamp down on writ writers by prohibiting access to law literature and court decisions. 

But Sostre’s letter to Walker in solitary confinement also revealed another strategy pointing toward the concurrent tactics of prison organizing and the broader black freedom struggle. Prisoners appropriated the principal mechanism of prison repression—solitary confinement—as a tool of organized protest. Recognizing that most of Attica Prison’s Muslims were already in solitary confinement, Sostre urged Walker to not be sent back to general population. According to Sostre, they “made a pact not to go down until the religious persecution of the Muslims cease[s].” If Walker was sent back, he was told to threaten to bring contraband literature out of his cell and be sent back to solitary. They reasoned that each time the warden “snatch[ed] an aggressive Muslim out of population, he would send one down from the box and send another one up from population. In other words, he kept manipulating the brothers like monkeys on a string.” Yet Sostre astutely noted that when “the box ceases to work, the entire disciplinary and security system breaks down.” The take-over of solitary confinement was an example of prisoners creatively adapting the methods of prison control as resistance. NOI members filled solitary confinement until the box no longer was an effective form of punishment. Wardens were then faced with the decision of creating hotbeds of activism in segregation or undermining the arbitrary rules they had worked so hard to justify and enforce. 

The prisoners’ strategy of filling solitary confinement mirrored, and in fact predated, the developing civil rights strategy of “Jail, no bail” in the South. …

The prisoners’ strategy of taking over solitary can be traced back to Clinton Prison when the men were reported by the prison officer as discussing the tactics (over a year before the Friendship Nine employed this strategy). While civil rights organizers in the South and prisoners at Attica appropriated forms of state control, Chief Pritchett in Albany was able to mobilize a larger network of police and jails just as wardens at Clinton and Attica Prisons were able to transfer prisoners to other state prisons when their much smaller segregation units became filled with politicized prisoners. Both movements also attempted to garner national attention and press for federal intervention. As Len Holt

of the Congress of Racial Equality explained, “if we go to jail by the hundreds and thousands, the hearts of those who would maintain the old order will be inundated with the guilt necessary to bring about change.” For prisoners at Attica, solitary confinement and the loss of good time were crucial to their claims in state and federal courts. As Sostre wrote: “We have taken over the box and he is anxious to get us out of the box, especially with the big trial coming soon. So don’t let him clean up, for we are living proof of the religious oppression complained of in our writs.” Filling solitary confinement not only

undermined prison security but also built a case for trial and dramatized prisoners’ struggles before the courts and the nation.

But in both cases, appropriation of state repression had unintended consequences. As Berger argues, “mass arrests of political activists provided a dry run for mass incarceration, especially when joined with the economic transformations wrought by mechanization and migration. The civil rights movement gave states an early taste of what it would mean to arrest, prosecute, and imprison large groups of people.” In the case of Muslims at Attica Prison, it coincided with intensified surveillance and monthly reports on the group. Despite their similarities, the “Jail, no bail” strategy has its place in the annals of civil rights history as a heroic confrontation with southern Jim Crow through nonviolent direct action; meanwhile, the take-over of solitary confinement by Muslims at Attica Prison has gone unremarked. At best, the Nation of Islam has been depicted as a reluctant political participant, pulled toward the struggle by Malcolm X. At worst, it is portrayed as an apolitical religious sect that was marginal, or even antithetical, to such movements. Such disparate historical treatments raise important questions about what are seen as legitimate politics, legible activists, and visible sites of resistance in histories of the black freedom movement.”

– Garrett Felber, ““Shades of Mississippi”: The Nation of Islam’s Prison Organizing, the Carceral State, and the Black Freedom Struggle.” The Journal of American History, June 2018. pp. 84-90 

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“Inside Kingston Penitentiary – Ten Years After Canada’s Most Infamous Prison Riot,” Saturday Night. September 1981. Cover and Pages 30 & 31.

Part two. Part three.


On the evening of Wednesday, April 14, 1971, half of the nearly 600 inmates of the maximum security penitentiary at Kingston, Ontario, were in the gymnasium. At 10:30, the gymnasium guard began assembling the men into batches of twenty – the occupants of a single tier on one range. His procedure was to unlock the gym door for each group in turn, passing the twenty inmates to Terry Decker, the guard in the corridor. ‘It was the same as any night,’ recalls Decker. ‘ Just routine. Until two of them jumped me.’ The most infamous prison riot in Canadian history had begun. Inmates had control of the institution for nearly four days. They took guards as hostages, destroyed much of the interior of he penitentiary, tortured, maimed and murdered protective custody inmates.

The Kingston riot was followed by unrest and disturbances at other prisons in the early and mid 1970s. Francis Fox, then the solicitor general, ordered a parliamentary investigation. In 1977, the parliamentary sub-committee, chaired by Mark MacGuigan, tabled a report that began. ‘A crisis exists in the Canadian penitentiary system,’ and went on to offer sixty-five recommendations for large-scale reform.

A majority of those recommendations have now been implemented. Reforms include the upgrading of qualifications for correctional officers; the wearing of name identification by prison staff; the employment of women on the same basis as men; the use of independent chairpersons to preside over disciplinary hearings; the provision of ‘adequate material for legal research’ in institutional librariries; a grievance system for inmates, and a system for electing inmate committees; an end to the use of Mace and tear gas except when absolutely necessary; and a system of work incentives based on labour productivity. Several other major reforms have been effected as well. Robert Kaplan, the present solicitor general, has put an end to censorship of reading material (’There’s no reason why people on the inside shouldn’t get everything that’s available on the outside’ – revolutionary manuals excepted). Inmates are now permitted open visits, and a programme of conjugal visits is being tested at one Ontario penitentiary. Whipping was abolished the year after the Kingston riot, and punitive diets were done away with in 1979.

These reforms are most evident at modern institutions such as Warkworth, a medium-security facility in Ontario whose warden is a women and whose ‘living units’ bring to mind college accommodation – except for the seatless toilet in each cell. Kingston, by contrast, is the oldest and perhaps the most oppressive of the country’s fifty-three federal institutions. Opened in 1835, it was built originally of wood, and modelled on the prison at Auburn, New York. The first inmates constructed the existing limestone prison. Kingston was due to be phased out when the riot took place; ironically, one cause of the riot was inmate anxiety about being transferred to Millhaven, a new maximum-security prison near Bath, Ontario.

Today, once again, Kingston’s days are numbered. A maximum-security facility under constriction at Renous, New Brunswick, should be in operation by 1986. Kingston will likely then become a msueum. In the meantime it remains a monument to the day when illiterate guards enforced a rule of absolute silence, twelve-year-old prisoners were regularly flogged, and anyone who condemned to its dismal confined forfeited all claim to human decency.

Andrew Graham, the Acting Warden of Kingston, Is A Former Inmate Counsellor at Warkworth. He hold’s a Master’s degree in political economy. When he came to Kingston in 1979, the facility was being used primarily as a reception centre. All new federal inmates in the Ontario region came here for assessment before being assigned to an institution with the appropriate level of security. ‘The criterion is what we usually refer to as dangerosity,’ says Art Trono, regional director of Correctional Services of Canada. ‘At a minimum-security prison you may have inmates doing life for murder, and in maximum you may have young guys doing the bare two years.’ (Inmates serving less than two years are incarcerated in provincial institutions.)

Last spring Kingston ceased to serve as the regional reception centre. It reverted to a maximum-security institution, and is used exclusively for protective-custody inmates. These are men who, at another prison, would have to be segregated from the general population for their own safety because their crimes are considered heinous by other inmates, because of prison debts, or because of their reputation as ‘snitches.’ In some ways the Kingston inmates are more easily managed than other prison populations. ‘Most of these guys don’t want to see a riot or any big flareups,’ a guard explains, ‘so they very quietly rat on anything that looks dangerous. For instance, we’re generally tupped off when a bunch of home-brew’s being prepared. Guys realize that if somebody gets drunk, he’s likely to start thinking that’s somebody else’s crime is dirtier than his.’

‘Without this move,’ says Graham, ‘bringing together all the protective custody people into one institution, they’d be deproved of the programmes open to them here. In the average institution, the PC population is a small, locked-away group that lives in fear. Here they can mingle with comparative safety. After all, they’re all tarred with the same brush. They live and let live.’

[Ted Wood fills his own writing with all the tired clichés of mainstream journalism on prison, and the photo used on the cover is 100% racist ‘look at the scary Native man’ bait, but the rest of the photos are pretty great.]

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“La prise d ’otages,
l’épouvante moderne,” La Presse. September 5, 1979. Page I-2.


DORCHESTER, N.-B. (PC) – Un prisonnier

transféré du pénitencier
de Millhaven en Ontario
à la prison du 19e siècle
à sécurité maximum de
ce village de l’est du
Nouveau-Brunswick a
dit que c’était commes il était passé d’Auschiwtz à un camps de

S’ils en est ainsi, pourquoi
ce pénitencier semblable à une forteresse
avec ses murs de pierre
et ses tourelles fu t-il le
lieu de ceré cit d’épouvante
moderne: la prise
Il semble que les deux
drames de ces deux dernières
années ne furent
que des aberrations et
non des manifestations
du mécontentement répandus parmi les 300
prisonniers de Dorchester.

Situé sur une colline
parmi des terres de culture
près de la frontière

le Nouveau-Brunswick et la Nouvelle-Ecosse, 

ce pénitencier sombre , à l’aspect
rébarbatif, est considéré

relativement agréable par les criminels
et l’administration.

Qu’on leur laisse le
choix et beaucoup de
endur cis prisonniers
iront à Dorchester plutôt
qu’à une autre maison
de détention. L’un deux
a déclaré dans une interView
que les conditions y
étaient meilleures que
dans tout autre pénitencier,
prisonniers et gardes
y étant plus amènes.

Depuis janvier 1978, il
y a cependant eu là deux
prises d’otages. — des

La pire des deux, selon
le directeur suppléant
Gerald G reen, fut la
deuxième, du 30 avril au
2 mai 1979.

Un fou furieux
Un condamné à 14 ans
pour tentative de meurtre
s’est emparé d’un
garde et d’un professeur
d’atelier et les a torturés.

M. Greene raconte que
le prisonnier Gerald
MacDonald a arraché
les ongles du professeur
au moyen de tenailles et
lui a brûlé les mains. Le
garde a été libéré apres
avoir été frappé à l ’estomac à coup de tournevis.

M. Greene dit que
MacDonald a va it alors
le cerveau dérangé.
Une prise d’otages au
début de 1978 a duré 128
heures. Deux détenus du
Québec ont enlevé un

garde et réclamé leur
transfert à un péniten­cier de leur province

Personne n’a été blessé
au cours du siège et
les prisonniers furent
plus tard transférés à
une unité spéciale du
pénitencier à sécurité
maximum de Laval, au

M. Greene dit que les
gardes n’en sont pas
devenus amers pour
autant et que l’on n’a
pas pris depuis de pre ­cautions spéciales.

Dorchester est un établissement à sécurité
moyenne plus qu’à sécurité maximum comme
Millhaven à Kingston en Ontario. IL y a une salle
de visite grande ouverte
ou les prisonniers assis à
des tables peuvent causer
avec leurs hôtes et
même les étreindre. Et
les relations sont plutôt
bonnes entre prisonniers
et gardes.

Selon M. Greene, il
serait facile de prendre
des otages, particulièrement au cours de collo ques ou durant les leçons
aux prisonniers dans les

«Ce n’est pas (la prise
d’otages) quelque chose
que l’on peut arrêter par
des mesures supplémentaires
de sécurité: bien
plus, ces mesures mêmes pourraient gâcher
les relations avec les

«Si l’on prend trop de
précautions, les prisons
ne deviennent rien d’autre
que des enclos pour
animaux dangereux, ce
qui n’a pas de sens.»


M. Greene trouve les
détenus des Maritimes
différents des autres. Ils
ne sont pas. en général,
des criminels aussi
«sophistiqués» que ceux
de l’O n ta rio et du Québec.

«Nous n’avons pas
vraim nt de crime organise
et cela compte en
m atière de sécurité.»

Jack McLaughlin, âgé
de 41 ans, vient de Montréal. Il purge une sentence
de dix ans et il
reconnaît que les mesures
de sécurité et la
composition de la population
pénitentiaire sont
différentes de celles des
prisons ou il a séjourné
de puis l’âge de 21 ans.
C’est lui qui a compa­ré Dorchester et Millhaven.
à un camp de scouts et à
«J’ai constaté»

que la plupart des prisonniers, ici, viennent disent
des Maritimes. Ils n’ont
pas passé par des unités
spéciales comme celles
du Québec et de Millhaven
où les gaz lacrymogènes et les coups
sont d ’usage courant.

«Les prisonniers d’ici
trouvent ça dur, mais il
n’y a pas eu de vraie sémeutes. Il y a rarement
des batailles, et quand il
y en a c’est aux poings .
Depuis trois ans que je
suis ici, aucun prisonnier s’a été grièvement

McLaulghlin parle avec beaucoup d’amertume
de Millhaven de mauvais traitements et d’actes
de brutalité qu’il attribue
aux gardes.

Faisant à l’envie des
comparaisons entre
Millhaven et Dorchester,
il dit qu’à ce dernier
endroit, contrairem ent
aux autres pénitenciers
et prisons qu’il connaît les gardes disent

«bonjour» le matin aux
prisonniers et s’informent de leur état de santé.

D’après McLaughlin,
s’ il y a jamais des prises
d’otages, des arrêts de
travail, des grèves sur le
tas à Dorchester , ce ne
peut être que par suite
de l’accumulation de
frustrations. Un incident
mineur, la goutte proverbiale qui…

Membre du comité de
liaison entre les prisonniers
et l’administration, McLaughlin dit
qu’il ne se soucie pas des
pénitenciers qui ne peuvent,
de toute façon,
aider à la réhabilitation
des criminels.

«Je ne m’intéresse
plus à rien. Je n’ai pas
de sentiments . Voilà ce
que le système carcéral
a fait de moi.

«Je n’ai absolument
plus de sentiments. Je
suis devenu froid.»

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“Les jours de grande violence sont-ils
révolus dans les prisons canadiennes?” La Presse. September 5, 1979. Page I-1.

par Gérard McNEIL

de la Presse Canadienne

Un Canadien sur 1,000 se trouvera,
cette année, dans l’une des
prisons municipales ou provinciales
du Canada ou dans un pénitencier

Et beaucoup réagiront comme
Gilbert Rondeau quand il a passé
dix jours dans une prison provinciale
du Québec le printemps

Député aux Communes, de
1962 à sa d éfaite aux élections
générales du 22 mai, R ondeau
était fervent partisan de la rigueur
envers les condamnés. La
prison a modifié ses idées.

«C’est une vraie maison de fous,
déclara l’homme âgé de 51 ans
trouvé coupable de fraude. C’est
un système cancéreux que l’on
veut correctif mais qui ne corrige
absolument rien»

Beaucoup de prisonniers seraient
d’accord avec Rondeau.
Les conditions intérieures ne
sont pas adaptées à la dissuasion
ni à la réhabilition. Beaucoup de
prisons sont surpeuplées avec
des installations désuètes. 

Et, ce qui est peut-être plus

— du moins pour les


ces établissements symbolisent un avenir
sans espoir.

Souvent cette situation provoque
la violence entre prisonniers,
et entre prisonniers et
gardes. Toutefois, on a lieu de
croire que les jours de grande
violence, les jours vraim ent
m auvais de 1975 et 1976, sont
révolus. Cela peut dépendre du
gouvernement fédéral progressiste-conservateur. 

Vers le calme?

Les spécialistes pensent que si
le gouvernement met en vigueur
la législation recommandée en
1977 par un sous-comité parle ­
mentaire, les incidents graves
seront rares.

De fait, leur nombre a passablement
décru au cours des années
1970, les prisonniers attendant
quelles réformes le gouvernement
instituerait par suite des
recommandations du sous-comité

En 1976, les détenus menaçaient de détruire le système
pénal en causant de lourds
dommages à trois pénitenciers
fédéraux à sécurité maximum:
Laval au Québec, Millhaven en
Ontario et en Colombie-Britannique.
En 1975 et 1976, il y eut dans
les institutions fédérales 69 incidents
graves dont 35 au cours
desquels les prisonniers prirent
92 otages.

L’an dernier ainsi qu’au cours
du premier semestre de 1979, il
n’y eut que deux événements
qualifiés de graves et, par comparaison
avec ceux du passé, ils
furent bénins.

«Ce que nous considérons
maintenant m ajeur aurait été
ju g é m ineur il y a quelques a n ­
nées», a déclaré M. Howard
Mansfield, principal analyste de
la sécurité du système fédéral.

Après les désordres de 1976, la
sous-comité parlementaire trouve
le système pénitentiaire en
état de crise, sa direction
«épaisse» et inefficace, les gardes
brutaux et sans surveillance,
et les détenus furieux.


Les 13 membres du sous-comité,
représentant les quatre
grands partis aux Communes,
recommandèrent à l’unanimité
65 réformes dont plusieurs ne
sont pas encore en vigueur.

Mais le rapport du sous-comité
est devenu une sorte de bible qui
a enseigné aux détenus comment
le systèm e fonctionne et comment
il devrait fonctionner. Ce
qui importe davantage, il leur a
donné espoir. Ils semblent compter
moins sur la violence et da ­vantage sur la publicité.

D’une série d’interviews de la
Presse Canadienne avec des forçats,
d’anciens bagnards et des
fonctionnaires d’institutions
pénitentiaires, il ressort que l’insuffisance
de la formation de
gardes, les longues périodes
d’ennui et la pauvreté des installations
demeurent les principaux

On semble d’accord que si l’on
ne modifie pas le système pénitentiaire,
il y aura d’autres actes
de violence, d’autres soulèvements.

Mais on n’est pas d’accord sur
la question de savoir si les conditions
se sont améliorées depuis
que l’on a donné suite à quelques

recommandations du sous-comité.

A en croire un ancien forçat de
Laval, le vieux pénitencier malfamé de Saint-Vincent-de-Paul à
Montréal, il y aurait là plus de
répression que jamais et davantage
de tentatives de suicide.
Toutefois, les institutions du
Québec ne constituent pas un
microcosme du système pénal
du Canada. La violence y sévit
plus que partout ailleurs et des
détenus soutiennent que les gardes
sont promis en raison de leur

Les gardes

Un fonctionnaire de Millhaven
dit que les gardes reçoivent
maintenant une meilleure formation
et que les conditions sont
meilleures. Un autre prétend
qu’il reste des gardes très durs
envers les détenus.

A Stony Mountain au Manitoba,
on a formé un groupe de
«living unit officers» (agent vivant
sur place) chargés de rendre
la vie plus tolérable pour les
détenus. Ces gardes ne portent
pas d’uniforme, ils sont en permanence
affectés aux cellules et
conseillent les prisonniers. Des
fonctionnaires louent l’efficacité
de cette mesure; d’autres la

«C’est une farce, dit un ba ­gnard. Autrefois, ces gens
étaient des gardes norm aux de
tous les jours.

«Et tout à coup on en fait des
conseillers sans qu’ils aient reçu
de formation».

Un fait que l’on ne conteste
pas. C’est que l’autorité pénale
semble écouter davantage les

«Je pense que l’on profite davantage de la correspondance,
dit M. Mansfield. Les détenus
reçoivent maintenant une réponse,
et qui n ’est pas cavalière».

Quand un prisonnier est accusé
d’un délit, c’est un président
indépendant et non plus seulement
le sous-directeur qui écoule
sa version. On a encouragé la
formation de comités de prisonniers
et de citoyens qui souvent
s’efforcent ensemble de corriger
une situation qui, dans le passé,
aurait donné lieu à un affrontement.

Le «commissaire correctionnel»
Howard Yeomans n’est pas
spécialiste des prisons mais s’y
connaît en administration. Il
exige des rapports suivis et,
dans une certaine mesure, a mis
de l’ordre dans ce qui était un


Depuis nombre d’années, les
prisons fédérales avaient des
programmes de formation mais
il a fallu l’enquête du sous-comité
en 1976 pour qu’on sache que
les certificats remis aux prisonniers
ne les aidaient nullement à
obtenir un emploi.

Les cours de métier qu’on leur
dispense sont maintenant reconnus
par les provinces, ce qui
donne aux prisonniers libérés la
chance de trouver du travail.

Le Parlement a amendé la loi
des libertés conditionnelles pour
rendre la vie plus dure aux prisonniers
dont la libération est
annulée. A l’intérieur du système,
on a formé deux unités spéciales
l’une à Millhaven et l’autre
à Montréal.

Quiconque prend un otage,
s’évade ou comme et un acte de
violence en prison se retrouve
dans cet unité pour au moins dix

Il y est enfermé 19 heures par
jour avec un appareil de télé
comme seule distraction. Les
cellules ont trois murs d ’acier et
un en béton. Elles sont éclairées
24 heures par jour.

Un prisonnier de Milhaven
s’est crevé les yeux dans l’espoir
qu ’on le renverrait aux Etats-Unis
et qu’il y obtiendrait la libération
conditionnelle. Il sera libéré
mais il est aveugle d’un oeil
et voit à peine de l’autre.


A la prison de Winnipeg, deux
prisonniers se sont suicidés
après huit mois de réclusion
dans des cellules ressemblant à
des alcôves avec des toilettes à
la vue de tous. Comme dans la
plupart des prisons, ils n’avaient
rien à faire.

Il semble que les installations
physiques, le désespoir et un
ennui mortel portent au suicide
dans les prisons. D’après l’Association
canadienne des libertés
civiques, le taux des suicides
chez les prisonniers est 12 fois
plus élevé que dans le public en

Directeurs, gardes et prisonniers
s’inquiètent du nombre
croissant des condamnés à un
minimum de 25 ans pour meurtre
au premier degré et à un minimum
de 10 à 25 ans pour meurtre
au second degré.

Plus de 1,000 prisonniers croupissent
en prison pour avoir tué
et depuis 1976 une centaine s’y
trouvent en principe pour 25 ans,
ne pouvant être libérés avant le
21e siècle.

D’après des fonctionnaires, vingt-cinq ans dans n’importe
quelle prison rend inapte à quoi
que ce soit quand on est finalement

Un porte-parole de la John
Howard Society, à Kingston, a
dit: «Un système pénitentiaire
est un milieu où un certain nombre
de forces s’opposent à d’autres…
C’est pourquoi nous recommandons
des institutions
plus petites où les gens (le personnel
et les prisonniers) peuvent
communiquer de l’un à l’autre».

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“The transfer to Attica in 1960 was an explicit attempt at curbing Muslim activism in New York prisons and represented the first of a variety of methods of prison discipline by the state. The practice of transferring prisoners to “break up gangs, separate associates in crime, and prevent disorder” was decades old. Sostre later referred to it as “bus therapy.” It was not unique to New York, however. Chase notes that the Texas Department of Correction distributed Muslims throughout state prisons to limit their influence in any one location. These institutional transfers (referred to as “drafts”) and solitary confinement represented the two largest threats to the stability of Muslim communities in prison. The group was persistently under threat due to this constantly fluctuating base. Short sentences often meant the release of members, and several assistants were appointed for each officer position to assure continuity and sustainability. These multiple appointments were primarily meant to combat the “further reduction of our ranks by the implacable enemy through persecutions (solitary confinement).”

Solitary confinement—sometimes referred to as “the box” or “segregation”—was the prison’s primary tool of security and discipline. The practice of solitary confinement was honed over a century earlier at New York’s Auburn Prison, with a trademark system of strict discipline, labor for prison profit, and solitude. This drew on nineteenth-century penal thought based on the belief that collective work and isolated living would reform prisoners. By the 1960s, at Attica Prison, solitary confinement had shed all pretenses of rehabilitation and was used strictly as a disciplinary measure. The section consisted of fifty individual cells on the third floor of the reception building with each single cell containing only a bed, toilet, wash basin with running water, and a light. When assigned to segregation, prisoners often were required to stay for days or weeks in “keep-lock” or a strip cell before moving to the gallery. “Keep-lock” was a single solitary cell with doors that “do not open up any more.” The strip cell was bare, with only a bucket and blanket. As SaMarion testified, prisoners “do an initial twenty days on a concrete floor with only a pair of winter underwear, pair of socks, no sanitary facilities whatever. The only thing you

use for calls of nature is a bucket, a defecation bucket.” Rations in keep-lock were reduced to half of normal mess-hall food: water and two slices of bread. Magette described keeplock at Clinton Prison as even more medieval. The “Dark Cell” was completely empty, without even a blanket. He was put there naked with a half a cup of water and one slice of bread three times a day. 

But solitary confinement was used by prison officials as more than a physical deterrent. It was coupled with the loss of good time as a way to isolate prisoners while simultaneously extending their sentences. Good time, sometimes referred to as good behavior (and now called “earned time”), was purportedly meant to reward well-behaved prisoners with a shortened sentence through their good conduct. However, like solitary confinement, it was used as a punitive measure. For example, in the first year the men spent at Attica Prison, thirty-three prisoners were sent to solitary confinement and four hundred cases of discipline led to 8,525 total days of good time lost over a nine-month period.

The loss of good time and the use of solitary confinement also punished prisoners in two directions at once. First, prisoners lost an initial amount of time for the disciplinary matter. For instance, SaMarion lost sixty days for joining a hunger strike in protest of the solitary confinement of another Muslim prisoner. Te second loss of time occurred during solitary confinement, as each day in solitary earned three lost days. Finally, regardless of prisoners’ behavior in solitary confinement, good time could not begin to be reaccumulated until a prisoner had been readmitted to the prison’s general population. These good-time practices illustrate the vast discretionary powers wielded by prison officials. As SaMarion bleakly noted at trial, “it is taken at will, you have it one minute,
then you don’t have it.”

A year after the four men had been transferred from Clinton Prison, Attica Prison officials reported that a sit-down strike was being planned in protest of Sostre’s solitary confinement. They responded by putting the prisoners in keep-lock with a loss of ninety days of good time. The group was then divided and transferred to different blocks with the hope that “after a thirty-day cooling-off period and the dispersion of the members of this click[,] activity will abate.” This incident reveals the ongoing struggle between strategies employed by prison officials to suppress Muslim activism and prisoners’ resistance to such practices. The state used transfers and the combination of solitary confinement and goodtime practices to slow the spread of Islam in New York prisons. But prisoners continued to bring their plight before the courts, ending the unspoken “hands-off” policy that had previously sheltered prisons from oversight by the judicial branch.” 

– Garrett Felber, ““Shades of Mississippi”: The Nation of Islam’s Prison Organizing, the Carceral State, and the Black Freedom Struggle.” The Journal of American History, June 2018. pp. 83-84

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“Hostage-taking inquiry is likely to remain secret,” Montreal Gazette. August 30, 1980. Page 03.

By ELLEN McKeough
of The Gazette

An inquiry into one of ‘the most serious hostage takings in the history of Canada’ should be ready in a week – but it will probably never be made public, the solicitor-general of Canada said yesterday.

Robert Kaplan was touring the maximum security Laval Institute where a three-day hostage-taking ended Thursday.

He said yesterday the results of the investigation will not be made public because he refused to ‘publish blueprints of our prisons and our contingency plans.’

He does not expect that any one person will be held responsible for the 74-hour drama in which nien convicts held 12 people hostage in a desperate bid for freedom.

Kaplan has appointed Al Wrenshall, inspector-general of prisons and former RCMP chief superintendent, to find out how 10 convicts got outside the prison’s west gate.

While of the convicts was shot to death, the rest – including five convicted killers – were trapped against an outside wall and used 12 hostages for cover.

Kaplan, 43, called the incident the ‘most serious hostage-taking in the history of Canada.’

‘I am determined we are going to learned from this incident,’ the solicitor-general said.

The inquiry will also look into two recent escapes from the maximum-security jail at Dorchester, N. B.

Kaplan said longer sentences are a factor in the increased number of hostage takings incidents in prison becaue ‘they contribute to the desperation of the inmates.’

He said the peaceful ending of the latest incident swhows the ‘value of our hard-line policy’ of not negotiating with offenders.

The convicts surrendered Thursday morning after one of the convicts almost cracked under the strain and threatened to kill himself or someone else.

They laid down their revolvers and gave up their hostages at 10:30 a.m.

Freed hostages contacted yesterday by The Gazette refused to comment on their ordeal.

The hostage-takers will spend the next six months in solitary confinement at the nearby Correctional Development Centre.

Kaplan dismissed complaints from Edgard Roussel, one of the Laval convicts, that the ‘super-maximum’ security centre near Laval is ‘designed only to turn us into beasts, to develop killer instincts.’

The solicitor-general answered that the ‘prison officials can help…but the prisoner has to want to go straight…’

Roussel made the complaints in an open letter he sent to a member of Parliament in April.

The government plans to close the 107-year-old Laval Institute by 1986.

The prison has been condemned by at least three royal commissions of inquiry and one government subcommittee.

In the four years preceeding this latest incident, there have been four hostage-taking incidents at Laval. In one incident two years ago, a guard was killed as five inmates made an unsuccessful escape bid.

The prisoner’s plea that preceded incident
Edgar Roussel, one of our nine prisoners involved in a 74-hour hostage-taking at the maximum security Laval Institute this week, warned an MP four months ago that unless his prison conditions improved he would probably commit ‘a desperate act.’

‘I sense that something has broken down in the system and if no one intervenes on my behalf the worst can be expected,’ the 34-year-old convicted murderer wrote Mark MacGuigan from his cell.

‘The saturation point has been reached, the slightest incident could be the (spark), could lead to a desperate act.’

Roussel, serving two life terms for the killing of two men in a Montreal bar in 1974, wrote the appeal to MacGuigan – now the external affairs minister but formerly the head of a Parliamentary inquiry into prison conditions – last April while serving time in the ‘super-maximum’ security Correctional Develppment Centre, a separate facility not far from Laval Institute.

Roussel was sent there in March, 1978, after taking part in the longest hostage-taking incident in history of Canadian prisons at a provincial jail near St. Jerome.

‘For two long and interminable years I have not hugged my wife, my mother, or my daughter,’ Roussell wrote in the 2,500-word letter to MacGuigan, published in its entirety yesterday in Le Devoir.

‘And for two long years as well I have gone without seeing the light of the moon, the stars. To the most vile of animals this right is not denied.

‘In summer, it (the cell) is a cremation oven whcih is made intolerable by total inactivity. In the morning, a symphony of clearing of throats, of blowing of noses, of horase coughs to clear the respiratory system.

‘For nearly two years I have slept on the floor of my cell, my head resting at the bottom of the door to benefit from the small breeze, incomparable luxury.’

Roussel claimed that due to ‘a thirst for vengeance’ on the part of penitentiayr officials, he had been held in isolation longer than the two other convicts involved in the St. Jerome hostage-taking.

Roussel and the eight prisoners have been transferred back to the Correctional Development Centre for a period of at least six months as punishment for their role in the hostage taking.

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“L’enfer du Centre de
développement correctionnel,” Le Devoir. August 29, 1980. Page 06.

par Edgar Roussel

Alors détenu dans un «Centre de développement correctionnel», M. Edgar
Roussel avait adressé au député fédéral Mark MacGuigan, devenu ministre
des Affaires extérieures, une lettre manuscrite sur les conditions de détention.
La Ligue des droits et libertés qui en avait obtenu copie en avait publié la
teneur voici peu de mois. Ce document, daté du 12 avril 1980, prend une actualité
particulière à la lumière des événements survenus cette semaine à
l’Institut Laval, événements auxquels M. Roussel a présumément été mêlé. En
voici le texte intégral.

DEPUIS le 29 mars 1978, je suis détenu
au Centre de développement
correctionnel (CDC) où je sers une
peine d’emprisonnement à vie avec éligibilité
à 20 ans.

Sur les pénitenciers fédéraux, tout a été
dit, il ne me reste plus qu’à le redire, sauf
quand il s’agit d’unités spéciales de détention,
telles le CDC dont il sera question
dans cette lettre. La raison d’être de
ce genre d’institutions selon la directive
no 174 du Commissaire national est de
préparer la réinsertion pénitentiaire de
détenus considérés comme dangereux.

Pour ce faire l’administration offre un
programme que je vous propose d’examiner
soigneusement afin de découvrir de
quelle façon originale le système oeuvre
afin que se réalise la métamorphose tant
souhaitée, pour que le chrysalide devienne
papillon, comment en nous déconnectant
de la vie on prétend nous faire renaître
à la vie. On dénombré quatre paramètres
fixes comme des miradors à l’intérieur
desquels ce programme est élaboré:
une cellule, une salle commune, une
cour extérieure, et pour chapeauter le
tout, un département de socialisation.

C’est au CDC que le temps passé en cellule
se situe parmi le plus élevé dans les
pénitenciers fédéraux du Canada. Afin
d’éviter que le détenu ne sombre dans
l’ennui ou pis encore dans la folie, l’administration
accorde ce que d’autres institutions
refusent catégoriquement à leur population,
soit un appareil de télévision.
Ce cadeau dont le detenu est bénéficiaire
est on ne peut plus significatif quant au
désarroi dans lequel se trouve celui-ci
lorsque laissé à seul. Mais, c’est davantage
un aveu d’échec et aussi un manque
flagrant d’imagination, ce qui est plus
grave encore.

Les premiers jours, on s’en sert de
façon démesurée, pour diminuer graduellement
sa consommation et finalement
l’utiliser de nouveau mais cette fois, pour
couvrir les bruits qu’auparavant on ne
percevait pas.

La télévision agit tantôt comme une aspirine
pour calmer la souffrance tantôt
comme un prisme par lequel le monde
extérieur nous parvient. Après des mois
de ce régime c’est la nausée, la répulsion;
on ferme l’appareil pour faire connaissance
avec un phénomène nouveau: le bruit! Fouilles, rondes de gardiens, tout
est subordonné au bruit, qui en cellule est
omniprésent plus que partout ailleurs, jamais
d’accalmie. Quand très tard le soir on
parvient enfin à s’endormir, lorsque le
sommeil vient rétablir l’équilibre dangereusement
rompu durant la journée, c’est
la ronde de nuit qui commence. À chaque
heure, interminablement, le bruit des pas
du gardien effectuant sa ronde résonne
sur le plafond de la cellule. Au CDC on a
trouvé un moyen original de compter les
détenus, ça se fait par le haut; il est possible
au gardien d’avoir une pleine vue
sur le captif par un châssis à meme le plafond.
Cependant, il est toujours possible
de rattraper le sommeil perdu en sacrifiant
la marche quotidienne. Or, c’est justement
le temps que choisissent les gardiens
pour fouiller les cellules des detenus
qui sont à l’extérieur. Ils arrivent
dans la rangée telle une meute, le museau
en l’air, et bang! dans les murs afin de
voir s’il n’y a pas de trous, bang! au plafond
pour vérifier si le châssis nya pas été
coupe et bang! sur la trappe à air. Une
fois leur travail terminé, ils s’en vont en
n’oubliant surtout pas de faire refermer
les portes de cellules simultanément dans
un fracas infernal ; adieu sommeil et tranquillité
tant convoités!

 Pour ce qui est de l’aération il serait
difficile d’en parler parce qu’elle est inexistante:
pas de fenetre, des portes pleines
et cet air lourd qui pèse tel un voile

L’été, c’est un four crématoire que l’inactivité
la plus totale rend intolérable;
nous suons à ne rien faire. Le matin,
symphonie de raclages de gorges, de
mouchages de nez, de toux rauques afin
de dégager les voies respiratoires.

Je couche à même le sol de ma cellule
depuis près de deux ans, la tête appuyée
sur le bas de la porte pour bénéficier de la
plus petite brise, richesse incomparable.

Pour les moments hors de la cellule,
une salle commune est mise à notre disposition
tous les soirs de 18 h 30 à 22 h 30
mais jamais plus de dix détenus à la fois.
Cette pratique fait partie de la socialisation;
on veut nous apprendre à être sociable
par petits groupes pour ensuite
nous plonger dans une population de trois
à quatre cents détenus avec les problèmes
d’adaptation que cela implique.

Quelques jeux de société, une autre télévision
et de la surveillance, beaucoup
de surveillance. Cette salle commune est
à toute fin pratique une cellule un peu
plus spacieuse que celle dans laquelle
nous sommes confinés la plupart du
temps faut bien le dire.

Nous disposons pour les activités extérieures
d’une cour de 75 pieds par 75
pieds où encore une fois jamais plus de
dix détenus ne sont admis, ni plus ni
moins; c’est une fixation administrative.
L’été, le vent est coupé par les hauts
murs tandis que, de l’asphalte dont le sol
est recouvert, monte cette chaleur accablante;
pas de verdure ni bancs, rien
sauf de l’asphalte, du ciment et du fer.

Comme activités physiques, nous pratiquons
la boxe sur un sac de guenilles payé
a même notre argent au prix de $172.
L’administration a raté une excellente
occasion de faire preuve de justice car
dans toutes les autres institutions cet article
est défrayé à même un budget (loisir)
réservé à cette fin. Toutes les activités
physiques sont pratiqués à nos risques
à cause de la surface asphaltée. La quasi
totalité de la population souffre d’un
problème musculaire quelconque; à cet
effet, il serait intéressant de jeter un coup
d’oeil sur les requêtes médicales et de
compter les détenus qui ont demandé des
espadrilles spéciales.

Notre plus grand réconfort et seul contact
avec le monde extérieur nous le devons
à nos visites; celles-ci sont fixées par
l’administration au jour et à l’heure qu’il
lui convient. Ce privilège est dispensé
parcimonieusement le mercredi et jeudi
de chague mois. Au CDC l’affectation est
considérée comme une faveur, prodiguée
au compte-gouttes et régie comme telle.

Pas de contact avec nos parents, femmes
et enfants, c’est de cette manière
que l’administration prône l’épanouissement
de l’individu.

Voici quelques années, les responsables
d’un «zoo» sont allés chercher un
éléphant-femelle à l’autre bout du monde
our que le mâle captif ne s’ennuie pas.
L’espace réservé aux animaux est réaménagé
sans cesse afin qu’il s’apparente le
plus possible à leur habitat naturel: toutes
proportions gardées, ils disposent
dans leurs parcs de plus d’espaces que

Pour compléter le programme, un département
de socialisation, composé d’un
agent de classement ainsi que d’un
psychologue, c’est sans contredit le secteur
qui présente le plus de carences. Ces
spécialistes en sciences humaines, nous
les rencontrons quand nous sommes au
bout du rouleau et que tout risque de basculer,
alors nous bénéficions de leurs «lumières».

Leur préoccupation première est de savoir
si, dans l’état où nous sommes, nous
envisageons d’attaquer un membre du
personnel ou, ce qui est beaucoup moins
grave, l’objet de notre agression sera
intra-spécifique. Une fois cette tâche accomplie,
ces suppôts de l’administration
vont rendre compte de leurs conclusions
et c’est sur ja foi de leurs témoignages
itérera un déque
le comité national transférera un détenu.
Donc, plus souvent qu’autrement,
le jugement des membres du comité,
quoique bien intentionné, sera fondé sur
des rapports faussés au départ parce que
puisés à même une situation faussée alors
que le détenu est en proie au désarroi le
plus total.

Tous les spécialistes sont unanimes
quand ils affirment qu’une détention de
plus de cinq ans cause des troubles irréversibles
et ils ne parlaient pas d’unités
spéciales. Ce que nous subissons ne vise
qu’à nous rendre bestiaux, à développer
des instincts de tueurs. Il existe plusieurs
exemples de criminels ayant séjourné
plus pu moins longtemps en ségrégation
et qui sont autant d’exemples de ce que

Je me contenterai d’en citer quatre,
que j’ai personnellement connus, et dont
il m’a été possible de suivre le cheminement,
il s’agit de Jacques Mesrine,
Richard Blass, Jean-Paul Mercier et Jean

Tous ont certains points en commun:
ils ont passé plusieurs années en ségrégation
et tous sont morts aujourd’hui pour
avoir refusé de revivre, ne serait-ce
qu’une journée, ce qu’ils avaient connu
dans le passé.

Il serait peut-être utile ou enrichissant
de connaître leurs agissements après
avoir connu la ségrégation.

Jean Lachapelle, enfermé environ six
ans dans une cellule, a plaidé coupable à
neuf accusations de meurtres à son retour
derrière les barreaux; sans compter
qu’au cours de son évasion, l’ultime il va
sans dire, il fut lui-même troué de balles.

Quant à Richard Blass sa mort lui a
évité d’être accusé d’une quinzaine de
meurtres. Pour ce qui est de Jean-Paul
Mercier (trois ans, comme Blass, de
ségrégation) il avoue être l’auteur du
meurtre de deux garde-chasse, alors qu’il
était évadé, pour éviter d’être reconnu,
ce qui lui aurait valu quelques années de
ségrégation (isolation). En ce qui concerne
Jacques Mesrine, une lecture attentive
des deux volumes qu’il a rédigés est
plus que révélatrice quant à l’état mental
où l’ont conduit les années d’isolement
en cellule.

Aucun de ces quatre individus n’avait
été condamné pour meurtre avant de
faire de la ségrégation; est-ce que cela est
dû au hasard? Libre a vous de conclure
comme vous l’entendez. Le système vise
à rapetisser le criminel, comprimer la
moindre initiative, en un mot assassiner
sa personnalité pour la rendre conforme
au microcosme dans lequel on le force à
évoluer. Quand le détenu est devenu suffisamment
fourbe, hypocrite et menteur,
qu’il peut feindre de la reconnaissance
pour ses bourreaux, alors là, il est éligible
a un transfert.

Les individus considérés comme cas
«dangereux» sont le fruit d’un folklore
perpétué par les rites dont la fonction est
de garder intact le souvenir de nos actions.

Rien ne peut effacer une action, et
croire que le châtiment pourrait provoquer
une rédemption est un leurre.
Quand on tient à changer l’individu, ce
n’est ni plus ni moins qu’un effort par un
acte arbitraire pour le rendre semblable à
nous, alors que moi, je réclame le droit à
la différence.

Tous les détenus amenés ici en même
temps que moi ont été transférés depuis.
Alors, seule une soif inaltérable de vengeance
peut expliquer ma présence au
CDC. Le dernier détenu du groupe est
parti le 10 avril 1980 et son palmarès parle
par lui-même; dernièrement ce type écopait
d’une sentence d’un an pour agression
avec couteau.sur deux officiers du
CDC. Il avait été préalablement accusé de
tentative de meurtre mais les jurés ont
accepté de réduire l’accusation; selon
eux, le détenu était incapable de juger du
caractère de son geste à cause des conditions
inhérentes a sa détention qui avait
altéré sa raison.

II y a quelque temps on libérait un détenu
du CDC pour le remettre directement dans la société. Quelques mois auparavant,
cet individu était considéré
trop dangereux pour être transféré dans
un pénitencier à sécurité maximum.

Par cette longue lettre, j’ai tenté de
vous fournir le plus d’éléments possible
qui pourraient vous permettre de percevoir
de l’intérieur la situation qui est
mienne depuis trop longtemps. Aujourd’hui,
il m’arrive de parler seul, de
rire sans raison ou encore d’être secoué
par des spasmes nerveux. Je sens que
quelque enose détraque dans le mécanisme
et si personne n’intervient en ma
faveur, le pire est à prévoir. Le degré de
saturation est atteint, un incident si minime
soit-il pourrait être le déclencheur
pouvant conduire à une action désespérée.

Depuis deux longues et interminables
années, je n’ai pas serré ma femme, ma
mère ni ma fille et deux longues années
aussi j’ai été sans voir le clair de lune, les
étoiles; au plus vil des animaux, ce droit
n’est pas nié. Konrad Lorenz affirme
qu’il est dangereux de cerner un animal
dans un coin sans aucune chance de fuite.
Frederic Nietzche postule quant à lui
dans son oeuvre intitulé «Ainsi parlait Zarathoustra»
que l’homme a fait du loup
un chien et de l’homme lui-même le meilleur
animal domestique de l’homme. Il
dénonce aussi la cruauté vêtue des oripaux
de la justice, en introduction de ce
même volume: «C’est lors des tragédies,
des combats de taureaux et des crucifixions
que l’homme s’est jusqu’ici senti le
mieux sur la terre; lorsqu’il s’inventa
l’enfer, ce fut son paradis sur terre» (P.

C’est au nom et en vénérant la pensée
de ces grands hommes que je vous demande
aujourd’hui d’intercéder en ma
faveur. Déjà en 1976 alors que vous agissiez
à titre de président d’un sous-comité
enquêtant sur la violence dans les pénitenciers,
vous dénonciez l’ineptie des administrateurs.
Votre nouvelle fonction
vous donne le rayonnement, le pouvoir
suffisant pour améliorer ma condition,
c’est le but de ma requête. 

C’est le but de ma requête.
Si ce document devait servir pour une
défense ultérieure devant les tribunaux,
c’est que la mutation de chrysalide au papillon
aura été un échec. 

J’ose espérer, M. le ministre, que mon
appel ne sera pas vain malgré toute la responsabilité
et le travail que représente
votre nouvelle fonction.

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“It has been said that in prison all men are equal; but their natural inequalities are not removed by putting men in custody; they are only ignored; and prison treatment, being uniform, is therefore unequal treatment of individuals.”  

– James Devon, Glasgow Herald, 29 January, 1908.

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