In These Times Interview

When prisoners in the segregation unit at Westville Correctional Facility in Indiana received their lunch trays last Tuesday, it was, for some of them, a small taste of victory. While “savory stroganoff with noodles, mixed vegetables, and enriched bread” might not seem like much, the prisoners say it was their first hot weekday lunch in months, except on holidays. For the previous week, dozens in the unit had been protesting what they saw as inadequate food by refusing the cold sack lunches provided by the prison, according to two inmates who spoke to In These Times on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal from the prison .

WFHB Radio Feature

Last week, prisoners at the Westville Correctional Facility in Westville, Indiana staged a hunger strike and mass-call, in response to the transition last Fall from hot lunches to cold sack lunches. The mass-call succeeded in alerting prison officials to the prisoners’ dissatisfaction, and the facility has now switched back to hot lunches. Now, family members of Westville prisoners are claiming that the heat has been turned off in sections of the prison housing prisoners who participated in the strike. WFHB correspondent Lauren Glapa spoke with Westville Public Information Officer John Schrader about what he knows, and with an organizer from the group Indiana Prisoner Solidarity who chose the pseudonym Jesse Smith, for today’s WFHB feature exclusive.

Friends received the following letter back in September, but have waited to release it until they felt it was safe to do so. This letter describes the conditions inside Westville leading up to the recent protests and actions. The document has been edited for clarity and reformatted for publication.

In mid-January, inmates on various sections of A and B pod started protesting the continuance of sack lunches by refusing to accept them as their lunch. This was a show of unity both amongst inmates and well as between inmate and outside supporters. While inmates were protesting on the inside and helping each other stay fed by sharing commissary food, people on the outside flooded the Indiana Department of Corrections and Aramark with calls demanding a change in the food situation and held a protest at the IDOC’s headquarters. The IDOC, while balking at first, ultimately gave into the pressure and restored hot trays to the whole control unit.

The struggle against Indiana prisons continues.

When Peanut Butter Kills!

Penned by Shaka Shakur

I am a political prisoner currently held under 23 hour-a-day isolation and solitary confinement at the Westville Control Unit (WCU), formerly known as the Maximum Control Complex (MCC); a super max prison. I have been confined here going on two years and on September 11, 2013 I watched a man be murdered by the staff: prison guards, prisoncrats, and medical personnel violated the operating policies and procedures of the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC). The victim in this ongoing criminal episode and subsequent cover-up was named Earl Cole from Gary, Indiana.

WCU/MCC is made up of pods. It houses four individual pods (A, B, C, and D) and each pod houses four separate sections within 14 cells to a section. Each pod has a total of 56 single-man cells. Each cell has a solid steel boxcar door with a small square window in the door. The cells also have a call button/intercom system that calls up to the control booth, which often either doesn’t work or staff ignores and refuses to answer. During a medical emergency oftentimes the other prisoners housed in the section must kick on their cell doors or become disruptive to alert the staff that we have a medical emergency in the section. If you’re unable to alert your neighbor that you’re in medical distress and need help the chances that you will either die or lay there and suffer until stumbled upon by staff are very high.

This prison was built for total isolation. Each section is self-contained with its own showers and recreation area with a sealed sliding door that lead into and out of the section.In September of 1991 the longest collective hunger strike in US history by prisoners to protest torture and human rights violations was carried out at this facility. This was before Pelican Bay, when Californian prisoners raised the bar and carried it further. WCU/MCC also represented in the 90’s the first state prison in US history to be condemned by an international human rights organization for human rights abuses and torture of its prisoners. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch USA condemned this prison and the treatment of its inmates. Although the name has changed several times in an attempt to hide the prison’s history, the torture, mistreatment, abuse, and oppression of its prisoners remain the same both here and in the secure housing unit (SHU) in Carlisle, Indiana.

In June, 2013 a memo was posted by then-Captain George Payne stating on June 16th prisoners would no longer be receiving three hot meals a day. That, at the suggestion of an inmate, the lunch meal would be discontinued altogether and instead inmates would be given a sack lunch along with their breakfast tray. The sack would substitute for the hot lunch tray. This is not a statewide policy or something that has been voted on or authorized by the Indiana legislature.Whereas before we were being served breakfast between 4:30 and 5:30am the trays are now being held back and left in the vehicle garage until between 7 and 8am. The sack lunches themselves contain three one ounce packets of generic peanut butter which changes color after being held for two days, two small packets of jelly for slices of bread that is often wetted or moist and a moist cookie that has been mashed down into the moist bread. This has been daily up until mid-September where due to the filing of complaints we are now being given three hot meals on the weekends only and during the week it’s sack lunches only for lunch.

According to the memo by Capt. Payne and inmate suggested this new diet so that staff will have more time to complete the running of recreation and showers. Since when has an inmate been allowed to set an determine policy and operating procedures? A cursory investigation of the logs will clearly show that the day staff is still unable to complete the recreation hours without its going over to the night shift. It’s not about the rec and showers. It’s about the IDOC cutting costs, spending less money to feed us at the sacrifice of our health and manipulating us to spend more money at the prison commissary in order to be full and not go hungry.

The Murder

On September 11th, 2013 at approximately 7:40pm on A pod while being housed in A 7-105 I happened to glance out of my cell window and observed approximately 7-10 prison guards in and around the nurses station. Approximately seven of these prison guards had on tactical gear (helmets, vests, padding, gloves, etc.) which meant they were a part of the Emergency Response Team. I can see directly into the nurses station and look directly at the examining table. I observed two guards performing CPR and repeatedly pressing down upon the midsection/stomach area of a lifeless and unresponsive body, while another guard held a mask with the attached breathing bubble over his mouth and repeatedly squeezed it in an attempt to force air into his lungs. Medical personnel such as Nurse West and Dr. Jackson were just standing around.

I watched this attempt to revive Mr. Cole for proximally 20 to 25 minutes whereupon all attempts to revive him were discontinued and it was obvious from the reaction of the staff that this man was dead. The question is: was he already unconscious and deceased before the brought him out of his cell? How long did he lay in his cell before being discovered? Where is the videotape from the cameras that monitor ranges and where is the tape from the camera that, per IDOC policy, the emergency response team is required to carry any time they are activated and have to enter an inmate’s cell?

I watched the medical staff mark the time of death. I then watch the Lieutenant and other guards take Nurse West off to the side and huddle, as it was obvious for the eye to see that people were conspiring to get their stories straight.

Mr. Cole’s lifeless body was covered on the exam table for approximately another hour and a half while correctional officers laughed, joked, and talked over and around his dead body. Correctional officers from other pods came to gawk and comment about his lifeless body. Finally, a black lady in a light blue shirt with IDOC stamped on the back came and took photos. Two other guards dressed Mr. Cole in a red jumpsuit and handcuffed his lifeless body in the front. They placed his body upon a gurney, and did not cover him up. Instead, they wheeled him off the pod as if he was just sleeping or unconscious when in fact the man was dead, and even in death could not be free of being shackled and handcuffed by the State of Indiana.

The Cover-Up and What the IDOC Don’t Want You To Know

Almost immediately the prison administration and guards put out the disinformation that Mr. Cole had committed suicide. That he killed himself when in fact he choked to death on his thick, harsh, generic peanut butter! The man choked/suffocated to death and wasn’t reached in time. Imagine that for a minute people. Locked in a cage, forced to consume a steady diet of some generic peanut butter and you start to choke with no way to call out for help or alert anyone to your distress. Peanut butter from a company that probable has a lucrative contract with the IDOC and is cutting costs to serve inmates and inferior product.

Shift changes at 6pm and the new shift, if they follow procedures, makes a bed count between 6 and 6:15. If there is a medical emergency the standard operating procedure and practice here is to either call a signal 3000 (man down) or alert the Sergeant or Lieutenant. If it’s a medical issue when a man is down and the signal is called, a Lieutenant and nurse come to look into the cell and observe you, often if you’re unconscious 15 minutes or so is wasted while the nurse and guards repeatedly call you to get you to respond. The whole approach to the emergency is from the premise that you’re faking or pretending. After 20 to 30 minutes, if you’re fortunate the decision will be made to enter the cell. In order to enter the cell a tactical team has to be briefed and put together. They cannot enter the cell without protective gear because you’re not handcuffed. The fact is, if you’re having a heart attack, stroke, or even just choking you’re fucked. Is that what happened in this particular case?

In August, 2013 John Doe who suffers from violent seizures was left to suffer back-to-back seizures for over two and a half hours while being housed in a camera observation cell and watched! At approximately three in the morning we could hear violent thrashing and noises coming from the camera cell. Emergency call buttons did not work for the section so we had to kick on the cell doors for 15-20 minutes while screaming “Medical emergency!”. When Lt. Caine and Nurse Lightfoot finally did come, Lt. Caine not only refused to call a signal 3000 for two and a half hours but refused any medical assistance to the afflicted man. In fact Lt. Caine stated “Oh, he is faking at it” and throughout the night Nurse Lightfoot and guards repeatedly called John Doe’s name, instructing him to roll over on his side. We could clearly hear John Doe housed in 107 gurgling, wheezing, gurgling, and trying not to swallow his tongue. It wasn’t until 5am that Lt. Caine assembled a team, staged a signal 3000, and took John Doe to the medical center.

How was this staged? Lt. Caine, Officer Burgos, and others go to the section as if they were doing a bed check and had just discovered John Doe on the floor and then called a signal 3000. The team was already assembled outside the door to the section, just off-camera. Although Nurse Lightfoot claimed she documented this all in the form of a complaint or paperwork, a review of the tapes would tell it all. It also needs to be asked how a man can be in a camera cell that is monitored by Officer Burgos in the control booth, and not be seen lying on the floor having a violent seizure? Did Officer Burgos just see it happen and refuse to acknowledge it? Refuse to policy and alert medical until he was forced to do so by our kicking on the cell doors and screaming “Medical emergency!” ?  The approach to serious medical issues here are one of incompetence, hostility, and indifference. Many of the nursing staff are outright unqualified or hostile toward any type of medical treatment or concern.

The Forced Diet of Peanut Butter is a Violation Of State Law and IDOC Policy

WCU is classified as a total lockdown facility or segregation unit. It houses prisoners classified as disciplinary segregation and administrative segregation. Prisoners are confined to the cells 23 hours a day. WCU houses a total of 224 prisoners. Per IDOC policy, (see state statute IC 11-11-5-4) under prohibited disciplinary action the administration is not allowed to place restrictions on, or deviate from, the diet of prisoners housed in that facility or program. We are entitled to receive the same diet as the general prison population. This is not the case. While prisoners housed in general population are given sack lunches for lunch, they  are not receiving a steady diet of peanut butter and jelly, instead they’re receiving a variety of meat such as hamburgers, salami, chicken patties, etc. We have been told in writing by the Assistant Superintendent, Mike Scott, in his response to grievances that we cannot receive meat products in our sack lunches because the WCU doesn’t have ice or refrigeration to keep sack lunches from spoiling, thus the deviation from the policy and state law.

This is illegal and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment to wit. The menu that we are being subjected to does not meet the state required nutritional intake that we’re supposed to receive.  It’s also discriminatory, being used both as a form of punishment and as a weapon – again in violation of state and federal law.

Prisoners classified as administrative segregation are allowed to buy food from the commissary if they have the money. Those classified as disciplinary segregation are not allowed to purchase food. After months of this diet many prisoners are complaining that the peanut butter is in fact making them sick, causing vomiting and stomach aches. So, in essence, the majority are only eating two meals a day. Since this new diet all fresh fruits such as apples and oranges have been discontinued. Most of the patties and sandwiches that come on the trays have been discontinued and in their place we are receiving mostly pasta, goulash, noodles, and anything and everything soupy that can be stretched with water to further cut costs.

So, if you take a grown man who exercises daily (burning calories), who cannot afford or is not allowed to purchase food from the commissary, and is given an inadequate starvation diet that falls below the standards required by law – is he then forced to gorge himself on generic peanut butter to stay full? Is this what happened to Earl Cole?

What We Want:

1.) We want an investigation into Correct Choice Inc. from Darien, IL 60561 who makes and distributes this peanut butter. How did they get this contract? What kind of kickbacks is the IDOC receiving and what goes into their products?

2.) We are asking for a campaign targeting the governor’s office and IDOC central office to flood their email and tie up the phone lines on specifically designated days beginning at a specific time.

3.) We want answers about the death and cover-up of Earl Cole’s murder. We want a public explanation and release of information.

4.) We want it demanded that three hot trays be restored back to WCU and/or WCU prisoners receive the same meals as general population. This means either install a refrigeration unit or bring hot trays back to the facility and come into compliance with state statute and IDOC policy.

5.) We are asking for email to be sent to the local representatives of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in Indianapolis, calling for an investigation into conditions of confinement at this facility and the increasing amount of deaths here that are either being ruled suicides or covered up altogether.

Please man the phones on Monday, January 27, 2014.

Westville Correctional Facility is retaliating against  the inmates who protested last week by refusing to give them heated cells.

Inmates in the A-Pods of Westville are being deprived of heat. The Blue section, A7 & A8, Yellow section 5 & 6 range along with the Alpha Pod are experiencing extremely cold temperatures.

To justify their actions, the prison has stated that there is a new engineer that does not know how to adjust the system up on the roof. In the meantime they have passed out an extra blanket and jacket to combat the freezing temperature.

We are once again asking that you call the governor’s office (Pence) at 317-232-4567 and demand that either the heat gets fixed or that they remove these individuals from these freezing cells and put them in a warmer section as the policy dictates under emergency procedure.

Also call the Commissioner’s office (Lemmon) at 317-232-5711.

Solidarity with prison rebels here and everywhere!

Today it has come to our attention that hot lunches are again being served to Westville’s prisoners. Ending the much-hated cold sack lunches supplied by Aramark has been one of the main demands of the prisoners’ recent protest. While this comes as welcome news to those on the inside, it remains to be seen whether or not conditions at the prison continue to improve. We hope to provide more in-depth information as it becomes available about the prisoner’s ongoing struggle.

Last week demonstrators gathered at the Indiana State Capitol building in Indianapolis, where the Indiana Department of Corrections offices are located. Protesters gave out information on conditions inside Westville and held up banners expressing solidarity with prisoners.

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