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Solidarity and struggle: More on the Jan. 31 riot at Ely State Prison

March 21, 2010

by Coyote Sheff

Because of Ely State Prison’s desolate location four hours from the nearest city, prisoners get little support. Its relative isolation at least partially explains its designation by the ACLU as one of the most medically abusive prison in the country. Many of the prisoners come from the Bay Area, their distance from home further reducing their chances for support from family and friends. Bay View readers are urged to go to Pen Pals at the left of this website, search there for Ely prisoners and find a friend who will especially appreciate your reaching out.
Yes, it was a battle. My first report on this riot gave people a look into the ugly violence and bloodshed. I’ve reported it the way it happened, but nothing is to be glorified or celebrated here. It felt good to be a part of struggle and change, to see solidarity in action. You don’t see unity and struggle in these Nevada prisons, not in these days. Only under the most extreme situations will you catch a glimpse of it.

It should not have ever gotten this far or been taken to such extremes. Our grievances should’ve been looked into and taken seriously, and officers should have never provoked or assaulted any of the prisoners on Unit 4. But that didn’t happen; our pleas were ignored, our grievances denied and prisoners were unnecessarily assaulted. So in desperation after every other remedy had been futilely sought, all we had left was violence and frustration. I was wrong to call it a victory though. There’s no victory here.

I’m sure people on the outs who read my report were shocked at my cold and heartless attempt at describing the details of the incident. And probably took umbrage. I can understand how people out there could feel that way. Fortunately, they didn’t live in a world of predation, despair, violence, corruption, oppression and madness.

They don’t know about the effects of long-term isolation and confinement or about sensory deprivation and the effects that psychological warfare has on our minds in this warped environment. They don’t understand the wicked nature of prison and punishment and what it can do to a person.

And they don’t want to believe what this place has been known to do to these guards, how it has the capabilities of turning the guards into spiteful and uncaring animals. How they become vindictive and petty, mean and aggressive, fearful and disrespectful. They didn’t see how after each cell extraction the guards would gather in the unit hallway, high-fiving each other as they would physically display how they punched, stomped or beat the inmate into submission.

So, no offense to anyone, but if you haven’t lived in this foul-ass world of darkness and deterioration, then it’s not fair to judge it by your standards. Your standards don’t apply here in this concrete and steel jungle. We play by jungle rules in here, the guards and prisoners alike, and it’s called “the survival of the fittest.” We maintain an “us against them” mentality sometimes. I’m not glorifying it, I’m not praising it, I’m just trying to shed light on it, so people can be aware of the cruel and unloving nature of life in a graveyard.

For years, myself and others have been trying to bring positive changes to this prison. We’ve been trying to get people on the outs involved, attempting to bring a solid level of outside support to Nevada prisoners.

I’ve also been actively educating, politicizing and organizing other prisoners, in Nevada, Texas, Ohio and other states. I’ve been passing out literature, supplying the prison with books and educational materials, teaching prisoners to read, teaching them to write, showing them how to be resourceful and self-sufficient.

I’ve been doing all I can to raise consciousness and I’ve been trying to turn every tier that I land on into a learning center and doing everything I can to help prisoners – Whites, Blacks, Natives and Latinos. I’ve reached out to them all in real ways, striving to make real efforts at change, elevation and empowerment. Myself and other prisoners in here have been known to organize study groups, having study sessions, engaging each other, quizzing each other and testing each other intellectually, utilizing this time on lockdown as an opportunity to grow, learn and cultivate ourselves while living under such extreme conditions.

Other prisoners in here have been doing similar things. Like for example, a prisoner here at ESP just recently organized a stamp drive on his tier to donate to the victims of the Haiti earthquake, and he even donated $40 of his own money to the people of Haiti. So there are indeed many positive and productive things that do go on in this hellhole as well. It’s not all negative and violent. Unfortunately though, anything good that we try to get going in here, we have to do it ourselves. We don’t expect any help or support from the guards or prison administration.

I’ll be the first to say that violence isn’t always the best option. Usually it’s the last resort or the result of desperation and what usually happens under the most extreme conditions. All our attempts to grieve, kite or complain about our injustices through the proper channels have been futile and left us feeling hopelessly outraged.

If you take a look at the history of all the American riots and uprisings – in prisons and on the streets – like the L.A. riots, the Watts riot, Lucasville, Attica, New Mexico, the Cubans in the federal prisons, and even the recent one in Oakland, where a police officer, Johannes Mehserle, fatally shot a civilian, Oscar Grant, in the back, while he lay face down on the ground with his hands cuffed behind him.

You will see that these riots have happened in areas where people were living under extreme conditions. While sick and tired of the injustices and police brutality, or in places and conditions where people were frustrated and desperate, riots and uprisings seemed the only course of action available to express their hopelessness and outrage.

This is the face of abuse by the notorious “prisoncrats” of the Nevada Department of Corrections. Although only 7 percent of Nevadans are Black, 27 percent of Nevada’s prison population is Black.
Here in Unit 4 at Ely State Prison, many tensions were building up. A lot of retaliation against prisoners by the guards and many other injustices created a potentially hostile situation.

This riot did not happen solely because our appliances (radios, TVs etc.) were unjustly taken from us. Some of these guards in here were deliberately refusing to feed certain prisoners in retaliation for grievances they wrote and because the guards realized that these particular inmates were shunned by the rest of the convicts for internal reasons. These guards were also going out of their way to provoke and instigate prisoners, rudely jumping into our conversations with disrespectful remarks, “losing” or throwing away phone kites (messages), passing our mail out to the wrong cells – some of which housed sex offenders – refusing to answer our kites, not taking our grievances seriously.

In some cases, guards have even assaulted and injured certain inmates while in cuffs because of grievances they wrote and, again, because these guards realized that these prisoners were shunned by the rest of the convicts for being informants, sex offenders, “undesirables” etc.

Our appliances were unjustly taken for violations that occurred before the new rule change was in effect or for minor or general violations, and even prisoners who were found “not guilty” had their appliances confiscated as well – leaving us in our cells with basically nothing, while surrounding us by mentally ill prisoners and informants and protective custody inmates, who deliberately go out of their way to terrorize us through the means of noise, verbal abuse and psychological warfare.

We were deprived of the opportunity to buy food, coffee and other necessary supplies off of the canteen, while being left with no choice but to eat the foul-smelling, foul-tasting “mystery meat” and rotten vegetables that we are served for lunch every day, just to keep ourselves from starving in here.

They’ve put unnecessary limits and restrictions on our phone calls and on our visits, allowing us only one non-contact visit a month, with family only, causing a painful strain on our relations and communications with our family, friends and loved ones. This prison is located out in the middle of nowhere as it is, four hours away from the nearest big city.

What’s the point of having our people drive all the way up here and back – you know how much gas costs these days? – just to talk to your loved one through a plexi-glass window for half a day? There’s only seven rooms that facilitate these non-contact visits, so if 10 people get visits in one day, the remaining three are burnt, and their families will drive all the way back home for nothing!

We need all the love and support we can get from our own people on the outs. These are very important social ties to have and to stay connected to our families and with the outside world. They even went as far as illegally denying our right to receive books sent in from the outside, even dictionaries! And there’s so much more; everything just added up.

Every time we’ve tried to address the issues through the proper channels, they would retaliate on us, and even fabricate things to justify what they were doing, and they would completely ignore us. Weeks would go by before they’d supply the unit with kites and law library request forms, or first level grievances. Neither these guards nor the administration wanted to do anything to even try to fix these problems, and they were basically letting us know that they were gonna do whatever they wanted, regardless, making our situation seem desperate.

Then, it all jumped off when they came to take away a prisoner’s appliances for a write up he received. The prisoner refused to cuff-up because he wanted to speak with the lieutenant to try to resolve this issue. The lieutenant showed up with a squad of officers dressed in riot gear and helmets.

The prisoner tried to comply and wanted to cuff-up, but this is someone the guards have been wanting to get their hands on for a while. None of the other prisoners really spoke to this guy, so I guess the guards had assumed he was shunned by the rest of the convicts, so they figured they had no reason to fear retaliation. They cracked his door open in spite of his attempt and willingness to comply and ran in on him. He put his hands up in the air, refusing to resist or fight back, and they tore his ass up! They beat him so bad that they ended up dragging him to the infirmary as he was leaking blood everywhere.

Many of us were already exasperated about the hopelessness of our situation and all the foul treatment we’ve been receiving and we used this drastic situation as an opportunity to exert desperate measures. Two minutes of talking amongst ourselves led to two days of rioting. It’s all we had left. We felt the need to stand up for ourselves and for our rights to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect. We were frustrated and needed to get these frustrations out, and we didn’t see any other available option.

Whites and several Latinos kicked it off on the first day, flooding, burning, capturing foul slots, popping sprinkler heads, forcing them to come in our cells and extract us, so we could fight them. And we fought hard, and they were even more brutal towards us! Until, allegedly, an officer on the extraction team got stabbed.

They didn’t want to fight no more after that. The Blacks agreed to riot on the second day, but by then, we all felt that we got our point across, the guards showed defeat, so we called it off. This could have went on for days or even weeks, but we felt that this was enough for now. Every guard on the extraction team received injuries and one was even stabbed, from what I hear. Every prisoner involved was brutally beat by the officers, which led to the lieutenant and another officer getting fired!

So we figured enough had been done already, no need to go on.

Year after year it’s been take, take, take. The administration is always taking something away from us, without giving anything in return: no programs, no real educational or vocational opportunities, no incentive, nothing. They take a little here, take a little there, slowly but surely stripping us of everything.

They know better than to take it all at once, so instead they’ll take one thing now, and then a few months later they’ll take away something else, and when they see that none of us are coming together to try to stop them from taking away our privileges and necessities, they’ll take more. It’s the game of “take-away.” Subtraction is their favorite math subject. They don’t know how to add, divide or multiply, except for when they’re adding more rules and more restrictions, dividing us so that we can be conquered, or multiplying the number of beds. Other than that, it’s all a game of take-away.

Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, touring overcrowded Warm Springs Prison, notes that cells designed for two prisoners now house four.
Everybody has been hearing about Ely State Prison in the news, and many websites have sprung up because of all the things that have been going on here in this graveyard. All of the many injustices and everything else that has been going on here clearly display how deplorable the situation is here at ESP

The ACLU’s class action lawsuit because of the atrocious lack of medical care, the declaration of Lorraine Memory, the Noel Report, the situation with Ikemba, the situation with Kevin Lisle, not to mention the numerous accounts of all the staff working here being arrested and charged with various crimes, also the federal indictment and trial of the Aryan Warriors, who the government has labelled “domestic terrorists”!

The mysterious death of Timothy Redman and other deathrow inmates before him, the suicides, the indeterminate lockdown of the entire prison (except for one unit), the forcing of cellmates upon us, the riots and work stoppages, and not to mention that in the span of one year over 75 officers have either quit working here, transferred to other prisons, or were arrested, or fired … 75 officers in a year! Now if that doesn’t speak volumes on how deplorable the situation here at ESP is, then I don’t know what does. Because of the many deaths in this graveyard and other atrocities, Ely State Prison has continually been in the news.

There are eight units in this prison and all but one of them are locked down and have been locked down for over six years, with no solutions or remedies in sight, no programs and no incentives to do good. This prison has been under federal investigation and under serious public scrutiny, budget cuts have stripped us of everything from food to education, exposing how much they don’t care about our health or our rehabilitation and re-entry back into society.

Anytime you cut into our education, you are cutting into our rehabilitation, limiting our chances to make a successful return back into society. These people are heartless; they don’t care about us. They’re here to punish us, warehouse us, condemn us, and that’s it. Not only that, but it has apparently been the agenda and the desire of the prison administration and the system to keep us stagnant and stuck on stupid so that we can surely deteriorate while living in these degenerate conditions.

They know that “knowledge is power” and that “truth is revolutionary” and so they deliberately try to make it as difficult as they can for us to get books and literature sent in, trying to use this new A.R. (regulation) to justify the denial of books, which is illegal and violates our First Amendment rights. They’ve even made it against the rules to share a book with another prisoner.

It seems like they would rather see us pacified and complacent, locked down in general population, reading pop culture magazines and horror novels, or watching the “idiot box” all day than to see us reading a book on history, economics or politics or learning the law so that we can figure out productive ways to get off of permanent lockdown. They would rather see us stuck on stupid, anti-social, with gangbang mentalities, going against each other all the time, than to see us utilizing this time as an opportunity to build social bonds with our families and friends and as an opportunity to cultivate, uplift and educate ourselves.

They know that “knowledge is power” and that “truth is revolutionary” and so they deliberately try to make it as difficult as they can for us to get books and literature sent in, trying to use a new regulation to justify the denial of books, which is illegal and violates our First Amendment rights. They’ve even made it against the rules to share a book with another prisoner.

Rather than see us grow and get better, everything they do is to bring us down and break us down. They want to break our spirit, decimate our wills and keep us ignorant. That is what these rules are for, that’s what these restrictions are for and that’s what these cells are for.

It appears that these new administrative regulations (A.R. 733) are designed for those exact purposes as well! This new A.R. affects prisoners who are serving time in disciplinary segregation, taking everything away in the guise of creating an “incentive to do good.” But they fail to realize that when they confine all of the prisoners with records of serious disciplinary problems in one area and then take everything away, with years and years of disciplinary segregation (D.S.) time to serve, all they’re doing is creating a situation where we have nothing to lose.

This entire prison is locked down except for one unit, so the measures they have taken are impracticable and make no sense. Why implement such measures without a level system or steps program that allows us to advance through the process of demonstrating good behavior to get out of lockdown? Some of these prisoners have been suffering this already for years, with no end in sight.

These measures taken by the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) are senseless and unreasonable and, as this recent riot displays, the only thing these rules are good for is creating anger and frustration that has led to prisoners and officers getting hurt and fired! It doesn’t make sense.

We need people “on the outs” to get involved in these struggles, to help us make changes and modifications that will be effective and beneficial to all. We need people to call and write letters to the head of the NDOC and to the governor of Nevada and ask them to make modifications to A.R. 733. Be sure to remind them of the Jan. 31 riot and of the officer, C.O. Stubbs, who got stabbed so that they can understand the seriousness of this situation. Here’s what we need the people to push for:

1) Allow us to purchase these items from the canteen: Vitamins, coffee, soups, peanut butter, laundry supplies, batteries for our electronic shavers, beanies, thermals and shoes.

2) Allow us one 30-minute call a week, as the policy says.

3) Allow us our First Amendment right to receive books sent in from the outside while serving time in disciplinary segregation.

4) Allow us to have a dip bar over our rec yards, for recreational purposes and exercise.

5) Allow us a “contact” visit once a month for family or friends.

6) House all mentally ill and psychotropically medicated inmates separately, preferably on a unit where they can receive the treatment they need.

7) Prohibit appliance denial for minor or general rule infractions and for prisoners found “not guilty”; limit it to 60 days total for major violations, then return all appliances.

8) Allow us to buy Mexican and Canadian stamps so we can write our families and friends there.

9) Allow us to be approved to purchase appliances and CDs after 90 days without any rule violations.

This is the official portrait of Director Howard Skolnik on the Nevada Department of Corrections website, www.doc.nv.gov/director/index.php.
10) Provide a level system or steps program to allow prisoners to advance through the process of demonstrating good behavior and to get out of lockdown.

A.R. 733 needs to be modified and a level system needs to be put in place. All mentally ill inmates need to be housed separately, on a unit where they can receive the treatment they need. These 10 things are all we ask for.

Please call, fax, email and send letters to the director of the NDOC: Howard Skolnik, Director, Nevada Department of Corrections, P.O. Box 7011, Carson City NV 89702, (775) 887-3216, fax (775) 887-3253, hskolnik@doc.nv.gov.

And please contact the governor: Jim Gibbons, Governor, State Capitol, 101 N. Carson St., Carson City NV 89701, (775) 684-5670, fax (775) 684-5683, email through the website at http://gov.state.nv.us/Contact_Us_NORTHX.htm.

I’m proud to see so many prisoners of different races and factions coming together and standing up against the injustices being done to us in here. I’m proud to be a part of something that strives to bring real changes for the people in here. It feels good to be involved and to get caught up in the spirit of revolt. Violence isn’t always the best option and I hope that we can come together like this more often without having to take it to the extreme.

Solidarity and Struggle,

Coyote

For more information on the Jan. 31 riot or for letters of encouragement and support, contact Coyote at this address: Coyote Sheff, 55671, P.O. Box 1989, Ely, NV 89301. Read more of his writing and reports at Coyote-calling.blogspot.com, nevadaprisonwatch.blogspot.com, myspace.com/abcnevada or prisoncommunitycenter.ning.com.

2 thoughts on “Solidarity and struggle: More on the Jan. 31 riot at Ely State Prison

  1. FAIR IS FAIR

    ISN'T ELY A MAXIMUM PRISON? I KNOW THEY HAVE EDUCATION IN MOST OTHER PRISONS IN NEVADA THAT AREN'T MAX. AND WHAT KIND OF PROTECTION DO I GET FROM YOU IF I GO VISIT SOMEONE ELSE IN PRISON. NON CONTACT KEEPS OTHER VISITORS AND FAMILIES SAFE FROM YOU (THE ONE THAT CONDONES RIOTING.)

    Reply

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