by Bruce A. Dixon
Has the Georgia Department of Corrections, in the wake of the inmate strike of December 2010, embarked on a campaign of brutal retaliation against inmates in its custody? Is the department deliberately withholding medical treatment to prisoners its officers have viciously assaulted? Are the removal of Smith Prison’s former warden and the apparent demotion to a superintendent of a probation facility connected with extensive ongoing investigations into prison abuse and potential corruption?
Have the department’s own internal affairs investigators turned a blind eye to ongoing threats and beatings inflicted upon prisoners with the apparent blessings of their supervisors, leaving investigations of these allegations exclusively to the GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation)? And is the Department of Corrections preparing to go before a pliant southeast Georgia grand jury, where prisons are one of the region’s major industries, in the hope of seeking preemptive indictments against prisoners to shield its officers and supervisors from civil or criminal prosecution?
The questions around Georgia’s Department of Corrections are piling up. Some of the answers, as well as fuel for brand new questions, are in the stream of correspondence and open records requests filed by Mario Williams of Williams Oinonen LLC, attorney for several of the brutalized inmates.
Is the Georgia Department of Corrections deliberately withholding medical treatment to prisoners its officers have viciously assaulted?
From portions of that correspondence, we know that on Dec. 31, the day after a team of citizen observers were admitted to Smith Prison to interview staff and inmates, correctional officers singled out Miguel Jackson and Kelvin Stevenson, handcuffing and savagely beating both inmates after a search of their cells. Jackson suffered multiple indentations to his head, blunt trauma apparently inflicted with a hammer-like object resulting in weeks of severe untreated pain.
Georgia diagnostic officials placed Stevenson in max lockdown with a broken jaw that the officials knew needed to be wired, yet they waited nearly three weeks to do so, and only wired Kelvin’s jaw after repeated letters from his attorney to DOC officials requesting that immediate action be taken. And it is clear that Miguel Jackson and Kelvin Stevenson sustained these injuries not during the search, but only after they had been removed in handcuffs from their cells.
We know that all the fruitful investigations and arrest warrants for guards thus far were conducted and sworn out not by the Department of Corrections’ internal affairs officers, but by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. And we understand that the former warden at Smith State prison has been inexplicably transferred and demoted.
We know that Kelvin Stevenson and Miguel Jackson were denied doctor visits, urgently needed examinations and access to their own medical records for weeks after the assault despite daily complaints of hearing and memory problems, as well as problems with vision and other dangerous symptoms. The correspondence also documents a series of dire and terroristic threats made on multiple occasions by Jackson State correctional officers. After his attorney’s repeated complaints to Ricky Myrick of DOC’s Internal Investigations Unit, one of the guards making those threats was finally transferred out of the wing, but no other action was taken against him. The correctional officer continues to incite other inmates against Miguel Jackson by spreading rumors that he is a snitch.
“Over the last three months the attorney for the prisoners’ families has had to send a daily stream of letters, faxes, phone calls and document requests, visits and other inquiries to uncover and address the denial of medical care to the beaten prisoners, along with the facts of their cases,” declared Rev. Kenneth Glasgow of TOPS, The Ordinary Peoples Society.
“So later this year TOPS is taking the lead in convening a series of public hearings throughout the state in which we will examine the way Georgia’s prisons operate, and specifically look into the wave of beatings, retaliations and coverups that followed the inmate strike of December 2010.”
TOPS seems eminently qualified to lead such a public inquiry. In the decade since its founding, The Ordinary Peoples Society has stood with and for prisoners, their families and communities in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana, both on the level of individual and collective self-help, as well as advocacy on the level of public policy and public education. TOPS is working closely with the attorney for the families of prisoners Miguel Jackson, Kelvin Stevenson, Terrance Dean and other recent victims of unlawful violence on the part of Georgia correctional officers.
“We found out about TOPS from talking to the families of other prisoners,” Delma Jackson, the wife of Miguel Jackson told Black Agenda Report. “They told us that TOPS would work with us and stand with us to get the justice we need, both in prison and afterward. If there’s no jobs or education, there’s not much for those who come out of prison, no way for them to support families and build new lives.”
“The Department of Corrections has dragged its feet at every opportunity during this time. The fact that Georgia Bureau of Investigations has had to take charge of investigating the vicious assaults of correctional officers and their supervisors upon prisoners is a clear admission on the part of state government that the Department of Corrections is unable or unwilling to uphold the laws it’s supposed to enforce.”
“Right now our prisons are making visitation and contact with families unnecessarily difficult and expensive,” Rev. Glasgow told Black Agenda Report. “DOC charges the families excessive amounts for phone calls out of its prisons. It levies fines from inmate accounts – from the money sent by their families – for a host of offenses, users fees, fines, what have you, without any published schedule of fees or fines and no public transparency whatsoever. And we have allowed private for-profit companies, which for all we know are big political contributors, to reap millions a year from some of the state’s poorest citizens – those with relatives in prisons – off money transfers to inmates and phone calls from prisoners.”
When you add this to the lack of educational opportunities in and after prison, there is ample reason for a year-long series of observer visits and public hearings on how Georgia operates its prisons. One in 13 Georgia adults is currently locked up or on paper,” concluded Glasgow.
“That’s a crime, and the public discussion on how to solve it cannot be led by the people who gave us – and who profit from – this dysfunctional system. TOPS is committed to convening and facilitating real public hearings on Georgia’s prisons and their impact on our larger communities. That is a discussion which cannot be held without the voices of the formerly incarcerated, our families and our communities being heard. TOPS and our allies are committed to making that happen.”
Bruce Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, where this story first appeared. He is based in Marietta, Georgia, where he is a state committee member of the Georgia Green Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
News of the missing Georgia prison strikers
by Eugene Thomas
In the February issue of the SF Bay View, I reported that there had not been any news on the who is and where is of the 37 missing alleged “conspirators” of the Georgia Prisoners Strike. Not so anymore.
I’d heard through the prison grapevine that some of the missing prisoners had been transferred here, to Georgia State Prison, Reidsville. Although I’d been sending “kites” (i.e., informal short letters) to the lockdown unit here, trying to get a word to or from the brothers, I got nothing.
According to one of the brothers, they were transferred along with several other prisoners away from Telfair on Dec. 14 by emergency transport. This brother, who prefers to be called E-D4B, was taken to speak with the warden. He says the warden asked him to tell him what was going on and who was and is involved and to use his influence as a “gang” leader to straighten the protesting prisoners out. E-D4B says he refused to cooperate, so he was transferred here and placed in lockdown indefinitely. He has since been moved to another lockdown unit.
Two days later, I hit the segregation recreational yard – a row of pens, that is – asking if there was anyone on the yard that came from another prison for participating in the Dec. 9 protest.
That’s when I met a young Muslim brother, Faheem. He’d come from Smith State Prison in Glenville, Georgia. He and six other prisoners had been “emergency transferred” on Dec. 14 at 4:30 p.m., after they’d had a fight with several officers there, when the officers attacked them.
Coincidentally, one of the prisoners from the Smith State Prison group has even been attacked by guards here – actually by supervisors. On Feb. 19, the brother who’d rather be known as Trill was savagely beaten by Lt. Phillips and Sgt. Smith of second shift. And as shocking as this may sound, Trill was then allowed to visit with his family, as he’d received a surprise visit. It’s reported that his family was horrified when they saw him and learned of what happened.
Stay up, stay strong and stay tuned.