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Georgia: Eyewitness report on isolation, prison rebellion and work strike

February 20, 2012

by Kimjon Ali Ingram

At Hancock State Prison in Sparta, Ga., hundreds of prisoners were housed in the tents on the right. It is likely to have been the tents that were set ablaze during the rebellion Nov. 25, 2011. – Photo: Ric Feld, AP
I am a prisoner in the state of Georgia presently housed at Hancock State Prison in Sparta, Ga. I am writing from a segregation/isolation unit. In such a unit, we may or may not have a cellmate in a tiny cell in which all of the windows are either painted over or covered up by metal. Commissary, library, visitation and telephone use is very limited, if any. Property such as certain food items and cosmetics are confiscated and only given back when we are released from this unit, although all were purchased from commissary while we were in general population.

Trays of food with smaller portions than regular are given to us through a filthy structured slot in a large metal door. We can take three five-minute showers a week. Recreation is given by each individual being placed in a fenced dog kennel-type cage for an hour a day, although we have only been allowed this yard call once in the last three weeks thus far.

We are escorted in chains everywhere. With piled up filth in the cells because of rarely being given cleaning material, we also have to deal with infestation of roaches, rats and other creatures. The large metal doors are only entrances to fortified tombs to the occupants behind them in need of medical assistance. You never see anyone other than yourself unless you have a cellmate. Only voices to be heard are through walls.

These cells are designed to be torturous, even murderous! Occupants commonly go insane, cut themselves, become suicidal and even dangerously territorial, as often a cellmate may attack another just to acquire more living space.

This is also the blood-soaked ground from illegal use of force where several officers commonly beat a handcuffed prisoner, which goes undiscovered and undisclosed because the only ones who saw it are the attacking officers. It is only the screams and pleas of the attacked that his neighbors will hear.

This is no trip to Las Vegas, but what happens here usually does stay here. This is Lockdown, SMU-Special Management Unit, the Soul Breaker, the Hole! You are to be placed in here only for disciplinary reasons, defined by the prison as violent behavior, contraband, weapons, known gang activity, drug offenses, obscenity and protective custody.

These cells are designed to be torturous, even murderous! Occupants commonly go insane, cut themselves, become suicidal and even dangerously territorial.

A prisoner is to receive a disciplinary report alleging infractions within 24 hours, receive a segregation hearing within 72 hours, be investigated and receive a disciplinary hearing to receive further sanctions or not. However, none of this procedure under S.O.P. Sec. B02-0001 have my cellmate, Mr. Ahmad Johnson, GDC 799520, nor myself been given, mainly because we are not placed in here as a result of being accused, participating in or being suspected of any of the aforementioned infractions.

We are held behind these steel doors because we chose simply to pray together in the dorm recreational area, a very large area where we are allowed to watch television, play card games, board games, laugh, talk, congregate. Not loud, not violent, not in anyone’s way, totally peaceful. We stood together in brief prayer.

On Nov. 25, 2011, a gang war and riot occurred at this facility which was not correctly nor fully reported to the public. At the 6 p.m. hour, one gang attacked another gang in a synchronized manner around the prison. As the numerous fights broke out – prisoner on prisoner only – all guards in a never-before-seen fashion abandoned their posts. Thus leaving the prison to the prisoners.

That is when the riotous behavior began. With much more fighting, many more people were hurt and without medical help for several hours as sympathetic prisoners bandaged and walked out or carried the badly wounded on makeshift stretchers, leaving them by gates hoping someone would return to help them. Many buildings were set afire, being unattended.

Prisoners donned guards’ jackets after the guards fled.
(Editor’s note: In “Georgia prisons on fire,” Eugene Thomas, housed in Georgia’s Autry State Prison, writes about the Nov. 25, 2011, rebellion at Hancock: “All the guards were told by their supervisor to leave the prison compound, so that no officers would be present when the State Troopers stormed the compound. I’m told that from 6 o’clock in the evening until about 2 o’clock in the morning, no guard was working on the inside compound grounds. Prisoners thus set several of the module living units on fire and donned guards’ jackets, danced, sang and celebrated. At around 3 or 4 a.m., State Troopers and local police took back the prison while the local fire department put out the blaze. Prisoners have warned, ‘This is only the beginning.’”)

Prisoners were fired upon by guns and tear gas canisters by tactical assistance. A lockdown was established that lasted three weeks. Absurdly, the incident was reported as a fight over a cell phone. Obviously not! Two days off lockdown, on Dec. 16, before a scheduled religious service, Mr. Johnson and I were aggressively confronted by administrative staff about making a short congregational prayer with a couple other prisoners the day before.

The deputy warden cursed Mr. Johnson, vindictively stripped him of his shoes, forcing him to walk barefoot. I was told by the unit manager that as long as they breathed I would not walk the compound again and it would take a higher power to ever let me out of the hole. We were both handcuffed, escorted to lockdown and placed in the same cell where we have remained without disciplinary write-ups. No segregation hearing.

We were not involved in any gang activity, not fighting anyone, had not stabbed anyone, not in possession of weapons or drugs, not for obscenities nor being disrespectful to staff. We were placed in here because we chose to set aside all other allurements for a couple of minutes with a couple of people and prayed.

Although we are prisoners, we are not wholly stripped of all constitutional rights. In a system plagued with violence, recidivism, overcrowding, no pay for work, poor education and retarded parole summaries, the Georgia Department of Corrections is more concerned about religious acts of worship and hindering religious practice, which has saved many from a life of vice both in society and in prison, a practice which makes better men, better women, this should not even be an issue.

However, I sit here in a poorly lit cell without room to hardly move around, still being told I will never get out of lockdown, and write you a letter about an issue that should be embarrassing to mention.

We were not involved in any gang activity, not fighting anyone, had not stabbed anyone, not in possession of weapons or drugs, not for obscenities nor being disrespectful to staff. We were placed in here because we chose to set aside all other allurements for a couple of minutes with a couple of people and prayed.

No prisoner here has been combative with staff over this issue thus far despite being verbally abused and physically threatened by the staff. And for us, the problem is not so much being in the hole, it is more so what you placed us in the hole for. This institution and others would rather target peaceful gatherings than its more serious problems in a system on course for implosion.

The Dec. 9, 2010, Georgia prisoners’ sit-down strike

On a no-work, lock-yourself-down strike coordinated by respectful citizens as well as prisoner organizers, many outside and inside efforts were made even in advance to thwart our efforts to keep it peaceful or be successful. Only a few prisons were able to hold their ground. Several prisons were locked down across the state by their administration just to say the prisoners did not lock themselves down or refuse to work.

Georgia Department of Corrections riot squad – Photo: Erik S. Lesser, AFP/Getty Images
Many incidents of illegal use of force erupted as many prisoners were awakened from their sleep with the sharp crack of police batons across their bodies being delivered by Tactical Squad agents who pressured them to go to work when work for them is called out – or receive worse. Although it was supposed to be a non-violent, peaceful strike, the Corrections Department took the offensive.

Media forces manipulated the strike, printed false propaganda. Unfriendly outside forces also had their hands in on causing mischief. Information was even passed to prisoners from unknown elements to disregard it being a peaceful strike, to arm ourselves and take combative measures against the prison guards.

This was certainly reminiscent of the agent that was planted in Fred Hampton Sr.’s camp advising him with ill intent just to give them the reason they needed to do what they wanted to do and to hurry the process in doing so. Propaganda warfare. COINTELPRO modern or old.

What is wrong with prisoners asking for better living conditions and pay for work done in a colony with a growing industry thriving off prison labor, privatized prisons etc.? And we know the claims of the Department of Corrections going broke are highly absurd and false, because the capitalists of this country will not invest in institutions to “lose” money.

What is wrong with prisoners requesting better educational programs, better religious programs, better rehabilitative programs or any useful programs at all instead of the current ones in place only established to be written off for tax dollars, which we hardly are even allowed to attend? Parole issues? We need a better parole system to replace the presently retarded one, in which parole board members only sit at their computers behind their desks reviewing an incorrect and prejudiced file on a prisoner, never going in the field to personally interview him or her – thus making a decision on his life, to be released or not, in between their morning naps and afternoon extended lunch breaks.

What is wrong with prisoners asking for better living conditions and pay for work done in a colony with a growing industry thriving off prison labor, privatized prisons etc.?

In the state of Georgia, we are released – if we are ever released – with a $25 check and a bus ticket back to wherever after being warehoused and worked for numerous years. God forbid we are released on parole, because we will owe the parole agency $30; therefore, we are $5 short.

The Department of Collections overcharges us on commissary and long distance calls. We are charged for court fees, medical visits, medicine, disciplinary reports, receiving money, monthly account management fees and even fines etc. All this is extorted from prisoners who are not being paid for any work rendered. Nor as ex-cons are we being privileged to get any job from the contracted company we were working for on the inside, behind the wall. On the contrary, now, being free, there is no job opportunity.

I see there are many similarities (between Georgia and California) insofar as administrative oppression. The only difference – which makes a big difference – is that there is a newspaper to truly report, support and make known the issues: Bay View. We are plagued with bad publicity or hardly given any attention at all unless something deemed negative occurs. Then that is news!

The Department of Collections overcharges us on commissary and long distance calls. We are charged for court fees, medical visits, medicine, disciplinary reports, receiving money, monthly account management fees and even fines etc. All this is extorted from prisoners who are not being paid for any work rendered.

As I sit in SMU for merely making a short congregational prayer with a couple other prisoners, being starved and provoked to fight, I am very thankful – as any prisoner should be – to know that there is a real newspaper supportive of our cause and supportive of community affairs as well: Bay View. A national Black newspaper at that. Bravisimo! Thank you.

Send our brother some love and light: Kimjon Ali Ingram, 615770, Hancock State Prison, P.O. Box 339, Sparta, GA 31087.

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