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Prison Transportation Service, PTS of America, is hell on wheels

April 26, 2017

by Naquan Knight

I would like to bring to the cognizance of the people the atrocious treatment of prisoners by a company called Prison Transportation Services of America (PTSA). This is a private company based out of Tennessee that transports prisoners being extradited across the country.

In 2014, The Marshall Project wrote about a former physics professor, William Weintraub, 47, who, after complaining for more than a week of severe stomach pain and vomiting, was found dead – blue and covered in urine – in the back of a private prisoner transport van in Georgia. It was the second time in two years that a PTS prisoner had died from a perforated ulcer. Investigators there determined that PTS guards had mocked Weintraub’s complaints of severe stomach pain. The investigation was closed. – Photo: Georgia Bureau of Investigation

The conditions in which the prisoners are transported are most arduous and inhumane with no consideration for the safety or well-being of the prisoners. I personally had the unfortunate experience of enduring the aforementioned plight while being extradited this past summer.

PTSA picked me up from the State Correctional Institution at Greene in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, on July 19, 2016, at 8:30 a.m. At this time, I was handcuffed and shackled along with waist restraints attached to the handcuffs and then escorted outside to a waiting white van.

While opening the door at the rear of the van, the agent said to me, “Welcome to hell on wheels!” At the time, I took light of the comment the agent proudly made, but I would find out the ride fit its name to the tee.

Upon entering the van, it had a ferocious funky smell to it and it was extremely hot. At the time of my entry the rear of the van was occupied by two elderly prisoners, one who told me he’d been on the van for 12 days already after they picked him up in California; he was being extradited to Easton, Penn.

The other prisoner had been in the van for nine days after being picked up in Alabama. They also let me know there were two prisoners riding up front, whom I couldn’t see. In the rear of the van are NO SEATBELTS at all.

The rear of the van is simply made up of two long bench-like things, one on the left side running from front to back, and across from that on the right side running parallel was the other bench. The whole rear of the van is covered with reinforced steel; one can’t see out the window or anything. They open the door, tell you to get in and find a seat, again no seatbelts, nothing. So I sit on one bench while the two other prisoners sit across from me on the other bench.

The conditions in which the prisoners are transported are most arduous and inhumane with no consideration for the safety or well-being of the prisoners.

We rode a couple hours and we stopped to pick someone else up. We have no idea where we are until the other inmate enters and we ask him where we are and he says he was being picked up from State Correctional Institution at Fayette in Fayette County, Penn. He was being extradited to Phillipsburg, N.J.

We get back on the road; now it’s two of us on each bench. We are being flung all around this van as the agents are driving at high rates of speed on highways, back roads, routes and through mountain terrain. This is very unsafe riding like this with no seatbelts or nothing to secure your body in place during the ride. I mean, we’re literally being flung to the floor and up against the steel sides; it was crazy.

We’re riding in the wee hours of the night, so we’re dozing off; you try not to for your safety, but you can’t help it. You’ve been on the road for hours. It’s 12:00 or 1:00 in the morning and you’re shackled, restrained and cuffed back here, again no seatbelts or anything to secure your body, so as the van turns and twists and shakes, you’re being jolted all around; it was vicious.

We ended up going to a jail somewhere I don’t know. We got there maybe 2 a.m. or so. We stayed in that jail until 9 a.m. on July 20, 2016, at which time we were placed back in the rear of the van. At this time, I noticed written on the wall of the van it literally said, “Welcome to Hell on Wheels!” The others said it was already there, I just hadn’t noticed.

This is very unsafe riding like this with no seatbelts or nothing to secure your body in place during the ride. I mean, we’re literally being flung to the floor and up against the steel sides; it was crazy.

We resumed our arduous ride, mind you we didn’t use the bathroom that whole time until we got to that jail we stayed a few hours at. Instead we were forced to urinate inside water bottles. All this while handcuffed, shackled and restrained; moving and shaking at high rates of speed in the presence of these other prisoners.

So here we are in back of this van on a hot summer day, pissy water bottles everywhere. We’re riding for hours and hours, and you’d think since myself and the guy picked up after me were picked up in Pennsylvania, that we were dropping off the California guy next, who was going to Easton, Penn. Instead, next time we stopped we were in Vermont.

In Vermont, we picked up another prisoner. By now my neck and back are killing me and the head of one of the elders is bleeding due to him hitting his head against something, somehow. So I was picked up in Pennsylvania, supposed to be going to New York, but I’m in Vermont?

From Vermont, we’re riding hours again and our next stop was in Maine to drop off the one elder who now had been on that van 11 days. We left Maine at 10:35 p.m. that night; I specifically remember, because that’s the last time I used the bathroom.

We were forced to urinate inside water bottles. All this while handcuffed, shackled and restrained; moving and shaking at high rates of speed in the presence of these other prisoners.

So again we’re speeding through the countryside as well as highways and routes for hours and hours. We briefly stopped in New Hampshire to pick up another prisoner but were not afforded a bathroom break.

From New Hampshire, we continued on to Massachusetts and picked up another prisoner, and from there we continue this vicious ride, and our next stop was Ulster Correctional Institution in Upstate NY to pick up a prisoner. From there we went to Connecticut to pick up another prisoner, so now it’s seven of us squeezed back here – three prisoners on each bench while one prisoner is on the metal floor.

Mind you, as we sit on the bench, the other guys on the opposite bench are sitting facing us; our feet and legs touch as there’s no room. There’s about 3½ feet between the benches, and again we’re urinating in water bottles which are everywhere.

We continue on this arduous ride and we reach NYC about 5:30 a.m., at which time we’re all dehydrated, thirsty and need to use the restroom. I’m thinking, “OK, we’re in NYC; I’m about to get off this hell ride.” But I wasn’t that fortunate.

Now it’s 5:30 a.m. We’re sitting in this van in front of the Tombs in Manhattan; we’re told we’ll be there for two hours. The Tombs (Manhattan detention) wouldn’t even let us in to use the bathroom.

Time goes on. It’s now 8 o’clock, then 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock; we’re still sitting in this van, no AC. We haven’t used a real bathroom since 10:30 p.m. and it’s now 10:00 a.m.; we’re out of water bottles and all; to top it off, it’s mid-July and there’s a heat wave in the city.

We kept complaining and were told the arduous conditions were deserved because we were criminals. The temperature is now over 100 degrees; we’re sitting in back of this van in over 100-degree temps with no AC, cramped up seven of us, so that’s added body heat.

If it’s literally over 100 degrees outside, image how hot it was inside the van, just sitting right out in the sun with no AC and windows closed, which wouldn’t matter in 100-degree temps. We literally sat there for 12 hours in those conditions until 5:30 p.m. when they opened the doors to add two more prisoners.

The temperature is now over 100 degrees; we’re sitting in back of this van in over 100-degree temps with no AC, cramped up seven of us, so that’s added body heat.

The two new prisoners didn’t even want to get on, ‘cause they took one look at us and it looked like Hell on Wheels. They refused to get on, stating the conditions on the van looked horrible and we looked like we were half dead back there.

They were forced on the van. We begged for medical assistance, as nearly everyone was either dehydrated or suffered from some kind of injury. Our complaints fell on deaf ears.

By now my back, neck and body are killing me and I’m totally dehydrated, as I sat in the van in over 100 degree temps with no liquid for 12 hours straight, which is inhumane, cruel and unusual. You’ll go to jail for leaving your dog like that in the car in these conditions.

We were on the road again going through the Holland Tunnel, opposite from my destination, might I add. Us prisoners decided to shake the van to get the attention of outsiders, law enforcement or anyone, because at the time we’re concerned for our well-being.

By now my back, neck and body are killing me and I’m totally dehydrated, as I sat in the van in over 100 degree temps with no liquid for 12 hours straight, which is inhumane, cruel and unusual. You’ll go to jail for leaving your dog like that in the car in these conditions.

When we came out in New Jersey, they pulled into a gas station and came to the back asking us why we were shaking the van, at which time we demanded medical attention and off the van. We yelled to passersby for help, to call someone for us, as we needed medical attention. People called the cops who came ASAP.

They asked what was going on. We told them we had injured parties on the van and needed medical attention. We also told them about the rough ride we endured and how we’d been in the van for hours on one of the hottest days of the summer – no water, no bathroom breaks, no AC.

The agents try to undermine what we were saying, but the Jersey City cops looked inside and saw our condition and they couldn’t believe it. They knew we needed medical attention; they called ambulances for us.

They also checked the transport agents’ credentials and discovered they were only licensed to carry firearms in the state of Tennessee and not New Jersey, meaning they had been riding us around while they carried unlicensed firearms. The Jersey City cops confiscated the agents’ firearms. When they opened up the door to the van, the Jersey City cops couldn’t believe their eyes.

We also told them about the rough ride we endured and how we’d been in the van for hours on one of the hottest days of the summer – no water, no bathroom breaks, no AC.

We really looked like we were in hell; it was an oven back there. It was still at the time over 100 degrees; water bottles full of urine were everywhere.

The cops were at a loss for words. They told the transport agents there’s no way they should’ve had us back there like that, and they couldn’t believe we all been on that van for days, some of us over a week.

We were taken to the hospital in New Jersey, where we all spent the night. We were treated for dehydration and various injuries. While we were in the hospital, the agents were hard at work on the phone with their superiors, trying to figure out how to clean (cover) up this mess of a situation.

The following day when we were set to be discharged from the hospital, us prisoners made it clear that we didn’t want to get back on the same van with the same agents as we did not feel safe and feared retaliation from them. A lot of the Jersey City police actually sympathized with us and also felt that we should not be placed back into the custody of them same agents.

The cops were at a loss for words. They told the transport agents there’s no way they should’ve had us back there like that, and they couldn’t believe we all been on that van for days, some of us over a week.

They actually were refusing to release us to them. Instead, they were telling them to get different agents with a different van with seatbelts, AC or windows. Soon after, the powers that be of the prison industrial complex, which PTSA is a part of, got their claws into the situation.

At this time, a female sergeant of Jersey City PD said she will not release us into the same agents’ custody, as she didn’t approve of the conditions. Later on, the captain of the Jersey City PD shows up with at least 30 officers; us prisoners were still refusing to leave if we were getting on the same van.

The captain was saying he got orders to use force on us if necessary to ensure we get on the van. He went on to say his boss was making him do this after getting a call from a government agency, as PTSA is a private company contracted out by the federal government to transport prisoners for less than half the cost of what it would normally cost. Basically, this company is used so they could save money.

The female sergeant and other officers literally sat there debating with the captain, trying their best to make sure we didn’t have to go through that again. The sergeant was literally arguing with her captain; she was going to bat for us.

PTSA is a private company contracted out by the federal government to transport prisoners for less than half the cost of what it would normally cost. Basically, this company is used so they could save money.

When the sergeant left, as her shift was up, and a new team came and we were still taking a stand, refusing to leave, they came and told us they had two new agents and a new van for us. We were then shackled, and restrained and handcuffed with our hands behind our backs, connected to the waist chains, which is unusual.

At that time I knew it was some B.S., not to mention it’s illegal and against policy to transport prisoners this way. They escorted us out to the same van and same agents. The captain apologized stating the federal government stepped in and ordered them to release us to said agents, because we were in their custody. He said it was above his pay grade.

We all know the prison industrial complex has many hands and they’re everywhere. We were then driven back to NYC, where I was then finally dropped off after nearly five days in Hell on Wheels. I still have back and neck problems stemming from this ride and myself and the prisoners who were on that ride plan on some form of a class action litigation.

This is not simply a monetary thing; our main goal is to invoke change so that in the future, prisoners are not transported in such arduous conditions. At any given time, 24-7 days a week, PTSA has hundreds of prisoners being transported across the U.S. in these conditions. This is literally every day.

We all know the prison industrial complex has many hands and they’re everywhere.

As I write this missive, there’s over 100 prisoners enduring that Hell on Wheels ride. Our goal is to ensure that safety measures are put into place as our lives and safety matter even if we’re convicts. We had elders and everything on that van and some of them only had minor charges, not that it mattered.

If anyone has any advice or wants to offer any assistance, please feel free to contact me. Prisoners have rights too and we must let it be known. Asante.

The Struggle Continues.

Send our brother some love and light: Naquan Knight, HY-0504, SCI Greene, 175 Progress Drive, Waynesburg, PA 15370.

One thought on “Prison Transportation Service, PTS of America, is hell on wheels

  1. evdebs

    Someone needs to find out which "federal agency" ordered the police to put the transportees back in the same van with the same agents. This post is very poorly written, so it's not possible to do any Open Records Act request or Freedom of Information Act request to get the official version of this story. If it was the U.S. Marshals Service that gave that order, someone should be investigated and fired, if warranted. The USMS was run for five years by a corrupt official, Stacia Hylton, who was appointed to the post by the Obama/Holder administration.

    Reply

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