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Florida prisoners are laying it down

January 21, 2018

by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson

Kevin “Rashid” Johnson Self Portrait, 2013

During early 2018 prisoners across Florida are gonna “laydown” in nonviolent protest of the intolerable conditions in Florida’s prisons.

The objectionable conditions being protested include unpaid slave labor, compounded by outright price-gouging in the system’s commissary and package services, and the gain-time scam that replaced parole, which, coupled with extreme sentencing, has created overcrowding and inhumane conditions.

During early 2018 prisoners across Florida are gonna “laydown” in nonviolent protest of the intolerable conditions in Florida’s prisons.

The “laydown” will consist of a prisoner work stoppage and their refusal to participate in any state-sanctioned or related activities and is planned to last for several weeks, or perhaps indefinitely, until their concerns are addressed.

It is imperative that the public be aware of the prisoners’ need for resolutions and of their abuses.

A culture of abuse, corruption and inhumane conditions

Having been confined in the Florida Department of Corruption (FDOC) for six months at the time of writing this, and being able to contrast conditions here with those in other prison systems (Florida’s is my fourth state prison system in six years), I can personally attest that conditions here are among the worst I’ve seen.

In fact, the past four months have passed without me writing any articles and during that time I have fallen behind in my own legal pursuits because I’ve been overwhelmed trying to help others’ efforts and needs to counter and challenge the extreme levels of abuse occurring constantly around me here at Florida State Prison (FSP).

On a literal daily basis, prisoners are gassed, tortured and/or brutally beaten by guards with the full complicity of medical and mental health staff. As part of this culture of abuse, grievance officials routinely trash prisoners’ attempts to grieve their mistreatment. This to eliminate any records of the abuses and to frustrate any potential attempts at litigation[i].

These and attendant conditions illustrate the inhumane and unjust outrages that Florida prisoners are protesting.

Take for example that FDOC prisoners are forced to work without pay. Only one job pays a token wage, namely the prison commissary, which, at $50 a month, is lower than Third World sweatshop rates.

The enforced slave labor in the FDOC is a literal continuation of the old antebellum slave system, selectively enforced against people of color and the poor and based upon the 13th Amendment, which only modified slavery at the end of the Civil War in 1865 to permit enslavement of those convicted of crimes. It was under this reformed slavery that Blacks were targeted for re-enslavement and the FDOC was established three years later in 1868, which the FDOC proudly boasts on its seal[ii].

Coupled with Florida prisoners receiving no wages, they must purchase basic hygiene supplies, seasonal clothing, shoes and supplemental foods and beverages from a grossly overpriced commissary and package system, which weighs heavily on their loved ones. Otherwise prisoners must do without.

The enforced slave labor in the FDOC is a literal continuation of the old antebellum slave system, selectively enforced against people of color and the poor and based upon the 13th Amendment, which only modified slavery at the end of the Civil War in 1865 to permit enslavement of those convicted of crimes.

Again, by contrasting the FDOC with other prison systems that I’ve been recently confined to, I can readily illustrate and attest to this pricing scam. In fact, those on the outside can compare the prices between FDOC’s packaging system with those in Texas, by visiting access.com and FloridaPackages.com for Florida prices and going to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s (sic!) website and going to Ecommdirect.com for Texas prices.

FDOC prices are literally double or more the prices of the same or similar items sold to Texas prisoners. Here are some random examples comparing the 2017 prices of the same or similar items sold to FDOC versus TDCJ prisoners:

  1. A Speed Stick deodorant is $2.50 (TX); while a generic Oraline Secure roll-on deodorant is $4.00 (FL);
  2. One AA battery is $.27 (TX); a pack of two AA batteries is $3.02 (FL);
  3. A roll of toilet paper is $.50 (TX); $1.00 (FL);
  4. Ten letter size envelopes are $.30 (TX); $.80 (FL);
  5. Multivitamins, 100 count, are $2.30 (TX); $7.21 (FL);
  6. A 16.9-ounce bottle of water is $.15 (TX); $.99 (FL);
  7. A 3.5-ounce pouch of mackerel fillets is $.85 (TX); $1.59 (FL);
  8. A 4-ounce bag of coffee is $.85 and $1.90 (TX); $6.03 (FL);
  9. One Top Ramen soup is $.30 (TX); $.70 (FL);
  10. Ten individual packs of oatmeal are $1.50 (TX); $5.30 (FL);
  11. A bottle of nasal spray is $1.85 (TX); $8.75 (FL), and so on.

Again, these are only random samples showing the comparative overpricing of items sold to FDOC prisoners. It should also be kept in mind that the quality of goods sold by prison vendors is typically inferior to the quality of those sold to the general public.

Forced to work without pay and to purchase goods at usurious prices, while most come from poor communities, prisoners are especially vulnerable to such pricing scams, and most obviously cannot afford to purchase basic necessities, supplement the inadequate prison meals and nutrition, and acquire the few allowed amenities at the prices set by the FDOC.

FDOC prices are literally double or more the prices of the same or similar items sold to Texas prisoners.

This is particularly problematic where, as the Florida media has exposed, the FDOC has been caught denying its prisoners such basic necessities as toilet paper, toothpaste and soap and have issued and forced them to wear clothes that are threadbare and literally shredded. They are also made to live in housing units that are falling apart around them.[iii]

And while prison officials love to profess their function to be that of “rehabilitating” those they confine so that they might become productive members of society upon release, nothing be further from the truth. Slavery does not teach one work ethic nor how to be free.

With little to no outside support, most prisoners are forced to hustle and scheme as a means of acquiring necessities and amenities. Forcing people to work without pay while denying them needed and desired things only teaches them to becomes thieves, predators and swindlers. So officials are actually teaching criminality. Which is only reinforced by the culture of corruption that pervades the FDOC, which is beyond the pale.

Forcing people to work without pay while denying them needed and desired things only teaches them to becomes thieves, predators and swindlers. So officials are actually teaching criminality.

Some of that corruption began to come out in the media during and after 2014 when outside protests and litigation exposed patterns of FDOC prisoners being killed by officials and covered up at the highest administrative and investigative levels. Particularly the murder of a mentally ill prisoner, Darren Rainey, in 2012 by guards scalding him to death in a rigged shower at Dade Correctional Institution, which was swept under the rug until exposed in 2014.

The public exposure of this incident and the attempts to cover it up opened a can of worms, leading to the exposure of numerous other killings, routine malicious beatings and gassings of prisoners by guards, systemic denials of mental health care, and more, as a deeply entrenched statewide culture (which continues).[iv]

Also exposed was a system of retaliations, firings and harassments against investigators and other staff who tried to report or expose such abuses, engineered at highest levels of power in the FDOC.[v]

This abusive environment has been made all the worse by such staffing problems as frequent guard turnovers, low pay, chronic understaffing, and a generally inadequately trained and unprofessional staff body.

These are among the many inhumane and intolerable conditions and abuses that FDOC prisoners suffer every day with no voice or help, and which they are protesting for relief from. They need and deserve all possible support.

Dare to struggle, dare to win!

All Power to the people!

[i] Under federal law, prisoners must exhaust any existing prison grievance procedures before filing suit. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). This requirement is however invalidated when officials obstruct a prisoner’s grievances. Turner v. Burnside, 541 F. 3d 1077, 1083-84 (11th cir. 2008).

[ii] See Jessica Lipscomb, “Unpaid Florida Prisoners Forced to Clean Up After Hurricane Irma,” The New Times, Sept. 28, 2017.

[iii] Mary Ellen Klas, “Florida Prisons Have Toilet Paper, But They’re Not Supplying It to Some Inmates,” Miami Herald, July 19, 2017; Paula Dockery, “Inspector General Fiasco Adds to Prison Woes,” Florida Today, May 9, 2015.

[iv] A series of many, many reports covering these issues have come out in the Miami Herald from 2014 to present, many written by journalists Julie K. Brown and Mary Ellen Klas. These reports are too numerous to list here but can be reviewed online by interested readers.

[v] Julie K. Brown, “Top Cop Accused of Thwarting Investigations Quits Florida Prison System,” Miami Herald, Dec. 21, 2016; Mary Ellen Klas and Julie K. Brown, “New Prison Policy Punishes Investigators Who Speak Out,” Miami Herald, Feb. 5, 2015; Mary Ellen Klas, “Florida Prison Inspectors Detail Alleged Interference in Their Investigations,” Miami Herald, June 1, 2016.

 

The following story, also by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, was written last fall but has only now made its way to supporters; it lays the groundwork for the strike now underway called #OperationPUSH:

The heat is on! Florida prisoners receive no protection from deadly heat

In the heat of the moment

On June 22, 2017, I was transferred from the Texas Department of Criminal (In)Justice (TDCJ) to the Florida Department of Corruption (FDOC). I was initially confined at the Reception and Medical Center (RMC), which houses and treats Florida’s most medically vulnerable and chronically ill prisoners.

One of Florida’s most flagrantly inhumane conditions of confinement that immediately struck me was, despite the sweltering heat, its prisons do not have air-conditioning, not even in its medical facility. Nor are Florida prisoners allowed to have in-cell fans. Worse still, all prisoners are strictly required to remain fully dressed (in underclothes, shirt, pants, socks and shoes) during daytime hours while locked inside the cells, often with cellmates. And this while the heat index is routinely above 100°F.

Health needs notwithstanding

At RMC I immediately experienced the inherent and obvious danger of these conditions. As a man with chronic hypertension for which I am prescribed several medications, I am particularly vulnerable to extreme heat, and in the span of just three weeks while at RMC I fell unconscious twice because of the effects of the extreme heat on my medical condition. Which was made all the worse by the lack of air-conditioning and no in-cell fans, cold water or any protections from the heat at RMC.

On one occasion I had to be rushed to and treated at RMC’s on-site emergency room, where, although it was still early in the morning, two other hypertensive prisoners were also being treated for having fallen unconscious that morning from the in-cell heat.

I should add that not only do these conditions endanger the medically vulnerable but also the elderly. Florida is acknowledged to have a particularly large and steadily growing elderly prisoner population due to extreme sentencing.

Officials know the dangers

And Florida officials at all levels know the deadly and illegal hazards of housing the infirm under such conditions in institutional settings.

Take for example the response to the incident of Sept. 13, 2017, when eight elderly residents of Florida’s Hollywood Hills nursing home died – six more died later – from the heat when Hurricane Irma knocked out that facility’s power and air-conditioning.

In response, Florida officials took disciplinary actions against the facility, suspending its license, putting a moratorium on admissions, and instituting a January 2018 deadline for all Florida nursing homes to have air-conditioning with backup generators or face a $1,000 a day fine.

Florida’s prisoners, however, including the many infirm among them, receive no official consideration at all.

Florida officials at all levels know the deadly and illegal hazards of housing the infirm under such conditions in institutional settings.

On July 19, 2017, United States District Judge Keith Ellison issued an emergency order to transfer some 1,000 medically vulnerable TDCJ prisoners to air-conditioned facilities, finding that housing them in extreme heat like in Florida’s prisons was illegal and outright barbaric.[i]

What’s more, the federal courts have long required that even healthy prisoners housed without air-conditioning must be allowed fans, cold water and daily showers whenever the heat index exceeds 90°F.[ii] None of which is provided to Florida prisoners, including those in solitary confinement, who remain locked inside cells – many with cellmates – all day every day.

At RMC and at Florida state prison (FSP), where I’ve been confined since July 14, 2017, the heat index remained above 100°F almost every day from June 22, 2017 through October.

“Amend the 13th Amendment” – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 158039, FSP, P.O. Box 800, Raiford FL 32083

As further proof of Florida’s officials’ knowing culpability for these deadly and illegal conditions, consider the admissions of a former FDOC warden Ron McAndrews.

On Aug. 17, 2017, the FDOC locked down all its prisons in response to an Aug. 19 Washington D.C. march in support of prisoners’ rights and against slave labor in U.S. prisons. Officials alleged the statewide lockdown was to forestall any potential reaction of prisoners to coincide with the march.

McAndrews spoke out in the media against the lockdown, specifically because of the extreme in-cell heat the prisoners would be forced to endure.

On Aug. 17, the Miami Herald reported, “McAndrews said the lockdown isn’t going to prevent tension – and may exacerbate it. Florida prisons do not have air conditioning, he pointed out.”

The report went on to quote McAndrews: “The summer it gets so damn hot he said imagine if you had to sleep in your bedroom or stay in your house, locked in without any air-conditioning – try it for one night. You would not be able to sleep.”[iii]

McAndrews was describing the torturous conditions prisoners would suffer if locked down in their cells for just a few days. Again, what this overlooks is the FDOC already keeps thousands of prisoners locked down all the time – and many of them for years on end – in solitary confinement, euphemistically called Close Management, Administrative Confinement Disciplinary Confinement and Maximum Management.

In fact, I have been solitarily confined since being confined in the FDOC. And as this former FDOC warden acknowledges, the heat is unbearable during the summer – and autumn – months.

It’s deadly abuse – plain and simple

The extreme heat is much the same as in Texas prisons, except prisoners in Texas may purchase in-cell fans from the prison commissaries or, if they cannot afford to purchase a fan, one can be donated to them by prisoner advocacy groups like Texas CURE. And as noted, the federal courts have required that medically vulnerable Texas prisoners be housed in air-conditioned facilities.

Moreover, in the TDCJ prisoners receive information packets and video instructions and orientations explaining how to avoid, identify and obtain care for heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heatstroke. The FDOC, however, provides no such considerations to its prisoners. Indeed, also unlike Texas, Florida does not keep track of nor publicize heat-related prisoner deaths, to my knowledge.

But since I’ve been in Florida, I’ve encountered numerous prisoners who report having witnessed such deaths or personally suffering potentially fatal heat related conditions like heat exhaustion and strokes. One prisoner, Cobra Newton, No. 389958, reported suffering two strokes.

FDOC officials quite deliberately cause their captives to suffer under extreme heat. When I requested intervention from the doctor who treated me in RMC’s emergency room when I fell unconscious from the heat on July 12, 2017, I was told there was nothing he could do. That, as I should have noticed, RMC was FDOC’s medical facility and, even there, prisoners were housed with no protection from the heat.

FDOC officials quite deliberately cause their captives to suffer under extreme heat.

In so many words, one is left to suffer and die. And with Global Warming, each year is getting hotter.

What few protections Texas affords its prisoners from the extreme heat is the result of outside protests, media exposure in numerous heat-related prisoner deaths and legal advocacy against the deadly heat in Texas prisons.

Florida conceals prisoner heat-related deaths and its prisoners have had no such outside support. So we are made to suffer what cannot be denied is outright torture and deadly mistreatment.

Dare to struggle! Dare to win!

All Power to the People!

Send our brother some love and light: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 158039, FSP, P.O. Box 800, Raiford FL 32083.

[i] Keith Cole, et al. v. Bryan Collier, et al., U.S. District Court (Southern District of Texas Houston Division) Civil Action No. 4:14-CV-1698 (Document No. 737).

[ii] Gates v. Cook, 376 F. 3d 323, 339-40 (5th Cir. 2004).

[iii] Julie K. Brown, “Florida Prisons – All of Them – On Lockdown,” Miami Herald, Aug. 17 2017.

 

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