A hunger striker’s journal, Part 3: Who is watching the guards?

by Richard Wembe Johnson

Richard Wembe Johnson, a prisoner who recently suffered a heart attack due to a blocked artery in his heart, is among the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay. Since the beginning of the strike, he has been taken off three of his daily meds; medical staff say they may be adverse to his health when taken on an empty stomach. He has been submitting a series of articles throughout his time on strike to educate potential supporters about the prison experience. This is Richard’s fourth entry, dated July 13, 2011.

Pelican-Bay-Prison-Guard-George-Sherman-carries-rifle-whenever-a-guard-enters-10-cell-pod-by-John-Burgess-Santa-Rosa-Press-Democrat, A hunger striker’s journal, Part 3: Who is watching the guards?, Abolition Now! Way too often, the public is fed a steady diet of how far the prison system is out of control and run by an array of vicious and brutal gangs. Needless to say, this tactic has worked for those who wish to silence the critics, while shifting cause and blame from themselves. When the truth is suppressed or tainted, people generally trust in what’s available, especially when it goes almost unchallenged.

It doesn’t help much with the spectacle of bloody prison riots being displayed across the TV screens and in various news outlets for people to rush to judgment. What, however, isn’t addressed is how prisons, with the latest sophisticated technology and security forces, lose control of people who are locked in their cells for the majority of the time.

How is it possible for an inmate to move large caches of prison weapons around, right under the noses of the guards, without their knowledge? Even more disconcerting, where are all the drugs coming from that can be found on any given day, in any given prison? When these and other questions are thoroughly vetted, an entirely different picture will definitely materialize as to what is really going on behind the scenes.

Guards, for the most part, do have incentives to see prisons in a constant state of disorder and lockdown. For one, the more violent the prisons are, the more the guards reap extra hazard pay and overtime. If and when injury occurs, they are remunerated for the time spent in hospitals and courts and for any travel expenses.

I believe that, aside from these economic issues, there is an additional overwhelming need to keep the prison system as a morbid pitch of confusion. In creating this confusion by administering their illogical, perverted perspective, prison officials can dictate the overall balance in the prisons.

If prisoners weren’t fighting each other, who would get the brunt of their anger, frustration and wrath: The guards, without a doubt. Thus, it’s to their advantage to keep the madness going amongst the prisoners. They orchestrate riots, beatings, stabbings, drug flow, racial tension and their entire gamut of prison politics.

It is not subtle or non-coincidental, it is direct and in your face, but if no one is watching or caring, the chances are you’ll miss it. The hierarchy feigns unawareness until somebody is exposed; then they express disbelief and disappointment, while secretly supporting guards and their criminal methods. They exercise what is similar to a “don’t ask don’t tell” stance.

If the people really knew the truth about what happens in prison, they would be shocked and appalled to know that they are pawns themselves, used by corporate interest groups to keep the flow of their tax dollars going into the pockets of a few. The courts in recent years have begun to take notice of the reasoning for the prison industry deteriorating rapidly while the prison population is on the rise. However, to much dismay, some of the courts themselves are missing the picture as well. If something is rotten to the core, you don’t trim; you go directly to the root and cut it out before it can spread even further.

Some guards are beyond repair; they’re bad seeds that will only produce more decay if allowed to go unchecked. A complete overhaul from top to bottom is in order, particularly with the prison personnel. Guards aren’t beyond emotional stress; some may actually have psychological issues that cause them to behave in a way that is detrimental to the safety and wellbeing of everyone around them.

There must be consistent, routine checks as to their mental state, their work performance and their finances. There should be a complete check to make sure that they are really doing their jobs in a professional manner and haven’t been compromised by pressures of the job. It is easy to form biases and act on them under the color of law, providing there are no safeguards in place and detection isn’t really possible.

There’s no amount of professional training that could completely eradicate human nature: People will succumb to their natural tendencies when the effects of any jobs allow it. Guards are no exception. All over the country, guards have been brought up on charges ranging from rape, murder, theft, drug use or dealing and so forth, and this certainly isn’t an aberration; rather, it is a daily occurrence throughout the Department of Corrections, on a local, state and federal level.

One would think that, with the amount of power and trust given to these guards, more time and consideration would be taken to insure that it’s worth it. Admittedly, there’s always two sides to any story and if you only hear one version of it, you’re being denied the opportunity to act on the entire story; thus any conclusion drawn will be unsupported by the complete facts.

When crooks and criminals are allowed to oversee crooks and criminals, what you see is what you get: Lies, deception and mass corruption to the unseeing eye. Not all criminals necessarily wear blue [prison garb]; consequently, within the guard rank and file there exist rogue thugs, racists and gang members masquerading as upholders of law enforcement.

Crime is an equal opportunity venture; everyone is capable of committing it. Some of the guards are saddled with preconceived prison institutional bigotry that impairs their ability to be fair and judicious in performing the duties demanded of them. Most have no training in cultural and ethnic differences that will undoubtedly be an issue as part of the normal interaction with various prisoners. It is not just the guards’ fault, because they are only part of the pre-existing problem: a much more systematic problem of administrative dysfunction.

After all is said and done, there must be a constructive and responsible functioning of how the prisons are run and by whom! If you’re to believe the untruths told by the prison spokespersons, aka the spin doctors, you will have the impression that the prisoners are in control. If this is the case, then why the need for guards and administration officials collecting large paychecks every month?

Accountability should be prerequisite of all who play a role in the supervision of prisons, from the administrators to all the subordinates. History clearly shows that the guards cannot police themselves and the need for real overseers to take full control of the situation. Somebody must take responsibility and champion much needed answerability.

Send our brutha some love and light: Richard Johnson, K-53293, SHU D2-218, PO Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532