A discussion on the U.S. domestic torture program
by Zaharibu Dorrough, J. Heshima Denham, Kambui Robinson and Jabari Scott, NCTT Corcoran SHU
“Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing a third person.” – United Convention Against Torture, Art. 1, Sec. 2
We extend our heartfelt greetings to you, brothers and sisters.
Many discussions are taking place on the nature of the indefinite solitary confinement program in the U.S. prisons and whether or not it constitutes torture. The debate on what to do about the program itself is being held at every level of social organization, from the U.S. Senate to the United Nations, from the California Legislature to the short corridors of Pelican Bay and Corcoran SHUs.
Academics from multiple disciplines, from psychologists to sociologists, have all weighed in with the objective, scientific analysis that indefinite SHU confinement is not only torture, but even limited SHU confinement results in irreparable psychological damage. Yet, as with the Bush era “torture papers,” the socio-economic and political interests of the capitalist tend to supersede and supplant objective evidence, moral reason and human decency.
Such debate, which only continues in the presence of arguments contrary to the obvious reality of the U.S. domestic torture program in SHUs across the U.S., is not only ludicrous, it’s reality, and it is this lethal component to the debate which forces us to share a perspective which should end the debate definitively, leaving behind only the inescapable truth: Amerika maintains the largest domestic torture program on earth. The state of California runs the largest torture program in Amerika, and it continues to exist in your name, with your tax dollars, because you allow it to.
A recent incident here in Corcoran SHU’s short corridor compels us to give voice to the outrage we should all feel at the continued maintenance of the indeterminate SHU debriefing process of the U.S. domestic torture program: Another suicide, Armando Morales (Baby Paya), a validated Mexican prisoner from Los Angeles who had been confined to SHU for almost a decade, hanged himself after the IGI moved him from the 4B-1L-C-Section short corridor, to 4A-1R.
The reason(s) that Armando was moved are the typical ones associated with the coercive tactics employed to break men’s minds: After his girlfriend had been compromised by IGI and other state and federal law enforcement, those same agencies mounted an effort to put pressure on Armando, who was actually a baby in terms of what he did and did not know, as it relates to the enormous pressure that law enforcement will apply to coerce information from persons they’ve targeted.
In response to that pressure, he took his own life. Naturally, IGI and the state will seek to escape any culpability, and their response to this is that each person is responsible for his own conduct. We should all recognize the illegitimacy of such a position – that this is nothing more than an excuse to try and separate themselves from a situation that they are responsible for by their reckless and barbaric disregard for our humanity.
Amerika maintains the largest domestic torture program on earth. The state of California runs the largest torture program in Amerika.
We know this primarily because the vast majority of us have been in these tortuous madhouses for decades. One day is too long and not a single illegal act or rules violation has been committed by us to justify this, which is, by international law, unjustifiable. But we also know this because our research into the origins of the torture program reveals that this type of systematic psychological degradation to coerce information and create broken men is its purpose. The domestic U.S. torture program carried out in SHU (aka SMU, control unit etc.) style prisons finds its origins at a meeting of social scientists and prison wardens held in Washington, D.C., in 1962, recruiting the findings of Dr. Edgar Schein, which he delivered to them in his “Man Against Man: Brainwashing.”
In addressing the group Dr. Schein stated: “I would like you to think of brainwashing not in terms of politics, ethics or morals, but in terms of the deliberate changing of human behavior and attitudes by a group of men who have relatively complete control over the environment in which the captive populace lives.” The techniques he espoused would also require, to be effective, a new type of environment conducive to altering the very foundations of one’s perception of reality. For this the state took Dr. Levinson’s sensory deprivation prison unit design and a form of Skinnerian operant conditioning called “learned helplessness.”
This last technique is a key factor of both validation based indeterminate SHU confinement and the debriefing process. “Learned helplessness” is a systematic process of conditioning to crystalize in the imprisoned victim’s mind that he has no control over the regulation of his existence, that he is completely dependent on the state and its guards for the necessities of “life,” that he is helpless and must submit to the state’s power and control.
Our research into the origins of the torture program reveals that this type of systematic psychological degradation to coerce information and create broken men is its purpose.
This is, of course, contrary to core human consciousness and a linear thought divergence into two options, “resistance or escape.” The program is designed to apply maximum punitive coercion against “resistance” from the outset – from physical removal from the general (prison) population to sensory deprivation, using informants, collaborators and agent provocateurs to erode trust amongst those of like circumstances, punishing uncooperative attitudes, prohibiting collective thought or expression while simultaneously employing group punishment, arbitrary punishment and property restrictions etc.
At the same time, those who are capable of prolonged or indefinite resistance through ideological consistency, political development or force of will – like victims of crucifixion left to rot on crosses during the Roman Empire – they serve as powerful deterrents to those of lesser psychological resilience or those in general population to not resist and instead explore the second option: escape.
The state of California has made its escape option clear since taking the Schein-Skinnerian-Levinson system to its heights in erecting the torture units at Pelican Bay SHU. There are only three escape options available to you: parole, debrief or die. Due to the successful corporate influences of the prison industrial complex on the legislative, political and, to a degree, cultural processes in the nation over the past quarter century, most validated SHU prisoners are serving mandatory minimum, enhanced or BPT (Board of Prison Terms) based sentences and their very confinement to SHU is prohibitive to their parole.
The Board of Prison Terms has repeatedly stated to validated prisoners seeking parole: “If you want a parole date, you probably want to think about debriefing.” This reinforces the psychological pressure on those already weakened by the enforced conviction that they have been abandoned by and isolated from society – and only through submission and subserviency can they be socially accepted as human beings.
This form of “escape” – debriefing – is consistent with points 7, 8 and 9 of Dr. Schein’s behavior modification techniques: (7) exploitation of opportunities and informers; (8) convincing prisoners they can trust no one; (9) treating those who are willing to collaborate in far more lenient ways than those who are not. Again, our personal experience with the state and its use of such opportunistic broken men against those of us who are committed to resistance has been demonstrated here at Corcoran-SHU on a number of occasions in which agents posing as revolutionary progressives have tried to undermine the efforts of the NCTT (New Afrikan Collective Think Tank), and when those efforts failed, they locked up and debriefed.
It was only through our collective education and insight and experience with these periodic Cointelpro-style attacks on progressives which allowed us to identify and resist the attack and mitigate its political disorder. But this does not negate the damage done by the broken males to the unity and progress of resistance in the SHU population.
Though political immaturity by some elements played a role in the mistrust and disunity that resulted from it, in the broader population, it is the nature of the domestic torture program itself to create such broken males that we must understand is prohibited by the international community – and the U.S. knows this in analyzing the effects of such broken males on the psychology of certain elements in SHU. Other such examples of torture being put to such use against those who resist in Pelican Bay, here and across the U.S. is legion.
The state of California has made its escape option clear since taking the Schein-Skinnerian-Levinson system to its heights in erecting the torture units at Pelican Bay SHU. There are only three escape options available to you: parole, debrief or die. The Board of Prison Terms has repeatedly stated to validated prisoners seeking parole: “If you want a parole date, you probably want to think about debriefing.”
In the etiology of the U.S. domestic torture program, Marion Control Unit was the first. When former Marion Warden Ralph Aron was asked why the torture unit was built, he replied, “The purpose of the Marion (and all) controls unit(s) is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and society at large.” These broken males thus serve to not only damage or destroy progressives in prison but the attitudes and ideas of progressives in society at large.
It was always meant to be this way. To be sure, Dr. Broder, the psychotherapist who implemented Dr. Schein’s brainwashing program at Marion envisions those paroled broken men as “therapeutic technicians” who will take these techniques and warped views back into the community. Some 30 years later we have a snitch culture that derides objective facts in favor of a corporate media-created fantasy, and it owes some of its existence to the disastrous effects of isolation, which leads to the inevitable final “escape”: Death! Suicide rates in these sensory deprivation torture units are magnitudes higher than those in general population.
Speaking these words simply does not convey the reality of what we all know intimately: the transient appeal of the void as an alternative to endless isolation. We all know of the disastrous effects of isolation because we have seen what it does, along with the pressures that the state brings to bear on us all daily in its efforts to break us, efforts that include compelling the taking of one’s own life.
“The purpose of the Marion (and all) controls unit(s) is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and society at large.”
If this domestic torture program did not exist, Armando and so many others would still be alive today. But his is only the “escape” view of death. There is also a “resistance”-based view of death – that all of us who will never be counted amongst the broken men not only understand, but have demonstrated twice before, and may well be compelled to do again: peaceful protest in the form of hunger strikes, mass single cell, work stoppage etc.
Christian Gomez died [a year ago], not “escaping” these torture units but “resisting” these torture units, and it is this dialectical view of this final option – that death is an active and practiced form of both escape from and resistance to indefinite SHU confinement – is the final and definitive proof that it is, undebatably, torture.
During an assembly hearing on solitary confinement on August 24, 2011, a former Corcoran-SHU prisoner testified, “For someone to be willing to lie down and die just for someone to hear the situation … in the SHU program, they must be serious.” His assessment was correct. We are serious. The question is, are we as a society serious about upholding basic tenets of humanity. People are dying who could be saved while you are reading these words.
A former Corcoran-SHU prisoner testified, “For someone to be willing to lie down and die just for someone to hear the situation … in the SHU program, they must be serious.” His assessment was correct. We are serious. The question is, are we as a society serious about upholding basic tenets of humanity.
And now you know. This is a system that must be abolished. It is a system that has robbed us all of some part of our humanity and has caused us to lose our way as a nation. So many of us have stood idly by as the U.S. has strode the world stage criticizing other nations for systematic human rights abuses and demanding that others meet their obligations to the world community, while they maintain the single largest domestic torture program and the single largest prison population on earth. If the U.S. is going to continue to insist that other nations meet their international obligations under U.N. treaty resolutions, they must do the same and adhere to the U.N. Convention against Torture.
They have proven that they will not do so without compulsion. We must ensure that they do so, as a nation of the people, for the people and by the people. If we are doing anything less, we are complicit in the state’s hypocrisy.
The Pelican Bay D Short Corridor has given us the proper onus for unity in their historic “agreement to end hostilities” issued for Oct. 10, 2012. We call upon all of you brothers and sisters across the nation in prison yards and hood blocks, in SHUs and barrios: Take up this call also. Turn your attention not toward one another, but to those who have condemned us all to languish at the lowest rungs of this locked anti-poor society: the ruling 1 percent.
Many of us have stood idly by as the U.S. has strode the world stage criticizing other nations for systematic human rights abuses and demanding that others meet their obligations to the world community, while they maintain the single largest domestic torture program and the single largest prison population on earth. If the U.S. is going to continue to insist that other nations meet their international obligations under U.N. treaty resolutions, they must do the same and adhere to the U.N. Convention against Torture.
Join the movement – embrace, support, join or form your own local Occupy or anti-prison industrial complex formation. Build coalitions. And in doing so, change this world. Come, let us make peace.
Our love and solidarity,
Corcoran SHU NCTT:
- Zaharibu Dorrough, D-83611, 4B-1L-43, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212
- J. Heshima Denham, J-38283, 4B-1L-43, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212
- Kambui Robinson, C-82830, 4B-1L-49, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212
- Jabari Scott, H-30536, 4B-1L-63, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212
NCTT stands for NARN (New Afrikan Revolutionary Nation) Collective Think Tank. All are held in solitary confinement, an internationally recognized form of torture, in the SHU (Security Housing Unit) at Corcoran State Prison.