by J.J. Heyward
Big Stone Gap, Va. – On Monday, Oct. 28, a jury began hearing testimony in a civil suit filed against four prison guards in Wise County, Virginia, for an attack on Wallens Ridge prisoner Frank Reid in July 2009. Reid filed the suit after defeating prison officials’ charges of aggravated assault in the same incident. Reid is charging the guards with violating his constitutional rights as a prisoner of the Virginia Department of Corrections (VA-DOC), including the right to due process, equal protection, and the right to be free from unlawful search and seizure.
On July 10, 2009, Reid was brutally attacked and beaten by guards at Wallens Ridge State Prison, when three officers and a sergeant yelled racist slurs as they tackled him to the ground, kicked and punched him repeatedly, then bashed his head into the concrete floor. After the attack, Reid was denied medical care and his right to the prison grievance process. He was also denied access to photos and other documentation of injuries he sustained.
On Monday, Oct. 28, a jury began hearing testimony in a civil suit filed against four prison guards in Wise County, Virginia, for an attack on Wallens Ridge prisoner Frank Reid in July 2009.
Reid has long been a target of political repression and racial discrimination and is recognized as a fierce critic of U.S. prisons. He has written extensively about abuses perpetrated by guards employed by VA-DOC and works to organize fellow prisoners for better treatment and living conditions within Wallens Ridge and Red Onion State Prisons, both located in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. He also co-authored a book titled “Defying the Tomb” with Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, another former VA-DOC prisoner who has been politically targeted and singled out for severe abuse by Virginia prison guards.
Reid beat charges of attempted aggravated assault and battery on July 21, 2009 in an official prison hearing. An official’s ruling in the case stated that “[The charging officer’s] testimony does not support this charge. Therefore my decision is to dismiss [the charge].” Despite being found not guilty by the hearing officer, Reid was stripped of his accumulated good time. If they hadn’t taken that time from him, Reid would have been released already.
Reid has long been a target of political repression and racial discrimination and is recognized as a fierce critic of U.S. prisons.
Reid then filed a grievance through prescribed channels. When asked what remedy he sought, rather than requesting individual relief, such as money, good time or transfer to a less brutal prison, he requested that “all VA-DOC employees who abuse and brutalize prisoners be terminated as a standard policy and practice of the VA-DOC.” His grievance was ignored all the way up to the director, in violation of VA-DOC policy requiring that all grievances be investigated and responded to by officials.
Reid filed civil suit in the U.S. District Court against the guards who beat him, the warden of Wallens Ridge State Prison and VA-DOC officials, who were also complicit. The warden and VA-DOC officials have since been dismissed as defendants, but the four officers are facing jury trial.
Activist and writer J.J. Heyward can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It takes more than a civil trial to stop injustice
by Frank ‘Outlaw’ Reid
A pre-trial statement concerning the abuse of prisoners by correctional staff in Southwest Virginia
Firstly, I do not feel moved to give a graphic and detailed account of the brutal beating I suffered at the hands of four sadistic correctional officers on July 10, 2009, at Wallens Ridge State Prison. Nor do I feel compelled to recount the post-beating neglect and indifference I suffered at the hands of prison medical staff, acting in complicity with their co-working relatives, spouses and friends to cover up and conceal the physical injury and trauma maliciously inflicted on me that day.
What disturbs me is that I’m still hearing stories about, and actually encountering, other prisoners who’ve been assaulted by prison staff at Wallens Ridge for years after I myself was wantonly subjected to such at the same location. So, in spite of all the tremendous efforts invested in stopping this abuse in Southwest VA prisons throughout the years – especially by outside supporters – it’s obvious that staff at WRSP and their partners in crime at Red Onion State Prison have not been effectively deterred from carrying out their repressive and racist agenda.
In light of the fact that correctional officers perpetrate their tyranny with complete legal impunity – sanctioned not only by their correctional superiors, but also by the great number of residents in this region, as evidenced in repeated “not guilty” verdicts handed down by Southwest Virginia juries in both civil and criminal actions brought by prisoners against correctional defendants. Who will ensure the safety of prisoners from abusive correctional staff?
What disturbs me is that I’m still hearing stories about, and actually encountering, other prisoners who’ve been assaulted by prison staff at Wallens Ridge for years after I myself was wantonly subjected to such at the same location.
Of course, prisoners themselves must be the first line of defense against every act of brutality and oppression imposed on them by prison staff. But prisoners in Southwest Virginia rarely aid each other in addressing staff abuse and frequently decline to put up any form of resistance to correctional tyranny when abused individually. The idea that prisoners are the best guarantors of their own collective wellbeing appears to be invalid in the Virginia prison system – despite the fact that history abounds with examples of prisoners waging successful, if not legendary, struggles against their captors on their own initiative, irrespective of and even without any external assistance.
Many prisoners entertain fanciful notions about the value of outside support, naively attributing hero-like abilities and qualities to such assistance. Yet, very, very few prisoners possess any confidence in our own group ability to unify on a sustained, long-term basis. I know that prisoners can and often do feel helpless living under the authority of seemingly all-powerful correctional officials. But how else, except through challenging that oppressive power, do prisoners expect to bring an end to much of their daily suffering and the structural mechanisms that legitimize that suffering?
Prisoners betray their own best interests when they believe that our stigmatized status as “criminals” automatically discredits our collective struggles in the larger political arena. That belief ignores the common sense reality that respect is not unconditionally given to anyone in this world, especially criminally convicted prisoners. We will have to earn, if not demand, respect for our rights through sacrifice and struggle just like the masses of other politically, socially and economically marginalized people on this planet. And that’s where our best chances for justice lie – in struggle, not in a civil lawsuit.
The idea that prisoners are the best guarantors of their own collective wellbeing appears to be invalid in the Virginia prison system – despite the fact that history abounds with examples of prisoners waging successful, if not legendary, struggles against their captors on their own initiative, irrespective of and even without any external assistance.
So don’t place one iota of hope for an end to prisoner abuse in my civil action scheduled for trial in U.S. District Court on Oct. 28-30, 2013, in Big Stone Gap, Va. Indeed it is my sincerest intention to win this suit and thereby set a favorable legal precedent for the rest of the prisoner body. Still, even if such a victory occurs, that is not the same as winning the larger struggle for universal social justice.
In closing, I want to shout out to everybody who stands up for something and don’t fall for nothing. Special soldier’s salute to my brother and comrade, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, out in Amarillo, Texas. I ride for you; I ride with you. Against all odds. To my friends, thank you for your support. I pledge my loyalty to you. To everybody else, if you gon’ bang, bang on the system, bang for freedom!
Frank “Outlaw” Reid
Send our brother some love and light: Frank Reid, 1063812, ROSP, P.O. Box 1900, Pound, VA 24279.