by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson
Known today as Florida State Prison (FSP), what was originally called Florida’s East Unit was constructed in 1961 and included another institution now known as Union Correctional Institution.
Nearly 60 years old, FSP has been poorly maintained with cellblocks unfit for habitation.
During Florida’s sweltering summer and autumn months, the cells, lacking air conditioning, become sweat boxes and infested with ants, spiders and huge cockroaches, with black mold growing on the ceilings. Rats frequent the cell blocks year ‘round and all cells suffer water leakage from faulty plumbing and rainfall.
Paint peels from cell surfaces like large open sores, exposing oily concrete and the rusted surfaces of metal bunks, doors and fixtures.
During the cold months the cells remain like refrigerators, so cold that even with multiple layers of clothing and bedding one finds it difficult to get warm.
As I exposed in a recent article,[i] this condition is caused by the large cell windows’ metal shutters having become so warped that they don’t close at all or completely, and therefore admit the cold outside air. But the cold air doesn’t just naturally drift into the cells, it is rather sucked in by powerful exhaust fans mounted on top of each cellblock that remain on 24/7.
So while the prison does have internal heating, it does not work because all warm air that is supposed to blow and circulate into the cells is sucked out through the exhaust fans, while they suck in the cold outside air through the open and drafty windows.
In many cells this icy air is pulled in with such force it creates a loud whooshing sound. The effect is like having a window fan turned on high and blowing outside winter air into an unheated room – with outside temperatures in the 30-50-degree F range.
The windows in some cellblocks are in worse repair then in others. In fact, they are worst in the disciplinary wings (B and C-wings), which seems intentional, where in these cellblocks prisoners may not retain thermal underwear, and are allowed only one set of thin state-issued clothing. They are also frequently targeted with strip cell status, on which they are left for no less than three days in the cold cells with nothing but boxer shorts.
FSP maintains one of Florida’s main solitary confinement, or Close Management, units, where prisoners remain locked inside single occupancy cells all day every day.
Many of these cellblocks have metal commodes that must be flushed by guards from outside the cells. The guards often refuse requests to flush them, and many times these cells house mentally ill prisoners who don’t request flushing.
Decades of these conditions have caused thick layers of rust, and residue of fermented body waste to build up inside these commodes and their piping, which emits a horrible stench, that cannot be cleaned. In most cases FSP officials seldom, or never, provide prisoners with supplies with which to try and clean them.
One can readily see that living conditions in FSP are outright barbaric.
When I wrote my article, “Florida Prisoners Are Laying It Down,” which was published online on Jan. 9, 2018, the FSP warden, Barry Reddish, incensed by my publishing abusive conditions in Florida’s prisons – especially in FSP – had me targeted with a bogus retaliatory disciplinary report (DR), charging me with “inciting to riot.” I exposed this abuse in a subsequent article.[ii]
On Jan. 19, a kangaroo “hearing” was staged on the DR by others of Reddish’s subordinates, who acted as prosecutors rather than impartial triers. The hearing team’s representative, a classification worker named M. Albritton, argued that I had no rights to write anything and the very fact of my article’s publicizing and criticizing prison conditions was punishable conduct in the eyes of Florida Department of Corruption (FDOC) officials. Thus expressing their shared aversion alongside Reddish to having the inhumane conditions at FSP exposed to the public.
The hearing was only a formality, as my fate was already decided from when Reddish first had the retaliatory DR written. The conviction was planned before the hearing was even conducted – I was told beforehand that I was already slated to be moved to B-wing on disciplinary confinement status.
Accordingly, as soon as I left the “hearing” to be returned to my cell, I was instructed to pack my property and was immediately moved to B-wing, in what was obviously one of the wing’s most damaged cells (cell B1220).
The cell light was busted open, the commode wouldn’t flush and was clogged with debris and fermented body waste, the sprinkler head was broken off, and of course the cell window wouldn’t close. With outside temperatures in the 30s that morning, the cell was literally freezing. It was so cold in fact that I was only able to write two brief legal letters before my hands stiffened and the ink in my pen became so thick from the cold that I couldn’t write anymore.
The letters brought attention to this torturous and retaliatory abuse, but I remained with a window that wouldn’t close from Jan. 19 until Jan. 26 when, while I was visiting with an attorney, the warden decided to have the window “fixed.”
That morning he had a captain, B. Woods, enter the cell to “observe” the outside air being sucked in through the window with such force it sounded like a waterfall. During the attorney visit, I was able to have this captain admit, in the presence of the attorney and her assistant, that the window indeed required repairing. He assured us that it had now been fixed.
It wasn’t repaired, however, but “fixed” by maintenance workers bolting its warped shutters down by power-drilling screws through them. This resulted in making the window unable to open at all anymore, although it still admitted a draft. Which is telling, since it demonstrated such severe structural damage and malfunctioning of FSP’s cell windows that they can’t be repaired to operate as designed. Obviously, screwing more windows shut is no solution, because then there’d be no air circulating into the cells at all, making them death traps during the sweltering summer and autumn months.
So, while my cell window was screwed closed, all the other cells still have malfunctioning windows and their occupants still suffer in extreme cold – and many are targeted daily with abusive strip cell status as I discussed in my prior article “Time on Ice.”[iii]
In fact, several who were housed in cells around and next to me wrote sworn statements about their own suffering in cells with damaged windows, and how strip cell status is routinely abused. These prisoners include Isaac Logan, W23317; Eduardo Vargas, L61184; Emanuel Edwards, E37896; Urshima Weaver, J21206; Vincent Murphy Jr., A129485; Ulrick Watson, V28829; Willy Brown, L80586; and Carlos Mendoza, B07979. Their statements are posted with this article.
A temporary fix
But bolting the window closed in my cell wasn’t intended to correct or resolve my predicament. It was only a reaction to deflect outside protests against and attention to the warden’s retaliatory torture. Especially since I could and ultimately would be moved at any time to another cell with yet another malfunctioning window.
Which is exactly what occurred on Feb. 7, when I was moved from B1220 to C1204. So I am now once again confined in a cell with a window in almost the exact same condition as the one in my prior cell before it was bolted closed.
It is well known that many Florida prisons are in disrepair and unfit for habitation. This has been exposed in the mainstream media and made the subject of state legislative hearings.[iv] Yet, as demonstrated, FSP remains and its prisoners continue to live in such inhumane conditions.
We need active, sustained public protest of these conditions. If they cannot be immediately repaired, the prisoners should be removed from them.
Contact Florida legislators, like Rep. David Richardson, who sits on the criminal justice subcommittee, about these conditions, and demand their correction or our removal from such housing and an end to my retaliatory treatment for publicizing such abuses.
Rep. David Richardson can be reached at either of his offices: Capital Office, 200 House Office Building, 402 South Monroe St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300, phone 850-717-5113, or District Office, 1701 Meridian Ave., Suite 402A, Miami Beach, FL 33139-1890, phone 305-35-5426.
Also, join and support Florida SPARC (Supporting Prisoners and Real Change), a new organization composed of Florida prisoners’ loved ones and supporters, oriented to building and growing a statewide public support base and network for us that will educate and inform the public of the reality of Florida’s prison conditions.
Florida SPARC aims to organize and build public awareness and protest against these inhumane conditions and abuses, and build support for us. Visit SPARC Florida on Facebook and/or write firstname.lastname@example.org.
And spread the word!
Dare to struggle, Dare to win!
All power to the people!
*This article was completed on Feb. 16, 2018. Before I could mail it out, I was, that same day, abruptly packed up and transferred away from Florida State Prison to Florida’s Santa Rosa Correctional Institution. Despite my transfer, the men still at FSP and its future victims continue to suffer the mistreatment described in this article, as the attached affidavits attest. Those conditions must be protested until eliminated.
[iii] op. cit.
[iv] Mary Ellen Klas, “‘Horrific’ Conditions at Florida Prison Languish Until Legislator Shows Up and Asks Why,” Miami Herald, Dec. 6, 2016; Julie K. Brown and Mary Ellen Klas, “Former Florida Prison Chief Says Governor Rick Scott Ignored Crisis in Corrections System,” Miami Herald, Jan. 31, 2015.