by Uhuru B. Rowe
History has shown that the individual, disunited voices of incarcerated people will always fall on the deaf ears of prison officials, which ensures that our misery and suffering behind the walls will continue unabated. So we, the incarcerated class here at Greensville Correctional Center (GRCC), have come together out of necessity to form this Human Rights Committee (HRC) as a mechanism to unite prisoners from different racial groups, religious affiliations, organizational ties and geographical locations so that we can speak with ONE VOICE in communicating and articulating our demands to Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) officials for humane living conditions, greater access to rehabilitation, an end to slave labor etc.
The communities and neighborhoods that we come from also have a stake in the remediation of our demands, as we’ll be equipped with the tools that will enable us to have a positive and transformative impact on our families, communities and, most importantly, society as a whole, which is the highest form of social restitution. So, we ask free-word activists, abolitionists and community members to assist us in communicating and securing the following demands to VDOC officials:
Abolish the arbitrary use of group punishment or legalize group petitions
It is standard practice at all prisons in Virginia to punish incarcerated citizens as a group because of the misbehavior of one or more people. For example, if there’s a fight between two people in a pod, the entire pod or housing unit is placed on lockdown and any privileges earned via the Evidence Based Practice Individual Incentive Plan are revoked for an extended period of time, even after those responsible have been placed on segregation.
This group punishment is unfair given that we are prohibited from organizing and circulating group petitions to redress our grievances and have been punished and retaliated against whenever we have attempted to do so. If we are punished as a group, then we should have the right to redress our grievances as a group.
If we are punished as a group, then we should have the right to redress our grievances as a group.
Therefore, we demand that either group punishment is abolished, or we be allowed to organize and circulate group petitions to redress our grievances.
Provide healthy and nutritious meals
According to the GRCC Offender Orientation Manual (OOM), page 27, “Offenders assigned to [GRCC] are served meals that are nutritionally adequate.” This is a blatant lie as the food served to us at GRCC is abysmal.
At almost every lunch and dinner meal, we are served a type of processed meat – known to us and staff as “meatrock” – which is mixed in either rice or noodles. It is common knowledge that a regular diet high in processed meats like “meatrock” increases the likelihood that a person will develop cancer and other ill health effects.
Additionally, we are routinely served food portions that are half the portions we are supposed to receive, which is causing us weight loss, lethargy, depression, malnourishment and fatigue. Because such a poor diet, low in calories and nutrients, which increases our chances of developing cancer, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, we demand that we be served meals that are truly healthy and nutritious. They are indispensable to the proper functioning of a healthy human being.
Provide safe and clean drinking water
Incarcerated citizens at GRCC and at other prisons in Virginia are forced to drink water that is brown, foul tasting and foul smelling as a result of it being contaminated with dirt, rust and high levels of manganese, chlorine and possibly other unknown contaminants, like lead. Each time we have complained about this water, we are told it is safe to drink.
However, because prison employees are advised not to drink this water and because of the negative side effects we’ve often experienced after consuming it, such as nausea, cramps, headaches and diarrhea, this is proof that the water is unsafe and is putting our health and lives at risk. Denying any human being – including those in U.S. jails, prisons and detention centers – access to safe and clean drinking water constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
Denying any human being – including those in U.S. jails, prisons and detention centers – access to safe and clean drinking water constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
So, we demand that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality routinely test the water and water filtration systems to determine if we are being provided water that is truly free of toxins and other pollutants. Additionally, we demand that we be provided two bottles of spring water daily, free of charge, until the above-mentioned agencies have tested the water and have determined it is safe to drink.
Abolish the capitated financing scheme which incentivizes substandard medical care
Medical services at nearly all Virginia prisons are contracted out to a private, for-profit corporation known as Armor Correctional Health Services, Inc. This contract is based on the “capitated financing” scheme which was exposed in the case of Scott v. Clarke, 2014 WL 6609087 (W.D. Virginia 2014).
Under this scheme, Armor receives a fixed amount of money per prisoner from the VDOC, regardless of the level or quality of medical care it provides to us incarcerated citizens. Armor knows that the less treatment it provides, the greater its profits.
As expected, this capitated financing scheme incentivizes substandard medical care and has resulted in delayed responses to our sick call requests, delays in the diagnosis and treatment of our illnesses, failure or delays in referring us to outside specialists, failure to carry out a specialist’s prescribed course or method of treatment, and an almost complete denial of dental care due to the absence of a permanent dentist at most prisons.
As the U.S. Supreme Court held in Brown v. Plata, 131 S.Ct. 1910, 1928 (2011), “Prisoners are dependent on the state for food, clothing, and necessary medical care. A person’s failure to provide sustenance for inmates may actually produce physical torture or a lingering death.”
In order to bring an end to our physical torture and lingering death as a result of the substandard medical care provided by Armor, we demand the capitated financing clause be stricken from Armor’s contract with the VDOC so that we can receive full medical and dental care. If Armor refuses to agree to such a restructuring of its contract, then we demand that Armor’s contract with the VDOC be immediately terminated.
Provide equal access to academic, vocational and treatment programs and work assignments regardless of the sentence being served
According to the OOM, page 3, “There will be equal access to programs and work assignments.” This is also a blatant lie, as incarcerated people serving a life sentence or the numerical equivalent of a life sentence (“Lifers”) are routinely passed over for enrollment in CTE (Career and Technical Education) and treatment programs in favor of those with shorter sentences. The end result is that most Lifers – who are the majority at most major institutions – have been on the waiting list for CTE and treatment programs for several years.
This has created an environment where many of us are left with little to no mental stimulation or constructive activity and too much time spent in idleness where our mental faculties have begun to deteriorate. In order to remedy this problem, we demand that all incarcerated people, regardless of their length of sentence or release date, have full and equal access to all available CTE and treatment programs.
Repeal the draconian mail and visitation policies
Under the new draconian mail policy, which went into effect on April 17, 2017, all incoming letters from our loved ones, including pictures and greeting cards, are photocopied. The original letters, pictures and greeting cards are (allegedly) shredded in the institutional mailroom. Additionally, this mail policy places a three-page (front and back) limit on all incoming letters from our loved ones, which includes a copy of the envelope itself.
Under the visitation policy, which went into effect on April 22, 2017, the following are now required:
- We are now required to wear a state-issued jumpsuit that zips up the back during visitation. These jumpsuits resemble those worn by patients in an old insane asylum.
- Our visitors are required to exit the visiting area and return all the way back to the front entrance in order to use the restroom. If they wish to return to the visiting area, they must submit to another dehumanizing search. Making our visitors return to the front entrance to use the restroom takes away from the already limited time we have to spend with our loved ones.
- Our visitors are now required to pass through a radiation-emitting full body scanner, which puts them, especially young children, at risk of developing cancer and which reveals the most intimate parts of their bodies.
The VDOC’s crackdown on our mail and visitation – under the guise of trying to control the flow of drugs into the prisons – are meant to discourage, if not outright sever, the already delicate social ties existing between incarcerated people and our family and friends. Because these social ties play an integral role in helping us to keep a positive attitude while in prison and helping us to successfully reintegrate back into society once released, we demand that the mail and visitation policies implemented on April 17 and 22, 2017, be rescinded.
Increase wages for all incarcerated workers
Incarcerated workers employed by the various Virginia Correctional Enterprise (VCE) sweatshops are paid an hourly wage of up to .85 cents. Non-VCE incarcerated workers are paid an hourly wage of either .27 cents, .35 cents or .45 cents for unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled work, respectively. These are all state-sanctioned slave wages, as incarcerated workers are not considered employees of the state per Virginia Code § 40.1-28.9(B)(7). This law was created specifically to disqualify incarcerated workers from receiving, at the very least, the prevailing minimum wage of the Commonwealth of Virginia
Because the current wage of incarcerated workers is tantamount to slave wage, and because a minimum wage will allow incarcerated workers to support our families and make restitution to the victim(s) of our crimes (or the families of our victims), which is the highest form of restorative justice, we demand that Virginia Code § 40.1-28.9(B)(7) be amended, classifying incarcerated workers as “employees” of the state, so that we’ll qualify for the prevailing minimum wage per the Virginia Minimum Wage Act (Virginia Code § 40.1-28.10) and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. § 206).
Create an independent grievance coordinator or ombudsman to process and investigate all prisoner grievances
The grievance procedure as it is presently constructed is inherently biased against incarcerated citizens who utilize it to lodge complaints and grievances to redress staff misconduct and inhumane prison conditions. This is so because in all cases, the grievance coordinator or institutional ombudsman has had a prior cozy working relationship with the same prison employees he or she is tasked with investigating for acts of abuse, neglect and human rights violations. This obvious conflict of interest has often resulted in our informal complaints and regular grievances being thrown into the trash and our regular grievances being rejected for bogus reasons, in order to:
- maintain a strict code of silence and secrecy among VDOC employees;
- cover up the abuse, neglect and human rights violations perpetrated by VDOC employees in order to shield them from accountability; and
- hinder us from filing or pursuing state and federal civil suits against VDOC employees, because in order to pursue such a suit, the Prison Litigation Reform Act requires that we first exhaust all available administrative grievance remedies to their highest level. We cannot exhaust these remedies if our complaints and grievances are thrown into the trash or if our grievances are rejected for bogus reasons.
Because of the high level of corruption inherent in the current grievance system, we demand that an Independent (non-VDOC employed) grievance coordinator or ombudsman be tasked with the duty of receiving and investigating any allegations of abuse, neglect, mistreatment and human rights violations alleged to have been perpetrated by any prison official or employee and report any findings of fact and conclusions of any investigations directly to the governor of Virginia.
Allow conjugal visits
The VDOC currently has a ban on conjugal visits. Such a ban contradicts its motto of “Public Safety First,” because countless studies have shown that incarcerated people who are able to maintain healthy family relationships – including marital bonds – are less likely to re-offend. So, if public safety is truly first on the VDOC list of priorities, then marital bonds between incarcerated people and our spouses would be strengthened and nurtured, not discouraged.
Countless studies have shown that incarcerated people who are able to maintain healthy family relationships – including marital bonds – are less likely to re-offend.
Instead, incarcerated people are allowed to marry, but are not allowed to consummate that marriage, and people who were already married prior to incarceration are not allowed to engage in healthy sexual relationships with our spouses (even in a safe and secure environment), which not only punishes incarcerated husbands and wives, but also our law-abiding spouses. The ban on consummation of marriages and healthy marital sexual relations puts an extra strain on marriages already made fragile by mass incarceration and often leads to the breakdown of such marriages, leaving many incarcerated people without a valuable support system upon our release. This runs counter to public safety.
Therefore, we demand that newly married incarcerated people be allowed to consummate their marriage and that conjugal visits be allowed at least on a quarterly basis at all Security Level 3 and below prisons in Virginia.
Abolish medical co-pay fees
Anyone who has ever served time or studied prisons knows that many of the illnesses incarcerated people develop and suffer from are the direct result of poor living conditions like unhealthy food and dirty, contaminated drinking water. Because the living conditions in prison often cause or exacerbate poor physical health, incarcerated people should have access to free health care.
Therefore, we demand that Virginia Code § 53.1-32, which authorizes the VDOC to levy medical co-pay fees against incarcerated people in exchange for prison health care services, be repealed to allow FREE and FULL health care for all incarcerated people.
Allow the news media to access any state prison
Incarcerated people are isolated and hidden away outside of the public eye within a vast network of prisons where there is little to no transparency. This makes incarcerated people vulnerable to abuse, neglect and other criminal and inhumane acts perpetrated by our keepers.
Therefore, we demand that the print, internet and television media be allowed unlimited, unrestricted access into any state prison and correctional facility and be allowed to interview any incarcerated person. The implementation of this policy will allow for greater transparency and allow the media to expose to the public what has always been hidden behind a wall of corruption, lies, secrecy and cover-ups by the VDOC.
Tens of thousands of incarcerated people in Virginia are released back into society every year. If the VDOC is serious about public safety, it will implement these policy changes. And if you, the people, are truly concerned about your safety and security, we ask you to join us in demanding the VDOC to implement these policy changes.
Greensville Correctional Center Human Rights Committee members and supporters
Uhuru B. Rowe #1131545
Kenneth Sheppard #1223496
Mitchell Lowe #1471532
Keith Ewing #1597767
Lewis Ruffin #1395449
Joshua Cundiff #1618754
Jason Brown #1060459
I. Lewis #1003936
D. Johnson #1688033
Troy Ehardt #1133552
James H. Jones #1444436
Keron Smith #1375261
Raymond Scott #1430724
J. Coles #1464549
J. Brown #1149223
Seneca Lambert #1195050
RayQuan Brown #1821010
Ryury Mitchell #1826546
Issre Barnes #1198114
MonQual Whiters #1755889
T. Tawk #1458620
Carlos Lyons #1072816
Jalik Powell #1863305
Richard DaSilva #1199638
Jason E. Lee #1200511
Michael A. Muniz, Jr. #1012500
Robert Priester #1597467
Michael Queen #1192451
Corenzo Cobbs #1416678
J. Hicks #1814195
Thomas Toney #1057081
Send our brother some love and light: Uhuru Baraka Rowe, 1131545, Greensville Correctional Center, 901 Corrections Way, Jarratt VA 23870.