Military torture in Indiana prisons

US soldiers use dogs to terrorize a prisoner at Abu Ghraib Prison in Baghdad in 2003, early in the Iraq War. This is the original caption by the Associated Press written in 2008: “This Dec. 12, 2003, file image obtained by The Associated Press, shows Sgt. Michael Smith, left, with his black dog Marco, Sgt. Santos Cardona, second right, with his tan Belgian shepherd Duco, detainee Mohammed Bollendia and Pvt. Ivan L. Frederick II, right, during an incident at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq. Years after being released by the U.S. military, former detainees held in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay Naval Base are suffering debilitating injuries and mental disorders from their interrogation and alleged torture, according to a new report by a human rights group. Frederick testified on Tuesday, May 23, 2006 that he saw Cardona’s dog bite Bollendia twice after the prisoner “attacked” former Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr. in a prison hallway. Frederick also testified Cardona had told him that he and Smith were having a contest to see how many detainees they could make urinate on themselves. Cardona, an Army dog handler, was part of a small crew of corrupt soldiers who enjoyed tormenting detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, a prosecutor at his court-martial said in an opening statement Tuesday.” – Photo: AP

by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson

The Gitmo torture lab

A lot of people may not remember the torture scandal that exposed the US military back in 2004, when, during the illegal invasion of Iraq, photos surfaced of soldiers humiliating and torturing civilians detained at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

As the story unfolded, it was revealed that the abuses at Abu Ghraid were not the isolated actions of a handful of rogue soldiers as originally portrayed by the media and military, but were instead techniques that had been systematically developed and refined by the CIA and military on detainees at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Gitmo, as it is commonly known, had actually served for years as a US torture laboratory.*

Among the US soldiers captured in those torture photos were Amerikans who worked as prison guards in their civilian lives. Which linked the culture of abuse that pervades US prisons with the sociopathic mindset of military officials trained to deliberately torture other humans.

The interplay between US military-to-prison torture is still very much alive today.

New Pendleton warden a Gitmo student

Just over a month ago, a new warden was appointed at Indiana’s Pendleton Correctional Facility (PCF), where I was imprisoned from November 2018 until Sept. 3, 2020. 

Charles Graner, a guard often seen in the Abu Ghraib torture photos, worked for years as a guard at SCI Greene, a prison in Pennsylvania, during much of the time that political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal was confined there on death row.

This warden, Dennis Reagle, is a US military veteran who was stationed at Gitmo. What’s problematic is what he’s been doing at PCF since assuming the position of warden.

Inhumane conditions in PCF solitary

Before detailing these measures, I should give some context in terms of PCF’s pre-existing inhumane conditions, especially in its solitary confinement unit, G-cellhouse (GCH), that make Reagle’s actions all the more depraved.

Pendleton is an old prison structure. GCH houses nearly 300 people in four separate wings. Each wing contains three tiers of open-front cells with bars that face onto a wall. Each tier contains between 21 and 24 cells. The tiers are closed in with a narrow walkway running their length between the cell fronts and a caged-in barrier in front of them.

To observe or communicate with a given prisoner, guards must walk down the narrow tiers and stand directly in front of the prisoner’s cell. There is no internal cooling system in PCF’s cellblocks.

By policy, guards are supposed to make security rounds every 30 minutes to ensure each prisoner is well. These rounds are almost never made in GCH. The ONLY times prisoners usually see guards is during the four or five daily counts conducted in the unit and at meal and medication delivery. Often, they don’t come around at count times but instead use unit log records to take count.

The “authorized” method for prisoners to summon guards in an emergency situation such as a medical crisis, a suicide attempt (over half GCH’s prisoners have documented mental illnesses) etc. is for prisoners to yell, “medical emergency!” until guards come. Most times the guards won’t respond for 15 minutes or more. Often they don’t respond at all.

While housed in GCH, I’d been on the phone in my cell many times with people on the outside who heard and themselves remarked on prisoners yelling “medical emergency!” for an hour or more in the background, and guards never responded.

A number of prisoners have died as a result of guards not responding to emergency calls. One such death occurred with a man housed in a cell just above me on March 20, 2019.

Victims report the experience as feeling like they’re being drowned, just like being waterboarded.

Prisoners have died like this and been left undiscovered for hours, as occurred this year.

In many cases, to summon guards, prisoners have to create a disturbance and act out by, for example, flooding their cells and the tiers, setting paper fires outside their cells, and so on. In a number of cases prisoners have physically lashed out at guards out of frustration at having their and others’ serious needs and cries for help ignored.

Gitmo torture used at PCF

Reagle’s response has been to heap abuse on top of abuse.

This form of torture is known as a stress position. Torture was literally developed and taught at Guantanamo Bay. – Photo: AP

Upon becoming warden, he established several protocols which smack of torture techniques exposed in 2004 as applied at Abu Ghraib and refined at Gitmo: sensory deprivation, unprotected exposure to extreme temperatures and water torture being key among them.

Today it is generally recognized, and even acknowledged by the United Nations, that solitary confinement is torture. As a result, many prison systems across the country have been rolling back the practice. Access to small in-cell amenities like television and commissary food items also allow some small level of insulation from the sensory deprivation of solitary.

Reagle, however, is increasing the use of intensified solitary and is removing even these small diversions. He’s banned all prisoners housed in disciplinary segregation in GCH from commissary purchases and held many who are detained from general population (GP) under these conditions although they have not been found guilty of any disciplinary infractions, and Indiana prison policy specifically forbids this.

He also allows guards to use high pressure water hoses to indiscriminately hose multiple prisoners and their cells down on tiers where small isolated paper fires have been set by a single prisoner to summon guards. 

Victims report the experience as feeling like they’re being drowned, just like being waterboarded. Also, all their personal property is destroyed, and many now keep plastic garbage bags on hand to cover themselves and store their property in for fear of these indiscriminate attacks.

Here are Charles Graner and a woman soldier, his girlfriend, smiling over a pile of Iraqi prisoners they are torturing.

Reagle has also established a protocol that any prisoner who even attempts to lash out physically at guards will be automatically placed on a “strip cell” status for up to a month. On this status, for which there is no policy authorization, the prisoner may have no property except bedding and underwear. The cell will have no electrical outlet or lighting. Essentially, he will be held in total idleness in a dark cell, which is outright illegal.

This is particularly torturing in the sweltering cells during summer and fall where the prisoner is denied his electric fan, and during winter where there is often no operating heating in GCH and the windows to the outside are left open. It requires no stretch of the imagination to recognize the literal torture of confining someone to an empty dark cell in sweltering heat or icy cold for a month.

In fact, Reagle’s staff had me placed on this very status and attempted to move me into one of the unlit cells on Aug. 25, 2020 (cell #9 on 4-D tier), when I was moved to GCH after an altercation in GP during which a guard was allegedly injured. Ironically, the disciplinary report I received admitted I was the one attacked, yet I was accused of assault. I resisted going into the cell and was after several hours placed into a regular segregation cell but was still put on strip cell with no property until after I was transferred to another prison on Sept. 3, 2020.

Where indeed are the well-funded prisoner humane societies, rescue organizations, fundraisers and television shows dedicated to exposing and stopping these abuses of people caged like animals in US prisons?

It should be noted that during the time that I was held on strip cell, numerous people on the outside complained to Indiana DOC officials that I was being denied my personal property, including some of my blood pressure meds. Many received responses that I had all my property and was making up these claims.

However, PCF officials admitted in response to a grievance I filed on Sept. 1 about my denied property and inability to prepare a defense against the disciplinary report without it that I was indeed on strip cell since Aug. 25 (PCF grievance log #117257). The response, made on Sept. 3, AFTER I’d been transferred that same day from PCF and signed by the PCF grievance specialist Christina Conyers, stated: 

“You were moved to GCH pending a DHB (Disciplinary Hearing Body) hearing for an alleged assault with a weapon. Due to the assault on staff and offender this resulted in strip cell status. You have been removed from strip cell status and will be allowed his (sic) property. A claim of violation of due process rights as it pertains to the DHB process must be addressed through a DHB appeal and is not subject to the grievance process.”

We don’t allow such cruelty to animals

What is ironic is it’s readily seen as the meanest cruelty to treat animals in the manner that human beings are being treated in US prisons. There are well-funded animal humane societies, rescue organizations, fundraisers and television shows dedicated to protecting domestic animals from confinement in unlighted idle pens, being waterhosed and exposed to extreme temperatures. 

But it’s fine for government officials to do the same to imprisoned human beings who are disproportionately people of color. 

“Control Unit Torture” (2006) – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 264847, Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, P.O. Box 1111, Carlisle IN 46391

In fact, the US military refined such abuses at its secret bases and one of its students – certainly not its only one – has obviously brought these sadistic mindsets and methods home to employ against defenseless people caged in US prisons.

Where indeed are the well-funded prisoner humane societies, rescue organizations, fundraisers and television shows dedicated to exposing and stopping these abuses of people caged like animals in US prisons?

Dare to Struggle Dare to Win!

All Power to the People!

*This history of torture and the use of Gitmo as a torture lab and methods developed there being employed at Abu Ghraib was exposed and extensively documented by Professor Alfred McCoy in his book, “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror.”

Rashid Johnson, a prisoner in Virginia who was transferred to Oregon in 2012 and subsequently to Texas, Florida and now Indiana, has been held in segregation since 1993. While in prison, he founded the New Afrikan Black Panther Party. As a writer, Rashid has been compared to George Jackson, and he is also the renowned artist who drew the image that became the icon of the California hunger strikes. See his writing and art at rashidmod.com. Send our brother some love and light: Kevin Johnson, 264847, Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, P.O. Box 1111, Carlisle IN 46391.