Poughkeepsie Activists Demand Youth Programs, End to Jail Expansion

by Schuyler K.

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On June 2, I joined a group of around 20 activists to rally outside of the abandoned YMCA building in the City of Poughkeepsie. It was the second rally in as many months outside of the abandoned Y. Nearly everyone at the rally spoke, primarily highlighting the disconnect between the county’s persistent effort to fund jail expansion and its intransigent refusal to spend nearly any money on community programs.

At the rally, young people noted the lack of any after-school programs or activities in their community, affirming that they had seen folks turn to crime upon being unable to find any productive things to do. One mother said that her child asked her, “What happened to the YMCA?” She was forced to say, “I don’t know.”

Yet, there is in fact a striking logic behind Dutchess County’s refusal to fund things like after-school programs and community centers (the YMCA itself was a private project, and the money evidently just dried up). Like elsewhere in the United States, whenever there’s a budget crunch, services benefiting hard-hit communities are always the first on the chopping block. However, the campaign for social programs in Poughkeepsie has been buoyed by a promise made by none other than County Executive Marc Molinaro and County Legislator Rob Rollison to fund such programs. Longtime community activist Mae Parker-Harris and I spoke during today’s County Legislature meeting to remind them of their pledge.

The imagery of the abandoned YMCA building as the backdrop to our rallies has proven very powerful, clearly underlining Poughkeepsie’s abandonment by the powers that be, both locally and nationally. The jury’s still out on whether those in the legislature will follow through and cash a check, and it’s essential that activists keep up the pressure.

But whatever the legislature approves will certainly not be nearly enough, and some residents are ready to take matters into their own hands. At yesterday’s rally, one speaker appealed to the crowd to make the renovation of the YMCA building into a community project:

“Let’s put ourselves together, people! It takes one mind, one soul, not just me—all of us! We can come out here and get some lawnmowers, get some wrenches, and put it back to where we want it, to where we want to have. We deserve this! It’s ours—take it!”

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Prisoners in Illinois Ask For Solidarity

Note: This post contains graphic description of the violence prisoners have been subjected to.

Hunger Strikers at Menard Correctional Facility write:

Between April 2nd–16th every prisoner was stripped naked.  These men were subjected to sexual assault, beatings and stress-position.  Large numbers of men were handcuffed so tightly they lost circulation, and they were handcuffed to another prisoner with their hands touching each others’ buttocks.  Their legal papers were destroyed.  Pen and papers were taken. …

We think it’s not just criminal, but a hate crime. …We ask your help. 

They are demanding that Illinois DOC’s Director Salvador Godinez be fired, along with Assistant Warden Lashbrook, Internal Affairs officers Lt. Reichert and Major Ziggler, and Internal Affairs Supervisor Ms. Hecht.

They are further demanding that the all officers involved in terrorizing and violating them in April be charged with a hate crime, and that those who are union members (with ACSME) be decertified.

Please support the Menard hunger strikers by communicating their demands to the following officials by phone:

Retaliation Against Prison Hunger Strikers in Illinois—Windows Blocked, Strikers Beaten

from Anti-State St. Louis via Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

NOTE: This post contains pretty disturbing descriptions of violence committed against the hunger strikers

prisonsareforburningThe following consists of excerpts, lightly edited by Alice Lynd, from letters by eight men in Administrative Detention at the Menard Correctional Center in Illinois, dated April 12-14, 2014.

Windows covered

On the morning of Saturday, April 12, 2014, maintenance workers drilled big metal boxes on the outside of our windows. We can no longer see out the windows and barely any sunlight comes in.

All of the windows in the High Security Unit are being covered (blocked) with a steel covering in retaliation of our hollering out to the protestors that marched outside the facility during our last hunger strike.

We were told, “How you like your view now?”

With summer approaching, not only will our air flow circulation be affected, but we . . . have steel doors. We will now be forced to live in what will amount to an extremely hot tomb. I’m thinking there has to be a whole lot of information available dealing with . . . the effects of no natural sunlight in an area of indeterminate placement.

Orange Crush

C-wing. On Saturday, April 12, 2014, Orange Crush (Special Response Team who dresses in orange) came running into the H.S.U. to shake [us] down. We were strip searched and had handcuffs put on our wrists so tight it cut off the circulation to our hands. When we complained about this we were told to shut the fuck up and keep our heads down and eyes on the ground.

We were escorted to the shower and taunted with “Hunger Strike Bitches”;

“When’s the next hunger strike–tough guys? HA, HA, HA.”

In the showers our heads were shoved into the walls and told, “Put you fucking heads on the wall!” . . . [T]hey would walk back and forth shoving our head against the wall screaming, “I said put your fucking heads against the fucking wall!”

We heard screaming coming from the downstairs showers. Other A.D. prisoners were screaming, “Quit slamming his head!” “Warden, investigate this!” etc. . . .

[Assistant] Warden Lashbrook came to the upstairs shower asking us if we had any questions. One at a time prisoners were escorted to talk to her in a hallway and all of us prisoners could hear the conversations.

One prisoner asked if there were going to be any A.D. rules implemented and she said, “We aren’t working on any rules and you’re not getting any rules.” One prisoner asked her why we are in A.D. and she said, “You know why the fuck you’re here. You all know?” After speaking with three prisoners, she said, “Fuck this. That’s it. . . .” While going back to our cells she sarcastically said, “Any mice? Find any mice?”

Once back in our cells we realized . . . our pens were missing in order to prevent us from writing grievances. Our property was slung all over and some of it was destroyed. Also they took small things out of spite. Out of a deck of cards, one prisoner was missing one card. Out of a chess set, one prisoner was missing one chess piece.

B-wing. On April 12, 2014, the special unit tack [tactical] team called Orange Crush came up to B-wing where we in A.D. is located and searched our cells. . . We was strip searched [and] cuffed up. Our heads was forcefully pushed down [and we were] not allowed to look up. We was then taken to the showers and lined up against the shower walls. . . . The showers wall are not clean, which we request during the hunger strike on our grievance, which they have went back to how things was before the hunger strike. But when I refuse, the tack team push me against the shower wall with my face against the dirty wall and held me there. . . . Then they started to put us in rows of 3’s starting from the back shower wall.

During the whole time we were being extracted from our cells, [Assistant] Warden Lashbrook, Internal Affairs Lt. Reichert, Major Ziggler, Internal Affairs Supervisor Ms. Hecht including others was present.

While in the shower, we was ask if we wanted to talk to Warden Lashbrook which we all said yes. We was then escorted one by one by tack team to talk to Warden Lashbrook, which was right outside the showers. When I approached Warden Lashbrook, the tack team push my head down so that I couldn’t see who I was talking to which I stated, How the fuck am I suppose to know who I’m talking to if I can’t see them. Which then I was allowed to look up. . . . I ask Warden Lashbrook, why was I back on Administrative Detention. She responded by saying, “You don’t know why you are on A.D.?” I said, “No!” “So you don’t have no idea?” I said, “No. Nobody informed in no such way, neither in writing or verbal . . . .” She then stated that, “Well I don’t have to tell you anything for the safety and security of the institution.”

I then ask her, “Why haven’t we gotten any A.D. Orientation Manuals, or hearing to challenge our placement on A.D. or get a copy of our 90-day reviews, at least be present. Because right now, we don’t have ANY due process or any way to challenge A.D. . . . If I was to get a disciplinary report, I get a hearing to defend myself against Seg placement. We don’t have any way to challenge A.D. I filed a grievance, and I was told that A.D. is an Administrative Decision and it’s not grievable. And I exhausted my remedies all the way to the A.R.B. and was denied. Stateville & Pontiac gives A.D. inmates orientation manuals that explain the program.” She then stated, “We are not going to give none of you guys no orientation manuals or hearings, no matter what anybody says. If you don’t know why you are here, then that’s your problem.” Then the tack team took me back to the shower.

Then others went to go talk to her. When Tillman, #R40962, went to talk to Warden Lashbrook, there was a argument with Tillman & Warden Lashbrook over the illegal conditions of confinement. . . . I guess the tack team didn’t like how the conversation was going and I heard them say, “Come, bring your ass, you’re done.” So I turned around and saw the tack team pushing Tillman head down and bringing his arms up to the back of his head, which Tillman was cuffed behind his back. Tillman was yelling, saying, “My fucking head is down. You hurting me. Stop doing that shit.” The tack team was yelling, “Put your fucking head down.”

The tack team forcefully push Tillman against the dirty shower wall and when Tillman moved his face off the shower wall, the tack team rammed his head against the wall hard enough to make a empty coconut sound. All of us in the shower starting yelling to Warden Lashbrook, saying, “You see this, your tack team rammed Tillman head against the wall for no reason. Look, look, look, they doing it again!”

The tack team took Tillman down to his knees and had their stick in the back of Tillman head so it can push his head against the wall. We was all yelling to Warden Lashbrook to have her stop assaulting Tillman. She responded by not saying nothing and walking away. . . .

The tack team then took Tillman to the front of the shower where I can hear Tillman saying that his head hurt and that he needs to see Medical attention. Somebody told Tillman, “You ain’t getting no medical attention, and if you don’t like it, go on a hunger strike and cry about it like you guys like to do, and file a grievance.” . . .

After about two hours or so, we was taken back to our cells. When me and my cellmate was brought back to our cell, it was destroyed. Me and my cellmate property & legal work was all mix up and some was torn up and some was in the toilet. . . . Me and my cellmate was missing legal work. …Envelopes are missing. . . . They took most of our pens, and right now, there is 10 of us on B-wing and we have to share 2 pens between all of us. And some of us paper was taken. . . . It’s clear that the IDOC [is] still angry about the hunger strike.

After the hunger strike, everything went back to how it was prior to the hunger strike. They don’t clean or mop the showers or wing, no disinfect to clean the cells, no orientation manuals or hearing. Basically, nothing! The struggle still continues and it looks like it gonna get harder.

I was physically assaulted by tactical unit member(s). During the shakedown they were trying to use intimidation methods, screaming and yelling etc. This one C/O kept telling me to put my head down, to which I kept telling him, “If I put my head down any lower my glasses are going to fall off.” One C/O actually pushed my glasses back onto my face as they had almost fallen. . . . At this time I was placed a few feet away from other inmates. This C/O punched me in my ribs and he then took my glasses saying, “You can’t have these anyway. These are wire-frame.”… I reported being punched and the warden only said, “I thought you wanted to ask about A.D.”

I asked about my placement in A.D., receiving something in writing on why I am in A.D. . . . and allow me to challenge such placement, a statement given to inmates in the form of a rule book that lets us know the rules, regulations and standards of A.D. and how we can not only challenge placement but know what we must do to get released. She took a firm stance and said, “There will be NO rule book. You will not receive anything in writing. We make the rules and we don’t have to tell you why you are in A.D. Also, that we know why we’re here.” . . .I also asked what about the effects of long term isolation especially for mentally ill inmates in A.D. and disciplinary segregation. She stated, “Stop catching tickets!” I responded, “What would you have a mentally ill person do?” She stated, “Follow our rules and do their time.” Which is clear to me where the administration stands on our issues!

After we talked, this C/O led me back into the shower area where all the other inmates were being held. Upon pushing me into the shower he was lifting my arms into the air behind me by my cuffs. I told him he didn’t have to do all that and as he was lining me up against the wall he started repeatedly banging my head on the wall saying, “Put your head down.” . . .

At this point he began putting all of his weight down in between my hands onto the handcuffs, saying “get on your knees.” I wouldn’t. He then started saying, “Slip the cuffs. I want you to” etc. . . He then led me towards the front of the shower. . . . He began banging my head on the wall. Everyone started yelling to the warden, intel and other officers saying, “Ya’ll see this? He’s banging his head on the wall.” I don’t know if it was the same C/O but my feet were kicked from up under me. I didn’t fall because C/O was still holding and pulling the handcuffs. My shower shoe went sailing across the shower floor. At this time I was placed on my knees between an old out of compliance toilet and the shower bars. I stayed there until shakedowns were complete. I asked for medical attention at least 3 times. I was ignored and laughed at one of those 3 times. I asked the C/O working our wing (unit) that day.

… He stated he was about to go home, his shift was over. Grievance Filed!! I missed med-tech when she did her rounds. I was asleep. I felt groggy & my head was hurting & I was dizzy & disoriented when I first tried to get up. . . . My eyes were hurting, my back & neck. I threw up almost immediately (I had had no food by this point). . . . My nose was bleeding. I filed emergency grievance for immediate medical attention along with turning in sick-call request. I explained my symptoms to the C/O. He stated it’s maybe a concussion. I don’t know. I know my head is still hurting and sometimes swimming, especially when I stand up. My eyes also. My wrist from the cuffs, my back and neck also.

I do fear for my safety, security and well being. This unlawful, unwarranted and excessive use of force was completely unnecessary. The fact that it was done in front of the warden and intel proves that they have NO moral standings, no standards and that all of our safety and security could be in jeopardy at any given time.

We must also realize that I am the third victim of an assault back here in administrative detention since the hunger strike! . . . The fact that. . . warden told them to take the pens and that every time they try to fix something we find something else to complaint about, and we always writing grievances. These are no longer empty threats. They are assaulting inmates and stealing from us. . . . This is a dangerous time.

. . .WE need help! . . . Grievances will not work. It’s beyond that. I had my head banged on the wall, punched and kicked!! . . . Mental health professionals are telling me I have to find a way to just deal with it! I can’t anymore! What am I supposed to do? I’m begging for an answer because I honestly do not know anymore!!

Double bunking

Another very dangerous policy [is[ being enforced here in the High Security Unit. They have begun forcing individuals to accept double bunking. . . . Even more dangerous is that the facility is reviewing each individual’s past or present affiliations to intentionally place individuals with opposite past or present affiliations. . . . The facility is intentionally placing known enemies in cells together. They are doing this with the threat of disciplinary action and forcibly moving individuals into cells they do not want to go in. An already stressful, volatile, dangerous situation is being intentionally increased by the forcing of double bunking. . . . Should something happen in one of these cells because of the administration’s forcibly placing individuals together, I’m sure they would sell it as completely and totally the fault of those in the cell. . . . It’s clear they’d prefer our focus to be on each other, and not them. But this is clearly a recipe for disaster.

Concluding remarks

There has now been a total of three inmates assaulted since the date of January 15, 2014. Armando Velasquez was assaulted Jan. 15, 2014, moved to the hospital unit and hasn’t been seen since. Rodolfo Rosas was assaulted in the early part of March 2014 and remains in A.D. Joseph Tillman was assaulted 4-12-14 during shakedown. All assaults were made by correctional officers of Menard.

We are not safe and there is no oversight as even the warden has turned a blind eye to an assault.

The roads ahead will be long and hard but through the process we shall endure, not because we want to but because we don’t have any other choice! We stand to fight the powers that be armed with intelligence, dedication, determination, discipline, patience, persistence as means to persevere. . . .

[From a letter to the Warden:] Warden Butler . . . You censor our mail unnecessarily so that we can not hear. You instruct your S.O.R.T. to take our ink-pens so that we can not speak. You shutter our windows so that we can not see, and I’m sure this is your ideal convict, one who can not hear, speak or see. . . . You can shutter our windows, but you can NOT shutter our minds!

NY State Allows Solitary Confinement Reforms

The state of New York has agreed to limit its use of solitary confinement in prisons. Under an agreement with the New York Civil Liberties Union, the state’s prison system will become the largest in the country to ban solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for those under 18. The deal also curbs the use of solitary confinement for pregnant and developmentally disabled prisoners. NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said, “New York State has done the right thing by committing to comprehensive reform of the way it uses extreme isolation, a harmful and inhumane practice that has for years been used as a punishment of first resort in New York’s prisons.”
-Democracy Now!, January 20, 2014

While it is a victory for human rights that New York has agreed to some reforms of its solitary confinement program, the United Nations considers solitary confinement above 15 days for ALL inmates to be a form of torture. Anarchists, prison abolitionists, and activists of all stripes are going to have to keep pushing until we force the state to ban the draconian practice altogether.

Out of the Cage: Lynne Stewart is Free!

Since the spring, activists across the country and around the world have been engaged in a campaign to free “the people’s lawyer,” Lynne Stewart Rallies were held, phone calls were made, and petitions were signed. However, after a series of failed legal efforts, the prospects for Stewart’s release looked slim. And that’s why it is so moving to see her jubilantly greet her family and friends upon returning home to New York City on New Year’s Day. In a complete surprise coming only 4 hours after Stewart submitted a personal appeal, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons approved her release.  We’ve won!

Click here to watch Democracy Now!’s interview with Lynne Stewart and her supporters upon her arrival on Wednesday.

If you’d like to send Lynne a welcome home message, e-mail her husband at ralph.poynter@yahoo.com

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Below is an article from Common Dreams with more information about Stewart’s life and career:

A federal judge ordered the “compassionate release” of former defense lawyer Lynne Stewart on Tuesday on the grounds that she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer with a life expectancy of less than 18 months.

Stewart, 74, who is known for representing underserved and unpopular defendants, has served four years out of a ten-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center Carswell (FMC Carswell) in Fort Worth, Texas, in connection with her defense of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. Stewart allegedly helped pass messages between Abdel-Rahman, an Egyptian cleric convicted of planning terror attacks, and an organization designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States Secretary of State.

Presiding Judge John Koeltl wrote that Stewart’s “terminal medical condition and very limited life expectancy constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons that warrant the requested reduction [of her sentence.]… It is further ordered that the defendant shall be released from the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons as soon as her medical condition permits, the release plan is implemented and travel arrangements can be made.”

Stewart left prison on Tuesday and headed for New York City to live with her family.

Jill Shellow, Stewart’s attorney, told CNN her client’s supporters were “overjoyed that she will spend her remaining days with her family.”

“From arrest to sentencing, Lynne Stewart’s case was used by the Department of Justice to send a chilling message to attorneys: think twice about who you represent!” said Heidi Boghosian, Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild, of which Stewart was a member. “Today’s small measure of justice does little to repair the damage wrought by the government’s unjust prosecution of an advocate whose service to society has been widely documented.”

Robert J. Boyle, one of Lynne Stewart’s attorneys added, “We are gratified and thankful that the government has agreed to Lynne’s compassionate release request. She has dedicated her life to fighting for justice for the underserved and unpopular. Lynne can now return home to her family and to the community that loves her.”

Jersey City Man Shot In the Face And Blinded By Cop Faces 30 Years In Prison

Dispatches from the Underclass

Kwadir Felton, 22, was shot in the face by Jersey City Police Sgt. Thomas McVicar on January 10, 2010, and went blind as a result. Yet it is Felton who faces up to 30 years in prison for aggravated assault of a police officer.

McVicar says he was forced to open fire because Felton, intending to rob him, pointed a gun at him, which was allegedly found lying next to Felton after he’d been shot.

But Felton, who was 18 at the time, adamantly denies that he was armed. He testified that he had just left a baby shower and was on his way to his girlfriend’s house when he heard someone call his name and say, “Yo, you little black mother fucker, you better get the fuck down before I blow your fucking brains out.”

“There’s no reason to have a weapon on me,” Felton told the courtroom. “That’s not me…

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