Prisoners Report on Conditions in

Pennsylvania Prisons

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www.prisoncensorship.info is a media institution run by the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons. Here we collect and publicize reports of conditions behind the bars in U.$. prisons. Information about these incidents rarely makes it out of the prison, and when it does it is extremely rare that the reports are taken seriously and published. This historical record is important for documenting patterns of abuse, and also for informing people on the streets about what goes on behind the bars.

We hope this information will inspire people to take action and join the fight against the criminal injustice system. While we may not be able to immediately impact this particular instance of abuse, we can work to fundamentally change the system that permits and perpetuates it. The criminal injustice system is intimately tied up with imperialism, and serves as a tool of social control on the homeland, particularly targeting oppressed nations.

[Censorship] [Pennsylvania] [ULK Issue 25]
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Fighting Censorship Through Litigation Works

Back in 2008, I was denied a lot of reading material and did not file grievances about any of the instances. During that time, I was stubbornly relying on just physical action to challenge these oppressors. That certainly was not conducive to making my situation better.

Fortunately, I've grown wiser over the years. I now litigate against these tyrants and use the grievance system regularly. Since I began utilizing the pen against them, I am yet to have any material from MIM(Prisons) rejected. Should that change in the future, I will file grievances and subsequent appeals. I will also keep MIM(Prisons) abreast of the results and be willing to take action in the court if there is strong probability of success.

This prison recently rejected some issues of a Turning the Tide newsletter. I will send you a copy of the grievance I filed, the appeals, and responses.

I know they would like to prohibit us from receiving and reading literature that teaches us correct ideology and ways to thwart their oppressive establishment. I will no longer allow them to get away with trying to control my mind by putting unreasonable limits on what I can read.


MIM(Prisons) responds: We don't want to mislead our readers to think that filing grievances will guarantee your rights are respected, as other articles in ULK will quickly disprove. But as materialists we should be struggling to learn and utilize the most effective means towards progress. And this correspondent's change from physically challenging COs to utilizing the administrative process is a very common transition for readers of Under Lock & Key in this learning process. Progress is not just about using the legal system, it's about organizing for our own needs and building independent institutions of the oppressed.

While MIM(Prisons) continues to discourage violence against COs, and we see this play out in prisoners' behavior, the prison administrators regularly censor ULK as a "threat to security." It is clear that they are not concerned about the physical safety of prisoners or staff, but rather the security of their jobs, hazard pay and white power.

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[Release] [International Connections] [Pennsylvania]
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Pennsylvania Transfers Prisoners Far from Family

Beginning in February 2010 the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections decided to transfer 2000 prisoners out of state due to overcrowding in Pennsylvania prison system. The two states Pennsylvania sent its prisoners to were Michigan and Virginia. I was one of the prisoners they sent to Virginia. We all were just snatched in the middle of the night and transferred out of state. It was almost like being kidnapped, being taken from your family and being sent to a southern prison from a northern prison. Not even having a chance to call your family to let them know about the transfer.

It was said that we would only be transferred for three years, but now all the prisoners transferred to Michigan have been transferred back to Pennsylvania because Pennsylvania now has new prisons and room for its prisoners. My problem with this is that all of the prisoners transferred to Virginia, including myself, are still in Virginia, with no plans for us to be transferred back to Pennsylvania. What about us? Don't we have family in Pennsylvania who love us? Why are we being kept in Virginia, when the other prisoners have been sent back? It's almost like Pennsylvania does not care about us. The Virginia Department of Corrections says there is no plans to move us back to Pennsylvania. And one sad thing is that there was a large number of prisoners who are serving a life sentence who were transferred here to Virginia. I mean men who have been incarcerated for 15, 20 or 30 years just transferred out of state away from their families. It's just not fair.


MIM(Prisons) adds: This is just one of many examples of actions taken by prisons demonstrating that the Amerikan criminal injustice system has nothing to do with rehabilitation. It has been shown that ties to family and community are important to the ability of prisoners to stay on the streets once released, but Pennsylvania (and many other states) are more concerned with the economics of running their prison system than the well being of the prisoners. Prisons are a tool of social control in this country, and we should not be surprised by these callous actions by prison administrators. On a bigger scale, the system of imperialism displaces millions of people all around the world. Comrades isolated by out-of-state transfers should feel unity with refugees and migrants all around the world, who share a common interest in tearing down imperialism and rebuilding their communities. There is strength in numbers, and hope in unity and organizing.

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[Control Units] [Pennsylvania]
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What is the Special Management Unit?

In early May 2009 over 125 prisoners of all nationalities came together for a food strike in United $tate$ penitentiary, Lewisburg, PA to protest their confinement and conditions in the newly opened Special Management Unit (SMU). Hundreds of letters were sent out to media outlets across the country and SMU prisoner family members were called who then contacted national news services. The administration conducted talks with two prisoners who were the alleged "ringleaders" of the food strike on ways to remedy the situation to try and stop the strike. Their story was never heard about on TV or in the newspaper, nor locally in the Pennsylvania paper The Daily Item.

Part of the food strike was to protest for more commissary items since the administration had refused to allow soap or shampoo to be sold on the store list. Their reasoning was that the one tiny bar of soap the correctional officers gave out once a week was sufficient. Also there were no food items, not even coffee being sold to prisoners, nor were they allowed radios in their cells or personal shoes, and a big part of the strike was to protest double bunking in the newly created Super-Max. The media didn't think this was a story since many prisoners gave in to finally eat after the administration threatened to force feed after people passed out from malnutrition. A couple prisoners were even fed intravenously by force after being cell extracted.

Family members of SMU prisoners have since created websites and chat rooms to discuss and expose the harsh procedures and conditions their loved ones are facing. The Lewisburg Prison Project has sent concerned citizens into the SMU to talk with prisoners and administrators, some of whom have recently been allowed to tour the facility and speak to Warden Bledsoe who claims the 2 plus year forced Super-Max program for the "worst of the worst" is working. The Lewisburg Prison Project has been pushing for single-cell status for prisoners like in the ADX, Florence CO to ease tensions created when two people live in such a confined area. Sometimes days will go by and cellies no longer talk to each other, they begin to plot and fight, even murder occurs in cells. Recently one prisoner strangled his cellie due to the tension within their cell.

Since the creation of the SMU multiple prisoners have suffered lung damage and gotten emphysema due to the ongoing construction to renovate the housing units after asbestos was found. USP Lewisburg was not ready to house hundreds of prisoners in 23 hour lockdown. They built recreation cages no bigger than the cells forcing 6 to 8 people to inhabit the area for exercise. Only recently have the exercise cage rules been changed to only allow 2 people at a time after the cages were called "Thunder Domes" with assaults happening daily. There is only one block, Z, with cells having their own showers, forcing most prisoners to only receive 3 showers a week. And sometimes the SMU will be put on lockdown, sack lunches are the meals for weeks, leaving prisoners hungry and bird bathing in their sinks to remain clean.

There are 4 phases prisoners must go through to successfully make it out of the SMU taking many months in each Phase to complete. In each phase certain assignments are given by workbooks from the psychology department to complete for advancement, and in turn the prisoner must not get into any kind of trouble or face the possibility of restarting the program. Like the new Federal CMU's (Communication Management Units), the SMUs are special prisons designed to isolate prisoners from the outside world. All aspects of a prisoner's life is monitored and up until phase 3 to go to recreation or medical the correctional officers must cuff the prisoners through the tray slot in the door and escort them to their destinations.

All communication is monitored, no contact visits are given until one has fully completed phase 4 and returned to general population at another USP. Up until then, in phase 1 and 2 visits are conducted via video monitor, and through glass for phase 3 and 4. Few phone calls are allowed, and photos can't be taken to send to loved ones until reaching phase 3. In such a confined space, even with cellies, prisoners become incoherent, their minds break down mentally, thoughts become confused, speech is difficult and you'll stutter and not be able to complete sentences, many go paranoid and irrational and plot against each other and fights break out due to panic and nerves breaking.

How do I know this? Because I was there! I lived through it, and experienced it first hand. Luckily I successfully completed the SMU after being their over 2 years and I'm currently in a Florida prison. Upon arrival here it literally took weeks to calm down from my anxiety being overcome with noises, crowds, people moving around and near me, and not being confined in such small spaces for hours and days on end. Just think of the prisoners who are released from Super-Max's to the streets!

The SMU's, CMU's, ADX, and other facilities like Pelican Bay for the "worst of the worst" are terrible places which destroy prisoners lives, relationships, family ties, as well as our minds. Slavery and torture exists in the United $tate$ within the prison industrial complex, especially in such programs as I luckily made it through. Please, let's shut them down!


MIM(Prisons) adds: Prisoners on food strike in California Security Housing Units will be lucky to receive the type of program that exists in Pennsylvania SMUs as a result of their current struggle. This just goes to show that reforms in these long-term isolation prisons are nothing but reforming torture. We echo the Pelican Bay prisoners' call for an abolition of torture. And ultimately, we must replace the current injustice system with one that serves the people and works to rehabilitate those who have truly committed crimes against the people.

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[Prison Labor] [Pennsylvania]
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Pennsylvania Keeps Prisoner Pay Low, Commissary Prices Rising

This is my second state incarceration since 1988. PA is already known as a "prison state" (29 state prisons and $600 million "found" to build 3 more soon with no end in sight). I am also all too well aware of how unorganized and for the most part uneducated the prisoners in these human warehouses are. PA's solution has always been "build more prisons."

The highest pay rate for prisoner jobs is 42 cents an hour. Those who are fortunate to get a job in one of the correctional industry shops (see bighouseproducts.com) can receive bonuses. These pay rates have been the same for more than 10 years, yet the commissary prices increase quite regularly.

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[Organizing] [Pennsylvania] [ULK Issue 17]
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Independent Leaders

After reading the article from our comrade in Pennsylvania under the title "Stand Up for Real Causes" in the Sept/Oct 2010 Under Lock & Key, I felt obligated to respond in hopes of giving some practical direction in seeking to revolutionize the prison's slave order of operation. When we examine the history of all those who organized and took action for a real cause we will learn that it was always initiated by the few, never the majority. Numbers help, but courage, loyalty, and discipline are much more important than numbers and must be without compromise the foundation in order for any unified resistance to exist, and most importantly be effective. Trust me soulja, I know first hand how frustrating and sick it can be when we see others around us willingly accept being oppressed, used up and abused. Most of them usually accept such humiliation with a big ol' Chicken George grin, in which you can almost hear "yeas sir boss!" squeezing through their teeth.

The prison's kitchen is in my opinion the easiest operation to boycott and the fastest way to bring about attention from the administration. You don't have to chase the mentally dead prisoners, they can go to work all they want but when half, or more, of the population is not going to the kitchen to eat, the administration is going to want to know why.

In 2007 I was involved in a kitchen boycott in one of Pennsylvania's state prisons and it was successful. Over half of the population didn't go to the kitchen to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner for a week straight. The administration started going around on each block talking with so-called block reps as to why and what. The boycott was initiated due to kitchen sanitation and food preparation concerns, and the prison administration made changes ASAP from our demands. However, the prisoners became comfortable and in the process things slowly but surely went back to the same poor conditions.

What made that boycott so effective was that the administration couldn't pinpoint any specific organizers because there wasn't any to pinpoint. Prisoners can't be given misconducts or lose his/her prison job, parole, outside clearance or any other privilege that they may have gained for not going to the kitchen to eat; that's our choice. There was a buzz put in the air as to why a boycott was going to happen and when it was going to happen, but trying to pinpoint where the buzz originated is like trying to pinpoint the very first piece of rice that was poured from a big sack bag into a pot of boiling hot water. You don't need to run around and give orders and instructions as to boycotting a prison operation, that type of thing will get you and others locked down under prison policy. The buzz itself will create a certain energy. And when that day comes and the cell doors open, people will not be looking for confirmation from each other. At that very moment a boycott will be born or aborted.


MIM(Prisons) responds: We appreciate this letter, because we get more letters than we can print from comrades saying "things here aren't like they are in that state or this prison." These letters come from all sorts of places in every state. Of course there will be uneven development, and some places will advance quicker than others, but leaders are by definition a small minority. Leaders will recognize the self-interest prisoners have as a group in organizing themselves, but we cannot expect a spontaneous mass consciousness to take hold. This takes time to develop through education and participation. It is the job of the leaders to recognize when local conditions are changing and to push them to develop.


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[Organizing] [State Correctional Institution Camp Hill] [Pennsylvania] [ULK Issue 16]
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Unity as a Stronghold

Greetings brothers and sisters bound by the chains of injustice. I speak today about the urgent need as prisoners to unite to stand against prisoner abuse. Too many of my fellow prisoners become caught up in gang-warring, belittling each others' character to become the block's best gang-warring machine. Rather than us fighting against prison oppression, we engage in battles amongst each other. If the majority of prisoners confined in these special housing units (SSNU, SMU, RHU, etc.) come together to stand as one against staff on prisoner abuse, we could stop the abuse and place a halt on the unconstitutional actions by prison officials.

When we fight amongst ourselves we allow the prison officials to get away with their actions of brutality and mistreatment. The DOC was meant to break the strong-willed and to demolish the fighting mainframes of prisoners. Some of us do break and some of us can withstand the difference. Rather than attempt to break each other, we should be attempting to break the chains of injustice.

When we see one of our fellow prisoners stuck in a situation where he's trapped fighting these prison officials alone, let's stand with him and fight by his side to curb what they are doing to him. There are many outside agencies that we can contact to help stop prisoner abuse. It's not hard to write a letter to these agencies exposing prison officials' abuse. The more that the names of these oppressive people becomes public, the more society becomes aware of the abuse we go through each day.

The special management units of SCI-Fayette and SCI-Camp Hill are breeding grounds for abuse, neglect and high forms of oppression. In these units it is hard to organize a solid front to stand against the abuse. However, educating each other should open each others' eyes to the need to fight against oppression. Some of us are stuck in our cells each day pondering what we can do next to get back at these prison officials. Let's use our thoughts, ideas and possibilities to make a successful attempt at forcing these prison officials to think twice about abusing and mistreating us prisoners.

Another thing I see happening in these control units is prisoners co-signing the irresponsible acts of prison officials towards their fellow prisoners. This happens because someone is upset with the next man locked in his cell so he decides to applaud the abuse they receive. Because you had an argument with your fellow prisoners doesn't make it right for you to support abuse towards them by prison officials. Gang-warring behind a steel door each day should be against the prison administration that carries out these racist, oppressive and hostile actions, not against another prisoner.

This is where unity has failed and this is the place where it could start. One group of prisoners can make a difference. They can only separate so many prisoners until they get sick and tired of moving them all the time.

MIM(Prisons) adds: We agree with this prisoner's call for unity, especially among those prisoners in lumpen organizations (LOs) fighting each other rather than the oppressive system. And we offer prisoners an avenue to join this unity through the MIM(Prisons)-led group United Struggle from Within (USW) - an anti-imperialist organization for prisoners. We are also working on a project for peace among lumpen organizations and encourage all representatives of LOs truly interested in fighting imperialism to get in touch to help us move this forward.

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[Organizing] [State Correctional Institution Huntingdon] [Pennsylvania] [ULK Issue 16]
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Stand Up for Real Causes

I agree 100% with what the soldier said about SCI-Huntingdon in the May/June issue of ULK. The population in this prison does not stand up for shit except count time. I've been trying to get these motherfuckers in here to boycott since 2005, but these dudes only worry about BET, sports, 40 cent ice cream tickets and who's sucking whose dick.

As far as boycotting the kitchen, I understand dudes don't want to lose their jobs but if the kitchen shuts down we shut the prison down! The prisoners do not realize how much power we actually have here, but one or two people can't stand alone. We, the population as a whole, would have to stand together even if it's something as simple as not going to the store for 2 weeks straight, or nobody goes to eat for one or two days. That's enough to get the administration's attention that we are not satisfied with the administration's operation. Shit, the female prisoners have more balls than the males do. Muncy and Cambridge Springs shut down as soon as something goes down that they don't agree on, but we males, what?

Yes, I'm talking to the gangsters, killers and so-called big time drug dealers across the state of Pennsylvania, because it's not only here at Huntingdon, it's the entire male population of PA. Stand up for yours! I'm not talking about a riot or cross burning or any kind of assaultive behavior. Just simply don't go to the chow line for a day or two, don't turn in that slip for the store for 2 weeks, or don't pay that $16.50 they are charging for cable every month. Better yet, stop talking to the pigs as if they are your homies or OGs. That shit makes me sick every time I see one of these pussies "hee-hawing" with the same pig that slammed them in the Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU) and fucked up their parole.

Wake up and realize where you are people. Cuz, Blood, Latin King, G.Ds, Muslims, Christians, forget colors and religions, stand up as human beings. These redneck hillbilly pigs don't even see us as humans, they see us as dollar signs. So since that is how they see us why not hit them where it hurts: their pocketbooks? Fuck that kitchen. Fuck that CI-shop job. Fuck the store and fuck the cable system! We pay $200 for a tube, then pay an additional $16.50 a month just to watch it, what kind of shit is that?

We need to stop spending our dough and make them waste theirs. They do it to us, it's their turn!

Stand up! Wake Up!

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[Organizing] [State Correctional Institution Huntingdon] [Pennsylvania] [ULK Issue 15]
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Uniting to fight denied food

On June 26 history was made in SCI Huntingdon's Restricted Housing Unit (RHU). The early Saturday morning began with a racist Correctional Officer (CO) named Powell depriving two prisoners of their breakfast trays. Things like this have been constant here at Huntingdon but this day we had enough and decided to take a stand.

We told the superior officer on deck to feed the two inmates who were denied their breakfast trays or else it was "going down," the officers did not comply, so we waited until they passed out cleaning supplies which consist of a bucket, disinfect, a toilet scrubber, and a floor brush. When the officers came to collect the supplies we gave back everything except the floor brush, which we kept as weapons. We then put our towels over our door windows. The officers began yelling threats about suiting up in riot gear and coming in our cells. Quickly prisoners began taking their towels off of their door and complying, and the number of us still standing was only seven.

Officers began to leave off of the quad ready to suit up in riot gear when we suggested that letting them arm themselves was a bad idea. We decided that this time we would be the hunters instead of the hunted. The two prisoners who did not eat were first. The first one faked a suicide attempt that made the officers have to run in his cell unarmed and when they opened his cell door he took action, getting as many of the four officers until more officers had to help restrain him. Next the other prisoner did the same and when they opened his door he took action using any means to get as many of them as he could before more officers had to help restrain him. From these first two incidents six officers were injured, but it was far from over. Next another prisoner forced the officers into his cell after they had sprayed pepper spray in it. He made sure he got some action before they restrained him. The injured officer toll was now eight.

My celly and I were next. We were the only double cell on the tier, and the officers would not come in. They left and suited up in riot gear, and then turned our water off. Next they ran into a prisoner''s cell with full riot gear, electrical shields and a stun gun. As soon as they ran in, a helmet came flying out and the injured officer toll was now nine. Next they came into our with full riot gear, and two officers were on the floor before either of us wes electrocuted, maced and restrained. Eleven points for the home team. While my cellmate and I were being stripped and checked for injury, the officers were complaining about the CO who started this mess (officer Powell) by depriving the two prisoners of their breakfast trays. Coincidentally, he was not amongst the officers involved in this action. There was still one prisoner left, but before they decided to go in his cell, they let it be known that whatever they had to do for us to stop the madness, they would do it. They submitted! The prisoners were fed and we all received our property back with the exception of our bed linen. We all received misconducts and along with a bruise or two it was a small price to pay in order to gain our respect. Unity overcame oppression. For the first time in Huntingdon RHU history we stopped talking and gave them the only thing that they respected (violence) to gain our respect. Message to all of our brothers in the struggle: it can be done!

MIM(Prisons) adds: We do not think armed struggle now is a viable option for obtaining a more just society within the imperialist countries today. Therefore our strategic orientation opposes going up against the state in physical confrontations where we are always outgunned. That said, we agree with the theoretical point that the state does not respect so-called rights, but they do respect violence. Ultimately the imperialists will not give up oppression and exploitation peacefully.

To oppose armed struggle as a strategy today does not mean that physical force can never be used as a tactic in the fight for justice. Much of the changes that are credited to the civil rights movement were ensured by the revolutionary nationalist movements of the time that threatened to use force against the state. Similarly, the trial of Johannes Mehserle, as pathetic as it was, was triggered by the use of physical force by the oppressed. It would be irresponsible for us to deny these truths, just as it would be irresponsible for us to encourage prisoners to get in fights with guards.


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[Legal] [State Correctional Institution Muncy] [Pennsylvania] [ULK Issue 15]
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Obstruction of justice at SCI Muncy

I'm facing some harsh conditions here at SCI Muncy when it comes to fighting for what I believe in and our rights. I have several lawsuits against the DOC and pigs here, and I am constantly facing obstacles that they try to put in my way. One lawsuit I have is against the grievance coordinator of Muncy, Troy Edwards. This lawsuit is why Edwards does everything in his power to prevent me from exhausting my administrative remedies, so I can't sue him because of the requirements of the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act.

One trick Edwards uses is he tells me he doesn't get my grievances, when I know he really does get them. He stole numerous grievances, my lawyer's letter, and mail my mom sent to me. He had the search team confiscate all my property and legal work and it was never given back to me.

I was approved to take declarations (which is like a statement) from several prisoners here. One of the prisoners I requested to take a declaration from told me this: Edwards called h and about 5 other prisoners and told them I wanted to take their declarations. He continued to say it was a waste of their time because my lawsuits are frivolous, I don't have a lawyer, I am representing myself, and other bullshit! That scumbag bastard tried to deter these prisoners so they would refuse to let me take their declarations, and I would not have proof of my claims, which would lead to the prison winning judgment.

I was furious when I was told this, but I was not surprised at Edwards's pathetic attempts. He does this all the time! He and the superintendent backdate their grievance appeal responses so it looks like I am too late and I can't exhaust my administrative remedies. They also backdate their requests. They have this stamp they can rig to put any date they want on anything.

In December 2009 and January 2010 I sent over 19 grievance appeals and never got one response back. I kept writing this grievance coordinator and the superintendent and got nothing but run-arounds. Even a few of my initial grievances were not processed. Troy Edwards picks and chooses which grievances he does and doesn't want to answer. The ones he doesn't want to answer, he lies and says he never got them. I have copies, though!

Prisoners do not have a right to court-appointed lawyers for their civil suits against prison administration. When it's clear a prisoner needs one, the judge can appoint one. A good case I recommend you read if you are asking for a court-appointed attorney is Tabron v. Grace, 6F.3d 147, 155-58 (3d Cir. 1993).

MIM(Prisons) adds: One of the most active campaigns being led by United Struggle from Within comrades in a few states is to demand that prisoner grievances be heard. If one were to accept the pretexts of the existence of the U.$. "justice" system one would think they would want prisoners to have avenues to address any injustices or problems they face while incarcerated. Instead, we see the same story all over the country and the hypocrisy of the injustice system is exposed. While we appeal to those in power to recognize the importance of granting everyone basic humyn rights, we must organize the oppressed to demand those rights.

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[Abuse] [State Correctional Institution Mahanoy] [Pennsylvania]
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PA transferring prisoners out of state

I'm writing from SCI Mahanoy in Frackville, PA about the department of corrections new policy of saving money off the backs of prisoners. They are getting contracts for shipping PA prisoners to Michigan and to Virginia, shipping them out by force and making them buy new products if they are not clear/see-through: radios, TVs, footlockers, you must trash or send them home. If you don't want to be transferred they use force.

Second issue is the law library isn't always open, it is supposed to open 7 days a week for people to have access to the courts.

Number three is the medical department staff don't check older prisoners for cancer, or any other medical problem in a timely fashion. Mental health doctors and medical staff won't give people that are arrested prescription medical for medical and mental health issues.

The prison staff tell you that if you try to put any paperwork of any kind it will go in your personal file and it will look bad for you when you try to get pre-release or parole.

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