by an Iowa Prisoner, Oct. 18, 1995 (reprinted from MIM Notes)
In the late 18th century, the Walnut Street Prison in Philadelphia, PA, became the first penitentiary in U.S. history to experiment with the use of long-term isolation. This was based on the "Quaker theory" that without social interaction, a prisoner could not be influenced by fellow inmates and that a religious conversion would occur during the years of enforced meditation and result in the individual's reformation. This theory had monstrous effects upon those incarcerated between its walls. Some fell into a condition from which it was almost impossible to arouse them. Others became violently insane, some to the extreme of committing suicide. Those who underwent these isolating conditions were generally not reformed. In most cases individuals did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any service to the community. It would seem that after such experimentation, that this type of treatment would be eliminated by prisoncrats. Instead the practice of confining prisoners to small cells for long periods of time is still in full force.
In modern times the U.S. penitentiary at Alcatraz became notorious for holding the most dangerous criminals within the U.S. penal system. In reality it became the first "control unit prison" used as a mechanism to enforce control over prisoners and society. More recently the super-max penitentiary in Marion, Illinois became the new "End of the line" for both state and federal prisoners who prisoncrats considered to be "institutional problems" or "too dangerous" to be housed in any other institution. Because of appalling conditions in October, 1983, a riot broke out and two guards were killed. This gave the prisoncrats the excuse to lock down the entire prison population. This meant that prisoners were confined to their cells for 23 and a half hours a day and all visits were suspended. Until a court order was enforced, even attorneys were denied access to the prison. Eventually the lockdown eased in some areas, but stringent and restrictive policies remained largely in effect. Months after the riot an emerging pattern of brutal repression against the 350 inmates became apparent. 60 additional guards were brought in from other parts of the federal prison system to systematically beat and brutalize scores of prisoners.
The idea of Marionization spread rapidly throughout the Amerikkkan prison system because prison officials cried that their institutions were unsafe and control over the convict in every way possible was desperately needed. The truth behind the reasons these control units are needed is they are a means of political, economic and social control of a whole class of oppressed and disenfranchised people. These include especially African, Latino and indigenous people who are a disproportionate part of control unit populations.
These torture units go beyond the usual constraints of maximum security prisons. Better defined as a prison within a prison, these control units are used to defeat prisoners' revolutionary attitudes, organization, militancy, legal and administrative challenges; and anything else the prison administrators deem objectionable. These control units have various names such as: Adjustment center, security housing unit (SHU), maximum control complex (MCC), administrative maximum (ad- max), intensive management unit, and administrative segregation (ad-seg). Every prison possesses the label control unit status if long-term punishment and/or isolation are used.
While conditions vary from prison to prison, the goal of these units is always to achieve the spiritual, psychological and physical breakdown of the prisoner. Once prisoners are confined to a control unit, gross human rights violations take place on a daily basis. With minor differences, these control units share the following features: Prisoners spend years of isolation in tiny cells, usually 6 by 8 feet for 22-23.5 hours a day. The short time that they do spend outside their cell within a cement or chain link "dog pen" that lacks any kind of equipment and proper space to for physical exercise. Participation in programs including religious services, educational/work/job training, congregate dining and exercise are strongly prohibited by the administration. Also greatly limited is access to medical and psychiatric care.
The most damaging aspect of control units is the physical and mental torture that is imposed upon their victims. First the methods of how physical torture is inflicted: Forced cell extractions by militarily attired, baton-wielding guards are constantly used without cause or warning. These guards violently beat, choke, and kick already-shackled prisoners. Sometimes these cell extractions are so abusive that prisoners require extensive medical attention. Devices such as tazer guns, pepper spray, maces and manacles are used and four-point restraints and hog-tying are routinely overused, despite the fact that such instruments have caused bodily harm and death.
Another cruel practice is "caging". This is where scantily clad or naked prisoners are held in outdoor cages for hours in cold and rainy weather. The systematic use of firehosing shackled prisoners while in their cells, with high-pressure cold water, then leaving standing water in the cell, usually accompanies a prisoner being put in "strip cell status." While frigid temperatures make it impossible to sleep or even lay down, a bright light shines upon the cell 24 hours a day.
For those who can endure the physical cruelty, the mental torture can surely affect one's sanity. One example of this is sensory deprivation. This is when the prisoncrats forbid prisoners to have books, televisions, radios and contact visits, including those with lawyers. In some control units it is impossible for prisoners to communicate amongst themselves. Verbal harassment containing derogatory or racial statements are made by the guards. Mail is misplaced, delayed, destroyed or censored. Threats are made against family and visitors. The passing of false confidential information to foster paranoia and fights between convicts is utilized to weaken any unionization between prisoners. Legal access is another area that is greatly violated. This includes the censoring of lawyer and court mail, guards monitoring attorney-client phone and visit conversations, and the hindering of access to legal books and materials.
Control Units are designed to administer the very most in sensory deprivation and dehumanization of inmates. Currently Iowa is building a control unit and this writer faces the possibility of being transferred because of my political and rebellious attitude toward the capitalist system. Essentially control units serve only one purpose, and that is to control society. All control units must be abolished, and the victims of these dungeons treated as survivors of torture.