US Has Been Torturing Our Own Citizens, Including Children, For Decades |

US Has Been Torturing Our Own Citizens, Including Children, For Decades

The subject of torture has been a sore spot for me, and because of personal embarrassment, I have written little on the subject except for an article written in 2005 that has remained buried in the archives. The time for avoiding this subject has come to its end, and to start-off the commentary, I am raising from the dead an article that was written before I became fairly well known – and I’ve kept it buried on purpose. One out of nine adults in the United States has been incarcerated or on parole or probation, and 35 years ago, I was not the person I am today, and like millions of other Americans, I have attempted to forget what happened over thirty (30) years ago. My decision to “come clean” is based on the government’s propensity to violate the Geneva Convention and the social value it can provide for those that have little or no knowledge of the Criminal (in)Justice System that is claiming innocent lives on American Soil.

My experiences with the CJS began when I was 14 or 15 years old. I grew-up in a sleepy little town, Kingman, Arizona, and because my Grandmother was ill as well as my step-father, we moved into Hanford, California, located in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. Moving from a town that didn’t have gangs and violence in the schools was a shock, and I found myself in an environment I didn’t understand – and after being mugged and beaten-up numerous times, I started hanging around with someone who had several serious encounters with the law – and from that point forward, I made all of the wrong decisions. I was small for my age, hadn’t reached puberty yet, and was exasperated by my inability to adjust to gangs and violence that I had never been accustomed to; prior to leaving Kingman, I had never been in a fight, and suddenly, my world turned upside down. The mistakes were mine, however, many teens make mistakes – and mine altered the rest of my life. The article I wrote in 2005 begins below:

Does The United States Condone Torture?

I was reading CNN this morning, and I came across one of Condoleezza Rice’s statements that literally made my blood boil:

Rice repeated on Thursday that no U.S. personnel are allowed to commit abuses, whether on U.S. soil or overseas.
“The United States doesn’t engage in torture, doesn’t condone it, doesn’t expect its employees to engage in it,” she said. Link

Why did it make me angry? As usual, when Rice is speaking for the administration, it is the “party line”, and truth – which Condi is better at than most in the White House, is how you interpret the statement and then you have to factor in variables that most people don’t even know exist. As an example, I’m going to print the draft of Chapter Two in a biography which I attempted to publish 20 years ago, but found out that publishers (at that time) refused to accept manuscripts from people that were unknown or represented by an agent. It’s condensed and lacks many facts that should and will be included in the final copy, but are relevant to Condi’s statement -which I will get into further on in this article. If we torture American prisoners on our own soil – why should anyone believe that we won’t do the same to our enemies?

Read on, and form your own opinion:

California Youth Authority

The Good Life

I remember the bus pulling into Fred C. Nelles School for Boys and how beautiful the entire facility appeared. The lawns were vividly green, each cottage was well manicured and it had the look of a very high-priced vacation spot. All the individual units had basketball courts and I could see children playing everywhere. Some appeared to be 16 or 17 years old while others seemed to be small like me. I don’t remember my exact age, but however old I was, at that time I was extremely small for my age. I believe that I was 14 years old and hadn’t even reached puberty. The racial mix was mostly White and Mexican, although there were some Blacks and even an Oriental or two; This was to be home for at least the next eight months.

After processing in a special induction Unit, I was placed in Adams Cottage, based on my age and grade level. This was supposed to be the unit that would be ideal for my “rehabilitation”. When I was brought to the Unit carrying my bundle of new clothes everyone stopped to look at me and I was very self-conscious and terrified when I saw the gang tattoos and other signs that this was another world I had never experienced. At that point I’m not sure what I was afraid of, albeit my fears proved to well founded.

My Dad had already visited me while I was in the processing Unit and I had a candy bar in my bag. After getting my bunk assignment, a black kid named Holloway was watching me put away my things. He saw that I had a candy bar and stated that he wanted it. I said no, remembering immediately that I did not know how to fight. Holloway punched me in the face so fast and so many times that I was a bloody mess by the time that Mr. Cantino arrived on the scene. Without any explanation at all, he unceremoniously kicked the Holloway kid and me in the shins several times as hard as he could.

The Holloway kid just stuck his tongue out at the Counselor, but no, not me. I had about all that I could take. Some brat had just beat me up, my candy bar was gone, my face was a bloody mess,
my shins hurt like hell and I didn’t understand why I was punished for not giving in to a bully.

I didn’t know how to fight but considered this an excellent time to learn. But, not being the brightest kid on the block, I went after the Counselor, mainly because he had injured my feelings the most for not standing up for me. I went at him with arms and legs flailing, screaming at the top of my lungs, intent on making him experience the same pain I was feeling. That was my first mistake…

It seems that Mr. Cantino was used to this type of behavior and very quickly turned me around, placed a choke hold on me, and promptly choked me into unconsciousness. I awoke on the concrete floor shaking with my hands handcuffed behind my back and several of the kids on the unit laughing at me. My Nickname from that day forward at Nelles was “Outer Limits.”

Nelles wasn’t too bad at first. It was weird not to be able to talk going from place to place, and also having to march everywhere we went, but such was the way of the California Youth Authority. The food was pretty good, school was school, boring, but worse than at home, because it seemed that everyone was already classified as illiterate and incorrigible – in other words, school for me was terribly boring, I was sharp anyway and I loved to learn, only these idiots wanted to teach me what I had already been taught. Guess how that went over! It was agony to sit through what I had already learned, especially when the rest of the class seemed completely out-of-touch with the teachers and simply refused to participate other than sitting through the class.

Then you have to look at the Counselors. Mr. Cantino, even though he was the one that had choked-me-out, was probably the best of all I had met. He was kind most of the time; however had his ways that were sometimes very cruel. I like to think they were bred into him by the environment just as I was being changed. For all the good I saw in Mr. Cantino, there is Mr. Albright to consider; at that young age he was the cruelest human being I had ever come across, and even today, is burned into my memory as one of the most sadistic people I have ever met in my entire life. He was a brute of a man, an ex-marine, and it was rumored that he had once challenged the entire unit, which was 50 kids, and when they took him up on it, he beat the shit out of the whole bunch!

My first encounter with him was a Candy Call one evening. (Candy Call was after visiting hours and the staff would allow you to have some of what your visitors had brought you to use on a very limited basis.) I had chosen a bag of caramel candy my Dad had brought for me, but Mr. Albright said “No, only one Candy Bar.” Well, me being new, stupid, and stubborn, told Mr. Albright that if that was the case I would take nothing. I was walking back to my seat, and before I could get there, a family size bar of Zest Soap my Dad also brought for me collided with the back of my head at an enormous velocity. Mr. Albright had thrown it at me and almost knocked me into unconsciousness. Everybody laughed, but not the usual laugh; it was a laugh of uneasiness.

It seemed Mr. Albright was in a bad mood, and fear reigned upon the inmates. A couple more kids went through Candy Call until someone else had a problem, and then I began to learn of the true extent of My Albright’s cruelty. I don’t remember the Kid’s name, or what he had done, but Albright claimed that he had earned the “chests” punishment for the night. This was a ritual for Mr. Albright, one that appeared to give him a great amount of pleasure. Some poor child would do something wrong and Albright would proclaim the “chests” punishment, which meant that person had to take off his shirt and stand in front of the room. At that point, the entire group had to stand in line and hit the wretched person in the chest with his fist as hard as he could. If Albright felt that you had not hit him hard enough, then you had to take that person’s place. Needless to say, we all pounded the kid with all we had, and there never was a child from any part of my memory that was not bruised and crying by the time the ordeal was over. It was on this night I first knew that I had to escape from this insanity. I knew that I had broken the law, but common sense told me that this was in itself against the law. Humans, especially children, could not be treated this way!

The next day we were outside playing basketball. School was over, it was about 3:00 PM, and Mr. Albright was on duty again. Well, I would show him a thing or two! The fence was about a half to a quarter of a mile from where our unit was. I was small, but very fast. From where I stood the fence looked like it was about ten feet high – nothing for me to climb and get over.

So, being very careful not to draw suspicion to myself, I edged away from the group and gave myself the greatest head start possible, and then ran like the devil himself was behind me. Finally I was doing something to fight back and I was laughing as I was running, that is, until I heard the screams of “RATPACK” and dared to look behind me. The Adam’s Unit (50 kids) was running behind me, almost everyone in the Unit, and Albright was at their lead screaming “RATPACK” at the top of his lungs. I didn’t know what it meant but the fear in my heart was like a hard, cold knife. Somehow I knew I was going to die.

The fence was further than I thought and I ran even faster with the fear injecting huge amounts of adrenalin into my system. I was gaining on them all and I began to realize that I was going to win; I would reach the fence at least 90 seconds to 2 minutes before the group could reach me. But, the closer I got to the fence, the greater the horror I began to feel.

The fence was at least 20 feet high, but that was not the problem. The last four or five feet of the fence, close to the top, was a different type of wire. It was so small that I couldn’t get my fingers into the small grate; I was clinging to the fence near the top when the group reached me and all I could see was Mr. Albright’s grinning face. The rest of the group was screaming and seemed to be in a crazed state of mind.

I was pulled from the fence by the first of the group to climb that high, and when I hit the ground the beating began. All of the other children were still screaming “RATPACK” and were kicking, beating, pulling my hair, and inflicting whatever damage to me that they could. It resembled a feeding frenzy that you see on T.V. that sharks go through when the kill begins. I simply lied on the ground and attempted to cover my face and head with my arms; the beating seemed like an eternity and I was sure they were going to kill me.

Unbelievably, the beating stopped and I realized that I was being pulled up from the ground by a couple of counselors that I had not seen before. They had come in a white van and I learned later that they were from the “Adjustment Unit”, which translated is a Unit that inmates were placed in for punishment anytime that you commit an offense that warrants extreme measures for extreme behavior.

The Adjustment Cottage

I have heard that prisoners sometimes look upon their captors with relief after a particularly frightening battle. Those were my feelings, these men driving the van, even though I was again in hand-cuffs, were somehow my friends and I warmed to them, relieved and happy to be away from Adams Unit. When I was brought into A.C., I was informed that I would attend a hearing in a few days in regard my escape attempt. Until that time, I would be placed in a room where I was to eat my meals and essentially, stay in solitary confinement until the hearing. No talking was allowed and I was advised that if I broke the rules, punishment would be swift… I was beginning to experience that eerie cold feeling again and now I knew I was in a different kind of trouble – the relief I felt was only a fleeting respite of things to come!

Oh well, there was a bed, blanket and pillow, and a speaker in the wall that was broadcasting a local radio station. Not too bad, especially considering what I had been through. Two days later this was becoming extremely boring and I knocked on the door and asked if I could have some books to read. The answer was a quick “No” and I was told to shut-up. Here went big-mouth Bill again; I was mad, had been beat-up by the whole unit two days ago and I rationalized that I was the victim rather than the perpetrator, and the anger began building again. I couldn’t understand why I was being kept in solitary with nothing to read and nothing to do.

I beat on the door again, reiterated my demands and told them what they could do with their rules. The “Outer Limits” was showing its ugly face again. Since the A.C. Unit served the entire complex all of the employees tended to be on the large side and seemed to have the disposition of a wounded Grizzly Bear. They promptly entered my room, took all of the bedding and I was left with a bed comprised of metal slats and nothing else. I was also warned that if I didn’t shut-up, things would get worse. As a young teenager, my pride was wounded again, and I was tired of getting the short-end of the stick. Even the radio went off.

Anyway, I was really mad now and started banging on the door again, figuring there was nothing else they could do to me. I began a verbal assault on the staff that to this day was memorable; all of the frustration, hurt and anxiety was pouring out of me. They were pissed too and but I didn’t realize that I had crossed another line. My door opened and I positioned myself in the back of the cell, expecting an ass whipping or even worse, but when I saw what they had, I began laughing. One of the counselors was holding a straight-jacket, backed-up by two more burly guys. I was told we could do it the easy way or the hard way and I chose to be placed in the jacket, all the time thinking how silly it was. As soon as they left the room, I began fidgeting in the jacket, attempting to pull-off a Houdini, when lo and behold, I got out of the damn thing. I was small for my age, determined, and angry as hell. Naturally, as soon as I got it off, I began pounding on the door again. I thought I was pretty hot shit at the moment…

This time when they came through the door, one of the others was carrying leather ankle restraints, and a third had two bed sheets draped across his shoulders. Kincaid was the Unit’s Supervisor and again told me to cooperate or they would forcefully place me in restraints. I laughed and told them to take their best shot. After all, how in the world could ankle-restraints make things worse? It seemed that I just never learned! Kincaid put the jacket on me, and much to my surprise and displeasure, dropped me on my back on the metal bed frame. The other counselor twisted the sheet into a rope-like configuration and then threaded it between my arms and over the chest – binding me tightly to the head of the bed. The third one, who I will never forget because of his enormous size, placed leather restraints on each ankle which were joined together by a small chain. The other counselor was busily shaping the last sheet into another long cord, and that one was wound through the chain on the ankle-restraints. After that was completed, the enormous guy began pulling tightly on the sheet that was attached to my ankles, and I was actually suspended in mid-air as they drew the sheet as tight as they could get it. After it was knotted securely all of them laughed as they left the room.

At that particular time, it didn’t hurt that much, but was fast becoming very uncomfortable, so I began cussing the counselors again. This time they showed-up at the door, grinning from ear to ear. I was told to cuss all I wanted to; it seemed that there was something I didn’t understand. After a while, and I don’t mean hours either, we’re talking a matter of minutes, the discomfort turned to a dull ache which transformed itself into a pain only God could comprehend – if there was a God which I am sure I defined in no less than a thousand words. I was in pain that was absolutely driving me crazy, plus I had to put up with the counselors occasionally dropping by to grin through the window; it seemed to me they were they were enjoying the immeasurable pain I was experiencing.

It wasn’t long before I began to lose consciousness, drifting back and forth from the excruciating pain into reality until I wasn’t sure which was real. I hated, deep in my heart, and wanted nothing more than to murder those that had done this to me. I fantasized of murdering their entire families – right before their eyes, and I said so, I yelled it, and I chanted it until I knew I was beginning to become completely delirious. I couldn’t take the pain, and I didn’t know how long the agony was to go on, so I figured that if somehow I could make myself bleed, they would have to do something. Whatever that “something” was, it had to be better than what I was experiencing at the time. I began biting the inside of my mouth and spitting the blood on the chest area of the straight-jacket.

It worked, they came back into the room, removed the restraints, and I huddled myself in the corner of the room, quiet, looking at them with hate and loathing only I could understand, wishing somehow that mere looks could kill them all. I desperately wanted each and every one of them dead!

I was released from the A.C. Unit approximately ten days later and returned to the Unit I had attempted to escape from; it made sense to them, but to me it was just another part of the torture that had now become my life. Suicide was becoming an option.

Back to the Adams Family

I was back in the unit now. Nothing was different, that is, unless you count the change in my attitude; I was fast learning how to hate, my thought process was changing, and at an extremely rapid pace. If I did something against the rules I learned to be very sly about it; I didn’t want Mr. Albright to get his revenge on me, and I damn sure didn’t want to go back to A.C. I knew I was going to escape, but this time I was going to plan it and when I tried again I would accept nothing less than success.

The “Outer Limits” name stuck, and I really never learned, at that time, to fight with the cunning or viciousness that the other kids possessed. They were from different backgrounds and fighting was a way of life to them, while to me it was a learned behavior, one that I was wishing I could acquire a lot faster! I didn’t seem to have the ingrained hatred and viciousness that most of the other kids seemed to have; I was having a hard time understanding how those so young could hate so fiercely, yet the more I was exposed to the treatment of the inmates and employees of the California Youth Authority, I found I was learning at a frightening pace. As time progressed fewer and fewer pleasant thoughts permeated my daydreaming, while more and more vicious and hateful ideas and fantasies filled my head. I was changing and changing faster as each day progressed. Thank God. I had to find the strength to survive this nightmare, and hate was the cure.

Through the months, I learned to survive at Nelles; it wasn’t a matter of being good; it was a matter of not getting caught. In order to survive, an individual often had to participate in breaking rules, etc., as the normal course of business. The worst possible thing to happen to an inmate in these settings is to be known as a “do-gooder” or “ass-kisser”, therefore it was important to maintain the status quo and be as much a part of the group mentality as possible.

Besides, there was much to learn. I was naive’ a complete idiot as far as drugs were concerned, glue sniffing was something you heard about on the news, and Marijuana was that horrible drug that was only whispered about in circles of “hip” people that I had never come in contact with. For some reason, those “in the know” found it imperative to educate those of us whom had not been properly educated on the streets. My life of crime lasted at best a month prior to being admitted to the CYA, while many of the other kids had been in trouble their entire lives. They had much to teach us of lesser experience; the Judge sent me to the California Youth Authority for rehabilitation, and I often wondered if he even knew what the word meant, how it was to be accomplished, or if he even cared.

In eight months I appeared before the Parole Board for the CYA. If I remember correctly, I had tried to escape once, had been in quite a few altercations, although nothing very serious. You either fight or lose everything to other, tougher inmates. All in all, I was happy to appear before the board because I thought I would be going home. Freedom was beginning to become a fantasy and a dream, but, here I was, and I thought I was being paroled. I was sitting before the Parole Board, smiling from ear to ear as I expressed my desire to go home, and in my naive manner, promised that I would never do anything wrong again. It was genuine, I really meant it, as this was no life for me, and it was time to get back to living and attempting to be normal. I also found out they would not inform me of their decision that day, and every inmate had to wait 48 hours to hear the results. They worried how inmates would react to negative decisions while in their presence, thus the 48 hour wait.

But, I didn’t really worry, in fact, I was trying to decide who to give all of my personal belongings to when I left, and I was excited. And then came their decision! I was in my Counselor’s Office and he read me the news with a grim face; The Parole Board had given me another full year’s continuance, which meant that no matter what happened, I had to do at least another full year in the CYA. I didn’t even get mad or explode. How could I be mad? I was in complete, utter shock! I cried, I screamed, I prayed, cussed God, cussed all of the staff, in fact, to the point that I was back in A.C. again. Funny, I had calmed-down for months, yet here I was again.

Yep, straight-jacket too, with all the trimmings! Only this time I didn’t care. I reveled in the pain, I wanted to kill people, to scream, fight, and do anything to make them kill me. If I remember correctly, I also did a pretty good job slicing up my arm and hurting myself in any way I could. The denial of parole, of my freedom, to a teenager that had never even been out on a date was crushing. I didn’t know then, but I was losing one of the most valuable and informative years of my life. Even now I wonder about what I missed, the joys and pains of growing-up in a stable environment that contained love rather than hate, and I often wonder who I would be today if yesterday and the CYA hadn’t happened.

A few days later I was out of the A.C. and back at the Adam’s family, but now I was cold, icy in my thoughts and determination to get out of that place. There would be an escape, this time I would make it, and God help anyone that got in my way. If I am ever able to articulate the inner frustration and utter despair that goes along with lost freedom for children, the silent crying at night a child goes through with the loss of his/her parents and freedom. Bitterness begins to develop, that if not alleviated in some way, can change an individual for a lifetime and we release animals back into society, not caring human beings. We, in our judgments made without cause of effect, often bring forth the very worst in people whom we know will eventually be released and instead of solving a problem, we provide a system that is guaranteed to further the criminality in people rather than lessen it – a system that is self-defeating and decidedly broke. Writing these words so many years later actually knots-up my stomach and brings back some of those old feelings that I have worked for half a lifetime to forget.

Escape from Nelles

I was back in the unit now, but my mind-set wasn’t the same; I had to get out of there and it had to be soon. There was a new kid that came into the unit, and sadly after all of these years, I cannot remember his name, only the rotten nickname the others in the Adam’s Unit gave him; if you didn’t come from the Barrio (hood) or were a bad-ass when you walked in the door, or if you looked strange in some manner, it was assumed there was something wrong with you. As young as they were, the little bastards were cruel and could smell fear a mile away.

Anyway, this kid was over-weight, had a fat butt, so was nicknamed “Judy Booty”, which at the time even I thought was kind of funny. Oddly enough it turned out months later that he really was gay, but by then I didn’t care. He wasn’t interested in me that way, we seemed to be natural friends, and he would fight at the drop of a hat, was pretty tough, so was left alone after a while except for the occasional use of his nickname – which sometimes resulted in an ass-whipping. To this day I remember him as a kind person and would never be ashamed to call him my friend. But back to the story;

I finally had a friend I felt I could trust, and since I was going anyway, I decided to tell him about my plans. Without complete and utter trust, such talk would result in being Rat-packed again or even worse, being another of Albright’s “Chests” victims for the night, and I didn’t want either. Over many weeks we planned and plotted our escape, trying to figure out the best way to get out without getting caught or hurt, the two actually being synonymous. Sad fact was, we were only a couple of kids and didn’t have the best sense in the world; what we thought would work was absurd, but we were both miserable and wound-up stealing a butter-knife from the kitchen. We were going to pull it on the night counselor, tie him up, and then have all night to get out. Better at night when there was no one available for a Ratpack! It’s pretty hard to explain what it feels like having fifty people trying to kick the shit out of you at the same time…

The time was ripe; it was 1:00 AM or so, and everyone except me, my friend, and the counselor were asleep, so it was time to make the move. “Judy Booty” had the knife and we attempted to subdue the guard through a huge window either of us could easily get through but during the attempt, the counselor simply beat us both silly with the hand-set from the telephone, closed the window and hit the panic button. Once the panic button was hit, the unit was swamped with guards that were coming to the counselor’s rescue, and fortunately, our rescue too; by then, the other inmates had awakened and the Ratpack was in full-swing, so again I was glad to see the counselors pouring through the doors.

This incident was different though… We attacked a state employee with a butter knife, so now we were classified as dangerous and hardened criminals. The next day a bus was at the A.C. and we were on our way to Preston School of Industry in Ione, Ca. This was much further north than Whittier, it meant no more visits, and the inmates there were much more hardened and dangerous. Looking back, it’s easy to see that some of us grow-up with puppies, and some with wolves. And once in a while, more often than it should, puppies are thrown in with the wolves and survive any way they can.

Footnote: The shin kicking by Mr. Cantino was not an isolated event and occurred any time there was an infraction of the rules. I still bear the scars to this day.

Back when this happened, the mind-set of many correctional institutions in the United States was firmly rooted in efforts to rehabilitate and teach – hoping to reduce recidivism through training, education, and many other programs that were doomed to failure. The Legislative intent was there, but in almost all cases it wasn’t administered in an atmosphere that could be accepted by those that sincerely had the desire to change. Cruelty of the guards, and the inmates themselves, rendered most programs ineffective and no one seemed to understand why the problems were worsening.

This small glimpse into “The Creation of a Criminal” is an honest expose’ of the commonplace administration of torture, brutality, and in some cases, even murder that occur within our own penal system – and Americans are the victims. Yes, the events I related to happened many, many years ago, so you might be asking yourself why this is in any way relevant to Condi’s remarks in regard torture. Simply put, the days I was speaking of is when the US had a kinder attitude toward inmates, and even though they were unsuccessful, attempted to rehabilitate as many as they could.

Now, the attitude of the United States is one of punishment and extremely lengthy sentences with no emphasis on rehabilitation. Instead, the US is building SHU’s, (Control Unit Prisons) and it is known and condemned by Amnesty International, because torture still exists in our own prison systems and against US citizens. We scream for the humane treatment of terrorists that seek to destroy our way of life yet we ignore the torture that happens consistently in our own prisons.

Torture Inc. Americas Brutal Prisons

Savaged by dogs, Electrocuted With Cattle Prods, Burned By Toxic Chemicals, Does such barbaric abuse inside U.S. jails explain the horrors that were committed in Iraq?

By Deborah Davies

They are just some of the victims of wholesale torture taking place inside the U.S. prison system that we uncovered during a four-month investigation for BBC Channel 4 . It’s terrible to watch some of the videos and realize that you’re not only seeing torture in action but, in the most extreme cases, you are witnessing young men dying.

The prison guards stand over their captives with electric cattle prods, stun guns, and dogs. Many of the prisoners have been ordered to strip naked. The guards are yelling abuse at them, ordering them to lie on the ground and crawl. “Crawl, motherf*****s, crawl!”

If a prisoner doesn’t drop to the ground fast enough, a guard kicks him or stomps on his back. There’s a high-pitched scream from one man as a dog clamps its teeth onto his lower leg.

Another prisoner has a broken ankle. He can’t crawl fast enough so a guard jabs a stun gun onto his buttocks. The jolt of electricity zaps through his naked flesh and genitals. For hours afterward his whole body shakes.

Lines of men are now slithering across the floor of the cell block while the guards stand over them shouting, prodding and kicking.

Second by second, their humiliation is captured on a video camera by one of the guards.

The images of abuse and brutality he records are horrifyingly familiar. These were exactly the kind of pictures from inside Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad that shocked the world this time last year.

And they are similar, too, to the images of brutality against Iraqi prisoners that this week led to the conviction of three British soldiers.

But there is a difference. These prisoners are not caught up in a war zone. They are Americans, and the video comes from inside a prison in Texas

They are just some of the victims of wholesale torture taking place inside the U.S. prison system that we uncovered during a four-month investigation for Channel 4 that will be broadcast next week.

Our findings were not based on rumor or suspicion. They were based on solid evidence, chiefly videotapes that we collected from all over the U.S.

In many American states, prison regulations demand that any “use of force operation”, such as searching cells for drugs, must be filmed by a guard.

The theory is that the tapes will show proper procedure was followed and that no excessive force was used. In fact, many of them record the exact opposite.

Each tape provides a shocking insight into the reality of life inside the U.S. prison system – a reality that sits very comfortably with President Bush’s commitment to the battle for freedom and democracy against the forces of tyranny and oppression.

In fact, the Texas episode outlined above dates from 1996, when Bush was state Governor.

Frank Carlson was one of the lawyers who fought a compensation battle on behalf of the victims. I asked him about his reaction when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke last year and U.S. politicians rushed to express their astonishment and disgust that such abuses could happen at the hands of American guards.

I thought: “What hypocrisy,” Carlson told me. “Because they know we do it here every day.”

All the lawyers I spoke to during our investigations shared Carlson’s belief that Abu Ghraib, far from being the work of a few rogue individuals, was simply the export of the worst practices that take place in our domestic prison system all the time. They pointed to the mountain of files stacked on their desks, on the floor, in their office corridors – endless stories of appalling, sadistic treatment inside America’s own prisons.

Many of the tapes we’ve collected are several years old. That’s because they only surface when determined lawyers pries them out of reluctant state prison departments during protracted lawsuits.

But for every “historical” tape we collected, we also found a more recent story. What you see on the tape is still happening daily.

It’s terrible to watch some of the videos and realize that you’re not only seeing torture in action but, in the most extreme cases, you are witnessing young men dying.

In one horrific scene, a naked man, passive and vacant, is seen being led out of his cell by prison guards. They strap him into a medieval-looking device called a “restraint chair”. His hands and feet are shackled, there’s a strap across his chest, his head lolls forward. He looks dead. He’s not. Not yet.

The chair is his punishment because guards saw him in his cell with a pillowcase on his head and he refused to take it off. The man has a long history of severe schizophrenia. Sixteen hours later, they release him from the chair. And two hours after that, he dies from a blood clot resulting from his barbaric treatment.

The tape comes from Utah, but there are others from Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Arizona and probably many more. We found more than 20 cases of prisoners who’ve died in the past few years after being held in a restraint chair.

Two of the deaths we investigated were in the same county jail in Phoenix, Arizona, which is run by a man who revels in the title of “America’s Toughest Sheriff.”

His name is Joe Arpaio. He positively welcomes TV crews and we were promised “unfettered access.” It was a reassuring turn of the phrase you don’t want to be fettered in one of Sheriff Joe’s jails.

We uncovered two videotapes from surveillance cameras showing how his tough stance can end in tragedy.

The first tape, from 2001, shows a man named Charles Agster dragged in by police, handcuffed at the wrists and ankles. Agster is mentally disturbed and a drug user. He was arrested for causing a disturbance in a late-night grocery store. The police handed him over to the Sheriff’s deputies in the jail. Agster is a tiny man, weighing no more than nine stone, but he’s struggling.

The tape shows nine deputies manhandling him into the restraint chair. One of them kneels on Agster’s stomach, pushing his head forward on to his knees and pulling his arms back to strap his wrists into the chair.

Bending someone double for any length of time is dangerous; the manuals on the use of the ‘restraint chair” warn of the dangers of “positional asphyxia.”

Fifteen minutes later, a nurse notices Agster is unconscious. The cameras show frantic efforts to resuscitate him, but he’s already brain dead. He died three days later in hospital. Agster’s family is currently suing Arizona County.

His mother, Carol, cried as she told me: “If that’s not torture, I don’t know what is.” Charles’s father, Chuck, listened in silence as we filmed the interview, but every so often he padded out of the room to cry quietly in the kitchen.

The second tape, from five years earlier, shows Scott Norberg dying a similar death in the same jail. He was also a drug user arrested for causing a nuisance. Norberg was severely beaten by the guards, stunned up to 19 times with a Taser gun and forced into the chair where, like Charles Agster – he suffocated.

The county’s insurers paid Norberg’s family more than 4 millions in an out-of-court settlement, but the sheriff was furious with the deal. “My officers were clear,” he said. “The insurance firm was afraid to go before a jury.”

Now he’s determined to fight the Agster case all the way through the courts. Yet tonight, in Sheriff Joe’s jail, there’ll probably be someone else strapped into the chair.

Not all the tapes we uncovered were filmed by the guards themselves. Linda Evans smuggled a video camera into a hospital to record her son, Brian. You can barely see his face through all the tubes and all you can hear is the rhythmic sucking of the ventilator.

He was another of Sheriff Joe’s inmates. After an argument with guards, he told a prison doctor they’d beaten him up. Six days later, he was found unconscious on the floor of his cell with a broken neck, broken toes and internal injuries. After a month in a coma, he died from septicemia.

“Mr Arpaio is responsible.” Linda Evans told me, struggling to speak through her tears. “He seems to thrive on this cruelty and this mentality that these men are nothing.”

In some of the tapes it’s not just the images, it’s also the sounds that are so unbearable. There’s one tape from Florida which I’ve seen dozens of times but it still catches me in the stomach.

It’s an authorized “use of force operation” so a guard is videoing what happens. They’re going to Taser a prisoner for refusing orders.

The tape shows a prisoner lying on an examination table in the prison hospital. The guards are instructing him to climb down into a wheelchair. “I can’t, I can’t!” he shouts with increasing desperation. “It hurts!”

One guard then jabs him on both hips with a Taser. The man jerks as the electricity hits him and shrieks, but still won’t get into the wheelchair.

The guards grab him and drop him into the chair. As they try to bend his legs up on to the footrest, he screams in pain. The man’s lawyer told me he has a very limited mental capacity. He says he has a back injury and can’t walk or bend his legs without intense pain.

The tape becomes even more harrowing. The guards try to make the prisoner stand up and hold a walking frame. He falls on the floor, crying in agony. They Taser him again. He runs out of the energy and breath to cry and just lies there moaning.

One of the most recent video tapes was filmed in January last year. A surveillance camera in a youth institution in California records an argument between staff members and two “wards”; they’re not called prisoners.

One of the youths hits a staff member in the face. He knocks the ward to the floor then sits astride him punching him over and over again in the head.

Watching the tape you can almost feel each blow. The second youth is also punched and kicked in the head. even after he’s been handcuffed. Other staff just stand around and watch.

We also collected some truly horrific photographs.

A few years ago, in Florida, the new warden of the high security state prison ordered an end to the videoing of “use of force operations.” So we have no tapes to show how prison guards use pepper spray to punish prisoners.

But we do have the lawsuit describing how men were doused in pepper spray and then left to cook in the burning fog of chemicals. Photographs taken by their lawyers show one man has a huge patch of raw skin over his hip. Another is covered in an angry rash across his neck, back and arms. A third has deep burns on his buttocks.

“They usually use fire extinguishers size canisters of pepper spray,” lawyer Christopher Jones explained. “We have had prisoners who have had second degree burns all over their bodies.”

“The tell-tale sign is they turn off the ventilation fans in the unit. Prisoners report that cardboard is shoved in the crack of the door to make sure it’s really air-tight.”

And why were they sprayed? According to the official prison reports, their infringements included banging on the cell door and refusing medication. From the same Florida prison we also have photographs of Frank Valdes’ autopsy pictures. Realistically, he had little chance of ever getting out of prison alive. He was on Death Row for killing a prison officer. He had time to reconcile himself to the Electric Chair; he didn’t expect to be beaten to death.

Valdes started writing to local Florida newspapers to expose the corruption and brutality of prison officers. So a gang of guards stormed into his cell to shut him up. They broke almost every one of his ribs, punctured his lung, smashed his spleen and left him to die.

Several of the guards were later charged with murder, but the trial was held in their own small hometown where almost everyone works for, or has connection with, the five prisons which ring the town. The foreman of the jury was a former prison officer. The guards were all acquitted.

Meanwhile, the warden who was in charge of the prison at the time of the killing, the same man who changed the policy on videoing has been promoted. He’s now the man in charge of all the Florida prisons.

How could anyone excuse much less condone such behavior? The few prison guards who would talk to us have a siege mentality. They see themselves outnumbered, surrounded by dangerous, violent criminals, so they back each other up, no matter what.

I asked one serving officer what happened if colleagues beat up an inmate. “We cover up. Because we’re the good guys.” (sic)

No one should doubt that the vast majority of U.S. prison officers are decent individuals doing their best in difficult circumstances. But when horrific abuse by the few goes unreported and investigated, it solidifies into a general climate of acceptance among the many.

At the same time the overall hardening of attitudes in modern-day America has meant the notion of rehabilitation has been almost lost. The focus is entirely on punishment; even loss of liberty is not seen as punishment enough. Bring on the restraint devices and the chemical sprays.

Since we finished filming for the programme in January, I’ve stayed in contact with various prisoners’ rights groups and the families of many of the victims. Every single day come more e-mails full of fresh horror stories. In the past weeks, two more prisoners have died, in Alabama and Ohio. One man was pepper sprayed, the other tasered.

Then, three weeks ago, reports emerged of 20 hours of video material from Guantanamo Bay showing prisoners being stripped, beaten and pepper sprayed. One of those affected is Omar Deghayes, one of the seven British residents still being held there.

His lawyer says Deghayes is now permanently blind in one eye. American military investigators have reviewed the tapes and apparently found “no evidence of systematic abuse.”

But then, as one of the prison reformers we met on our journey across the U.S. told me: “We’ve become immune to the abuse. The brutality has become customary.”

So far, the U.S. government is refusing to release these Guantanamo tapes. If they are ever made public “or leaked ” I suspect the images will be very familiar.

Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, or even Texas. The prisoners and all guards may vary, but the abuse is still too familiar. And much of it is taking place in America’s own backyard.

Deborah Davies is a reporter for Channel 4 Dispatches. Her investigation, Torture: America’s Brutal Prisons, was shown on Wednesday, March 2, at 11.05pm.
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Information Clearing House has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Information Clearing House endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Ms. Rice, you tell me; If we torture our own, why should anyone believe you when you state the US doesn’t condone torture when the facts say otherwise? I remember when I was a little kid, and my Mom would tell me to do as she said, not as she did. I always thought it was pretty hypocritical, as the most effective leaders lead by example, not with mere words. Now, here I am, 50 years later, and the United States has adopted that same attitude; “do as I say – not as I do!” It’s as hypocritical today as it was some 40 or 50 years ago. We’ve been torturing our own since I was a little boy, and we still do it today. My question is when, if ever,“ we will lead by example” rather than with rhetoric?

Author’s Note: The names contained in Chapter II of “The Creation of a Criminal” have not been changed “to protect the innocent,” because in this instance, there are none. What happened to me was not unique; it can be substantiated by hundreds of other unfortunate souls that went through experiences similar to mine, or worse, in the same institution. I’m sure other youth correctional institutions in California adhered to the same “policy” of punishment throughout the system. Many were abused/tortured by the same people that harmed me. Throughout the entire book, real names will be used, some to laud for their compassion, honesty and integrity, and others to reveal to all the true depth of their depravity – and the self-perpetuating monster we have created that is representative of our current criminal justice system.

The above is only a small glimpse into the torture and brutality that is representative of America’s Prison/Correctional system(s) – and unfortunately, represents only one instance of many instances of torture that I experienced first as a juvenile, and then as an adult. The torture I received an as adult was far worse than what is written above – and even today, it is rampant throughout our prisons. Torture and brutality is commonplace throughout our own country. How, in good conscious, can we stop the torture of those who seek to attack America when we “look the other way” when it occurs, on a daily basis, in our own country? Why is there such an uproar about torturing “enemy combatants” when we refuse to clean-up our own backyard?

The culture of torture is ingrained in our own society, and in my opinion, until we address the torture that occurs in our own country – we have little or no chance of stopping it against those whom we believe are “attacking” the United States. To stop one form of torture that has made headlines in regard “Gitmo” and the numerous secret prisons we operate overseas – it is imperative that we understand “why” this has been happening, and to comprehend our “culture of torture”, we must first look at ourselves and solve the brutality and self-perpetuating system that is erroneously labeled as “Justice” in our own United States. Anything else is pure, unadulterated hypocrisy; the torture and abuse is continuing and in fact,from published accounts, is increasing by leaps and bounds in what was one called the home of the brave and free. Once you’re convicted of a crime, no matter how slight or insignificant it may be, U.S. citizens are routinely handled in much the same way we treat “enemy combatants.”

If we continue to allow torture to be condoned and perpetrated on American soil, the next instance you might hear about could be your own son or daughter, or if you protest too much – the victim could be you. I am hoping to offer a free download of this revealing auto-biography, not for personal or financial gain, but in the e hope of exposing our Criminal Justice System for what it is – sanctioned brutality and torture of American citizens on US soil, and it gets worse as each of us ignores what is happening right in our own country.

If you believe that our problems with the Justice System are over because Obama has been elected to the Presidency, think again. Why has President Obama neglected to addres some of the issues that could spell doom to American citizens?


William Cormier

NOTE: I expect to be homeless in less than 15 days. Until I can move my sister and her children to another state to live with other relatives, I can be reached by email at Bill_sarah2000@, or if a publisher is interested in this frank look into our own correctional system(s), I can be reached for a brief time at 678-462-9823. In the meantime, I will be checking my email at public libraries and other sources until I am able to find a home somewhere.

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  • William Cormier

    There used to be comments on this article as indicated by the header above. We were hacked and the comments disappeared. It would seem that our government is not pleased when their actions are exposed to the public and read on a global basis as this site has been for years. A personal tragedy that has affected our family and others has disrupted my writing for months and that stops as of this date. For those who believe that I can be silenced, think again – it won’t happen until I’m long gone from this world and the most revealing piece that exposes government corruption will be posted after my death and this site will continue to stay online. I offer my most sincere apologies to those that contributed their thoughts and comments on this issue and we have taken steps to ensure that it will not happen again in the future.

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