Anatomy of a Prison Riot
"I rebuke this fucking prison!"
I awoke with a start as the ear splitting scream shattered my restless sleep and the thunderous pounding of the steel desk, door and walls began. "I am a man!" the naked man continued, banging incessantly on the faeces covered walls of his cell. I sighed heavily. Another long, sleepless night loomed ahead in the prison's administrative segregation unit. I thought of the cookies from the meager lunch I had stashed earlier. Perhaps I could bribe his silence in exchange for them. I quickly dismissed the idea. It would be futile to attempt to reason with the individual as his mind had long ago snapped under the pressure cooker that is Kern Valley State Prison, a newly opened penitentiary located in the heart of California's fertile agricultural region.
My name is R and I am serving a death sentence in one of California's iron walled combat zones. I am claiming status as a political prisoner and an unbiased look at the particular elements involved with my case will bear me out. Technically I have been sentenced to 35 years to life for a property offense. Realistically my parole officer has yet to be born and in all likelihood I will die in prison long before my parole date of 2032.
America has bequeathed to its sons and daughters a chilling legacy of Jurassic proportions. One quarter of all the people imprisoned upon this planet are serving time in an American prison. California has the dubious distinction of having the most densely populated prisons in North America; a prison system many experts consider the most violent and racist in the nation.
The California prison system of today fosters a culture of separation and racial apartheid administration policies. As long as the prisoners remain focused on the racial and cultural diversity amongst themselves, little time is left to unite and devise a cohesive non-violent political strategy against the imperialistic policies of the Californian Correctional Peace Officers Association. Until this occurs, California prisoners will continue to serve as legislative pawns to the interests of the State's prison industrial complex.
Violence within California's prison system has no one cause that prison officials and penologists can pinpoint but in many cases, the guards themselves initiate the violence. The following incident, which occurred at K.V.S.P., illustrates this fact.
K.V.S.P. has a large cadre of inexperienced correctional officers; ex military toughs with a practiced swagger who seem to take a perverse delight in enforcing many of the minor rules and regulations which place untenable demands and severely restrictive measures upon the prisoners' every waking hour.
Recently a small group of prisoners were released from the unit's cellblock for dinner. The mess hall is located adjacent to the facility's cellblock and in order to enter the mess hall, the prisoners need to pass through a corridor with a ceiling of reinforced, bulletproof glass containing scattered gun slots, enabling the tower control officer to observe and if necessary, shoot a prisoner who is attacking another. As the convicts passed through the corridor, one of the guards, asserting his authority, asked one prisoner gruffly, to tuck his shirt inside his pants. The prisoner grudgingly complied and continued on his way. The officer then proceeded to ask another prisoner the confrontational question of 'What are you looking at?'
Apparently taken aback and very unhappy with the prisoner's colorful response, the officer then physically manhandled the prisoner, tossing him against the wall for a pat down search. What followed next, was a virtual melee of fists, gunshots, pepper spray and swinging steel tipped batons.
The fight was on. As several more prisoners from the mess hall joined in the fracas, the officers supervising the evening meal immediately exited via the mess hall's back door, returning with dozens of helmeted and jackbooted baton wielding officers. The scene, which followed, was atrocious.
The incident, which originally ignited this episode of savagery, began with Hispanic prisoners. However, the avenging helmeted guards made no such distinction in their blind rage. All were prisoners, therefore all were guilty and woe unto the innocent who remotely resembled being Hispanic, as some Asian and Filipinos unfortunately discovered.
Each prisoner in the dining hall was ordered under threat of death by guards in the interior gun turrets to assume the prone out position and once the prisoner's hands were securely fastened behind their backs with plastic flexi cuffs, the retaliatory beatings began.
The prisoners were slapped, beaten, kicked and punched. Those wearing eyeglasses had them violently ripped from their faces and stomped upon. Adding further insult to injury, the prisoners' clothing was then completely and forcibly cut away with scissors. These men, now fully naked and in restraints, posing no clear and present threat, were then snatched by their ankles and roughly dragged outside. The abrasive concrete skinned knees, genitals, chests and shoulders. Still the guards' fury and lust for revenge had not abated.
The ensuing search of the cellblock was excessively destructive. Televisions and radios were smashed, shampoo containers opened, their contents poured over personal items; photo albums, sweatpants, canteen food items, all received this gooey manna, this blind fury from guards run amok.
Tragically this violent and senseless scenario will find itself being played over and over again in many a California prison. The violence and frustration levels inherent to the level IV prison systems will continue to escalate as long as prisoners are continually berated and abused by guards who teach that violence is an acceptable means to an end.