During the 1980s-‘90s, Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s name achieved nationwide notoriety. He advocated and participated in the medically-assisted suicides of terminally ill people. His motives he said were compassionate. The controversy surrounding Kevorkian led to changes in legislation and he was criminally convicted several times, culminating in a 1998 murder conviction and a 10-25 year prison term.
It is a twisted irony that the same sorts of deeds that put this professional pathologist in prison are carried out for sport rather than compassion by pathologists of a very different sort – these being ones who run the prisons.
Here is a case in point. On Sept. 4, 2014, I was brought to my segregation cell door by other prisoners’ excited voices signaling that something was amiss. My attention was drawn to cell H109, which then housed another prisoner, Todd Hines. Todd, like over half of those confined at this Clements Unit in remote Amarillo, Texas, is a documented mentally ill prisoner who receives psychotropic medications daily. As such, he is illegally housed in administrative segregation, the conditions of which federal courts have unanimously found only exacerbate mental illness, with Texas’ administrative segregation units among the worst.1
I observed a guard, Julio Lucero Jr. stick his hand into the open hatch of Todd’s cell door and spray a long burst of OC gas (oleoresin capsicum gas, or pepper spray) into the cell. In a matter of minutes the gas circulated into everyone else’s cell (67 cells in all) through the pod’s ventilation system. With nose and eyes burning, I continued to watch as the minutes ticked by.
Two sergeants entered the pod after a while, walking very slowly, approaching Todd’s cell. One sergeant, Ralph Chavez, looked in at Todd for a moment, then asked casually, “What’s going on?” Hines was standing in the cell with several long deep gashes cut into his neck and temple. According to witnesses closer to the scene, blood was pulsing out the side of his neck from an obviously severed jugular vein and his face was a mask of red. Chavez told Todd several times with no particular urgency to “throw out the razor.”
In another few minutes a nurse, Tammy Williams, entered pushing a gurney, also walking very slowly, obvious in her effort to take as long as possible to reach Todd’s cell. She then looked in at him and asked, “What’s wrong with you?” I later overheard Lucero tell another prisoner that every time Todd would talk, blood would shoot out of his neck, which explained their standing at the cell inducing Todd to answer absurd questions, obviously stalling. A portable audio-video camera was brought in to record the situation.
Finally, Chavez directed Lucero and another guard to have Todd perform a full strip search even though he already kicked the razor blade under the cell door. Regardless, Lucero slowly walked Todd through the search; first directing him to hand out his blood-saturated boxers which Lucero inspected with latex-gloved hands. Everything was done very slowly.
Lucero instructed Todd, “Open your mouth; run your finger between your lips and gums; run your hands through your hair; let me see behind your ears; move your tongue around; turn around; let me see the bottom of your left foot; wiggle your toes; now your right foot.” By then Todd, weak and dizzy from massive blood loss, leaned against his cell wall, so they made him start the search all over again, warning him that touching anything would cause them to start yet again. “Open your mouth; run your finger between your lips and gums. . . .” Had he collapsed, he’d likely have bled to death while they had a team of guards dress out in body riot armor and protective biohazard suits.
There was no disguising that all involved were trying to watch Todd bleed out and die. A prison-assisted suicide.
After he miraculously finished the search, Todd was made to put both hands out the door’s slot to be handcuffed from behind. A radio call was made to open the cell and he was ordered to crawl out into the pod backwards on his knees, while blood continued to pulse out of his neck onto the floor. He was then made to stand and walk unsteadily out of the pod.
That Todd survived at all defies logic. The guards and nurse were certainly not to be credited. In fact, the guards later openly expressed being quite entertained by the incident, as were several prisoners.
There was no disguising that all involved were trying to watch Todd bleed out and die. A prison-assisted suicide.
But some, like myself, were angry and disgusted. Several, not knowing if I’d seen it all, later sent me notes telling me what they’d witnessed, knowing I’d want to bring attention to it. Here’s what one wrote:
“We got another inmate neglect. At 11:18 a.m. Officer Lucero and that Mexican officer saw Hines, cell 109 bleeding. He cut at least a five inch gash into his neck on the left side; he cut other parts of his neck as well. When they saw him, there was no urgency in getting him treatment. They watched him bleed for two minutes, asking, ‘Where is the razor?’
“They then shoot gas (Lucero) in his cell and watched him for a few more minutes. He didn’t place the call until 11:22. Nobody responded until 11:30 as Sgt. Gray, Sgt. Chavez and Officer Chavez (female on camera) responded, walking slowly to the cell and just looking in. They watched for a few minutes then called medical. At 11:35, the nurse came and she too slowly walked to the cell, looked in and asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ At this point the cell literally looked like a slaughter house kill floor. They didn’t take him out of the cell until 11:41.
“They made him do a full strip search, and at this point he was so weak he couldn’t stand and lift one leg up without leaning against the wall. So they made him do the search all over again. When he came out he was wobbling like a newborn calf. They had no urgency in getting him anywhere. He was covered in so much blood they wouldn’t know if he was concealing anything anyways. Our peers were no help as I heard a couple cheering him on. That’s what brought me to the door to witness the entire ordeal. It took them exactly 23 minutes to see him and get him out.”
Again, what’s even more problematic is prisoners like Todd are not supposed to be in segregation. It’s against the law, yet our captors imprison us for allegedly breaking laws. But, as Todd’s case shows, mentally ill prisoners are held illegally under conditions that drive them to the point of suicidal acts, which guards and medical staff try to help along.
I’ve actually witnessed this sort of thing more times than I can count. Several times the prisoners died. I recall once a mentally ill prisoner hanged himself at Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison as guards watched coaxing him on. A few minutes later they, along with a then-Sgt. Travis McCoy, rushed into the cell as if to cut him down but instead began pulling on his legs to put more weight and pressure on his choked off neck.
Ironically he didn’t die – the rope broke sending him and several of the guards tumbling to the floor.
As Todd’s case shows, mentally ill prisoners are held illegally under conditions that drive them to the point of suicidal acts, which guards and medical staff try to help along.
Then there are the staged suicides where guards at this prison claim falsely that a prisoner is trying to hang or cut himself in order to justify spraying him down with OC gas and taking all his property. Mentally ill prisoners are typically the targets of this abuse.
It was done on the morning of Aug. 26, 2014, by a Sgt. Dustin Anderson to a mentally ill prisoner – who also takes psychotropic medications daily – known only to myself and others as “Bay City.”
Anderson was called to his cell (H105) by a guard, Rusty Milbern, because Bay City had his cell door’s windows covered and wouldn’t respond, which he immediately took down when Anderson came to his cell calling Bay City a series of “stupid motherfuckers,” “assholes” and other vulgar names. As a witnessing prisoner observed in a note he sent me, “Sgt. Anderson acted like he was trying to hang himself, gassed him, then said, ‘You promised me you was gone chill out.’”
He went on to explain, “Sgt. Anderson set him up. Milbern was right there, but she didn’t look in the cell. She stayed by the side of the door. When Sgt. Anderson told him to take it off his neck, Bay City was walking in circles, neck free of any type of wrappings.”
I witnessed it done on April 9, 2014, to another mentally ill prisoner, Hoover Pugh, 421307, who behaves much like the prisoner I described in a prior article, named Ellory Oliver.2 And Hoover draws much the same reactions from guards and other prisoners.
On that date I witnessed a guard, Skyler Tidwell, tell another prisoner who openly disliked Hoover to give him a razor, that he was going to drop it in front of Hoover’s cell and then gas him saying he was trying to cut himself. Tidwell said it was his last day working at the prison and he wanted to get Hoover. The other prisoner went along with the scene and Tidwell sprayed a full can of gas in on Hoover.
However, because Hoover has filed a lot of complaints about staff abuse, he was housed in a cell that has a surveillance camera facing onto it, and staff are under direction to review the camera footage whenever he complains of abuses of force. When he was brought out with intentions of being placed on suicide watch, he protested that Tidwell set him up. Apparently the video was reviewed and proved him true because Hoover was returned to his cell on regular status, but Tidwell did not return.
One guard, Desmond Finney, is among the most notoriously and cowardly abusive guards at this Clements Unit Prison. He makes it a point to openly boast of beating handcuffed prisoners, and, while working the pod I’m housed in on Sept. 11, 2014, bragged to several other guards that, in just a couple of months of being assigned to the segregation unit, he’d gone through eight new canisters of OC gas.
Finney often taunts prisoners that he’s untouchable because he’s “one of Major Clark’s boys” and has ranking relatives working at the prison, including one lieutenant, Antonious Flannagan.
I witnessed a prisoner, Louis Johnson Jr., 1618910, who was moved to the suicide precaution building during November 2013 due to attempting suicide, return to the same segregation cell across from me a few days later with two black eyes and a badly bruised face. He reported – and numerous guards openly came to his cell to taunt him – that Finney and another guard beat him at length on Nov. 9, 2013, while he was handcuffed from behind. Many others bear witness to Finney’s abuses, including refusing prisoners’ meals for days to weeks on end, slamming handcuffed prisoners for no reason, even knocking one’s front tooth out.
These sorts of abuses targeted especially at mentally ill prisoners is why the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s (TDCJ) Clements Unit Prison has been reportedly featured in the mainstream media as having the TDCJ’s highest rates of major uses of force and uses of chemical agents on prisoners by guards, while at the same time illegally housing over 1,800 known mentally ill prisoners – a large proportion of whom are held in segregation).3
This too is what prompts numerous attempted and successful suicides and often ones staged by guards to falsely justify physical abuses or outright murder – prison assisted suicide! So while it was a crime for Jack Kevorkian to aid the suicides of the terminally ill, it’s perfectly legal when it’s prison officials and their victims are the mentally ill.
Apparently, Kevorkian chose the wrong occupation and the wrong type of pathology. A bright light must be shone inside Amerika’s inhumane system of mass incarceration, which bears such a chilling similarity to the old German Nazi concentration camps in its brutality, hypocrisy and bigotry that it’s frightening.
Amerika’s inhumane system of mass incarceration bears such a chilling similarity to the old German Nazi concentration camps in its brutality, hypocrisy and bigotry that it’s frightening.
Dare to struggle! Dare to win!
All power to the people!
- The Texas federal courts have specifically ruled that administrative segregation is being utilized unconstitutionally to house mentally ill inmates – “inmates whose illness can only be exacerbated by the depravity of their confinement.” Ruiz v. Estelle, 37 F. Supp. 2d 855, 915 (S.D. Tex. 1999). “Texas’ administrative segregation units are virtual incubators of psychoses-seeding illness in otherwise healthy inmates and exacerbating illness in those already suffering from mental infirmities.” Id. at 907. And as nationally accredited mental health experts testified before the Texas federal court: “Dr. Jurczak testified that the ad-seg system is destructive to all its occupants. ‘I think it’s a very destructive system. And I’ve been in many, many systems … and I’ve never seen one as repressive as I’ve seen [in TDCJ].’” Id. at 912. [↩]
- Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “Wasted Minds: An Insider’s Look at the Torturous Effects of U.S. Solitary Confinement” (2013), available at rashidmod.com. [↩]
- Brandi Grissom, “A Tie to Mental Illness in the Violence Behind Bars,” New York Times, Sept. 21, 2013; Brandi Grissom, “Violence Behind Bars: A Tie to Mental Illness,” The Texas Tribune, Sept. 22, 2013; “Clements Unit Among the Most Violent Prisons,” KAMR-TV, Sept. 23, 2013; “Son Murdered in Clements Unit by Staff Texas Prison”; “Force Against Texas Inmates on Rise”; “Texas Lockdown: Solitary Confinement in the Lone Star State”; “Clements Unit Placed on Dubious List.” [↩]