This is an eighth addendum to an article I wrote and circulated which was published in 2004, entitled “Red Onion State Prison, an expose: Racism and Brutality equals kind and usual punishment in Virginia”.
That initial expose reported the conditions of racism and abuse prevalent at Red Onion. That report was followed by seven updates, written between 2004 and 2007. Due repression targeted against me by Red Onion officials in response to these reports and consequent outside protests, isolation from prisoners in other units where abuses were ongoing, me being consumed with defending myself against a series of trumped up criminal charges (all of which I succeeded in having dismissed or dropped), and due to a lapse in outside organizational support, I have not compiled further updates since 2007.
Physical assaults at Red Onion
This update does not address the multitude of assaults by Red Onion guards against prisoners that have occurred since my last addendum, because I am unable to give full and fair factual accounts of each.
It does detail several recent incidents. As I pointed out in my original article, guards routinely assault prisoners then fabricate disciplinary reports claiming the prisoners attempted to or actually did assault them, yet invariably guards never suffer injuries except those consistent with their having assaulted the prisoners.
Red Onion has two forty four double occupancy cell housing units (A-1 and A-6), which house minimum security “cadre” inmates. These cadre are used as workers in and around the prison and enjoy greater privileges than Red Onion’s other segregation and “progressive housing” prisoners.
The cadre are regarded, treated and used by Red Onion officials as something of a junior staff, and are expected not to question, challenge or oppose officials in any manner, lest they lose their “privileged” status and treatment and find themselves locked up in segregation and treated harshly and abusively, like the non-cadre prisoners.
Ernest Darcus, a prisoner accustomed to serving time in the federal system refused to conform to the status quo of the cadre system, while housed in the ROSP cadre unit. Instead he wrote grievances and complaints against staff wrongdoing and racism. On October 21, 2010, Darcus was set up and beaten by guards; an incident witnessed by thirteen prisoners in my own segregation unit. I wrote up what I witnessed and asked him to explain what led up to the assault, so I could expose it to the outside world. Here is what he wrote:
“I was brought here to work in cadre. The inmates in cadre are afraid and will not stick together. This is my first state bid. I’ve done federal time. I filed on racist abuses by [James] Wade, the Food Service Manager, also the medical department.
You know the games they play with the grievances. I continue to file and my family keep calling the Regional [Office]. In retaliation on September 20, 2010 they searched my cell.
They caught my roommate with gambling tickets, his notebook payment and extra clothing [all rule infractions], but didn’t charge him with anything.
They got me with an extra T-shirt and charged me with contraband. I wrote it up for discrimination and reprisal. On October 21, 2010 officer B.Hurley, officer Creech and Sgt J.Hartstock approached me coming out of the dining hall. They called me a “nigger” and “bitch” for writing grievances.
Then they told me they “kill niggers here”. And asked me if I didn’t see happened to [Aaron] Cooper [Cooper is a Black prisoner who was strangled to death during the summer of 2010 in a Red Onion segregation exercise yard. A White prisoner is alleged to have killed him and many prisoners believe guards set up and facilitated the killing] that’s when they said they would find something to lock me up for. So they brought me to A-3, cell 317, they pushed me in the cell, pushed me to the floor, and started kicking and punching me in the head and chest. I got my family to contact the regional and I have written it up-but they have have not responded or given me any receipts…these people here are straight racists…I want you to know I’m thankful for everything you’re doing. The guys in cadre will not stand up for nothing. I never asked to come to cadre and don’t want to be here.
I write the stuff up and the cadre inmates get mad at me. I’ve heard about you and a few others that be filing on these racists here. I’ve heard about you all from a white inmate that works in the law library and the racist officers and the racist officers that work here…I was just in the medical department for three days hearing officers and staff talk about “niggers”. The guy [who is alleged to have killed Cooper] was back there joking with them [about] how he killed the Black guy. I was at a real KKK rally. I’m going to continue to fight and write this abuse up. Stay strong bro!”
In a separate letter he explained how the guards involved in beating him fabricated disciplinary charges against him to cover up and justify the setup and assault.
On June 3, 2010 a cell commode overflowed flooding several cells in the A-3 unit, including that of Maurice Boykins. Unit guards S.Fields and J.Barraman refused to have the water cleaned from the other’s cells, including Boykin’s , telling them to sop it up by hand with their sponges. Boykin’s rightfully complained that it was the guard’s job to clean the flooding and have the area sanitized and not to serve meals in the unit under unsanitary flood conditions, they still refused to clean the water from his cell and proceeded to serve the dinner meals. Boykin’s informed Fields he was going to write a complaint up on him.
Fields became enraged and upon serving Boykin’s meal positioned his body to block view of a unit surveillance camera, and as Boykin reached out of the door’s open slot to retrieve his meal trey, Fields proceeded to try and break Boykin’s arm and hand in the slot, repeatedly slamming the slot’s steel door with his body weight behind it against Boykin’s hand and arm. Barraman also joined in the attack.
As a result of the assault, Boykins suffered several serious lacerations to his right arm and hand, including a cut across his fingers, a gash from mid forearm to elbow and swelling in his hand.
To cover up and justify the assault on Boykins, Fields fabricated a disciplinary report claiming Boykins assaulted him. Fields has been involved numerous times in assaulting defenseless prisoners and fabricating disciplinary reports, usually in response to prisoners filing complaints against him.
During latter October 2010, I compiled and sent out an article about a torture unit under construction here at Red Onion entitled “Abu Ghraib comes to Amerika: Torture unit under construction at Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison.”
As that article which has now been widely disseminated, described, a list was already compiled of prisoners to be confined in that unit once completed, before its construction even began. The list consisted primarily of non-white prisoners, including myself, who’ve distinguished themselves for challenging and resisting abuses at Red Onion. Several officials here have implied that that article has drawn attention and scrutiny to the prison.
On November 26, 2010 I was confronted by the guard Fields a warning and threat that I am “on the list” to be set up for attack by guards. He proceeded, under my questioning, to describe an incident that occurred on November 18, 2010 in another building and unit (C-3), involving several other prisoners, who were also listed for confinement in the torture unit, who were set up and brutally beaten by guards, including Fields. The two prisoners who were set up and beaten were Derwin Osbourne and Kelvin Canada. Fields took especial delight in describing the event in details which I was able to later confirm, and which I could not have known except through him (an involved guard) having informed me, since most of what he described is classified security information.
Here is the account he disclosed and which has since been corroborated.
On November 18, Captain Kevin McCoy entered the C-3 unit with the intention of provoking an incident for the purpose of justifying the use of violence against prisoners in the unit-several of whom are listed for future housing in the torture unit.
Apparently the objective was to provoke what would appear to be belligerent behavior in order to give specious credence to the already planned transfer of the prisoners to the torture unit.
McCoy had guards direct the targeted prisoners to submit to degrading strip and visual body cavity searches in order to receive showers. Other prisoners in the unit were not required to do this. When the targeted prisoners who included Osbourne and Canada predictably protested, McCoy ordered them denied their showers. This resulted in several covering their cell door windows in protest.
Guards were then “suited up” in riot armor to “cell extract” the prisoners. Cell extraction consists of one or more squads (five to seven guards per team), of riot armored guards (wearing metal helmets with face shields, bullet proof vests, elbow pads, knee pads and shin guards), first spraying large quantities of caustic gas into the prisoner’s cell, then opening the cell door and rushing the prisoner with the first guard carrying a 75,000 volt electric stun shield, (the modern prison version of the cattle prod), physically subduing while electrocuting the prisoner, handcuffing him from behind, leg shackling him, then putting him into ambulatory restraints (AR will be discussed in a future report).
All cell extractions are to be recorded by staff using hand held audio-video cameras, due to the tendency of guards to brutally beat prisoners during these events. Regardless after the prisoner is taken to the floor and handcuffs are applied, guards invariably get in sly knees, kicks, punches, gouges at the eyes, bending of fingers and toes, grabbing of the testicles and throat, while yelling “stop resisting”, “stop resisting!”, for effect, and to make it seem as though they are struggling to restrain a continually combative prisoner, rather than mob assaulting a subdued, defenseless man.
These events serve as great morale boosts to abusive guards who somehow account such armored and armed mob attacks on one man as deeds of bravery rather then cowardice, and psychologically provoke prisoners to try fighting them on these unwinnable terms by characterizing those who don’t allow guards to cell extract them when provoked as effeminate and “scared”, rather then intelligent. Many prisoners fall victim to this game.
Derwin Osbourne was the first prisoner cell-extracted, he allegedly swung a weapon at the guards when the cell door opened, and one guard fell to the floor. The rest rushed Osbourne, subdued and restrained him, then, according to Fields “beat him bloody”. He was left bleeding profusely from the face with large knots on his head, and the front of his body and face bloody.
Right after the cell door was opened and the guard fell to the floor, the audio-video camera was turned off to prevent the beating from being recorded and guards claimed falsely that the battery “died”.
Recording of Osbourne recommenced only after he’d been beaten, brought from the cell, then made to kneel in the unit outside the cell. Two guards injured themselves during the assault on Osbourne (one cut his arm, the other scratched his face), then claimed Osbourne inflicted the wounds.
Next Kelvin Canada was targeted. Fields participated in this assault. He admitted being the “shield man” and he carried the leg shackles. Just as was done with Osbourne, as soon as Canada’s cell door was opened and the mob of guards rushed in, they cut the camera off, to prevent filming of their assault on Canada after he was immediately subdued and restrained, claiming falsely that the battery went dead.
He was brutally beaten at length. Fields admits using the shackles as brass knuckles to beat him in the face, and that they repeatedly slammed his face and head into the concrete floor, after he was restrained.
Canada was put into ambulatory restraints without any nurse checking him. His face was severely swollen, bruised and deformed.
The audio-video recording of Canada only recommenced after the beating was over and he’d been locked or placed into a shower stall. He protested on camera that he had not been allowed to see a nurse.
Fields also claimed a weapon was planted.
Several other prisoners were also cell extracted, but were not beaten as Osbourne and Canada had been, nor were the cameras cut off on them. As a token measure, Warden Ray, apparently fearful of the backlash likely to follow, ordered that two audio-video cameras must be used to film all future cell extractions. Ray clearly knew it defied reality that in two consecutive cell extractions, preformed right behind one another, where both prisoners suffered injuries consistent with brutal facial assaults, the batteries of the recording equipment just happened to die, with recording resuming only after all use of force was over.
Ray also contacted Red Onion’s former security chief Leslie Fleming, who had just been promoted to assistant warden of Keen Mountain Correctional Center, to inquire about the situation.
Kevin McCoy who’d instigated, set up and oversaw the assaults and erasure and falsification of records to cover them up, was and is acting security chief of Red Onion as the position is currently vacant. When Fields told me about these assaults and warned/threatened that I too am “on the list”, I promptly filed an emergency grievance to seek an investigation of the situation and make a record of his statements; facts which I had no way of knowing except through his testimony. Fields became extremely angry about my grievance and threatened me further the following day. To which I filed another emergency grievance. In revenge he fabricated a disciplinary charge against me claiming I threatened him at the time he was in fact at my cell threatening me.
Lt Travis McCoy (Captain Kevin McCoy’s brother), refused to investigate my grievances and blatantly mis processed them, claiming that a guard threatening to set me up for assault by guards who had just done the same to two others, did not constitute threat of harm and thus did not not qualify as an emergency1.
In fact Travis McCoy and numerous ranking guards were also involved in and supervised the assaults and cover-up of Osbourne and Canada, including Captain Stacey Mullins, Lt Anthony Mullins, Captain Dewayne Turner, Lt Delmer Tate, etc.
I am attaching copies of the grievances I filed related to the November 26 and 27 incidents and Travis McCoy’s responses2.
I also filed “informal complaints” on Field’s actions, which the prison’s grievance department routed to Red Onion’s investigator, Sgt Tony Adams. However Adams refused to respond and instead rerouted them to a Lt Stacey Day.
ROSP guards also likely targeted Canada because of the outcome of an incident occurring on April 17, 2010, where he was targeted for assault by a guard and shot for no reason. On that date Canada was outside on a segregation exercise yard, confined in a locked cage. A guard Ricky Fannin confronted him with verbal abuse and threats. To make good on his threats, Fannin then went into a building, obtained the keys to Canada’s exercise yard cage from other guards, returned and then unlocked and opened the cage while Canada was completely unrestrained, with the intent of assaulting Canada.
Defending himself, Canada fought Fannin off. Other guards rushed to the scene and guards in a gun tower ordered Canada to lay on the ground which he did. At which time guards with shotguns shot Canada and another uninvolved prisoner, Robert Oliver, who was locked in another cage on the exercise yard.
Apparently the intent was to set Canada up to be assaulted after he’d been restrained, but Fanin jumped the gun and, in blatant violation of basic DOC policy, opened Canada’s cage alone while Canada was fully unrestrained. The entire incident was recorded on surveillance cameras so Fannin’s violation could not be easily covered up. He was thus prompted to resign. Many Red Onion prisoners regarded this as a victory for us against the prison’s largely racist and abusive staff. Whereas, guards-especially ranking ones who are veterans of abuse-have since had an open vendetta against Canada.
Also, Canada, like myself is greatly disliked by Red Onion officials because he is a member of the NABPP-PC/WPO which political affiliation is a constitutional right, but which officials oppose and persecute because this Party advocates the rights of prisoners and all oppressed people; opposes all forms of discrimination (racial, national, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, etc); promotes Socialism, and practices the right to free and honest speech. We are also a predominantly “minority” Party.
In Red Onion’s blatantly racist and totalitarian environment, officials find this unacceptable.
As in most every case at Red Onion, the frequent assaults were committed by white guards against non-white prisoners. Fields and other Red Onion guards high and low also repeatedly attempt to provoke and create situations to justify assault and the use of violence against me.
However, I generally don’t feed into their designs or respond in the ways they anticipate.
Brutal assaults continue to occur against Red Onion’s predominantly non-white prisoners, perpetrated by its almost exclusively white staff.
A favorite claim of officials is that audio and/or video surveillance equipment protects against such assaults or allegations of assaults.
But as can be seen, when it suits guards’ designs, such records are simply erased, “lost”, recorded over, or simply not made and blamed on equipment “malfunctions” or loss of power. As with cell extractions, guards have also devised means of assaulting prisoners while under audio-video surveillance; or to avoid recording they take prisoners into blind spots (for example inside of cells as they did with Ernest Darcus), where surveillance cameras can’t see.
As a recent questionnaire which I circulated amongst prisoners in my unit demonstrates, Red Onion is pervaded by a racist and abusive staff, and a deeply corrupt administration and ranking guards.
In my experience, the environment and staff attitudes are such as one reads about in books and novels on the old Jim Crow South, where festive lynchings by white mobs and open persecution and degradation of Blacks was the order of the day.
As Darcus pointed out, and I have experienced innumerable times, one is apt to find oneself witness
to a genuine Klan rally where racist white guards and inmates openly exchange and express white supremacist sentiments and Nazi fantasies.
Overt bigotry still exists in Amerika, right alongside the more subliminal and equally timeworn racism, where white Amerika more willingly embraces “properly sanitized” and “Anglicized” Blacks-like Barack Obama, Booker T. Washington, “Uncle Tom” etc- while still hating, fearing and avoiding the masses of lower class Blacks and Browns who don’t ape the status quo (refusing to personify white culture as “superior” to their own).
Both forms of racial oppression operate hand in hand. And both forms need to be rooted out- a good starting point would be in rallying and organizing against what’s going on in these remote prisons.
Dare to struggle Dare to win!
All power to the people!