Federal courts have spoken extensively on the harm sensory deprivation causes, with Texas leading the pack in terms of harm caused.
It is internationally known what the cause and effects are from just sitting in solitary confinement, so no need to elaborate there. But what has recently come into question (and has been briefly spoken on in recent years) is a revolutionized form of sleep deprivation that’s much worse than 24-hour lighting or the screaming of the mentally ill.
This prison guard-induced trauma to the brain has been exposed in California prisons as being deliberate torture. Health experts and a layman would all agree that humans require a certain amount of uninterrupted sleep in order to stay competent and effective in completing daily tasks.
Sleep deprivation for the most part has been successfully challenged in some federal courts. Having the lights on permanently in any prison is certainly torture on top of torture, especially when this is coupled with one being in isolation and unable to abate it.
But what is it considered when one isn’t housed in a prison that has 24-hour or controlled lighting, and therefore can enjoy the luxury of controlling their own cell lights, but still have to endure episodes of sleep deprivation by the hands of pesky and roguish guards?
What about when this is mixed with being awakened several times in the span of three hours? Not to mention these wakeup calls being rude, verbally violent, threatening, intrusive, disrespecting, and done in response to officials’ frustration at having to do their jobs – i.e., “If I have to suffer so do you.”
In matters like these the answer is simple – it is torture! This new style of punishment is currently under the microscope in California, but even with this being the case, it has somehow found its way to the Clement’s Unit in remote Amarillo, Texas. This prison is already home to abusive guards, indifferent medical staff, a rigged grievance system, and a discriminating disciplinary counsel substitute for prisoners.
Federal court challenges of conditions have been the most successful when a combination of lights and noise were discordant and continuous while serving no benefit to the safety of the prison and/or prisoners. With this being the case, prison officials are in violation of our constitutional Eighth Amendment rights, for they are inflicting cruel and unusual punishment as I write this.
On or around 1-19-16 at approximately 6:30 AM I was rudely awakened by the sound of doors being kicked and beaten on by Officer Lauren Griego during what was supposed to have been count. “Get up bring your ID to the door now,” I heard her scream at one prisoner. He informed her that he’d just returned from suicide prevention watch and therefore didn’t have his ID, or any property for that matter.
After several loud demands to “show me your ID” she carried on kicking and beating on the doors of those who weren’t already awakened from the noise and at the door viewing the charade. “IDs, out of bed, count!” she yelled while kicking my door. I provided my ID and went back to sleep.
Shortly thereafter I was reawakened by the same officer committing the same routine despite having checked our ID’s and no one having left off the pod. As I observed, it was obvious that she paid no mind to the IDs presented, only glancing at them then checking off cells on her list. It seemed more plausible that the reactions drawn from the rude awakenings were the driving force – the need of an ID merely an excuse.
Things became clear later that day once Griego and the medication aide stopped at my neighbor’s cell for pill call. “They said it smelled like feces for awhile but I didn’t smell anything,” the med aide said. “I thought it smelled like rotten meat,” Griego replied back in disgust.
As officers came and left the pod that shift and the following days, most openly provided unsolicited testimonies as to why they were aggressive during count time.
Officer Abraham Dolleh CO IV, who’s known as a food jacker and taunter of the mentally ill and elderly, was visibly intrigued by what had occurred and showed no reticence in his account. “Dude got killed by his cellie on C-pod 211.” He continued on: “His cellie was eating his food, taking his meds, fucking him. I guess he got tired of it, tried to fight back and his cellie knocked him out and he died. He was dead when they pulled him out.”
Dolleh also explained how he had lost 40 lbs and his body looked like a skeleton when it was removed from the cell. C-pod is considered a close custody pod. It has the exact same properties as solitary confinement; seldom provided recreation, non-working intercoms to alert authorities of an injury or problem, and the mental deterioration of sensory deprivation. But unlike solitary, two men are housed in these cells and it’s common for at least one to be mentally ill.
Due to the latter, prisoners always file life endangerment complaints in an effort to be moved with a more stable cellie, but these requests are usually shot down and the prisoner returned to the same cell after the investigation.
Contradicting and conflicting unsolicited testimonies poured in as officers told their stories. Officer Richard Wiebe claimed that the prisoner was in the cell dead “for about a week,” the sleep deprivation being TDCJ’s way of being “reactive instead of proactive”; while his co-worker M. Salihovic CO, claimed that “he died at the hospital”, that “he was raped, stabbed and jacked for his food,” so now “everyone is under investigation.”
One of the more insightful statements was made by officer Gary Leamer on 1-22-16, admitting that TDCJ is at fault. “It’s a lapse in security, we all are at fault … Nobody does their job, I don’t even do my job.” He carried on for quite some time spilling the beans: “The intercoms don’t work so they are trying to say it’s a structural issue. Everyone’s covering their asses, but the truth will come out when they start firing people. I guarantee it.”
Leamer then went on about how he felt it wasn’t a murder but could have been a situation where the prisoner died of medical neglect. He claimed that the decedent’s cellie was a diabetic who took insulin and was in no way healthy enough to even pull off such a thing. “He laid in one spot for two weeks, he had bed sores and died from dehydration and system failure when they took him to medical. They are investigating the last two weeks. Nothing was out of the ordinary when I worked there a week prior, we can hear when they fight, even when the pod’s loud. I heard all the stories of him being extorted but I don’t believe it”.
He also stated that prisoners normally write complaints, pass notes to staff and in the most extreme cases hijack the foodslot to draw attention. He said he felt that everything will fall back on the supervisors on 2 card day shift since they’re the ones that promote personal policies that often “put yall at risk of danger”.
He then claimed that their cell door hadn’t been opened in over 30 days and told me why: “Normally when we do shake down on close custody and we’re short, one officer searches and the other holds the two. We ain’t supposed to do that. Now they’re done by a group of officers that go from pod to pod. When they shakedown they do one cell, fill out the paper work, then leave.”
Leamer claimed that he worked day shift on high security for two years, went to 12 Building for one year then several other places before coming back to high security. His entire confession seemed to be directed at two supervisors on 2 card day shift who he says his wife Sgt. Solar (who’s a sergeant in 12 Building) said were the prime suspects and who are almost certain to be fired. He refused to give their names. After seeing that he may be a potential witness for a wrongful death suit I continue to probe. “By rule we’re supposed to check and make sure everyone gets their meds, but you know the nurses just sit ‘em on the slots and keep going.”
What’s problematic about the entire ordeal is that I’ve filed numerous fully exhausted grievances challenging how the medication is put in cells without checking if the occupant is alive. I’ve also had no success as each reply alluded my concern and the practice continued.
To make matters worse, Tomlinson, who’s actually a nurse, takes on the role of an active psychologist but only shows up once or twice a month despite rules stating they come weekly to check on the mental state and overall health of prisoners in segregation. The times she does come, she refuses to answer questions and will always state “write an I-60” (request form).
Due to contradicting statements and me having no knowledge of what happened, the truth is in dispute. But one thing is certain, a prisoner died by the negligence of prison officials and medical staff and we’re left to suffer the consequences – their crimes and our punishment.
Since the death of the prisoner, ranking officials have been walking on pins and needles trying to cover up the obvious flaws in the way they run their shift. The cell lights already come on during counts, feeding times, pill call, and whenever a supervisor comes on the pod, and don’t go off until the conclusion of each. So the only time we can enjoy having the lights off for a long period of time is after 9:00 PM until slightly before 3:00 AM.
On 1-22-16 we were subjected to three separate taunting wake up calls in the early morning between 6:00 AM and 8:35 AM. The first was to see if we were alive and the other two were to see if we were alive and to show our IDs. These checks that were being done by Wiebe, Melis and Salihovic were very similar to the way Griego conducted them, except after the conclusion to each, the cell lights were intentionally left on until ill tempered prisoners began banging on their doors waking the entire pod. These bangs were intentionally ignored until they had them turned off at 8:42 AM. When they were turned off the operator had them locked, so now prisoners that wanted their lights on were forced to sit in the dark and this caused more yelling.
After several minutes of protesting they popped back on and the protesters quieted down. Since the operator had the inmate control switch turned off, we had no way of controlling the light. Those that wanted the lights off began frantically beating on the door for several minutes, but both officers ignored the noise only stating “We told them, we can’t do nothing about it.” After the officers saw the banging was only increasing, one called and corrected the problem, but the lights were turned back on a little over ten minutes later and stayed that way until the conclusion of lunch shortly after 10:00 AM.
Such acts have become common; particularly on the first shift when prisoners are asleep. Several days in a row supervisors have showed up on the pod screaming and threatening about what they will do if their demands aren’t met. Twice during these episodes, and moments after I dozed off from the last ID check, I was rudely awakened by Lt. Thomas kicking my food slot. They seem to wait until count has been done and the lights turned off before they come, causing the lights to come back on.
The act of holding the inmate control switch hostage has also become common. Several times in one day those who were trying to sleep were forced to stay awake from the tug of war caused by the screaming of those who wanted the lights off and those who wanted them on when the former’s request was met. On 1-24-16 I got a chance to speak with Officer Fogelson CO who gave me a more clear account of why the day shift has been so bothersome: “They are only doing count like that because the Warden is getting on the rank’s ass. This is the reason everyone is running around frantic; nobody wants to be held accountable. They say he didn’t have his door rolled for 30 days that’s bullshit. He went to UCC (unit classification committee) and he was getting his trays. He just died all of a sudden. I mean we don’t always shake down, we just fill out the paperwork, even yall know that. But he did come out of his cell and he was fine. At this point I know just as much as you know.”
As for ID checks, there are rules supporting them but these rules are limited, and on a standard day they are only required once in the morning and again at night; harassing people and kicking doors aren’t listed as being part of it.
In California there are rules allowing the use of the guard one pipes which make a noise upon contact with the door. This is still torture, but in Texas no rule supports any kicking or banging on cell doors. Prison officials are doing this to cover up their own past misdeeds.
Torture is torture no matter how you look at it and prisoners in Texas shouldn’t be deprived of sleep just so officials can pass an investigation that has the entire high security staff as suspects. Only in Amerika will you find a prison system that supports the death of a prisoner, and then uses torture to cover it up.
Dare to struggle! Dare to win! All Power To The People!
Jason Renard Walker #1532092
9601 Spur 591
Amarillo, TX 79107
[Editorial note: The article has been very lightly edited for spelling, punctuation, and clarity. Quotes from guards have been amalgamated, i.e. “His cellie was eating his food, taking his meds, fucking him. I guess he got tired of it, tried to fight back and his cellie knocked him out and he died. He was dead when they pulled him out.” Was originally “His cellie was eating his food, taking his meds, fucking him.” “I guess he got tired of it, tried to fight back and his cellie knocked him out and he died.” “He was dead when they pulled him out.”]