Sussex 2 Sussex: From Death Row to An Empty Cell (2018)

rashid-2013-self-portrait1The Silence Treatment

Because I struggle to give a voice and human face to and to publicize abuses suffered by my imprisoned peers, help them challenge their mistreatment and work to educate them on their human rights and true role within Amerika’s overall exploitative, oppressive and racist political-economic system, officials have always aimed to isolate me from them.

When years of these repressive efforts failed, in 2012 the Virginia Department of Corruption’s (VDOC) new token Black director, Harold Clarke had me transferred out of state. Because I continued this work everywhere else I went. I was subsequently expelled from three other states (Oregon, Texas and Florida). Texas and Florida being recognized by the courts and media as two of Amerika’s most corrupt and abusive prison systems and Oregon among its most racist.[1]

When Florida gave Virginia an ultimatum to come get me within five days, this left Virginia little option but to take me back since they couldn’t arrange to send me elsewhere on such short notice. So, on June 12th I was returned to Red Onion State Prison where I immediately began publicizing abuses. After only a month there I was moved to Virginia’s Sussex 1 State Prison and put on death row, although I have no death sentence.

Apparently this seemed the ideal immediate place to isolate me, since only three men remained on Virginia’s Death Row and are held in an otherwise empty 44-cell pod where they could be housed in cells far away from me. Also, despite the “dangerous” stigma prison officials love to project against Death Row prisoners, they are recognized to be the least problematic of all prisoners. In this regard Virginia officials apparently expected their Death Row prisoners to meekly accept orders not to communicate with me. Their plan failed miserably.

So three months later (on October 17th) I was transferred to Sussex 2 State Prison and put in solitary confinement with designs to make my living conditions decidedly worse.

Life on Death Row

Throughout my stay at Sussex 1State Prison the Death Row prisoners refused orders to not talk to me despite the warden’s trying everything from attempted bribery and threats, to revoking privileges and trying to make living condition harsher on Death Row.

Officials there were vocally incensed by my publicizing the case of Thomas Porter, one of the Death Row men, and his successful legal battles that ended Virginia’s practice of confining its Death Row population in permanent solitary confinement.[2]

But what outraged them in particular was my ability to use the Death Row telephones to communicate with outside people and the media.

This allowed me to conduct numerous radio interviews and talk to various journalists during and about the August 21-September 9 Nationwide Prison Strike and concerning prison abuses, to participate in prisoner advocacy discussion forums, and other prisoner support-related events; to develop and advance important political work; and to restore familial bonds and social relations cut off by years in solitary confinement where phone use is not allowed (as in Oregon and Texas) or extremely limited (as in Virginia and Florida).

When it was discovered that I was using the phones (due to a correspondent letting on in a letter to me that we’d talked on the phone), the calls – which are automatically recorded by the automated prison phone system – were listened to and the warden came down on the Death Row prisoners and guards alike, trying to determine how I’d gotten the phones.

Soon after came the move to Sussex 2 State Prison, where the abuse began as soon as I stepped off the transportation van.

Here We Go Again

Now keep in mind that I was never charged with a single rule infraction while at Sussex 1 State Prison, whereas here at Sussex 2 State Prison they’ve been breaking every rule and policy in my treatment and have been confronting me with provocations and threats of violence including, for example, mobs of guards brandishing weapons and, (like scenes from the 2004 Abu Ghraib detainee torture scandal), with large unmuzzled dogs barking and lunging wildly at me – one of which was held only inches from me on October 17th as he repeatedly reared up on his hind legs attempting to bite me.

Upon my arrival at Sussex 2 State Prison, I was confronted by just such a mob with the aforementioned dog.

Following going through a search I was taken to a filthy cell having a commode full of blood. All neighboring cells had been emptied of occupants, and in violation of the state fire and building codes my cell door was chained and padlocked shut, preventing its ability to be opened by the electronic central control system that is used to open and close all other cells in the cellblock.

I was placed on a blatantly illegal special status, some of the conditions of which are posted outside the cell door, which include 1) that I be kept under direct watch of a guard sitting directly in front of my cell 24/7. 2) that staff not talk to me, 3) that I not receive out-of-cell exercise, 4) that my meals be served on special rubber trays without cups or utensils – I was expected to navigate eating all foods (including e.g. rice, soups, beans, oatmeal, etc.) with bare filthy hands like an animal. I in turn refused to accept meals under these conditions.

Additionally I’ve been denied all personal property and was given no cleaning or hygiene supplies. I’m being denied all stationary so I can’t send out personal letters.

Unlike other prisoners I cannot shave nor receive haircuts, and have been refused the intake orientation which all prisoners are required to receive upon being newly assigned to a VDOC prison, which notifies him/her of the prison’s rules and procedures, explains how to access medical, dental and mental health services, how to file grievances and requests, for services etc. Also without this orientation the prisoner will be denied all mail, because the orientation packet contains forms s/he must sign and forward to the mailroom consenting to the state’s procedures on handling and searching incoming mail. If the forms aren’t signed and filed by the prisoner, all incoming mail except legal mail will be automatically returned to sender.

And each time I leave the cell I’m subjected to a large security escort. In fact on October 20th I was escorted just a few yards from my cell to the shower by a group of guards in full body riot armor accompanied by another unmuzzled dog. I am also denied the right to confidential calls with my attorney. After pressing a number of complaints I was allowed to speak briefly with my attorney – after initially being denied calls to him – but only as guards sat listening to my conversation (a violation of attorney/client privilege).

On top of all this I am refused all consideration by the Sussex 2 State Prison medical department for complications related to my condition of chronic high blood pressure.

So essentially I’m sitting idle, chained and padlocked inside an empty cell, as official make a violent spectacle of me.

And who said corruption doesn’t fear publicity?

Dare to Struggle Dare to win!
All Power to the People!

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Since this article was sent out by Rashid, VADOC transferred him yet again, first back to Sussex 1 State Prison, and then from there to Indiana, where he is currently being held at the Reception-Diagnostic Center in Plainfield.  He is currently in a cell with no property. He has no extra underwear to change into. The cell is, of course, dirty. He’s in solitary confinement. They are refusing him his stationary and stamps, so he can’t write out. We will provide updates as we receive more information.



[1] See and the sections with various articles and exposés on Oregon, Texas and Florida prison conditions, most containing extensive documentary support.

[2] See Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “Heroic or Heinous: The Death Penalty Case of Thomas Porter” (2018) available at


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