Under New Administration Torture Unit Closes then Reopens at Red Onion State Prison, And Prison Abuse on the Rise


On October 4, 2011 Randy Mathena replaced Tracy S. Ray as Chief warden of Virginia’s remote Red Onion State Prison. The same day Jeff Kiser replaced Richard Rowlette as the new Assistant warden. During February 2011, Kevin McCoy was promoted to Chief of security. This new administrative trio consists of veterans and key players of Red Onion’s notorious early years of extreme physical abuse of prisoners and unconcealed racism, which generated independent investigations and scathing reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Mathena and Kiser subsequently left Red Onion to allow for a period of damage control. Meanwhile McCoy refined his game of doing dirt and cleaning up behind himself and others and maneuvered his way up the ranks – from sergeant, to lieutenant, to captain, and now security chief (major).

As explained in my recent article, Abu Ghraib Comes to Amerika, Ray came onboard as Red Onion’s chief warden in 2004 to repair the prison’s image, which saw a marked decline in physical abuse in favor of psychological abuse. However, Mathena’s and Kiser’s return, along with McCoy’s recent promotion, has seen an almost instant revival of the old program of overt physical brutality, racism and deliberate efforts to provoke and create situations to speciously justify physical abuse.

B-3 Torture Unit Closed Down

Abu Ghraib Comes to America brought exposure and protest of a psychological torture unit [B-3] constructed under Ray at the prison, and other illegal practices and conditions. As I discussed, Ray’s ‘justifications’ for constructing B-3 was the murder of a Red Onion prisoner during the summer of 2010. I also pointed out that B-3 was not a meaningful response, because guards frequently act to incite and facilitate prisoner-on- prisoner violence.

This was all confirmed when the accused killer Robert Gleason pled guilty to that and a prior prisoner killing, and at his trials implicated Ray and other officials as knowing about, and being complicit in, those murders. Worse still, on the very day Gleason was transferred from Red Onion to Virginia’s death row in Waverly, Virginia, another prisoner was killed at Red Onion, after he and his cellmate, who were forcibly housed together in a small cell for some 23 hours per day, repeatedly requested to be housed separately due to incompatibility issues. This death occurred in the unit adjoining B-3, with lieutenant Delmer Tate the responsible and supervising guard of both units.

Together, both Red Onion’s and Tracy Ray’s public and political images took a nosedive, leading to the return of Mathena as warden the following month.

Tate was booted out of B-building less than two weeks after the latest prisoner death, and Mathena promptly closed B-3 down, admitting the torture unit to be problematic to operate, and pointless. B-3 was emptied and formally closed on October 21, 2011.

B-3 Reopens

Considering the great sums of taxpayer money wasted on B-3’s construction and the inefficiency of leaving an entire housing unit empty indefinitely, Mathena and Co. were destined to find some use for it. So, not even a week after its closing, I was thrown into the unit. This following Mathena’s discovering that I’d done a radio interview by phone, discussing the racism and abuse at Red Onion, and persecution of politically active prisoners. McCoy had me totally banned from all telephone use.

The pretext for the move to B-3 was obviously staged.

First, on October 25, 2011, my entire A-3 unit was subjected to a routine shakedown, myself included. Then, the next day, a second shakedown was staged–which is almost unheard of. While all others were searched by regular low-ranking guards, I was singled out to be searched by lieutenants Delmer Tate and Stacy Day. Initially, they conducted the cell search in usual fashion with me standing outside the cell restrained and watching. Then Tate claimed need to search the cell outside my presence and had me locked inside a shower stall. All my property was then removed from the cell, and I, (handcuffed behind my back and leg shackled), along with my belongings, was moved to B-3, with a K-9 guard and large menacing dog trailing closely behind me; like a scene from Abu Ghraib. Dogs are almost never used at Red Onion.

I was put into a cell with a video camera inside. I promptly pressed complaints on the move as punitive, retaliatory and unjustified. Both Mathena and Kiser admitted as much, both having come into the A-3 unit and spoken to me briefly while I was locked inside the shower stall. Inside B-3 I am banned from all contact with other prisoners.

Later that day, Donell Blount, a frequent and effective litigator against abuses at the prison, was brought into B-3, also by Tate. The pretext for moving Blount in was a nail being missing from a fixture inside a cell that Tate had him put into in another unit! Coincidentally: Blount has lawsuits pending against Tate.

A third prisoner was also brought into B-3 for allegedly flooding his cell in another unit.

The next day, a fourth prisoner, Michael Boone, was brought in, after being assaulted by guards, and throwing a liquid substance on them to prevent a second assault attempt by them. (Incident detailed below).

Both Boone and Blount had just been moved out of B-3 on October 20, 2011.

That evening a mob of some forty guards swarmed into B-3, and took up positions around our cells. All wore “strike force” uniforms and no identifying name tags as the rules require. Many aren’t employed at Red Onion. In abusive tones and language we were each demanded to submit to being restrained and having our cells searched. My third shakedown in three days

Instead of searching my property, the guards dumped and threw it all around the cell. Then they walked on my scattered belongings, sheets, bed, pillow, etc., leaving filthy bootprints. Upon returning into the cell I was kicked twice in the leg by the guards.

The series of confrontations were obviously calculated to provoke a response whereby the guards could ‘justify’ violent reactions.

On October 28, 2011 a fifth prisoner, Damion Land, was brought into B-3, for protesting guards refusing another prisoner’s breakfast meal in another unit. (Incident detail below).

October 30, 2011, I was subjected to my fourth shakedown in less than a week.

Assaults and abuse

On being moved from B-3 to another unit on October 20, Michael Boone witnessed two guards, Coyle and Looney, slam a prisoner to the concrete floor for no reason, then pile on and smash his face to the floor in B-5 unit. The next day he witnessed a guard, Turner, repeatedly slam a steel tray slot hatch and box onto another prisoner, Brian Farabee’s, arm. These incidents alerted Boone to a sudden propensity of guards to openly assault prisoners.

On October 26 in the B-4 unit Boone was himself targeted in a premeditated assault at lunch. One guard, J. Hammond, commented to another, J. Dickenson, upon reaching Boone’s cell to serve his meal, “You wanna handle this or do you want me to?”  Dickenson replied, “You go ahead” and proceeded to position the food service cart to block the unit surveillance camera’s view of Boone’s cell door. When Boone reached out of his door’s slot to retrieve his lunch tray from inside a steel tray slot box used to serve meals, Hammond snatched the steel box from the door and repeatedly slammed it down onto Boone’s arm, trying to break his arm.

During the attack Mathena was in an adjoining unit, and came into Boone’s unit a few minutes afterward. Boone summoned and described to Mathena what happened, showing his injured arm. Mathena blew Boone off, stating he’d “look at the camera”. Nothing was done. Medical staff found Boone’s arm to have multiple lacerations, swelling, and bruising, and ordered x-rays, noting a possible break or fracture.

That same day at dinner, the same guards attempted to set Boone up for another assault. Initially another guard, Hall, came to serve Boone’s dinner. But, when they got to his cell, another guard, Creed, went into another unit and got Hammond and Dickenson, who came and stood on the sides of Boone’s door. The guards then opened Boone’s slot and waited for him to reach out to retrieve his tray, specifically threatening to assault him again. Instead, Boone admittedly sprayed a liquid substance out the slot on them to get them from around his cell. In response, Mathena had Boone confronted with teams of guards in riot armor and strapped down by his extremities to a steel bedframe. The next day Boone was moved to B-3. Nothing was done to, or about, the assaulting guards.

On October 28, 2011 in the A-4 unit a guard, Holdbrook, refused to serve a prisoner, R. Luffin, his breakfast tray. Four prisoners in the unit covered their cell door windows in protest, and to get a supervisor to come to the unit. These prisoners were Gail (cell 413), Wilson (414), Brown (416), and Damian Land. A sergeant, Phillips, came to the unit, refused to do anything, then called another sergeant, Payne. Payne likewise refused to correct the denied meal, and summoned a lieutenant Stanley. Stanley announced that Luffin would receive no meal because Holbrook lied, claiming he’d refused his own breakfast. Luffin then allegedly flooded his cell. Mathena then entered the unit and went into an office with Stanley. A counselor and mental health worker were called in but spoke to none of the prisoners.

Meanwhile Payne repeatedly sprayed Gail with tear gas from a 36 ounce container until Gail vomited. Gail is an asthmatic who is not supposed to be gassed, yet all involved officials along with medical staff deliberately targeted only him to be gassed. Gail could have died. Luffin was then brought out of his cell to be moved to another unit, at which point Mathena directed guards to provide him a breakfast tray.

Stanley emerged from the office with Mathena and led a group of riot armored guards to Land’s cell. Land was given no instruction nor opportunity to submit to being voluntarily handcuffed. Instead, Stanley had the cell door opened abruptly without warning, and the armored guards rushed in to physically subdue, handcuff and shackle Land, (no gas was used on him, as is standard procedure for “cell extractions”), and move him to B-3. Land then received a bogus disciplinary infraction for “ringleading” a “group demonstration”. Whereas the entire incident had been obviously created and calculated by officials to create a ‘disruption’ and make it appear as some premeditated group rebellion.

On October 31, 2011 Dickenson left his post in the B-4 unit and brought the nurse into B-3 to conduct a.m. pill rounds, with the obvious intentions of targeting Boone for attack. I witnessed this entire incident. Dickenson put the steel tray slot box onto Boone’s door, the nurse, Trish Cox, placed Boone’s medication into the box, then Dickenson opened the slot. When Boone reached into the box to retrieve his meds Dickenson took the box off the door and repeatedly slammed it down onto Boone’s arm. Boone sat with his arm passively on the slot allowing the numerous surveillance cameras mounted around the B-3 unit to film the attack.

Once Dickenson was tired and realized Boone wasn’t going to resist nor move his arm despite being beaten, and thus he couldn’t shut the slot with Boone’s arm obstructing it, he called a sergeant Thompson to the unit. A portable audio-video camera was also brought to Boone’s cell, whereupon he, I and others described what had occurred. Dickenson left the unit with nothing done to him, and the nurse examined Boone’s arm, finding a new series of bruises and lacerations and again, suspecting a fractured or broken bone, recommended x-rays.

Later that day Mathena came into the unit. Both Boone and I described the assault to him. Again he claimed he’d check the cameras. I brought up the interesting fact that during Red Onion’s early and most openly abusive years, he presided as Assistant Warden. And suddenly upon his return guards suddenly felt open license to overtly assault prisoners and provoke incidents that would obviously lead to guards’ uses of violence. He couldn’t deny this trend.

On November 1, 2011 Boone was taken to see the doctor, who also ordered x-rays. He has as of this November 14, 2011, date received no x-rays. No effort was made to investigate the assault either, until he pressed complaints and grievances. His arm was only photographed as a result on November 8, 2011, yet no investigation has been conducted and no investigator has spoken with him to ascertain any facts.

On November 4, 2011, Brian Barabee was moved into B-3 for the grave offense of having been on a hunger strike since October 28, 2011. Guards also turned off his cell’s water so he couldn’t drink. The B-3 cells are extremely cold (one typically bundles up in all his clothes and blankets inside the cell for warmth), with no fixtures nor furniture except a steel bed and toilet /sink combination unit.

Farabee, extremely emaciated and dehydrated, was allowed only boxers in the cell, and given a mattress only from approximately 10 pm to 6 am. He was otherwise left in a cold empty cell (all his property was taken) with no means of maintaining body heat, and made to sit, stand and lie on cold steel and concrete surfaces during the day. In his weakened state Farabee’s metabolism was obviously very low and his need for sources of retaining body heat much greater than that of the average healthy person. Yet he received just the opposite, in an effort to torture him off the strike. Indeed, on November 7, 2011, guards dressed up in riot armor and removed his mattress by force because he was too weak to bring it to the cell door. I filed emergency grievances on witnessing this blatant torture. Ultimately he was moved out of B-3 to the medical unit on November 7, 2011. On November 14, 2011 he was moved back to B-3 still on hunger strike.

On November 7, 2011, Philip Crayton was brought into B-3 by Tate, and strapped down by his extremities to a steel bedframe, for allegedly flooding his cell in another unit. While being strapped down, notoriously abusive guards, sergeants Payne and Wright, along with a guard Wisenhunt, repeatedly bent Crayton’s fingers back, bent his foot at painful angles against the steel bedframe, etc.

At the very moment I was writing this Farabee repeatedly asked to be given a mattress because of extreme cold. This began at around 7:00 pm. Guards refused so he covered his cell door window with wet toilet paper. Various supervising guards came to his cell including lieutenants Mullins and Artrip and sergeants Artrip and Salyers along with numerous guards. Farabee was told he would not receive the mattress until 10 pm and if he did not uncover the window he would be gassed and cell-extracted. He was then ordered strapped down to a bedframe for allegedly scratching his wrist. All because he sought a mattress and heat-source in the cell. Both he and I protested his being tortured having nothing but boxer shorts in an empty cold cell while his body metabolism is extremely low. The guards’ reply was the mental health department, warden and others automatically impose this status when prisoners go on hunger strikes, and they were only following orders.

The same defense Nazi soldiers raised during the Nuremberg trials for torture and sadistic abuses of defenseless people.

Prior Assault in B-3

One particularly brutal assault occurred in B-3 on September 3, 2011. The victim Kelvin Canada is a politically active prisoner who’s been an especial target of abuse at Red Onion. The September 3 assault being the third attack on Canada. The first occurring on April 10, 2011 and described by me in an earlier report, involved a guard, Fannin, opening the locked door to Canada’s segregation exercise yard cage and attempting to attack Canada while he was unrestrained, and in complete violation of prison policy and security.  Canada defended himself but was shot even after he’d surrendered to other guards upon their orders. The second assault occurred November 18, 2011 when guards set him up for a cell extraction, cut the cameras off and brutally beat him after he was restrained.

The B-3 incident involved guards Davis, Fields and sergeants Payne and Wright and Captain Turner attacking him while he was held kneeling with shackles on. He was thrown to the floor and piled upon, beaten, and Davis repeatedly dug fingers into Canada’s left eye – a frequent assault technique at Red Onion. Canada suffered a dislocated right shoulder and blackened left eye with a large red hemorrhage across the white of his eye. Although he has been found to have a dislocated shoulder, it still has not been treated to date.


Abusive conditions, sadistic violence and outright physical torture are now on the rise at Red Onion. No efforts are made to even pretend at investigations or redress. With the return of Mathena, Kiser and the promotion of McCoy to security chief at Red Onion, conditions are reverting back to the prison’s early years when it won almost instant national notoriety as one of Amerika’s most abusive prisons. While U.S. officials are quick to self-righteously condemn government torture and violence against defenseless populations abroad, they consciously avert public attention away from the fact that they practice the same right here. Especially within the hidden confines of U.S. prisons. It has been my aim therefore to open cracks in these walls to allow the public a peek inside of a world they are compelled to support at great financial expense, where criminally inhumane abuses are carried out in their names

As western societies matured, their populations became less accepting of officials conducting gruesome tortures in public, because they came to see that the object was to terrify them into submission to tyrannical power, and unquestioned ‘authority’. The roles of prisons in Amerika and the brutal conditions within them serve the same purpose today, only more subliminally. We must end all forms of torture. This begins with exposure and resistance to its practice. Mass resistance. Otherwise, as with the case of Red Onion, the cycle of abuse will just repeat itself and will spread until no one will be left unaffected.

Dare to struggle; Dare to win!
All Power to the People!

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