Inmates write about conditions in the world’s largest prison system

The racist ‘war on drugs’

In a WW editorial you mentioned just a few facts dealing with America’s racist atrocity called the “wars” on drugs and crime. I’ve been researching this for 30 years and there is not one fact to support this “war” in the “freest, most just” America, but thousands that prove beyond a reasonable doubt that history will call it a “crime against humanity,” equaling slavery.

I was 18 when Malcolm was killed and 20 when Martin was. I came to realize it was no accident, no coincidence, that these wars, aimed directly to get blacks (at that time) came right after the civil rights victories. Blacks were given rights finally and then “entrapped” and sent to prison.

America shrieks to the world that it is the freest, most just nation on earth but imprisons at a rate up to 20 times that of nations we condemn as less free and just. Supreme Court Judge Kennedy also noted that “The U.S. has prison sentences eight times longer than Europe’s.”

Gov. Cuomo has about 58,000 in his prisons, needing about 30,000 corrections staff. The economic multiplier effects result in up to 120,000 private sector jobs created or saved. Total prisoner-generated employment is up to 150,000. If all have a spouse and two kids, up to 600,000 voters and future voters get to live comfortably from a mere 58,000 kept in cells.

If we tried other nations’ freer, more just and still effective crime and drug laws, up to 90 percent of state prisons would close. Also reduced would be the number of judges, court staff, prosecutors, defense attorneys, parole officers, police, etc.

Those in economically depressed regions of northern New York state want more and more prisoners, as Southerners once wanted more slaves to prosper from.

Today, religious leaders, academics, journalists, etc., will of course condemn all forms of slavery, but hypocritically their silence is beyond deafening regarding the neo-slavery that politicians have now initiated.

Henry J. Hain

Upstate Prison (plantation)

Malone, N.Y.

Prison conditions get ‘usual rubber stamp’

Below are excerpts from a second letter to WW from Donnelly Le Blanc about atrocious and illegal conditions at SCI-Huntingdon, where he was kept in solitary. He included with it a memo he had received from an official named B. Salamon at Pennsylvania Department of Corrections informing him that a Regional Inspection Team had toured the prison after Le Blanc wrote an earlier letter to WW on the conditions there. The team “did not find the facility to be in the condition that you describe,” said the memo. It also told Le Blanc to “comply with DOC rules and regulations” so he could return to General Population and “participate in offense and behavior related programming.” Here is Le Blanc’s reaction.

This letter comes to you as another installment of our plight at SCI-Huntingdon.

I must begin by thanking you for your paper and the inspiration it constantly gives me and others whom I share it with to continue our struggle in the “bowels” of this dragon. SCI-Hun is not the “belly” — this prison is notorious for its proximity to that of Eastern State in its treatment of prisoners and the over-all appalling conditions.

Your articles concerning Mumia have been a constant inspiration to me these last two years. My fight with the “criminal injustice system” here in Pa. is so much similar to his. …

B. Salamon makes a blanket statement that these “conditions are not found.” He contends that everything I wrote to you is a lie.

So let’s ask the first question. How do you fit over 2,100 men in a facility designed for less than 1,000? Is he saying there are not two men in every cell at Huntingdon and that some are even smaller than 8 by 8 [feet], which also holds the water closet, toilet, bed, shelving and desk?

He makes sure he mentions my RHU [restricted housing unit] stay to discredit me as much as possible. Did they somehow lose C.O. Lantz’s conduct records? I doubt it. Did the mold and filth disappear? Nope!

The Regional Inspection Team of the ACA [American Correctional Association] gave this place the usual rubber stamp. How does the ACA approve a 120-year-old prison that violates every rule for prisons in the book? It does not even comply with their own rule of 55 square feet of cell space per prisoner — excluding fixtures.

Did they install windows in our cells, fans, or ventilators for adequate legally required air flow? Have they replaced the cracked and broken stairs and walkways; even the missing non-skid surfacing?

When the ACA was here, the food was great — big portions, too, but only for the noon meal. Yet even though it’s known that food only accounts for 5 percent of money spent, we get less and less. Huntingdon is probably down to 3 percent.

Before the ACA showed up they made sure they put some fresh paint on, had inmates scrub and wax halls. Now? Right back to the filth.

But neither they or the RIT look for cracks in the structure, broken stairs and catwalks on the upper tiers. They don’t go up there. And they certainly didn’t inspect all the hazardous, illegally unsafe steam radiators that have none of the safety shields required by law and are always busting pipes.

Did “A” yard, the 60 by 1,000 foot alley where all 2,000 inmates must go to have yard, suddenly grow? Even our main yard, “C,” is not legally adequate.

Did they suddenly come up with jobs, or in lieu of that increase the amount of Maintenance Pay and the time we can collect it to a longer period so we are not destitute — without even cosmetics for our personal hygiene and writing materials for letters to friends? Maintenance Pay is 72 cents a day — after 6 months they cut you off. But there are NO jobs. If you are Level 3 or above you can’t work in the production plants. Even those jobs only pay 25 cents an hour for $15 an hour work. About 75 percent of inmates here are Level 3 or above and all of 90 percent have no outside source of income.

Did they suddenly get rid of the 75-year-old dentist who no longer has the hand strength left to properly extract teeth and tears your mouth and gums to shreds?

I must be hallucinating when I still see all the roaches and mice, and the black mold.

The ACA in 1959 set guidelines, stating “Segregation for punishment should be for the shortest period … and in any event not over 30 days. … Excessively long periods for punishment defeat their own purpose by embittering and demoralizing the inmate.”

You even have to sign a “Double Cell” agreement upon arrival. I still have the one I refused to sign. So far I have to do 6 months in the hole for that refusal and am still fighting.

I’m classified as “violent and dangerous,” so why force another inmate in my cell?

Donnelly Le Blanc

Huntingdon, Pa.

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