In the four years I’ve spent in federal prison for my supposedly criminal efforts to look into government misconduct in cooperation with a loose array of Anonymous-affiliated hackers, I’ve had the unique experience of investigating government misconduct from within. But although I’ve spent much of this time writing about prison life in articles for The Intercept and other outlets, I’ve generally refrained from going into the specific violations of Bureau of Prisons policy and even federal law that one witnesses on a daily basis in BOP institutions. This is largely because I prefer writing about other things, but also because there’s usually no point in reporting such matters in a nation where the press will have spent some 10,000% more time this year analyzing sexist attacks on the latest Ghostbusters film than they have the actual rape and sexual exploitation to which actual women are subject in U.S. prisons – and which could be largely ended within a month if that same degree of oh-so-fun Ghostbusters internet feud energy were to be directed at forcing the prison rape issue into prominence and shaming Congress into implementing safeguards that reformers have been proposing for years.
When I first started out as a journalist, I wrote a piece about how in the aftermath of one of the few rapes of a woman by Texas prison guards to have made the news, the Texas prison board met to enact a new policy – a rule making it more difficult for journalists to interview inmates. There are places in the world where this would have prompted civic outrage and prompt action, but the United States is not one of them. Today I’m the only journalist in the US who has no problem whatsoever interviewing inmates. But it’s hard to say that this has helped. We live in a time and place in which it’s not enough for a journalist to uncover serious and unambiguous instances of wrongdoing by the powerful, or even to get it published in a major outlet. Without some partisan hook or compelling video or a connection to whatever fun internet battle that the working press is currently big on because it’s easy to cover and can generate the clicks that now constitute our true and most revealing form of democracy, documenting wrongdoing by the state is futile. Nothing will come of it.
Still, I’m going to spend the last two months of my sentence doing just that, partly because I want to provide a more or less real-time record of the manner in which federal employees will conduct themselves when they find themselves free to act without consequences. This isn’t to say that all prison staff are bad people; indeed, at the six facilities where I’ve been held, serious misconduct generally seems to be confined to about 30 percent of staff, at least in federal prisons. The problem is that the 30 percent inevitably includes the very administration officials who are allegedly on hand to ensure that policy is followed. Thus it is that it was the prison’s internal affairs head himself, Terance Moore, who took away my access to the inmate e-mail service contrary to policy an hour after I’d used it to contact a journalist about the sort of official misconduct that Moore himself is theoretically being paid to prevent; and when I was held in the hole for two weeks last July despite no such punishment having been handed down to me – one of several incidents of retaliation I’ve noted here – it was an assistant warden, Yates, who ordered them to keep me there, apparently because I’d hurt his feelings.
All of that is incidental, though. I’m not documenting official misconduct in spite of the fact that it will lead to zero consequences for the perpetrators and will do nothing to help the victims; I’m documenting these things precisely because of it. The baroque nightmare that the US has inflicted upon millions of families for decades is certainly a story worth telling, and I’ll be telling what I can of it for years to come, but even more fundamental is the failure of our government, our press, and our citizenry to take responsibility for the institutions that it creates and thereafter forgets. To this end, each of these posts – along with other documented evidence I’ve already published to the effect that high BOP officials are actively sabotaging the ability of inmates to challenge serious instances of abuse and due process violations in court – will be forwarded to the Office of the Inspector General, which ostensibly exists to investigate these things. But, again, nothing will come of it.
Incident: When inmate Ravi Hassan, #272203-009, was placed in the hole, or Special Housing Unit, in late June of this year, ostensibly for a “custody level reclassification” that prevented him from being with other medium security-designated inmates on our prison yard until the administration signed a document that would technically allow him back in the compound, he expected to return within two days, that being about how long it usually takes the warden to handle that. Instead, he was there for 30 days, and strongly suspects that this had something to do with the fact that he’d complained about an administration member who’d failed to properly handle an issue involving his release to a halfway house. SHU inmates usually get their property within a few days of arrival in the SHU; I myself was being held in the SHU at that time, illegally, on the orders of Assistant Warden Yates, and received mine within three days, and on a prior occasion when I’d likewise been thrown in the SHU for an “investigation” an hour after giving a phone interview to a radio station, I got my stuff the next day. But for the first two weeks he was being held, Hassan didn’t get any of his property, even his legal work; a SHU property officer by the name of Gamble even taunted him about it, on two occasions cheerfully bringing property to other SHU inmates, and at one point loudly remarking while standing in Hassan’s corridor about how he’d enjoyed “killing a couple of Muslims over in Iraq.” After a series of complaints, Gamble was replaced as property officer and Hassan finally got his property. Gamble continues to work at the prison.
Analysis: Proclaiming your enjoyment of killing people of a particular religion as a means of intimidating a member of that religion while also preventing that inmate from accessing his legal papers contrary to policy is not enough to get you fired from the Bureau of Prisons. Hassan’s other, even more disturbing adventures at Three Rivers will be detailed in future posts.
Incident: A relative of Three Rivers Federal Correctional Institution inmate Saloman Bustos, #49859380, bought him a subscription to Playboy, which switched to a non-nude format some months ago and is now again being accepted in many of the prison systems that had banned depictions of full nudity back around 2000. When the first several issues arrived, Bustos received a notification from the mail room that they had been sent back due to “sexually explicit” material. I wrote a staff notification message to the mail room for Bustos pointing out that the term “sexually explicit” in the Bureau of Prison guidelines is defined very specifically in such a way that does not include the pictorials in Playboy. A staff member replied that Bustos should write a BP-8 grievance form. I had him forward the same message to the Assistant Warden for Operations, a fellow named Yates, repeating the point. Yates replied by quoting the very policy that I’d referred to: “Nudity means a pictorial depiction where genitalia or female breasts are exposed. Specifically, when the pictorial depiction of the female breast displays the areola or nipple, this material will be rejected.” I had Bustos write the BP-8 form pointing out that he understands that the policy calls for the rejection of pictures with aureolas and genitalia but that “Playboy DOES NOT run pictures with genitalia & nipples and so my three magazines were sent back contrary to policy,” offering to provide copies of news articles verifying that Playboy no longer runs such material, and asking that the prison reimburse him for the publications and refrain from further violating his due process rights by rejecting future copies of a magazine which he is legally permitted to receive. On October 3rd, the response came back from a certain F. Rodriguez: “Per 5266.11 (2), Nudity means a pictorial depiction where genitalia or female breasts are exposed. Specifically, when the pictorial depiction of the female breast displays the areola or nipple, this material will be rejected.”
Analysis: Due process is a myth.