Recently I wrote a blog article entitled “Welcome to the Jungle” which described the environment I have recently been cast down upon. Florida State Prison has an especially brutal history as over the years it earned its reputation as the “Alcatraz of the South” This history is well documented in court records, such as Valdez v. Crosby,450 F.3d. 1231 (11th Cir. 2006). Anyone who might doubt the claims that I make should simply read that Federal Court case, which describes how gangs of prison guards systematically preyed upon prisoners with complete impunity, brutalizing prisoners for no other reason but that they could.
Countless other Federal Court cases document the history of extreme violence towards prisoners at Florida State Prison. I myself have been subjected to brutal beatings by these guards on two separate occasions. I then too the case to Federal Court, attempting to sue the guards responsible only to have the Federal Court obstruct my ability to litigate the case, forcing me to accept a “settlement” in which the state of Florida paid me substantial amounts of money to drop the case.
But the guards who assault prisoners are never held personally accountable. Any monetary award is paid by the State. Incredibly, many times guards who have histories of assaulting prisoners are promoted within the Department of Corrections, rising through the ranks until they become the supervisor and even the wardens, and then they too turn a blind eye to the guards who attack prisoners and the cycle continues.
When a prisoner complains of being assaulted will be investigated by the Department of Correction’s own “inspectors”, under the supervision of the FDOC Inspector General Paul Becker. To illustrate the truth of what I write, a person who needs to look at Paul Becker’s own career within the Florida Dept of Corrections. “Top cop” Paul Decker is responsible for appointing other FDOC employees as the lower level “investigators” or “inspectors” who then investigate individual allegations of prisoner’s assaults. But what few know is that Paul Decker himself rose through the ranks at Florida State Prison and worked directly under the FSP warden James Crosby during the years graphically illustrated in Valdez v Crosby, 450 F3d 1231 (11th Cir. 2006) and was personally the supervisor over the guards who beat countless prisoners at Florida State Prison.
This is the culture of corruption that defines the Florida Department of Corrections. As a prisoner I have watched as one Governor after another publicly promised to clean up the corruption in the Department, bringing in a Director from out of state under the pretense that an “outsider” will not be corrupted by any career alliances to others in the FDOC. But without exception, the new FDOC “secretary” (Director) will immediately appoint only those long time ‘good ole boys” from within the Dept of Corrections to positions such as Inspector General who are responsible for enforcing the law within Florida’s prison system. I have seen this same cycle repeated over and over again and have come to believe that nobody really wants to stop the epidemic of violence in prisons as the American public and elected politicians do not have the moral integrity it takes to be outraged by these actions.
My first experience in personally witnessing the violence of prison guards was in the summer of 1982 when I was incarnated at baker Correctional, a maximum security prison in the adjacent county north of Florida State Prison. The compound erupted into a free-for-all riot in which hundreds of prisoners took control of the institution. Numerous staff members were assaulted and within hours vans full of guards from surrounding prisons flooded into the parking lot and quickly organized into military formation, wearing riot gear and then marching into the compound, taking back control within a few hours. But taking back control was not enough. They wanted to avenge their fellow officers who were assaulted. It didn’t matter whether those who were singled out for retaliation actually had anything to do with the riot at all, as all that mattered was that someone – anyone – was held accountable. Throughout the evening and into the night the entire prison was terrorized by gangs of guards who randomly pulled out one prisoner after the other from their cells and brought them up to the “admin building” where they were brought handcuffed and blindfolded and forced to walk down a long hallway lined with guards, and the guards would brutally beat each prisoner as they passed by, then load them into a transport van and move them to either Florida State Prison or Union Correctional institution.
Formal complaints were filed with federal agents at the Justice Department and within a few months the guards who were responsible were indicted on federal charges, then brought to trial as “the Baker Eight”, They had a right to a jury trial (which I fully support) but nobody was surprised when the Jacksonville jury acquitted all 8 of them of all charges. A few years later I came to Florida State Prison under sentence of death. One of the first guards I saw was one of the infamous “Baker Eight”. After being acquitted of assaulting at least 20 inmates following the riot, the FDOC promoted him to Lieutenant and put him in charge of supervising other officers at Florida State Prison. This is just one of the many examples of promoting an FDOC employee with a history of assaulting prisoners. The unspoken tragedy of all this is the undeniable consequences of this culture of corruption. If the correctional officers who wear the badge of law enforcement will not respect that badge they wear, then why should any prisoner respect it?
In the many years that I have been imprisoned I have seen this cycle of violence repeat itself again and again. It is not just a coincidence that assaults upon guards and staff have significantly increased following a similar increase in reported assaults upon prisoners by guards. As long as I can remember it has been said that any angry man will hurt you - a scared man will kill you. If only these guards who participate in these acts of violence against prisoners would just stop and think about it, they’d realize that they are investing in inevitable acts of future violence against them, and other innocent people.
What I must emphasize is that it is actually only a small percentage of guards who will get involved in this violence. See, that’s the difference between a prison guard and a correctional officer. Although they both wear the same badge, they are cut of different cloth. A correctional officer is someone whose work has earned the respect of those he or she works with as well as the prisoners, as he has proven that he is a professional and possesses that measure of moral character necessary to rise above the daily grind of this zoo. But a guard will never amount to anything more than a guard, even if he is promoted up through the ranks to the highest level of the Department of Corrections, as the person is just as much a violent career criminal as those who are imprisoned.
Some might say that I’m making myself a target by speaking out against this epidemic of violence against prisoners here at Florida’s State Prison. But I am already a target and I will be as long as I remain at this prison. For me it is a matter of principle. I truly believe in what Abraham Lincoln once said: that evil can only triumph when good men choose do nothing. Each one of us has a moral obligation to speak out against any evil around us – especially when that evil only exists because of the abuse of power entrusted upon them by “we the people”, which is the system of government we live under. I do not invite violence against myself. But I will not conceal my contempt for those that do participate in these assaults – and as a matter of principle I will never remain silent when a prisoner is being abused around me.
America has taken it upon itself to be the model of basic human rights. But increasingly we are being exposed internationally as the arrogant hypocrites that we are, and all because of a very small number of morally corrupt individuals who give the rest of us a bad name. But in truth it is those at the highest level of our state and federal government that are ultimately responsible for compromising the perception of our moral values as a nation if conscience. When those empowered under the color of state are free to abuse that power with complete impunity then the malignancy of corruption becomes absolutely inevitable.
The time is long overdue for those in power to systematically weed out these few guards who are responsible for the vast majority of assaults against prisoners. I know that there are many correctional officers within the Florida Department of Corrections who feel as I do and would gladly be rid of those guards that give them all a bad name. But as long as these guards with a known history of violence are being promoted rather than prosecuted, this cycle of violence will never stop.
Death Row Florida