Monday, October 1, 2012

Abu Ghraib – American Style

In April 2003 the world media reacted responded with outrage when photographic evidence of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib was exposed. In the aftermath several of the military prison guards involved were sent to federal prison themselves – but not even one of the supervisory officers responsible for overseeing the human treatment of the Iraqi prisoners were held accountable, and the media forgot all about the story.

In the Florida prison system today abuse and mistreatment of prisoners has become so common that the guards openly joke about how the quickest way to get a promotion is to assault a prisoner, In just the last few months at Florida State Prison and nearby Union Correctional Institution over 120 prisoners have been assaulted by prison guards severe enough to require medical treatment. At least one prisoner has been brutally beaten to death while another prisoner who was housed at Florida State Prison’s Q wing (formally known as X Wing) is now at the prison hospital in Lake Butler (North Florida Reception Center) with his arms and legs broken as well as numerous other injuries.

How many remember how prison guards at Florida State Prison brutally beat death row inmate Frank Valdez to death on July 17, 1999? It was front page news in many Florida newspapers. The nine guards involved were all charged with first degree murder and brought to trial in Bradford County – and not surprisingly, all nine were acquitted by the local jury in this prison town. Most got their jobs back with the prison system.
In May 2006, only a month after the media went wild over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, a federal appeals court in Atlanta, Georgia issued a judicial ruling that recognized that in 1998-99 there were at least 150 assaulted prisoners in the months leading up to the beating death of Frank Valdez . See Valdez v Crosby, 450 F.sd. 1231 (11th Cir. 2006), and that the warden, James Crosby, not only ignored the assaults on prisoners, but actually promoted the prison guards involved!
After warden Crosby nurtured the environment of brutality against prisoners at Florida State Prison, as graphically detailed in numerous Federal cases, the Florida Governor Jeb Bush (younger brother of President George W Bush) actually promoted Warden Crosby to the top job of Secretary of the Department of Corrections! Not long after that Federal authorities arrested Secretary Crosby on corruption charges and Crosby agreed to plead guilty to these Federal charges in exchange for a sentence of 8 years in Federal prison. In 2007 the State of Florida agreed to pay the family of Frank Valdez well over a million dollars to drop their civil action. All told, Florida taxpayers paid millions of dollars to Florida prisoners and their families in civil settlements resulting from this reign of terror at the hands of Florida prison guards.

Only after Crosby and numerous other top Florida Department of Corrections officials were sent to Federal prison, did then Florida governor Jeb Bush bring in an “outsider” to clean up the widespread corruption. James McDonough was named as the new FDOC Secretary and discovered a “culture of corruption” so pervasive that “the prison system was run like the mafia” and ‘corruption had gone to the extreme”. See “Ex Florida prison boss: Drunken orgies tainted system” , CNN news, February 11, 2008 (print article available at http://edition.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/02/11/prison.boss/index.html
Under Secretary McDonough, 90 top prison officials (wardens, colonels, majors, etc) were abruptly fired and another 280 were demoted from supervisory positions. For a short period of time there was actually hope that the Florida prison system would be transformed into a culture where the officers actually respected that badge of law enforcement that they wear.
But it was not meant to be. After receiving numerous threats upon his life and the life of his family, James McDonough abruptly resigned and the Florida Department of Corrections was handed back to on of the department insiders and that culture of corruption that Secretary McDonough tried so hard to clean up has now been fully restored. Many of those that McDonough fired, as well as the majority of those that were demoted because “they could not be trusted” are now back in power and all but have complete control of the Florida prison system.

Less than 4 years after Secretary McDonough announced that he had cleared up this “good ole boy” system, the entire Florida prison system has once again regressed back to what it was under James Crosby, where the “culture of corruption” once again prevails and Florida prison guards are once again brutally beating and assaulting inmates with complete immunity. See, eg “Nightmare of Prison Rape” by David Person, USA Today, June 27, 2012; “The Caging of America”, by Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, January 16, 2012.

Once again, as graphically described by the Federal Court in Valdez v Crosby, 450 F.3d. 1231 (11th Cir. 2006) it has become daily practice for prison guards at Florida State Prison and Union Correctional Institution to brutally assault prisoners under the disingenuous pretense of a “justified use of force” almost always claiming that the inmate initiated the action, of course conveniently out of sight of the security cameras. In the over 120 “use of force” reports at the Florida State Prison and neighboring Union Correctional Institution, the vast majority involve the same small group of rogue guards and almost without exception were “approved” by the same small handful of supervisors.

More telling, this systematic abuse and even murder is being knowingly condoned, if not actively encouraged, by Florida State Prison Warden Dean Ellis and Union Correctional Institution Warden Barry Reddish. In virtually every one of these alleged assaults upon prisoners Warden Ellis and Warden Dean have rubber stamped the inter-institutional investigation in favor of the guards and consistently this relatively small group of prison guards responsible for the vast majority of these violent assaults are actually promoted, or otherwise rewarded with better days off and benefits such as free state housing.



But not a single media agency is willing to look into what is now going on at Florida State Prison and Union Correctional institution, especially since current FDOC Secretary Kenneth Tucker took over the department and made it very clear that his hand-picked Wardens are free to do as they wish without any meaningful supervision by Tallahassee.
For those who may actually be interested in looking into the systematic violent assaults and even murder of Florida prisoners under FSP Warden Ellis and UCI Warden Reddish, under Florida statutes, Chapter 119 “Public Records Act|” upon request the Florida Department of Corrections must expeditiously provide the relevant records. You must specifically request copies of all “use of force” reports, as well as all “incident reports” involving or leading up to the use of force. Additionally you should request copies of all purchase orders for any forms of “chemical agents” which will conclusively show that under FSP Warden Dean Ellis and UCI Warden Barry Reddish, the use of chemical agents (pepper spray etc) has substantially increased at least tenfold in just the past 6 months compared to prior fiscal purchases, and that under both Warden Ellis and Warden Reddish, they have deliberately stopped using the brand/strength of chemical agents previously used, replacing those with substantially stronger chemical agents.

We call to be a civilized society and yet we turn a blind eye to the systematic abuse and even murder of prisoners in our own backyard. Is this really what America has now become? Aren’t we supposed to be better than that? (end)
This above has been written by Michael Lambrix, a Florida death sentenced prisoner currently incarcerated at Union Correctional Institution (Inmate #482053) Mr. Lambrix is the author of the book “To live and Die on Death Row” available at Barnes and Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/to-live-and-die-on-death-row-c-michael-lambrix/1105793584). Mr. Lambrix will provide media interviews to discuss prison conditions.

Check my website www.southerninjustice.net

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