Subjected to 14 days in hell because of my political activity

By Uhuru B. Rowe
May 24, 2018
E-mail: JPay app

Below is a brief outline of the events which preceded, and resulted in, my placement on Administrative Segregation in the Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU) here at Sussex 2 State Prison (S2SP).

On May 4, I drafted a position paper titled, “A Call To Action,” which described, in detail, the harsh and inhumane conditions incarcerated citizens are subjected to here at S2SP. The position paper called for our loved ones, various activist groups, state legislators, and even the media to hold rally in front of the headquarters of the Virginia Dept. of Corrections (VADOC) to draw attention to these conditions and to demand that they be remedied. LET ME BE CLEAR: This position paper was signed by no other prisoner besides me and was intended solely for the purpose of having our families and other concerned taxpaying citizens to peaceably assemble at the headquarters of the VADOC and demand that steps be taken to remedy the conditions described therein.

On the morning of May 7, I and approximately seven other inmate were called out of our cell and interrogated by three institutional investigators about a petition that was circulating throughout the prison in April detailing some of the same conditions described in my position paper. Once I confirmed that I was a signatory to the petition, I was told to sign a form confirming the authenticity of my signature. [This is the same petition — signed by almost a hundred incarcerated citizens — which led to the immediate retaliatory transfer of Dale Lee Pughsley on April 24, another politically active prisoner I have known for years. His ordeal made the front page of the May 7 Richmond Times-Dispatch, exposing to the public some of the conditions we’re are subjected to]

On May 8, I placed the position paper — sealed in a self-addressed stamped envelope — into the prison’s mailbox to be mailed to a comrade in the District of Columbia.

On March 10, around 9:05am, the guard in the control booth called into my cell in Housing Unit (HU) #1, Pod D, via the intercom system, and instructed me to pack my property. When I asked her why, she said that I was being relocated to the Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU), otherwise known as “the hole.” About 30 minutes later, two of the three investigators who interrogated me earlier about the petition, arrived at my cell, removed my cellmate and I, and began meticulously searching all of my paperwork. Because I have a high volume of legal documents and political literature, the search lasted nearly an hour. I noticed that the investigators only searched my property, making it obvious I was the target of the search. After the search, we were placed back in the cell.

About 35 minutes later, the building sergeant and a regular guard came to my cell, handcuffed my hands behind my back, and escorted me to the medical department to have my vitals checked. This is standard procedure before a person is placed in the RHU. Thereafter, I was escorted to the RHU around 12:35pm and placed in cell 3B-2 on General Detention status. [My status was later changed to Administrative Segregation on May 14 without a due process hearing] When I asked the sergeant why I was placed in the RHU, I was told it was ordered by the Intelligence Unit here at S2SP. THUS BEGAN MY 14 DAYS IN HELL.

Cell 3B-2, as expected, was filthy. The cells in the RHU are rarely, if ever, inspected and sanitized in between occupants even though policy requires it. There was trash and hair scattered across the floor. Feces was splattered around the inside of the toilet and dried urine was visible on the toilet seat. I saw what appeared to be boogers on the walls near the cell door. A procession of ants moved to-and-fro under the cell door. A thick metal grate with tiny holes covered the window so that I could hardly see out or been seen. I stood in the middle of the floor, caught in a daydream, until I was startled by the sound of keys tapping on my cell door. Tap! Tap! Tap! I turned and saw a guard motioning for me to come and get my lunch tray as he slide it through the slot in my cell door. The trays we receive in the RHU have smaller food portions than the trays in general population, which violates policy. This results in significant weight loss, lethargy, and weakness. Even though I am a known vegan, this day I am served a lunch tray containing mystery meat. (We call it mystery meat because it is a mystery as to what kind of meat it is) I only eat the bread and cake and drink the artificially sweetened red juice which comes in a small plastic pouch.

I finished eating my lunch tray just in time to receive the cleaning supplies to sanitize my cell. When I ask for plastic gloves I am told that prisoners are not permitted to possess plastic gloves in the RHU. So I reluctantly cleaned up someone else’s feces and urine with my bare hands, putting myself at risk of contracting a disease or infection.

When I was done cleaning, I felt lightheaded and weak and my body started to tremble. I attributed this physical reaction to having exerted a lot of energy (cleaning my cell) after not having had sufficient intake of calories, carbs, and protein. I began receiving my vegan trays the next day which mostly consist of a small scoop of peanut butter for breakfast and beans or lentils for lunch and dinner.

In the evening, I was served a Institutional Classification Authority (ICA) Hearing Notification Form. It states: “The offender was placed on GDT [General Detention] in restrictive housing pending investigation per Intel Unit.” It further advised me that I am “scheduled to appear [at a Formal Due Process Hearing] before the Institutional Classification Authority on or after 5/15/2018.” I checked the box on the form indicating my desire to appear at the hearing.

It is May 15. I woke up early to prepare for the due process hearing before the ICA which I have right to attend and speak on my own behalf; be apprised of any reasons for any decisions rendered by the ICA; and receive a copy of any findings and recommendations of the ICA. To my surprise, I was never called to appear at the formal due process hearing before the ICA. When I asked HU#3 Manager Perkins why I was not allowed to attend, he informed me that it is the practice of S2SP to conduct these hearings without requiring “offenders” in the RHU to be present. Because I was conscious of the fact that denying me the right to appear at the Formal Due Process Hearing before the ICA was a violation of VADOC Operating Procedure (OP) 830.1 and my Constitutional right to Due Process under 14th Amendment, I immediately filed a Regular Grievance with the Grievance Coordinator.

Around 1:30pm, I was handcuffed through the slot in my cell door and escorted by two guards to an interview room in the Pod where a total of four institutional investigators were waiting for me. They confirmed what I had already suspected: the position paper I drafted and attempted to mail to my comrade on May 8 was intercepted. They interrogated me about the nature of the rally I was attempting to organize on the outside, what purpose it was going to serve, and who would be attending. It was obvious to me that I was placed in the RHU for one reason: for having the audacity to try and organize a rally where our loved and other concerned citizens could exercise their right (per Article 1, Section 12 of Virginia Constitution) to peaceably assemble at the VADOC headquarters to 1) protest the inhumane conditions we are subjected to here at S2SP and 2) demand that these conditions be abolished! At the end of interview, I agreed to write a brief statement saying that the proposed rally was intended solely to achieve the purposes stated above and not to stage some sort of coup d ‘etat on the VADOC headquarters, as the investigators alluded to. As I exited the interview room, I was told that the investigation of the position paper and planned rally would be “ongoing” but there was a chance I could releases back to General Population the following week.

If there is any upside to me being thrown into the RHU because of my political activity, it was that I was uniquely situated to give you a bird’s-eye view of the unconstitutional, inhumane, and degrading conditions incarcerated citizens are subjected to in the RHU at S2SP. In addition to relating to you how we were denied the right to appear at our scheduled formal due hearings before the ICA; being served meals with reduced food portion sizes; being assigned to cells that have not been properly inspected, cleaned and sanitized — I can tell you about being issued used, torn, dingy, and smelly towels, washcloths, and underwear on “shower days.” I can tell you about being forced to take showers in shower stalls that are infested with water bugs, cockroaches, and other insects. I can tell you about only being allowed to make two phone calls a month to our loved-ones. I can tell you about being denied access to all educational, vocational and treatment programs. And I can tell you about being confined in the RHU far beyond the time allowed per VADOC OP 861.3. And in the process of relating these things to you, so as to Educate The People, I am able to purge myself of the stress, anger, depression, frustration, and the myriad of other mental and emotional problems which plague brothers and sisters locked down in solitary confinement, for 22 hours a day [for 24 hours a day on the weekend], with no human contact and little to no environmental stimulation.

It is May 24. At approximately 1:29am, I am jolted from my sleep by the elderly brother in the cell above me who is kicking his cell door. He is one of six people brought to the RHU the day before. He wants his property which the guards refuses to give to him. He yells, and kicks, and screams. And the more the guards ignore him the more he lashes out as a last ditched effort to assert his humanity. The brother beside him scolds him for disturbing his sleep. An argument ensues. Threats are hurled back and forth. Willie Lynch-ism is still alive an well. My heart beat increases. Sweat accumulates on my forehead. My left eye starts twitching. My mind starts racing. As a result of the screams, banging, hunger, sleep deprivation, and isolation, I feel myself teetering on the brink of insanity.

At 9:45am, the guard working the floor hands me four plastic bags and instructs me to pack my property and prepare for release back to general population. I instantly feel a rush of adrenaline flow throughout my body as I gather my belongings.

At approximately 3:35pm, I exit the hell in cell 3B-2 while dragging my belongings behind me. I say my farewell to the brothers who occupied the cells beside me. My heart bleeds for them because I know of the agony and torment which visits them daily inside their concrete torture chamber. As I exit HU#3, the intensity of the sun momentarily blinds me. When I regain my focus, I suddenly realize this incontrovertible truth: I have just exited one hell and entered another.

The struggle continues…

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