“The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable.”. -Arundhati Roy
Solidarity behind the walls often requires that one be more than an ally. One must be willing to become an accomplice. This summer, Andre Logan, a member of 9971, was attacked by two correctional officers outside the dining hall. In response, a call-in campaign was organized. The goal was to protect Andre from further assault and to inform the PA DOC that we, his allies, knew what happened. The campaign was successful in protecting Andre and effecting a transfer away from the responsible party. But the nonsense was just beginning.
The prison administrators at Smithfield knew I was behind the campaign. Deputy Superintendent Rivello had me moved from my block to A-block, known as the grind-up block. The official reason was “institutional needs.” The officers on A-block are especially oppressive, working by their own set of rules. On Tuesday, August 13, I filed a grievance/PREA complaint against Officer Remy. This officer is notorious for retaliatory behavior so I waited until her days off to file the complaint. She returned to work on Friday the 16th. She was made aware of the complaint and allowed to return to A-block.
I knew there would be trouble. She started the shift by screaming at another prisoner and throwing a ream of paper at him. She tried to engage me in an argument, but I refused. I sent an email to some friends giving them a heads up because I knew she was going to retaliate against me. Around 11:30 am, an officer appeared at my door and told me to pack my belongings. I was elated. I thought I was being moved to another block. When the officer told me not to pack my electronics, I sensed I was being set up for a trip to the hole. When the officer mentioned my filing a grievance, I knew what was going on.
I knew that Remy must have written a false misconduct against me. That is the only way I would be moved to the hole under pre-hearing confinement. Only an assault or threatening charge could effect a move like that. I knew that if I were placed in the hole without my family, friends and supporters knowing what happened, I could be there for six months. I quickly told the officer I needed to go to POC (psychiatric observation cell). This move not only kept me out of the hole, but also afforded me some safety. The POC cells are under constant surveillance. The officers cannot harm a prisoner or deny him/her food without it being recorded. The move bought me some time.
The administration pressures the psyche department to discharge prisoners from POC. They don’t want prisoners there for more than 72 hours. Once my 72 hours passed, the psyche team kept pressuring me to leave and go to the hole. I refused. They offered a transfer to an MHU (mental health unit). There are only two in PA. They didn’t know that the transfer would enable me to contact the outside world. If they did, they wouldn’t have sent me.
I was transferred to the MHU at SCI-Rockview on August 28. By this time, family and friends, who were used to daily communication with me, had already called Smithfield to inquire about me. They were stonewalled by prison staff. As soon as I entered the MHU, the staff informed me that my family and friends had called to check on me. I was told I would be able to make phone calls. And I did. I spoke to my family, Casey Goonan, Sarah Jane Rhee, Ian Alexander and Dan Berger. Now that I was able to let people know what had happened and what was happening, I felt 100% better.
I spoke to my friends daily as we tried to figure out a plan to protect me. The superintendent of Smithfield wrote to me and gave the impression that she was aware of the retaliatory behavior of the officer and would work to correct the wrongdoing. She told me the officer had been removed from the unit.
On September 18, I was roused from my sleep and told Smithfield officers were there to pick me up. I had no clue I was scheduled to leave. I was taken to the discharging area, chained and shackled. Moreover, a rack belt was placed on me. This belt has 50,000 volts of electricity running through it. The officers held a remote controlled device that if pressed would send those volts through me- quickly incapacitating me. I was told that Captain Wright at Smithfield had ordered the belt for me.
I was returned to Smithfield and when the officers tried to send me to the hole, I requested POC again. I knew that my family and friends didn’t know where I was and I didn’t want to go to the hole if they didn’t know I was in it. This time, the psyche staff decided to punish me as a way of insuring I leave the POC within 72 hours. I was placed in a cell with no mattress. I was forced to sleep on the bunk itself. When the officer monitoring me requested that I be given two blankets since I was not given a mattress, his request was denied. He said the denial was a policy violation. I stayed in the POC for five days. A nurse came to my cell and told me Ian called to check on me. Now that my friends knew where I was, I felt better.
I was moved to the hole on the 23rd. I was place in a hard cell. I was dressed in only a thin orange jumpsuit. I had no underclothes on. My hands were cuffed and tethered to a belt which was tightly fastened around my waist. I wasn’t given a mattress or blanket. The cell was air-conditioned and cold. I couldn’t even use the bathroom. I was kept this way for 24 hours. During this time, the superintendent sent an officer to relay a message. She was working to have me quickly transferred and not to file anymore paperwork or it would slow the process. I was also served the misconduct report. And just as I suspected, officer Remy said I threatened her with bodily harm. The captain cited the threatening charge as grounds for pre-hearing confinement.
The next day, I was taken out of the cuffs and tether and given two blankets. I still didn’t have a mattress. But I was so happy to have those blankets. The cell was so cold that I had spent the entire night pacing to keep warm. On Thursday, I was taken to my hearing. The hearing examiner dismissed the charge! He said the officer clearly engaged in overkill: she wrote a two-page misconduct report that was implausible to him. I was returned to the hard cell, but moved to another cell that afternoon.
I was given an 802 form that evening that informed me that I was being transferred. The official reason was that someone was a threat to me at Smithfield and I couldn’t be protected any other way. They were the threat! Two days later, I received a response to my grievance/PREA complaint. I won that too! So there I was in the hole but not guilty of a misconduct and affirmed in my complaint. On October 15th, I was escorted to the discharge area and informed I was being transferred to SCI-Fayette. I was being moved 6 hours from home. I won, but I lost.
I am now at Fayette. I am grateful for all of the love, concern and support I received during this trial. I know that the only reason I am not in the hole right now, that I’m not recovering from injuries, is because of the unwavering and solid support of my friends and supporters. The PA DOC knows there are people who care about me. This concern shackles their hands. I am truly grateful. I have witnessed other prisoners undergoing physical and mental abuse for less.
I continue to stress the importance of creating and maintaining strong bonds across these walls. Our solidarity weakens the PIC. Our connections strengthen our movement. Without strong connections, I would have been buried in the hole. I would have become another example of what happens when prisoners stand together. Instead, we showed the DOC what solidarity and commitment look like. It was outside support that empowered and sustained me. It was outside support that saved me. I want to thank Sarah, Casey and Ian for your love and support. The PA DOC is tired of getting calls from you. Thanks for bugging them! I thank Dan Berger and Nadia Guyot for their inspiring words and support. No New Jails NYC, Black & Pink, and Critical Resistance showed much love and support. Thanks. I made some new friends during this trial. Rose, Steve, Isaac, and Murphy, I look forward to building with you. Thanks for the letters. Chicago and New York, I love you!
The work continues. Already, I have began to engage other prisoners about penal abolition and transformative justice. Our first book club is about to start up. Shout out to Haymarket Books for sponsoring the book club this term. Fayette is much larger than Smithfield. 800 more prisoners. So we’ll need your help maintaining the study groups and book club. I hope we can continue to work together to create a world where we don’t use cages to address harm, a world where all life is truly precious.
In Struggle, With Love
Write to Stevie at:
SMART COMMUNICATIONS / PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS Stephen Wilson, LB8480, SCI Fayette, PO Box 33028. St. Petersburg, FL 33733
(books cannot be sent to this address)
Reach out to True Leap Press (firstname.lastname@example.org) for information about how to get books to Stevie and members of the group. PA DOC policies are constantly shifting and we have been learning some tricks to get things pushed through.