Hello Friends and Allies --- Most of you have followed the escalating rate of prisoner deaths in the Commonwealth's lock-ups.
You probably followed the December 2007 Boston Globe series on alleged suicides in 2006 and 2007. Three times the rate of the rest of the US.
SHaRC takes exception to the way the series played out and how certain state entities collaborated to frame this deadly epidemic.
The Commonwealth- almost to a department- has come up with its own solution to the 'problem' it created and still perpetuates: Residential Treatment Units within the Department of Correction. The agencies are all happy to look for another $40 million to build these specialized units where DOC staff and medical/pysch folks would be specially 'trained' to work with "mentally ill" prisoners.
What could be so wrong about this proposed solution?
In the coming weeks we will publish articles written by prisoners and their relatives. These folks know more than any legislator could ever learn or admit!
You will hear what happens when staff culture turns therapists, doctors and nurses into violent 'predators'.
The first document (below) was submitted by Albert Gagne, a 62 year old man presently incarcerated at NCCI-Gardner.
He responds to representaive Ruth Balser's proposed bill for Residential Treatment Units. Balser is also a pyschologist.
Mass Correctional Legal Services supports this concept, as does the Disability Law Center, the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition and other non-profit advocacy types. It is obvious such entities are not alied with prisoners but with legislators and corrections.
THE FORTY MILLION DOLLAR RIPOFF
I recently learned that the Legislature has allotted or intends to allot 40 million dollars to the MA Department of Correction to set up mental health tiers (Residential Treatment Units) its prison system, a system that has always and will always be the Number One contributor to mental illness in the United States prisons.
Verbal and physical abuse of prisoners by guards and prison administrators is routine and constant. This is a story for another time. I would like to focus at this point in time on the Massachusetts Mental Health System and my 45 years of experience within this evil and devastating taxpayer-supported horror.
Let me start with my experience at the Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane from 1963 to 1996. I have had a total of seventeen commitments to this horror chamber and a very well documented horror chamber in fact.
Most of my commitments were to the “Old” Bridgewater State Hospital where for years I was forced to witness and experience some of the most inhumane treatment of mentally ill human beings ever recorded in Massachusetts. Over the years, along with thousands of mental patients I was constantly subjected to vicious physical beatings at the hands of so called “corrections officers.” This happened in view of and with the approval and participation of so-called mental health professionals. Again, these are facts, which are very well documented and undisputable.
In addition to the horror just described, I was unfortunate enough to witness and be subjected to punishments such as: being tied down in four point restraints for weeks at a time while naked and cold; forced to urinate and defecate on myself while being fed through a tube; and hosed down with a fire hose when the smell was overpowering to the guards and staff of so-called mental health professionals.
I was forced to witness lobotomies conducted on wooden tables, constant shock treatments, overdoses of powerful drugs, forced feedings and years of isolation in segregated punishment cells. Some people were held as long as 20, 30, and 40 years. Cells were full of urine, feces and vomit. These conditions were ordered by and/or ignored by so called mental health professionals.
I personally observed the most horrific abuse and brutality of human beings by guards and mental health professionals, including my own, ever documented, and well documented it was.
One need only to visit the archives or observe the film “Titicut Follies”, produced by a Mr. Fredrick Wiseman, which was banned for more than 20 years in Massachusetts because of its horrific contents. I was there when Mr. Wiseman was making this film and even though the prison guards and mental health staff knew they were being filmed, they continued to abuse and brutalize the patients, all in the name and disguise of “treatment.”
For more than 32 years the New Bridgewater State Hospital has existed and to this very day, the mentally ill human beings who have the unfortunate stigma of being civilly committed there are subjected to many of the same abuses and brutality as described above: beatings, restraints, over-medication with powerful doses of drugs; and weeks, months and years of isolation in cells.
Let me move on now to my experience with the Federal Bureau of Prisons at the Prison Hospital for the Criminally Insane, located in Springfield, Missouri. In June of 1972 I was transferred to the Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute Indiana, for allegedly inciting a riot in March at Walpole State Prison. While at Terre Haute I had altercation with the warden of that prison which resulted in my stabbing him and thus my transfer to Springfield Missouri.
Upon my arrival at this so called Prison Hospital I was placed in a cell block with 6 other prisoners from various U.S. prisons, who were like myself, considered “the worst of the worst” and uncontrollable.
This cellblock was known as the “Behavior Modification Unit” and home to the Federal Bureau of Prisons “S.T.A.R.T. Program.” This was a program of sensory deprivation and brainwashing tactics created for the Federal Government by the Harvard University behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner. START’s predecessor was first and ‘successfully’ used against the North Koreans during the Korean War.
I was placed in a small cell and kept in total darkness for 60 days. The entire cell was painted black, including the windows. I could not even see my hand in front of my face. After 60 days some alleged doctor surrounded by guards came to the second tier of the program where I would be afforded light and one book to read each week. I responded by punching him in the mouth. The door was slammed in my face.
About one half hour later the door to the cell was opened and several prison guards, one of whom fired a tranquilizer dart into my chest, confronted me. In less than 30 seconds I was completely helpless and could not so much as blink an eye. (I learned much later that this drug caused a simulation of death.) I was very much aware of my surroundings, was stripped of all my clothing and four pointed in another cell on a bed of springs. (No mattress, no linens, and no blanket)
Later that day a mental health doctor came and sat on the side of the spring bed and made statements such as “You don’t like the way you feel right now do you Mr. Gagne? We can continue to do this for as long as necessary, for as long as it takes and if necessary. We can make you feel a lot worse than you are feeling right now, and so one way or another you are going to obey the rules and if you continue with your resistance things are going to get a lot worse for you. On the other hand, if you obey the rules and change your behavior you will be rewarded.”
To make a long story short this ‘treatment’ lasted some two months. Every three, four or five days they would remove the restraints, give me the first food and water that I had for those number of days and allow me to take a shower, after which I would punch the doctor or guard in the mouth and the entire situation and process would begin again.
This went on for about three months. I lost more than 70 pounds and the drug they used on me rotted out all my teeth. It was not until several months later that I learned all of the other prisoners endured the same torture that I had endured at the hands of these ‘mental health professionals’.
Some three months into this ‘mental health program’, a group of Quakers, led by Ms. Faye Kopp, toured the prison to visit conscientious objectors doing time for resisting the draft, during the Vietnam War. They inadvertently came upon this torture block and were granted permission to tour the block.
When they observed us in the conditions described above they left the prison and contacted the American Civil Liberties Union in New York. The ACLU then contacted their office in Kansas City, which obtained a federal court order to enter and photograph of us in the conditions described above. The ACLU filed suit on our behalf.
The case was tried and the court ruled that they program of torture was unconstitutional, not because it was torture and was on the verge of killing us, but because we did not volunteer to participate in the program! We were subsequently returned to the prisons from which we came. (I believe Ms. Kopp now lives in Vermont and runs a program for battered women.)
All of the facts as described above are very well documented in psychology textbooks and in the archives of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Several years ago PBS Channel 2 interviewed B.F. Skinner’s daughter. When asked what she thought was her father’s greatest disappointment involving his work she stated without hesitation: the behavior modification program he implemented for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Federal Medical Prison in Springfield Missouri. Unlike his earlier ‘successful’ brainwashing programs in North Korea and later in Vietnam, Skinner’s 1970s U.S. prison experiment in torture and sensory deprivation was ‘unsuccessful’.
She went on to state that as result of this failure, B.F. Skinner was forced to re-write all of his papers and tests on the subject for he had come to find out and realize that unlike the Koreans and Vietnamese, who never experienced the tortures and sensory deprivations that he and his associates imposed upon them, that we seven prisoners had in fact been subjected to not only the same torture, nut even more severe tortures for most of our lives within the prison system. (In my case all my life at home and in juvenile facilities and reform schools prior to and after that age of ten (10) years old.)
So by the time of our arrival at Springfield Missouri, in other words, he and they could not do anything to us that hadn’t been done to us before we came on the scene except to kill us, which if not for Faye Kopp he most likely would have accomplished.
All of these absolutely true facts clearly show that like oil and water, mental health and corrections do not mix. The history of the Massachusetts Department of Correction and Mental Health in the prison context is one of absolute failure and disaster, and extremely detrimental and disastrous for society. Both camps have been and continue to be a failure both individually and collectively. Nothing verifies these points more than the following facts.
In 1986 the Massachusetts Attorney General, Department of Mental Health and Department of Correction were successful in convincing the Legislature to abolish the law, which allowed for the civil commitment of sexually dangerous persons to an “alleged” treatment center. As a result the DOC was given full operational control of treatment. This decision was immediately challenged by the civilly committed “prisoners” at the Center in two cases in Federal Court Brudger v Johnston and Pearson v Fair and during the trial before Judge David Mazzone, which lasted for several months at great cost to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth.
During the trail the then Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, Philip Johnston, testified in great length to the following facts:
1.) That there is no such thing as a sexually dangerous person in the clinical world of mental health.
2.) That there was no treatment for sexually dangerous persons that they had no idea why these persons committed sex crimes.
3.) That sex offenders like most criminals suffered from antisocial personality disorder, which cannot be treated.
4.) That it was his opinion that sex offenders should be dealt with within the criminal justice system and not in a clinical manner.
5.) A Dr. Robert Fine, who at that time was Deputy Commissioner of Forensic Mental Health for the MA DMH, echoed this testimony. He is presently a “profiler” for the United States Secret Service.
As a direct result of their hypocritical testimony M cl. C 123-A was abolished and control of the “Treatment Center” given to the DOC. All of this was and is disturbing to say the least, but even more disturbing and outrageous is the fact that before the formal trial started and throughout it’s entirety, the DOC, assisted by DMH, was quietly and quickly as possible releasing sexual psychopaths out of the Treatment Center - despite warnings from various Treatment Center staff that this would end in disaster. The DOC and DMH were attempting to lower the Treatment Center population to a level whereby they could convince the Legislature to close the place for good.
As a direct result of this outrageous contempt for the safety of the general public, and as predicted, innocent human beings, women, children were slaughtered by the likes of Michael Kelly who raped and murdered at least three (3) women after his release. David Brown, also known as Nathan Bar-Jonah, murdered and cannibalized a young Montana boy after his release at the request of Treatment Center Staff. There were many, many, many more incidents.
As soon as these incidents began, the hypocrites in the DOC, DMH, and the Legislature and the press, who had all conspired and championed the abolishment of M.G.L. c. 123A immediately covered their arses (as they are doing once again with their 40 million dollar scam) by demanding for and reinstating M.G.L. c. 123A, calling again for the life time commitment of sex offenders. (All of this was a total contradiction to their previous sworn testimony in Federal Court.)
Suddenly, sex offenders were once again ‘mentally ill’ and could be ‘treated’. (Indeed, the DOC has invented their own treatment for sex offenders including beatings, isolation in isolation cells, constant verbal and psychological abuse both here and at the Treatment Center.) In an effort to provide this charade of treatment they have and continue to hire private contractors who provide treatment which they claim does not exist; so-called therapists and/or clinicians who have no qualifications, licenses or experience in the field of mental health or treatment of sex offenders. This is done with absolute contempt for prisoners and no concern for public safety. This is a matter of record.
Now, in 2008, the DOC and all their lackeys in the press and legislature, as stated above, are pretending to respond to the increasing suicides trying to cover their arses by setting up these phony mental health tiers and blocks – to cover their arses.
First of all, it is totally insane for anyone to believe that the same individuals, who refer to all prisoners as scumbags and maggots and who are the major cause of these suicides through their constant verbal, physical, and psychological abuse daily, weekly, yearly for decades, now suddenly have great concern for ‘mentally ill’ prisoners and wish to provide quality health care and treatment. Indeed, even as I write, the DOC is implementing new rules, regulations, policies, and procedures, here at MCI Gardner which have never been necessary and that are extremely abusive and punitive in nature and spirit. According to former and present DMH and DOC officials, all of us criminals suffer from recognized mental health illness of “anti-social” personality disorder; therefore we are all mentally ill and should be in mental facilities not prisons.
The DOC recently opened an alleged mental health tier here in Thompson Hall, consisting of 21 cells housing 42 prisoners, a very small percentage (4.2) of prisoners in this facility of over 1,000.
This tier separates the 42 mentally ill prisoners from the general population in living quarters only. They are not separate from general population in any other manner. They receive little or no treatment or counseling. It is plain and simple: a total sham. Only a fool would “believe” that 10, 12 or 20 of these tiers or blocks are going to cost 40 million dollars.
From more than 45 years’ experience of being locked up in this state’s prison system I can assure you all that less than 10% of the 40 million dollars will be used to support this scam while the rest will be directed to DOC staffing, security, hiring more unqualified guards and to support the extensive perks they all receive but which are hidden from public scrutiny.
The bottom line is this: If a person is mentally ill then for a society’s sake they belong in a mental health facility and as far away from the Department of “Correction” as possible. If there is anything in our society that should be abolished it is the penal and juvenile systems as they currently exist. They are, have always been and will always be extremely detrimental to society.
The billions of dollars on DOC failures would best be spent on the root cause of this insanity, which has been recognized and diagnosed as anti-social personality disorder.
I would like to conclude this statement in this manner. It is no surprise to me to learn that this 40 million dollar scam and cover-up by the DOC, the press and various members of the Legislature is being supported by the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services.
I doubt that there is a prisoner in the Massachusetts prison system past and present who does not have anything but contempt for this state and taxpayer-supported agency, since their appearance well over 35 years ago. They continue to earn the dubious distinction as absolute sellouts and have as such contributed to the existing and extensive abuse within the DOC. They have contributed by avoiding and ignoring abuse, brutality and cruelty inflicted on prisoners and the civilly committed mental patients in the custody and control of the DOC.
Prisoners see and believe that MCLS continues to suck-up to the DOC and other state agencies and officials; looking the other way for some 30 years, while the Commonwealth along with its lackeys in the press have run amuck over the civil and human rights of all prisoners in the Commonwealth.
MCLS is careful to pick and choose issues and prisoners that will not jeopardize its funding. Within the prisoner community they have absolutely no credibility, never have and never will. If there is anything in this state that needs to be abolished in addition to the DOC it is Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services. They are, have always been and will always be extremely detrimental to prisoners and society as a whole.
In closing, I absolutely defy anyone to disprove a single claim in this document from me as false or misleading.
Albert Gagne, NCCI-Gardner