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The New and Improved Marion

By Paul Wright

As we were preparing this issue of PLN we received several articles describing the horrible conditions of control units in Florida, New Jersey and Marion, Illinois. Most Washington prisoners are familiar with the local version of this phenomenon: the Intensive Management Units (IMU). What these types of prisons al have in common, aside from innocuous names, is that their purpose is to break and crush prisoners mentally, emotionally and spiritually through a combination of isolation, sensory deprivation, deprivation of the most basic necessities, and an agenda of humiliation and domination (e.g. the beatings, shackling, digital rapes under guise of a "search", and verbal harassment, etc.) and in the case of Marion, contaminated water as well.

Some 35 states have built or are now building Marion type control units (California recently opened an entire prison at Pelican Bay modeled on Marion, i.e. complete lockdown). Marion was put on a total lockdown in 1983; prisoners are locked in their cells 23 hours a day, allowed 2 hours of outside yard a week and deprived of all educational and work opportunities. The prisoners can also be chained naked and spread eagle to their concrete bunks for "misbehaving." IMU is modeled on Marion and a number of Washington state prisoners have passed through Marion or are still held there. Marion is the trendsetter of U.S. prisons.

The government claims that those held at Marion are "the worst of the worst," that cannot be controlled at other prisons. Yet, in reality, the vast majority of Marion prisoners are no different than those held at most maximum security prisons. The main purpose behind Marion and that type of control unit prison is to contain and attempt t crush all efforts of prisoners organizing within prisons. Many of those at Marion are there for participating in work strikes, filing `too many" lawsuits, or having been political activists on the street. The government claims Marion holds only those prisoners with bad prison records, yet a high number of political prisoners and prisoners of war have been sent to Marion straight from sentencing court and have no "prison record."

Now the government plans to open a new supermax locked down prison to replace Marion. On July 14, 1990, ground was broken at Florence, Colorado, for a 2,100 bed prison with four levels of security including a 550 bed super-max section. It is scheduled to open in 1993.

The prison will be similar in concept to Marion, just technologically "improved." Like Marion, there are health concerns due to toxic wastes nearby left over from mining and industrial processing. Despite this, no environmental impact statement has been made by the government.

People are organizing now to stop the building of this new torture chamber. The shut down of the Lexington High Security Unit at the federal prison for women in Lexington, Kentucky, has shown that these campaigns can be successful. We urge anyone interested to participate in this effort. Some 25% of all the prisoners at Marion are state prisoners, this affects all the prisoners in the U.S. as we are all subject to being sent to these types of torture units. For more information, please write to: Committee to End the Marion Lockdown, P.O. Box 578172, Chicago, IL 60657-8172.

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