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Uprising at Military Prison

By Carolyn Dock

Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas- On May 11, 1992, the military prisoners at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks (USDB) at Ft. Leavenworth [Editors Note: the USDB is a separate prison from the federal prison also located in Leavenworth.] revolted in protest against the conditions at the prison. A result of longterm and deeply felt grievances by the prisoners, the protests involved a non-violent sit down strike and work stoppage. No one was injured in the protests, although prisoners in two prison wings did destroy approximately $50,000 worth of property.

Over the course of the previous 7 weeks, the prison had implemented new rules prohibiting the use of Spanish, banning colored head bands, requiring inmates to stand when an officer enters the room, and tightening the smoking regulations. These changes, on top of the long term grievances against the harshly punitive parole rules and the fact that most inmates were forced to work without pay, increased tensions to a breaking point.

The precipitating incident of the revolt was a fight between an African American and a Euro American inmate. After the fight was broken up, 58 primarily African American inmates refused to be locked down. There was no threat to the guards patrolling the wing. The 58 inmates quietly, in small groups, wrote a list of 22 "demands" to be given to the commandant. At this point, Lt.Colonel (LTC) Terry Bartlett, Chief of the Security Battalion, suggested to the inmates that they go to their cells, sleep awhile, and the "demands" would be discussed the next day. The inmates complied at about 3:30 a.m.

The demands include: an increase of the parole rate (now only 22%); that the parole board specify the amount of time before release instead of the anguish of indefinite postponement; that inmates be given a written statement of why a person has or has not been recommended for parole, and an end to the policy that an inmate must first admit guilt before being allowed to attend crime specific classes. Additional demands included an end to the discriminatory language policy, pay for work performed, and an increase in the $25 given to inmates upon release.

The next morning, these demands won widespread support among inmates of all ethnic groups. Each domicile elected representatives to an inmates council. To ensure that all would understand this was not a racial issue but a uniting of all inmates, a black, a white and hispanic representative was elected from each area. LTC Bartlett met in the afternoon with the combined representatives. He did not promise the inmates council anything except that if they put their grievances on paper, he would transmit the list to the commandant.

Other inmates believed nothing had been accomplished at the meeting and that the command was just stalling. The majority of inmates voted to hold a sit down strike that evening and a work stoppage the next day. In a show of unity, all inmates in the wings and buildings agreed to go along. Monitors were appointed in each wing to ensure there was no violence. The fact that no one suffered bodily injury in the ensuing hours is a testimony to the prisoners' (and the administrations') restraint. Inmates in wings 3 and 6 (the "honor" wing) smashed TV sets, security cameras, electric fans, and furniture. Additionally, phones were ripped from the wall and the walls were covered with graffiti.

Waiting at the staging areas were fully combat geared guards and troops. Thankfully, they were not used. Around 2:30 a.m., LTC Bartlett convinced the inmates to go to their cells.

Since the revolt the results have been mixed. On the one hand, the prison was put on 24 hour lock down and Wings 3 and 6 remain locked down at press time. Many inmates will lose their "good time" and face possible charges, including incitement to riot, destruction of property, disobeying orders, breach of the peace (!), and possession of a weapon (pool sticks or furniture legs).

On the other hand, the indications are that the money given upon release will be increased and more work details will be converted to paid status. Perhaps more importantly, the inmate council is continuing to meet once a week with an officer of the prison, and they are continuing to struggle for redress of their other grievances.

To express your concern, call William Clark, the Principal Deputy Undersecretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs at (703) 695-1164.

(This article is excerpted from Members Opposed to Maltreatment of Servicemembers (M.O.M.S.) newsletter. Carolyn Dock is the editor of the newsletter. M.O.M.S., RD #1, Mercer, PA. 16137.)

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