By Adrian Lomax
The guard stood in the middle of the seg unit, counting, 26 of the 40 cells had the 3x12 inch Plexiglas windows in the cell doors covered with paper form the inside. The 5:00 PM count approached, and the guard knew that if the prisoners kept their windows covered so that they couldn't be seen, the Lieutenant would order the guards to suit up in riot gear to forcibly enter each of the 26 cells to remove the window covering.
The turnkey walked back to the control booth, shaking his head. Five hours and 26 "cell extractions" later, the second shift guards were tired and mad. They put in a lot of work that day.
The whole ordeal could have been averted had the sergeant not decided to cancel use of the segregation law library that evening, apparently for no reason other than to avoid the work involved in escorting prisoners to and from the small room containing law books. In protest 26 of the seg unit's prisoners decided to "make 'em suit up."
From November to June, I as confined in the disciplinary segregation unit at Wisconsin's Racine Correctional Institution. During that period the prisoners there engaged in numerous collective protest actions in response to mistreatment by the guards. The convicts' weapon was their won solidarity combined with the laziness of prison guards. Turnkeys don't mind suiting up on one inmate, but when they have to perform 15 or 20 cell extractions during one shift, they think twice the next time they consider doing something likely to cause the prisoners to revolt.
The convicts' tactics involved mass flooding of cells, refusing to return meal trays, throwing meal trays off the tier, and the trusty covering of cell windows. On two occasions the full complement of prisoners in the outside recreation cages refused to come inside.
The guards frequently sprayed prisoners with mace and other chemical irritants during cell extractions. In those cases prisoners would try to yank the gas masks off the faces of as many guards as possible when guards entered the cell, exposing them to the chemical agents.
After each cell extraction, guards put the prisoner in a shower stall, allowing him to wash off the chemical agents, removed all property from the cell, cleaned up the chemicals, then put the prisoner back in the cell on "strip cell" status, with no property, no clothing, and no sheets, towels, or blankets. Under Wisconsin law, strip cell status may last no more than three days, but in practice it often lasts longer because it's difficult to get the guards to return one's property. On some occasions, guards' refusal to return prisoners property after three days in strip cell status set off a new round of protest.
At one point prisoners began refusing to stick their hands out to be cuffed while they were in the shower stalls following a cell extraction, bringing a forcible extraction from the shower stalls. Guards responded by refusing to remove handcuffs and leg irons while the prisoners were in the showers. Turnkeys would cut prisoners' clothes off with scissors, put them in the shower stalls in restraints, and remove the restraints only after the prisoners were returned to their cells.
Something that's common in segregation units is guards who act like macho tough guys, continually disparaging prisoners, confident that, since they work in seg, not prisoner will ever be able to lay hands on them. At Racine, Lieutenant Ron Molnar is the archetype of that character. Walking around with his chest stuck out, scowling and shouting insults at convicts, Molnar appears to believe he's John Wayne.
Shortly before I was transferred from Racine, a prisoner named Ervie Gray refused to come in from the recreation cage. Molnar got five guards suited up in riot gear to "extract" Gray. When the goon squad came out of the building, Gray climbed the chain link fence, braving the razor wire, and climbed to the ceiling of the seg building.
After being sprayed with chemical agents, Gray eventually decided to come down. When he started climbing down the fence, however, Gray didn't climb down the side that would have left him inside the rec. cage. Instead, Gray climbed down the side of the fence that put him in the common area, along with Molnar and the other guards.
Upon seeing Gray climbing down the outside of the fence, tough guy Molnar immediately ran into one of the rec. cages and pulled the door shut behind him! Even with five guards standing by in riot gear, Molnar wanted to take no chances on Gray getting hold of him.
I'm now confined in the seg unit of the Green Bay Correctional Institution. There isn't the same kind of solidarity among the prisoners here, so collective protests aren't the order of the day. But that's subject to change.
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