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Pennsylvania Prison Stormed

Last October, in the dead of night, Graterford Correctional Institution (GCI) prisoners were subjected without notice to an unprovoked assault by storm troops dressed in black, booted, many helmeted and all carrying clubs. [See: PLN, Dec '95]

All GCI prisoners, suddenly awakened, were strip-searched, hands cuffed behind their backs, some forced to their knees on the concrete floor, some beaten, some taunted, while cells were searched and most trashed. Some men watched their few personal possessions, family mementos and photos being thrown away; books, legal transcripts, records, papers and correspondence were tossed onto the tier to be swept into piles and junked.

The assault was such a brutal display of naked and gratuitous force that even many of the regular GCI guards were taken aback - so brutal that Commissioner [of Corrections] Horn found it necessary in the days following to address a letter to all GCI employees assuring them that he had not intended to frighten, harass, or intimidate them. To date he has sent no such assurances to GCI prisoners.

What was not told to the media or the public by the Commissioner was that the 650-man, upstate assault force, all white, descended upon GCI (which is 75 percent African American, and has an African American warden) and proceeded to exercise racial intimidation against GCI prisoners.

It is said that "the first casualty in any war is the truth." The Department of Corrections during the assault passed along information to the news media that misrepresented the facts. The following is just a few of the lies told by the invading force, accompanied by the truth:

Reported: Commissioner Horn stated that this action had to be taken because one in five GCI prisoners were testing positive for illegal drug use.

Reality: The true fact is that not all of GCI prisoners were drug tested. The security staff used an elaborate intelligence system (snitch system) to identify and test those individuals suspected of drug use. By distorting the facts, Commissioner Horn would have the public believe that 20 percent of the prison population (700) used drugs. The reality is, 20 percent of those suspected of drug use tested positive.

Reported: Family members and volunteers smuggle large quantities of drugs into the prison through visits and program activities.

Reality: Over the years there have been more GCI guards who have been arrested for drug smuggling than were visitors or volunteers.

Reported: There is a large illegal drug network operating in GCI, run by powerful prisoners.

Reality: After spending close to a million dollars on this military style assault, and in the face of cuts in education and welfare, only minute quantities of illegal drugs were found. Most of the 21 men transferred in the aftermath of the assault were not participants in any illegal activities. They were used as scapegoats to bolster DOC claims of drugs, violence and corruption.

Reported: GCI prisoners produce and carry homemade weapons, and GCI is a dangerous place where staff and prisoners' lives are at risk.

Reality: The truth is, after a full-scale militaristic troop assault and search of the prison, including all of the grounds with metal detectors, only a few weapons were found. Two hundred weapons displayed for the news media were allegedly found during the search. When pressed by reporters' questions, though, the commissioner and his assault troops were forced to admit that the majority of the weapons on display were from prior searches conducted over a number of years.

-- T.S., GCI Prisoner, PA

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