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Puerto Rican POW 'Graduated' from ADX Florence to USP Marion

On November 8, 1996, Puerto Rican prisoner of war Oscar Lopez Rivera was transferred from ADX Florence to USP Marion after completing the 36-month "step program" at ADX in just 23 months. He received no disciplinary infractions while at ADX and was among the control unit's first "graduates." Lopez Rivera was rewarded for his reluctant cooperation with the ADX step program by a transfer to Marion, the only other federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) control unit for men.

After completing the ADX program, Lopez Rivera was asked to which prison he wished to be transferred. He answered USP Lewisburg, PA. He was informed by an associate warden that the transfer had been approved. He didn't find out until he was already in transit that he was destined for USP Marion. He was the only one of 13 ADX prisoners in his transfer group to be sent to Marion.

Regional BOP officials have refused to comment about the transfer, and Teresa Banks, a spokesperson for Marion, said she had no information on the reason Lopez Rivera was transferred there.

Florence ADX spokesperson Louis Winn said of Lopez Rivera's stated preference of USP Lewisburg: "The inmate can definitely request to go to a particular institution, but a number of factors are taken into consideration."

One of those factors is of course "security needs." BOP regional spokesperson Carol Holinka said the BOP looks at safety and security for all involved." Lopez Rivera has a high security rating due to an alleged escape attempt.

Alejandro Molina of the Committee to Free Puerto Rican Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War said of the alleged escape attempt that "a government informant approached [Lopez Rivera] and said, 'I have these people on the outside, what do you think?"' Lopez Rivera, not surprisingly, was interested in the proposition. "So it ended up," Molina continued, "it wasn't a frame-up, but it was instigated by the government, and that was proved in court."

"What [the BOP is] doing with Oscar is vicious and intentional," said Jan Susler, a Chicago-based human rights activist and attorney for Lopez Rivera and other imprisoned Puerto Rican nationalists. "You can't say there are no political prisoners in the United States and then single him out and treat him like this. If they really think their program works, then he shouldn't be an exception."

But perhaps the most insidious reason behind Lopez Rivera's transfer was articulated by Winn: "Marion's mission has changed," he stated. "It's actually a less secure facility than ADX, so conceivably he should have more privileges."

Banks echoed the idea, saying that Marion has "revised" its program, and that prisoners can now earn their way out in two rather than three years. But Committee to End the Marion Lockdown (CEML) member Tony Hintz points out that Marion is in the process of becoming "a control unit that just isn't being called a control unit."

Anti-imperialist prisoner Bill Dunne did time at Marion from the time of the 1983 lockdown until 1992, and was recently transferred back to Marion for "being a bad slave," i.e. not subservient enough at the UNICOR factory. [See: "The New Plantation" by Dunne on page one of the Feb. '97 PLN] In one of Dunne's first letters after returning he wrote: "Marion has changed little since I left in March of '92."

Lopez Rivera told the Denver Weekly Westword, that he certainly doesn't feel that he has any more "privileges" at Marion. "It's worse now (at Marion)," he said, "than when I was here before."

"In the final months of his stay at ADX," wrote the Westword, 'he was allowed to leave his cell for meals and work or visits to the commissary. In his Marion 'general population' unit, he's locked down 22 hours a day, is allowed only a few hours of recreation a week in a small cage with a cement floor, and never leaves his cell except in handcuffs -- even for medical treatment."

Lopez Rivera stated the transfer was "definitely a punitive move. Basically, what they're trying to do," he said, "is rob the prisoner of his dignity through absolute control and sensory deprivation. Ever since I arrived in the system I've been labeled a notorious and incorrigible prisoner, and that is enough for them to do whatever they feel like doing."

Only a handful of other prisoners have graduated from ADX, and no others have been transferred to Marion. (The only other political prisoner released from ADX so far was alleged Black Liberation Army member Dr. Mutulu Shakur, who was transferred to USP Atlanta. Ohio-7+ prisoner Tom Manning was scheduled to be transferred in March '97.)

"I think the Bureau of Prisons feels it hasn't done its job," says Jan Susler. "They were supposed to mess these people up more than they've been able to. If they can break Oscar, it would be an example."

Since they couldn't break him, they'll still use him as an example of what prisoners are subjected to when they refuse to renounce political beliefs the BOP finds unacceptable.

The relationship between USP Marion and ADX Florence dramatically illustrates the "normalization" of control units, and the not-so-gradual public acceptance of subjecting prisoners to deep isolation. Marion, condemned by Amnesty International (and virtually every human rights group which has toured it) as a "human rights nightmare," as Susler noted, is now deemed a more or less "normal" maximum security prison. One lawyer from the ADX Prison Legal project, a prisoners' rights group, who regularly visits prisoners at ADX Florence said of Lopez Rivera's transfer to Marion, "That's no [friggin'l incentive to comply with the BOP's programs ....What a reward for graduating from ADX, que no?"

Transfers out of ADX are slowing down as well. When ADX Florence opened, prisoners began the program at different steps so the BOP could get the program up to speed. The program is now fully functional, and, as Ohio-7+ political prisoner Ray Luc Levasseur, currently in ADX Florence relates: "We've never again seen the situation that allowed Oscar, Mu[tulu Shakur] and Tom [Manning] to move so quickly through the program."

Westword (Denver) Dec. 19-25, 1996

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