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Factor 8: the Arkansas Prison Blood Mining Scandal Movie review and Director Interview

Filmmaker Kelly Duda’s first documentary, Factor 8: the Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal, chronicles the decades of abuse towards prisoners and patients from blood mining in search of profits. Traveling back to his home state of Arkansas , Duda comes face-to-face with the bureaucrats in government and business ready to kill to cover up the scandal. Indeed, Duda interviews several whistleblowers who are afraid for their lives due to the interview, some sleeping with loaded shotguns at their headboards and others expecting to receive lockdown time in prison for their crime of uncovering the truth.

Involving an international scheme of selling HIV+ and Hepatitis infected blood from the Cummins Unit prison in Arkansas to Continental Pharma Cryosan Inc. in Canada for use as the blood-clotting agent, Factor VIII. While international attention to the issue has been pronounced, the American press has been hesitant to address the story, presumably because of its controversial nature involving, among others, the former Governor of Arkansas and later US President Bill Clinton.

This straight-for-the-throat film sometimes seeks to explain more than it can, which is understandable given its scope of a scandal ranging from knowledge of Hepatitis and HIV infected blood in the 1970s to the thousands of hemophiliacs and prisoners still dying from infections today. What Factor 8 sometimes lacks in clarity, it makes up for in the overwhelming body of evidence that batter down every last defense by prison officials and the plasma shipping company Health Management Associates. 

Duda snaps from interview to interview with occasional interjections showing prisoners working plantation-style work and giving blood in a stark medical facility with countless rows of donors. The Arkansas prison system was declared unconstitutional in Holt v. Sarver in 1969. Until the late 1970s,Arkansas was one of a few states where the Department of Corrections cost the state very little to operate because the prisoners ran the facilities themselves and farmed their own food. Trusted prisoners were charged by wardens to guard other prisoners with guns. 
Prisoners also ran the blood program. The abuses associated with this system are legendary and were even made into the 1980 Robert Redford movie Brubaker.

In 1981, Rolf Kaestel received a life sentence without parole for robbing a taco stand of $256 with a water pistol. Kaestel plays an important role in the film as that of the independent source and program participant of and a licensed paralegal. Kaestel’s reward for speaking out about the scandal was an involuntary transfer to a Utah State Prison for 23 hours a day lockdown while losing 20 years of his possessions. An Arkansas Assistant Attorney General admitted that his transfer was a retaliatory act.

Kaestel is not the only retaliatory casualty of the scandal. Cecil Boren, an assistant warden at the Cummins Unit, talked to Canadian reporters about the blood program. As a result, convicted killer Kenneth Williams managed to escape from prison and shot and killed Boren. Duda draws upon the implausibility of the multiple scenarios brought up by investigators as to how Williams could have escaped. The situation clearly disturbs several of Duda’s interviewees, who give themselves bleak predictions for their futures.

Prison Legal News recently interviewed filmmaker Kelly Duda himself on his film:

PLN: Why did this project take over 5 years to film?

Duda: Well first of all, I had to do the job of 20 men. And the project was entirely self-financed. In addition, when I began looking into the subject there was little to go on – not much more than a few rumors and allegations. 

I literally had to dig up the story – one dating back many years – and piece it all together. A story, I might add, that the powers that be did not, and still do not, want told.

Imagine, accidentally coming across what appears to be a crime that occurred many years ago that involves powerful men, institutions and corporations, and having to unearth it, build a case and expose it, all by yourself. 

PLN: At what point did you realize just how deep you had been sucked in?

Duda: When I started seeing the whole familiar cadre of names from other political scandals popping up in this one. 

Also when I realized how much money was being made and the international scope of the scandal. 

The whole operation was a cash cow – where the numbers of donors could be underreported and the proceeds could be pocketed. 

And when I realized that the prison system, the state of Arkansas, the drug companies and the U.S. federal government all knew how dangerous this blood was yet allowed the operation to continue. 

In other words, all the doors were left open for the selling of this high risk product to continue. Suddenly, it became clear that this was not just a small, unknown, backwoods operation. It was a multi-million dollar scheme that tentacled out far and wide. 

PLN: How would you characterize your experience with the “old boy network”?

Duda: Well, frustrating to say the least. The South is like a big old house where what goes on inside that house isn’t supposed to be talked about or taken outside that house no matter what. So, how do you get people to talk? Never mind the officials, how do you convince a single mother of three to talk about her experiences working in the prison blood program when she’s afraid that her house is going to be burned down if she does? That sort of thing. And then there’s trying to track down important documents and records that ended-up disappearing or being shredded. That happened numerous times at the prison and state government levels, the federal FDA, as well as in the federal governments of Canada and the United Kingdom. I soon realized that the “old boy network”extended well beyond the state’s borders as there were plenty of people involved outside “the house” that didn’t want someone like me snooping around. Nevertheless, as you saw in the documentary, I did manage to get people to talk and dig up some very interesting and revealing records.

On a more personal level, I was followed, had my tires slashed, my house was broken into, reporter’s notes of mine were stolen and posted mysteriously on the Internet, my wife left me, and I was sued, among other things.

PLN: Is this an exceptional case, or do you see similar problems in the prison or medical world?

Duda: This is what happens when we turn a blind eye as to what goes on in our prisons. What happened in Cummins didn’t stay in Cummins. Instead, like Pandora’s box, the horrors existing in the Arkansas penitentiary system were unleashed onto the outside world. Was Arkansas exceptional? 
Yes. But in many ways all prisons are the same in the challenges we as a society face in dealing or not dealing with badly needed reforms. 

I think it’s safe to say that most inmates don’t get state-of-the-art medical attention. In Arkansas’ prisons, the medical care was deplorable. 

From the inception of the blood program at Cummins there were problems. Long before AIDS, the prison system had experienced several outbreaks of viral hepatitis (some of these directly connected to the plasma program) that resulted in hundreds of infections and an undetermined number of deaths as was detailed in investigations by the CDC and National Institute of Health (NIH). Despite these problems, and the acknowledged danger to the public, the operation was allowed to continue. Why? Money.
Inmates? blood was seen as cheap and plentiful. Then in 1983, the FDA shutdown the Arkansas prison plasma program due to severe regulatory violations and failed international recalls of tainted blood. Months later the prison’s license was revoked. However, what did the state of Arkansas do under Gov. Bill Clinton? Everything it could to get the program up and running again. In 1984, in the midst of AIDS hysteria, the plasma program restarted and it was business as usual for another decade until the operation closed its doors for good due to lack of a buyer. 

PLN: Do you think the lack of attention to this issue is from a lack of interest or from deliberate cover-up efforts?

Duda: First of all you have to realize that the media are pack-minded. 
Some outlets will see this as an old story that affects two populations that no one cares about: prisoners and foreigners. 

However, it isn’t an old story because until now the full story hasn’t been told and people are still dying because of what happened. And the victims were not just limited to patients in Canada , Europe and Asia . Americans also were recipients of this bad blood.

Others will see it as too fantastic to believe. Like some UFO story or another Clinton conspiracy tale blamed on the “vast right wing conspiracy.” 

Then there are the media outlets that have been too afraid of the story.
No question about that. Obviously, the Clinton angle spooks many. 

One network told me that it was “not prepared to open a can of worms like this.” Another told me that my approach was wrong. When I asked, “What do you want me to do, cut me, my narration and Clinton out”? The response back was “yes.” Make no mistake about it the media has its own agendas too. Other examples; earlier in the year, a planned screening at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta (which was to include a panel discussion) was suddenly spiked without explanation. In Arkansas , the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival refused to show the film – despite the fact that it had already screened in Park City , Hollywood and London. I could go on and on and on. 

The problem as I see it is we are in a place in this country where most of us don’t want our world views challenged. We say we want the truth, but we only want our “truth.”

This is a story about how greed and politics destroyed lives. And is still destroying them. People are still dying from what happened, and the same greed and politics that allowed this to happen is also preventing the story from being widely told. Remember there are powerful people, institutions and corporations whose reputations are at stake.

PLN: It is unclear if Clinton’s role was one of active negligence or active pursuance, what evidence do you have for either?

Duda: While Governor Clinton generally did not attend prison board meetings, his cabinet members did, and Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff, Betsey Wright, attended several meetings where safety problems with the plasma program were discussed, including two FDA recalls of tainted prison plasma in 1983 and revocation of the federal license in 1984. The state convinced federal regulators to allow the plasma program to start up again six months later with the approval of the Board of Correction. 

That board was comprised of four (out of five) Clinton appointees – including the chairman. 

The president of Health Management Associates (the private company that managed the prison blood program) was Leonard Dunn, a political supporter of Governor Clinton who also served as the finance chairman for his re-election campaign. Dunn was also given a patronage appointment by Clinton. 

Prison officials described Clinton as being very knowledgeable about the conditions and problems at the Arkansas Department of Correction. Prior to becoming governor, Clinton, as the Attorney General, argued on behalf of the state regarding the status of the prison system conditions before the federal courts when it was still deemed unconstitutional. 

Also please know that the problems with the plasma program were reported about in daily newspapers. 

So, with all that in mind, I ask you, if all the governor’s men knew and the public was being told, how could Clinton not know what was happening? 
I would welcome an opportunity to ask Mr. Clinton about his role in this, but unfortunately all my requests to interview him have all been turned down. And the victims’ pleas for answers from him have been ignored. 

For more information about the movie and the Arkansas DOC’s blood mining program go to Duda’s website: PLN is distributing the DVD. Cost for each DVD is $21.95, plus $6.00 shipping. It can be ordered by phone, mail or online.

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