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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Alan Prendergast

At the Federal Supermax, When Does Isolation Become Torture?

by Alan Prendergast, Westword

You see them on TV, usually around the time they are arrested. Men who have declared war on America, combatants in a conflict that never ends. They are captured on the street and at airports, in mid-stride and sometimes in mid-attack.

Some of them have long, Arabic names. The journalists prefer nicknames. The Shoe Bomber. The Blind Sheikh. The American Taliban. You see them or you hear about them, just for a moment, and then they are gone, as if the earth swallowed them.

Where do they go, these men? What happens to them after judgment is passed and they are sent away?

There may or may not be a special place in hell for terrorists, but there is a special place in Colorado for them – a place for jihadists, conspirators, suppliers of material aid, failed suicide bombers, self-styled avengers, guerrilla leaders and more. Its name is H Unit.

H Unit is the most restricted area in the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum, or ADX, the highest-security pen in the federal prison system. Located a hundred miles southwest of Denver, just outside the high-desert town of Florence, the “Alcatraz of the Rockies” is known ...

Hep C: The Deadliest Killer in Colorado’s Prisons is a Curable Virus

by Alan Prendergast, Westword

When Joseph Deaguero went to prison almost three years ago, he had a pretty good idea of what to expect. He had been behind bars before, for a series of assaults and domestic-violence arrests. But this time around, Deaguero, who’s currently 52 years old and serving a twelve-year sentence for second-degree assault, began to wonder if he was going to survive the experience.

In 1996, Deaguero learned that he’d tested positive for hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that attacks the liver and has infected 17 percent of the American prison population. At the time he was told not to worry about it; the virus can lie dormant in the system for decades without manifesting any symptoms, and about one in six of those infected will “clear” the virus on their own. In other cases, though, the virus leads to chronic liver disease, and a sizable number of the chronic cases – between 25 and 40 percent, depending on which studies you believe – can eventually develop into cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Shortly after he started serving his latest sentence, Deaguero complained of symptoms of a hep C flare-up: chronic fatigue, aching muscles and joints, a constant throbbing ...

Welcome to America

He came looking for work. A week in the Park County Jail changed everything.
Here is something Moises Carranza-Reyes wants you to know right off: He has never been charged with a crime, in this country or in his native Mexico.

Yes, he did enter the United States without an invitation in 2003. So did an estimated 300,000 other Mexicans. Carranza-Reyes knew that some people would take offense at a man sneaking across the border. But other people would be happy to hire him, he figured, and happy to take his money for rent and groceries and new clothes.

"I was trying to find a better life," he explains, speaking through a translator. "I've worked all my life. I don't care what kind of work I do. I feel humiliated if I can't work. I will do any honest work."

He never got the chance. So far the only entity to make a buck off Carranza-Reyes is the Park County Jail, which houses alien detainees under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Carranza-Reyes spent eight days at the jail shortly after entering Colorado two years ago. The experience cost him his left ...

Supermax Censorship Claimed by Prison Legal News

Supermax Censorship Claimed by Prison Legal News

by Alan Prendergast

The U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum outside Florence, Colorado, better known as ADX, has a deserved reputation as the highest-security supermax prison on the planet. It houses some of the most notorious prisoners in North America – from Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and shoe bomber Richard Reid to Aryan Brotherhood leader Barry Mills, double agent Robert Hanssen and Colombian guerrilla leader Simon Trinidad – in 23-hour-a-day, escape-proof lockdown. 

Among human rights activists, though, ADX is controversial not just for what it keeps in but what it manages to keep out. Proper treatment of the mentally ill, for one thing; a massive lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Prisons alleges a history of abuse of delusional, self-mutilating prisoners. Journalists, for another; as first reported in Westword several years ago, the prison has, contrary to stated BOP policy, routinely denied every reporter’s request for a face-to-face interview with an ADX prisoner since 2001. Aside from one tightly supervised media tour in 2007, that practice continues today.

Officials at ADX also seem intent on keeping out Prison Legal News, a feisty monthly magazine with readers among the incarcerated in all fifty states – including nineteen subscribers at ADX ...

Prisoner’s Coma-Inducing Latex Allergy Triggers Lawsuit, Burning Questions

A prisoner’s lawsuit against the Colorado Department of Corrections, claiming a latex allergy so severe that he’s suffered burns and respiratory problems when touched by glove-wearing guards, appeared to have been resolved in August 2012 when DOC officials testified that they no longer use latex in their facilities. But Albert Abeyta says he’s still getting burned by his unsympathetic handlers, and the strange case seems to be headed back to federal court.

Abeyta, 44, a sex offender serving a sentence of seven years to life, claims to have experienced some “itchiness” from exposure to latex for some time. His sensitivity developed into an extreme case three years ago, when he was working as a kosher prep cook at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility. According to court records, he began to feel a burning sensation in his wrists, had difficulty breathing and was diagnosed at the prison infirmary as having “an acute reaction to latex gloves.”

That exposure led to treatment at a Pueblo hospital and eventually in the burn unit of the University of Colorado Hospital, where he received morphine and lapsed into a coma.
After he got well, Abeyta testified, a nurse practitioner at the prison ...

BOP Supermax Lawsuit Claims Horrific Abuse of Mentally Ill at ADX

“A Clean Version of Hell” – that’s what a 2007 segment of 60 Minutes called the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum facility in Florence, Colorado, or ADX, home to some of the world’s most notorious murderers and terrorists. But according to a grimly detailed lawsuit filed in Denver on June 18, 2012 that alleges systemic mistreatment of mentally ill prisoners, the federal supermax is actually a filthy version of hell – a place where untreated psychotic men mutilate themselves, have delusional conversations with ghosts and live in feces-caked isolation cells for months with little monitoring.

Filed on behalf of five ADX prisoners and another half-dozen “interested parties” who are also prisoners there, the suit claims that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) ignores its own regulations in shifting dangerous or hard-to-control prisoners to ADX regardless of their mental status, and fails to monitor them properly after they arrive – even to the point of denying them medication or ignoring diagnoses made by other BOP medical staff.

“Many prisoners at ADX interminably wail, scream, and bang on the walls of their cells,” the complaint alleges. “Some mutilate their bodies with razors, shards of glass, sharpened chicken bones, writing utensils, and whatever ...

How Victim Rights Shaped Spending, Laws and the Future of Punishment in Colorado

Newly elected as a Colorado state representative, Pete Lee hit the Capitol in January 2011 fired up with big ideas. The biggest of them all was the restorative justice bill he introduced shortly after the session began.

A concept borrowed from Native American traditions and other cultures, restorative justice offers an alternative to the conventional crime-and-punishment approach of the legal system. The emphasis is on “restoring” and healing a community damaged by crime – by, for example, letting victims have more say in the justice process and requiring transgressors to admit their guilt and agree to reparations, such as fixing up vandalized property, instead of simply spending time behind bars.

A Colorado Springs Democrat and criminal defense attorney, Lee had worked with juveniles in a restorative justice program in El Paso County and had been impressed with the results. “We had very low recidivism rates, and the kids accepted responsibility for what they did,” he says. “So I became a zealot.”

Many prosecutors are skeptical of the touchy-feely aspects of restorative justice programs; they regard the approach as far more effective in dealing with juvenile delinquency and property crimes than violent offenses. But Lee, whose wife works as a restorative justice ...

Colorado CCA Prison Uprising: New Details of Unheeded Warnings Emerge in Epic Lawsuit

Seven years ago prisoners at a private prison in southeastern Colorado went on an all-night rampage, chasing the shorthanded staff from the premises, attacking suspected snitches, setting fires and causing millions of dollars in damages. Now documents filed in a long-running legal battle confirm what many prisoners have been saying all along – that prison officials received ample warning of impending trouble but failed to take action in time.

The 2004 riot at the Crowley County Correctional Facility, operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), has emerged as a kind of case study in the multiple ways things can go wrong in a for-profit prison. The night of the incident, the prison had only 47 employees on duty, including eight trainees, to supervise 1,122 prisoners. There had been growing tension at the facility for weeks over issues ranging from food and rec privileges to the presence of numerous disgruntled prisoners recently shipped in from Washington and Wyoming to fill beds. [See: PLN, Jan. 2005, p.26].

The Colorado Department of Corrections’ after-action report would later blast CCA officials for inadequate training and emergency response procedures – but the DOC’s own monitoring of the prison up to the night of ...

Mother Questions Her Son’s “Natural” Death in Colorado CCA Prison

On October 28, 2010, a 26-year-old prisoner named Terrell Griswold was found slumped over and unresponsive in his cell at the Bent County Correctional Facility, a private prison in southeastern Colorado. The official cause of death was listed as cardiac hypertrophy, or an enlarged heart. But Lagalia Afola says the circumstances of her son’s death are more complicated than that.

When it comes to the mysteries of prison health care, they usually are.
Griswold was serving a three-year sentence for burglary. Although she lives in Kansas City, Afola spoke with him often by phone. Terrell didn’t complain a lot, didn’t volunteer much about his health, she stated. She knew he was taking blood pressure medication but considered him in very good shape, and she was stunned when officials told her that he’d died of a heart condition that couldn’t have been foreseen.

“Initially, they just told me that he died of an enlarged heart,” Afola said. But over the past year she has tracked down medical records held by the private prison operator, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and the Colorado Department of Corrections; she’s pored over the official autopsy report and pointed out ...

Prison Sexual Abuse Survivor Speaks Out

In January 2010, Scott Howard, a 39-year-old federal prisoner, made his way briskly into a hearing room in the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Building in Washington, D.C. He was neatly dressed in blazer, slacks and tie, and quite nervous about what he was about to do. He was determined to not think about it too much, to just get it over with – like so much else that he’d been through over the past few years.

The room was teeming with Department of Justice attorneys, law enforcement agents and corrections officials. Not exactly Howard’s kind of crowd; he’d tried to tell his story to such people before, only to be labeled a liar and a whiner. But the participants also included members of Congress, medical professionals, prison activists, counselors and sexual-assault survivors.

They’d all come to take part in a “listening session” on the wishfully titled Prison Rape Elimination Act. Passed in 2003, PREA created a national commission to study the causes and costs of sexual assault behind bars and to come up with federal policies to attack the problem. Seven years and several blown deadlines later, backers are still waiting for United States Attorney General ...


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