By Shawn Whatley and Lester Smith,
Georgia State Inmates
As Told to Eljeer Hawkins
“This is a plea and cry for help. We, the prisoners at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison (GDCP) - Special Management Unit (SMU) in Jackson, Georgia constantly and daily are subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. We experience officer brutality and physical assaults, inhumane living conditions, and many more injustices that constitute civil rights and human rights violations and ultimately violate the laws set forth in the United States Constitution and the Georgia Constitution. Furthermore, this violates the very policy that governs the Georgia prison system known as the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP),” wrote the inmates of the SMU at GDCP, also known as Jackson State Prison, in a recent communication.
When we think of the torture chambers and brutality, following the events of 9/11, of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, we see that the methods of torture and violence against prisoners was perfected in the U.S. prison system.
After the historic Georgia state prisoners’ strike last December, the prisoners of the GDCP in Jackson are facing daily brutality from the prison authority and the guards. As the inmates of the prison’s SMU testify: “Ultimately and astonishingly, when a prisoner attempts to utilize the afforded grievance procedure, he is oftentimes retaliated against in numerous ways: physical beatings, verbal harassment, tampering of mail, blocking phone calls, etc.”
This reality speaks to the decaying state of American capitalism and democracy under the ever-expanding penal system. As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising, not much has changed for inmates today. In fact, the violence and punishment inmates experience has increased exponentially.
The inmates held in the SMU are subjected to the administrative segregation policy. When inmates oppose and file grievances against this policy, the reply by the prison authority to the inmates is, “It’s the warden’s discretion.” This means that the prison authorities can do virtually anything they want without any repercussions.
The conditions under administrative segregation are absolutely shocking and violate the most basic human rights of the inmates. They include: no properly ventilated cells, inadequate lighting, no adequate hygiene care, sometimes inmates are permitted showers only every 13 days, and the food provided is typically inadequate and cold and comes through the same “chuck hole” that the broom, mop, dustpan and dirty laundry are passed through – without the inmates being given any cleaning supplies to sanitize the “chuck hole.”
There are no spiritual, educational, vocational or library programs allowed. This treatment is meant to break the spirit and humanity of the inmates of the SMU.
Inspections are conducted daily by the guards and a special Certified Emergency Response Team (CERT). The inmates of SMU have grieved their personal property being confiscated by the prison guards as a form of harassment and retaliation against those who speak out against an injustice. There are high incidents of “excessive use of force” toward inmates in the GDCP-SMU, and medical and dental care is provided “if” they have adequate staff available. A nurse will read your medical request and if she deems it necessary you will be scheduled to see the doctor. Sometimes this happens immediately, and sometimes it may take weeks.
The Case of Lester Smith
Lester Smith, a Georgia state prisoner, is facing a dire health care crisis. On Sunday morning, June 12, 2011, Lester’s mother Catherine Goodman and Lester’s grandfather were shocked during their visit to find out that Lester was showing advanced symptoms of Hepatitis C.
Ms. Goodman described Lester’s condition: His eyes had an abnormal yellowish color - possibly jaundice - a horrible skin tone discoloration, he experienced excruciating liver pain and irregular urinary functions, he was feverish, displayed muscle weakness, and appeared extremely fatigued.
Despite a request by Lester’s family for proper medical care, their calls to the Georgia Department of Corrections and Jackson State Prison authorities have so far fallen on deaf ears and criminal neglect.
The Struggle Continues
We must organize and protest against the daily mistreatment and violence in the Georgia state prison system. We must demand proper medical care for Lester Smith and an end to the arbitrary violence against the inmates of Jackson State Prison’s Special Management Unit.
Please send protest letters and phone calls to the offices of Governor Nathan Deal and to the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections.
Register Your Protest to:
Brian Owens, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections
Nathan Deal, Governor of Georgia
- Call: 478-992-5258 (This is the number for Owens’ administrative assistant Peggy Chapman. Urge her to give him the message.)
- Call: 478-992-5367 (This is the Office of the Ombudsman, which is the official channel for raising concerns over prisoner treatment.)
Letters can also be mailed or faxed:
- Call: 404-656-1776
- Send the Governor a letter online by clicking here.
Office of the Governor Nathan Deal, State of Georgia
203 State Capitol
Atlanta, GA 30334