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Want Examples of Prison Torture? Look Homeward

by Dwight Abbott

California's Juvenile Prison System Needs Reform From Ground Up

(PNS) -- More than a year since the brutal treatment of prisoners inside Abu Ghraib was exposed, the Washington Post has reported that the CIA has been operating a secret system of "black site" interrogation centers in eight foreign countries in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Thailand.

Fact is, you don't have to go far, not to Thailand or Afghanistan, to find a "black site" that appears "beyond the reach of U.S. law." Get in your car, drive around the state of California, and you will drive by dozens of these sites -- the prisons, jails and Youth Authority detention centers that dot the rural landscape. As in all black sites, each successfully defies the law every day, and is rarely held accountable.

President Bush insists that "No one in U.S. custody is being tortured," despite testimony from some detainees who have been held in these secret prisons describing such techniques as "waterboarding" (prisoners strapped to a board and immersed in water until they feel they are drowning) and isolation in unlit cells, sometimes for years and with no legal access or human contact except for their CIA interrogators. At the same time, Bush has threatened to veto any legislation, like Sen. John McCain's amendment, banning "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of prisoners.

All of this sounds so very familiar to those of us who have been attempting to get the federal government to take over the California prison system because of proven corruption and continued abuse in many forms, not the least of which is physical.

I was a pre-teen child inside the Los Angeles County Juvenile Hall. I graduated as a teenager into most of California's toughest Youth Authority penal institutions. As an adult who's spent nearly 50 years in our state prisons, I have long personally experienced much of what is now being described as torture of "terrorists" in our custody.

Though not "strapped to a board," I have been left naked, handcuffed to cell bars above my head, left with only the tips of my bare toes touching the concrete floor, and blasted with water from a fire hose until water filled my lungs and I knew I was drowning.

Once I lay naked upon the concrete, hands cuffed behind my back, a canvas bag over my head for four or five days (I cannot remember), without food or water as my keepers tried to destroy everything that I was.

I've been confined in a cell that had no lighting, no sink, no toilet and no bed other than a blanket on the floor next to a hole that was my bathroom. I lived in continuous darkness for five years. I received no correspondence, no visits other than from my keepers, who were intent on making me regret I was human. It was inside this cell that I wrote my first book on a roll of toilet paper after finding a guard who would crack open the steel door to allow dim light to seep in three hours each night.

I'm aware of hundreds of deaths from "unnatural causes," such as strangulation, asphyxiation and blunt-force injuries, that were blamed on "inmates unknown," when in some of those cases it was the guards who committed the murders. I've looked on as guards took a prisoner up to the fifth tier at San Quentin State Prison, handcuff his wrists behind his back and chain his ankles together, knock him down to the concrete floor and proceed to drag him by his feet down five flights of steel steps, leaving the inmate horribly bruized and bleeding, impressing upon those who watched from their cells what happens to those who don't follow the rules.

I've been "punished" and placed on a "Rationed Diet," which consisted of two cups of water and a soybean patty given twice a day for three days (you got a "hot meal" once). This went on for months at a time. I've watched men get pulled from their cells and forced to receive a "shock treatment" as punishment for being "uncooperative."

Over the years, there have been occasional protests regarding this abuse of prisoners right here at home, and there have been the standard denials -- "It never happened" -- as well as rare admissions when the abusers are caught with their pants down.

Anyone familiar with the California prison system knows that the practices of starving prisoners, beating them, "waterboarding" and murdering inmates continues to this very day. Can anyone take seriously the promises of a government that abuses its own citizens that "no (terrorist) in U.S. custody is being tortured?" Can anyone honestly expect such torture to stop?

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson has decried the practices in the "black site" prisons abroad, stating that "starving, beating and waterboarding our enemies in secret gulags is not what this country is about." He has obviously never spent any time in the California prison system.

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Albion Monitor January 3, 2006 (

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