This might be of interest both personally and sociologically to many.
A bakery that hires addicts, felons and immigrants continues to be a success
Greyston’s Bakery, Yonkers, NY
Nathanael Johnson has a great piece on Greyston’s Bakery in Yonkers, New York. Greyston’s motto is "We don’t hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people." It’s a nice sentiment, but is it real? Yes it is and they do and they’re successful.
For the last 30 years, Greyston Bakery, in Yonkers, N.Y., has made it a policy to hire anyone who comes in the door, without asking questions or even looking at a resume. As a result, Greyston has a staff of former addicts, felons, and immigrants — people normally considered unemployable. This staff of workers makes food that you’ve probably eaten: They provide all the brownies for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. It’s a successful for-profit business, powered by the unemployable.
The entire profile is worth a read. Here’s an explanation of their business model, from Greyston’s CEO Mike Brady:
“Low-wage workers tend to have a fair amount of turnover — if you make investments in a workforce it’s very difficult to judge if they are going to stay,” Brady said. “So companies try to make as low an investment as possible — and that means they are doing very little to break the chain of poverty.” Greyston takes the opposite approach.
“Rather than spending money on interviews and background checks, we are spending it on training and development,” he said.
I was also struck by this analysis:
Over the years, Brady has come to suspect that the traditional metrics for determining who will be a good employee are flawed. Someone without an arrest may simply be a person who has never gotten caught. […] “There are tons of metrics for businesses on environmental impact, but very little on social justice,” Brady told me. “Are we helping the community we are in? Are we leaving it the same? Or are we hurting it?”
Our communities are our most important concern. Where we walk and talk and get milk. This is where our families go to school and play on swings and sit on stoops to talk. It’s our communities that we are trying to make nice places to live in and, in the end, that will only happen if we figure out how to get as many people in our communities as possible on their feet, and happy to be a part of our communities. Watch Mike Brady’s Ted talk below the fold.
Whos Afraid of Theory?
Ivory-tower feminism has a bad rap: It’s perceived as convoluted and theoretical, mired in jargon and intellectual elitism and, frankly, a big bunch of mumbo-jumbo. Compared to the vigorous, policy-changing, dynamic nature of grassroots activism, theory seems constipated, static and pretentious. Clearly, the woman’s movement is advanced more by volunteering as an escort at an abortion clinic or participating in the exuberance of the March for Women’s Lives in Washington than by spending an agonizing afternoon deciphering paragraph-long sentences.
Or is it?
Disdain for academic feminism reached its apogee during the 1998 Bad Writing Contest. Sponsored by The Journal of Philosophy and Literature, this annual (but now defunct) tongue-in-cheek competition recognizes “the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles published in the last few years.” When Judith Butler, feminist theorist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, won the contest that year, it was more fuel for conservative attacks on feminist scholarship and the abandonment of traditional standards and subjects at universities.
It is hard to defend Butler’s first-prize passage, from an article published in the scholarly journal Diacritics, as anything but confounding and opaque:
The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relationships in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.
However, “bad” writing too often is equated with difficult and complex writing. Language is never a simply neutral vehicle for a message; it is a battleground and a site of power, resistance and struggle. Feminist theorists long have challenged language through use of unconventional syntax, bad grammar and neologisms in order to convey something new and disquieting.
Examples are legion—from the simple act of replacing the pronoun “he” to “she” in a sentence (unveiling the hidden agendas of language), to radical theologist Mary Daly’s observation that “therapist” can be hyphenated to be read as “the-rapist” (symbolically pointing to how psychoanalysis attempts to portray female anger and rebellion as hysteria), to the renaming of the word “history” to “herstory” (reflecting how women have been written out of the main historical narrative). Feminist language-play can be hysterical, yes, but also rich and revealing.
But many feminists have questioned these efforts. After the Bad Writing Contest debacle, it was Martha Nussbaum, a well-regarded feminist philosopher and professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago, who followed up with a long attack on Butler in The New Republic. Her piece exposed a thorny debate within feminism and the women’s movement: theory vs. practice.
“It is difficult to come to grips with Butler’s ideas, because it is difficult to figure out what they are,” Nussbaum writes. “Hungry women are not fed by this, battered women are not sheltered by it, raped women do not find justice in it, gays and lesbians do not achieve legal protection through it.”
It seems reasonable to question what it means to be “socially relevant,” as if we all agree on what this rather fuzzy notion entails. But making the production of knowledge subordinate to how useful and practical it can be is extremely shortsighted. We should not limit the idea of social transformation to immediately identifiable social justice goals. Readily obvious political ends may not unleash the imagination that is required for true liberation. Even as we need to have marches on Washington, develop grassroots strategies for coalition building and push for policy reform, we also need conceptual tools to battle sexism and oppression.
By examining some of the thinkers working in the Ivory Tower, we can see that their accomplishments and influence illustrate the fluidity between what’s perceived as a rigid divide between theory and practice. These women provide a much-needed service by unleashing a radical imagination.
A professor of rhetoric and comparative literature at Berkeley, Butler is most famous for promoting the notion of “performativity” and for rousing what she calls “gender trouble.” Unsatisfied with the entrenched feminist description of the social construction of gender, Butler calls upon the main metaphor of “drag.” Butler argues that all of us enact behaviors associated with masculinity and femininity, and in this way gender is a kind of performance or disguise. Butler suggests that, unlike theatrical acting, there is no stable actor or subject that goes about performing gender roles. It is the very act of performing that constitutes who we are.
Butler argues that even as feminists helped to reject the idea that biology is destiny, they continued to assume a gendered identity built upon the essential nature of male and female sexed bodies. She proposes a different kind of politics—not based on a utopian future but on everyday subversive actions that promote “gender trouble.” (Thus, the title of her most influential work, Gender Trouble, published in 1990.)
She suggests it is the subversion, mystification, confusion and proliferation of many genders—not just male and female but everything in between—that would be really liberating. The useful concept of performativity has gone beyond how we think about gender to help us understand oppressive forms of identity, such as nationality.
The Avalon Foundation Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University, Spivak was born in Calcutta in 1942 and belongs to the first generation of Indian intellectuals after independence. She is most well-known for her work around the “Subaltern,” a stand in for Antonio Gramsci’s “proletarian.” The Subaltern refers to the most dispossessed and disenfranchised, without a voice in society.
In her 1985 article “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Spivak examines how people working for social change unintentionally reinforce political domination, economic exploitation and cultural erasure, the very same tactics employed by colonial empires.
Those in power speak for the Subaltern and allow the dispossessed to form a dependence on Western intellectuals rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. Spivak also points out how Westerners are guilty of assuming a cultural solidarity among groups of ethnic people. Instead, Spivak suggests, we should work against what is keeping the Subaltern down and out, thereby allowing them to speak for themselves.
Spivak is a guerilla-strategist who employs Marxist, feminist, post-colonialist and deconstructionist methods. Her writing echoes Jane Addams’ recognition that social progress “depends as much on the process through which it is secured as the goals.”
Many of the current debates about the audacious character of U.S. imperialistic policies and justifications for regime change are informed by Spivak’s insights. For example, when the United States presents itself as the savior of oppressed women under the Taliban, it uncomfortably revisits the colonial agenda, or in Spivak’s pithy formulation: “White men saving brown women from brown men.”
A professor of Social Sciences and Comparative Education at UCLA, Harding was one of the first to raise questions about scientific objectivity and argue that it should be replaced with a “feminist standpoint.” This position argues that the world is socially constructed and made up of multiple realities, and challenges scientists to conduct research from the standpoint of the subjected.
She shows how when one severs the ties to value neutrality it makes it possible to insert responsibility and accountability, missing from the puzzle of why science has up to now been used mainly as a tool of power, as opposed to fighting it.
Harding challenges the scientific community to pay attention to who generates the research questions and how scientists conduct research. Her work helped pave the way for the required inclusion of women and minorities in clinical research. It was only in 1993, with the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act. that this requirement could be legally enforced.
Catherine A. MacKinnon
A professor of law at the University of Michigan, MacKinnon moves with ease among her jobs as lawyer, teacher, writer, activist and expert on equality. Since the ’70s MacKinnon has been on the frontlines arguing that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. Working with Andrea Dworkin, she also conceived of and wrote controversial ordinances recognizing pornography as a violation of civil rights.
MacKinnon points out the constitutional conflict between First Amendment concerns and the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection clause. MacKinnon argues that freedom of speech allows more powerful speakers to dominate.
In 1996’s Only Words, she links pornography and hate speech, arguing that both enact and incite abuse. Like the burning of a cross on a lawn, MacKinnon writes, pornography is a threatening and intimidating act of violence and subjugation. Unlike speech that communicates an idea, thought or emotion, pornography legitimates and enforces widespread criminal behavior, such as rape and beatings. As an example, she argues that no one can say “kill” to a trained attack dog and escape prosecution for the ensuing attack on the grounds that she was “only talking.”
MacKinnon also popularized the controversial notion that there are multiple ways of being coerced. Being forced at gunpoint to take part in a pornographic film, for example, is just the more extreme end of a spectrum of coercive means—one that also includes economic coercion that forces women to take part because of a lack of financial options.
Critics see Mackinnon’s work as prelude to so-called “victim-feminism,” where women lack agency for self-determination.
More recently, MacKinnon represented Muslim and Croat Bosnian women—survivors of Serbian genocidal sexual atrocities—and won $745 million in damages from a New York jury. Her arguments pioneered the recognition of rape as an act of genocide under international law. (See Kadic v. Karadzic.)
Kirkland and Ellis Professor at Northwestern Law University, Roberts has shown there is a deeply embedded racism in one-dimensional interpretations of reproductive rights. While white women have been fighting for their freedom from compulsory motherhood, black women have had to demand their right to procreate at all.
In her brilliant book, Killing the Black Body, she gives a historical overview of black motherhood, beginning when children born to slaves were given to their owners, through current policies that put family caps on welfare recipients. She effectively proves that curtailing black motherhood is part of a historical narrative and chastises the women’s movement for failing to see how distributing Norplant and Depo-Provera to poor women of color can be oppressive.
Roberts also takes on the fertility industry, which caters to middle-class white couples—reporting that when black couples go to fertility doctors they are heavily pressured to adopt. She notes the contradiction of a society that celebrates the births of seven children to a white couple resulting from fertility technologies yet refuses to pay the expenses for additional child born to welfare mothers.
The influence of Robert’s work on race and reproduction is clear in the organization of the March for Women’s Lives, which began with controversy over the inclusion of women of color and resulted in serious coalition building and a change from its previous name, March for Choice.
How Does Racism Make Us Sick? Part One: The Medical Repercussions of Segregation
by Jennifer Tsai at Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University
In the recent White Coat Die-In demonstrations orchestrated by medical students across the nation, aspiring physicians displayed solidarity with the message that racial injustice is a public health concern that merits the attention and efforts of health care professionals. It is clear from the mobilization and investment of our medical community that there is a desire to engage in clearer articulation and understanding of the health disparities landscape.
In this series of articles, I seek to discuss the notion: how does racism make us sick? It is of course impossible to lay out the relationship between racism and health succinctly. Each one of these paragraphs can (and should be) elaborated upon in entire books, courses, conferences and careers, but this conversation needs to be started.
Structural racism, as defined by the Center for Social Inclusion, is the “blind interaction between institutions, policies and practices that inevitably perpetuates racial disparities and barriers to opportunities.” This system, built into the history of this country, makes people sick because it negatively affects all aspects of life, from economic power and political clout to social mobility, access to health care, living prospects and educational opportunity — it does not exert a shallow, unidirectional oppression. In technical terms, racism is a massive driver of health inequity — the consequence of “systemic and unjust distribution of social, economic, political, and environmental resources needed for health.” Individuals who have less command of financial and sociopolitical clout experience poorer health as a direct consequence.
To be clear, race does not impact the health and experience of individuals as an isolated and singular axis of oppression. Other social identities — socioeconomic status, gender, sexuality — intersect to complicate the issues individuals will face. For example, people of color who occupy different levels on the socioeconomic scale will have different experiences, just as white patients with low socioeconomic status may face many similar concerns. This series of articles, however, seeks to focus primarily on issues of racial identity and the impact structural racism has on people of color in this country. It is also important to mention that racism in the United States was built along the black-white binary. As such, much of the data discussed will focus on African American populations. These issues, however, can be extrapolated to include similar issues among people of color in general. For part one of this article series, I focus on historical routes of segregation and the ways concentration of health hazards in certain spaces helps to explain how structural racism makes us sick.
Racial segregation is a structural kingpin in continuing health and class inequality. Indeed, even when controlled for income, neighborhood segregation has been tied to deprivation of resources and a host of conditions correlated with low birth weight, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and lower life expectancy. To understand this facet of health inequity, we must first understand state-sponsored segregation and how its legacy continues to concentrate health hazards among populations of color.
In the 1930s, New Deal Era Housing policies established the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) in order to make home ownership more widely available to citizens. While this allowed thousands of white families to begin owning homes, the FHA barred black families from similar opportunities. It employed the practice of “red lining” in which black neighborhoods were labeled with low ratings that codified high risk for loan repayment. In doing so, black families were denied mortgage funds, depriving them of the ability to purchase homes and sequestering them to certain geographic locations. Indeed, in the two decades after its creation, the FHA financed 60 percent of American homes, yet less than 2 percent of its loans went to people of color. Government-sponsored segregation that began decades previous provides an important foundation for health inequalities that continue to exist today.
Consider how in the 1950’s, hate crimes against blacks — fires, vandalism, property destruction, lynching — were used as a tactic to scare black families who first tried to move into white neighborhoods. Despite legislation like the Housing Act of 1968 which prohibited discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing, real estate brokers continued to “steer” people of color to minority neighborhoods to maintain color lines. In the 1970s, black women were hired to stroll around white neighborhoods as a tactic employed by realtors to scare white families into moving out of neighborhoods quickly and sell their homes at low prices. Consider how these properties, bought cheap off of frightened whites, were then marketed at outrageously inflated prices to black families who had few options due to discriminatory policies that prevented their access to property. These practices set the stage for the mobilization of “white flight” to suburban neighborhoods — a mobility inaccessible to African American families who were left in crumbling, poorly resourced urban neighborhoods. Indeed, it seems integration “was just a phase between when the first blacks move in and the last whites took their children out of the public schools.” Even today, African Americans remain the most segregated population in the United States.
The issues of segregation from the early 20th century created significant barriers to social mobility as well as access to public and private resources, both of which continue to impact factors such as unemployment, education and medical access. In Chicago, black mortality from breast cancer has remained static in the last quarter of a decade, while white breast cancer mortality has decreased by 50 percent, largely due to early mammography detection. Poor neighborhoods of color have fewer breast cancer screening centers; the centers that do exist are often of lower quality due to use of older equipment and fewer mammography specialists. Moreover, individuals on Medicaid must travel longer distances to public hospitals in order to obtain mammograms. (Consider how ideas of noncompliance rarely take into account lack of reliable transportation in neighborhoods that are already resource-constrained.) Dorothy Roberts, a scholar on race, gender and law, captures the issue succinctly when she writes, “Of the 25 Chicago community areas with the highest breast cancer mortality rates, 24 are predominantly black. Only one of these has a hospital with a cancer program approved by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer.” The correlation of lower death rates with developing screening protocols demonstrates that these disparities are due to social differences rather than biological causes. This is where we again see the intersection of historical segregation, disenfranchisement, economic oppression and limited social mobility manifesing as health inequities. The consequences of segregation are real. In Chicago, two black women — mothers, daughters, wives — die every week simply because their breast cancer mortality rates are not the same as their white counterparts.
Issues of race and space continue to impact health when one considers environmental implications of segregation. We ask our patients about home environmental hazards and safety in our most basic social histories because we know these factors are important to health. Indeed then, it is shocking to discover that race, even more so than socioeconomic class, is the best predictor of the location of toxic waste sites. At the heart of this issue is the fact that the organization of space is a social product that does not develop organically, especially given the history of segregation in this country. The placement of Locally Undesirable Land Uses (LULUs), which are associated with environment and health hazards, is inextricably tied to how people are separated. As a case study, Altgeld Gardens is a neighborhood in Chicago founded in 1945 in order to provide housing for black WWII veterans. Now referred to as a “toxic doughnut,” the housing site holds 90 percent of the entire city’s LULUs, which includes more than 50 hazardous landfills, and 250 plus chemical waste dumps that leak toxins into the region. These LULUs have resulted in significant increases in cancer, miscarriage, neonatal disorders, asthma and other medical concerns. The medical issues in the community are real, recognizable, and consistent. Unsurprisingly, more than 60 percent of Altgeld’s residents are below the poverty line, and 90 percent of them identify as African American. Despite having the highest rates of cancer and lung disease as linked to industrial pollution, there has been little progress or government attention. People of color are continually more proximate to environmental hazards that seriously impact the health outcomes of entire communities. The lack of progress and effort devoted to remedying these injustices, despite clear evidence of inequality, demonstrates again the intersection between sociopolitical marginalization and illness.
Besides the air we breathe, our neighborhoods also dictate the food we eat. The neighborhoods individuals are able to occupy under racial and financial limits influence the nutritive resources one can access. Food is no doubt related to health, considering that four of the top 10 causes of death hold poor diet as a major risk factor. In 2009, the US Department of Agriculture found that only 8 percent of blacks (compared to 31 percent of whites) live in a census tract with a supermarket containing fresh food. In Detroit, research surveying food security found that on average, supermarkets were 1.1 miles further away in impoverished black neighborhoods compared to similarly impoverished white neighborhoods. This is particularly significant given that 25 percent of these households did not own a car. Access to fresh food is directly correlated to healthier eating. In fact, the addition of one supermarket in a census tract correlates with a 32 percent increase in produce consumption in African American populations. Again, the presence of food deserts — geographic areas where fresh food is limited and instead replaced by high-calorie, high-sugar, high-fat fast food restaurants — is related to the US history of racial segregation. If one cannot afford or access nutritious food, such as in cases of poverty or lack of grocery stores, undeniable health consequences such as obesity, malnutrition and hypertension quickly follow.
It is not rare for medical students to hear about or analyze disparate rates of asthma prevalence and severity among minority populations, yet it is rare that we take the time to examine how the continued presence of racism in our country creates these conditions. As an example, in Los Angeles, Latino, black and Asian children are twice as likely to live in traffic-heavy areas, which correlate with almost triple the frequency of asthma-induced hospital visits. To be very clear, it is not that children of color are inherently more susceptible to afflictions such as asthma, but rather that they are more likely to live in worse, poorly resourced neighborhoods with greater exposure and concentration of unhealthy triggers. When we as medical students are presented with health disparities data that does not include the social and historical context of racism’s contributions, we receive only half the picture. Our understanding will forever be half-baked until we can understand the foundational routes of why these disparities continue to exist.
Race impacts space. Research demonstrates that a greater percentage of black inhabitants in any neighborhood, regardless of income level, is correlated with higher mortality rates for residents, irrespective of their individual race. It is imperative that we understand that these health inequities can be traced back to segregation and the unfair concentration of unfavorable living conditions promulgated by structural racism. Discriminatory policies from the New Deal Era that prevented home ownership and family assets among black families contributed directly to the dramatic gap between black and white median wealth. While recent statistics show the median black-white income gap itself is large ($35,416 for blacks, $59,754 for Whites), the median wealth gap is startling at $113,149 for whites, and $5,677 for blacks. The historical and continued sequestration of people of color into poorly resourced, impoverished and segregated neighborhoods is conclusively linked to health care outcomes.
Spatial and social differences recapitulate one another. Understanding segregation and the forces that continue to reify its harms may help clarify why prescriptions for fresh produce may be more efficacious in combatting obesity than FDA pharmaceuticals. It explains why sending children home with inhalers will not address the cause of their asthma. Why mobilizing racialized tropes of patient laziness as an explanation for poor adherence fails to account for a greater context. Why racial injustice is a public health concern.
As aspiring physicians, there is a lot to consider as we begin to enter the wards. These are not challenges that can be solved with a purely biomedical framework, and we must take issues of structural racism into account in our attempts to help and understand the social situations of our patients. We are sometimes able to help our patients with a scalpel, a prescription pad or a stethoscope. We can always help by being engaged, in tune, and involved in our communities. Racism makes people of color sick by continuing to bar opportunities and access to the resources—inside and outside the hospital—required for health. As we seek to eliminate the products of illness, we need to think more about the production of illness, and the ways we can integrate issues of social justice and public health into our personal and professional consciousness.
This is part one of a series. Part two will focus on incarceration and criminal justice.
Trigger alert! Article contains descriptions of sadism and torture.
Record 346 inmates die, dozens of guards fired in Florida prisons
Jerry Washington (Left), Latandra Ellington (Middle), Randall Jordan-Aparo (Right)
Jerry Washington (left); Latandra Ellington (middle); Randall Jordan-Aparo (right). All died in prisons at the hands of guards in the most unjust ways imaginable.
The United States has a prison crisis of epic proportions. With just five percent of the world population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, the United States has, far and away, the highest incarceration rate, the largest number of prisoners, and the largest percentage of citizens with a criminal record of any country in the world.
The highly respected Prison Policy Initiative breaks it down:
The U.S. incarcerates 716 people for every 100,000 residents, more than any other country. In fact, our rate of incarceration is more than five times higher than most of the countries in the world. Although our level of crime is comparable to those of other stable, internally secure, industrialized nations, the United States has an incarceration rate far higher than any other country.
Nearly all of the countries with relatively high incarceration rates share the experience of recent large-scale internal conflict. But the United States, which has enjoyed a long history of political stability and hasn’t had a civil war in nearly a century and a half, tops the list.
If we compare the incarceration rates of individual U.S. states and territories with that of other nations, for example, we see that 36 states and the District of Columbia have incarceration rates higher than that of Cuba, which is the nation with the second highest incarceration rate in the world.
Now, what we are learning is that the United States is not just imprisoning people at an outrageous pace, but that men and women are dying in these prisons at all-time highs, often at the hands of guards, in the most awful and brutal ways imaginable. The state of Florida, it appears, is ground zero for the deaths of prisoners, and the crisis is so deeply corrupt and out of hand that it needs immediate national intervention.
In 2014, Florida recorded at least 346 deaths inside of their prison system, an all-time high for the state in spite of the fact that its overall prison population has hovered around 100,000 people for the five previous years. Hundreds of these deaths from 2014 and from previous years are now under investigation by the DOJ because of the almost unimaginable role law enforcement officers are playing in them.
Below the fold I will highlight some of the most egregious stories.
Jerry Washington, pictured in the top left, filed a sexual harassment complaint against two officers in the Santa Rosa Correctional Institute. A few days later, after the officers learned of the complaint, they threatened to kill Jerry. Jerry filed another complaint with the prison about the death threats. Afraid for his safety, he wrote his sister a letter and included copies of both of the grievances he had filed. You can read the letter and copies of the complaints here. In the letter he tells her very clearly that if anything happens to him, she should know that it wasn’t an accident.
Seven days later, Jerry Washington was killed in prison. According to the Miami Herald:
In letters to the family, two of Washington’s fellow inmates claimed that several corrections officers warned the inmate that they were going to “f— him up,” when they returned to the prison for their weekend shift.
“They were going to get him that weekend, which would have been on pick-a-nigga Friday,” one wrote Washington’s family, using a slang version of the n-word. “It’s a saying that the officers have … that comes from slavery when the master goes to the slave quarters on Friday to pick a nigger to hang.”
In detail, the inmate, whose name is being withheld by the Miami Herald, claimed that one of the sergeants placed drugs in Washington’s food that day and an orderly served the 5-foot-8 inmate his poisoned meal that afternoon.
By dinnertime, Washington was seriously ill, inmates told DOC inspectors. He was found sprawled in his cell at 9:20 p.m. on Sept. 16, but he was still alive, and officers and other staff reported he was able to sit up and talk.
Jerry died a few hours later and the family has been given few details on what happened after 9:20 PM until he was pronounced dead at 6 AM the following day.
What isn’t redacted from the report is the bulk of statements provided to the DOC’s investigator by seven inmates — most of whom told the same story: that Washington feared for his life and that Sgt. Marcus Stokes, Officer Pugh and Officer Charles Asbel were conspiring to harm him because he had filed complaints against them.
One inmate, Aaron Porter, went further — stating to inspectors that he overheard Stokes, Pugh and Asbel planning their revenge on Sept. 16. Before we move on to the next case of the murder of Randall Jordan-Aparo, Jerry Washington and his fellow inmates in Santa Rosa mentioned in their letters to Jerry’s family that they were being “gassed” by the guards. Jerry thought it might actually cause him to die. Jerry and a fellow inmate both mention it here,
“I just want you to know how they are playing,” Washington wrote. “I got real, real, real bad blood pressure, and if they gas me and jump on me [and] I happen to have a stroke or a heart attack … don’t ya’ll believe nothing they try to tell y’all.”
He enclosed copies of the grievances he had sent to the inspector general’s office and told them to call several sexual violence groups, including one in Florida.
At the same time, the fellow inmate was also writing the Washington family about alleged prison abuses and said he had been sexually harassed like Washington. He claimed corrections officers were watching them and making sexual remarks to them in the showers, gassing them for no reason and refusing to feed them.
I had actually never heard of inmates being gassed before until the death of Randall Jordan-Aparo, pictured in the top right corner. He died, completely covered in the gas, his body a tinted orange, with stains of it on the wall of his cell as shown in the picture below.
Cell of Randall Jordan-Aparo
According to the Miami Herald:
Randall Jordan-Aparo died weeping and gasping for breath on the concrete floor of his prison isolation cell, naked except for his white boxer shorts.
Incensed that he had cursed at a nurse, guards at Franklin Correctional Institution in the Panhandle fired nine blasts of noxious gas into his 13-by-8 cell through a slot in the door and, ultimately, left him there, sobbing.
“I can’t breathe, I can’t take it no more, please help me,’’ he pleaded.
Five hours later, the 27-year-old was found lifeless, face-down on the bare slab. His mouth and nose were pressed to the bottom of the door, as if trying to gulp fresh air through the thin crack. His hair, legs, toes, torso and mouth were dusted with a faint orange residue, a byproduct of the gas. A paperback Bible was under his shoulder.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement sent two investigators, Michael Kennedy and Michael DeVaney, to look into what had occurred. Their conclusion, summarized in one paragraph: The “disciplinary actions” taken by guards had no bearing on the death.
“They just said he got sick,’’ Jordan-Aparo’s father, Thomas Aparo, recalled being told by corrections officials.
Hearing these claims, inspectors from the state began looking into the case right away. After reporting their findings, they began suffering retaliation themselves almost immediately.
They interviewed inmates, studied the use-of-force report, the video captured by surveillance cameras, audio of the incident and photographs of Jordan-Aparo’s body. Among their findings:
• A claim by prison staffers that Jordan-Aparo was being “disorderly” before his death was false.
• Initial reports downplayed the fact that Jordan-Aparo was complaining about experiencing extreme pain and simply wanted medical attention, preferably in a hospital.
• Contrary to claims that his cell had been decontaminated after the gassing, photos clearly showed residue everywhere — orange smears on the floor, in the sink and in the toilet bowl. There was a dense orange cloud above the bunk where Jordan-Aparo would have sat.
• Although reports said Jordan-Aparo was issued a fresh set of clothing after the gassing, he was dressed only in dirty, orange-stained boxers.
• Nobody assigned to investigate the matter administratively from the Department of Corrections watched the “use of force” video showing Jordan-Aparo being gassed.
Their conclusion: Jordan-Aparo died as a result of medical negligence and the “sadistic, retaliatory” use of chemical agents on a sick and helpless inmate who did nothing wrong. And that staff reports following the death contained inconsistencies, errors, omissions and outright lies.
Less than a year away from being released, Latandra Ellington wrote a disturbing letter to her aunt detailing that an officer in the prison was threatening to beat and murder her. Neal Colgrass from Newser details the short time frame between Latandra writing her aunt the letter, her aunt calling the prison, and Latandra being found beaten to death.
On Sept. 21, Latandra Ellington wrote her aunt about prison officer “Sgt. Q” who, she says, threatened to beat and murder her. Further, he would flip his badge around to obscure his name. Wrote Ellington, “Auntie, no one knows how to spell or say this man’s name. But he goes by Sgt. Q and he works the B Shift a.m.” Her concerned aunt called the Lowell Correctional Institution on Sept. 30 and talked to an officer who said he would “look after” Ellington. The next day, the 36-year-old was dead. A private autopsy paid for by the family shows that Ellington—who had seven months left to serve—died of blunt-force trauma to her stomach consistent with kicking and punching, according to the family’s lawyer.
While Reuters reports that 32 prison guards and officers were fired across the state this past September related to dozens of cases of abuse, corruption, and death, one should lose a lot more than their job for poisoning, gassing, or beating inmates to death. This is not enough. It’s not even close to being enough. These officers should be indicted and convicted of murder and given the stiffest penalty allowed under law. They’ve not only abused their power, but they’ve abused it at the expense of citizens who are virtually defenseless in our country. It’s unacceptable.
With the hope that it motivates you to push the cause of prison reform and justice for the officers who murdered these men and women, I’d like to tell you the story of Darren Rainey.
Fifty years old, battling mental illness, and serving two years in the psychiatric ward of the Dade County prison for the victimless nonviolent offense of cocaine possession without the intent to distribute, Darren Rainey would soon experience a death so cruel and so violent and so unthinkably heinous that we would expect such a thing to happen only in a country governed by a so-called evil dictator. It’s almost too ugly to type.
After allegedly defecating in his cell, Rainey was handcuffed and locked into a tight shower cell and blasted for nearly two hours with water that was over 180 scolding hot degrees in temperature. Begging for his life, screaming apologies and remorse so loud that other inmates could hear them, the officers kept the water so hot and forceful that the steam began to melt off Darren Rainey’s skin. Video shows Rainey forced into the shower at 7:38 PM and he was pronounced dead at 9:30 PM.
Mark Joiner, a prisoner in Dade County, was called in to clean up the chunks of skin left behind. He detailed it for the Miami Herald:
Mark Joiner was roused from his cell earlier than usual on June 24, 2012.
He was handed a bottle of Clorox and was told it was clean-up time.
Joiner was used to cleaning up cells in Dade Correctional Institution’s psychiatric ward, and many of them were frequently brimming with feces and urine, insect-infested food and other filth.
Joiner thought he pretty much had seen it all, from guards nearly starving prisoners to death, to taunting and beating them unconscious while handcuffed for sport. He recalls one inmate was paid a pack of cigarettes to attack one sick inmate whose only offense was to ask if their mail could be delivered before bedtime.
On the floor of a small shower stall he was ordered to clean, he saw a single blue canvas shoe and what he later realized was large chunks of human skin.
The skin belonged to Darren Rainey, a 50-year-old mentally-ill prisoner whom the guards had handcuffed and locked in the cell the night before. Witnesses and DOC reports indicate Rainey was left in the scalding hot water for hours, allegedly as punishment for defecating in his cell.
Rainey’s official cause of death, in a clear case of a coverup, was listed a heart attack, but Mark Joiner and other officials, know otherwise.
Joiner remembered and said he also later made a written record of what he saw and heard the night Rainey died.
He had a view of some of what happened and was ordered to clean up the shower the following morning. He said he placed all the skin he found in Rainey’s shoe.
“I heard them lock the shower door, and they were mocking him,” Joiner said, as the guards turned on their retrofitted shower full blast and steam began to fill the ward.
“He was crying, please stop, please stop,” Joiner said. And they just said “Enjoy your shower, and left.”
Joiner went to sleep, not knowing that it would be the last time he would see or hear Rainey alive. Witnesses would later say that after two hours, at temperatures of 180 degrees, Rainey collapsed, with his skin peeling from his body. Rainey, who was serving a two-year term for possession of drugs, was carried to the prison’s infirmary where a nurse later said his body temperature was so high it couldn’t be measured with a thermometer.
Darren Rainey, tragically, had only one month to go in his sentence.
Excellent analysis of the causes of the attacks on Charlie Ebdo