FCI Petersburg Retaliates Against Incarcerated Litigant; Ashley Jean Arnold v. Eric Wilson, et al. Case Takes a New Turn

By Christopher Zoukis

For the past two years the Prison Law Blog has assisted pro se, transgender litigant Ashley Jean Arnold (given name Steven Arnold) with litigation against the Federal Bureau of Prisons for failure to treat her Gender Identity Disorder in line with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Standards of Care.  The WPATH Standards of Care are the only standards in existence for the treatment of Gender Identity Disorder, which is also called Gender Dysphoria and Gender Incongruence.

A Pattern of Retaliation

Since Ashley filed her suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in July 2013, employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons at FCI Petersburg have repeatedly retaliated against her by filing repetitive, malicious and baseless incident reports, targeting Ashley and her cell for shakedowns and other searches, firing her from her Psychology Department work detail, and making derogatory comments to fellow inmates concerning Ashley's transgender status.  While the other transgender inmates at FCI Petersburg have received some level of intimidation and enhanced attention from prison staff, Ashley's mistreatment has been particularly offensive and bold.  This is the reason for the Prison Law Blog has decided to go public with what is currently transpiring.

The First Two Incident Reports

The blatant retaliation commenced on June 26, when Ashley's primary protagonist, Drug Treatment Specialist Rice, issued the first of two incident reports against her: one for insolence and the other for interfering with a locking device.  We at the Prison Law Blog strongly condemn both incident reports as pure fabrications and outright retaliation for filing suit in her United States District Court case. 

The circumstances surrounding the insolence incident report concerned another Psychology Department orderly yelling at DTS Rice, an incident that Ashley was present for, but did not participate in.  Ashley was the only inmate to receive an incident report.  We view this as additional proof of the targeted retaliation.

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Something's Happening Here

"A minimum of unconsciousness is necessary if one wants to stay inside history. To act is one thing; to know one is acting is another. When lucidity invests the action, insinuates itself into it, action is undone, and with it, prejudice, whose function consists, precisely, in subordinating, in enslaving consciousness to action. The man who unmasks his fictions renounces his own resources and, in a sense, himself. Consequently, he will accept other fictions which will deny him, since they will not have cropped up from his own depths. No man concerned with his equilibrium may exceed a certain degree of lucidity and analysis." -- E. M. Cioran

The Evolvement of Solitary Confinement

Image courtesy change.org

Image courtesy change.org

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Before the 1800s, prisons in the U.S. were unheard of and punishment for crime was in the hands of the community. Public hangings were the common rebuke for heinous crimes. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was the basic theory of justice.

When prisons replaced public punishment they represented a more civil approach to punishment with hopes of rehabilitation. The Quakers introduced solitary confinement as a form of rehabilitative punishment. Their intention for isolating inmates was originally pure and spiritual. The Quakers believed solitary confinement was an avenue for bringing offenders to a place of forgiveness from God.  

Unfortunately, just the opposite is true. It evolved into a punitive practice intended to break the spirits of defiant inmates that were difficult to control.  

The misunderstood philosophy was, a broken spirit eliminates threat. The truth is, a broken mind creates it.

A 59-year-old inmate by the name of Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore can attest to the philosophy. The last 28 consecutive years of his life have been spent in solitary confinement.     

Whitmore is incarcerated in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola where he spends 23 hours a day in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell. He was convicted of second degree murder. There is no crime that warrants punishment that deteriorates an individual’s mental and physical health. According to the Medill Justice Project, Whitmore’s eyesight has deteriorated and he has hypertension.

“Human beings require two very basic things: social interaction and meaningful activity. “By doing things we learn who we are and we learn our worth as a person. The two things solitary confinement does is make people solitary and idle,” says Dr. Terry Kupers, a professor of psychiatry at the Wright Institute in Berkeley California, who has spent over 40 years interviewing thousands of solitary confinement prisoners.

So, why is this inhumane punishment still practiced in a contemporary society? Because correctional personnel is not trained in mental health and the easiest way to deal with incorrigible inmates is to ostracize them. Isn’t that the way society historically treats people who can’t be dealt with?   

The practice of solitary confinement can affect prisoners in different ways, but there are universal symptoms of being stashed away from the rest of the prison population and the world. Within three months of being locked-up with no human contact or stimulation inmates often experience high anxiety that can cause panic attacks, paranoia and disordered thinking, as well as anger and compulsive actions, like pacing or repeatedly cleaning the cell. Basic cognitive functions are also dulled.

How does this type of punishment make sense for someone who is already hostile and could have mental disorders?      

 Reading is the only activity allowed in solitary confinement. Some people on the outside would give anything to be alone with nothing to do but read. One would assume that if an inmate is allowed to read it could rehabilitate them. Think again. Reading is not pleasant after the mind has been tampered by solitary confinement. Inmates in solitary confinement have confessed to Dr. Kupers that they quit reading because they can’t remember what they read three pages before.

An inmate in solitary confinement experiences total loss of time clock function. Sleep patterns are significantly compromised because they are constantly exposed to artificial lighting and noise.  Natural daylight is extremely limited. The lack of mental and physical activity causes the brain to become lethargic and disoriented—and often inmates don’t recover from it.         

Integrating back into the general population of prison or the outside world is very difficult after being released from solitary confinement. The mind struggles to adapt to stimulation because of deprivation from normal activity. Jumping brain waves react to the shock of immediate exposure to a new environment. It is not uncommon for inmates who have spent time in solitary confinement to become agitated and jittery.      

Mr. Whitmore claims he has survived solitary confinement with a sound enough mind to take legal action against the prison’s practices because he considers himself a “thinker.” 

What about the majority of inmates that are not as mentally stable as Whitmore? They are being punished by an outdated method that qualifies as the most ineffective treatment for these troubled souls that could be inflicted on them.

Mr. Whitmore isis a voice for tormented victims of cruel and unusual punishment, which according to the U.S. Constitution, is illegal.

Inmate Could Face Lengthy Sentence For Crying ‘Wolfe’ About Tainted Food

Image courtesy denver.cbslocal.com

Image courtesy denver.cbslocal.com

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

When Summit County, Colorado jail inmate Ray Wolfe reported a hair in his beef stroganoff he wasn’t prepared for what occurred next. He now faces a possible 24-year sentence for 3 felonies and a misdemeanor.

Complaining about a hair in his food could get an inmate over 2 decades in prison. Wolfe claims when he lifted up the lid from his tray and was confronted by a long black hair all he wanted was a new tray, not a longer sentence.

Prison authorities are accusing Wolfe of planting the hair in his own food. Their accusation is documented by a surveillance camera that captured a window reflection of Wolfe near the drinking fountain in the chow hall moving his hands and arms for about 8 seconds after he receives his tray.  

Could Wolfe have purposely magically shifted himself to the drinking fountain to pull out his own hair to taint the food? Was 8 seconds just enough time to pull-off this ridiculous stunt without knowing the reflection in the window and the surveillance camera was recording his hand movements? If so…..what was Wolfe’s motive for the deed?

Wolfe claims he did not plant the hair. Even if he did plant the hair, does this act warrant three felonies and a misdemeanor punishable by an additional 24 years?

Wolf is being charged with a variety of offenses. His attitude is rather flippant about the entire incident claiming, “All I wanted was a new tray, then next thing I knew I was being charged with tampering of evidence.”

Wolfe’s hair-raising experience earned him three felonies, including tampering with physical evidence, false reporting, attempt to influence a public servant and a bail bond violation.

Summit County District Attorney Bruce Brown has a personal explanation of why Wolfe deserves to be punished to the fullest for his alleged hair-brained scheme. Brown’s theory of why Wolfe’s offense is serious is because Wolf’s allegation insults the integrity of Summit County government. He believes Wolfe committed a fraudulent crime that should be swiftly disciplined. Brown argues the real crime is not the actual feat of placing the hair in his meal, he affirms, “It’s making up the story that there was hair in the food that is the real crime.”

Breckenridge, Colorado (CBS4) is questioning if the cost of an investigation into the case and a three-day trial is financially practical. Brown insists it is critical because he believes reprimanding Wolf is about justice and not money. He also feels strongly about the significance of prosecuting behind-bars offenses. Brown’s main objective of harshly addressing false allegation crimes is to prevent recidivism. He also takes into account Wolf’s five previous mischievous incidents during his stay at Summit County jail.

Wolf continues to defend his innocence, but admits, if he had to do it over, he would have chosen to skip dinner.   

Support PrisonLawBlog.com on Huffington Post

Image courtesy huffingtonpost.com

Image courtesy huffingtonpost.com

By Christopher Zoukis

I come to you again with good news concerning my prison reform advocacy.  As previously reported here at the Prison Law Blog, I am now an authorized contributing writer at the Huffington Post.  It is there that I spend most of my time bringing issues within the Federal Bureau of Prisons to the light of day, in the hopes of fixing what is broken and holding those accountable who often act with impunity.

With this in mind, I present my latest three articles at the Huffington Post.  I'd appreciate you checking each out to see if you support the positions that I've taken.  You can find links to each article as follows:

If you support the positions that I've taken in these works, I'd appreciate you sharing the articles with others.  The easiest way to do so is by tweeting, liking, and sharing them.  This will help to advance the cause of prisoners' rights and hold corrupt prison officials accountable for their deplorable actions.