Greetings, Rastafari Collective
The following is a more indepth analysis of the situation, which provided the basis for an article that was published in "Nation Time," Spring 2001. There is an update at the end. If you need anything else, don't hesitate to ask. To JAH iver be the glory!
You Must Read This! Part 1
Virginia Department of “Corruptions”
“Inmates Punished for their Religious Belief”
How many of you have a relative or friend who is currently incarcerated? If you are an African American, there is a greater likelihood the answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” African Americans, especially young males, are being jailed at an alarming rate and are being given much longer sentences to serve. Do you ever stop to think what happens to those individuals once behind bars? Do you care?
For more than a year the Prosser-Truth Division #456 of the U.N.I.A.-A.C.L. has been striving to help protect the rights of prisoners. At the forefront of that battle is a blatantly discriminatory policy, “Inmate Grooming Standards” (DOP 864) which mandates, in part, that [a man’s] hair must be cut above the collar and around the ears. A small, but determined, group of Rastafarians and Native Americans refused to betray their religious beliefs and chose not to comply. They were immediately placed in segregation units and their continued defiance has been met by a concerted assault from VDOC officials with a directive to force compliance at any cost. In addition, unlike other inmates housed in segregation units, their “privileges” have been suspended or severely curtailed, including loss of good time, loss of commissary, no personal visitation or phone calls, just to name a few.
The attack was recently escalated to another level. The noncompliant inmates have been shipped to a Level 6 “Special Management Building” located within a Level 2 facility in southwestern Virginia--"a virtual no (Rasta)man's land"--over 300 miles west of Richmond, Virginia These transfers were done without benefit of a due process hearing which is another violation of VDOC’s own rules. One of the first to arrive, Inmate/Idren Ras Zulu reports, “Everytime we leave our cells we are to be placed in full restraints, leg irons, hands cuffed behind our backs with the dog strap attached to the cuffs from the neck, two officers on each side, and one behind holding the dog strap. The light stays on in our cells 24 hours a day to prevent sleep. We are now being forced to double-bunk which is not allowed in segregation status. Some are already planning to give up and cut their locks. Hopefully InI can pull this thing together by reasoning with one another when we can. We’ve come too far to stop now.” Another Inmate/Idren wrote, “The staff here privately acknowledge that our rights are being violated, but say the orders are coming from the top.” Rules and regulations have been hastily “created” and/or “amended” to presumably provide a basis in policy to support the subsequent harassment and inhumane treatment.
Inmate/Idren Ras Skattoe states, “Half of the truth has not been told. Why? Babylon makes millions of dollars off these plantations called prisons. It’s about money and we must be silenced to keep the cash flow coming. If we get relief in regard to our locks, that would open the door and show that other rights have been violated the whole time as well. So, it’s about trying to break our spirit and keeping us quiet.”
Inmate/Idren Ras Kofi further states, “Yes, we are fighting for freedom of religion, for all of us, inside and outside. Eleven years ago I took a vow which began my journey and I am being punished for what I believe. The attack on African and Native American inmates is not a ‘prison thing.’ The same laws used to suppress us in here today will be used in the projects tomorrow. Africans worldwide in 2001 are experiencing a ‘hellocaust’ which is quietly dismantling our culture, identity, character and nature.”
Voicing the Native American perspective, Inmate/Native American Bro Kirk states, “This subjecting of Rastafarians and Native Americans as indigenous people to cultural stripping, destruction and disassembling of Spiritual Healing is just the surface issue. Why does the government keep re-writing Native Affordabilities which they still do not follow once they are created? Why is the Native population not even questioned about their culture? Why does white government think they know ‘how’ we worship and with ‘what’ we worship? Simple. It’s oppression and the public is being handed a smoke-screen.”
The local media (in Richmond, Virginia) continue to sugarcoat the facts about DOP 864 and are content to report the flowery rhetoric from various VDOC spokespersons that all is well. But, inmate complaints to department officials go unanswered, refuse to address the problems, or recommend using the internal grievance procedure which is superficial at best. They hide behind meaningless statistics and trumped-up accreditation reports that serve to camouflage the real issues and keep the public misinformed. There are also equally important issues about limited personal clothing items, termination of educational programs, lack of adequate mental and medical health services, smaller servings of food as well as unclean food, and the list goes on and on.
It is time for the public to speak out about these and other far more grievous injustices. We must demand accountability from state correctional facilities. The public is being intentionally misinformed. And don’t be fooled. This situation does not just occur in Virginia. I have received several letters from inmates incar- cerated in other states as well or have talked with their family members. It is a nationwide epidemic. There are no easy solutions to prison reform and concerns for security and inmate identification are justifiable. However, there is a fine line between what the public considers as appropriate punishment and what can still be fair and equitable treatment for the inmates. Our brothers [and sisters] who are incarcerated deserve to know they have not been forgotten and they cannot be mistreated with impunity. Send a letter demanding recision of DOP 864 and protesting the deplorable conditions to Gene Johnson, Deputy Director, Division of Operations, Department of Corrections, P. O. Box 26963, Richmond, VA 23261 and/or to Jim Gilmore, Governor of Virginia, State Capitol, Richmond, VA 23219.
In the words of one inmate, “I do thank you for your precious time.”
"You Must Read This" is an ongoing series of information papers designed to make
the public THINK, and in thinking REACT, and in reacting DO!
Prosser-Truth Division #456
P.O. Box 25694 • Richmond, VA 23260 • 804.573.2519
NOTE: As of July 26, 2001, the inmates were transferred to another facility, located about 65 miles west of Richmond, Virginia. Although the conditions are slightly improved, they are still being held in segregation. A "new" policy, which pretty much contains the same "double-speak," will become effective September 1, 2001.
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