RECOGNIZING PYSCHOLOGICAL WARFARE
RECOGNIZING PYSCHOLOGICAL WALFARE
A movement (strategic course of action towards a specific end) cannot be successful unless The People recognizes a need for the movement; which means, recognizing the problem first, and then proposing a solution. The former is a feat within itself, for many people have been oppressed for so long, oppression has become a way of life—adaptation. Without recognizing subtle forms of oppression, one will adapt to it without even noticing; like the slow gritting of the teeth when one has a sinus headache, or the tensing of the body when one experiences pain.
Adaptation to ones environment is human nature. It’s part of the first law of nature: self-preservation. Jonathan H. Pincus, M.D., wrote in his book, Base Instincts: What Make Killers Kill, “[t]he psychosocial environment is largely responsible for the maturation of the brain during this period (the first three years of life when the brain undergoes its most growth). The impact of the environment through the senses—vision, hearing, touch, and so on—is dramatic and specific, not merely, influencing the general direction of development but actually affecting how the intricate circuitry of the brain is wired.” If the psychosocial environment affects the development of the brain so dramatically during the first three years of life, since the brain is referred to as a muscle, what manifestations would it suffer under immense stress, beyond the brains early developmental phase?
In an excerpt from “Psychological Death Row” (delivered to a gathering in Boscobel, Wisconsin in Oct 2001, and in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Dec 9th, 2001, in honor of International Human Rights Day), it spoke of studies conducted with EEG’s (device used to record brain waves) confirming abnormalities typical of stupor and delirium, attributed to the subjects’ conditions of confinement; “organic changes in the brain similar to stupor and delirium” was also found—maladaptations.
“It could be narrow-mindedly argued that it’s the role of all prisoners to be compliant and silent to the Institutions that house them. I find this to be a very illusioned mentality in light of the fact that Amerikas Institutions have proven to more concentration camp-like than educational, reformative or rehabilitative.”
-Kenneth “Haramia” Foster
People are gregarious by nature and need sensory stimulation to maintain mental health. Environments deprived of these necessary human needs are abnormal. If self-preservation is the first law of nature, why have so many Death Row prisoners, seemingly accepted this attack upon their humanity? I’ve heard many prisoners say, “Well, I got myself here,” or, “I don’t give a fu*$,” eventhough they have first-hand knowledge of the corruption the Judicial Persecution System most likely used to secure their Death Sentence; just as much as they know, if they had money, they wouldn’t be on Death Row in the first place. Therefore, so much for their “I got myself here” statement, or delusional excuse. But, what of their “I don’t give a fu*$” statement?
Though prisoners have dropped their appeals, many of those that make this type of statement won’t; nor will they hang themselves as Deon Tumblin, a.k.a. “Spotlight” (R.I.P.) had. And, in the world, they wouldn’t stand in the line of enemy fire; yet, they do when they don’t do everything they can to preserve their lives. Perhaps, this statement merely reveals, not only the affects the Judicial Persecution System’s oppression is having on them, but the affects Death Row’s sensory-depriving environment is having on their mental health. Mere expressions of despair.
Solitary confinement, with its sensory-depriving environment, was designed by psychologist and psychiatrist to whip the minds of prisoners into subordination, breaking their spirit. Because of the dramatic affects of prolonged exposure to these types of environments, the Supreme Court has subjected solitary confinement to constitutional scrutiny. It’s on this premise courts have held that prisoners may not be left to “deteriorate in the dormancy of segregation” indefinitely. (Ruiz v. Estelle 503 F/supp 1265, 1366; Kelly v. Brewer 525 F.2d 394, 400). Yet Texas’ Death Row has been confined to this type of environment for approximately 7 years now, with an indefinitely “temporarily suspended” work program. The prisoner in Kelly v. Brewer (a Texas case) brought civil action against his captors under the premise he was being placed in administrative segregation “indefinitely”. Though this prisoner was housed under conditions better than those we face (he had access to a TV and cigarettes), and was in ad-seg for less than 7 years, the courts granted him relief; whereas, his captors released him from ad-seg. We should challenge our conditions the same way.
Ironically, since the DRIVE movement began, this administration has decided to grab a crumb out of the Death Row Plan, throwing us these 2-hour rec’s. Something they either tried to refrain from doing as long as we would let them, implemented to curtail our movement (claiming the 2-hour rec’s gives us relief from sensory deprivation), or is an attempt to discourage prisoners from going to rec (lightening officers workload), since many don’t wish to remain in a barren recreational-cage for 2-hours and nothing to do. Rules are always implemented at our captors convenience, not our own.
The purpose of this article is to address some of the many forms of psychological warfare we’re subjected to, and many of the corresponding symptoms suffered. We must clearly define our problem if we hope to overcome it. In Frank J. Atwood’s zine, Control Unit Prisons, he cites a chart (which can also be found in Amnesty International’s 1983 “Report on Torture”) outlining various forms of psychological warfare utilized in solitary confinement since its induction here in Amerika. The chart is broken down into 8-sections, with 2 sub-sections each on “purpose” and “variants”. I will cite the same chart here, applying it to the conditions we face with a 3rd sub-section called TDR (Texas’ Death Row).
Many of the tactics outlined in this chart, you may already be aware of; others, sensed, but not readily understood. We must read the following with an open mind. Because, in the words of comrade Gabriel Gonzales, truth goes through 3-phases:
1st it’s ridiculed
2nd violently opposed
3rd makes itself evident
And there’s no doubt in my mind the following information will go through these phases. Dr. Grassian even said that many of the prisoners he examined, housed in these tortuous environments, tried to minimize or deny their conditions. Recognition is the first step to rehabilitation.
Section 1: Isolation
Purpose: To deprive prisoners of social support from both other prisoners and the outside world, to obstruct the ability to resist, to develop an intense concern with self, and to create dependence on captors.
Variants: Use of solitary confinement through isolation, partial isolation, or group isolation.
TDR: Complete isolation has been attained at this unit. There are no educational, religious, or vocational programs to uplift prisoners, or occupy their time. Despite some prisoners’ desperate attempts (whether they’re conscious of it or not) to make contact with other prisoners (sticking fingers through cage-door screens for friends passing their cage to touch; defiantly walking up to the dayroom bars to shake hands with whomever’s recreating inside; climbing the outside rec-yard bars to shake hands with another prisoner), prisoners have no human contact. This not only greatly hinders prisoners from establishing an activistic class-consciousness that would effectively oppose their class-oppression, but it deprives prisoners of essential emotional needs- desensitization. To further keep prisoners divided, prisoners are harassed/punished for the deeds of another (think of the escape from Ellis Unit, which is used to justify housing Death Row prisoners in this more punitive and sensory-depriving environment).
Prisoners are lucky if they have supporters or manage to acquire “pen-friends” who provide them with some sort of manipulative-free interaction, let alone, subscriptions to publications or commissary funds. Woe to those prisoners with no support, left idly in these paint-peeled cages, with nothing but their state issues! Officers have complete control over when prisoners get to recreate, shower, eat, receive necessities, mail, and visitation. This type of environment undermines prisoners’ inclinations to be self-reliant.
Section 2: Monopolization of Perception
Purpose: To fix attention on one’s immediate predicament, to eliminate any stimuli competing with stimuli controlled by captors, and to obstruct all actions not consistent with compliance.
Variants: Isolation, bright light, barren environment, restricted movement, and monotonous food.
TDR: The anti-social nature of solitary confinement induces anti-social attitudes in prisoners. Their world becomes centered in their cage. And with restrictions on all movements and authorized possessions, the prisoner becomes obsessively attached to what little free-movement and possessions he has within his cage. This opens the door for tactics outlined in subsections “Threats” and “Degradation”.
Feeding prisoners the same bland, over-or undercooked food, days on end, not only stimulates commissary spending (prisoners that can afford it are literally feeding themselves), but is the equivalent of sitting through several disliked songs while listening to the radio, waiting for that one liked song; because, there will come that one tray everyone likes. With a mere altering of this monotonous pattern, prisoners’ attitudes may be manipulated.
Bright lights have been found to induce a feeling of nakedness in prisoners, making them uncomfortable. For this reason, many prisoners choose to dim their cage lights by covering it up; which, also opens the door for further manipulation (see, “Enforcing Trivial Demands”).
Heat and A/C temperatures are fluctuated to manipulate moods of prisoners. The temperature is hardly kept comfortable. In addition to the conditions spoken of in the section on “Isolation”, the barren environment is furthered by paint-peeled walls and lock of: lively colors, direct sunlight, and life forms other than human.
Section 3: Induced Debility and Exhaustion
Purpose: To weaken both the physical and the mental ability to resist.
Variants: Semi-starvation, induced illness and exploration of pre-existing injury, sleep depravation, and prolonged constraint.
TDR: With most of the food being either overcooked or undercooked, most prisoners refuse to eat it all, if they eat it at all. And the food they do eat, if it’s not spoiled, is so devoid of nutrients, that it’s equivalent to eating already chewed food. Prisoners are literally living tray-to-tray, feeling sluggish and even incapable of concentration in between meals. On Level 2 and 3, prisoners receive even less rations of food than prisoners on Level-1. Prisoners released back to Level-1 deprivation, after being subjected to Level 2 or 3 deprivations, find that they can hardly finish Level-1 trays because their stomach had grown accustomed to the smaller rations of Level 2 or 3’s food. And if prisoners prove even more resistant to their captors’ oppression, they will be placed on food loaf; which is nothing more than a block of semi-cooked cornbread with carrots or green beans mixed in – nutritional deprivation.
Sensory depriving confinement not only exacerbates mental illnesses already suffered by some prisoners, it also, according to Dr. Grassian, causes prisoners to become hypersensitive to external stimuli; whereas, prisoners may find themselves tense and incapable to concentrate throughout the day because of officers slamming doors, gates, and beanslots, prisoners yelling, or perhaps something as small as a prisoner in the dayroom talking to another prisoner. This hypersensitivity also makes it easier for prisoners’ sleep to be disturbed by blaring walkie-talkies, and clicking and slamming of crossover doors during the night.
The unsanitary environment males prisoners susceptible to illnesses such as the flu, staph-infection, and hepatitis; illnesses some prisoners have acquired during their stay here on Death Row. Then, medical’s practice of prescribing aspirins for virtually every illness, waiting to provide adequate treatment ‘til prisoners’ illnesses are at its worst state, further induces debility and exhaustion.
Section 4: Threats
Purpose: To cultivate anxiety and despair.
Variants: Threatening death or harm and providing reward for partial compliance.
TDR: Rules state that floor-officers (1st shift and 2nd shift) are suppose to shakedown everyday, yet they don’t for two reasons:
If this policy was adhered to, officers would never get their work done.
By not shaking down all the time, prisoners become laxed and susceptible to shakedowns as a form of harassment.
Some officers attempt to discourage prisoners from going to recreation or shower by shaking-down their cages, hoping to lighten their workload. Shakedowns are also utilized by officers with personal vendettas against certain prisoners. If prisoners express grievances about their treatment to officers, revealing their resistance towards their oppression, officers may shakedown the prisoners’ cage continuously, until the prisoners become more accepting of his mistreatment. (see, “Occasional Indulgence” and “Degradation”)
In other forms these “threats” take, prisoners are placed next to known enemies, moved into cages previous prisoners smeared with feces and urine, denied food, rec’s, and showers, even excessively gassed and/or beaten for their resistance to their mistreatment. Prisoners will either accept their oppression, or suffer the consequences.
Sectional 5: Occasional Indulgence
Purpose: To motivate compliance and hinder adjustment.
Variants: Occasional favors and fluctuating attitudes.
TDR: Manipulative officers may begin to joke around with compliant prisoners. Prisoners may receive extra trays or recreational time. Prisoners may be allowed to recreate outside with another prisoner of his desire in the cage across from him. Generally, prisoners are not subjected to those tactics outlined in sections on “Threats” and “Degradation”. Prisoners are allowed to break certain rules without consequence. These tactics manipulate prisoners into complaisance. “If you’re passive, you won’t be repressed,” is the subtle message.
Section 6: Demonstrating Omnipotence
Purpose: To show the futility of resistance.
Variants: Confrontation and displays of absolute control.
TDR: Besides those tactics outlined in sections on “Threats” and “Degradation”, prisoners may be subjected to the following:
bogus disciplinary cases
placement on Level 2 or 3 for bogus or minor cases
given irrelevant responses to grievances, if they’re not thrown away
Section 7: Degradation
Purpose: To show that the cost of resistance is far more damaging to self-esteem than capitulation and to reduce prisoners to animal level concerns.
Variants: Preventing personal hygiene, promoting a filthy environment, invoking demeaning punishment, giving insults and taunts, and precluding privacy.
TDR: Prisoners are forced into leaky and unsanitized cages. Prisoners are not given adequate cleaning supplies. Prisoners are passed out dirty-looking and torn necessities (sheets, jumpsuits, boxers, etc.). Officers relegate prisoners to sub-human status of a number (either their assigned TDC or cage number). Other times, when a prisoner’s recreation time is up, instead of calling the prisoner’s name, or even referring to him as “prisoner”, they will either bang on the gate, or whistle, signifying their time is up. In some of the more effective forms of degradation, officers will strip search prisoners (sometimes in front of female guards), ordering them to spread their buttocks, exposing their anus. Some prisoners who refuse to collude to their own spiritual and physical death have dog leashes attached to their handcuffs when they are being escorted, while being taunted with “here now, here now’s”. The subtle form of this same tactic is employed when officers refuse to feed a prisoner until he sits on his bunk; then says, “Come and get it”.
Section 8: Enforcing Trivial Demands
Purpose: To develop the habit of compliance.
Variants: Enforcement of petty rules.
TDR: Officers walk the pods, ordering prisoners to take coverings off light fixtures, stating that they can’t see into prisoners’ cages, despite being able to see everything distinctly. This is also done so that the prisoners may be subjected to their bright lights as a psychological tool. Officers shake down prisoners’ cages, taking fishing poles and lines, empty drinking jars, sewing needles (prisoners use to keep together the cheap clothing sold on commissary), and “altered” clothing (like shirts prisoners tore sleeves off of because they were already tearing at the armpits). Because of prisoners’ possessory obsessions, induced by the institution’s attack upon their individuality and desire to be self-reliant, they view these shakedowns as “breaking and entering”; therefore, shakedowns of this sort, becomes an effective psychological tool. Furthermore, prisoners are written disciplinary cases for possessing miscellaneous objects like rubber bands (contraband) that were given to them twisted around bundles of soap they bought off of commissary. Then, behind these minor disciplinary cases, prisoners are given major disciplinary, and sent to Level-2 to be subjected to a second level of psychological warfare.
Texas’ Death Row environment has now been clearly defined. This “psychological warfare” is no longer a mere “conspiracy theory”. These oppressive conditions are real and are affecting us all to various degrees. The more extreme examples of this fact are evident when we observe the prisoners lying in their own waste, hanging themselves, and dropping their appeals. Nevertheless, we must not downplay the more subtle symptoms we may suffer from. To further analyze how we may be suffering from these oppressive conditions, read the following list of other common symptoms suffered by prisoners subjected to this type of torture:
*occasional tense pacing
*yelling and banging
*disassociated withdrawn hypnoid state
*vivid fantasies (sometimes with vivid hallucinations)
*hearing voices—even whispers
*difficulty in concentration and with memory
*aggressive fantasies of revenge, torture and/or mutilation of guards
*paranoia and other fears
*problems in controlling impulses
*doubt oneself and troubles in determining what’s real
The only way we may hope to overcome this psychological warfare used against us is by recognizing our worth and unalienable right to live…imperfect, striving for perfection. Though our captors attempt to relegate us to a number, though they treat us worst than animals, we are above and beyond these things. But, we must assert our human rights, not only declaring our lives as our own, but demanding better treatment as long as we must be confined. For our captors will never give us what we’re worth, only what we will accept.
W.E.B. Dubois, said, “There is in the world no such force as the force of a man determined to rise. The human soul cannot be permanently chained.” I’m determined to rise; I’m determined to see us rise. Are you determined to rise? One thing I always tell myself is, if I’m ever strapped down to that gurney (which doesn’t discriminate against ethnicity, just economical status), I want to be able to say to myself, and to my mama if she’s present, that I’ve done everything I could to fight for my right to live with hope and dignity! Will you be able to say the same?
Strength, vision, and solidarity
Omari Huduma, aka
Reginald W. Blanton
3872 F.M. 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351
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