Women’s Control Units

Control units exist for women, as well as men, the goals are the same, to destroy those imprisoned within, or even better, to allow them to destroy themselves. The techniques vary somewhat from the men’s control units, and therefore have been marginalized for not being of the same level of control or torture (Baraldini). The nature of women in society and the ability to subject them to even greater brutalities because of the patriarchal system of oppression is ever present, and creates an atmosphere of very near ultimate desolation.

Women prisoners are confined in a patriarchal system designed for, built by, and run by men (Church). Women’s control units are designed to maximize degradation and debasement. A viciously destructive paternalistic mentality is present in even the “best” women’s prisons, where women are perpetually infantilized by routines and paternalistic attitudes. The control units carry these ideals out to the utmost. Powerlessness, helplessness, and dependency are systematically heightened in the control units (Kurshan).

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In 1986, the BOP opened a special new “high security unit,” a control unit, for women within the federal prison in Lexington, Kentucky. It had the same stated goal of controlling the “most dangerous” prisoners. In reality it was an experiment “coordinated from the highest level of the BOP to develop techniques to break the prisoners” (Carlan). The Lexington control unit is a story of intentional torture that reveals the US government’s lies regarding their denial of imprisoning and punishing individuals for their political beliefs.

These women resisted all the intense intentional attempts to break them, and they refused to renounce their political beliefs, to give up the very thing that the US government sought from them (Rev Worker). Imagine a world without color; any color. Only bright, high gloss white/beige on the walls, floors, ceilings, everywhere one looks. Even the uniforms (ludicrous culottes selected for their ‘feminine’ look) are bleached-out beige. No personal clothing or jewelry are permitted. Next, imagine a world without daylight, without fresh air.

Only artificial fluorescent lights – often on all the time; the windows are grilled over with metal grillwork, designed to preclude any vision of what it reveals of the outside world. Artificial air, either too hot or too cold, but never real. The overwhelming sense of loneliness of this place is all-pervading, the isolation is overwhelming. It is much like stepping off the regular world into some sort of frozen limbo state where an occasional real person floats by, but always by accident and always before one can get ready for enlarged human contact.

Reuben ; Norman Three of the five women moved in the Lexington Unit were political prisoners. The first two inmates imprisoned within the unit were Alejandrina Torres, a 49 year old longtime Puerto Rican revolutionary, and a high school teacher in Chicago. In 1983, she was arrested on seditious conspiracy and other charges and sentenced to 35 years in prison. Susan Rosenberg was arrested in 1984 and charged with possession of false identification papers, explosives, and other weapons.

She was accused of being a member of the Revolutionary Action Task Force (RATF) that was attempting armed struggle against the US government. She was sentenced to 58 years in prison, the longest sentence in the history of the US for a weapons charge (Stout). Neither woman had a previous conviction and neither was convicted of engaging in violence. Torres and Rosenberg charged that they were the subjects of a pilot study of behavior-modification methods, which were tested on them and would be applied to future prisoners of conscience. They are trying to kill us.

But they’d rather we kill ourselves. The conditions at HSU are designed to destroy those who are in it, psychologically and physically, to disintegrate people’s personalities… The constant surveillance, the basement cells, the absence of fresh air and human companionship, the constant glaring lights have on purpose in mind: They are trying to drive us completely out of our minds. Susan Rosenberg The women imprisoned in the control units were denied access to the prison library, as well as the entertainment and recreation facilities.

The only reading material they are permitted must be approved by the prison officials and is limited to five items at a time. There is a color television in each cell. Rosenberg was quoted in Reuben and Norman as stating: “Only in America can you abuse people, take away their human dignity, and then give them a TV and that makes it OK” (Reuben). According to a BOP directive dated September 2, 1986: The 16-bed High Security Unit for females [was] developed to meet the needs for very secure prison space for females where placement in less secure facilities is not appropriate.

Candidates for placement in this unit are those females whose confinement raises a serious threat of external assault for the purpose of aiding the offender’s escape… Assignments to the unit will be made without regards to such factors as… disciplinary reasons, but are a matter of classification. Reuben The prison authorities carefully planned and executed their deliberate plans. Segregation, isolation, degradation and abuse are programmatic techniques intended to force the women to reject their political positions and associations (Stout).

The prison authorities organized direct physical abuse of the women prisoners, intended to create a sense of powerlessness and the stress of permanently facing assault. Alejandra Torres stated, “I feel violated every moment of the day. ” This program sets up a hierarchy of objectives. The first of these is to reduce prisoners to the state of submission for their ideological conversion. That failing, the next objective is to reduce them to a state of psychological incompetence sufficient to neutralize them as efficient, self-directing antagonists.

That failing, the only alternative is to destroy them, preferably by making them desperate enough to destroy themselves. Korn The objective of these programs is to reform the prisoners at all costs, especially their ideological resistance. Unless prisoners completely denounce their past and any potential future associations, they can never meet the already loosely defined criteria for transfer from the unit (Stout ; DelloBuono). The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation’s (ACLU) National Prison Project filed a report on the HSU noting “the near complete lack of procedural policies governing the unit.

The BOP has no rules governing administrative moves, in contrast to punitive moves, prisoners can be any denied any due process and prison officials can incarcerate any prisoner in a control unit for as long as they choose without having to give a reason (Dowker & Good) The policy exists without a system of checks and balances – the word may come from above, and as long as it is administrative, a management decision, then there is no need for it to be kept in balance – for there is no corruption in the American political system.

Furthermore, the US does not have any political prisoners. The power of the institution over the prisoners was total, beyond questioning and accounting, even if it appeared to violate traditional fairness of common sense. Korn The severity of the crimes that merit this special and unique treatment would appear to be of tremendous severity; the crime is political opposition of the US and US policies. These women are guilty of fighting for social justice and against colonist rule; they are guilty of opposing the United States imperialistic policies.

This is a crime that the US does not take lightly; these women are not allowed to rot with the other victims of the state in overcrowded underfunded state penitentiaries with the rest of the 90,000 women imprisoned today. Special treatment is given to these enemies of the state. The conditions and treatment of inmates held at HSU came to the attention of the ACLU Prison Project and two ACLU attorneys and a psychologist-criminologist were permitted to tour the facilities.

They found an almost complete lack of procedural guidelines governing the staff, first amendment violations, specifically freedom of association. The living conditions were imposed upon the women was declared as “morally repugnant” and reputable as “incompatible with the protections guaranteed in the constitution (ACLU). The ACLU National Prison Project recommended that the HSU be closed down or utilized merely for short-term disciplinary confinement of women for women assigned to the maximum security Lexington prison.

Calls from ACLU, Amnesty International, prison rights activists, and humanitarian groups led to the closure of HSU on August 19, 1988. In its twenty two month life span the HSU it had been a formal agenda item at the US-USSR Summit Conference, had been condemned by national and international human rights advocates, including a 38 page report by Amnesty International, it had been held by a US federal judge to have been operated in violation of the First Amendment, and had come to symbolize America’s hypocrisy on the issues of human rights and political prisoners (Churchill ; Wall).

The things that are taken for granted as basic components of human existence – natural light, fresh air, color sound, human contact, various smells – were conspicuously, intentionally absent from the lives of the women confined to the HSU; as were equally important slightly more subtle human needs of privacy spheres, intellectual stimulation, comradeship, continuing connections to family , friends and caring others, undisturbed sleep, health care, educational and recreational options, and spiritual comfort (ACLU).

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