Prison Riots Are Reactions To Abuse
Dr. B. Cayenne Bird

Dr. B. Cayenne Bird is an ordained minister and a 37-year veteran op-ed journalist and publisher. She volunteers her time as founder and director of United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect UNION. The UNION is active in prison reform and criminal justice issues. She is a mother and grandmother and focuses on human rights and restorative justice. She is also the host of television series "Cayenne Common Sense" and publishes a daily online newsletter to subscribers.

September 26, 2005

 Photo Caption: Eric K'napp has been literally tortured in California's prisons for exercising his First Amendment rights.

Well, we have dozens more prisoners injured and two in critical condition as the terrible crisis which exists in almost all California prisons continues to worsen. The riot this week at Chino is the third major one this year and the lawsuits are going to fly so it’s everyone’s business. Yesterday, there were two more riots reported at Norco Rehabilitation Center reporting more injuries.

It is easy to blame any uprising on a racial problem between this group and that one. And maybe that was the case at Chino, but it was guards who were attacked at Calipatria and most likely they brought on the riot at San Quentin. You will never know the truth of what is behind a riot because the media is still banned from the prisons in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Guards like riots. It makes them appear important to the public and justifies billions in budgets for their jobs. Guards frequently go out of their way to divide and conquer and pit unknowing inmates against one another. Riots and racial problems are a red flag that signals mismanagement and the reasons go much deeper than CDCR’s standard excuse.

As the prisoner advocate who takes complaints from 33 prisons and most of the jails 24/7 for the past seven years, I have a Bird's eye view on some of the underlying reasons for these riots. I’m not buying the weak excuse of racial unrest nor should you, the taxpayer.

First and foremost, the prisoners and their families are treated worse than animals by the guards and the prison administration at most facilities and they have no one representing them in the legislature. That’s because the 3 million voters connected to them are mostly poor and functionally illiterate and have not organized a funded group for themselves yet. They don’t understand that 134 large groups control the State and that they must create their own voting block and fund it if they are ever going to have lawmakers represent their interests.

The problems in the bloodhouses are so out of control that I propose we have prisoners re-classified as animals so that they could get better treatment than say a stray dog or a cat. Of course, it isn't the animal rights’ group fault that the families of prisoners won’t organize themselves well enough to file lawsuits. Callous legislators who use prisoners as pawns, including all the Republicans and about four Democrats, should be willing to do the right thing instead of build their own careers off the tried and true “tough on crime” hype. This simply isn’t happening and the human bondage industry is our largest industry. How revolting for people who consider themselves civilized.

But I digress. I wish to zone in on what is causing the inmates who are poorly armed with only the crudest of homemade weapons to riot. Against all odds they lash out with little chance of delivering even one punch to defend themselves from total annihilation by guards armed with pepper spray, heavy metal batons, guns and every weapon known to man. How effective is a water gun against an armored tank for comparison.

It must take a great deal for men to be driven to the point that they have been these past few months to literally risk their lives to strike back.

Well, I am just going to be very blunt and honest. I am not a prisoner and I am ready to riot against these bloodhouse prisons myself. I rant better than I riot and I want to issue a warning that I believe another Attica is brewing right now in California’s prisons. It is a reaction to severe physical and psychological torment being dealt out by guards and prison administrators which is intolerable for any human being to endure.

Here is one of the cases on my desk right now for example, that any God-fearing, decent human being would be alarmed to learn is happening in taxpayer-financed institutions. I have known a young man since he was a very small baby named Eric K'napp. He was an upstanding citizen and veteran before he lost his life over a rape and assault charge when he was 25 years old. He has now completed in prison, almost all of a legal correspondence course. Before he was imprisoned in 1993, K’napp was a medic in the military with aspirations to become a doctor using GI educational benefits. 

In my opinion, during his twelve years in prison Knapp has been psychologically tortured by guards and wardens for turning in 602's, making complaints over violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, filing lawsuits and/or writing letters on behalf of his own maltreatment and that of other inmates. So great are the abuses he has witnessed and personally experienced, that he has acquired Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and falls under the class for which the Coleman lawsuit oversight is supposed to be serving. The Coleman monitors know about his abuses but they can really do nothing about helping him or any inmate they say except to file another lawsuit which appears to be on the horizon now. The Coleman monitors may not even interview a prison employee to investigate abuses in progress, and I haven’t seen any actual help delivered to the thousands of desperate inmates and families that plead for relief from them or any other agency funded by taxpayer dollars.

PTSD is a lifetime affliction for which there is no cure, similar to shell shock when a soldier sees and experiences too many traumatic events. K’napp’s PTSD is 100% prison-induced and at least ten prison doctors have reached the same diagnosis and recommend that he be single celled near his family. He has a medical classification of FAM, which means that family ties are vital to his treatment, vital to his survival in the prison system which is cruel and oppressive.

A movie is being made about the injustices in his case and his maltreatment by employees of the California prison system, so this story will be well known when it arrives on the big screen within the next year or so. Several lawsuits have been filed calling out the abuses, but they continue to happen. After all, it’s the taxpayer’s money and no skin off anybody’s nose as some 5000 lawsuits per year are filed against the California Department of Corrections. The California Correction Peace Officer’s Association, CCPOA, operates above the law. The law is, in fact, mostly comprised of politicians that this mafia-like labor union has put into office who are going to do their bidding. The families of prisoners have almost no representation because they haven’t elected people to office who care about their problems, or care about them at all. 

On April 2, 2005, K'napp was moved from CSP Los Angeles (Lancaster) after about 100 people showed up to picket over his abuse in the hole where he was psychologically tormented for nearly six months. The Warden Michael Harrison claimed this was necessary "in order to save his own life from other inmates" 

What they did to him in the hole:

1.Blocked all phone calls going in and out of the prison, even to his attorney, 

2.Refused to wash his laundry for four months. Can you imagine no clean clothes or underwear for four months? 

3.Starved him. He was semi-starved by being fed portions of only one or two tablespoons of food. This is a common complaint from inmates in the hole at many prisons. 

4.Denied him showers, K’napp was given a shower only twice a week, maybe, 

5.Denied him proper personal grooming aids such as clippers for his beard and personal care supplies, nor was he allowed to get them in the canteen. 

6.Given the stub of a pencil to write with. Even with legal work in progress he was given only the short stub of a pencil to write with which interfered with his access to the courts. K’napp has a growth on his finger and under ADA should be given the typewriter his family purchased for him to write with at all times.

7.Blocked outgoing mail. The prison refused to send his mail, even his legal mail, 

8.Blocked correspondence from his family which means so much to anyone in cruel isolation. 

9.One guard rapped on his door with a metal baton all through the night to keep him awake so that he would suffer intimidation and sleep deprivation. 

10.Denied canteen, packages, and contact visits for half a year 

11.He could have no television, no radio, and no art supplies, nothing but the four bare walls for months. 

12.He had no access to his legal files even with court deadlines looming.

Even though he is not isolated at this moment, most of this abuse continues today in Pleasant Valley Prison. This folks, is business as usual at most prisons.

K’napp and his family wrote to Roderick Hickman, the big Kahuna head of the Adult and Correctional Agency who is supposed to be taking care of inmate problems. Hickman has been asked numerous times for relief by thousands of inmates and their families but there is never a reply. Hickman couldn't care less about the prisoners and their torment. His staff does nothing to relieve the abuse and tensions which ultimately return prisoners to their communities much sicker than before they were incarcerated. K’napp tried writing to other legislators to no avail, even the ones who pretend to be advocates for prisoners will not answer any inmate’s letters. Over the years, he has sent letters begging for relief to Senators Gloria Romero, Jackie Speier, others who are now termed out. Assembly member Jackie Goldberg, all of whom vote the right way on the bills but none of whom appear to have power to stop abuses, even when they are extreme, if they even received the letters. This is the dilemma for all inmates: there is no place to go for help. The Ombudsmen are as useless as yesterday’s oatmeal.

Governor Schwarzenegger views prisoners as a photo opportunity and was forced by a lawsuit to parole some of them. But he is not worried about the day to day operations of the prisons and is now posturing some of the harshest laws in the country, thinking that will get him elected. No so if the 3 million voters attached to inmates get out the vote against him for these tactics which serve no public safety interest.

Jeanne Woodford, CDC Director, makes no attempt to help inmates, nor does Dr. Rene Kanan. They both posture sensitivity but it’s only an act for the cameras. I have yet to see Woodford or Kanan save a life and have witnessed numerous preventable deaths. The nervous breakdowns are preventable too if only there was someone listening and acting on these problems. The inmate is always wrong you know. How can a being considered lower than an animal ever get help or a ruling in their favor? 

The useless Inspector General, Matthew Cate and Asst. Inspector General, Charles D'Arcy a former prosecutor for 25 years didn’t help. They wrote K’napp a callous form letter stating that they had too many problems and couldn't help inmates with their individual cases. But if a guard gets a scratch upon them, the entire agency will investigate that mishap. 

A report of abuse and law violations was filed with the Internal Affairs Department in Sacramento which was transferred to Los Angeles. Nothing was done to help K'napp by this bogus department either. This is how all the prisoners are treated, even in life and death and surgical emergencies. The only thing that spurs wardens to even notice is pickets in front of their prisons of 100 persons or more. 

And a large picket is exactly what was done to get K'napp moved out of the hole at CSP-LAC on April 2, 2005. Where did they send him? To Corcoran Substance Abuse and Treatment Facility, CSATF, a prison still hundreds of miles away from his family in spite of his diagnosed medical FAM classification treatment. Custody over-ruled medical once again due to retaliatory reasons because K'napp and his family members exercise their First Amendment rights and try to obtain relief for what he goes through on a daily basis.

There are only two doctors for 7,500 men at CSATF and this in itself is a recipe for disaster which has already resulted in more medical neglect lawsuits. K'napp was placed there in a hospital area so that he could recover from six months of starvation and abuse in the hole at Lancaster. Then one day as he was working on his legal case, still in the appellate courts, he was taken into the hole AGAIN for an unlawful reason. He was told that he "knew a guard" and would have to be transferred to Pleasant Valley Prison. So for another two months in 2005, bringing the total to 7.5 months so far this year, he sat in the hole (administrative segregation these torture boxes are called) for a false and unlawful reason.

Cut off from communication, visits, legal access to the courts, and this time also subjected to sweltering heat and not enough food, he was finally sent to Pleasant Valley. Transferring any inmate to three prisons in one year is a law violation but hey, who's calling the guards on anything when they are the new gods? It is unheard of that any guard or prison administrator is reprimanded for breaking the rules of the Title 15 or the Department of Operations Manual. The inmates keep pounding their weary fingers on the pages of the rules books and the guards keep saying “so what, we don’t have to follow any rules.”

This causes conflict especially with actions pending in the courts. 

A miracle happened recently for K'napp when a habeas corpus petition that he had to file for himself due to his family's devastation gained attention of an appellate court. He was given just 15 days to respond to the court but the prison employees refused to give him access to his own legal paperwork. The prison administrators kept him in "orientation" for two weeks when he first got to the third prison where he has been transferred since April, They tried to force him to double cell with another prisoner even though he has a medical classification that forbids it. This is how great the overcrowding is, they have no respect for medical orders whatsoever.

During K’napp’s entrance meeting, old Lt. Prince, who is way past retirement, told him in front of other staff members that ”he wasn't going to be filing any 602's at this prison” and that he “didn't care what his cell status was,” then he lunged for K'napp's throat in the meeting. Lt. Prince went on about how much he hates prisoners and it was very clear that he is a man on the edge who should no way be employed by anyone, let alone put in charge of inmates. I have other complaints on this bully Lt. Prince, but nothing is ever done to fire or retire him. There are no consequences for these vicious brutes on our taxpayer payroll.

On the first day K'napp arrived at Pleasant Valley Prison, he had three degrading strip searches even though he was in total isolation. Degrading strip searches are how the guards break the spirits of prisoners, regardless of whether they have PTSD or other illnesses. It's a primitive form of psychological torture that they use at most prisons and nobody calls them on it. Bend over and spread ‘em is a daily form of emotional abuse for even a healthy person. Then K’napp is denied his medication and forced into cold turkey withdrawal which the manufacturers said should never be done. He goes ten days without his medication while he is vomiting, experiencing cramps and dizziness. K’napp is given no medical care when he asks for relief from the forced withdrawal. This is common for all inmates who get transferred. But hey, in their Neanderthal minds, it's only a prisoner, so who cares?

All the mail is blocked coming in and going out. K'napp is forbidden to mail to the parties specified in the Department Operations Manual and the Title 15 rules are completely ignored. He sees no chance to meet his legal deadline other than to file a 602 which is the only relief that prisoners are supposed to have to summon help. Most of the 602's get thrown away by the guards. If an inmate files a 602 or writes a letter to the warden, there is retaliation by the guards involved, so the process doesn't work at all. Everyone at the top knows this but nothing is ever done to fix it. The guards and prison administrators fear the media coverage and that’s about it. They know that the taxpayers could get together at any time and vote prisons as we know them today out of existence.

By now Knapp is frantic and understandably so. Mail is blocked, he can't get his legal boxes so he can file a response to the court, he is physically attacked and invalidated in classification committee. The court’s clock is ticking There is a recantation and the court has finally seen it. He has a chance for justice in his case, but nobody cares. That’s the last thing they want to do is help a prisoner get out. Walls of unbearable incompetence and just plain meanness are put up in every direction. No telephone calls are allowed in or out of the prison, and K’napp can't get a message to anyone that he is in distress. 

Finally K’napp gets out of the two week “orientation”, and is told that a lawyer has been hired to help him with this one-in-a-million chance. The prison still refuses to give him his own legal boxes for more than a week (and to this day he still doesn’t have the necessary paperwork) so he can prepare the documents and send them to an attorney. He can't get to the legal library more than two days a week, and he doesn't have access to the telephone to call his attorney either. Blocking access to the courts is unlawful but it is happening every day.

The Title 15 says that the attorney may set up an appointment for speaking to prisoners with the Litigation coordinator on the telephone but they must be cleared as one of the lawyers who can have clients in Pleasant Valley Prison. This process usually takes two weeks. Remember that the court’s clock is ticking. K’napp cannot call his own attorney nor can his attorney call him even with an important deadline needing to be met in the court of appeal. Isn’t this outrageous when prisoners’ lives depend on the quality and timeliness of their court submissions? What the hell is going on here?

K'napp filed 602's and wrote letters on three dates requesting his legal boxes over a one month period and this has somehow offended the guards. So now in their usual retaliatory style, they issue a ducat that will send him to Salinas Valley Prison in the heart of the Green Wall. Salinas Valley is a prison which is almost always on cruel lockdown. 

Lockdown is dangerous to a person with PTSD. Salinas Valley is also a place where inmates can be convinced to stab other inmates with very little reward, so the transfer is probably a set up to have him killed there and then just blame it on some gang member lifer inmate. After all, this has worked many times in the past. The distance is even greater for his family to be able to visit him and is a violation of the ADA standards, but hey, this is only a prisoner. And there is no accountability for violations of the law.

This is the turmoil and psychological torture that a single inmate has endured in the past few months and it compounds daily. This is business as usual throughout the system.

As you can see, rioting gets to be the only recourse when food, self esteem, respect, personal grooming, access to the courts, sanitary and proper housing, safety, prescribed medications and medical care are taken away. 

I am ready to picket Roderick Hickman’s office. If you would like to join me in doing that, please send me an email. I am also ready to bring out 20 people to vote against the people who allow this inhumane treatment which serves to endanger the public safety by making people much sicker than before they were incarcerated. 

How about you? Do you want someone who has been tormented to this degree and worse to be your next door neighbor?

Perhaps getting prisoners re-classified as animals would assure them more humane treatment. I believe that the movie about what Eric K’napp has endured in prison and in the justice system is going to be a shocking revelation to millions of voters, but it will be no surprise to the 3 million people attached to prisoners who are enduring the same or worse treatment.

Let’s go picket Hickman’s office. Email me at

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