You can hear the drills echoing through the brick walls. The vibrations can be felt on your feet. Private contractors, who are more than likely milking the state, have been working to put up cameras and audio recording devices at every corner of the prison. This is in response to the vicious culture that has gone unchecked for nearly fifty years, likely longer.
Since 1971, the year of a deadly Attica riot, this menacing culture has birthed the ideology that C.O.’s are executioners and deliverers of punishment. When in all actuality their duty is to watch and report, not assault and murder.
The surveillance equipment was once again recommended after three officers brutally assaulted an inmate. The incident was written up as an assault on staff, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. Wyoming County District Attorney believed the cameras would have helped, “Having cameras will only protect the truth, and that is never a bad thing.”
When the installation process began it certainly didn’t seem as though they were being implemented for officer safety, as the first area they went in were each of the two visiting rooms, approximately twenty in each. The claim was that cameras would oversee visitors, making sure protocol was being followed, as well as reducing the level of contraband exchange. I’m sure they also want to be sure we cons aren’t enjoying ourselves too much.
It took over a month for the job to begin, and after the visiting rooms were well equipped the work stopped.
No more cameras.
Months lapsed with no work being done, while men continued to be dragged out of their cells and beaten. More false reports were filed as inmate on staff abuse, allowing officers to go on paid medical leave, while the prisoner was sent to the “hole.” The Special Housing Unit is no vacation and length of stay varies. Inmates in this area of the prison are on twenty-three hour lockdown, with one short hour in their outside kennel. In addition they are awarded a new charge of assault, which can carry a minimum of three to six years, served consecutively.
Though some officers want to make sure we inmates know who they are over us, more often than not they desire no witnesses to their assaults. We’re threatened to get off the gates, meaning look away. If it happens to be your neighbor, you have to pretend you don’t hear his screams, or the awful sound of his head being smashed off the floor or walls.
The officers usually come in threes. The first initiates contact, as the second awaits his tag in. The third is on the lookout.
That’s what happened when they jumped K.C.
We began pairing up in two lines, making our way to the yard, when a C.O. demanded him to take position on the wall to be frisked. The same officer had been harassing him for weeks. The remainder of us were told to go outside with the command, “Forward!”
I tried to keep my eye on him as we exited. I stared at him over my shoulder as the line slowly moved. I didn’t want to leave him. His hands were pressed flat on the wall, and his feet spread shoulder width apart. His long dreads, the color of polished coal, were in a neat ponytail down the middle of his back. His large brown hoody was tucked into his pants. He didn’t move, just stood there with his head hanging low. He read like a book, he knew what was coming. In the last moment he turned his head, making eye contact with me. I attempted to return an encouraging countenance, but we both knew it was far from reality.
The officer closest to him took the bottom of his baton to my brothers spine. The force of the hit made his knees buckle. His hands slid down the brick wall, reaching for the floor. A couple quick jabs landed on the back of his skull and then he turned. His defense struck one of the guards in his midsection, folding him over. As K.C. tried to stand he was rushed by a swarm of adversaries. The line at that point stalled. We stood watching as our neighbor was pummeled.
Our escorting officer resumed his role and pushed us forward with several shouts, “Move, move, move!” We fled the scene and entered into the yard two by two.
The rays of the sun beat down warming my exterior, while my interior was feeling chilled. I went straight to the weights. The loud bells rang double time, indicating a violent altercation had occurred. The sound of pounding boots and jingling keys could be heard in the halls leading to where I left K.C.
It was an all too familiar sound.
A slaughter was unfolding.
It sounded like they were dragging his body across the floor, as I stood by an open window above the weight pile pretending to work out, but intently listening to the commotion. K.C.’s moans were muffled with gargling, likely from a mouthful of blood. He begged his tormentors to stop. “Please, no more” he cried.
The assault continued.
The windows were abruptly slammed shut, and that was the last I ever heard from K.C.
His subtle Caribbean accent that melted into piercing cries softened the hardest of hearts that afternoon.
When rec was over, we were escorted like kindergarteners back into the same corridor. Everyone searched the walls and floor for evidence of the incident. Tracks of crimson mixed with dirt led into the block. A winter hat lay in the center of the floor, leaving men to walk over it as though it were a piece of trash. Those, to me, were K.C.’s remains.
The contractors were brought back to work right after the humiliating Clinton escape. Cameras began popping up in the yard and corridors, and in the gym and hospital. Several were put in the stairwells and on companies in cell blocks. The places they should have been installed first.
It seems since the cameras have come the bad apples of the correction pool have been bidding out of their positions. They’ve traded in their plush posts in bubbles with microwaves and televisions for guard towers and AR-15’s. Some have transferred out to other facilities, perhaps where the lack of cameras will permit their continuance of mischief.
Soon they’ll be working on my company. I wonder how long it will take them to complete the job.
Is Attica safer? Perhaps. But at what price? The blood of men, who may not have been innocent of their crimes, but who were serving their time and did not deserve the torture inflicted on them. Many of those men I considered friends. Sometimes, we are all we know.
My biggest question, will the cameras change the culture of hate and brutality of Attica, or will the determined predators discover new ways to pounce their prey?
Sadly, I think it’s going to take something much greater than video cameras.