“Columbus Day, Gang Wars and Prison Violence.”
Columbus day just passed, and I can’t help but wonder how we have come to celebrate Christopher Columbus with a national holiday. What lies have to be told and believed for Congress to make Columbus Day a national holiday? Columbus was a murderer, rapist, fraud, failure. He wasn’t some great heroic explorer who discovered America. He was a con man who brought in his wake death and destruction. Columbus day reflects what’s wrong with our criminal justice system. Do we honestly celebrate truth and justice for all or cunning, deceit, and bias?
The New York state prison system is currently experiencing a statewide gang war that has caused disturbances to several correction facilities. On October 12th, I was in the yard here at Great Meadow reading a book to three young men under my wing, when a gang fight broke out. We had to duck gas canisters being fired into the crowd of guys fighting, and we all were made to lay face down on the ground by hyper-aggressive prison guards, responding to the incident. For the next three days, there were other related incidents, including when we were in the yard on October 15th, when three or four guys jumped on one. Prison administrators would have you believe that the problem is the gang, but the biggest and deadliest gang within New York state prison are the guards.
New York state prison guards are some of the most violent gang bangers in the country. Here at Great Meadow, they have brutalized several prisoners and killed at least three in the last two years but have covered up most of these incidents. On October 17th, they beat a kid near to death, because a female teacher and the school accused him of exposing himself. Whether he did so or not is questionable. A month ago, another female teacher brought in a razorblade, cut herself, and then blamed it on the prisoner in her class of cutting her—having him sent to the box. The truth came out only because her story has such gaping holes, prison administrators couldn’t easily cover up her lies.
What lies had to be told and believed for the public to think that prison staff are honest public servants? New York state prisons are incubated of violent criminality because the very people instructed to run them are themselves violent and criminal. This the real source of violence in our prison. Prison guards are hostile, mean, spiteful, unprofessional, petty and sadistic. Using violence to enforce petty rules in their false sense of respect. Prison administrators are complicit in the abuse and mistreatment of prisoners by staff. They encourage and condone it by covering up and failing to investigate and prosecute staff misconduct.
This creates a more hostile environment that leaves the prisoners taking out their anger, frustration, and aggression on each other. But a day will come, as it has before in Attica, when that anger, frustration, and aggression will be directed at prison staff on the large scale, because everyone ignored the signs and the lessons of the past. Now, I don’t want to suggest that we prisoners are somehow innocent of all of this. What I’m merely saying is we prisoners don’t have power to control our environment. Those who do could substantially decrease prison violence by first holding themselves to a higher standard, and second, by being more positively proactive. But when prison guards and prison administrators brutalize and kill prisoners, and cover it up, they have no moral standing to discipline them. And they set the tone for the violence and criminality that exists.
This is Dontie S. Mitchell, better known as Mfalme Sikivu, reporting to you from Great Meadow correctional facility in Comstock, NY. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, @freeDontieMitchell.
Thank you for listening and God bless.
(Sound of a cell door closing.) These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.