Prison Radio
Kevin “Rashid” Johnson

Solitary torture in Virginia

In 2011 the United Nations declared solitary confinement to be torture and that it should not be used for longer than two weeks. The next year I was transferred out of state after spending 18 years in solitary confinement in Virginia’s prisons myself – 14 years of which I spent in Virginia’s notoriously racist and abusive supermaxes, Red Onion State Prison (ROSP) and Wallens Ridge State Prison (WRSP).

I had become a thorn in Virginia’s side by co-founding outside support groups for prisoners and resisting and exposing abuses in its prisons with published reports and articles, including about the abuses of solitary. (1)

After I was sent into “domestic exile” and amidst an international movement exposing and challenging the widespread abuses of long term solitary in U.S. prisons, Virginia came under increased public and legal scrutiny for its own abusive long term solitary practices at ROSP and WRSP, by both outside advocates and victimized prisoners.

Virginia’s fake reform of solitary confinement

In response, Virginia Department of Corrections (sic!) [VDOC] officials moved to disguise but not end the continued use of solitary confinement. They created an arbitrary phase system to create the false appearance on paper of giving prisoners opportunities to participate in programs and be released to general population after brief periods. 

To further disguise the continued solitary nature of their segregated housing units, they euphemistically called them Restorative Housing Units (RHUs) instead of what they actually are, solitary confinement. In the RHUs prisoners still spent months to years sitting idle and isolated. Public protests of this continued use of solitary confinement persisted (2), and several of its victims who suffered this torture and psychological injury brought a federal class action lawsuit against it, styled William Thorpe v. VDOC. This lawsuit has not gone well for Virginia officials. 

On June 15, 2021, the court found against Virginia officials that the so-called RHU step down program described in the lawsuit was unconstitutional and abusive and still constituted solitary confinement. (3) It is apparent that Virginia won’t win this case.

Virginia retaliates against its solitary confinement litigants

In turn, VDOC officials have retaliated against the prisoners who sued them. After spending over two decades in solitary, the lead plaintiff, William Thorpe, was interstate transferred to the Texas prison system, which is known by the courts for its culture of extreme abuse by officials, targeted especially at prisoners who litigate. As the Texas federal courts have long acknowledged:

I personally witnessed the recent retaliation he’s faced.

“[Texas Department of Corrections (TDC)] officers routinely harass and punish those prisoners whom they perceive as litigious. These inmates, known as ‘writ writers,’ are earmarked by TDC officials as troublemakers and are constantly hounded wherever they go within the prison system. Their persistence in legal activity can cause them to lose even minor comforts or privileges, which TDC prisoners are otherwise capable of enjoying.

“Practices designed to retaliate against writ writers have ranged from the overt to the subtle, from the imposition of inconveniences to the perpetration of violence.” (4)

I can also attest to the inhumane conditions inflicted on Texas prisoners in general and against those who litigate in particular, since this was one of the very prison systems that Virginia officials exiled me to and about which I wrote many articles. (5)

Another prisoner plaintiff in the Thorpe lawsuit is Peter Mukuria, who is a Comrade of mine and fellow leading member of the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party (RIBPP). Mukuria was interstate transferred earlier this year to the Maryland prison system from ROSP. After suffering continued harassment by ROSP, in Maryland he was set up by guards and thrown into solitary confinement which was exposed and, following public protest, rescinded. 

Then efforts were made to harass him and block his family and fiance from visiting him. Upon his transfer, Virginia officials vandalized and destroyed all of his personal property, including his legal materials related to the solitary confinement lawsuit. They are now attempting to negotiate reimbursement for his belongings.

Another prisoner plaintiff to the Thorpe lawsuit named Kevin Snodgrass, who is presently confined with me in solitary at Sussex 1 State Prison (S1SP), has also been targeted. I personally witnessed the recent retaliation he’s faced.

“Practices designed to retaliate against writ writers have ranged from the overt to the subtle, from the imposition of inconveniences to the perpetration of violence.”

In early October 2022 he was moved to general population against the wishes of the warden, Kevin McCoy, and initially placed into a cell with a compatible cellmate. Moments after the move, Kevin’s cellie was ordered to pack his belongings to be relocated to make room for another prisoner to be moved in with Kevin. The cellie protested but was told he was not assigned to the cell, although he’d been housed there for three weeks. He was forced to move under threat of disciplinary action. Kevin felt something was amiss.

Another prisoner, Kenneth Hunt, a known snitch, was immediately moved in with Kevin. Not long after, there was an altercation and the snitch requested protective custody. During the altercation, the informant revealed to Kevin that just before moving into the cell, he was propositioned by a lieutenant named Green under the warden’s directions, to set Kevin up to be put in solitary in exchange for certain perks, but that he wasn’t going to do it. He did in any case give a statement against Kevin to have him convicted of a disciplinary infraction for assault on Hunt. Kevin is now back in solitary confinement for that incident that was set in motion by S1SP officials, the warden no less.

The attorneys who are representing the men in the Thorpe lawsuit spoke to Kevin recently and informed him that they had been attempting to communicate with him and all the other prisoner plaintiffs to the suit by phone for over a month, but had been blocked by prison officials. They reported that, like him, all the other plaintiffs have been targeted with retaliatory abuses.

The retaliations faced by the plaintiffs to the Thorpe solitary confinement lawsuit are typical. When the pigs are subjected to exposure and face even the smallest accountability for their wrongs, their response is never to acknowledge and correct their wrongs. They act instead to retaliate against those who bring their wrongs to light. Yet they are only too fond of preaching to those they hold in captivity for supposed lawbreaking that we must learn to be responsible for our wrongs – the typical hypocrisy of Amerikan democracy.

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