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OUT OF CONTROL: A 15-YEAR BATTLE
AGAINST CONTROL UNIT PRISONS

 

24. NECKS STICKING OUT: STILL 1994


Also at about this time, a delegation of the Interreligious Task Force on Criminal Justice was granted permission to visit the Florence AD-MAX prison, the federal control unit prison in Colorado. They would go in once before it opened and then again after men had been imprisoned there for a while. They wanted participation from local people who were most familiar with the details, and one way or another, happened upon our Colorado friend Edele Corrine who by this time had been organizing opposition to the AD-MAX for three years.

I’m not reporting this to cast aspersions on any of those involved, but as an object lesson, illustrating how, in this case, governmental spreading of rumor, COINTELPRO-type fostering of divisions, and similar tactics can be—and often are—used against movements for social justice.

The night before the tour, the delegation met. Edele asked if they preferred her to stay in the background or whether she could participate and ask hard questions. The consensus of the group was that her expertise was an asset, that of course she should be polite, but should feel free to ask questions. On Monday, October 24, 1994, the delegation went in. A lot of questions were asked and one member of the delegation took photographs. Edele requested the criteria for placement in the unit and the criteria for transfer out of the unit, as well as the policy and criteria for use of the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) team.

There were no concerns expressed, but Edele did point out in her report that “whenever it seemed that I or others had made the BOP folks a bit nervous, David Rogers [Chair of the Interreligious Task Force] stepped in with a comment praising them for their forthrightness or praising some aspect of the prison.” This made Edele uncomfortable, but she figured that he was worried about maintaining access for the Task Force’s second visit. Nonetheless, after the tour all members agreed it couldn’t have gone better. Edele asked Rogers if she’d be invited on the second tour, and he assured her she would be, so long as she paid her $25 membership fee to the Task Force.

Edele wrote up her impressions of Florence and sent us a copy. Later in that week she received a call from an upset David Rogers. He said that BOP Deputy Director Pete Carlson had called, enraged that the Task Force had “brought in a ringer.” Carlson had asked David, “Do you know who this Kinsinger is?” referring to Edele’s married name. (Edele had been separated from her husband for 2½ years and had reverted to her given name, which she used now in all her political work.)

David explained he had never heard that name and had just met her. Carlson went on to tell him that Edele had romantic relations with men at Marion and was involved in helping them to escape. He added that she was also working to overthrow the U.S. government. Edele let David know that it was all a lie, that it was the government’s way of discrediting her with the Task Force. David responded that he would have to write a letter of apology to the BOP about Edele, that it was most important to maintain access for the Task Force to the prison. So far it was all somewhat understandable, if disquieting, to Edele.

However, the letter of apology that followed felt like a betrayal. David Rogers agreed “that it is possible that her agenda was not consistent with that of the Task Force. I understand your displeasure and have made the decision that Ms. Corrine should not be included in future delegations representing the Task Force. As Chair, I assure you that she will not be.” There was a good deal of apologizing and ingratiation in the letter. He concluded by saying, “Again, thank you for extending the invitation to the Task Force. There was a substantive difference between many of the rumors circulating in the religious and human-rights communities and the realities that we saw and experienced in Florence. For that, and much more, please accept our thanks.” When Edele shared the letter with me, I was revolted by all the fawning at the feet of the BOP.

I had two problems with Rev. Rogers’ letter to the BOP. As a tactical move to maintain access to the prison, I could perhaps understand it. But it read like a letter of overall support for what the BOP was trying to do there! As importantly, he had not treated Edele as a partner in determining how to deal with the BOP’s complaints. On the contrary, he seemed to have accepted their word and proceeded to marginalize Edele. To her credit she did not appear to be overly frightened, although she certainly had a right to be. The prison system of the United States of America was accusing her of intending to assist in escapes! But she was not one to back down. She believed in speaking “truth to power,” and she was furious. Edele wrote to Rogers straight away:

You contacted me; I did not pursue you in any way. Then when the BOP discredits me you jump on the bandwagon and can’t move fast enough to agree with them that I am a threatening person and in no way like the rest of you very good people. You made no effort to contact people in my community to check out how these accusations fit the reality of who I am and the work that I do. It was clear to me at the time of the tour and much clearer to me now that David Rogers enjoys his cozy relationship with the BOP so much that he will not ask the hard questions or make the hard decisions to stand up for what is right. This is more than evident in your reaction to the BOP’s move to discredit me. . . . So who exactly are you serving except yourself and the BOP? The presence of your group, taking tours and participating in the illusion of openness allows the BOP to shut out other legitimate prison activist groups who would not be “nice” and cooperate in the murder and absolute injustice that masquerades as “corrections” at the BOP.

My personal preference has always been to stand on the outside and be free to speak truth to power without compromise. That said, I believe that those situated differently, radical activists and liberal reformers, can work together on these issues, but only if we have respect for one another and do not allow those in power to divide and vilify us.

Some people were not afraid to speak truth to power. Shortly thereafter, Edele received a letter from a prisoner in the FPC, a minimum security facility that is part of the Florence complex:

I am directly involved in your movement because I am among 200 “campers” who have been forced to work in the horrific Supermax. Over 90% of the 200… are adamantly opposed to working there. One inmate threw up and was medically excused when he was required to install restraints (6) on the concrete bed. They were conveniently removed last week for the media onslaught. Now all media is barred… Over 20 FPC inmates have gone to the hole for refusing to work at the Supermax. So you see, we also are reactive to gross injustices. The Supermax cannot operate by the way without the campers. We staff facilities, administration, all the offices, plumbing, electrical EVERYWHERE. We will be your eyes and ears in a way you cannot.

In December of 1994, activists from across the U.S., from a dozen states and two dozen cities, met in Philadelphia and founded the National Campaign to Abolish Control Unit Prisons. The underlying motivation for this new organization was that as the government was expanding control unit prisons throughout the country, we needed at the same time to expand opposition to them. That first meeting was hosted by the American Friends Service Committee, and Philadelphia seemed a fitting locale given the Quaker regret for ever having promulgated solitary confinement in the first place.

 

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