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Surviving at Carswell:
The Diary of a Political Prisoner
by Susan Lindauer
It comes down to the old cliché that courage is not the absence of fear, but fighting through fear. Thinking back on it, I was terrified beyond words-- and the odds of my victory were stunningly low. The prison staff on the Texas military base had no doubts that they would prevail against me. It was quite extraordinary when Judge Mukasey ruled in my favor and let me go home. I am sure the prison staff did not expect it.
While I was waiting to get shipped to New York after the 7 month evaluation-- which exceeded the statutory maximum of 4 months-- I had a recurring dream. In my dream, I was living in a room filled with water to the ceiling and breathing through an air tube that snaked up to the vent. I could not see past the vent to know if the oxygen would be cut off from above by an unseen source. But I remember distinctly knowing that I must concentrate on breathing, and stay focused. If I panicked, I would lose what small source of oxygen I had, and the effect would be terrible. I could not lose control, yet I had no control. You see?
Imagine a place where prisoners can be punished indefinitely and crippled and maimed without any due process at all, and you've got an inkling of what I'm talking about.
I was sent there without a guilty plea or a conviction at trial for what was supposed to be a maximum detention of 120 days. Then my attorney told me I would be released, and the case would be dismissed. Once there, the error of my attorney's calculations was immediately apparent. My daily life was controlled by staff who are just awful people, and appear to enjoy the power of inflicting tremendous suffering on women prisoners who have no legal right to protect themselves. For these reasons, I am firmly convinced that Carswell should be closed to all psychiatric evaluations.
The experience haunts me still.
Unfortunately, the attempt by Carswell staff and the Justice Department to forcibly drug me with Haldol into a stupefying condition is fairly normal there. I was targeted to stop me from claiming that I had performed as a U.S. Asset covering the Iraqi Embassy from Aug. 1996 onwards, as you know. But I'm sorry to say that abuse runs especially harsh for women of color.
Carswell Naval Air Base -- The Kennedy Connection
The prison is located inside Carswell Naval Air Base outside of Fort Worth, Texas. The main buildings are the site of the former hospital where President John Kennedy was taken after the shooting in Dallas.
It is not without irony that more educated fellow prisoners observed that we walked in the footsteps of Jackie Kennedy.
However, I must stress that Carswell is a full score prison -- not a hospital or mental institution. That would be something entirely different.
As I recall, there are 1500 to 1700 women prisoners. Of those, about 100 are under psychiatric evaluation or, having been sentenced, are forced to undergo psych treatment as part of their sentences. The rest of the inmates are suffering from hepatitis or heart problems or diabetes or cancer. Carswell has authorization to dispense medications for chronic ailments -- but not chemotherapy or other surgeries. Carswell's hospital accreditation has been challenged because of poor care. Women get digitalis or insulin, or anti-stress drugs, but nothing more extensive than that. The quality of medical care is so poor that sick inmates receive virtually no care at all.
The nightmare is on the psych unit. Black women are especially victimized, because they are poor and less educated and, possibly, less familiar with their legal rights. The torture of those women is astonishing and devastating. It would break your heart if you saw them. You would weep. I did. They had no legal counsel that cared for them.
And the outcome was hideous. I was there 7 months. So I saw these women in health, at the time of their arrivals at the prison, and then I watched as they became physically and emotionally debilitated, after the prison staff got hold of them. It was the most God awful transformations that you could imagine only in your worst nightmares.
I'm not talking about prisoners who showed signs of schizophrenia or hallucinations. Only one or two prisoners showed signs of that. Almost none of these women were violent. In the schism of prison society, we were actually the Most Normal. We were not the murderers or thugs. We were the "guests" who shouldn't be there at all. We were out of place in prison culture.
All of that makes the abuse by prison staff far more ugly in that, in rational assessment, it should have been perceived as totally unnecessary.
Instead of getting abused by hard-core inmates, we were preyed upon by hard core prison staff.
It's so hard to write this.
Black women were always drugged the worst. They slept 12 hours at a time. They could not walk. They could not speak in sentences or answer questions. Typically, a response would be "what?" "dunno" "huh" Like that. They could not lift a cup to drink without shaking hands, and they would spill juice all over their clothes. They could not lift a fork to put food into their mouths. Eating took tremendous concentration.
They wet their beds, because they could not coordinate their body movements to climb out of bed at night to use the restrooms.
They could not bathe themselves. So staff and fellow inmates had to take them to the showers, strip them naked and wash them. Every time they bathed, that had to be done. It was not an occasional thing. Talk about degrading!!
It was absolutely hideous. And this would continue throughout the years of their sentences. So it was a thousand times worse than just going to prison. You can survive in prison. It's not pleasant, but this stuff qualifies as actual torture.
I was there long enough that I could observe them coming in-- healthy, good spirits, good conversation-- And then I would watch the change in their functioning. All of a sudden they couldn't speak anymore. They couldn't write letters home to their families, because though literate, they could no longer hold a pen. They could not read a book. They could not work on their cases at the prison library. They could not appeal their sentencing or assist their attorneys-- who let's be honest, didn't want their help.
And remember, this is happening in Texas. Think of every worst stereotype of corrupt & sadistic Texas prison guards, and you're beginning to get the idea.
Without the inconvenience of due process of law, Carswell can get away with anything. And they do. When Federal Review Boards show up to survey the prison facilities and inmate security, the most lobotomized women get transferred to the SHU, otherwise known as The Hole, until the performance review has been completed. That way nobody on the outside is troubled to see them.
It's a serious problem. I am not the exceptional inmate who was abused at Carswell. I am the exceptional prison who escaped abuse.
I escaped because I fought back. And my friends fought. And we wrote Congress. And my beloved companion, JB Fields, got up a blog on my case, and urged everybody to write the Judge. You would just be amazed who, when I got out, told me they knew all about JB's blog. He saved my life.
Other women don't have those resources, and that is why my fate is so different from theirs.
JB Fields died of lymphoma cancer in April of this year, and his ashes are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. As far as I'm concerned, he earned his burial there most righteously. He served in the Navy for 11 years. And he defended an anti-war activist with the ferocity of his pen--- because he believed in the importance of safeguarding the freedom of democracy in this country.
See, a lot of stuff comes up when I write about this experience.
For the good of all prisoners, we need to end Carswell's right to conduct psych evaluations for the federal courts. That service needs to be transferred somewhere else. Cruelty should not be part of that process.
See Michael Collins - Did Justice Order Forced Psych Medication? and
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