Troubled Over Bridgewater

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  September 13, 2010

Incidents of alleged prisoner abuse were investigated by an officer who was himself accused of prisoner abuse. In April of last year, OCCC's grievance coordinator — who processes inmate complaints — was accused of beating and choking a handcuffed minority prisoner, yet was allowed to continue working in that position.

While the allegations against him were still under review, the grievance officer handled another formal complaint by an inmate named Jackson Leonard. "The correctional staff are enticing inmates here with arbitrary rules and policies to cause a negative response," Leonard wrote. "I am afraid that this constant torture is going to cause hopelessness."

The grievance officer's official response sheds light on how such complaints were handled at OCCC: "I [sic] was determined through the investigative process that the Officers . . . are following there [sic] job duties to the letter of the Institutional rules, and it has been determined that they have been fair with [sic] in treating every inmate in [Leonard's unit]. Equally."

"This is an elaborate system that's a complete loop," says Susan Mortimer of the Massachusetts Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition. "It looks great from the outside, but the documents just go back and forth, since the grievance procedure serves to protect the DOC and no one else. Anyone who steps forward and criticizes the process will be punished and met with resistance — that's just the way it is."

Minority inmates claim that even cultural celebrations are used as tools of arbitrary punishment. AHC leader Mac Hudson claims he was transferred from Old Colony to Shirley's medium-security facility after a "successful" Juneteenth event. And on December 26 of last year, AHC members say they were unjustifiably denied admission to a long-planned Kwanzaa festivity. Grievance officers eventually conceded that the members had been turned away because of administrative miscommunication.

This may seem like a mildly unfortunate if not insignificant gesture to outsiders and officers. But the incident echoed events that famously set the DOC facility at Walpole into a frenzy nearly 40 years earlier. In 1972, then-Walpole superintendent Raymond Porelle locked down the prison just hours before a long-anticipated Kwanzaa congregation. With families and community members waiting outside in the cold, Porelle cancelled the party despite allowing the Irish-American and Italian-American heritage groups to host family on Christmas. What followed became known as the "Kwanzaa lockdown"; for more than three months, white and black prisoners unified to rebel against staff, and were in turn beaten and deprived of food. As a result, many hanged themselves before the protest ended.

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HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF: In 1972, Walpole was locked down just hours before a long-anticipated Kwanzaa congregation. For more than three months, white and black prisoners unified to rebel against staff, and were in turn beaten and deprived of food. As a result, many hanged themselves before the protest ended. A similar racial rift recently occurred at Old Colony.

'We need to come together'
In December 2006, MCI-Walpole convict Glen Bourgeois hung himself behind a closed cell door — just four months after he was relocated from OCCC for having an affair with a DOC employee. Bourgeois had also complained about migraine headaches for two months, and said that his physical condition was ignored by medical staff. (The DOC denies this.) In a suicide note left behind, he wrote: "It really sucks that death is a better choice than living under the present prison conditions. I hope for the prisoners left behind things get better if not I fear I will be seeing a lot more of you."

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  Topics: News Features , Suicide, Harold Clarke, Gloria Fox,  More more >
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