Exiled Maine prisoners report abuse, danger

Prison watch
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  September 26, 2007

Despite harsh treatment and dangerous living conditions for Maine prisoners sent by state authorities to out-of-state prisons, Maine corrections officials and Governor John Baldacci refuse to comment on them or the state’s responsibility for their care.

Two weeks ago, the Portland Phoenix reported on the fate of the informant who foiled a Maine State Prison escape plot: at his request, to protect him from retribution, corrections officials sent him out of state, but under conditions that put his life in danger (see “Stabbed in the Back,” by Lance Tapley, September 14).

But other Maine inmates “shipped out” also are in hazardous situations. (State officials for weeks would not say how many Maine prisoners were held elsewhere. Just before deadline, the Maine Department of Corrections reported there were 22, six in New Hampshire. In exchange, Maine has taken in 26 prisoners from other states, the department says.)

Two prisoners sent away from Maine are Deane Brown and Smokey Heath, and both have had their lives put at risk.

Heath, 32, a convicted murderer held at the Washington Correctional Institution in Chipley, Florida, has been attacked several times, according to friends. In March, he was stabbed in the neck. The suspect in the stabbing, a prisoner serving a life term, was not charged, in part because of his “lengthy sentence,” according to a Florida investigative report.

Last November, the state sent Brown, the Maine State Prison’s human-rights activist, to the Maryland Supermax prison in Baltimore because, officials said, he was a “threat to the facility” in Maine. Brown provided information for the Phoenix’s series on abuses in the prison’s Supermax solitary-confinement unit. Inmates believe prisoners are often shipped out because authorities consider them troublemakers.

Brown, 42, serving a 59-year sentence for burglary, is still a troublemaker. His case has become a cause. His federal civil-rights lawsuit against Maine corrections officials has been supported by the National Lawyers Guild and the Southern Poverty Law Center, progressive-justice organizations. The trial is slated for March. Brown’s Maine lawyer, Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor, has called him “a political prisoner.” The Black Bird Collective, a Portland-based activist group, is also supporting Brown, writing letters to keep his spirits up.

But Brown’s spirits are down. He complains of lack of medical and dental care in Maryland, including “continuous pain” from teeth that he says were supposed to be extracted back in December. Most important, Brown says he is denied food he needs to accompany insulin injections to avoid going into a potentially fatal diabetic shock.

In despair about this treatment, he threatened to inject himself with a possibly deadly dose of insulin, he says, while at a prison nurses’ station on July 17. He says a guard sergeant taunted him: “‘Go ahead. I don’t care. It’s on you.’” He injected two large doses as the guard watched, Brown says. The Maryland Supermax confirms he was taken to the hospital in this incident.

Brown is also despondent because he has been kept in the Supermax for almost a year, surrounded by Maryland’s most dangerous inmates.

A Maryland corrections official, Tyrone Crowder, says in a phone interview, “Hopefully, it won’t be much longer” before Brown can be moved out to a less restrictive location. Brown has no history of prison violence.

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Related: Inmate sues prison officials in federal court, Judge orders injections for Maine prisoner, Baldacci’s ‘political prisoner’, More more >
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