Feb. 2022

My friends,

It’s been a little while since I’ve written a new update so I figure its time. In short—I’m still housed at KY State Penitentiary and have managed to endure another holiday season as a hostage of the Commonwealth. Not only have I missed so many with my loved ones, but the 13th birthday of my middle daughter Kinley was a few days ago.. Now there is some breathing room to think about things other than just what I am missing out on with my girls. 

My appeal is still pending in the 4th Federal Judicial District. I am still waiting on a story being done about my actual innocence by a very savvy journalist from The Intercept, and have regular contact with my oldest baby (who is now nearly a full grown woman!) Laila, who is the joy of my life (*although on a side note don’t know what God was thinking when he created the mysteries behind teenage girls…they are far more complicated and mysterious than I realized*)

My intention behind this update is to shine some light on what I believe to be some of the most egregious human rights violations I have experience in my life, and in my time behind bars. (I know, I’m always full of good news )  I’ve thought long and hard about how to accurately outline this topic to truly reflect the scope and depth of inhumane, illegal, and disturbing things I’ve seen from the administration and security staff of KSP. 

Here is one example, a young man named Seth Irakoze. Seth is an African immigrant incarcerated here in Kentucky for a non-violent crime. By all accounts he was a normal guy with normal cognition a few years ago.  Through my own observation I have concluded that Seth is severely mentally disturbed. His time in isolation (apprx. 2 years) has driven him mad—this is no surprise given how he has been treated.  For the last two years, Seth has been kept in a cell that has a “food door,” which allows the Officers to slide him his food trays without ever coming into contact with him.  Seth has not sent a tray back out through the door in months, he defecates in the middle of his cell and then smears the feces all over his body and all over the walls.  The walls of his cell are layered inches thick with feces and his floor is a deep mixture of rotten food, feces, garbage, and vermin. Seth rarely eats, if ever and he weighs about 80 pounds.  His body is covered in open, seeping sores and he is kept naked in his sewage heap (although he was given a “smock”, a garment resembling a moving blanket as his only possible covering. He is never given showers because when the starving, mal-nourished, mentally challenged foreigner is brought out of the cell he must be escorted by 6 “tough” Correctional Officers. Because of the Covid Pandemic, this facility has been plagues by staffing shortages, operating on 20% of the recommended staffing requirements. Thus, a 6-man “move team” to get poor Seth a shower just isn’t something that KSP has been able to facilitate for the last year. But they don’t want to amend the ridiculous 6-man policy. Easier instead to violate the poor man’s rights and treat him like an animal while making him live in filth and squalor.  I’ve told my lawyer, my aunt, and everyone else who will listen that were this facility to be exposed about their illegal and inhumane treatment of Seth along with countless other men, they would not only be shut down but they would be criminally charged with human rights violations.

Unfortunately, not only am I toning Seth’s story down, but his is not an anomaly. Suicides, suicide attempts and acts of self-harm have sky-rocketed in recent months. Basic necessities like showers, clean laundry, cleaning one’s cell, ANY sort of recreation out of the cell, have all been laid by the wayside and treated as “privileges” by the administrators of this prison, instead of “rights”. 

I’m going to try to paint a picture to present the proper context here. I recently filed a Grievance while housed in 3 Cell House where I had been forced to go weeks without a shower. The day I filed, I was on my 8th day without a shower.  3 Cell House has 200 inmates and was built right after the civil war.  My dad always called this place “Shawshank” because it resembles the prison used for the movie “Shawshank Redemption” (which ironically was about the same age and was shut down 30 years ago). The cells are small 5x9ft sweat boxes with tin ceilings and no circulating air. Being in isolation in filthy stifling cells with stagnant air, no outside recreation, no showers or clean clothes or linens for months on end is tantamount to torture.  I’ve gone months without a shower while in combat but I think the combination of filth, bacteria and lack of hygiene have brought rashes to my dermis that even the wild sands of Iraq and Afghanistan could not induce.  Day upon day without leaving eh cell, without a whiff of fresh air or sight of the sun, as layer upon layer of sweat and dirt cake itself upon your filthy skin, and complete lack of stimulation—not even a book—drives a person mad.  The screams of the crazy men around me, most of whom have spent more than 12 months of isolation enduring KSPs special version of torture, permeate the walls in an endless cacophony of maddening sorrow.  It’s no surprise that so many men have gone mad and tried to kill themselves…

Another guy I know, Michael Craig, was recently sent to Solitary (Isolation) for missing a “security check”. KSP has an especially petty classification Committee that can, without reason or cause, classify certain inmates as “high Security Risks” and make them check in with a tower in the center of the yard every 30 minutes. Not only is this a ridiculous requirement, but the consequence of missing a security check is for them to lock the people in Isolation and charge them with “attempted escape”! This had Michael Craig so distraught that he cut his own throat with a rusty dull razor while in that tiny cell and lay there bleeding from his neck for 2 hours. He lost consciousness.  Keep in mind that the guards are supposed to make a round every fifteen minutes to check on inmates but neglected to do so while Michael lie there bleeding out   When the guard (who has since been forced to quit for a sexual assault on an inmate) finally discovered Mike (from this point on the story is reported by other inmates not Michael himself since he was unconscious) he ordered Michael to come to the tray slot and “Cuff Up!”.  Again, the man was unconscious.  Instead of calling in a medical emergency and getting Medical to respond to a life-threatening emergency, the SGT called in the “move’ team, pepper-sprayed an unconscious Michael right before tazing him.  Once another staff member arrived and saw the blood everywhere from the suicide attempt, they called in Medical who managed to save Michael’s  life, but not before SGT Horn got in a few parting cheap shots of pepper spray to the unconscious man.  This SGT is working at another KYDOC prison 20 minutes away from here currently and his list of abuses is long and sordid. 

Another guy I know recently cut a piece of his intestines out and threw it onto the floor outside his Isolation cell in protest of his treatment. Days later, several men broke the lights out of their ceiling and swallowed the glass.  To deal with these “medical issues”, the administration decided to put “dog cages” in a gymnasium for the “high Risk” inmates to be housed in. Little 4×6 cages, without bedding, toilets or running water. They locked these poor men who were nearly naked in paper boxer shorts and forced them to lie on the ground, going to the bathroom in buckets they neglected to empty for weeks. Water was sparsely given at the supervising guards’ discretion.  Once the buckets overran with waste and an outside auditor just happened to be here at KSP and noticed, a supervisor was demoted (NOT fired, a one SGT Ortiz) for failing to get the waste emptied—NOT for keeping other human beings naked in dog cages without running water or any other basic human necessities (including dignity). They demoted her for getting “caught’ by the auditor, NOT for participating in systematic torture and humiliation of other human beings.  Getting caught was the sin, not the act. 

These examples are shocking and may seem a bit extreme but I assure you, dear reader, these are NOT exaggerated and these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.  The excuses the administration uses for this egregious behavior all center around 1) Staff shortages, 2) Covid Protocol and of course the be all end all  3) Security. No showers because they have no staff. No laundry because they have no staff. No Toilet paper because they have no staff!  This place has gotten so crazy that it’s hard to describe.  At any other prison there are about 1-3 Internal Affairs Officers (“IA”–the people who do the in-depth investigations at a prison searching for drugs, violent gangs, etc.) who are all typically high-ranking officers like Lieutenants or Captains. However here at KSP there are 17 IA Guards to monitor a little more than 100 inmates in General Population.  About 6 months ago KSP was forced to shut down their largest General Population dorm (5 Cell House) because of a combination of extreme maintenance issues like flooding, sewage leaking through the floors, a vermin infestation and failing to maintain the minimum staffing requirements.  As I mentioned before, this prions was built right after the civil war.  While there are still many special status inmates here like the permanent Protective Custody (about 30 inmates) and the Death Row Inmates (about 30 inmates) as well as the 200 inmates in the hole, there are only 100 inmates in General Population.  This is the population where Internal Affairs (IA) focuses 99% of their time.  Remember there is not enough staff to facilitate even basic human needs such as hygiene and laundry but there is the supposed “need” for SEVENTEEN Lieutenants and Captains to be employed watching YouTube videos with nothing to do –NOT aiding the security shortage which would allow basic prisoner needs to be taken care of. It’s a massive misappropriation of resources and personnel. 

What’s mind-blowing is that in the last few months KSP spent 2 million on more “security” measures due to exaggerated security concerns (remember there are 500 fewer inmates in General Population because of the closure of 5 Cell House). The exaggerated concerns arose from the fast and loose “cooking of the books’ by reporting false statistics to Frankfort.  Every fight here is being written up as a “gang riot” (the most serious write up with massive penalties).  Every missed security check is being written up as an ESCAPE (which NEVER comes off of your record) and is probably the worst thing that the parole board could see.  Every couple of weeks IA does a massive “round up” of insanely exaggerated write-ups to fill up the “Hole” (Solitary), a procedure known as “cell maintenance”.  They keep The Hole full because not only do they not have enough bed space available in General Population but also they make more money on an inmate that has been placed on Special Status.  A Special Status inmate (Protective Custody, Death Row and Segregation Housing Unit or SHU) draws $100 per day as opposed to $35 per day for GP inmates.  As I have mentioned before, The Hole is literally hell on earth so for Internal Affairs (IA) to fabricate reasons to put and keep people there purely for $$ reason fits the paradigm of indifference to suffering humanity that has been cultured by the Administration of KSP.

I have focused on the basics like showers, hygiene and laundry up to this point because there is clearly established Law that entitles inmates to these things (Wolff v. McDonnell), but it’s not just the bare minimums they are lacking. We have been denied visits since January of 2021. Phone and JPay (prison email service) is spotty at best and solely at the facilities convenience (and they make it MISERABLE to even try, just ask my family).  To talk to my daughter the other day, I had to wait in line for an hour—in the rain—for a fifteen minute phone call with her (that cost me $6) –IN THE RAIN. Which means that communication with our families is lorded over our heads and used as a weapon against us. Even mail has been turned into a nightmare.  We no longer get our mail or pictures, instead getting black and white copies lazily copied by hostile employees that don’t believe that we deserve mail.  Letters are cut off in the middle of the page or askew and illegible. Pictures are also cut off. 

The security staff, because of the massive shortages (here and at several other prisons) has been forced into working 12-hour days instead of 8. Also, the decent staff members have mostly quit, opting instead for better employment elsewhere (literally ANYWHERE).  What has resulted is that the remainder of the staff are the dregs, the ones who “love” what they do here.  The only thing to “love’ about employment at a place like this is the absolute power and control they have over grown men’s lives.  To the kids that got picked on in high school, a job like this is like an opiate.  That tiny little badge they pin on their chest automatically makes them “super tough’ and they seem to enjoy exacting revenge for ancient slights on helpless men. In short, they abuse their power by “bullying” people.  The only staff members left are the bullies and the culture of the staff at KSP is the most antagonistic and hostile I have ever seen since I have been incarcerated.  I think the combination of having no oversight (being able to blame everything on Covid or on being short-staffed has given them blanket immunity somehow) and having to work so much has created such a hostile attitude toward the inmates that it’s become outright abusive.  Last time I went to the hole I went because I was being cussed out by an Officer Vinson (notoriously the biggest bully on the ground) for wearing a tank top—a shirt I am allowed to wear. I don’t know why I got singled out, but unfortunately I just can’t put my head down and nod when someone is cussing me.  I asked him politely, without cussing him back, to stop cursing at me.  I tried diplomacy, but you can’t reason with bullies.  The man had me locked up and lied and said that I had threatened him (despite there being several other people around to confirm my version of events), stole all of my property when he packed me up out of my cell (it “disappeared” on its way to the Property Room) and then called in a favor to make sure that I would get some extra hole time (I ended up doing a little more than a month).

Every day we are on the yard they have what’s called a “Submission Policy” here at KSP. On any given day they blow this very loud horn to institute the Policy where everyone must immediately lay down on their stomachs with their hands up and their ankles crossed.  This horn blows 6 or 7 times a day sometimes. It’s doesn’t matter if it’s raining, if it’s snowing, if there are giant puddles. You have to lie down in it or they will shoot you. .What’s ridiculous about the consequences behind this threat is not only why they are blowing the horn, but how often they do it.  Sometimes they do it just for fun. Just to see us lying in puddles.  It is literally that nefarious. 

If you’ve read my previous updates, or even some of my past lawsuits, you know that I have been tortured at this facility before.  I was kept in a 54” cell for 9 weeks.  I got VERY sick and chipped my teeth because they were chattering so hard.  I filed grievances.  I took them to court.  To no avail. Grievances are supposed to be the inmate’s vehicle of addressing issues within the facility.  According to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (written and sponsored in the Senate by our President Joe Biden) an inmate cannot seek relief from the courts unless he exhausts his administrative remedies, the grievance process being the main proponent of this.  Currently at KSP there is a 100% grievance rejection rate—reject the grievance and there is no chance of relief from the courts.

There are so many things that I am glossing over. This place makes up its own rules simply to antagonize the population. As it stands, I’ve never felts so much tension on a yard before.  It seems like a riot, or some sort of major violent event is inevitable.  As my family knows, my biggest hope is to get out of here before that occurs because I’m certain that it will.  This is based on no specific fact but on common sense and the mood of the yard because of the outright abused by staff condones and directed by the administration to include sexual humiliation, physical torture, and massive psychological torture.  

The medical care is non-existent here—I’ve not been anywhere else where I’ve seen so many men die and come to harm even including being trapped at Green River Correctional during the outbreak of Covid last year where 7 men died in 3 months and 630 men were infected.  Much needed Music is not allowed here, Art is not allowed here. Lockdowns are a nearly daily occurrence and prevent us from establishing any kind of normal routine. The administration interferes with access to our attorneys and our privileged communications (they copy our legal mail and keep the originals) which is so out of bounds of well-established law but that is the climate of this place right now. They no longer have to follow the law and do what they want.  Staff members are abusive and are not held accountable for outrageously egregious acts because the prison simply can’t afford to lose them.  

As I said, I’m glossing over a lot, but as a former non-commissioned officer the solution to these problems doesn’t seem like rocket science. It’s simply “beans and bullets”.  There are several prisons that have been forced to reduce their inmate populations to the bare minimum because of staffing shortages.  Green River was also reduced from 900 inmates to 150 inmates.  My prison, KSP, is a 150 year old nightmare of a building that is hopelessly un-repairable. The inmate populations and the staffs of both prisons could be combined at Green River to meet minimum staffing requirements instead of wasting resources and spreading themselves too thin. Some accommodations would have to be made for Death Row (the 2 million spent on 3 body scanners and 100K Security drone would have been helpful!) but these changes could be made rather than violate prisoners’ rights—and the LAW, or does the law only apply to “criminals” and not Law Enforcement? 

I hope I’m not just writing these words to myself…I know it’s hard to read them and believe it.  Places like this have a way of covering their tracks and making detractors disappear.  I see what’s coming and I dread what it means for me… One thing prison has done for me is to instill me with an ability to numb myself to anything, no matter how bad.  But I’ve truly never seen anything like this—even as an Army Ranger in charge of enemy P.O.W.s during the war. Just for the record, me and many, MANY others have filed grievances and spoken to our lawyers and families. We have begged for help but no one will listen because we are “just dirty inmates” and I guess don’t deserve to be treated like human beings.  

Hahaha, I’m always so full of positivity!  But this is Ranger Buckley here in the trenches of tyranny, on the front lines of another war.  I wish you all the best and most wonderful things—Happy 2022! Hopefully it’s a better one for all of us!

John IV

RLTW (Rangers Lead the Way)