The following Open Letter is written by my nephew, John Calvin Buckley, an inmate at KY State Penitentiary.  The situation inside KSP—and we believe most KY prisons right now—is incredibly dangerous to inmates AND guards and is beyond any decency towards human beings that are supposed to be adequately cared for by the state, and whose inmate rights are being, and have been, stripped away. My nephew chronicles the ongoing outrages in hopes of bringing relief and changes to end the chaos, danger to life and health, and lack of regulatory oversight for not just himself but all others.  This letter has also been sent to all addressed below 2 months ago, as well as follow up calls and emails. What is the response?  NONE

June 13th, 2022
John Calvin Buckley
Inmate KY State Penitentiary


To KY DOC Commissioner Crews, KY Governor Beshear, and KY Attorney General Cameron:

My name is John Calvin Buckley IV, a former Army Ranger with multiple tours of duty in both Afghanistan and Iraq, highly decorated as well as suffering wounds in the line of duty that still plague me to this day.  I am currently incarcerated for a crime which is being challenged in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. I have maintained my innocence throughout all court proceedings. I am writing this letter because I am currently being housed in 3 Cell House of the Kentucky State Penitentiary.

3 Cell House is a 152 year-old structure built in 1870 right after the end of the Civil War and is so far from modern building, health, fire and safety standards that an attempt could not even be made to remodel and bring it up to codes. Which is why it’s never been done.  Forcing human beings to live in such a state is tantamount to torture which I will outline below. 

Many of us were in Covid Shutdown for 7 weeks. I was left in Solitary during this entire time without any recourse. The administrative grievance process hasn’t been working for the last year and a half.  I haven’t been able to even speak over the phone with my Federal Appeals Attorney when both he and I need to speak concerning my appeal and time is of the essence.  My legal mail has been opened before it even comes to me which is illegal because it is only supposed to be done in my presence, and my out-going mail to my lawyer has also been opened which is against the DOC’s own policies.  Again, Covid lockdown should not upend a prisoners rights to his attorney nor upend established protocols and policies  

There is a vermin infestation here like you would not believe. Several days ago I woke up with a mouse on my bed 3 inches from my face.  I know a dozen people who have gotten tetanus from being bitten by mice. There are also birds that live in the rafters. They drink out of the showers and defecate everywhere. There are even lizards and snakes.   With vermin comes bugs, the roaches being the worst, but there are also mites, lice, bed bugs and everything else you can think of. 

It is required by federal and state law that isolation cells have HVAC.  This building may be the only one in the state that has no such system. There is actually no air flow what-so-ever inside the cell, and the average temperature exceeds 100+. Have you ever been locked in a closet or a small storage locker without air? It’s like that, only permanent.  Stale air, 100+ degrees all day every day.  It’s beyond miserable (and by the way illegal). The staff area 25 feet away however is AIR CONDITIONED. 

Inmates are required to be offered reading materials. Usually a book cart comes around once a week and an inmate can trade out books.  I’m told there hasn’t been a book cart here in YEARS and inmates are no longer allowed to order their own books; you’re supposed to instead stare at the walls. 

There’s no fire prevention or safety measure at all.   By law, because each cell is considered a domicile, it is supposed to have a smoke detector and a sprinkler head. This segregation building is in operation without such necessary devices.  This is evidence there has NEVER been a real inspection of this place (or they’d have also noticed that there’s still lead paint on the walls which is flammable…) 

Recently another Veteran brother of mine, John Belden, in a state of helplessness after spending 4 years in Isolation and in an effort to expose this massive problem, set his cell on fire. The cell burned for 20 minutes before anyone responded. John was almost dead. This happened on February 4th 2022 which was the coldest night of the year. The fire department was never called nor an ambulance. The guards soaked John and dragged him to some dog cages on top of the hill outside of 3 Cell House and left him there nearly naked and soaking wet for 6 hours. It was 9 degrees that night. No one was surprised because this is typical Eddyville S.O.P.—cover it up and lie.  Even though every inmate’s life is at risk that is being forced to have to live in these cells.

Showers are a rare occurrence here at KSP; if you get 1 shower a week after spending 24 hours a day sweating in a 4×6 cell, you’re really doing good.  The usual excuse is “there’s not enough staff.”  And that excuse persists every shower day. Both on the yard and in 3 Cell House, showers are treated as a “privilege” and not as a right. As I write these words, I am covered in an unknown rash and it is bleeding. It is all over my body. I have a long history of this because I get it every single time I enter this building and sleep in one of these cells—this is the DIRTIEST place I’ve ever been.  That’s coming from someone who went 8 ½ months without a shower during the invasion of Iraq. I’ve been to many 3rd world countries and this place beats them all. As a matter of fact, for my first 2 weeks in the Hole I couldn’t even get soap….Rat/bird/roach infested cells with no soap and no cell cleaning or personal hygiene of any kind—and on top of it all even the minimum 3 showers a week we are constitutionally entitled to by the 8th Amendment (as well as State Law and Correctional Policy) we don’t get because it is not “convenient” for the staff. 

The law says several things about mental health in isolation. For instance, inmates are only supposed to spend 23 hours per day in their cell. It is a Federal, State and Correctional requirement that inmates get an hour of “recreation” outside of their cell a day.  Again, this does not happen. It is, yet again, a matter of “inconvenience” for the staff.  In the year 2000, the W.H.O.  issued a statement saying that inmates held in isolation, without a view of the outside world, were being subjected to torture.  In response Federal and State detention centers installed windows in their isolation cells.  Not here. Not one. 4 walls and that’s it.  There are poor people here who are sick and mentally ill—and they need help! All you hear in this building all day and night is screaming and crying. Every single day dozens of men in this building who have been kept in isolation for YEARS without mental health assistance cover themselves, the walls of their cells in feces—they throw it outside their cells and on their neighbors and the filth is never cleaned up. The filthy atmosphere is so oppressive!

Currently there are 16 inmates on suicide watch. Suicides have SKYROCKETED over the last 2 years under the terrible conditions at KSP, State Law and Policy says that 1 guard is supposed to observe every suicidal person. Instead, right now there are 3 guards watching all 16 people.  In an effort to get these poor souls off suicide watch (because of its’ “inconvenience”), they build DOG cages in the old A.C. gym.  They made them sleep directly on the ground (which is illegal) and go to the bathroom in front of each other in buckets (which is a PREA violation). They would wake them up every morning by spraying them all with BEAR MACE and a new spray called “Phantom Vape” which eliminates all the oxygen from the air and makes you feel like you’re dying.  They would bully inmates out regularly to beat them in restraints. And this persists!

Staff assaults (guards assaulting inmates) in restraints have become a normal part of everyday life. Recently the largest General Population dorm was shut down. There are now only 100 inmates in General Population on the yard, a reduction of 600 G.P. While this is a pretty drastic reduction it did not spur any changes in the Internal Affairs personnel here at K.S.P. At most prisons, the I.A. staff range from 1-3 senior guards. Here at K.S.P. there are 17 senior guards on the I.A. payroll with very little to do now. For whatever reason, a culture of aggression has been pushed onto the staff whether they are comfortable with it or not. My Attorney has taken the statements of a couple of former guards that were employed here at K.S.P. that outlines the culture of aggression and violence against inmates; I’ve never seen anything like it.  It’s like the combination of COVID and “Staff shortages” have given them whatever depraved thing is in their hearts to do, and with total immunity.  It was reported by a hospital ER nurse that she walked into an examination room where a KSP prisoner had been brought in for an attempted suicide (by swallowing glass) and that the Prison Security guard and 2 I.A. guards were beating the inmate.  The nurse reported this incident to the KY State Police. Again, guards beating up an inmate who had just attempted to kill himself. I could tell you about many abusive incidences if you want to ask. I’m sure you get the idea. 

Several years ago I witnessed a death down here. 3 guards went into Marcus Penman’s cell and tasered him multiple times while he was fully restrained and compliant.  Their story was that Marcus ran his head into the wall to commit suicide. The medical examiner report said his trachea had been crushed and he had experience heart failure. The guards weren’t charged, they weren’t even fired.  They work at W.K.C.C right now. Something else that regularly occurs here—death and a cover-up.  After Marcus’ family got hold of the video tape detailing their family member’s last cruel moments of life, they filed a lawsuit. Commenting on this torture, Dominic Sisti, an assistant professor of medical ethics at U of Penn told USA Today:  “We’ve got the most vulnerable people in the most violent settings with the least qualified administrative people around them, trying to manage them and do the right thing in the face of a severe psychotic and psychiatric crisis. And that’s just a recipe for brutality.”

This facility has a building that was built by the Federal government back in 1998 to house its Death Row well as “Super Max” inmates. They used it as another “Hole” until last year when they shut it down because they couldn’t staff it. Between the 2 “Seg” units they chose to staff the one built in 1870. The one built in 1998 complies with all the health, fire and safety guidelines and can be functioning using minimal staff. The problem is it ONLY housed 50 inmates (the same hole’ size as every other Seg unit in the state) while the other unit built in the civil war era (when regulations did not exist) that is not fit to house dogs let alone human beings, can house 165 inmates…. the prison gets to charge the state $100 per day for a “Special Status” inmate which is Death Row, Protective Custody and Special Management Unit (the hole) but they only charge $35 per day for those in General Population. K.S.P. is the only yard with permanent P.C, Death Row and a hole that exceeds 50 inmates.  There never is an empty Segregation cell here at KSP. I’ve got a good friend who gets out of prison on June 1st. He’s just done 6 YEARS IN ISOLATION in this building!

I realize that I’m just an inmate. Fallacious or not, I’ve been convicted of a crime and you may say I’ve lost my credibility. My voice has been polarized and relegated to this place of non-existence. There was a time when I shook hands and had a meal with a President of the United States. There was a time my words had weight. Maybe that time has passed and maybe not. We’ll see…

I request KY Atty. General Cameron, the KY DOC Commissioner Cookie Crews and the Governor Andy Beshear to come subject yourself to a night in 3 Cell House. But SURPRISE THEM. Don’t let them put a fresh coat of paint on and buff the entry way floor.  Come up to 11 and 12 Left (or just go smell 13 Left).  Once you are unable to spend 24 hours in one of your cells, bring in REAL health inspectors, REAL independent fire and safety inspectors. Hold those accountable who allowed this place to operate in violation of policy and the law in its current form. And then condemn this building forever.  Inmates are being TORTURED!  Humans under YOUR charge are being subjected to inhumane treatment and because you are in charge, you are accountable. It’s on your watch!


John Calvin Buckley, Army Ranger Veteran

Inmate, Kentucky State Penitentiary

Open Letter.pdf from the Sunday news Louisville Courier Journal 8 28 2022