GA Prisoners Tortured in the Showers, as DOJ Ponders Whether It’s Safe Here

April 8, 2024

On February 27, two men were held down in the shower room of a Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) prison while, one at a time, scalding water was slowly poured over their bare feet. Drug debt they’d been unable to pay.

The screams could be heard from across the dorm. Two prisoners who’d been near the bathroom described also hearing younger voices threatening more pain, and older voices calling for a stop to it.

Word soon got out. The next afternoon the unit manager walked in with a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member, saying something about needing photos of perfectly made beds. She walked through the rows of bunks, ordering people up on their feet—they were in the way of the picture she suddenly needed to take—until one tried to stand and nearly fell over. She stopped and lifted his pants leg, revealing a sock stained with pus and blood.

The man told her it was an accident. She sent him off to medical, but stayed to address the rest of the dorm about what was already obvious. If it had been an accident, he would have already gone to medical that morning while most of the unit was at breakfast. Only fear of being branded a snitch would make someone try to hide a wound that bad.

Within the hour, the same CERT member came back, accompanied by both deputy wardens of security, two supervisors, a lieutenant and a captain. The dorm was assembled before them, and told that those responsible for the scalding were to start packing their property. No one came forward.

“You know who you are, and I know who you are,” said one of the deputy wardens, according to two prisoners who witnessed the exchange. “You are going to answer to the names I call or you’re leaving here with nothing, but you’re leaving here in five minutes either way.”

The debt enforcers’ names were called. Slowly, they raised their hands. The next morning, the second man who’d been tortured went to medical while everyone was at breakfast. He told them he’d scalded himself by accident.

Amid a national understaffing crisis, many corrections departments are finding new ways to rearrange us.

Violence is a regular occurrence here, but torture isn’t; not like that. The strong opinion among prisoners reached by Filter was that if the facility were adequately staffed, the incident couldn’t have happened. That living unit used to have three corrections officers (COs) working nights. No one works nights there now. For 10 or more hours, prisoners are locked in together with no one watching.

Amid a national understaffing crisis, corrections departments continue to ignore the obvious solution, which is to let some of us out. Instead, many are finding new ways to rearrange us.

Depending on factors like job assignment or security classification, some prisoners at this facility are housed in two-person cells and some are in open dorms. In January, the new warden—they’re always new—had orchestrated a prisoner swap between the cell houses and the dorm buildings, effectively reorganizing half the prison in a single day.

The idea was to take the prisoners who would ordinarily receive the most supervision—mostly younger, higher-security gang members who engaged in violence—and mix them in with the mostly older, minimum-security prisoners with steady jobs and clean disciplinary records. Lastly, add in the older, semi-retired gang members (OGs) to encourage the first group to act more like the second. GDC did not respond to Filter‘s request for comment.

If adequate staffing means no torture in the showers, the ratio of guards to prisoners needs to be higher than 1:200.

At least 500 people were relocated that day. It was a clusterfuck. Originally those put in the dorms had assigned bunks, but in the end people sort of got in where they fit in, like musical chairs. The next day a deputy warden passed around a clipboard, and everyone filled in their bunk assignment with wherever they’d landed. 

Obviously this human restratification did not solve the crisis, because it did not actually add security. Education aides, factory workers, maintenance workers and students, who’d become those things so they could live in the cell houses, are struggling in the madness of crowded open dorms. Old men are carrying shanks for the first time in decades, in case they have to fight off a neighbor just to keep their food. And gang enforcers are holding torture sessions in the showers.

The OGs were the older voices heard that night in the shower room, declaring that the two men had had enough. They reduced the level of violence relative to what it could have been, and thus did the job they were there to do, but this doesn’t change the fact that prisoners are not law enforcement.

“Real mentoring takes place on yard call benches, in one-on-one basketball, at side tables in chow halls, or over games of chess,” one OG serving a life sentence told Filter. “It doesn’t work at all in crowded dormitories, where everyone must have their ‘front’ up to maintain the sovereignty of their nine square feet of living space.”

There’s no running away inside a locked box; only around.

It’s been two and a half years since the Department of Justice opened an investigation into Georgia state prison conditions, to determine “whether the Georgia Department of Corrections provides state prisoners housed at the close and medium security levels reasonable protection from violence by other prisoners, as is required by the United States Constitution.” (A separate DOJ investigation into GDC’s failure to protect queer and trans prisoners from sexual violence has been ongoing since 2016.) What are they still looking for?

Per GDC Commissioner Tyrone Oliver in January, only 3,006 CO posts out of 5,991 are filled. There isn’t an exact number of COs per prisoners that constitutes adequate supervision; it varies by facility. However, we can reasonably conclude that if adequate supervision means no torture sessions in the showers, the ratio of COs to prisoners needs to be higher than 1:200, which is what you’ll find here on a given weekday.

Regardless of what “justice” has come to mean among men who grow old behind bars, or how seldom it’s found in the judicial system, the courts did not sentence any of us to be held down while scalding water is poured on our feet. The agony for the rest of us is also that when you hear someone being tortured a few yards away, you have to reconcile the desire to help them with the desire to not become a target yourself. There’s no running away inside a locked box; only around.

“Debts in prison will spread,” the OG said. “You give a fuck about this guy? Then you pay his debt. [Or] you have opened the door to join the friend in pain.” 

The debt was for $15.



Image via Georgia Department of Corrections

Lucas Zane

Lucas Zane is a pseudonym. They write from inside the Georgia state prison system in the hope of dismantling the soulless judicial complex, of forestalling further warehousing of the poor, and of one day going home.

Disqus Comments Loading...