By Rob Barton
As I write this post, I am looking out the tiny window in my cell into the compound. And I notice all of these different numbers posted on the housing units: 65, 87, 140, etc. What do they stand for? Then, my eyes wander to the gun tower that sits in the middle of the yard and it dawns on me: The numbers denote the distance from the tower to our living areas (they would be better called cages, but we seek to give ourselves whatever humanity we can). They help the guards aim more precisely so they don’t miss when they shoot at us. Is this a prison or a shooting range? Sadly, it is both and we are the targets.
But there is no one who sees, except those who work here, and they don’t care. I hope that in this post, I can break through this wall of secrecy, of complicity, of impunity and reach you — and that you’ll care. I know you can’t do much; the BOP (federal Bureau of Prisons) acts like it’s a country unto itself. But change starts with seeing.
The ordeal begins
My journey from the jail in Warsaw, Virginia, began at 12:15 a.m. when I was awoken from my slumber and ordered to pack up! You’re moving. Shortly thereafter, I was marched to the freezing gym, where I found about a dozen other guys from D.C. Despite the early hour at which we were forced to end our sleep, we were left shivering there for the next 10 hours — with no place to sit or lie down except for the cold, hard floor, and not even water to drink.
As the hours ticked on, we begged the officers to come on already and put us in our chains so we could board the bus. But…we’d soon learn to be careful what we ask for, since not too long after we were begging to be released from our chains.
The C.O.s (commanding officers) finally arrived, ordering us to line up to be strip-searched one by one. They forced us to throw away our long johns and any extra underclothes as we stripped, and watched leisurely as — upon demand — we opened our mouths; stuck out our tongues; showed our gums; pulled at our ears; lifted our privates; exposed the bottoms of our feet; and bent over, spread our butt cheeks and coughed. (This same process is repeated at every destination, despite the fact that we are chained every minute and aren’t given a change of clothes, so how could we hide anything along the way? But that is not the point: It’s done for no other reason than to humiliate us.)
After this process, we were belly chained, our wrists were black-boxed to our waist, our feet were shackled to each other and we were herded onto our slave ship (bus) to be transferred to our next plantation. Although we were relieved to finally leave, unbeknownst to us, it was only the beginning of our physical and mental anguish.