It's Going Down

Bloc Party: Interview with Former Vaughn Prisoner Thomas Gordon

“Sadly in an institution that is run solely off of fear and solely off of aggression and solely off of violence, the only way that they’ll listen is if you, in return, apply some sort of force or some sort of threat of force yourself. And that’s just the nature the beast within the present institution because they respect nothing else. They respect nothing else.”

In this week’s Bloc Party, we caught up with Thomas Gordon–who was released last month from the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (JTVCC) in Symrna, Delaware. JTVCC (or “Smyrna” as Thomas calls it) was the site of a massive uprising on February 1, 2017, when inmates in the C-building took control of their unit and held staff hostage. They called the media, released a list of immediate demands, and explained their actions as motivated by their conditions of confinement as well as the election of Donald Trump as President. One prison guard, Steven Floyd, was killed by inmates during the uprising.

Thomas is the author of the “Open letter to Warden Parker of Vaughn Correctional Center,” which was published a month after the uprising and was the first document to emerge communicating in detail the motivations and demands of the prisoners who risked their lives to assert their right to be treated like human beings. Thomas writes in his open letter that he “stands in solidarity” with those who participated in the uprising.

Thomas talked to us about the conditions at Vaughn, his childhood friends who are now facing murder charges after the uprising, the cruelty of the prison guards who treat prisoners like animals, and the inevitability of a violent outcome.

He also talked specifically about Sgt. Floyd, the guard murdered during the uprising, telling us that Floyd was a “correctional officer who has a history of abuse within a facility, who has a history of mistreatment, of mistreating prisoners within a facility. Who has a history of just going out of his way to do everything in his power to make a hard time harder…This is a guy who ended up getting what he had coming for a long time coming. For a lot of mistreatment that he did to people while they were in the SHU.” This previously silenced perspective adds a layer of complexity to the simplistic eulogizing of Sgt. Floyd on the part of the prison guard union, the State of Delaware and their eager parrots in the mainstream media.

Our conversation covered a range of topics and at times reached far beyond the context of an immediate prison and its conditions to speak directly to what it means to be human. We discuss the use of violence and force as a strategic means of achieving goals, monstrosity and power, Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, sabotage, rehabilitation, and the importance of outside support.

Prisoner surrender following a 18 hour uprising at the Vaughn Correctional Center in Delaware (Source: ABC News)

Notes and Links

  • Please donate to Thomas’ post-release fund.
  • To write to those facing serious charges in association with the uprising last year, download this poster with addresses for each of the 18 people currently charged. Print it off and share it with friends. Let’s make sure they know they’re not alone.
  • On October 17th, the Delaware Department of Justice charged sixteen prisoners with murder charges for the death of a correctional officer. Those sixteen along with two other prisoners are also looking at counts of kidnapping, conspiracy, and rioting. As of this writing, six of these prisoners have pleaded “not guilty” and demanded jury trials. Of these six, five are charged with first degree murder. The judge in the case has said that he plans to try the defendants in groups of 4 and has set the next status hearing for March 9, 2018. The Delaware Office of Defense Services recently announced that the costs of defending those charged will exceed their budget and have requested an additional $750,000 from the state. Because the Office of Defense Services is representing a witness in the case, the cases will be handled by a private attorneys from the Office of Conflicts Counsel.
  • In November, we put out an article on the uprising at JTVCC with updates on the situation and a thorough articulation of the strategic importance of supporting prison rebellion.
  • Thomas refers to the “CLASI” law suit and the way it changed things in Delaware prisons. The civil suit by the Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. (CLASI) was settled in September, 2016 and had a huge impact on the way Delaware prisons were run. Many of these changes required extra funds and extra staff, causing an additional stress on a prison system already struggling to function.
  • Following the uprising at JTVCC, the Governor of the State of Delaware commissioned an
    Independent Review of Security Issues at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center” executed by two retired judges and a nonprofit organization called the Police Foundation. This report contains a wealth of information on the situation at JTVCC.
  • As of last week, JTVCC still had 123 vacant staff positions and a variety of other serious issues that could contribute to continued rebellion.
  • We discuss with Thomas an essay entitled “##The Movement: Silent No More,” which was written following the uprising by a prisoner named Fenel Baine at JTVCC. We’ll publish the article below in full. You can write to Fenel Baine at this address:
  • Fenel Baine  DOB: 08/07/1986
    JTVCC
    1181 Paddock Road
    Smyrna, DE 19977
A prison guard stands on a tower during the uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Feb. 1, 2017, (Source: AP)

##The Movement: Silent No More

by Vaughn Prisoner Fenel Baine

The time has arrived. The smoke has cleared. The dust has settled. The hopeless have found their voice and we’re saying “NO MORE!” No more oppression. No more injustice. No more lynching. No more trampling our inalienable rights underfoot. No more putting our mothers and children through this misery and leaving our families to fend for themselves in a cold, cruel world. No more.

We hostages of James T. Vaughn Correctional Center have taken upon ourselves to take a stand and speak up and speak out about the systemic abuses that we suffer from everyday under the iron hand of Delaware’s criminal justice system. This system is arrogantly racist, brutally oppressive, and blatantly disregards the natural endowment of human right. These people piss on the constitution in this state. Fundamental rights are discretional privileges at their expanse that they withhold from the poor, the minority, and anyone who isn’t tied to their corrupt system of things.

For too long Delaware has been carrying out Jim Crow-era practices against defendants charged with offenses in this state. This state has THE WORSE criminal justice system in the country and has done an immaculate job hiding under a cloak of secrecy for too long. Their scheme is so sophisticated that even states it shares a border with are oblivious to their order. Defendants in this state (especially African-Americans), are stripped of any right afforded by our constitution once they are thrust into Delaware’s gallows as enemies of the state. We are tossed into Kangaroo Courts without a shred of due process in front of racist juries who only know one word: GUILTY. We are pressured into taking plea bargains regardless of our guilt or innocence–with the threat of losing trial and receiving life or death sentences. Our attorney’s act as prosecutors who coerce us into signing our lives away with outrageous plea-bargains, without lifting a finger to fight for our liberty.

Once we are inevitably convicted, we are over-sentenced by racist judges who punish us for exercising our constitutional rights to a trial, for “wasting their time.” From there we are tossed on prison plantations under the authority of racist correctional officers who further punish and oppress at their discretion. Correctional facilities (which should be property called corruption facilities), focus solely on the “punitive” aspect of the equation with no attempt to include the more important “rehabilitative” approach. This is properly shown by the ultra-high recidivism rates in this state. The convicted are legally castrated and stripped of any protections they may have–if any–that the courts didn’t take already.

We are warehoused and caged with hardly any access to any rehabilitative or educational programs. We work for slave wages and are aggressively punished for the slightest infractions. For example: Having more than 4 pair of socks or boxers is considered a violation subject to disciplinary action. Having over 5 books to educate yourself or extra soap to clean yourself is also considered a violation. The disciplinary process is a replica of the trial process in our courts, in which the accused are convicted without the benefit of due process. Once convicted you are relocated to maximum security, the prison’s “SHU” system, which is in effect, a prison within a prison. Guards beat and kill inmates, medical staff kills inmates–through inadequate care, medical malpractice, and misdiagnosis–and any bureaucratic oversight and regulation is virtually non-existent. Couple this with outdated infrastructure, molded showers and cells, a destructive diet over-saturated with processed carbs–and you began to understand why the majority of the population is laden with health problems, ranging from diabetes to all forms of cancer.

No more. Today we take a stand. Our families will be our representatives who will take our call for Justice to the mountaintops. They will be our ambassadors in this noble fight. We will push, we will pull, we will scream, we will march and protest. We will demand our place since power concedes nothing without demand. The kingdom suffers violence, but the violent take it by force. We’re done making excuses, now it’s time we make history.

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