Mark spent a week in Cook County jail. Unlike most prisoners, he was not assigned a cell. Instead, he and several other prisoners were shuffled around the jail for an entire week: never assigned a cell, never given a mattress; allowed to sleep a couple of hours at a time on cold concrete floors. No shower, no clean clothes; days without food or water; when he was fed, he was then left for hours in a closet with no toilet where he soiled himself. His mom, brother, girlfriend, and lawyer all tried to visit him–only to be told that he could not be found. After a week, he finally found a friendly fellow prisoner who called his mother. She immediately went to the jail to bond him out. Disoriented, dehydrated, and psychologically damaged, he is now a broken human being.Christopher lay dying on his cell floor. Guards stand around laughing at him, opining that he couldn’t have had a seizure because he didn’t “piss on himself.” They drag him from his cell, screaming “stop resisting” despite the fact that he is obviously unconscious and unresponsive. A nurse finally comes, but rather than declare a medical emergency, she kicks him, rolls him over, and sticks a needle in his ass. Shortly thereafter, he dies.
Both of these examples of brutality are the subject of pending federal civil rights cases. The Uptown People’s Law Center has joined with Greg Kulis and Brian Orozoco to represent Mark in Chicago’s federal court. Mark described his ordeal during a six hour deposition yesterday, during which he broke down sobbing repeatedly as the States Attorney forced him to relive every graphic detail minute by minute. Christopher’s case was filed in federal Court in Colorado, and is the subject of a powerful article by Cassandra Rules. Warning: GRAPHIC VIDEO
We expect both Mark and Christopher’s family to be compensated for the suffering they endured. But there is a deeper problem: While the results in these two cases were spectacularly horrific, the underlying attitude; the failure to treat those in our prisons and jails with the basic dignity which is the right of every man, woman, and child–of every human being–that failure is the norm. The level of brutality which has become acceptable in prisons and jails is simply unintelligible to most people.
Those of us that deal with these men and women every day need to be on guard against this attitude. We too easily lapse into the attitude that prisoners sleeping on the floor (something that happens every single day at Stateville’s Northern Reception Center) is ‘normal.” That a prisoner who “only” spent a month in solitary wasn’t subjected to “excess” solitary; that a woman held in a “crisis cell” for six months was at least getting “some” mental health care.
But in reality, NONE of this is acceptable. None of this is normal. All of this is brutality which should not be tolerated. Brutality can not be allowed to become the new normal.
The mission of the Uptown People’s Law Center is to establish, administer, and promote programs providing legal aid to indigent persons, assisting community residents in obtaining legal services and benefits, and educating and training residents, paraprofessionals and community attorneys. However, this mission has always been as much about raising awareness as handling cases. The Law Center operates on the belief that educating people on their legal rights will help enable them to fully exercise self-help – an essential step in building and preserving a strong and vibrant community. The Chicago Area Foundation for Legal Services, in its first newsletter, succinctly described the Law Center as “a classic community organization that just happens to practice law.”
Alan Mills, Esq., Director
Uptown People’s Law Center
4413 N. Sheridan
Chicago, Illinois 60640