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Survival Of The Fittest
By: Robert T. Northup
Added:  01/17/2002

  Cell Conditions, Torture, Strip Cells, Isolation, Meal Restriction, Suicides, Forced Medication.
Washington State Prison at Walla Walla.


On February 21, 2001 two cell mates and I were infracted for an assault charge to which there was no victim nor proof. An unrelated incident between my cell mate Jason Pegram and correctional officers (COs) in the dining area of the chow hall precipitated the initial conflict between us and the COs at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP). The situation eventually led to such a state of opposition that my entire cell was placed in what amounted to an actual death chamber in WSP's notorious 1 North and 4 wing segregation units.

The goal of this article is to provide an illustration of Walla Walla's extremist terrorist "management" policies, which violate the most fundamental rights of human beings. Regardless of our social position or our current living arrangement, we are people who deserve

and are constitutionally entitled to basic civil rights. This testimony presents only one of the many intentional extreme denials, with malice, of these rights by WSP staff.

On 1 North, B-tier, March 12, 2001 a minor incident between a few inmates and COs (caused by verbal abuse by guards) sparked minor verbal skirmishing between COs and inmates. Certain aggressively antagonistic COs used this situation as an excuse to suit up in full riot gear. There are 26 cells on the tier, and all of us were locked in secure when the trouble started. There was NO NEED FOR FORCE -- much less the excessive force which the COs indulged themselves in.

COs shot three tear gas grenades down the tier followed by three stun grenades (designed to disable your equilibrium). They then barged through both ends of the tier with fire hoses on full blast, (the kind of hoses used to fight forest fires). They indiscriminately sprayed all of us with these 100 MPH blasts of water. None of us could breath because of the tear gas in the air. Then COs ordered us all to "get naked" and give them all our belongings -- which consisted only of hygiene and legal supplies in the first place.

SWAT team COs then proceeded to extract several of us and place us in shower stalls, hog-tied and naked. I was unlucky enough to be one of these. I was left in these restraints in the upper D tier shower stall. After an hour of being hog-tied the guy in the stall next to me (in the same position as me) started vomiting in the shower -- probably from a reaction to the combination of stun grenades, tear gas, and being left soaking wet and totally immobilized on the cold shower floor.

After two hours my arms went COMPLETELY NUMB and my spine felt severed at the center from my wrists being cuffed to my ankles behind my back for such an extended period of time.

After three hours my legs, arms, fingers and spine suffered sharp flashes of pain and my consciousness faded in and out as I listened to officers in the area yell obscenities and laugh at my current situation and pain.

Four hours passed (my approximation), and I woke from one of several losses of consciousness to discover I had feces all over the lower half of my body -- apparently the position I was in stimulated a bowel movement which I could not control because I was unconscious from pain exhaustion.

Somewhere along the line I completely lost track of time. Eventually I woke again to six or seven COs with gas masks on jabbing me with their night sticks: "Mr. Northup, you ready for movement?" "Mr. Northup, you going to comply with a direct order or do we need to further reiterate this issue?" etc., etc.

SWAT team COs then picked me up like a briefcase by the restraints connected to my ankles and wrists and transported me to my new cell. Thank God my ankles and arms were already numb, because I'm sure it would have been excruciatingly painful to be transported in such a fashion. (I later received an infraction for defiling the shower stall).

When they finally took off the restraints unexpressible severe pain was inflicted on me as the blood gradually worked its way back into my limbs. I could hear the cries of pain and pleas for medical attention as other inmates experienced the same paralyzing ordeal.

The next day LT. GLEASON told me I'd be on isolation status for two months. Additionally he informed me I'd be on strip cell status for a minimum of two weeks. On top of that: for "security reasons" they "felt it was necessary" to place me on sack lunch diet, which was also to last two weeks.

My second night on upper C-tier I begged the COs for fresh water. They had the water cut off to my cell for "security reasons." They responded, "Mr. Northup if you want water drink it from the toilet." The temperature on the tier and in the cells was life-threateningly hot, and I could barely breath because my throat was so parched. Eventually I was forced to drink the repulsive and highly unsanitary water from the toilet.

My third day on C-tier I received my sack lunch which consisted of two pieces of dry bread and one piece of hot bologna, contaminated with CO spit. I washed it down with toilet water which I'd already become accustomed to. Occasionally COs would turn on the water. Usually only certain COs would do this. To flush your toilet is classified as a privilege to be earned. Sometimes the stench of urine and feces was so strong in the cell it would induce sickness and sting my eyes.

As the days slowly passed I endured constant stomach pain caused by lack of food and fresh water to drink. Additionally COs claimed it was a "security issue" to provide me with toilet paper while I was on strip cell. As a result I was forced to stay unclean for extended periods of time.

Because I was on isolation status combined with strip cell status I received no shower or shaving materials. Two weeks finally passed and I received a roll of toilet paper. It was a very big moment for me. Nonetheless, I had six weeks of isolation status left to complete.

After a month of constant heat and no shower I broke out in sores all over my entire body. I complained through institutional grievance programs, but received no response. (Walla Walla COs are notorious for throwing out inmate grievances before they receive due process, when they don't agree with the content of the complaint!) I started to suffer from serious anxiety attacks related to lack of movement and constant isolation. The light in the cell burned 24 hours a day and created a type of sensory deprivation chamber that is beyond my abilities to explain. Silence began to consume me. I started to lose my mental stability as I struggled to maintain a sense of reality and hope for survival.

With two weeks left to go on isolation I awake from a semi-conscious stupor to find the walls in my cell breathing and my heart sporadically palpitating. The constant frog in my throat also concerns me, but I know better than to request medical attention. (The guy next to me did that last week and now he's on sack lunches, buck naked on strip cell status.)


On the last day of isolation status condensation beads up on the plexiglass window of my torture cell. Deliberate attempts by WSP COs to provoke me into arguments have failed. Cockroaches and ants crawl up and down the walls and occasionally through my hair as I sit idle and watch. I've become an element of the cell; no longer a visitor, but simply a furnishing or fixture dwelling dumbly within the concrete rubic cube of hell from which there is no escape.

I do my best to smile. Today I will shower most likely (after a full two months). I've endured the worst living conditions I can possibly imagine. I look like a caveman, but that doesn't matter: I've survived the worst part of the death chamber at Walla Walla. While living on this tier I've observed TWO SUCCESSFUL SUICIDES AND FIVE OR SIX ATTEMPTS. It takes a strong primitive instinct for survival to survive in these types of environments (whether inflicted on people by foreign terrorists, or domestic ones). Some people just don't have that in their nature. That's why Walla Walla's 1 north wing and 4 wing continue to lead the state in the suicide derby.

May 26, 2001: Lt. Frank Leonetti, CUS Robert Piver, medical staff, and CO Stevens personally escort unconscious inmate John Vickers on a stretcher to the infirmary because he collapsed from heat exhaustion. Several other inmates (including myself) collapsed from a combination of oppressive heat and moisture. On May 28, 2001, Steven McDonald has a stroke and comes very close to dying due to these conditions. The tier was designed to be a torture chamber and is successfully being used for that purpose.

Several kites and letters to WARDEN JOHN LAMBERT went unanswered. I then filed grievances, but this is an exercise in futility, because the sole purpose of the grievance procedure is to notify the administration there is a problem. The process does not work if they don't care about the problem at administrative level.

That's why we are victimized with impunity by vindictive COs who feel sure we will shut up and take this type of abuse no matter what is being inflicted upon us. Walla Walla is well aware of the obstacles prisoners face in effectively litigating a complaint against this torture. Before you can even file a law suit for civil violations, you must first file complaints with both the institutional grievance programs and the state run Department of Risk Management -- both of which are basically sham window dressing. Thus it is simply a tactic of obfuscation and delay. (This feature, by the way, was introduced into regulations by the "liberal" Bill Clinton administration. You can imagine what the Bush people will come up with!)

Both of the above processes serve as notice of intent to file a law suit. Once this happens DOC then has plenty of time to retaliate by doing a "random" cell search in order to "lose" all your legal papers and/or placing you on strip cell for a trumped up charge. Lastly, DOC and Walla Walla are also well aware that most inmates cannot even begin to afford effective counsel to represent them in civil actions in the first place!

DOC officials in Olympia are well aware of Walla Walla's abusive history and its long-time abuse of inmates. Since they continue to choose to ignore it, they are of course just as guilty as the Walla Walla administration -- just as surely as a Charles Manson or an Osama Bin Laden, etc. are guilty of the havoc wreaked by THEIR operatives.


Because of a combination of negligence by DOC headquarters in Olympia and WSP officials, inmates are being subjected to torture. As a result, some are committing suicide. Additionally, these types of environments make any inmates who are already unstable, much more dangerous -- not only to other prisoners and the vast majority of prison employees who are decent people, but also to the public at large.

Yes, we are dealing here with the well-documented phenomenon of "BLOWBACK": It is obviously not in the public interest to produce inmates who are more dangerous upon release than they were before they went in. (About 4000 people are released from custody daily nationwide according to current statistics.)

The Legislature recently passed RCW Chapter 75 which, in short, states that they can use current DOC mental health records to assist in civil commitments if necessary for violent offenders (not just pedophiles). DOC recognizes this statute, yet does nothing to effectively address the issue of ACTUAL rehabilitation. Their only concern is "control." They could care less about rehabilitation and prisoner betterment programs (which are the only REAL basis for control and security in any prison setting.) But then, why should they care? Unrehabilitated prisoners and recidivism are their job security.


Could anyone reasonably expect that any human, regardless of his or her positive intentions would NOT be prone to violence after constantly enduring these living conditions and fierce mental and physical anguish for prolonged periods of time?

Could we then reasonably suspect that DOC is breeding violence instead of attempting to curb it? How could one be surprised that after experiencing repetitive physical and psychological assaults by these vigilante gangs of incompetent, untrained, uneducated and sadistic COs, one might adapt some sort of anti-social attitudes and behaviors?


Often DOC's solution to problems is pushing psycotropic control medications designed to turn you into a vegetable. When inmates refuse to place themselves in a position to be yet again victimized in this way and suffering further mental anguish from unneeded chemicals -- DOC uses yet another illegal rehabilitation tactic: they manufacture a factitious mental health file to be used against them at a later date! But it gets deeper yet:

If you DO comply with medication orders you run a serious risk of brain damage. To fully appreciate this, you must recall that DOC's first and foremost concern is for "control." DOC will issue you Thorazine quicker than vitamins.

Lastly and most importantly: no one should be subjected to this fascistic treatment by sadistic officers who are answerable to no one. They are essentially highly paid terrorist vigilantes who are accountable only to themselves. THEY NEED TO BE HELD COMPLETELY ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE NUMEROUS ATROCITIES THEY INFLICT. Until they are, they will continue to behave in this way and cause more inmates to die in this concentration camp.

I urge anyone who reads this to please contact your legislators, the governor and the media. Please do what you can to help reform the prisons, and to end this Washington state sponsored torture you are paying for.

For further information contact:

Visit Mr. Northup's Personal Webpage

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