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Torture in the American Gulag by Tom Cahill, Part 3

(Torture in the American Gulag . . . )

In 1968, I was editor of the alternative newspaper Inferno, in San Antonio, Texas. I was arrested for civil disobedience and placed in a crowded cell with thirty prisoners, most of them confined for violent crimes. Almost half of them were black and the other half Hispanic. There were three whites, two of whom cowered in the back of the cell. The remaining white became ringleader of the action. The prisoners had all been moved there just hours before me and the two rival factions had been building up steam to go at each other. In the parlance of prison-speak, this was known as a “gorilla cage,” a cell specially arranged for a “turning out party” in which the prisoners would bend some unfortunate candidate like a rubber tire. Later, I learned the prisoners had been told by a guard that I was a child molester and they’d get an extra ration of Jello if they “took care of me.” I was placed into this racial tinderbox, a clean-cut, well-dressed, white man, obviously ignorant of life behind bars. I wore glasses and spoke funny, too.

After the attack, I learned from my cellies how it had all been orchestrated. My FBI files (available via the Freedom of Information Act) indicate the Bureau may have set me up to be “neutralized” this way because of my anti-Vietnam war activities. What better way to deal with a political troublemaker than rape in prison? The victim is usually silenced by his or her own trauma and shame.

Since finding these things out, I’ve never had ill feelings for my rapists—but I still haven’t forgiven my country. I’m working on it though because I understand the spiritual necessity and healing power of forgiveness. Whether the FBI was involved or not, my country set up the conditions for my rape and torture. I cared enough about this country and its actions to be arrested for civil disobedience–and I was repaid in a terrible currency.

I May Be Crazy but I’m Not Insane As a prison rape survivor, I’m absolutely certain I would not be reporting on prisoner rape if not for the feminist movement that brought the subject of rape out of the closet. I’m sure I’d be in a mental hospital or, more likely, prison, since that’s where many emotionally disturbed people seem to end up these days. Rape is a human issue. This is something I’ve tried to communicate to feminists for more than a decade, but, for the most part, their attitude seems to be possessive, that rape is a woman’s issue. The shocking truth may be that far more men than women are raped in America each day—period.

In 1984, I fasted for two months to bring media attention to the issue of prisoner rape and obviously to my own pain. The San Francisco Chronicle interviewed me at length in my camper parked outside the gates of San Quentin.

I wanted badly for the story of prisoner rape to appear in a major national newspaper. After waiting two weeks, I figured it wasn’t going to be printed, so I went to the Chronicle to find out why. Hoping for the best but expecting a brush-off, I brought a hammer along. I planned, if necessary, to smash a computer monitor because (1) I wanted to finish my fast, one way or other, in jail to make it that much more difficult for society to continue to ignore this barbarism. And (2), if I survived, I wanted to be able to afford to make restitution if I chose to.

Immediately after identifying myself on the phone in the lobby, the reporter upstairs told me he knew about me and rudely hung up. I selected one of the plate glass doors to make my statement. First I went outside, assumed the lotus position and among other things, I asked the door for forgiveness. I then rose with difficulty, put the hammer through the door, and resumed the lotus position, waiting for the police

As you can tell by now, I am crazy. The Veteran’s Administration agrees and in 1987 awarded me a 100 percent, non-service-connected disability pension for PTSD. I am crazy. I suffer from depression, rages, flashbacks, paranoia, multiple personalities, and sexual dysfunction, to name some of my symptoms of rape trauma syndrome. But I’m not insane. I know the difference between right and wrong and I’m no danger to myself or others. This is more than I can say for many of those who make the law, interpret the law, and enforce the law.

For me to finish my own healing process, I need this barbarism to end, or to at least be greatly minimized. As president of SPR, Inc., every day I hear the screams for help or the weeping pain of new victims and old survivors.

The War on Drugs and Prisoner Rape as a ‘Management Tool’
I submit that the war on drugs never, ever had anything to do with public health. From its beginning in 1968, it was Richard Nixon’s scheme to politically neutralize young men of color and the predominately white counterculture of which I am a long-time member. And like most wars, it’s been about political and economic expedience. The war on drugs is a civil war against America’s poor. As in any war, in the name of national security, civil rights are suspended and atrocities are committed. And since more than half of the men, women and children locked-up in America are confined for drug-related crimes (a majority of them non-violent and victimless crimes), they should be more correctly called “political prisoners.” This is why I use the word gulag, the old Soviet term for a prison system filled with political prisoners.

Reagan greatly escalated Nixon’s war on drugs, doubling the prison population, thus making the American gulag the biggest in the world. Bush doubled it again, and, for over a decade, the US has had more prisoners per capita than any other country in the world. California provides a telling example: even though new prison spending has outstripped new colleges by 19 to 1, the state predicts that all of its prisons will be filled to capacity by April of 2001.

America is feeding its voracious prison/industrial complex with this spurious War On Drugs. Now, in 1999, according to Amnesty International, conditions in America’s correctional institutions have gotten so bad that AI launched its “Rights for All Campaign,” focusing on human rights violations in the US criminal justice system.