I have been transferred around the country and housed in dozens of facilities in ten different states, so I can assure you that abuse by prison guards continues to be a pervasive problem. I found conditions to be consistently worse in the South. Texas and Florida were particularly vile and atrocious when I was housed there.

Violence committed by authorities paid to protect Americans is something everyone hears about, but from which most people are sheltered. If you are mired in poverty, the chances are higher that you will experience government-sponsored violence. These victims and their families usually don’t have witnesses and objective evidence to support them. 

Imagine then how powerless prisoners are, especially juveniles, in vast concrete warehouses that are as willfully secretive as they are imposing.

What the average citizen often doesn’t realize is that our assumed legal rights, our constitutional protections, and even public support are functionally meaningless without active enforcement. And there can be no oversight if no one is made aware of the problem, particularly if no one is allowed access to the situation or is not able to witness people being oppressed or harmed. And crucially, good people need to stop covering up for the bad ones.

Excessive force and brutality inflicted by state officials are nothing new. As a state prisoner incarcerated in the American Prison Industrial Complex for 37 years (thus far), I have encountered, witnessed, learned of, and suffered from countless examples of these egregious human rights violations. Almost never is there any meaningful salvation.

The many arrests we see on the news have long been common, but, of course, omnipresent cameras are a newer development. Evidence was scarce before miniaturized video cameras. Those cameras eventually became ubiquitous in many prisons, but notably, rarely provide a glimpse into the dungeons of disciplinary segregation, other isolated housing units, and the staff areas. Captured imagery is tightly curated by officials. Even high security supermax prisons train their cameras on public hallways rather than the dark corners where staff abuses occur. And as we know, video proof is useless if recordings happen outside authority oversight and the public cannot access the footage.

Whether in a prison or out in the world proper, violence and murder, assaults and rapes, and all manner of dehumanizing degradation flourish precisely because of a lack of transparency and accountability. 

In northern Florida prisons, guards finally were caught murdering inmates by staging fake “suicides” in segregation (for just one example). It is rare for guards to be suspected of these crimes, let alone identified and successfully prosecuted. In Florida, these murders were treated no differently as a judge essentially dismissed the charges.

Some years ago when the atrocities at secret government detentions like Abu Ghraib were reported and shocking trophy photos were distributed by the proud, deranged staff, the public was appalled -and very surprised. We prisoners were not. It was no coincidence that some of those staff in government detention centers came from the Florida prison system. We encounter that behavior all the time, albeit generally less blatantly or flamboyantly.

Race often is cited as America’s primary social justice issue, but really it is ANY marginalized, disenfranchised minority who is targeted and made vulnerable. Almost anyone who is poor will suffer because they lack the same societal rights as others with access to competent attorneys or powerful friends. There are so many who are overlooked and intentionally forgotten in our society.

Don’t Miss Robert Mize’s story: “Incarcerated Lives Matter”

Juveniles, the disabled, and the mentally ill are particularly vulnerable in the prison system. LGBTQ+ people are particularly at risk in prison and face dangers that even the other groups do not. In prison, LGBTQ+ people face open hatred and discrimination not only from corrupt authorities, but also from other marginalized groups. They are an unfairly maligned and ostracized demographic with few champions.

Unwarranted police shootings and lethal reactions (literally overkill) have always been around. Commonly, a couple of frightened, perhaps cowardly, police officers will encounter an angry suspect or antagonize someone who is clearly mentally ill. The “suspect” (target) is rarely armed or is laughably outmatched.

We’ve all seen footage along the lines of, “Hey! He has something! Fire!” They then empty their guns on someone wielding, say, an icepick, even when the person is several strides away and in full view of the police – no warning shot, not even a nonlethal shot to the legs. Decades ago, a buried news account of small-town policemen who gunned down preteens playing with toy plastic guns was buried, resulting in apathy from both officials and public. These incidents are bizarre, to say the least – and disheartening.

We are far from where we need to be in this country. The wealthy, the powerful, the authorities, the media, and everyone else needs to push not only for transparency and accountability, but for true equality for EVERYONE. The public needs to learn more about their ignored, shunned, and ostracized fellow human beings. Only with compassion and empathy can you affect true change.

All the law and order, anarchy and violence, and attention and political correctness in the world won’t make things better. People need to leave the old cycles of revenge and punishment behind and stop dwelling on the immutable past. Prevention and evolution are paramount. Our future is threatened.

People only need to open their eyes – just try to care about each other and do something.

John Hovey