To torture a person is to cause intense suffering to punish or coerce by inflicting severe pain or anguish to the mind or body.
I have endured several forms of torture in the Virginia Department of Corrections at the notorious Supermax prison, Red Onion, which is famous for beating prisoners and torturing them.
My name is Sidney P. Martin, inmate No. 1416216. I’m from Chesapeake, VA and I am serving a 13-year sentence for 41 counts of grand larceny of motor vehicles.
And I didn’t deserve to be at a supermax prison in the first place. I’m not in a gang and I’ve never hurt anyone during the entire 10 years I’ve been incarcerated.
Level “S” prisoners are the worst of the worst and are sent to a Supermax prison for extreme or deadly violence, or for a notorious crime. The DC sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, for example, is housed at Red Onion State Prison. At a supermax prison, inmates are locked down and aren’t allowed outside their cells unless at least 2 officers are escorting him in full restraints.
Most states don’t have the need for a supermax prison, but if they do, they just send them to other states to be housed on an interstate compact assignment.
Today most states are outlawing supermax prisons because the mandatory solitary confinement has been proven to cause mental deterioration. Being confined to a cell 23 hours a day is inhumane. Yes, some of these prisoners are rapists and killers who deserve it, but in some cases they really don’t.
The only reason I was at a Supermax prison was because a weapon was found in my cell when I was at another prison. It was a homemade axe and they feared someone else could get the weapon.
This is my story and these are true facts that really happened.
After being at Red Onion for a while, I filed a lawsuit in federal district court for the conditions in solitary confinement. I was simply exercising my legal rights to seek government redress for constitutional wrongdoing. And that pissed off the prison.
These officers and prison officials tortured me numerous ways to try to break me so I didn’t pursue further litigation. Red Onion prison officials felt the need to place some pressure on me, in an attempt to get me to stop.
After filing the suit, I had officers come to my cell one morning telling me to cuff up and prepare for my cell to be searched. They were looking for the legal documents I had pertaining to the case. I was ready for this and 10 steps ahead of them. I’d already sent the documents home to my very loyal girlfriend.
I took the search as part of the game, because it comes with filing a lawsuit against these people. I was arrogant and made sure to let them know that I’m not like other guys because they can’t break me or deter me from this, in no way, shape or form.
They got mad and took all my pens so I had nothing to write with and then they left, after reminding me that I was making a big mistake and I should leave it alone.
Several weeks later, after continuing to file motions on the case, I got another knock at the cell door. This time the officers came in and destroyed my cell — throwing my legal stuff everywhere, breaking my electronics and throwing away my commissary purchases. They also threw out some clothing, stating it was altered when it really wasn’t. Just another tactic to try to stop me from continuing the suit.
I just shook it off and used the anger to drive forward.
About a month later, they accused me of saying that I was gonna kill myself (so they’d have the right to constrain me). Officers came to my cell to take me to the medical unit where they put me on what they call 5-point restraints.
Five Point restraints is where they strap you down on a steel bed with five straps. Two straps hold each of your arms down, two hold both your legs down and then there’s a strap across the chest, making 5 points of contact. They put me in a cold cell with the A/C blowing directly down on me. I was stripped down to a pair of boxers.
I became cold and was shivering, so I started moving my feet as if I was running in place and, believe it or not, it got my blood flowing and warmed up my body. I also meditated to relax. As time went on, it became easier.
Well, I struggled at first but used the knowledge my SEAL friend told me to get through it — tapping my fingers against the cold steel to keep my mind focused on staying on beat. After a while, it becomes harder to hold the same beat so it takes focus, which takes your mind off the irritation and pain.
That was the first time I was strapped down. I lasted 21 hours.
On the second go around, I was arrogant and told them I was excited to go to their torture chamber and maybe this time we could do 6 point restraints, which doesn’t exist. I was just being a dick. LOL.
This was by far the worst. The officers and captain turned up the pain. They used the chest strap to cause more pain by putting it higher up and under my armpits, which is extra sensitive skin. Then they pulled my arms down and restrained them so that the wrist cuffs pulled on my arms to cause pain.
Again, I fought through it and kept my calm composure. I learned you never show your enemy weakness.They were supposed to come by every 4 hours to give you a bathroom break, but not for me.
It sucked, but I toughed it out. Twenty-two hours of it.
The last time they restrained me, they sprayed the ceiling with water, making water beads form so that when you’re strapped down and every few minutes a drop of cold water hits you, it is pure hell. But I got through that and it made me stronger mentally and even lit a fire under me.
I had gotten used to the torture and wanted to use their own weapon against them. When officers strap someone down for mental health reasons, they have to file literally hours of paperwork explaining what justified their behavior.
So my strategy was to wait until 5:30 pm to state I wanted to kill myself. I’d say I’m about to cut my arm and y’all are gonna be sorry. I didn’t really feel this way but that’s what you gotta say to make it mandatory that you go in 5 points.
Well, shift change is at 6:00pm so instead of the officers being able to go home on time, I would make the supervisor and officers stay back to strap me down and do incident reports and the paperwork that requires a few hours to complete. One thing officers hate is doing a bunch of work and having to stay late. I broke them out of that. They would beg me not to do it.
Several months went by and I was being shaken down by a crew of officers and they love to try to talk trash and get under my skin but it never works cause I always talk trash back and when I do so I touch on their insecurities or weaknesses and they get in their feelings.
Remember, I never get aggressive or assaultive. I’m calm the entire time. Well, this one particular time this officer tackles me in full restraints simply for talking about how his wife was having an affair with another officer which was true and he lost it.
This officer used excessive force and I was injured because I couldn’t prevent my face from smacking the ground with my hands cuffed behind my back.
I finally figured out that to get some attention you had to go outside VDOC and bring some pressure down on them. A few days after this happened, I got my girl to call the state police on a 3-way call and I told them what had happened to me. And the very next morning, I was taken to the warden’s office and internal affairs was there. It got a lot of attention and the Red Onion warden, Jeffrey B. Kiser, didn’t like that.
After that happened, they charged me with false institutional charges and put me on phone restrictions so I couldn’t contact my girl who helped me call the state police.
I sat in my cell and strategized how I could make these officers pay and bring some attention to this torture unit.
And it hit me one night. I would sneak into the counselor’s office and call CNN and MSNBC and tell them about the torture and the conditions here at the prison and maybe get some exposure or attention, but that wasn’t it. I knew that if I was to get caught out my cell — which is unheard of at Red Onion State Prison — I could do it at a time that the officers on duty might not report it. So I planned to escape at about 5:50 pm on a Sunday when the top officials aren’t there, making it easier for the officers to go home without reporting it. And I planned to get caught going back IN to my cell (vs. going out) so my crime wasn’t as extreme.
In long-term solitary at Red Onion, the doors have a primary locking device (a steel bar that drops down in notches to secure the top and bottom of the door). It also has a secondary lock — a chain and hook outside the door — so that in case the door is accidentally opened by the booth officer, it will only open like 3 inches.
It took me 3 days to figure out how the bar dropped down in the notches and I made a wedge out of a pen tube and a spoon handle so when the door is opened, I placed my wedge in the notch hole so when the bar comes back down it won’t go in the notch and my door will be open and the chain will be the only thing stopping me.
When the door shut it worked perfectly. My door would open and the 3 inches of play I had gave me just enough room to stick my arm out and unhook the chain.
On January 5, 2020, I was ready to make my move. I rigged the cell door and was able to come out my cell without anyone noticing. I snuck down the tier while the booth officer wasn’t paying attention, and I entered the counselors office and hid under the desk. Then I called CNN and MSNBC and reached an automated news message system. I left a message stating that I was calling from a direct line out of Red Onion State Prison because I’d snuck into a counselor’s office to report get the word out that the prison staff was torturing us.
I didn’t feel like it was gonna get much attention. I called my girlfriend and others to explain what I did and I played on the computer for approximately three hours. At 5:50 pm, I snuck back to my cell. When I got to my cell door, I stomped my feet to get the booth officer’s attention and he looked out into the pod towards me. When he saw me, I ran into my cell and closed the door so it would lock.
The booth officer notified the two floor officers and they came to my cell door, put the chain on it and told me “don’t be stupid.” Then they went ahead and did the count of the prisoners before going home for the day. They didn’t report it to anyone and they didn’t even log it into a log book or anything.
Remember, it was 5:50pm and shift change is at 6:00pm, so they really wanted to go home without doing hours of paperwork. The next afternoon, when an prison official brought me some legal mail, I realized he had no idea what had occurred the day before.
So I told him that he should go watch the surveillance camera footage from between 3:00 to 6:00 pm. He asked what he was going to see and I told him he wouldn’t believe me if I told him.
About 45 minutes later, the goon squad came to my cell and escorted me to the warden’s office. There were about 15 high ranking prison officials waiting for me. The major asked me how the hell I got my cel door open?
“Y’all got a huge problem,” I told them, laughing in their faces cause I’d finally won. They were mad but I also saw the defeat in their worried faces, because they knew I could teach others how to escape from their cells, and that could lead to very big problems.
And I knew, and they probably did too, that there was no way to fix the doors without spending millions of dollars.
I am not violent and I don’t like to see people hurt. Even if these officers tortured me, they didn’t deserve to be attacked or stabbed by someone else, which was possible if one of the more dangerous prisoners got out. And I wasn’t the only one these people had tortured, so others might have a more violent version of revenge.
Well, after an investigation, it was confirmed that the officers working that day had put their fellow officers in danger of a potential ambush by not reporting my escape. All three of them were fired from Red Onion State Prison.
The Red Onion prison then put in a request to transfer me to another state, because they deemed me a threat to institutional security. I was shipped to Sussex 1, another Virginia state prison, to await my assignment to another prison.
While at Sussex 1, I noticed they had the same locking system on their cell doors as they had at Red Onion’s, so I figured it would be a great idea to teach everyone how to open the doors. I only had to teach a few of them, before it spread across the compound like a virus. Eventually, they had to do mass transfers of the prisoners who used my method of rigging the door to come out of their cells whenever they wanted.
After that, the Virginia Department of Corrections signed a $7 million dollar contract to replace all the cell doors at Sussex 1 state prison.
And then, before I could be transferred, COVID-19 broke out and I’ve been stuck at Sussex ever since.
I know I have caused havoc across the state but the torture I endured drove me to fight back and never give up. I do feel bad because that $7 million expense is coming out of taxpayers’ pockets and I don’t believe that is something hard-working Virginians should be paying for.
This story still haunts me to this day because those were some of the darkest days of my life when I felt the lowest I ever felt. There are some very cruel people in those mountains in southwest Virginia. I’m glad I’m not going to be there any more.
If you don’t believe me when I say those are some cruel people, just go watch all the documentaries on Red Onion State Prison which opened in 1998 and all the lawsuits for excessive force and the millions of dollars paid out on just settlements for lawsuits.
I still have the lawsuit pending and I came out of this stronger and more focused. I will always stand up for what I believe in and even though I may have taken my revenge too far, I didn’t deserve to be treated as I had been.
It cost me some of my sanity but I didn’t let them break me or deter me from what I believed in. No man or woman should be tortured for exercising a constitutional right, but unfortunately this is still happening right now in Red Onion.
It’s a very bad prison and I gave those evil motherfuckers hell. If I could say one thing to all the staff at Red Onion it would be, KISS MY ASS!!!!!!!