Tom Manning - Essays - In My Time  

By Tom Manning, Political Prisoner, USA, May 10, 2004

     I became aware through newspaper photographs that the prison cells built by KBR/Halliburton at Guantanamo Bay [Gitmo] do not have plumbing.  That surprised me, considering the price that KBY/Halliburton charged the U.S. tax payers for those cells.

     In the early sixties I was a Seabee in the U.S. Navy, stationed at Quonset Point/Davisville, Rhode Island, with Mobile Construction Battalion One [MCB #1]

     We were deployed for sea duty, to Gitmo, to build emergency housing for ten thousand Cuban refugees that America anticipated would flee Cuba for the confines of Gitmo, in 1958, when Fidel liberated this Island nation.  It took nine months to complete, and was named “Tin City.”

     We dredged hundreds of tons of living coral from the ocean in proximity to the base, and deposited it in a lagoon that was enlarged to accommodate the project.  The coral was crushed and leveled to form a floor surrounded by cliff-like excavated walls on three sides, with one side remaining open toward the sea.

     Then the housing was built, of Quonset huts, which are corrugated tin barrel-like dwellings in groups, or pods, of nine huts; eight sleeping huts with no plumbing surrounding a ninth hut that was supplied with fresh water and sewage.  I worked on the plumbing, from digging the supply and waste ditches, then leveling them, to laying in the supply and waste pipes and septic tanks and leach fields.  I was on the crews that installed twelve toilets, twelve wash basins and twelve head shower rooms, in each central (9th) hut.

     During our time in Cuba, we had to adapt to the blistering heat by working tropical hours; working from 5 in the morning, until 2 in the afternoon, with a half hour lunch and two 15 minute breaks.  We further, voluntarily opted to forgo the lunch and 2 breaks so that we could get off the job site by 1 PM, due to the mid-day heat.

     Given this personal knowledge of the area, and recognizing the surrounding terrain in the current news photos as the old Seabee/Kittery Beach area, my initial thought was that it would be terrible to be confined in a metal cage there, without adequate water.

     Add to that, being at the mercy of young, poorly trained military personnel, for what water you do get, and what toilet access you get.

     I have been held in cells during my time in U.S. prisons [24 years, 6 months, at this writing] without water or toilet a number of times.  I have been subjected to the whims of whatever guards happened to be working the block on any given shift.  I know that having a guard that consistently acts in a proper manner is the exception, not the rule.

     While thinking about how to write about these thoughts and observations, concerning water, the pictures from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, have come out.  And the information and pictures continue to come.

     Automatically my mind goes into replay mode. 

     During my time in U.S. prisons my right knee has been permanently damaged by being stomped on during a cell beating by five guards [Walpole State Prison, Ten Block DSU, 1969]  The leg was up on a bunk while I was on my back on the floor with several guards “monkey piling” me, another guard stomped the knee, hyper-extending it, causing me to pass out from the pain.  After that, I only had 15% flex of the knee, until I had it surgically corrected, when I got out of prison in 1971.

     Shortly after being captured in 1985, I was body slammed onto a concrete floor while cuffed to a waist-chain, with black-boxed handcuffs and leg irons.  That resulted in a fractured hip that wasn’t repaired until 1999 with a total artificial left hip replacement  The Motrin I took for pain in the intervening years, gave me ulcers and damaged my kidneys, which now function at less than 50% efficiency.  I’ve often had to take iron pills to overcome anemia, caused by internal bleeding, and am currently on calcium pills to make up for the calcium my kidneys are spilling.

     My shoulders have both been severely damaged during beatings, while I was cuffed behind my back, during forced blood takings.  This resulted in surgery on both shoulders.  These joint surgeries on the knee, hip and shoulders, is evidenced by twenty one collective inches of surgical scars, not counting three orthoscopic surgeries.

     I have been stun-gunned twelve times in one night, resulting in temporary paralysis of my left side, like a stroke.  And then, on two other occasions I was also stun-gunned, once each time.

     I have been photographed naked numerous times in Federal prison, and also by NJ State police and the FBI; gratuitously strip searched uncountable times.

     Dragged and slung around by leg irons, into walls and up and down stairs. 

     Strapped to a gurney with my head overhanging the front, and then run through the prison; rammed into every door-frame or door and corners.

     Tear gassed in my cell at least six times.

     Forced to exit my cell naked, with my fingers laced on top of my head and told by a squad of six ninja-turtle suited guards that if I lowered my arms it would be considered an act of aggression and treated accordingly, while a German Shepherd dog was barking so close to my genitals that I could feel his breath and spittle striking me.  Then forced to run down six flights of stairs, like that, with a dog and handler at every landing, shepherding us along. 

     The group that I was in, was then herded into a large visiting room where all 24 of us stayed, naked, from 2 AM, until 8 AM, while our cells were wrecked; our personal property destroyed.

     I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been left in cells for hours while black-box handcuffed and leg ironed; spending as much as 17 and 20 hours in such restraints during transport and waiting delays, with no water and no toilet access.  I have numb areas on my hands, wrists and ankles, from this treatment, and from being kept in control unit prisons for years, locked down for 23 hours or more a day; never less than this (6 years in NJ; 3 years at Marion; 3 years at ADX, Florence; and 2 years in Walpole, MA in the 1960’s) for a total of 14 years of lock down.

     So pardon my being unpleasantly bemused at the “shocked and amazed” reaction of the U.S. public to this most recent “scandal.”  I’ll be interested to see how long “the public’s” attention can be focused on this one.  And I invite every prisoner, and ex-prisoner, who reads this to sit down and write out and send out her/his own experiences of imprisonment and abuse.  OR, tell of the most memorable abuse you witnessed. 

     Example: when I was newly arrived at Trenton NJ’s control unit, I heard laughter and whimpering.  I looked out of my cell to see a very fat, young white prisoner stretched out on the floor, his arms extended beyond his head, hands cuffed and legs shackled.  His shirt was pulled up, off his body, over his head and onto his arms, his pants were down around his ankles, leaving him naked from calves to forearms.  Guards were standing on his restraints on both ends, and a baton was protruding from his rectum.  Nobody else in the control unit cells was responding. I went nuts, screaming and kicking my cell door.  I believe that over my years in MCU, I helped break through the apathy of the prisoners, and have heightened the resistance to such treatment. Of course, the treatment was worsened, accordingly.

But then, I would rather die on my feet than linger on my knees.

The Struggle Continues!

Tom Manning, Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas, USA
 Thomas W. Manning 
 P.O. Box 1000 
Leavenworth, KS  66048


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