Creating broken men? A discussion on the U.S. domestic torture program

December 4, 2012: SF Bay View

by Zaharibu Dorrough, J. Heshima Denham, Kambui Robinson and Jabari Scott, NCTT Corcoran SHU

  “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or  mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as  obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession,  punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is  suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing a third  person.” – United Convention Against Torture, Art. 1, Sec. 2

We extend our heartfelt greetings to you, brothers and sisters.

Many discussions are taking place on the nature of the indefinite  solitary confinement program in the U.S. prisons and whether or not it  constitutes torture. The debate on what to do about the program itself  is being held at every level of social organization, from the U.S.  Senate to the United Nations, from the California Legislature to the  short corridors of Pelican Bay and Corcoran SHUs.

[Photo in original: Corcoran State Prison – Photo: Ben Margot, AP]

Academics from multiple disciplines, from psychologists to  sociologists, have all weighed in with the objective, scientific  analysis that indefinite SHU confinement is not only torture, but even  limited SHU confinement results in irreparable psychological damage.  Yet, as with the Bush era “torture papers,” the socio-economic and  political interests of the capitalist tend to supersede and supplant  objective evidence, moral reason and human decency.

Such debate, which only continues in the presence of arguments  contrary to the obvious reality of the U.S. domestic torture program in  SHUs across the U.S., is not only ludicrous, it’s reality, and it is  this lethal component to the debate which forces us to share a  perspective which should end the debate definitively, leaving behind  only the inescapable truth: Amerika maintains the largest domestic  torture program on earth. The state of California runs the largest  torture program in Amerika, and it continues to exist in your name, with  your tax dollars, because you allow it to.
A recent incident here in Corcoran SHU’s short corridor compels us to  give voice to the outrage we should all feel at the continued  maintenance of the indeterminate SHU debriefing process of the U.S.  domestic torture program: Another suicide, Armando Morales (Baby Paya), a  validated Mexican prisoner from Los Angeles who had been confined to  SHU for almost a decade, hanged himself after the IGI moved him from the  4B-1L-C-Section short corridor, to 4A-1R.
The reason(s) that Armando was moved are the typical ones associated  with the coercive tactics employed to break men’s minds: After his  girlfriend had been compromised by IGI and other state and federal law  enforcement, those same agencies mounted an effort to put pressure on  Armando, who was actually a baby in terms of what he did and did not  know, as it relates to the enormous pressure that law enforcement will  apply to coerce information from persons they’ve targeted.
In response to that pressure, he took his own life. Naturally, IGI  and the state will seek to escape any culpability, and their response to  this is that each person is responsible for his own conduct. We should  all recognize the illegitimacy of such a position – that this is nothing  more than an excuse to try and separate themselves from a situation  that they are responsible for by their reckless and barbaric disregard  for our humanity.

Amerika  maintains the largest domestic torture program on earth. The state of  California runs the largest torture program in Amerika. 


We know this primarily because the vast majority of us have been in  these tortuous madhouses for decades. One day is too long and not a  single illegal act or rules violation has been committed by us to  justify this, which is, by international law, unjustifiable.

But we also  know this because our research into the origins of the torture program  reveals that this type of systematic psychological degradation to coerce  information and create broken men is its purpose. The domestic U.S.  torture program carried out in SHU (aka SMU, control unit etc.) style  prisons finds its origins at a meeting of social scientists and prison  wardens held in Washington, D.C., in 1962, recruiting the findings of  Dr. Edgar Schein, which he delivered to them in his man-against-man  brainwashing. In addressing the group Dr. Schein stated:

“I would like you to think  of brainwashing not in terms of politics, ethics or morals, but in  terms of the deliberate changing of human behavior and attitudes by a  group of men who have relatively complete control over the environment  in which the captive populace lives.” 

The techniques he espoused would  also require, to be effective, a new type of environment conducive to  altering the very foundations of one’s perception of reality. For this  the state took Dr. Levinson’s sensory deprivation prison unit design and  a form of Skinnerian operant conditioning called “learned  helplessness.”
This last technique is a key factor of both validation based  indeterminate SHU confinement and the debriefing process. “Learned  helplessness” is a systematic process of conditioning to crystalize in  the imprisoned victim’s mind that he has no control over the regulation  of his existence, that he is completely dependent on the state and its  guards for the necessities of “life,” that he is helpless and must  submit to the state’s power and control.

Our  research into the origins of the torture program reveals that this type  of systematic psychological degradation to coerce information and create  broken men is its purpose.


This is, of course, contrary to core human consciousness and a linear  thought divergence into two options, “resistance or escape.” The  program is designed to apply maximum punitive coercion against  “resistance” from the outset – from physical removal from the general  (prison) population to sensory deprivation, using informants,  collaborators and agent provocateurs to erode trust amongst those of  like circumstances, punishing uncooperative attitudes, prohibiting  collective thought or expression while simultaneously employing group  punishment, arbitrary punishment and property restrictions etc.
At the same time, those who are capable of prolonged or indefinite  resistance through ideological consistency, political development or  force of will – like victims of crucifixion left to rot on crosses during the Roman Empire – they serve as powerful deterrents to those of  lesser psychological resilience or those in general population to not  resist and instead explore the second option: escape.
The state of California has made its escape option clear since taking  the Schein-Skinnerian-Levinson system to its heights in erecting the torture units at Pelican Bay SHU. There are only three escape options available to you: parole, debrief or die. Due to the successful  corporate influences of the prison industrial complex on the  legislative, political and, to a degree, cultural processes in the  nation over the past quarter century, most validated SHU prisoners are  serving mandatory minimum, enhanced or BPT (Board of Prison Terms) based  sentences and their very confinement to SHU is prohibitive to their  parole.

A cell in the Corcoran SHU

The Board of Prison Terms has repeatedly stated to validated  prisoners seeking parole:

 “If you want a parole date, you probably want  to think about debriefing.” 

This reinforces the psychological pressure  on those already weakened by the enforced conviction that they have been  abandoned by and isolated from society – and only through submission  and subserviency can they be socially accepted as human beings.
This form of “escape” – debriefing – is consistent with points 7, 8  and 9 of Dr. Schein’s behavior modification techniques: (7) exploitation  of opportunities and informers; (8) convincing prisoners they can trust  no one; (9) treating those who are willing to collaborate in far more  lenient ways than those who are not.
Again, our personal experience with  the state and its use of such opportunistic broken men against those of  us who are committed to resistance has been demonstrated here at  Corcoran-SHU on a number of occasions in which agents posing as  revolutionary progressives have tried to undermine the efforts of the  NCTT (New Afrikan Collective Think Tank), and when those efforts failed,  they locked up and debriefed.
It was only through our collective education and insight and  experience with these periodic Cointelpro-style attacks on progressives  which allowed us to identify and resist the attack and mitigate its  political disorder. But this does not negate the damage done by the  broken males to the unity and progress of resistance in the SHU  population.
Though political immaturity by some elements played a role in the  mistrust and disunity that resulted from it, in the broader population,  it is the nature of the domestic torture program itself to create such  broken males that we must understand is prohibited by the international  community – and the U.S. knows this in analyzing the effects of such  broken males on the psychology of certain elements in SHU. Other such  examples of torture being put to such use against those who resist in  Pelican Bay, here and across the U.S. is legion.

The state  of California has made its escape option clear since taking the  Schein-Skinnerian-Levinson system to its heights in erecting the torture  units at Pelican Bay SHU. There are only three escape options available  to you: parole, debrief or die. The Board of Prison Terms has  repeatedly stated to validated prisoners seeking parole: “If you want a  parole date, you probably want to think about debriefing.”

In the etiology of the U.S. domestic torture program, Marion Control  Unit was the first. When former Marion Warden Ralph Aron was asked why  the torture unit was built, he replied, “The purpose of the Marion (and  all) controls unit(s) is to control revolutionary attitudes in the  prison system and society at large.” These broken males thus serve to  not only damage or destroy progressives in prison but the attitudes and  ideas of progressives in society at large.

It was always meant to be this way. To be sure, Dr. Broder, the  psychotherapist who implemented Dr. Schein’s brainwashing program at  Marion envisions those paroled broken men as “therapeutic technicians”  who will take these techniques and warped views back into the community.  Some 30 years later we have a snitch culture that derides objective  facts in favor of a corporate media-created fantasy, and it owes some of  its existence to the disastrous effects of isolation, which leads to  the inevitable final “escape”: Death! Suicide rates in these sensory  deprivation torture units are magnitudes higher than those in general  population.
Speaking these words simply does not convey the reality of what we  all know intimately: the transient appeal of the void as an alternative  to endless isolation. We all know of the disastrous effects of isolation  because we have seen what it does, along with the pressures that the  state brings to bear on us all daily in its efforts to break us, efforts  that include compelling the taking of one’s own life.

“The  purpose of the Marion (and all) controls unit(s) is to control  revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and society at large.”

If this domestic torture program did not exist, Armando and so many  others would still be alive today. But his is only the “escape” view of  death. There is also a “resistance”-based view of death – that all of us  who will never be counted amongst the broken men not only understand,  but have demonstrated twice before, and may well be compelled to do  again: peaceful protest in the form of hunger strikes, mass single cell,  work stoppage etc.
Christian Gomez died [a year ago], not “escaping” these torture units  but “resisting” these torture units, and it is this dialectical view of  this final option – that death is an active and practiced form of both  escape from and resistance to indefinite SHU confinement – is the final  and definitive proof that it is, undebatably, torture.
During an assembly hearing on solitary confinement on August 24,  2011, a former Corcoran-SHU prisoner testified, “For someone to be  willing to lie down and die just for someone to hear the situation … in  the SHU program, they must be serious.” His assessment was correct. We  are serious. The question is, are we as a society serious about  upholding basic tenets of humanity. People are dying who could be saved  while you are reading these words.

A former  Corcoran-SHU prisoner testified, “For someone to be willing to lie down  and die just for someone to hear the situation … in the SHU program,  they must be serious.” His assessment was correct. We are serious. The  question is, are we as a society serious about upholding basic tenets of  humanity.

And now you know. This is a system that must be abolished. It is a  system that has robbed us all of some part of our humanity and has  caused us to lose our way as a nation. So many of us have stood idly by  as the U.S. has strode the world stage criticizing other nations for  systematic human rights abuses and demanding that others meet their  obligations to the world community, while they maintain the single  largest domestic torture program and the single largest prison  population on earth. If the U.S. is going to continue to insist that  other nations meet their international obligations under U.N. treaty  resolutions, they must do the same and adhere to the U.N. Convention  against Torture.
They have proven that they will not do so without compulsion. We must  ensure that they do so, as a nation of the people, for the people and  by the people. If we are doing anything less, we are complicit in the  state’s hypocrisy.
The Pelican Bay D Short Corridor has given us the proper onus for  unity in their historic “agreement to end hostilities” issued for Oct.  10, 2012. We call upon all of you brothers and sisters across the nation  in prison yards and hood blocks, in SHUs and barrios: Take up this call  also. Turn your attention not toward one another, but to those who have  condemned us all to languish at the lowest rungs of this locked  anti-poor society: the ruling 1 percent.

Many of us  have stood idly by as the U.S. has strode the world stage criticizing  other nations for systematic human rights abuses and demanding that  others meet their obligations to the world community, while they  maintain the single largest domestic torture program and the single  largest prison population on earth. If the U.S. is going to continue to  insist that other nations meet their international obligations under  U.N. treaty resolutions, they must do the same and adhere to the U.N.  Convention against Torture.

Join the movement – embrace, support, join or form your own local  Occupy or anti-prison industrial complex formation. Build coalitions.  And in doing so, change this world. Come, let us make peace.
Our love and solidarity,
Corcoran SHU NCTT:


  • Zaharibu Dorrough, D-83611, 4B-1L-53, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212 [53?]
  • J. Heshima Denham, J-38283, 4B-1L-43, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212
  • Kambui Robinson, C-82830, 4B-1L-49, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212
  • Jabari Scott, H-30536, 4B-1L-63, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212

  • NCTT stands for NARN (New Afrikan Revolutionary Nation)  Collective Think Tank. All are held in solitary confinement, an  internationally recognized form of torture, in the SHU (Security Housing  Unit) at Corcoran State Prison. See also their website at: NCTTCorSHU.org
    Published in: SF Bay View, Dec. 4th 2012
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