As salaamu alaikum. I pray that you receive this while in the highest of emaan. Alhamdulillah, you have always been there with us during our years of incarceration, supporting us and letting others know of our situation. As I have not written to you in a while, this is the latest update of our current situation; I hope that you can inform people about our situation, your readers, and also incarcerated Muslims who might end up in the Bureau of Prison’s (BOP) new Special Management Unit (SMU) program, where I am currently being housed.
Prior to arriving at United States Penitentiary (USP) Lewisburg’s SMU program on April 20, 2009, I spent twenty-three months at FCI Terre Haute in the Communications Management Unit (CMU). There has been much reported about that Department of Justice program, its illegality, and its targeting of the Muslims. The CMU program is basically designed to keep a certain group off the prison compounds, and to restrict their communications in an attempt to completely cut them off from the rest of the world. Many a relationship had been harmed or destroyed by this program. May Allah forgive us and help us.
Early this year, Ismail Royer, Sabri Benkhala and I filed a law suit against the BOP over the CMU program. Prior to that, and for the entire duration of my time spent in the CMU, I never had any problem with prison staff, but all of that ended abruptly when the law suit was filed. It was not much more than a month later that I was transferred to USP Lewisburg’s SMU program in retaliation for our law suit.
For a year and a half at CMU the administrative staff had permitted all of us to pray in small groups of three. A short time after filing the law suit, Ismail and I (and one other brother) were given incident reports for praying in a group of three and not cutting our prayer when we were told that we needed to go pray in our cells.
There was no emergency that would have necessitated us leaving the prayer, and we were praying in the same out-of-the-way corner that we had prayed in for months. There is no staff member that had not seen us pray there in the past and this was the first mention of the “pray alone in your cell policy”. The BOP claims that this is the reason for my disciplinary transfer to the SMU – for praying in a group of three. Subhanallah. So, I was transferred to USP Lewisburg.
My transfer to USP Lewisburg was an eventful one; one which might be indicative of the future outcome of this program. I was flown from Terre Haute, Indiana, to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania aboard one of the BOP’s con-air flights along with about sixty other prisoners. All of the talk on the flight was about the SMU.
When we landed in Pennsylvania we were separated onto two buses; one for medium security and the other for maximum security. I was put on the maximum security bus along with 32 other prisoners. Most of those on the bus had been to Supermax facilities, Marion or ADX, and some had been to both. Almost as soon as we were on the bus, one prisoner came out of his restraints (consisting of handcuffs, a black box, a master key, and a belly chain), and used those restraints to assault another prisoner.
Blood covered the bus with every swing of the restraints. There were puddles of blood on the floor, the ceiling was sprayed, and many of the bus’s occupants were covered in blood. The prisoner that was assaulted was in the seat directly in front of mine. With this, the prison guards sprayed the bus with pepper spray, temporarily blinding some, and causing extreme difficulties in breathing to most. The prisoner that was hit was taken off the bus and taken to the hospital. Our bus was then surrounded.
There were prison guards with their weapons drawn, airport police and safety vehicles, and I counted 15 state troopers’ vehicles. Everyone was armed. This scene attracted so much attention that the two local news stations set up cameras outside the airport perimeter. Two hours later we were escorted by state troopers to the prison. During and after the assault, the prisoners were explaining that this was going to be just the beginning.
Just as we were being introduced to the SMU. So too, were these prisoners introducing themselves. They knew what the SMU program was all about and they were letting the prison staff know that they were not going to take it laying down. Plenty of threats were laid down, and no doubt these were not simply idle threats made by people who were not ready to fulfill them.
Our arrival at USP Lewisburg was no less uneventful. We were met by dozens of prison guards in swat gear, wearing gas masks and carrying paintball guns filled with pepper spray. We were removed from the bus in small groups; a prison guard to each group’s left, right, front and rear. At 4:30a.m. on Tuesday, April 21, 2009, the day after my travel began, I was finally put into a cell.
The BOP is calling the SMU a “non-punitive” and “voluntary” program. Although they claim that it is “non-punitive” it is nonetheless the most punitive program in all of the BOP. ADX, the Supermax facility in Florence, Colorado, is comparatively a hotel compared to this program, and ADX is a disciplinary institution.
ADX has single-man cells with televisions in each cell, a great commissary and many prisoner programs, just to mention a few qualities. There is none of that here. Even the SHU, or “Special Housing Unit”, which is likewise used for disciplinary infractions, enjoys many more privileges than do we in the SMU “non-punitive” program. They are also calling the SMU “voluntary” because you can choose not to participate. Non-participation means spending 30 months in Level One, the most restrictive level in the program. If you “volunteer” and decide to participate, you can leave in as little as 18 months.
In the SMU we are not permitted to have our own property. I have enclosed a copy of the “Inmate Handbook” for the SMU as well as the Program Statement. So I will not go over each and every restriction, [it is] enough to mention only a few. We are not permitted a comb. I currently use a plastic fork to comb my hair and beard. We are permitted a Qur’an and one book, and that’s all.
We are permitted one cubic foot of legal paper work. My trial transcripts alone are two and one half cubic feet. We are not permitted any of our clothing or shoes, few hygiene items, and absolutely no food. No watches, clocks or radios are permitted. Even in the SHU, a unit designed to house prisoners for disciplinary reasons, you can have these types of items and food. The prison gives us soap, toothpaste and deodorant, all of which would not befit use by a dog. The list of prohibitions is a long one, suffice it to say, we are basically not permitted to have anything.
In addition, the phone and visitation have been severely restricted. On the compound, prisoners receive 300 minutes of phone time. I just came from the “Communications” Management Unit, a unit designed to regulate communications, yet in the SMU the phone has been restricted even to a greater degree. In Levels One and Two, SMU prisoners are permitted only two 15-minute phone calls per month, 10% of that which compound prisoners enjoy. At the CMU, prisoners had double what SMU prisoners have. In the “special” circumstances surrounding my case, I have been restricted even further at SMU. I am only permitted one call per month.
According to SIS (the prison’s Special Investigative Service) the reason for this additional restriction is, according to them, because:
“Inmate Chapman has a history of threatening and intimidating others in attempts to convert others to his own radical perceptions and radical beliefs. Inmate Chapman demonstrated an increasingly disruptive pattern of behavior at his previous institution by blatantly challenging regulations. In order to protect public safety and maintain security of this institution, this request is being submitted.”
Now, the BOP can say about a prisoner whatever they wish as there is absolutely no recourse to correcting their “mistakes”. As for the “history of threatening and intimidating others”, I have asked SIS to give me the name of at least one person that I have “threatened” or “intimidated”. To date, I have received no response. As for my “radical perceptions and radical beliefs”, I have asked SIS what they are, as I know of none. With the usage of the word “convert” I can only believe that they are talking about my religion, yet throughout my entire incarceration I have never talked to others about my religion, let alone tried to “convert” anyone.
As for my “increasingly disruptive pattern of behavior at his previous institution by blatantly challenging regulations”, my very first incident report in six years of incarceration occurred only months ago, and that was for praying in a group of three. I have not been told what this statement is referring to so I can only assume that this is what it is referring to, or perhaps, it is my law suit which I filed against CMU staff.
And as for taking away my telephone privileges to “protect public safety and maintain security of this institution”, my telephone calls are live-monitored by SIS staff and the only ones that I speak to on the phone are my wife and our children. I am locked in my cell 163 out of every 168 hours every week so I cannot understand how me using the telephone in my cell to talk to my wife and daughters could possibly disrupt the “security of this institution”. Allah, make it easy.
As for visitation, in Level One and Two, it is done via video-visiting. I never leave the unit; I look at my family on a video screen and talk to them on a phone. They do the same. I have not been permitted to hug or kiss my wife or daughters since February 2007 when I was sent from USP Big Sandy to the CMU. Allah, return me to them now.
I have always had difficulty controlling my diabetes in prison and my biggest problem right now is with my diabetes. Lock-down prisons are not designed to treat prisoners with chronic care issues. I have been here for over a month now and my diabetes has remained out of control. There are many problems here, but the worst is that I am supposed to receive insulin twice a day, at a twelve-hour interval.
I have been receiving both my morning and evening doses of insulin within a 6-hour period and then nothing for the next 18 hours. The two injections back-to-back cause me to have low blood sugar, and the 18-hour delay between injections causes me to have high blood sugar. The low blood sugars are extremely dangerous, especially in the SMU as we are not permitted to have any food which could be used to bring my sugar back up to normal.
Alhamdulillah, Allah has placed me in a cell with a good brother. Abdul Mu’min already knows more about diabetes than the prison nurses. He knows how to respond to my low and high blood sugars, and he has aided me greatly, by Allah’s permission. In addition to not being permitted to have food, Medical has barred me access to glucose squeeze tubes which are used for low blood sugar reactions.
For the past six years I have been prescribed these tubes at every institution that I have been to. Here at USP Lewisburg I was told that I would not be permitted to have them, as some people make wine with them. I wonder if making wine is one of my so-called “radical beliefs”? Probably not. Every problem that I have ever encountered with Medical in any of the institutions that I have been to have all been compiled in one place, USP Lewisburg. This is the worst medical treatment that I have ever received in prison, and that’s saying something.
Let me give you an example of the medical treatment provided here in the SMU. On May 8, 2009, the nurse brought my evening dose of insulin at 2:30p.m. When he checked my blood sugar level it was 43. This is critically low, and in many cases can cause coma or even death. The nurse then asked me to take my insulin. With low blood sugar the brain is not functioning properly, it needs glucose, but Alhamdulillah, I was cognizant enough to know that I could not take insulin that early before dinner. The dinner meal is not served until 5:00p.m. So I would have had to go two and a half hours without food (as we have no food in the cell), all the while my medication would be working to lower my blood sugar even lower.
Having spent all of this time in the cell with me, my cell mate understood that doing as the nurse asked would kill me. Abdul Mu’min tried to reason with the nurse and have him reconsider what he was trying to do, and even told him that he was going to kill me, and at this the nurse told me to “take it or leave it”. I had no choice, I couldn’t take it. I did not see a nurse again until 9:00a.m. the flowing morning when the the nurse from the afternoon before returned. Thus, I went 26 ½ hours without medication, and nearly that long without food. Alhamdulillah, for Allah’s Mercy. These people have none. All of our medical services take place cell-side as we never come out of the cell except for our five hours a week or “recreation” which consists of being put into another cell for a one hour period, Monday through Friday. So much for doctor-patient confidentiality.
We are kept in our cells so we are not permitted to participate in prison programs. We cannot go to Education, Recreation, or worse, we have no access to the Chapel. We are not permitted to go to jumu’ah prayers. We cannot have Islamic classes. We cannot go to the Chapel and use the Islamic books that are in the library there or watch the Islamic videos. Access to our First Amendment right in the U.S. Constitution, freedom of religion, has been restricted to a Qur’an and a single book in the cell. Alhamdulillah, we are only two in the cell so I should not have to worry about being put on a bus for disciplinary transfer for praying in a group of three. Allah is the Greatest!
The make-up of the prison population in the SMU consists of prisoners from every part of the country and from every gang or group that is found on the penitentiary compounds. Each group is segregated from the other because many of these groups are enemies one to another. Then, these prisoners are locked in their cells for at least one year. Everything is taken away from them. Then in Level Three they are supposed to live together in a unit – to live in peace?
Unfortunately, this is not going to be the final outcome. Many are preparing themselves for the inevitable encounter. They are training together, they are working out and getting ready to face their enemies. Plotting and planning. The final outcome will make what happened on the bus ride here forgettable; it will be one hundred times the bus. It is impossible to put these rival groups together in the same unit and think that they are going to sit down and program with each other. Program? They are going to kill each other, this is the only outcome for this type of program and everyone knows that. It is unfortunate, but is is reality.
There are several Muslims already in the SMU program, good brothers like Abdul Mu’min, and you can be sure that there are many more to follow. May Allah protect us all . May Allah protect those still in the CMU. I hope that you will inform as many people as you can. This program will not only affect those of us who are already here, but it will affect many more in the future. Although I have only explained some of my situation here, for sure mine is not unlike others here, each individual having his own set of issues, whether medical or otherwise.
Over the past month prisoners in the SMU have been chained to their beds, four-pointed, (chained by each limb) for days, while others have knocked holes in the walls of their cells in an attempt to get at other prisoners. Just a few days ago prisoners were gassed when they became upset that they were brought here, off of the compound, with absolutely no infraction of any rule. They had not even prayed in a group of three. This is the most restrictive program in the BOP; some have said that this is a program for “the worst of the worst”, and the end result here is going to be deadly. Lots of people are going to die in the SMU before the BOP is going to be willing to change this program.
That is basically our current situation, so please pray for us. Pray that Allah frees us. Pray that no more are sent here. I am trying to find a constitutional law attorney who will take this case. Any help from the community in finding one would be much appreciated. Just before I was transferred from the CMU, Sabri Benkhala was contacted by the ACLU, hopefully that means that they will take up the CMU law suit. May Allah make him and us successful in that. Any help that I can get in finding a constitutional law attorney would be great as currently we have no legal law library, and no one seems to know when, or if, we will get one. Just making a single photocopy here can take more than two weeks. There is not really much that I, or others, can do from here right now.
I know for sure that Allah will make a way out for all of us, so I hope that my letter does not come across as a complaint. I have no complaints. Alhamdulillah, I am happy with what Allah has written for me and I have no fear other than Him. Ibn Mu’ash said in one of his poems;
“…Surrounded by chains in lock,
Surrounded by wind of patience,
Songs of steel successive rounds,
Hymns of prayer in devoted grounds,
Cries of pain in sorrowful melody.
By Allah! They are not sobs of tragedy.
…When people were sawed in proportion,
When their skins were torn in succession,
When they were squeezed to change their conviction
Their bodies cried from cruel distortion,
Their emotions swam in exhaustion,
But their hearts remained in full submission…”
Allah help us. Thank you Muslim Link for all of your support, please continue to keep all of us in your prayers. Allah ma’ak,
You can write to Seifullah and let him know he is not forgotten:
Seifullah Chapman 46868-083 USP Florence Admax U.S. Penitentiary PO Box 8500 Florence CO 81226 USA