He says. They say. But what went on?

July 26, 2008|By GREGORY KANE

The inmate claims officers at the Maryland Correctional Institute at Hagerstown tortured him physically and mentally, and then denied him the medication he needed to lower his high blood pressure.

"I am writing because I am going through racial cruel and unusual punishment," Michael Vaughn wrote in a letter postmarked July 2. "Since I've been on J-1 [a disciplinary segregation section of the prison] I've been called [racial and other epithets]. I've been choked unconscious with handcuffs on, I've had my meals took for five days, I've had a plastic shield in front of my cell which blocks air from coming in my cell."

Vaughn said there are no windows in his cell, and that blocking the cell door with the plastic shield caused him to "suffocate and faint, and I was denied medical attention."

I get letters like this from time to time, and I suspect that fellow columnists Dan Rodricks and Jean Marbella get them too. But we also get the complaints from corrections officers, who say they are understaffed, overworked, put in constant danger and have to deal with bogus complaints from inmates who falsely accuse them of infractions.

The inmates counter that some corrections officers are brutal, corrupt, nasty and frequently violate their rights. A journalist never knows whom to believe in such cases, and at times we play Russian roulette with our sanity in trying to sort out the truth, only the metaphorical revolver has bullets in five of the six chambers instead of just one.

I'm still trying to get to the truth of what happened in the case of Vaughn, who accuses corrections officers at the Hagerstown facility of threatening to continue his excessive punishment if he asked to be transferred to the Roxbury Correctional Institution, the Western Correctional Institution or the Maryland Correctional Training Center, all of which are located in Western Maryland.

"However," Vaughn wrote, "they never mentioned Eastern Correctional Institution (located on the Eastern Shore) or the Maryland Correctional Institution at Jessup. So I am asking to be transferred to either institution."

It was at this point in reading Vaughn's letter that I wondered if I'd taken too much insulin before my last meal. My blood sugar must have been down in single digits. Or maybe I had vision problems. I took off my glasses and peered at the sentence real close-like, but it read the same way.

This guy was really asking to be transferred to a facility at Jessup. I've heard of inmates trying to get the heck out of a Jessup facility, but had never heard of one trying to get in. It would be like you or me trying to break into jail.

I drew two conclusions from Vaughn's request: Either he's being treated so badly that he really wants to transfer to an institution that another inmate said has replaced the closed House of Correction as the new House of Corruption, or he's trying to use the news media as a means to be reunited with his fellow gangbangers or homeys at the MCIJ.

Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, e-mailed me the department's response to Vaughn's allegations.

"There are specific procedures in place which allow inmates to file complaints against staff or prison management without fear of retribution," Binetti wrote. "They begin at the institution but inmates can also contact the division itself through the Inmate Grievance Office. The inmate in question has made no complaints to the Division of Correction or to MCIH staff about the allegations mentioned in his letter to you. Nevertheless, the DPSCS Internal Investigative Unit will assign a detective to look into this case.

"Ninety-nine percent of our staff do their duty with professionalism and respect. However, as evidenced by recent disciplinary action taken by the department, DPSCS takes very seriously allegations of misconduct by staff in any setting, acting swiftly and appropriately when necessary."

I believe as Binetti does: 99 percent of the DPSCS staff do indeed perform their duties professionally and appropriately.

But that 1 percent can indeed be a headache.

Vaughn said he wants the news media to investigate that 1 percent, at least at Hagerstown.

"This institution needs to be put under investigation," Vaughn wrote, "and channel(s) 11, 13, 2, 45 need to come to this institution. I need to speak with somebody immediately. Whenever these racist officers feel like it, they take my food, beat me up, take my mail, etc."

Vaughn pleaded with me to drive out to MCIH and interview him. I'd like to do that Monday, if honchos at DPSCS allow it.

That is what the press is here for, isn't it?

gregory.kane@baltsun.com

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