| Resisting Living Death at Marion Federal Penitentiary, 1972
Marion was a dumping ground, the last stop for anybody who resisted thesystem or who saw something wrong within the prison and struggled against it. Dur-ing April 1972, the Federal Bureau of Prisons transferred some one hundred federalprisoners from various facilities across the country to Marion. Whereas transfer-ring prisoners was normal disciplinary and administrative policy, federal authoritieschose to move these prisoners because of their political organizing and activist workin Attica, Leavenworth, McNeil Island, Terre Haute, Soledad, Atlanta, and otherprisons.
Identifying these prisoners as leaders or “problem inmates,” prison authori-ties contended that by isolating them in the same institution and employing a seriesof behavior-modication techniques, as well as physical and psychological torture,they could control dissent. For inmates, Marion was rumored death: “Whateverexisted behind the walls of Marion generated apprehension of a legal form of assas-sination.”
Instinctively, these prisoners noticed “something weird” about the rehabili-tative programs.
Designed to “cure” deviants, the behavior-modication programsat Marion functioned to control and forcefully change inmate behavior, beliefs,and thoughts. Including practices as varied as brainwashing, the use of snitchesand rumors, pornography, sensory deprivation, arbitrary beatings and sanctions,and complete physical, emotional, and intellectual isolation, prison authoritiesimplemented such techniques to control, dehumanize, coerce and, as one prisonerdescribed it, “legally assassinate” the rebellious — including writ writers — blackMuslims, and suspected militants. Each specic institutionalized technique mud-dled commonplace distinctions between what constituted punishment, rehabilita-tion, and torture.
As part of an organized struggle to defend their dignity and maintain thecreative momentum for political organizing, and in response to these institutional-ized techniques, the activists compiled research for a report on prison conditionssubmitted to the United Nations, organized a third world political cadre out of theStudent Union, and linked up with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), theNational Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the People’sLaw Ofce (PLO), and the local university law school in order to bring the struggleinto the legal arena. Responding to the brutal beating of a Chicano inmate by aguard, they (re)organized as the Political Prisoners Liberation Front (PPLF) — andas a result were gassed and beaten, their legal materials conscated, and theirhygiene and exposure to chemical riot control techniques ignored for three days.Authorities isolated them in special units within the H and I Segregation, some inso-called steel boxcars. This form of isolation eventually became the Control Unit(CU), an extreme form of solitary connement.The CU was used as a tool of political repression that represented a new category of spatial and juridical incarceration — a state of exception from the ruleof prison law within an already existing state of exception from the rule of civil