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Mentally ill prisoner locked behind steel doors
Where is the justice?

November 30, 2001 | Page 4

Dear Socialist Worker,

Once every two months, I walk the tiers of the death row unit in Pontiac, Ill., with a group of people from the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. One of the most disturbing cells I go by is Reginald Mahaffey's.

Reginald sits in his cell, rocking on his bed or pacing back and forth in his cell. He's filthy and his hair is matted. Every time I ask if he would like to talk, he waves me past without a word. He does the same to others.

Reginald hasn't always been like this. His life changed one day back in 1983, when police at Area 2 headquarters in Chicago beat, kicked and threatened him until he "confessed" to a double murder. Reginald is a member of the Death Row 10, a group of men who were tortured onto Illinois death row by police under the command of Lt. Jon Burge.

While Reginald was awaiting trial at Cook County Jail, he "fell" from a second-story window while in handcuffs. The cops said that he threw himself out the window in an attempt to kill himself. What's more believable is that the cops, trying to further intimidate Reginald, hung him out the window and dropped him.

Reginald suffered serious head injuries, broken ribs and a ruptured spleen. He was in a coma for six weeks. He has permanent brain damage and is on anti-psychotic medication.

But on our last visit, I discovered that Reginald was in a segregated cell--which means he's kept behind a steel door. A prison official explained that he was being punished--because when the guards came to give him his medication, Reginald wouldn't speak. Not that he was combative. He just didn't speak.

This was enough to send in the "Orange Crush" team to subdue him, give him his medication--and put him in segregation. He could be there for 90 days or longer. I pointed out that this was a human rights violation--the man is mentally ill and can't even understand what's happening to him.

Reginald sits there hour after hour--no TV, no light, no radio, no voices. And the best excuse that the prison administration can manage is that prisoners have to answer when guards ask a question.

That's the pathetic state of our justice system. My question is: Where's the justice for Reginald?

Marlene Martin, Chicago

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