Lee Correctional Institution, Bishopville, South Carolina
April 14-April 15, 2018
A version of this article originally appeared on It’s Going Down.
On April 15th, at the Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina, prisoners were locked inside various units for hours as deadly fights broke out. Guards refused to break up altercations or allow for medical attention, and soon, “gladiator” brawls were taking place across the facility. In the end, 7 prisoners were killed and at least 17 injured. The prisoners who were killed during the riot were identified as Corey Scott, Eddie Casey Gaskins, Raymond Angelo Scott, Damonte Rivera; Michael Milledge, Cornelius McClary and Joshua Jenkins. Most died of stab or slash wounds; the remainder appeared to have been beaten, Lee County Coroner Larry Logan said.
A prisoner who spoke to the Associated Press described the carnage:
An inmate who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity, said that bodies were “literally stacked on top of each other”.
He explained that many cell door locks were already broken before the riot and that prisoners roamed around freely.
Hours after violence broke out, no correctional officers or medical personnel attended to the dead or dying.
“It’s been over two hours, but no COs (corrections officers) have responded to this unit, and no medical personnel have attempted to render any kind of aid,” the inmate wrote to AP.
“The COs never even attempted to render aid, nor quell the disturbance. They just sat in the control bubble, called the issue in, then sat on their collective a**es.”
From Prison Slavery 276:
Blood spill from 2 victims that tried to get pigs to let them out. Standard pig protocols is to abandon posts and lock all doors to the units. Pigs stood outside and listened to the screams of victims being killed inside. Inside and environment Scdc created .
— prison slavery 276 (@SlaveryPrison) April 16, 2018
As the SF Bayview wrote:
On April 15, [violence] erupted at South Carolina’s Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison, where 44 officers were guarding 1,583 prisoners. A quarter of all prison jobs in the state are unfilled.
Seven prisoners died – Eddie Casey Jay Gaskins, Joshua Svwin Jenkins, Michael Milledge, Cornelius Quantral McClary, Damonte Marquez Rivera, Raymond Angelo Scott and Corey Scott – and 22 were seriously injured. Ironically, this is being called the deadliest prison violence in a quarter century, since the Lucasville Uprising on April 11-21, 1993. Lucasville survivors on death row are currently on hunger strike.
“After every incident, prisoners are locked down longer, which leads to more resentment and unrest and more violence, a vicious cycle.”
ABC reports that prisoners cannot even escape the violence by locking themselves in their cells. “ALL of the doors to the cells are broken,” a prisoner wrote.
With deteriorating conditions, lack of access to mental health programs, and growing anger and violence, corruption from guards and other prison staff has exploded, as prisoners fork over massive amounts of cash for access to cell phones, alcohol, cigarettes, or simply food. Moreover, this combination of carrots and sticks is designed to stop prisoners from coming together and fighting back against the prison system, as in recent months prisoners in South Carolina have done.
As the SF Bayview wrote:
A quarrel over contraband having been blamed for sparking the rebellion, on April 18, 14 former guards, a nurse, a groundskeeper and service workers were indicted for taking bribes, wire fraud and smuggling cellphones and cocaine, methamphetamines, marijuana and alcohol into prisons from April 2015 to December 2017.
But beyond just making money off of prisoners, a recent lawsuit also singles out several South Carolina officers, and also charges that they are in-fact gang members themselves, using their positions of authority to force prisoners to engage in sexual acts with them:
Michael Stephen, the prison’s warden, two correctional officers and a department official were sued for violating the prisoner’s civil rights, according to the suit.
Prisoners also claimed two correctional officers were affiliated with a gang and trafficked drugs into the institution, according to the lawsuit. The same officers are accused of engaging in sexual acts with inmates, which at times are not consensual.
The intensity of the violence at Lee Correctional had a major impact on the national movement against prisons and led to a call for a national prison strike on August 21-September 9, 2018. The prison group Jailhouse Lawyers Speak wrote:
Men and women incarcerated in prisons across the nation declare a nationwide strike in response to the riot in Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in South Carolina. Seven comrades lost their lives during a senseless uprising that could have been avoided had the prison not been so overcrowded from the greed wrought by mass incarceration, and a lack of respect for human life that is embedded in our nation’s penal ideology. These men and women are demanding humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform and the end of modern day slavery.
According to The State newspaper, the riot “came three weeks after inmates briefly held an officer hostage and took control of part of a dorm at the Bishopville prison.”
On May 19, 2018, supporters and family and friends of those incarcerated held a rally outside the prison calling attention to the situation.
In the aftermath of the riot, Governor Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency in South Carolina prisons and issued an executive order allowing the Department of Corrections to more quickly and effectively hire additional staff and guards and to give pay raises. According to South Carolina Lawyers Weekly, 18 lawsuits were filed against the South Carolina Department of Corrections on behalf of prisoners and their families in the three months following the riot. They also reported that this was likely to add significantly to the $11.5 million that the department had spent on litigation and claims since 2013.
The state of South Carolina has petitioned the federal government to allow cell phone jamming within South Carolina prisons, but so far the request has been denied. According to CBS News:
In the past, the FCC has opposed waiving these restrictions on the basis that it could interfere with local 911 calls and critical radio communications, affecting emergency response teams, and potentially become useful to terrorist organizations. Wireless industry groups also oppose the use of jammers; in a letter sent to the FCC in January, trade group CTIA said that shutting down cellphone communications should only be done through a court order.
At the time of the riot, the prison was employing technology to prevent cell phone communication in one dorm where the violence did not spread. Since the riot, Maryland-based Tecore Networks began installing technology in the rest of the prison to disrupt cell phone communication.
Prison Slavery #August 21 (@SlaveryPrison), April 16, 2018. No1 has figured its not staff levels but lockdown & treatment as animals — no movement, no education, long sentences, no humanity brings high violence … Scdc is officially the most violent in nation. Anyone paying attention. [Tweet].
“How a South Carolina Prison Riot Really Went Down”, Heather Ann Thompson, Op-Ed, New York Times, April 29, 2018.
“7 inmates dead, 17 injured after hours of rioting at South Carolina prison”, The Washington Post, April 16, 2018.
“7 inmates killed in ‘mass casualty incident’ at SC prison”, The State, April 16, 2018.
“7 Dead, At Least 17 Wounded In Hours-Long Fights At S.C. Prison”, NPR, April 16, 2018.
“The announcement of a national prison strike to take place across the nation!”, Unheard Voices O.T.C.J., April 24, 2018.
“South Carolina freedom fighters call for National Prisoners Strike Aug. 21-Sept. 9, 2018” SF Bay View, April 25, 2018.
“Why Prisoners Are Calling for a Strike After Grisly Tragedy in SC,” It’s Going Down, April 26, 2018.
“Dozens rally outside Lee Correctional Institute for prisoner’s rights”, ABC 15 News, May 19, 2018.
“SC prisons spent $11.5M on lawyers, claims since 2013,” South Carolina Lawyers Weekly, July 11, 2018.
“SC inmates hold guard hostage, take control of dorm Friday night”, The State, March 24, 2018.
“Prison riot breaks out, requires outside assistance”, WACH Fox 57, no date.
“Are cellphones really to blame for spike in S.C. prison violence?“, CBS News, April 19, 2018.
“Gov. McMaster declares emergency at S.C. prisons after riot, waives rules to bolster security“, The Post and Courier, April 23, 2018.
“Inmates with cellphones are a problem in SC prisons. Is this the solution?“, The State, April 26, 2018.
“South Carolina Department of Corrections Petition for Rulemaking“, South Carolina Department of Corrections, no date.
“‘They did nothing’: Warnings were there before 7 died at SC prison, former admin says“, The State, May 11, 2019.