By Kendall Smith, incarcerated contributor
Original artwork by Kristen Waters @cypresssomatic
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the lingering post-era of the murder of George Floyd, the Donald Trump presidency, the January 6th Capitol Riot, and especially of the 2017 Delaware prison uprising that led to correctional officer Lt. Stephen Floyd being murdered, there is an unremitting momentum of both racial tension and combativeness in Delaware between correctional officers and prisoners mirroring the tension in the outside community between police officers and civilians.
As an incarcerated “Black man” in the midst of this enraged climate, both externally and internally, I am compelled into being anxiously hyper-attentive due to the imminent fear of the likelihood of my death at the hands of correctional officers. Officers may kill me in either of two ways–by assaulting me through tactical forms of retaliation or by inflicting false charges on me, resulting in additional years on my sentence and eventual “death by incarceration.” These additional years amount to me no longer having a release date but rather dying in prison.
By no means is this engraved sentiment of fear far-fetched nor surprising, especially considering the unending and increasing sequence of white police officers assaulting and murdering “Black” men, women, and children with impunity.
I have recently become a victim of correctional officer (police) brutality that has led to fraudulent and trumped-up charges of “assault” and “resisting arrest in a detention facility.” On February 10, 2021, at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware, three white male prison officials from the Certified Emergency Response Team (CERT), deliberately neglected the solitary housing unit’s security procedures and my due process rights by opening my cell door and cornering me in my cell. Then, they further created a blindspot (i.e., so the cameras can’t provide visual clarity) by forcing me into a strip search during which these white men repeated the demands for me to bend at the waist and spread my buttocks for them. Although I was clearly under attack at this point, I still complied with their directives out of complete fear of my safety due to the fact that the only reason CERT officers enter into an inmate’s solitary confinement cell is to assault (i.e. physically restrain) that inmate, not to strip search.
When I requested a superior officer be present or that they conduct the strip search on camera, the white men pepper-sprayed my eyes and assaulted me, punching and grabbing me, and violated my completely nude black body.
I was able to defend myself by running to the tier showers and securing myself in one of the stalls to prevent these white men from continuing to assault me or even possibly killing me. At that point, I had secured myself in the shower, but these white men and others began to pepper spray my entire body with one pepper spray can after another. Subsequently, they turned off the showers in order to prevent me from decontaminating myself and causing me to suffer from the burning sensation of the chemicals.
As a result, I was left completely naked in the shower to suffer for roughly an hour or more without medical attention, without access to decontaminate myself from the chemicals, and without access to any clothing as I stood completely naked before multiple staff, both females and males.
These unconstitutional assaults, use of excessive force, and abuse of authority by prison officials (in my case CERT members) are cultural normalities. In fact, immediately following the February 1, 2017, Smyrna, Delaware prison uprising, there was a highly critical report, dated August 2017, and requested by the governor of the State of Delaware, which called for the elimination of severe understaffing and identified the misuse of overtime and inadequate training of corrections officers. The report also identified inconsistent application of policies and procedures, a lack of communication between administration and prisoners, lack of inmate programming, jobs training, medical and mental health care, and a pattern of masked mass shakedowns and strip searches conducted by CERT teams.
Due process protections that safeguard prisoners from unconstitutional forms of assaults, excessive force, murder, abuse of authority, and other forms of insubordination conducted by prison officials are all useless and counterproductive to justice as long as the penal institution and its officials perpetuate the despotic discretion of policing themselves.
When it comes to the prison system in Delaware, especially considering the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, the foxes guard the henhouse. The main reason why Delaware’s prison system is so corrupt and immune to scrutiny is due to the fact that there isn’t any progressive, non-nepotistic, and public oversight. The abuses that prison officials carry out against prisoners in this state virtually go unchecked because nobody is watching and enforcing justice.
There are a sufficient number of systems in place to police the public, however, there is no tangible apparatus that is designed to police the penal institution and its officials. As a result, the corruption goes unnoticed, unheard, and unseen. There needs to be a network of public organizations and agencies in place whose sole purpose is to both monitor the prison system and establish alliances with prisoners in order to ensure that the state is arbitrating justice correctly and in a fair manner for the well-being of all. Otherwise, the silence and inactiveness of the public’s neglect (i.e. state residents, community activists, media, journalists, etc.) contributes to fueling recidivism, cynicism, death of prisoners, mistreatment, and the immense likelihood of prisoners producing the same criminal activity and malfeasance inflicted onto them by prison officials.
I came to my previous conclusion about the “public’s neglect” producing further criminal activity due to proof of my traumatic childhood experiences with the neglect of the state that resulted in me serving a 30-year sentence for producing the same criminal activity and malfeasance inflicted onto me.
Upon my upbringing, the state had a preponderance of evidence and was fully aware of the following torturous inflictions committed onto my person as a child:
1. Family court case, police reports and Division of Family Services (DFS) files of my father (Kendall M. Smith Jr.) kicking me down a stairway and chasing me with a gun (year 2002, age 9);
2. Police reports and witnesses (especially my mother and grandmother) that pertained to my childhood home being inflicted with multiple bullets (year 2007, age 14);
3. Family court case and DFS files and photos of my face disfigured along with an excessively bloody t-shirt (photos take by DFS worker) after I was again abused by my father (year 2008, age 15);
4. Wilmington, Delaware police reports, DFS files and medical files of me being inflicted with a bullet wound in my ankle (year 2008, age 15);
Just as the state and public are neglecting us prisoners today at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, the state neglected me then by not providing me with mental health services, programs, organizational networks, public assistance, etc. to assist a child who was undergoing such hell. It is not a coincidence that two years after the last traumatic experience of my childhood (a bullet wound in my ankle) I, as a child (age 17), ended up with a gun that was used in a murder I committed.
Is there not a clear connection as to how the three above-mentioned traumatic childhood experiences involving a gun led to me (as a child) possessing a gun?
Both my analysis and synthesis of the cause and effect nature of my traumatic childhood occurrences (i.e. the gun that produced a gun) that led to my incarceration is the epitome of “the product of one’s environment.”
As the state neglected me, then, as a child, the state and public are neglecting us prisoners, today, here at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center. Both the state and public are aware of or have extensive readily available access to a preponderance of evidence that emphasizes the overwhelming malfeasance (i.e. assaults, deaths, etc.) inflicted onto us prisoners by prison officials. Still, the state and public fail to enforce and hold the prison system and its officials accountable for their criminal activity inflicted upon us prisoners. How much more neglect and mistreatment can us prisoners take before we implode from within? We need the public’s assistance, not the public’s neglect.
Nevertheless, it has been roughly five years since the Smyrna, Delaware prison uprising of February 1, 2017, which, unfortunately, led to the murder of correctional officer Lt. Stephen Floyd. Since then, operations of the prison “seemed” to be improving for as long as the public eye (i.e. civil rights activists, media, journalists, state officials, residents, etc.) was centered on James T. Vaughn Correctional Center. However, as the public’s eye is reduced in its effective forms of enforcement, we (prisoners) have been experiencing the most intolerable impact as to how nothing has changed. Today, many prisoners, including myself, are still demanding the same things (i.e. public assistance, an end to correctional officer/police brutality, adequate medical/mental health care, etc.).
I intend to emphasize that for as long as the public eye was centered on this prison, the operations of its staff “seemed” to be improving. Thus, it becomes reasonable to conclude that it is the public’s eye that will keep the balance (justice and peace) of improving correctional officer and prisoner relations (i.e. respect and duties to each other) and overall improvements on prison conditions, especially the elimination of the imminent threat of death.
As a juvenile offender (2010, age 17), previous to this injustice, my expected release date was 2038 (age 44 or 45). My future is now threatened with these fraudulent new charges, which are designed to both whitewash the department of correction’s malfeasance and to silence me and other prisoners from exposing the prison’s mistreatment and toxic environment, which is constantly subjecting prisoners’ life, limb, sentence and due process to jeopardy.
Send your brother some camaraderie, love, and light.
Kendall M. Smith III
James T. Vaughn C.C.
1181 Paddock Rd.
Smyrna, DE 19977