Last month in Truthout, I wrote about the harrowing conditions prisoners face “on the draft,” which is prison slang for transportation between prisons or jails. The incarcerated are moving secretly through our cities all the time, and not only do transfers usually take them further away from their loved ones and support networks, the experience of being moved itself is painful and frightening:
On the draft, a prisoner’s ankles are shackled together and their wrists handcuffed, then all four limbs are chained together. The handcuffs are then placed in a plastic box, which drastically limits their range of motion. The box is designed to prevent lock-picking or violence, but holds the wrists at a painful angle. Finally, the prisoner is shackled to another prisoner being transported; they will not be unlinked even during bathroom breaks.
The result is hours or days spent hunched, never more than a foot from a stranger — a position that every former prisoner I spoke with described as intensely uncomfortable. [Former Vermont prisoner] Tim Burgess told me that he and other prisoners learned to throw McDonald’s French fries or chunks of hamburger into their mouths on meal breaks because it was the only way it was possible to successfully eat with the chains and boxes on their wrists.
While some moves are cross country affairs that can mean days spent on a bus, with rest stops spent in strange prisons with limited access to basic amenities, even short trips leave their mark, as another man from Vermont told me:
Another former prisoner, who spoke to Truthout on condition of anonymity because he remains on parole, recalled being moved 3 times during his 11-month stay in Vermont prisons. “The seats are small and uncomfortable and being shackled both feet and hands (with the box on my hands) in a crowded chamber while traveling well over the speed limit was frightening,” he said.
“If we’d got into an accident, we’d be toast, and these guys were driving really fast,” he added. “It was nice to see trees out the window but the lack of control was disconcerting.”
With wrists chained in place, there’s little opportunity to brace yourself in an accident. Sadly, it seems my anonymous interview subject was right about the risks of a wreck, as an Associated Press report illustrates. According to the wire service, a prison bus carrying 50 inmates hit a truck on an Arizona interstate early this morning:
Around 20 inmates were taken to a hospital. No details were released on their conditions.
State Trooper Kameron Lee told The Associated Press the bus driver was seriously injured and taken to a Phoenix-area hospital.
Thanks to Prison Abolition and Prisoners Support (PAPS) for the news tip.