Officers forced him into a cell with another prisoner in the same restraints
Be shackled for days in tight restraints or share a cramped two-man cell with a crazy, violent person? That’s the choice many prisoners have been forced to make at the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
A former inmate’s lawsuit led to an investigation into Lewisburg’s Special Management Unit (SMU), where men with documented behavioral problems are transferred. Interviews with prisoners and staff are contained in reports obtained by NPR and The Marshall Project.
“They placed the restraints on me so tight … my hands had puffed up,” said Sebastian Richardson, the lawsuit’s complainant. “Each finger looked like the Vlasic pickles. … My wrists were so swollen the cuffs were stuck in them.”
Richardson stated that after refusing to allow officers to place a notoriously erratic and volatile inmate into his cell, he was stripped into a paper suit before being cuffed at the wrist and ankles. His handcuffs were further attached to a tight chain high around his chest.
The shackling procedure, called “T-Rexing”, kept Richardson’s arms in an uncomfortably high bend and made it difficult to even breathe, he said. Officers then forced him into a cell with another prisoner in the same restraints.
Richardson recounted how the T-Rexing prevented him from being able to disrobe to use the toilet or climb onto the top bunk. He had to soil himself and sleep on the floor for 28 days. He also detailed how guards intentionally left the cell window open during the freezing winter.
“He’s Lewisburg’s weapon,” said former inmate Deangelo Moore about the violent inmate Richardson refused to be celled up with. “If he like you, he like you. But if he don’t, he’s your worst enemy.”
Guards checked on Richardson every two hours, but he says they ignored his pleas that the tight restraints were causing him pain, that he couldn’t use the toilet, and that the cell was far too cold. According to the article, they told him they’d unshackle him when he was ready to submit and accept the cellie they’d chosen.
“If you allow inmates to dictate the terms under which they get a cellie, then you’re not in control,” one Lewisburg guard explained under anonymity.
“You have to remember these guys are dangerous people,” said Marc Marchioli, a former Lewisburg physician assistant. “If they don’t cuff up, it’s considered a direct threat.”
Marchioli also stated that officers use the restraints correctly, but inmates cause their own injuries when they move around. “The more they wiggle, the more damage they end up doing.”
“You are placed in a cell with shackles so tight, I’ve seen probably 30 guys at Lewisburg months later who have open wounds,” said Lewisburg Prison Project paralegal Dave Sprout, who works in assisting inmates with visits and correspondence.
In 2015, two prisoners died violently in the SMU, both with documented mental health issues, and each killed by their cellmate. One death was the result of a cell fight, while another was due to strangulation in a “suspected homicide,” according to the article.
“My clients tell me Lewisburg is the worst place they’ve ever been,” said assistant federal public defender D. Toni Byrd. “If you did to your dog what they do to men here, you would be arrested.”
‘The Bureau ensures inmates in its custody are treated fairly and with dignity,” emailed Bureau of Prisons spokesperson Justin Long. “Allegations of mistreatment are thoroughly investigated and appropriate action is taken if such allegations are proven true.”