Photo: Aerial view of Mt. Olive Correctional Complex in West Virginia
By Mario Ginesta
Lermon Russell, a Black man imprisoned at Mt. Olive Correctional Complex (“MOCC”) in West Virginia, filed a lawsuit late last year accusing state prison guards of encouraging and assisting the neo-Nazi prison gang Aryan Brotherhood (AB) in stabbing him earlier in 2019. The lawsuit was filed around the same time that a photo of corrections officer cadets and training staff from the area giving a Nazi salute was posted to social media.
In the complaint filed by Russell, he accuses MOCC of placing him in an all-white pod (prison section) which housed several known AB members, according to prison records. Russell has been subjected to continuous racial slurs and harassment by both guards and prisoners during his sentence.
In one incident, two officers were escorting Russell to the shower in handcuffs and leg shackles when an AB inmate, named Jacob Samples, burst out of the shower, attacking Russell with a sharpened object. Both guards stepped out of Samples’s way and didn’t immediately intervene, instead shouting racial slurs at Russell. The guards then sprayed both prisoners with pepper spray despite Russell already being incapacitated. Russell was taken to the medical unit where staff refused to provide any substantial treatment, according to the lawsuit.
A later investigation revealed that a different inmate had refused to shower the night of the attack, having been warned by AB members of the ensuing stabbing. Another corrections officer manning the pod’s tower did not report Samples’s cell being empty. Samples himself even admitted to Russell, and later to a formal investigation, that the guards had helped him orchestrate the attack because they didn’t like Russell. Samples also claims that he had been assisted by guards in a previous attack on a different black prisoner.
Bourgeois media sources have omitted major details of the AB attack on Russell, including a separate assault on Russell by MOCC guards in March, when two guards claimed that Russell threw a meal tray at them and used this as pretext to pepper spray and beat him.
Similar to how a state report brushed off the Nazi salute photo of the corrections class as a case of “poor judgement” and “ignorance,” the state has also treated Russell’s case as an isolated one, as yet another skirmish between prisoners instead of a targeted white supremacist attack aided and abetted by prison guards.
The US prison system imposes inhumane conditions on those incarcerated as a way of undermining the working class and oppressed nations. In these dire environments, gangs thrive as a means of survival, including those organized around the ideologies of white supremacy and fascism. Russell is right to seek reparations for what was done to him, but it will take more than individual lawsuits to confront the reactionary forces that are flourishing in the decay of US imperialism.