Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison

Since opening its doors on December 15, 1969, Alabama’s William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, has been a bastion of violence, fear, pain, and baleful human suffering.

Built on a shoestring budget of five million dollars during Governor Lurleen Wallace’s administration, it took just five years for Holman prison’s perpetually overcrowded, unsafe and unsanitary conditions to draw the ire of federal officials. In an article titled, “Court closes Alabama prison gates,” dated August 30, 1975, The St. Petersburg Times (now The Tampa Bay Times), in neighboring Florida, reported that two federal district court judges, William Brevard Hand and Frank M. Johnson, Jr., ordered Alabama to stop sending prisoners to Holman (and three other prisons) due to overcrowding and the accompanying inhumanity, violence and other perils that brings.

Forty-one years later, nothing has changed.

Connor Sheets for al.com writes on October 20, 2016, that “[v]iolence continues to rage at Alabama’s notorious William C. Holeman Correctional facility in Atmore. In just the past two weeks, a Holman inmate was stabbed during a four-way fight and another died of an apparent suicide.” These incidents come “less than two weeks after the Department of Justice launched an investigation into violence, sex abuse, overcrowding and other issues at Alabama’s prisons.” Two weeks earlier, al.com’s Christopher Harress, reported that “[a]s many as nine corrections officers failed to report” for work at Holman, “citing increasingly dangerous conditions and fears that they may be killed while on duty.”

In contrast to these jarring reports, Alabama’s Department of Corrections’ website presents a much more idyllic and serene (if also bleak and plantation-like) description of Holman: “Holman is located ten miles north of Atmore, Alabama[.] The perimeter of the security compound is surrounded by two fences. The inner fence is taut wire fence with the outer fence chain link. The compound has six towers and two perimeter vehicles which operate twenty-four hours a day. During the hours of darkness, the perimeter is fully lighted. The countryside in the vicinity of Holman prison is farm and timberland. The main crops are cotton and peanuts. Located directly behind the facility within the security compound is an industrial area consisting of a Tag Plant where all the state’s motor vehicle tags are manufactured and a sewing factory which makes sheets and pillow cases that are distributed to other state prisons.”

What I’ve observed and know from first-hand experience (as I wrote about in April, in the Selma Times-Journal) is: every single employee the DOJ has, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch, can take a junket down South to keep a twenty-four-hour vigil over how Alabamians treat their inmates, and still, it won’t do a damn bit of good.

Using history as a guide, even if under temporary federal scrutiny, prison conditions shape up briefly, as soon as the Yankees depart, it’ll be back to business as usual at Holman: Prisoners will be mashed together, one on top of the other. They’ll be kept indoors all day, every day, squashed in squalid, outdated, utterly inhumane, and unsafe conditions. They’ll be fed food you wouldn’t give a dog you hated. In wintertime, the heat will be kept just above testicle-freezing temperatures, and in summer (which, in this age of global warming, runs long, sometimes interminably), the temperature will be so oppressively hot – the degradation of humanity within its walls, so great – that Holman becomes, literally, hell on earth.

Federal oversight of Holman and the rest of Alabama’s troubled prison system is like stretching a small band-aid over a gaping wound. Until Alabamians elect a governor and legislators willing to make a real commitment (and financial investment) in the way the state treats its prisoners, even those convicted of the most heinous crimes, Alabama’s prison problems will exist in perpetuity.

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,” wrote Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

It is long past time for Alabama’s antiquated prison system to emerge from the Dark Ages.

More articles by:

Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.

May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder
Roger Harris
Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly
Michael Slager
Criminalizing Victims: the Fate of Honduran Refugees 
John Laforge
Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste
Carlo Filice
The First “Fake News” Story (or, What the Serpent Would Have Said)
Dave Lindorff
Israel Crosses a Line as IDF Snipers Murder Unarmed Protesters in the Ghetto of Gaza
Gary Leupp
The McCain Cult
Robert Fantina
What’s Wrong With the United States?
Jill Richardson
The Lesson I Learned Growing Up Jewish
David Orenstein
A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance
W. T. Whitney
The U.S. Role in Removing a Revolutionary and in Restoring War to Colombia
Rev. William Alberts
The Danger of Praying Truth to Power
Alan Macleod
A Primer on the Venezuelan Elections
John W. Whitehead
The Age of Petty Tyrannies
Franklin Lamb
Have Recent Events Sounded the Death Knell for Iran’s Regional Project?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail