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The Killing Floor

Michael Garcia must have known he would die in prison. But no one expected that his death would come so soon, in front of so many people. When he was seventeen, Garcia did something so terrible that a Denver judge gave him two life sentences without hope of parole. Although...
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Michael Garcia must have known he would die in prison. But no one expected that his death would come so soon, in front of so many people.

When he was seventeen, Garcia did something so terrible that a Denver judge gave him two life sentences without hope of parole. Although he pursued his appeals as doggedly as any seasoned convict, he could see the years stretching ahead of him like an endless cage.

"I tell you I would rather be on Death Row than doing life," he wrote in a letter requesting a sentencing review, "because doing life is just a long, slow, miserable death."

Garcia's misery didn't last as long as he thought it would. Locked down for the past five years in the Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP), the state's maximum-security prison, he had nothing left to lose but his sorry life. Two months ago he lost that, in a bloody struggle with two other inmates. It happened shortly before seven in the morning on September 24, in the course of six brutal, desperate minutes--while eleven other inmates and nearly as many guards watched and did nothing to stop the killing.

The morning it all went down, Matthew Clark had just sat down to breakfast in Dayhall Two, a common area in the D unit of CSP where prisoners are allowed to mingle briefly outside their cells. Clark was 26, eight years into a ten-year sentence for burglary and on his way out of CSP; in fact, he was up for a parole hearing in a few weeks. But the next six minutes changed everything.

Clark remembers hearing someone shout, "Watch out, Matt!" The next thing he knew, Michael Garcia had stabbed him in the face with something sharp, and Clark was fighting for his life.

Johnny Estrada, 27, was sitting at the same table. Like Clark and Garcia, he was Hispanic, from Denver, and had been in trouble with the law since he was a juvenile; like them, too, he had already served several years of his sentence--in Estrada's case, 36 years for second-degree murder--in lockdown at CSP. According to other prisoners in the dayhall, Garcia lunged at Estrada after stabbing Clark. Soon all three of them were on the floor.

Initial news reports of the incident, relying on information supplied by the Department of Corrections, state that Garcia was stabbed with a sharpened toothbrush. The reports were wrong. He was beaten to death, with exquisite viciousness, over a period of time that eyewitnesses estimate as lasting from six to nine minutes.

Through it all, corrections officers gathered behind a locked door and watched the scene through the glass. One prisoner with a clear view of the dayhall door says that at one point there were at least eight to twelve guards massed there, "akin to people viewing a boxing match." (DOC officials claim that only four officers were present for most of the fight and that ten other staffers arrived "simultaneously" at the end, but incident reports obtained by Westword contradict this version of events.) No CSP staffer entered the dayhall until a shift commander and escort staff had arrived and the prisoners had been ordered back to their cells and locked down, including Estrada and Clark--who, according to official reports, gave their attacker a few final kicks in the head, exchanged high-fives and then voluntarily returned to their cells.

Still breathing but unconscious, Garcia was put on a gurney and taken to a hospital in Pueblo. He was pronounced dead ninety minutes later. The autopsy report lists the likely cause of death as "trauma to the brain." He was 23 years old.

Few people will mourn the passing of Michael Garcia, who was in prison for the horrific 1992 murders of an elderly couple in northwest Denver. To call him a "mad-dog killer" would be a libel on rabid canines everywhere. Those familiar with the details of his crime may even see a crude justice in his dying in a savage fight that he started. But his bad end is also a disturbing sign of administrative confusion and miscalculation at the state's notorious supermax prison, where a single mistake can be a matter of life and death. It's the culmination of a rash of stabbings, fights and other assaults at CSP that official policies have done little to prevent and may even have encouraged.

Garcia's death is the first homicide in the history of the penitentiary, which opened in 1993 and remains one of the most restrictive high-security prisons in the country. But it's also one of eight inmate-on-inmate assaults that have occurred in CSP's PRO (short for Progressive Reintegration Opportunity) Unit since the program began a few months ago.

The PRO Unit is the core of a 252-bed addition to CSP that was completed last January. The unit was intended to be a transitional program for prisoners progressing out of solitary confinement. The basic idea is that men who've been locked in their cells 23 hours a day for months or years need a gradual process of intensely supervised socialization--including the opportunity to "interact" with other prisoners a few hours a day during meals or classes--before being shipped to a less restrictive prison. But the program got off to a rocky start and has been retooled considerably in recent months, resulting in frequent shifts of prisoners from one unit to another, a practice that may have thrown deadly enemies together. The turmoil also contributed to inmate-staff tensions that resulted in a wave of forced-cell extractions at CSP last summer ("Hard Cell," August 20).

The DOC's own investigation into Garcia's death found numerous security and operational problems in the PRO Unit, ranging from non-working or inadequate equipment to staff members assigned to the unit who "were very inexperienced and had an insufficient amount of training for this type of incident," according to an internal report obtained by Westword. The report also raises questions about the screening process used in assigning inmates to the unit and whether officials had checked the possible gang affiliations of the combatants before putting them in the same pod.

The biggest question of all, however, isn't how the fight came about but why corrections officers failed to intervene. In theory, the DOC's mission involves not only protecting the public from the inmates, but also protecting the inmates from each other. That's not always possible, of course, but many of those who were present in Dayhall Two that morning, including Clark and Estrada, say that Garcia's death could have been avoided if the guards had arrived earlier.

"It should have never went as far as it did," says Estrada. "There was no excuse for [corrections] officers to stand there and watch me choke Mr. Garcia to death. I was just holding him and restraining him to keep him from stabbing anyone else. I felt I had to restrain him until the officers came in, and that never happened."

Several prisoners who were in the unit at the time have provided detailed accounts of what they saw. All asked that their names not be used, out of fear of retaliation from CSP staff.

"I've grown up around violence, and I've seen a lot of crazy stuff," says one. "I am not tripping on the guy getting killed. I am tripping on why eight, nine or ten police just watched it and did nothing to stop it. Garcia did not need to die, and they know it."

Another inmate says the gruesome affair has sent a clear message to the rest of the 600-plus inmates in lockdown at CSP, waiting for their own crack at the PRO Unit. "This incident inspired a saying," he explains, "among ad/seg [administrative segregation] inmates: 'Got a beef with a guy? Wait till you get to the PRO Unit and you can kill him there without the cops stopping you.'"

From the outside, the Colorado State Penitentiary is largely indistinguishable from other prisons built in recent years to keep up with the state's booming inmate population: sleek, postmodernist, austere. But CSP isn't quite what it seems, and doing time there is very different from doing time anywhere else--even for people who think they know what doing time is all about.

When the project was first proposed a few years ago, legislators thought they were authorizing construction of a "close" prison, between medium and maximum security. It was only after the appropriation had been made that the prison was converted to a supermax, a place to isolate "the worst of the worst": prisoners who've attempted escapes, committed assaults or otherwise proven to be management problems. The DOC's way of dealing with such hard cases was to not deal with them, to keep them in solitary confinement (now known as administrative segregation) around the clock, except for brief exercise periods and trips to the shower.

As the prison population soared, CSP filled up quickly. Getting out was another matter. Releasing men from total lockdown to the street, or even to the general population of a less regimented prison, posed a number of problems. Hence the push for adding another wing to the prison this year, which was supposed to offer a transitional program--the PRO Unit--for prisoners getting out of CSP, as well as a diversionary program for close-security inmates from other prisons who weren't quite dangerous enough to merit isolation.

But the $20 million addition, which increased CSP's capacity by 50 percent, has proved to be a bit of sleight of hand, too. The diversionary program was abandoned after a few weeks in the wake of numerous protests over the transfer of inmates to CSP without a formal hearing. The PRO Unit has been scaled back and now occupies less than a hundred beds; no one has yet "graduated" from the seven-month program, which commenced in earnest in June. The rest of the 252-bed addition is being used for administrative segregation, a simple expansion of the lockdown mentality that has prevailed at CSP from the beginning.

Michael Anthony Garcia joined this ongoing experiment in behavior modification in 1993. He was sent to CSP not for anything he'd done while in the prison system--in fact, he'd been in the system only a few weeks--but because of the underlying nature of his crime, which prison officials considered so violent as to constitute an ongoing security threat.

In June 1992 the bodies of Jack and Mary Miyamoto were found in the bedroom of their modest bungalow in northwest Denver. The couple had been stabbed to death in their bed. Jack had tried to defend himself, judging from the dozens of wounds on his arms and face. Together they had been stabbed a total of 83 times.

Jack Miyamoto was 87 years old. Mary, his wife, was 74. They'd lived in the neighborhood for forty years without incident. Nobody could think of anyone who would want to harm them. But within days of the murders, Denver police arrested seventeen-year-old Michael Garcia, who lived five houses down the block from the Miyamotos and had once attended Bible study in their home.

The police theory of the case was simple: Garcia had slaughtered the couple because they had the audacity to wake up while he was burglarizing their home. A bloody footprint in the bedroom was matched to one of Garcia's shoes, and blood on the shoe matched that of Jack Miyamoto. A friend of Garcia's, Kenneth Espinoza, said that Garcia phoned him hours after the murders and blurted out, "I killed somebody." Another friend, Paul Duran, claimed that Garcia showed him the loot from the burglary--a few dollars in silver coins, a woman's gold watch--and offered to share it with him.

"I said, 'Man, you killed them for this? It ain't worth it,'" Duran testified. "He said he got scared and freaked out."

At his 1993 trial, Garcia claimed that he'd served as a lookout for the burglary while Duran (who had a prior record for manslaughter) did the actual killing. But police found no evidence of an accomplice, and Garcia had already boasted about the killings to too many people, including a roommate at Gilliam Youth Center, who testified that Garcia had described stabbing Jack Miyamoto in the eyes.

The jury showed Garcia more mercy than he'd shown the Miyamotos. They didn't believe, for example, that he'd gone to the Miyamotos' house with the intention of killing them. They found him guilty of felony murder, burglary and robbery of the elderly. But there were things about Garcia the jury didn't know, such as his prior involvement in dozens of burglaries; or the time he threw a brick at a 72-year-old man, causing injuries that led to the man's placement in a nursing home (Garcia claimed that the man threw the brick at him first); or his assault on a six-year-old boy for teasing his cousin.

Denver District Judge Paul Markson was informed of these matters at sentencing. He listened to special prosecutor Richard Bloch recount Garcia's criminal history and describe the Miyamoto murders as "one of the most horrible crimes I have ever laid eyes on." Then he gave Garcia two consecutive life sentences, plus an additional 64 years to grow on.

Behind prison walls, Garcia continued to maintain his innocence. He admitted to committing burglaries and assaults in his "confused" youth but insisted he'd been getting back on track, working as a janitor at South High School and attending classes at the time of his arrest. "The DA's job is to persuade you to think that I'm a monster," he wrote in one impassioned letter to the court. "But I am on a spiritual level right now that is above any situation I may be in for years...I'm not a murderer."

On the street Garcia was known as "Pico"; among his many tattoos was an abdominal ornament that read "Mr. Pico." In CSP he called himself Casper, but his fellow inmates didn't consider him a particularly friendly ghost. He had a reputation for "running his mouth behind the door"--taunting other prisoners from the safety of his cell.

One prisoner says he considered Garcia a friend for several months until the youth's hopes for a reduced sentence began to fade. "Then he started getting real disrespectful with me," the prisoner recalls. "He had a bunch of enemies, because he liked to run at the mouth like he was Superman or something. The way he was acting, I believe that he had a death wish. You don't disrespect people like he was and get away with it, especially in this kind of environment."

Garcia received several disciplinary reports in his first three years at CSP, including one for assaulting another inmate and one for making threats to a staff member. But over the past two years, his record improved dramatically, and prison officials decided he was ready for the PRO Unit. On September 23, the day before the murder, he was moved from another section of the program into unit D-2, where he first came into contact with Johnny Estrada and Matthew Clark.

Estrada and Clark both say they'd never crossed paths with Garcia before that day. They say they exchanged no words with him, not even a dirty look, and have no idea why he attacked them the next morning.

Other prisoners who knew Garcia speculate that he was hungry for respect, eager to "earn some stripes." They say there were rumors going around CSP, dating back to his murder case, that he had snitched on his accomplices--despite the fact that he'd been convicted largely because his friends snitched on him.

A snitch jacket is a terrible thing to bear. "He was getting rode by some of the other guys, because snitches are not well-liked in prison," says one observer. "Next to a child molester, it's the lowest form of life in here."

On the morning of September 24, Garcia armed himself with a sharpened toothbrush. He wrapped the shiv in his hand with a tether made from a T-shirt so it couldn't be taken away from him too easily. Then he went after Matthew Clark--going for the eyes, just as he had done with Jack Miyamoto. But this time his prey wasn't old and feeble.

Some of the men in D unit believe that Garcia was just planning to stick someone, anyone, so he could be taken out of the group and placed in solitary--where, presumably, he would be safe. But prison combat knows no quarter. If that was really his plan, then he was counting on the guards stopping the fight before it was too late.

It didn't work out that way.

All the violence in prison is geared for murder, nothing else. You can't have someone with ill feelings for you walking around. He could drop a knife in you any day...A knife is an intimate weapon. Very personal. It unsettles the mind because you are not killing in physical self-defense. You're killing someone in order to live respectably in prison. Moral self-defense.

--Jack Henry Abbott, In the Belly of the Beast

Garcia's first thrust caught Matthew Clark in the cheek, an inch below his right eye.

"Somebody just told me to watch out--there were four of us sitting at this table--and he got me right there," Clark says, pointing at the small red scar as he sits behind glass in the CSP visitors' room. "I didn't even have a chance to get up, and he was on me. Then he goes around the table for my buddy.

"They start fighting, and by this time I'm up. I just snapped. I start hitting him. All three of us are fighting. By the time he goes down--I'm not going to say too much about that--but he goes down, and that's when I notice this thing was strapped to his hand. I tried to take it away from him, but I couldn't."

He rubs his right hand, displaying the marks of two more puncture wounds. "Since I been in that PRO Unit, I seen more fights, more stabbings than anywhere in population," he says. "I wasn't going to sit there and let him stab me, I know that. I'm going to protect myself."

Whether Garcia's main target was Clark or Estrada--or both--is unknown. The two men had met in another prison years before and had been thrown together in the same unit in CSP for a few months, but Clark says they weren't particularly tight. They did, however, have adjacent cells in D-2. "He could have seen us talking and thought we were buddy-buddy," Clark suggests. "I don't know."

Estrada says that when Garcia came at him, he wrapped the slender youth in a "sleeper hold" and dragged him to the floor while Clark punched him. "All the while, Garcia's stabbing me in the arm and forehead trying to get me to let go," he says. "If I just let him go, who's going to stop him from stabbing me? [The corrections officers] couldn't stop me, so why should they stop him? They're supposed to be here for our safety, but I can't tell. I can't tell."

Any fight in prison can quickly become a fight to the death, prisoners say. "If someone just tried to stick a sharpened toothbrush through your eye and into your brain to kill you, you react in a manner so you will survive," says one inmate who witnessed the Garcia killing. "I don't expect someone who has never been in that kind of situation to understand it, but I know from experience. I stabbed a guy once. I knew I had stuck him, but I didn't know that I stuck him four times until the police told me."

A DOC officer named Kevin Wilcoxson was the first to see the fight in progress in Dayhall Two. He notified the CSP control center and summoned other floor staff to the door leading into the dayhall. But no officers went into the pod for several minutes. For safety reasons, CSP policy calls for a ratio of four officers per inmate before staff is permitted to intervene in such a situation. Since the unit housed sixteen men, at least fourteen of whom were out in the dayhall, that meant the door wouldn't be opened until fifty or sixty officers arrived--or until most of the inmates voluntarily retreated to their cells.

Locking down the noncombatants should have taken only a few seconds; none of the other prisoners in the pod were eager to join the fight, which could have earned them additional felony charges. Several eyewitnesses say that most of the inmates in D-2 lined up quickly outside their cells as soon as staffers ordered them to "lock down." But the unit's gang release, an automatic mechanism that allows guards to open and close an entire tier of cells at once, wasn't working. According to DOC spokeswoman Liz McDonough, it hadn't been properly programmed.

Instead, staff members had to open and close each cell door individually, a process that consumed precious minutes. While they waited for the dayhall to clear, the officers watched Garcia struggle to stay alive.

"Inmate Estrada was jerking his own body around to violently twist Garcia's neck and head, and squeezing tightly," one lieutenant wrote in her report of the incident. "During this same time inmate Clark...was kicking and hitting inmate Garcia's head, face and body repeatedly. I slapped the dayhall window repeatedly a few times to hopefully get [their] attention. Estrada and Clark looked at us but continued.

"Inmate Garcia's face looked unidentifiable and very swollen...blood was all over Garcia's face and clothes. Even though Garcia looked limp, inmate Estrada continued to choke and swing Garcia around by Garcia's neck, also inmate Clark continued to kick Garcia's face and head. Finally inmate Estrada threw inmate Garcia to the floor. Garcia twitched his hand...inmate Estrada and inmate Clark kicked Garcia a few more times, then turned to each other, high-fived each other and finally locked up."

At this point there were still four or five inmates standing outside their cells, waiting for the doors to open so they could obey the order to lock up. But it wasn't until Estrada and Clark had returned to their cells that the shift commander determined the situation was safe enough for his team of more than a dozen officers to enter the dayhall. They scooped what was left of Michael Garcia off the floor and secured the crime scene.

The DOC's response to Garcia's death was swift and strange. Clark and Estrada were stripped to boxers and T-shirts and placed in isolation cells--where, Estrada says, they slept on concrete for four nights and weren't permitted to shower or "given an opportunity to cleanse ourselves of the blood." Both were found guilty of homicide at separate administrative hearings, resulting in a six-month loss of privileges. (Clark says he didn't say a word at his hearing. Estrada says he called one witness, another prisoner, to testify that Garcia was the aggressor in the incident: "I could have called the whole pod, but it would have been repetitious.") The decision to file criminal charges rests with the Fremont County District Attorney's Office, which is still waiting for the DOC to complete its internal investigation.

Clark and Estrada could face additional time for killing Garcia. For the rest of CSP, the consequences are already beginning to be felt. Shortly after the fight, the order went out to confiscate all inmate toothbrushes in CSP. Prisoners must now clean their teeth with bristles attached to a stub too short to be fashioned into a serious weapon.

DOC spokeswoman McDonough says that the initial report that Garcia was stabbed to death was an unfortunate mistake on her part. The first information she received about the incident was sketchy, but she was told a weapon had been found at the scene. She assumed that it had been used on Garcia. She issued a correction the next day, she adds, but almost none of the press outlets that carried the original story bothered to pick it up. "There was no interest," she says.

Prisoners, of course, were outraged by the erroneous report. A stabbing can happen in the blink of an eye, but it takes time to beat a man to death. They considered it an all-too-convenient mistake, one that deflected attention from the true circumstances of Garcia's death, including the guards' failure to stop the fight.

But the dead man's mother is under no illusions about how he died. After enduring the horror of the Miyamoto case and her son's trial, then watching him vanish into the prison system for life, Lorene Garcia had to endure one final heartbreak--the return of her son's broken body, the face lacerated and pummeled almost beyond recognition.

"They're supposed to be right there watching these guys all the time because they're supposed to be the worst of the worst," she says. "When we viewed my son's body, there was so much trauma to his face. They destroyed his eyes completely. I mean, come on--how long were these guys able to go on beating him?"

The answer to Lorene Garcia's question could be found in the video recording of the fight made by a DOC surveillance camera. But the DOC has refused a public-records request by Westword to view the tape, on the grounds that its release "would be contrary to the public interest."

The department may have several reasons for keeping the tape under wraps, including possible embarrassment about what it doesn't show. The DOC's own investigation of the incident indicates that the CSP control-center staff failed to follow an order to "lock on" the surveillance camera on the fight, missing crucial minutes of the struggle--and failing to capture scenes that may have bolstered Clark's and Estrada's claims of self-defense.

Even if the entire event had been caught on tape, there would still be many unanswered questions about Garcia's death. A tape can't show what Estrada and Clark were thinking as they beat Garcia, looked through the glass at the corrections officers, then went about their business. It can't tell you what thoughts passed through the officers' minds, either--better him than us?--as they watched and waited for it to be over.

McDonough confirms that the DOC is investigating the killing as possibly gang-related. Estrada says he has no idea if Garcia had some kind of "gang thing" going himself, but he and Clark weren't part of it.

"That's the first thing they turn to," says Estrada, who's been designated as belonging to a "security threat group" within CSP but denies any gang affiliation. "From my understanding, they got us all down [as being] in the same gang. They said I told somebody I'd had six or seven gang-related fights at Centennial [another DOC prison]. None of it is true."

Estrada has his own theories about what was driving Garcia. "Could be for what I did to somebody on the street," he suggests. "Somebody might have paid him to do it or told him to do it. It could be for anything."

Five years ago Estrada shot and killed a young man named Juvencio Garcia in a dispute over a girl in the parking lot of a popular nightclub, the Ghetto Lounge in Thornton. "My first murder case was a guy named Garcia," he notes. "I didn't even know him, didn't know nothing about the guy. [Michael Garcia] might be his cousin. He never said nothing, you know?" (Michael Garcia's grandmother says that he was not related to Juvencio Garcia.)

Clark says he's baffled about the attack, too. "I was in the pod with him for one night," says Clark. "I didn't know nothing about the dude. Maybe I got in an argument here at CSP with one of his relatives or something and they passed it on to him. That's the only thing I could come up with."

"That's a crock," responds McDonough. "I don't know why it happened, but I would bet a good deal of money that Mr. Clark probably knows."

Whatever prompted Garcia to attack two older, stronger convicts may never be known. The heart of darkness at the core of most prison violence defies easy explanation. For men who've spent months or years in extreme isolation, trivial affronts loom large; they are brooded upon, chewed over, relived again and again in the solitude of their cells. One study by Harvard psychiatrist Stuart Grassian reported "the emergence of primitive, aggressive fantasies of revenge, torture and mutilation of the prison guards" among solitary inmates in Massachusetts. Studies of men isolated in small groups over long periods of time suggest a similar surge in savage, animalistic episodes. Whatever "positive" behavior Garcia had demonstrated to earn his way into the PRO unit, his five years in lockdown at CSP hadn't exactly altered his course.

"If you look at Michael's history, it's a history fraught with senseless violence," says Richard Bloch, the Arapahoe County prosecutor who handled the Miyamoto case. "He beat people up in schoolyards. He threw bricks at old people's heads. I don't know how it happened or why it happened, but his death certainly didn't surprise me."

Matthew Clark never really bought into the PRO Unit. He knew it was supposed to help him get out of CSP, but it seemed like a trip on one of those tiny wheels they make for hamsters, with no beginning and no end.

Classes in anger management or "prison life skills" would begin, lurch on for a couple of weeks, then abruptly be suspended. Guys would be transferred from one unit to another with little warning or explanation. Clark ate meals in the dayhall rather than in his cell, but otherwise the unit looked a lot like lockdown to him.

"I didn't see much difference, to tell the truth," Clark says. "The only time we got out was for meals and an hour and a half a day to walk around, clean your house, take a shower."

Johnny Estrada wasn't wild about the PRO unit, either. For a class called "Crime Impact," he was asked to calculate the cost of his own funeral and write a eulogy for himself. According to the official CSP overview of the program, the course is "designed to engender empathy by increasing the awareness of the financial, emotional and physical problems endured by victims of crime."

"They try to put you into the victim stance, where you have to deal with death and stuff," Estrada says. "I didn't approve of that."

But one of the biggest prisoner complaints about the PRO Unit is a matter of what might be described as group dynamics. "They were putting people from CSP into population [at other prisons] and there wasn't nobody getting stabbed," Clark says. "But you take them from being locked down and you put them together in this...I mean, they got people here who don't care. Like Garcia. He had two life sentences. He didn't have nothing to lose. I was supposed to see the parole board for the third time. I was probably going to get out."

Since Garcia's death, the DOC has made several changes in the PRO Unit to beef up security. The gang release is now operational, so compliant prisoners can be locked down quickly. No more than eight inmates in a sixteen-cell pod are now permitted in the dayhall at the same time, so there are fewer men to lock down. The department is looking at ways of introducing non-lethal "control devices," such as pepper spray, into the pod without requiring officers to physically enter the area; ways of bringing in more experienced staff who can "provide a sense of confidence to the Shift Commander during emergency situations"; ways of double-checking the assignment process to avoid placing known enemies in the same arena like Roman gladiators. (CSP's intelligence/gang coordinator was on vacation at the time Garcia was moved to the same unit as Clark and Estrada.)

DOC officials are optimistic that the changes will help minimize the opportunity for future violence. "We learn and we go on," says spokeswoman McDonough.

Yet three weeks after Garcia's death, there was another stabbing in the PRO Unit, with a shiv made of something other than a toothbrush. The DOC doesn't classify the incident as "serious" because it resulted in only superficial wounds, like most of the assaults in the PRO Unit. But then, Clark's and Estrada's wounds were superficial, too.

Prisoners say the changes amount to more scrutiny and control, not safety. They already know that they're the worst of the worst, unfit for association with even the average felon. What Garcia's death told them is that even their keepers figure they're not worth saving. Not in this place, where every man fears his neighbor, his keeper, his prisoner.

"I have never observed so much concentrated evil in one environment," says one resident of the PRO Unit. "CSP is a physical and psychological torture chamber that words cannot adequately describe. How does one go about articulating desperation to one who is not desperate?"

A crime went down in D unit the day Michael Garcia died. Maybe more than one.

"What went on here was wrong," says another prisoner who saw the fight. "If the officers had come in when it started, Mike Garcia would still be alive today. They just let him die without lifting a finger to stop it. We know they ain't going to protect us if we need it.

"And then they wonder why we do what we do."

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