Facing Tear Gas: Chemical Weapons Abuse in US Prisons

(Image: Smoke and Prison Cell via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)(Image: Smoke and Prison Cell via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)

Multiple letters from Mount Olive Correctional Complex (MOCC) in West Virginia, report at least 5-7 imprisoned people are sprayed by tear gas, pepper spray or other chemical agents each week.  First-hand testimonies refer to the guards’ lax references to the frequent use of these chemicals as “bug spray.”

One person reports getting sprayed after kicking a door and breaking a window because guards ignored his emergency call button.  He had not received his diabetic snack bag, which he had been requesting for four hours.  In a letter he writes to the War Resisters League he describes that, “I have severe hypoglycemia at nighttime which can result in my death… they opened the beanhole and used a canister of OC [oleoresin capsicum gas] spray on my stomach and testicles intentionally!”  OC spray, commonly referred to as pepper spray, is derived from capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers.  According to his letter, the spray dispersed to the top tier of the ventilation system impacting at least seven others imprisoned in the MOCC.

Another person living inside MOCC was sprayed after suffering severe symptoms of paranoia.  He writes that he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental illnesses prior to incarceration.  On October 1st 2012, when he began having a paranoia-induced anxiety attack, others housed in his area pushed the emergency call button.  While he was hallucinating and building a web with sheets that he tore, he was not hostile to anyone or posing a threat.  He writes of guards opening the food slot to deploy a 12 oz canister of Phantom — an OC spray manufactured by Sabre Red Security Equipment Corporation.  Shortly after, another 12 oz canister was deployed.  Ten minutes after, a 6 oz canister was deployed.  Later, a 9 oz canister of Clearout was sprayed — a brand of aerosol grenade containing both OC and CS…

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