Uncle Sam's Political Underground

Human rights violations are not just a Second or Third World affair. That, briefly put, is the message that will be beamed across America this month when the POV (Point of View) documentary series returns to public television.

The series opens with Through the Wire, a frightening look at a high-security mind-control unit for female political prisoners located in the federal correctional facility at Lexington, Kentucky. Produced and directed by Nina Rosenblum, and narrated by movie star Susan Sarandon, Through the Wire documents a genuine "it can happen here" horror story.

The Lexington High Security Unit (HSU) was opened in 1986 to hold prisoners sent there at the unilateral discretion of the director of the federal prison system. As the Lexington warden confirms to Rosenblum on camera, the HSU is not a punitive unit. For more than a year and a half in the late 1980s, the Lexington HSU was home to three women serving long federal sentences for politically motivated crimes.

The three women were held in underground isolation cells that are painted all-white, are kept constantly lit by bright-white fluorescent lighting, and are under constant video surveillance. They were sometimes awakened every hour or two during the "night." They were allowed out of the cells for only one hour per day and only one visitor per month. They were subjected to strip searches which amounted to sexual assault by another name.

None of the women on the HSU had had any disciplinary problems in their previous places of incarceration. One of the women, Alejandrina Torres, was a fighter in the Puerto Rican independence movement. The others, Susan Rosenberg and Sylvia Baraldini, were members of a left-wing group engaged in "armed struggle" against U.S. racism and imperialism.

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