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  • A man is strapped to a gurney in a room that's referred to as the hospital room of a prison,

  • but it's really just a dingy basement where the warden watches over the torture of prisoners.

  • That prisoner is hooked up to wires, each of them connected to a telephone.

  • He's never seen such a contraption and has no idea what's about to happen to him. He

  • takes a big gulp as one guard, barely concealing his laughter, shouts, “Boss, is this gonna

  • be a local call or long distance?” The warden smirks and replies, “Tokyo, boys,

  • I think we'll give Tokyo a call.” The room is filled with a whizzing sound as

  • a guard winds the crank of the telephone. The prisoner screams out in pain as electricity

  • surges through his body. Since it's a long-distance call, that's just the start of the punishment.

  • The torture will leave this prisoner with irreversible organ damage, not to mention

  • life-long mental scars. We wouldn't blame you for thinking what

  • we've just described never actually happened. It sounds like something from theSaw

  • movie franchise, or maybe it's closer to something you saw in a Looney Tunes cartoon.

  • It did actually happen, and when it was finally disclosed to the American public, one critic

  • wrote that this form of punishmentshocked the consciousness of the nation.”

  • Let's now go back to the start. The kind of telephone used for the torture

  • was a “crank telephone.” This is how they worked.

  • In short, when a person manually turned the crank, an electrical generator was powered

  • up. The mechanism produced somewhere between 50 and 100 volts, which would send a signal

  • to a switchboard. The operator at the switchboard would usually hear a buzzing or ringing sound

  • and the two people could be connected. It was a man named Dr. A. E. Rollins that

  • decided one of these phones could be used to torture prisoners. In the 1960s, he was

  • the resident physician at the Tucker State Prison Farm, Arkansas. That's why the torture

  • device became known as the Tucker Telephone. Prisoners who were deemed impervious to all

  • other punishments were the ones who were subjected to telephone torture. Some of you might recall

  • a prison movie from the 1960s calledCool Hand Luke.” Paul Newman's character was

  • the unruly prisoner who just wouldn't follow the rules. The captain in the movie looked

  • at that character and said the now historical lines, “What we've got here is a failure

  • to communicate. Some men, you just can't reach.”

  • That movie wasn't too far away from reality. Men at Tucker State Prison Farm were forced

  • to work all day in the fields under the baking sun. If they became troublesome, they were

  • tortured. Prisoners were routinely beaten. If they were killed, they were sometimes secretly

  • buried in the prison grounds. This is a snippet from a Time magazine article

  • printed in 1968, regrading torture and murder in the state's prisons:

  • The point was brought home painfully when three skeletons, one decapitated, one with

  • its skull crushed, the third with its legs broken back, were unearthed from shallow,

  • unmarked graves.” The article said that for the truly intransigent

  • prisoners, the Tucker telephone was used. Even though some men had nails forced under

  • their fingernails and others were whipped with leather straps, it was the telephone

  • that really put the fear of God in them. The article explained that a superintendent

  • named James Bruton was the person that employed this particular form of punishment. A naked

  • prisoner would be strapped down to a table in what was called the hospital room, and

  • then one wire would be wrapped around his big toe. The other wire would usually be attached

  • to his genitals. When the crank was turned, an electrical current

  • would pass through the prisoner's body. As for long-distance and short-distance calls,

  • this was euphemistic language used by the officials as a kind of joke. Short distance

  • meant one shock, or possibly one or two shocks. A long-distance call was a series of shocks.

  • The process was not only frightening and painful for the prisoner, but it was also dangerous.

  • Repeated shocks at that voltage attacked the nervous system of the man, which could cause

  • permanent damage to the organs. Repeated exposure to electric shocks can also lead to behavioral

  • changes, such as the person becoming afflicted with depression or anxiety.

  • The horrors that happened at the prison soon became known to people on the outside. This

  • led to an investigation, which detailed the brutality prisoners faced on a day-to-day

  • basis. The Tucker telephone, though, was the thing that most shocked the public.

  • Here's what a 1969 report said, “In 'long distance calls' several charges were inflicted

  • of a duration designed to stop just short of the inmate's fainting. Sometimes the

  • 'telephone' operator's skill was defective and the sustained current not only caused

  • the inmate to lose consciousness but resulted in irreparable damage... Some men were literally

  • driven out of their minds.” The report stated that the telephone wasn't

  • only used just to inflict pain but also to extract information from prisoners. The prison

  • tried to keep the use of the device under wraps, but investigators found one of the

  • specially-made phones hidden in a hatbox inside a closet where Jim Bruton lived. That was

  • referred to as theBig House.”

  • Reports stated that most of the prisoners were African Americans, but the horrors were

  • also inflicted on men of all colors.

  • Bruton eventually faced charges for what he'd done, charges that said he'd “violated

  • prisoners' civil rights by administering cruel and unusual punishment.”

  • He should have spent a year in prison and received a $1,000 fine, but the judge, Mr.

  • J. Smith Henley, said that if he sent Bruton to prison, the outcome would be him being

  • killed by other prisoners. For that reason, he suspended the sentence. This is what the

  • judge said: “The court doesn't want to give you a

  • death sentence, and quite frankly, Mr. Bruton, the chances of your surviving that year would

  • not be good. One or more of these persons or their friends with whom you have dealt

  • in the past as inmates of the Arkansas penitentiary would kill you.”

  • The same judge would eventually say that all prisons in the state were unconstitutional.

  • Thomas O. Murton was hired to weed out corruption at the state's prison farms and address

  • the brutality that happened there. He later talked about the massive profits being made

  • at these prisons from slave labor, and he mentioned some of the tortures we have, adding

  • some more that are too graphic to state here. He also discovered that men had been summarily

  • executed and buried at Cummins prison farm. He wrote in 1969, “Prisons, mental hospitals,

  • and other institutions are a thermometer that measures the sickness of the larger society.

  • The treatment society affords its outcasts reveals the way in which its members view

  • one another, and themselves.” Many years earlier, the Russian novelist Fyodor

  • Dostoevsky said this, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its

  • prisons.” Just after Murton started uncovering the atrocities

  • at Arkansas prisons, he was dismissed from his position. He'd just begun digging up

  • bodies of men when he was told to stop by the governor. Murton later said he wasblackballed

  • by the corrections community for unearthing too many uncomfortable truths. He said a grand

  • jury even thought about indicting him forgrave robbing.”

  • It seems from then on, the Tucker telephone was no longer used in American prisons, but

  • something very similar was used by US soldiers during the Vietnam war. A book called, “Torture

  • and Democracyby Darius M. Rejali, shines a light on the torture employed. The author

  • writes that using appliances on the battlefield, such as field telephones, to electrocute prisoners

  • was hardly anything new. Many countries had done that over the years.

  • You all know about cattle prods and taser guns, with the former delivering a shock of

  • around 50,000 volts. The reason that shouldn't immediately kill someone is that the current

  • isn't strong enough to damage the internal organs. They are supposed to stun a person,

  • even though people have died from sudden cardiac arrest. According to Reuters, there were 48

  • such deaths in the US in 2018. As scientists will tell you, it's not the

  • voltage that kills you but how great the current is that surges through the body. That's

  • why the Tucker Telephone could cause such grievous physical and mental injuries.

  • Unfortunately, we can't find any accounts of victims who survived the telephone torture

  • in prison. Nonetheless, we saw reports that stated it was brought back in the 1980s in

  • Chicago. According to a number of resources, Lieutenant Jon Burge used it while he was

  • commander of the Chicago Police Department. He headed a police outfit that became known

  • as theMidnight Crew”, a bunch of officers that were said to torture people to get confessions.

  • News reports state that from 1972 to 1991, Burgeeither directly participated in or

  • implicitly approved the tortureagainst 118 people that were in police custody. The

  • reports state that the torture including burning and beating, but also electric shocks.

  • It was heard in court that men had been convicted solely on confessions that had been coerced

  • through prolonged torture. There is mention of cattle prods being used, but we can also

  • find instances when a victim of Burge's was electrocuted with something that looked

  • like the Tucker telephone. One person was Andrew Wilson, who, with his

  • brother Jackie, was found guilty of killing two Chicago police officers in 1982. Both

  • brothers suffered injuries at the hands of cops, who burned and beat them and shoved

  • pistols into their mouths as they demanded confessions.

  • Andrew later sued the city, saying one of the things the cops used in his interrogation

  • was a black box with a crank attached to it. He said police officers fastened wires to

  • his body and a policeman turned the crank, which delivered painful electric shocks to

  • his body. Reports state that Burge had served in Vietnam

  • in the Mekong delta in 1968. There he could have come across a torture technique that

  • some US troops called thethe Bell telephone hour”. This technique was very close to

  • the Tucker telephone experience. In court, Burge said he'd never heard of

  • such a thing, and certainly never took part in such interrogations during his service

  • in Vietnam. Investigations later revealed that some men in the Ninth Infantry Division

  • that Burge was assigned to denied they'd electrocuted prisoners, but others said outright

  • that it happened all the time. Dennis Carstens was one of them. He said,

  • We would pretty much do anything as long as we didn't leave scars on the people.”

  • He told journalists that field phone interrogations worked well. He said they gave “a pretty

  • good jolt, kind of like if you've ever had an electric fence charge.”

  • Former sergeant D.J. Lewis agreed. He said they'd take a prisoner and strap them to

  • a pole in a tent. In his own words, he said the men wouldrig up a field telephone

  • and put one wire around a finger and the other around the scrotum and start cranking. And

  • they would eventually tell you what you wanted to know.”

  • When asked if he thought it was painful, he replied, “Oh, hell yes, it's painful. I

  • mean, you can hold the two wires and barely crank it and get a jolt. The more you crank

  • the higher the voltage, and it's DC voltage, so that's more intense shock.”

  • Former army ranger, Philip Wolever, said this about the pain, “I know it is strong enough

  • to where after a couple of jolts you can fake a crank because the victim would be looking

  • right at you, and the guy would go into convulsions.” When Andrew Wilson first came out of police

  • custody, he had marks on his ears as if alligator clips had been fastened to them. It doesn't

  • take a great leap of the imagination to arrive at the assumption that Burge took what he'd

  • learned in the army and used it during his reign of terror in the Chicago police force.

  • Burge was fired in 1993. At that time, some attorneys in the city of Chicago believed

  • Wilson's story about the electrocution torture. Some years later, former detective Melvin

  • Duncan, said this in court, “While working at Area 2, I heard that certain robbery detectives

  • used an electrical box and cattle prods on people to get confessions from them.”

  • Former officer Walter Young said he'd seen a device with a hand crank lying around during

  • the time of Wilson's interrogation, but he said at the time he didn't really know

  • what it was used for. He added that he heard people referring to the box as theVietnamese

  • treatment.” Andrew Wilson fought for his innocence but

  • was convicted twice in the end. He died in prison in 2007. His brother, Jackie, who was

  • also tortured into making a confession, spent 36 years behind bars. He was declared innocent

  • during his third trial and released in 2020. He has since filed a lawsuit against all those

  • that did him wrong. He told the press, “All I am looking for is justice. All I have ever

  • looked for is justice.” This kind of torture likely happened to a

  • lot more people. We'll finish with the words of a man named Leonard Hinton. He was one

  • of the victims of electric shock torture during those dark days when Burge and his men acted

  • like medieval inquisitors. He said he was taken down to a basement where

  • the cops told him to strip. He had wires connected to sensitive parts of his body, which were

  • connected to a black box. They put a cloth in his mouth and cranked up the machine, which

  • Hinton described as causing out-of-this-world pain. As soon as one cop took the cloth out

  • of his mouth, he cried out, “I am ready to talk. Tell me what you want me to say,

  • sir. Please stop.” Now you need to watch, “Illegal Things That

  • YOU Do Every Day.” Or, have a look at...

A man is strapped to a gurney in a room that's referred to as the hospital room of a prison,

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The Tucker Telephone - Worst Punishments in the History of Mankind

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    Summer posted on 2021/09/02
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