The National Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression (NAARPR) held a discussion, Sept. 15, at St. Martin Episcopal Church, 5710 W. Midway Park. The theme of the forum, “wages of torture,” focused on the issue of prison health care and invited the audience to make suggestions and give solutions.

National Alliance director Ted Pearson began by saying, “We wanted to bring forward two cases of torture by the system. One is Mark Clements who was 16 when he was tortured by the police and forced to confess to a crime that he not only didn’t commit but had nothing to do with, and the other is Montell Johnson who also is wrongly convicted, but who now suffers from advance chronic progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS). He’s paralyzed, can’t take care of himself, and he lies in his own waste. He has bed sores which are infected. [Prison officials] claim they don’t have the resources to take care of him, and they refuse to release him or put him in a institution where he could be cared for. This is a form of torture too.

“They get very little care or no care and so we’re trying to raise consciousness about these issues. We want to ask [the Governor] to give [Montell Johnson] executive clemency or to give him a furlong so he can be cared for outside the system. The system admits they can’t take care of him, so let him go outside the system get the care he needs from his family and let him live at least like a human being instead of like an animal living in his own waste.”

Gloria Johnson and Virginia Clements both spoke, explaining their sons’ plights. Mrs. Johnson’s son, Montell, was sentenced to death in August 2000 for a murder she insists he did not commit. In January 2003, former governor George Ryan commuted Montell’s sentence to 40 years. In 2001, Montell was diagnosed with MS while he he was incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center in Chester. He was told he needed to be examined by a neurologist every six months, but he was allegedly not re-examined until February 2005. In November 2005, he was reportedly transferred to Pontiac Correctional Center.

Mrs. Johnson said, “I met with Guy Pierce, the warden, and Ted Conkling, clinical services supervisor, on Nov. 29, 2005 and was told they were not capable of taking care of him but would do the best they could. My son spends every hour in bed and is unable to take care of his basic needs. … In February 2006 he did see a neurologist who stated that his MS had progressed further and he was also diagnosed with “advanced dementia,” which is irreversible.”

In April 2006, Montell was transferred to Dixon Medical Correctional Center where his mother said she is only allowed to visit him twice a month per instructions from Warden Nedra Chandler.

Virginia Clements is fighting to get a new trial for her son, Mark Clements, who has been incarcerated for the past 26 years. According to Mrs. Clements, her son was arrested at age 16 and was tried as an adult and sentenced to four life sentences, plus 30 years in the state penitentiary. Clements was tried for arson that resulted in the deaths of four people on June 17, 1981. The fire occurred at 6602 S. Wentworth Ave. in Chicago, and on June 25, 1981 Mark Clements was arrested during a disturbance in the neighborhood. According to NAARPR, Clements was beaten by detectives who have been implicated in the Jon Burge torture cases. After 10 hours of this treatment, Clements made a confession. At trial, he repudiated the confession and stated he was innocent. According to his family, there were no witnesses and no evidence presented against Clements during the trial to link him to the crime. His mother said at the time, her son was functionally illiterate. The Clements case is currently on appeal in the Cook County Criminal Court.