Cover image for Sentenced to Science: One Black Man's Story of Imprisonment in America By Allen M. Hornblum and Foreword by Harriet Washington

Sentenced to Science

One Black Man's Story of Imprisonment in America

Allen M. Hornblum, and Foreword by Harriet Washington

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$30.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-03336-5

$24.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-05875-7

232 pages
6" × 9"
16 b&w illustrations
2007

Sentenced to Science

One Black Man's Story of Imprisonment in America

Allen M. Hornblum, and Foreword by Harriet Washington

Sentenced to Science is a searing indictment of the criminal justice and medical communities that cavalierly used Philadelphia inmates as human guinea pigs for an array of unethical and dangerous experiments. The account of Eddie Anthony’s days as a Holmesburg Prison test subject is one that readers will not soon forget.”

 

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  • Table of Contents
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An interview with Professor Hornblum appeared on Inside Higher Ed.com. To read the interview, click on the link. To read the interview that appeared on Philly.com on October 27, 2007, click here. Professor Hornblum also recently wrote an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer. To read that article, click here.

To read an interview with Yusef Anthony, the subject of Professor Hornblum's book, published on thedailypennsylvanian.com, click the link.

From 1951 until 1974, Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia was the site of thousands of experiments on prisoners conducted by researchers under the direction of University of Pennsylvania dermatologist Albert M. Kligman. While most of the experiments were testing cosmetics, detergents, and deodorants, the trials also included scores of Phase I drug trials, inoculations of radioactive isotopes, and applications of dioxin in addition to mind-control experiments for the Army and CIA. These experiments often left the subject-prisoners, mostly African Americans, in excruciating pain and had long-term debilitating effects on their health. This is one among many episodes of the sordid history of medical experimentation on the black population of the United States.

The story of the Holmesburg trials was documented by Allen Hornblum in his 1998 book Acres of Skin. The more general history of African Americans as human guinea pigs has most recently been told by Harriet Washington in her 2007 book Medical Apartheid. The subject is currently a topic of heated public debate in the wake of a 2006 report from an influential panel of medical experts recommending that the federal government loosen the regulations in place since the 1970s that have limited the testing of pharmaceuticals on prison inmates.

Sentenced to Science retells the story of the Holmesburg experiments more dramatically through the eyes of one black man, Edward “Butch” Anthony, who suffered greatly from the experiments for which he “volunteered” during multiple terms at the prison. This is not only one black man’s highly personal account of what it was like to be an imprisoned test subject, but also a sobering reminder that there were many African Americans caught in the viselike grip of a scientific research community willing to bend any code of ethics in order to accomplish its goals and a criminal justice system that sold prisoners to the highest bidder.

Sentenced to Science is a searing indictment of the criminal justice and medical communities that cavalierly used Philadelphia inmates as human guinea pigs for an array of unethical and dangerous experiments. The account of Eddie Anthony’s days as a Holmesburg Prison test subject is one that readers will not soon forget.”
Sentenced to Science is a disturbing account of the physical and psychological sequelae of medical experimentation in a state prison in Philadelphia in the 1960s. Hornblum follows the troubled life of one prisoner, Butch, and draws heavily on the inmate’s compelling first-person narrative. Given the current debate about the future of prison research, this book should be prescribed reading for bioethicists and policy makers alike.”
“Allen Hornblum’s book is a first for understanding the pain and suffering endured by prisoners at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia in their own anguished words. Every physician participating in human experimentation must read this book to learn of the fundamental violation of the human rights of prisoner subjects described so powerfully in this book.”
“Hornblum effectively juxtaposes a frightening, graphic narrative of one non-aggressive, functionally illiterate prisoner’s life, in the aftermath of continuing bouts with skin lesions, mental disorders, and extreme bowel problems (purportedly from jail experiments), with general background, producing a convincing condemnation of the practice of using prisoners as guinea pigs.”
“[Allen Hornblum's] reliance on Edward Anthony's first-person account of suffering as a test subject while incarcerated in Philadelphia's Holmesburg Prison makes for a compelling, dramatic narrative.”

Allen M. Hornblum is Lecturer of Geography and Urban Studies at Temple University. He is the author of Confessions of a Second Story Man: Junior Kripplebauer and the K&A Gang (2005) and Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison: A True Story of Abuse and Exploitation in the Name of Medical Science (1998).

Contents

Acknowledgments

1. “My Back Is on Fire”

2. “The Jungle”

3. “Bubble-Eyed Butch”

4. “Don’t Serve Time; Let Time Serve You”

5. “He’s Got a Body Like Marilyn Monroe”

6. “They Called Me Outer Limits”

7. “Fruit Up”

8. “He Still Has the Cork in His Ass!”

9. “Those Doctors Ain’t Interested in You”

10. “I Tried My Best”

11. “I Was in Some Deep Shit Now”

12. “My Spiritual Awakening”

13. “It Was a Jihad

14. “Feeling Death Blow Past My Face”

15. “A Righteous Life”

16. “Trying to Get a Little Justice”

Epilogue

Notes

Index

1

“My Back Is on Fire”

“There were three of us in a cell at the time. I had been in the jail only a few days and had just gotten assigned to work in the tailor shop. They make socks, underwear, and other clothing for the inmates, but I hadn't actually started to work yet, so I thought I could take my time that morning while my cell buddies left for their jobs. But I soon heard my name being called out on the block. It was time for guys who had signed up for the medical tests to go down to H block.

“By then I wasn't too afraid of the experiments. My homeys said they had taken care of me and I'd be okay. They said they had made sure I wouldn't be put on any of the experiments where I'd get hurt. They told me I'd be able to make some money and wouldn't be hurt too bad. To tell the truth, I was more afraid of being sexually assaulted down there than the experiments. I had heard all sorts of bad shit about guys getting solicited for sex and fucked down on H block.

“I got my pass to get off of G block where I was celled and went over to H block, where the University of Pennsylvania doctors were doing their tests. The guard opened the gate and let us in. There must have been about twenty of us. We were all looking around, checking things out, trying not to look concerned.

“You could see where cell walls had been broken out to make larger rooms for the doctors to do their research experiments. Strange-looking medical equipment was all over the place. There were a bunch of doctors walking around doing stuff, but then I realized the guys in white smocks weren't doctors at all, but inmates. There were inmates doing all the work. In a way I felt better. I thought the tests couldn't be that bad if they had prisoners doing them. If the experiments were really something serious, I would've seen more real doctors on the block.

“An inmate took my pass and checked my name off on a clipboard he was holding. He directed some of us, about five or six, to a room and told me to sit on a stool and to take my shirt off. They then gave me a paper to read and told me to sign it. It basically said if anything should happen to me I'm not going to hold the University of Pennsylvania responsible.

“I said, 'Hey, why you giving me this? I thought these tests were safe.'

“'They are,' said the inmate. 'It's just a formality.'

“He said it was a bubble bath test for Johnson & Johnson and they were testing it to see if it's harmful to someone with an open wound. He said the test would run about two or three weeks and we'd make about $37. The money sounded good to me. I signed my name on the paper.

“One of these inmates in a white lab coat comes over to me and tells me to lean forward and then starts to put fresh tape on my back and then just as quickly pulls it off. He did this over and over again. He must have done it eight or ten times until he had pulled the first layer of skin off. He did this to six different spots on my back. He then got an eye dropper and put it in a little glass jar and drew up some of the solution that was in there, the bubble bath I guess, and then squeezed some of it onto a small, square gauze pad. He then placed the gauze pad on one of the spots he had just rubbed raw and taped it onto my back. He did this to each one of the six spots on my back.

“Then he placed a larger piece of tape over each spot, and I'm thinking, this ain't too bad. I can handle this. He tells me we're just about done, and I'm not feeling any pain or anything. I'm thinking my guys really took care of me. I'm making money for nothing. The inmate then picked up a green spray can and starts to spray my entire back.

“I asked what he was doing and he said, 'Oh, it ain't nothing. This is just to ensure that the patches stay on your back. It'll keep your pores closed.'

“It was sure something, though, 'cause as soon as the spray hit my back it was cold and I began to taste it in my mouth. It tasted bitter and I swear I could feel it seeping in my body. I thought it was toxic or something 'cause I started to feel dizzy.

“'Man, what the fuck is that stuff?' I said.

“He didn't say anything and started to put large pieces of tape on each side of my back. 'If this come off,' he said, 'you don't get any money.'

“I was really getting dizzy. It tasted like mentholated alcohol. My tongue was beginning to get cold like my back. It was all making me feel really nauseous.

“The inmate in the white smock doing this to me said we were done and goes on to say he'd call me down the next morning to change the bandages. He then sends me back to my cell block. While crossing center I'm feeling even more nauseous. I get onto G block and wobble to my cell with this disgusting taste in my mouth and all this stuff on my back, and as soon as I lift my leg to step in my cell I fell out. I passed right out.

“When I came to, Youngie and Ruben, my cell mates, are putting water on my face and helping me to my bunk. That's when I screamed out, 'Man, my fuckin' back is on fire. It's killing me. Fuck this test. Take this shit off my back.'

“Ruben tried to calm me down. 'Butch, you can't do that,' he said. 'If you take this shit off, you won't get paid.'

“'I don't give a shit, man,' I cried out. 'My back is on fire. It's burning the hell out of me. Get it the fuck off. It's killing me.'

“'Don't worry,' says Youngie, 'I'll hook you up.'

“He then carefully peeled off the tape sealer and taped the upper edges of it to the cell wall. Then he took the smaller patches off and stuck them on the wall as well. He said that's what everyone does who is having a bad reaction but still wants to earn that money. I didn't give a shit about the money at that point, though, 'cause my back was screaming. I really felt like my back was on fire.

“Youngie then got a bucket of water from the shower room and washed my back with soap and water. There was little relief, though. My back burned all night long. I'm thinking hour after hour, what the hell did I do to myself? What did those damn people do to me?

“When morning finally comes, I can't wait to see a doctor and have this thing taken care of, but Youngie tells me he's got to hook me up first. He says he got to put that shit back on me, so I'll be ready when they call me. He was thinkin' more about the money than I was. I just wanted the pain to end. I tell you, I'm countin' the seconds.

“I get out of bed and turn around for the patches to be put back on, and Youngie says to Ruben, 'Damn, look at this shit here.'

“'Man,' says Ruben, 'that's some nasty-lookin' shit. Whadda they do to you?'

“I couldn't see what they were talkin' about, but I sure as hell could feel it.

“Large blisters the size of nickels and filled with pus had formed where the patches had been. I just shook my head at the mess I had gotten myself into. I was weak, in pain, and my back had this constant burning.

“The block runner came down with my pass and I went over to H block. I was hoping to see a doctor, but it was the same ol' inmate in a white lab jacket who looked at me. All he said was, 'Wow,' when he saw my back.

“'Does this normally happen?' I asked him.

“'sometimes,' was all he replied. He grabbed what looked like a pair of tweezers and a little scalpel-type instrument and cut the blisters off and drained the pus outta the wounds. He then cleaned each of the six blistered areas, put new patches on, and sprayed the area once again before putting large swathes of tape on. That same chemical taste filled my mouth, but I didn't get as nauseous this time, just a little lightheaded. As I'm walking back to my block I'm wondering when this pain is gonna subside. The blisters were cut off, but my back still felt like it was on fire.

“I got back to my cell and the guys helped me take the shit off again. They washed my back, but it still felt like I was lying on hot coals. There was no relief; it was terrible. All day and all night I'm in pain. I ain't getting no sleep. I'm moaning and keeping the other guys from getting any sleep. I'm really feelin' miserable, and now a new problem comes up. My back is turning red, as red as a strawberry. The blisters didn't come back, but now I'm a black guy with a fire-engine-red back. And it still feels like it's on fire.

“On the third day I get a pass to go down to H block, and once again I see this inmate doctor or whatever he's supposed to be and say to him, 'Don't you have the results of this goddamn test yet? My back is on fire. Look man, I can't take any more of this shit. You guys are killing me. Look at my back. It's blood red. I want you to take care of this shit now.'

“The inmate knew I was serious this time and was probably afraid I was gonna hurt 'im, so he went down the block and talked to a University of Pennsylvania doctor, a short, light-skinned black guy in a suit and tie. He comes over to me and I show him my back.

“'Hmm,' he says, lookin' all puzzled and shit. 'Look,' he says, 'I tell you what. You can take the patches off. You don't have to wear them anymore.'

“'You throwing me off the test?' I ask him.

“'Under the circumstances it may be for the best.'

“'What about my money,' I said, concerned they might try to cheat me.

“'You'll get paid. We'll make sure you get the full amount that's coming to you.'

“As I'm walking back to my block I'm feeling somewhat relieved that I'm off the test and still gonna get paid, but then I realize my back is still killing me. The doctor didn't treat me at all. He didn't do shit. The motherfucker didn't even give me anything for the pain. They were just a bunch of sadists.

“All that day and into the night it starts getting worse. It was unbearable. My whole fuckin' body is reacting. It was like something was crawling under my skin. Under my arms and between my legs it's getting real hot. I'm moaning. My cell mates can't do anything for me, and I'm keeping them from getting any sleep at night. I'm thinking the whole time, what the hell did I get myself into? I'm blaming my cell partners, the damn doctors, myself, I don't know who to blame.

“The only thing that seemed to relieve the itching and the pain was hot showers. I mean, real hot. Guys couldn't believe I was able to stand under scalding hot water like I was, but it was the only thing that eased the pain and itching. They must have thought I was losing my mind. The nights were terrible, though; I just laid there in agony.

“The next morning Ruben and Youngie look at me and can't believe their eyes. I got fine little red bumps all over my face, arms, legs, head, chest, all over. Some were white and filled with pus. The guys thought I had German measles or some dreaded tropical disease.

“Youngie tells the block guard I'm messed up bad and got to see one of the

H block doctors, but the turnkey comes back and tells us I'm off the tests. He can't send me down to the Penn research unit. I can't believe what's happening to me. I'm in pain. I look like a goddamn strawberry. And now I'm off the tests and the doctors won't even look at me. Youngie and me start raising a ruckus, demanding I see a doctor, and the guard says he'll see what he can do. In the meantime, he tells me to go down to the visiting room. He says I got a visit.

“That's when I really found out just how bad I looked. You don't have any mirrors in prison, so I didn't really know what I looked like. That visit told me just how bad things had gotten.

“My sister Edna had come up to Holmesburg to see me. She was already seated behind the screen when I got to the visiting booth. She took one look at me and started screaming. She jumped out of her chair in horror. She was jumping up and down, yelling, 'Oh my God, oh my God, what did they do to you?' She was holding her hand to her mouth like she was trying to keep from vomiting.

“The guards immediately rushed me and tackled me to the floor. They thought I had done something to her to cause such a commotion. Edna started to yell at them, 'stop, he didn't do anything. Leave him alone. He didn't do anything. Can't you see he's hurt? Look at him. Leave him alone.'

“They let me get up. Edna was still hysterical and started yelling, 'What the hell did they do to you? What are they doing to you in here?'

“I told her, 'I got on the tests.'

“'What tests?' she asked. 'What are you talking about? What kinds of tests do something like that? Is you crazy?'

“I told her I needed the money. Nobody at home was sending me anything.

“She said, 'Don't get on any more tests. We'll send you money. Promise you won't get on any more of those tests. They're killing you.'

“It was pretty bad. The thing with my sister really shook me up. Back on the block, me and Youngie are still tryin' to get the guard to give me a pass to go down to H block to get checked out. The guard can see for himself I'm in need of medical attention. He tells me to go down to the chow hall for breakfast and he'll try to have some news for me by the time I get back.

“But when I get down to the chow hall everybody starts staring at me and making comments and moving away. They're looking at these little bumps on my face and arms and how red I am. Guys don't want to get too close to me. They don't want me next to them in the chow line. They think I got some deadly disease and they're goin' to catch it. They tell me to get the hell away from them. Some of 'em start threatening me if I get too close. Even the cooks and kitchen workers start eyeballing me and aren't sure if they should serve me. They're thinking just by putting that mush on my plate they're serving they're gonna get contaminated.

“Finally a guard comes over to me and says, 'What the fuck is wrong with you?'

“I tell him, 'I got on the tests.'

“He called me a stupid motherfucker, and said, 'Look man, you better take it on the hop. Better take your sick ass outta here before you cause something to jump off.'

“'But whaddabout my food?'

“He says, 'I'll have a cook make up a platter for you and send it to your block.'

“Man, can you believe it? I couldn't even go down to the mess hall now. They didn't want a disturbance with me lookin' the way I did and said they'd send my food to my cell. It was that bad.

“Back in my cell I'm still in pain. It feels like something is crawling under my skin. The itching was terrible. My armpits and groin are startin' to heat up and be on fire like my back. I couldn't keep my arms down by my side and I'm having trouble walking. Any sort of movement hurts. And I'm wondering if it can get any worse.

“I was an introvert. I never wanted to stand out or draw attention to myself and now I look like a neon sign. I can't believe what those Penn doctors did to me. I'm thinkin' those doctors gave me some toxic poison and now I'm all fucked up. Maybe dying. What the hell did they do to me?”

Twenty years old and already a veteran of illicit drugs, gang wars, and the ever-present and explosive street violence that is so common to life in the “hood,” Edward “Butch” Anthony was reaping a health crisis of unimaginable proportions-all due to his decision to become a human guinea pig. What had been described as a “safe and easy” way to earn a few dollars while incarcerated in a big-city jail had become a physical and psychological nightmare. Literally overnight, Butch Anthony, a healthy, vibrant black man and survivor of one of the most unforgiving ghettos in America, had unknowingly embarked on a confidence-searing and health-shattering journey as harrowing as any landmine-laden trip one could envision.

As a test subject in Holmesburg Prison's medical research program in the mid-1960s, he would become a particularly unlucky experimental lab rat. Probed with needles transferring mysterious solutions, bathed in strange chemicals, and paid to swallow experimental compounds, Anthony-by his own admission a “functional illiterate”-was a most receptive and compliant guinea pig for hire. An unquestioning dollar-a-day human vessel willing to endure a barrage of physical affronts, not to mention a paternalistic relationship with single-minded researchers that only former prisoner test subjects could truly understand. The upshot was a series of strange and inexplicable medical maladies and conundrums that would last a lifetime.

Although the physical problems Anthony accumulated in these experiments were considerable, and his repeated decisions to become “a brother for science” difficult to comprehend, one can be assured he was not alone-there were thousands of desperate, incarcerated men and women just like him in postwar America. Imprisoned Americans who shockingly discovered that they had not only been sentenced to prison, but sentenced to science as well.

And for the vast majority of these formerly imprisoned test subjects-in addition to the scars and regrets-there remains a lasting enmity toward doctors, hospitals, and the medical establishment in general. This residual skepticism-antipathy would be more accurate-toward physicians and medical researchers is especially prominent in the African American community. Past revelations surrounding the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study, combined with their own personal indignities and the more recent revelations regarding the Holmesburg Prison medical experiments, have left several generations of black Americans with a profound distrust of the American medical establishment. For the many black Philadelphians who had loved ones in Holmesburg, the cynicism is practically palpable.

Butch Anthony's story is more than a tale of physical torment and personal failure-an urban melodrama focusing on one individual's descent into drugs, crime, and imprisonment. More important, it is also a cautionary tale for a proud, prosperous nation that espouses democratic principles and egalitarian notions of fairness and justice but for far too long found it convenient to use its weakest, most vulnerable populations-the retarded, the indigent, orphans, and prisoners-as raw material for medical experimentation.

Anthony, no doubt, has to shoulder the burden for his own self-destructive decisions and troubled behavior. But America has some self-assessment to do as well. The nation has yet to truly grapple with its own sordid history of using people as throwaway objects, and with the wide chasm between lofty proclamations of honorable goals and ethical conduct and the many embarrassing acts of greed, self-interest, and cavalier behavior that have pockmarked our history.

Butch Anthony's story reveals the dark underbelly of American medicine. And though his personal account may prove an uncomfortable revelation to many unaware of the treatment accorded warehoused individuals during the second half of the twentieth century, he was not alone-there were many others like him. Nameless, faceless institutionalized test subjects, human grist for the research mill that a God-fearing, freedom-loving, but uninterested country repeatedly turned its back on. Anthony's story is their story, and it is long overdue that we allow at least one of them to voice what it was like to be an incarcerated human guinea pig.

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