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As New York City Jails Amend Their Solitary Confinement Practices, Abuses on Rikers Island Continue

Fri, 01/17/2014 - 00:09

In early January the Wall Street Journal reported that the New York City Department of Correction (DOC) had ceased using solitary confinement as a form of punishment for people with mental illness. The last of the Mental Health Assessment Unit for Infracted Inmates (MHAUII) units was shuttered on December 31, replaced by a two-tiered system said to improve treatment. The step was hailed a significant achievement for outgoing DOC City Commissioner Dora Schriro, whose department came under fire this past fall after two reports lambasted the DOC for violating its own standards in its treatment of the mentally ill.

However, a meeting on Tuesday morning of the Board of Correction (BOC), an independent body that monitors the City’s jail system, presented a far different picture of conditions for individuals with mental illness on Rikers Island – as well as a different version of how changes in the DOC’s solitary confinement policies have come about.

Just after 8 am on Tuesday, in the chilly morning rain, activists from the advocacy group Jails Action Coalition (JAC) stood on the sidewalk outside the municipal office building on Worth Street where the BOC was scheduled to meet. They were holding a vigil for the four individuals who have died in City jails in the past three months, carrying tombstone-shaped posters reading “RIKERS=DEATH” beside a makeshift alter with four candles, and singing and chanting to the people passing by.

Leah, a longtime JAC activist, explained that she had braved the weather for the sake of her godson, who has a psychiatric disability and is currently incarcerated on Rikers Island. She was waiting to see whether the recent changes made by the DOC would actually have an impact on the people inside. As she explained, sometimes the DOC enacts new policies to appease the citizenry “but really, it’s the same old thing.”

At just past nine o’clock the vigil participants passed through security and joined the BOC meeting on the third floor. The bulk of time was dedicated to discussing the quality of care at the recently developed Restrictive Housing Units (RHU) and Clinical Alternative to Punitive Segregation (CAPS) program, the facilities meant to replace MHAUII. According to DOC protocol, individuals who violate prison rules will now be sent to one of the two units: the RHU for those who are deemed less severely ill, who will still spend time in solitary but have access to therapeutic services; and the CAPS unit, modeled after a psychiatric hospital, for those with more serious illnesses.

According to the WSJ article, prison advocates were somewhat critical of the proposed changes after they were announced, calling the RHU model “far too punitive” and expressing concerns that individuals with mental illness might be placed in CAPS regardless of whether they broke the rules. The Board’s initial discussion seemed to support many of their concerns.

BOC members shared the details of their first site visit, on December 5, to the newly opened RHU at Rose M Singer Center (RMSC), the main women’s jail on Rikers. According to the Honorable Bryanne Hamill, a former New York Family Court judge,  Board staff asked for assistance from a nearby corrections officer when one woman – who had smeared feces on the window of her cell – failed to respond to their knocks. The CO opened the food slot in the cell’s solid steel door and shined light inside, but was still unable to ascertain if the occupant was conscious.

At the prodding of BOC members, the CO summoned four captains – but it was not until the Board notified Commissioner Schriro that the door was eventually unlocked. The woman was found unresponsive on the floor under the bed with a ligature wrapped around her neck. By the time the woman was taken out of her cell by medical staff, nearly an hour had passed since the visitors had first arrived at her door. Judge Hamill added that she spoke to another prisoner who told her that the unresponsive woman had been threatening suicide; Hamill reassured her that the woman had been found alive.

BOC member Dr Robert L. Cohen, a key player in efforts to reform solitary on Rikers, also participated in site visits. Cohen stressed that neither the COs nor the leadership in NYC’s prisons seemed prepared for the task at hand.  Although the RHU program at Otis Bantum Correctional Center (OBCC) technically opened on December 19th, Cohen reported that the jail’s warden was “not aware that there was an RHU at OBCC” when Cohen spoke to her on January 3. Cohen also emphasized his concern that the DOC has no plan to identify and train officers and captain staff who are willing to work in the units on a regular basis.

Both Dr. Cohen and Judge Hamill expressed disappointment that access to therapeutic programming in the RHU had so far been almost non-existent. They did, however, have some praise for the new mental health programs established at the DOC, noting that they were greatly impressed with the ongoing quality of care in the CAPS units.

At the end of the meeting, Jennifer Parish, the director of criminal justice advocacy at the Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project and a member of JAC, spoke about her own visit to the RHU at RMSC, which occurred just days after the BOC’s.  One woman held in the unit relayed to Parish what had happened after she told the BOC member (presumably Judge Hamill) that the woman found unconscious had been threatening suicide. After the Board members left the prison, she said, a CO approached her cell to tell her, “there won’t be any food for you.” Parish expressed frustration that this kind of retaliation of could go on even when BOC was involved.

Commissioner Schriro’s voice cracked with emotion as the meeting came to a close. Schriro, who is leaving the DOC to take a job in Connecticut, has been broadly praised for the recent changes in DOC policy, and commented to the press that her department was “proud to have met this significant milestone.”  In truth, however, solitary confinement increased significantly under Schriro’s tenure. In 2011 alone the number of punitive segregation cells at Rikers grew by 45 percent,  and by the time the  BOC-commissioned reports were released this past fall, New York City had one of the highest rates of solitary confinement in the country.

The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA) pressed particularly hard for the increase in punitive bed space, attributing a spike in attacks on COs to the backlog of prisoners waiting to serve time in “the Bing,” as solitary confinement on Rikers is called. At a November 2011 City Council meeting, Schriro was grilled by City Council member Elizabeth Crowley about the problem.  Schriro reassured her that capacity was being expanded as quickly as possible: ” Every bed that can be converted is being converted.”

Community groups maintain that the DOC only considered adopting new policies as a result of the press fall-out from the BOC-commissioned reports – and that the reports were, in turn, ordered as a result of the campaigning of JAC and other advocates. Those same factors, along with pressure from a few BOC members, led the Board in September to vote to commence “rule-making” to eventually set new policies limiting the use of solitary in City jails.

Tuesday’s meeting was the last for Commissioner Schriro, but her legacy is not the only thing in flux. Mayor Bill DeBlasio has yet announce to his appointment to the post of DOC commissioner, and there are mixed signals as to whether he will live up to the progressive image he cultivated during his campaign.

Last Friday at Brooklyn College, DeBlasio emceed the graduation for the DOC’s newest recruits, telling them: “You’re protecting all of us….You’re protecting each other. You have each other’s backs. And you’re also protecting some people who have made mistakes.” He continued, “We’re not happy with some of the choices those individuals made, but they’re still our fellow citizens, and we’re hopefully in the process of helping them back to a better path.”

Yet there are some red flags to suggest substantial prison reform isn’t on DeBlasio’s agenda. Bill Bratton, the mayor’s appointment for police commissioner, has pursued racially discriminatory policing policies in the past.  Moreover, during his campaign DeBlasio was endorsed by COBA – a worrying sign for advocates, given that the role the union played in increasing the use of solitary and their resistance to adopting alternative solutions.

For Sarah Kerr, a staff attorney in the Prisoners’ Rights Project of The Legal Aid Society, the BOC’s experiences on the tour reveal the deeply protracted nature of the problems within the DOC.  She wondered aloud what it means that it took an hour for the woman’s cell door to be opened, even when BOC members were present.  She added that challenging this institutional culture will be an “incredibly hard” task for the DOC, but that doing so is absolutely necessary if things are to change.

For Daisy Rodriguez, another member of JAC, these changes cannot come quickly enough. Her 21-year-old son has been in solitary confinement in New York’s jails for the past 18 months.  She told the audience at the meeting, “We want our families to obtain the services they need rather than be treated like animals.”

The post As New York City Jails Amend Their Solitary Confinement Practices, Abuses on Rikers Island Continue appeared first on Solitary Watch.

New Campaign Highlights Post-9/11 Civil and Human Rights Abuses on American Soil

Mon, 01/13/2014 - 15:04

Panelists at the No Separate Justice launch at Judson Memorial Church. Photo: Liliana Segura.

This past weekend, activists across the country and around the world marked the 12th anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners to the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Detainees there have endured numerous forms of torture, including waterboarding, “stress positions,” prolonged solitary confinement, and force-feeding, as well as indefinite detention without trial, and many advocates have pressed for their immediate transfer to the United States and to the federal civilian justice system.

But not everyone believes that the torture and injustice will end if Guantanamo shuts its doors. Last Tuesday, members of a new campaign called No Separate Justice held a launch event in New York City. The campaign focuses exclusively on exposing the civil and human rights abuses in “War on Terror” cases prosecuted on American soil–abuses that are almost always directed against Muslims.

The campaign will center around four core areas: conditions of confinement (including extreme solitary confinement and deprivation); fair trial and due process concerns (like the classification of evidence held against detainees, even those being charged); First Amendment and material support charges (notably the use of “preemptive prosecution” based on individuals’ perceived political activities or beliefs); and surveillance and entrapment (through “sting” operations that actually persuade individuals to conspire to illegal acts).

On the night of the launch the auditorium at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village was packed despite the bitter cold. Brooklyn College Professor Jeanne Theoharis opened and moderated the evening, stepping in for journalist Liliana Segura, who had lost her voice. Theoharis urged audience members to break the silence about what Muslims face when they are charged in U.S. courts. “We know that most of the greatest injustices in American history have been legal.”

Theoharis’s close involvement in the campaign was sparked by personal experience. In 2002 she taught a student named Fahad Hashmi; five years later he was arrested in London and extradited to the United States. Hashmi was charged with conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, because an acquaintance who stayed in his apartment for two weeks had sent sock and rain ponchos to al Qaeda.

Held for nearly three years in pre-trial solitary confinement, Hashmi eventually entered a plea and was sentenced to 15-years, which he is serving at the notorious ADX supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. For about four years after his extradition, Theoharis explained, Hashmi also lived under Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), which severely restricted his communication with the outside world. (For example, he was under 24-hour electronic monitoring, even when he was showering or relieving himself.)

Fahad Hashmi’s brother, Faisal, spoke next and reflected on the day his brother was extradited back home to the United States.  “This is the day our understanding of America changed.” Given the brutal circumstances of his pre-trial confinement, the plan to use an “anonymous” jury, and the fact that over 99 percent of Muslims charged with terrorism offenses are convicted, Fahad Hashmi had little choice but to ultimately plead guilty.

Pardiss Kebriaei, a Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), described how strange it was to visit Fahad Hashmi at ADX Florence after the years she’d spent seeing clients at Guantanamo Bay.  Even within the mainstream, Guantanamo has been marked as extraordinary, extreme, the zone of exception. Conversely the federal supermax has usually been ascribed a kind of normalcy, despite the fact that prisoners there spend 23 hours a day in small concrete cells and the remaining hour alone in a concrete exercise pen. Once inside ADX, Kebriaei saw the chaos hidden from public view: “If you could see through the walls you’d see 400 people in rooms the size of bathrooms beating their heads against the walls”.

Next, Tamer Mehanna moved the audience with a plea for empathy for the affected families. “Think of someone you love… Now imagine you will never kiss or hug them again. That’s what we all live with”.  His brother, Tarek Mehanna, is serving 17 ½ years for translating and posting what authorities said was al Qaeda propaganda. The ACLU, CCR, and others continue to maintain that Tarek’s alleged offenses were protected by free speech, but this past November, Mehanna’s conviction was upheld by a federal appeals court.

Sonali Sadequee’s brother, Shifa Sadequee, is also locked up. While he was in Bangladesh in 2005, just twelve days after his wedding, he was surrounded by men who whisked him away. “After he was arrested, that was it. We didn’t even know who took them away or why.” They learned on CNN that Sadequee was facing extradition to the United States to face conspiracy charges. He was in pre-trial solitary confinement for over 1,300 days and is now serving 17 years in the special Communication Management Unit, made up almost entirely of Muslims, in the federal prison in Terre Haute.

Sarah Khasawinah spoke on behalf of Ahmed Abu-Ali, who is currently serving a life sentence at ADX based on a confession coerced through torture by officials in Saudi Arabia, where he was studying at the time. Abu-Ali also endures 23-hour solitary confinement and still lives under the weight of SAMs, which even prevent his family from repeating anything he says – like how he’s been doing.  He is contained in a cage of steel and concrete where even his echoes – the words he tells his family through the glass partition – are proscribed and disappeared by the courts.  As Sarah said, “It’s up to us to be his voice.”

Finally, Tarek Ismail, a Counterterrorism and Human Rights Fellow at Columbia University, provided an overview of the way terrorism cases are pursued in the domestic criminal justice system – including pre-arrest due processes issue like surveillance, entrapment, and the recruitment of informants.  It is as though the tactics developed by the FBI and police forces during COINTELPRO have been perfected under the War on Terror: communities ripped apart by mistrust; political activists slandered and framed; and potential allies driven away by racist propaganda.

This launch is merely the first of many events for No Separate Justice.  The campaign will be holding monthly vigils on the first Monday of every month in front of the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Manhattan. This is where Fahad Hashmi was held for nearly three years in pre-trial solitary confinement and others continue to endure extreme isolation. NSJ campaigners hope that such a “physical presence [at MCC] will help make visible what’s been made invisible and normal” to New Yorkers and Americans at large – and thus help expose the horrors of our “domestic black sites.” The first vigil is scheduled for February 3 at 6 pm at 150 Park Row.

The campaign has also launched a website, Twitter feed (@NSJCampaign), and Facebook page, and Educators for Civil Liberties is curating a related series of articles in an ongoing collaboration with The Nation magazine.

The post New Campaign Highlights Post-9/11 Civil and Human Rights Abuses on American Soil appeared first on Solitary Watch.

Seven Days in Solitary [1/12/13]

Mon, 01/13/2014 - 00:20

The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts.

• The National Catholic Reporter publishes a piece on the Photo Requests from Solitary project, noting that “[i]n 2009, every man in Tamms received an intriguing letter: ‘Tamms Year 
Ten Committee
 will
 make a photograph
 for
 you.
 Would
 you like 
to 
request one?’”

Politico Magazine publishes a photo essay entitled “This Is What Solitary Confinement Does to Your Face,” a collaboration between the The Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED Public Radio with before and after photos of people who have been subjected to prolonged solitary.

The Washington Post reports on the ruling by a federal judge that Virginia’s practice of  automatically holding prisoners on death row in solitary confinement violates their constitutional right to due process.  According to the story, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema “said that the problem is exacerbated by the extended amount of time prisoners spend on death row. A prisoner could easily spend more than a decade on death row while the appeals process plays out, and never have an opportunity to join the general population.”

The Chicago Monitor reports on the detrimental effects of prolonged solitary on incarcerated youth, noting the findings of a study conducted by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch. The story states, “From a psychological standpoint, many young interviewees spoke of coping with serious mental health problems during solitary confinement such as suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, depression, anxiety, disturbed sleep patterns and uncontrollable anger or rage.”

The Texas Tribune reports that, due to inadequate funding, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has yet to follow through on a bill passed four months ago calling for an independent party to examine the use of solitary confinement in state prisons. According to the story, “advocacy organizations are working to find dollars to pay for the study they say is critical to understanding how often solitary confinement is used, how it affects inmates and how much it costs the state.”

ABQ Journal reports on the use of solitary confinement in the state of New Mexico, where “officials have the goal of cutting their segregation statistics from near 10 percent of inmates to 5 percent.” The story notes that if corrections authorities and prison reform advocates “can work together to make one of the worst punishments prisons can mete out a rare exception rather than a rule, it could only be a good thing for New Mexico.”

• Amnesty International (AI) calls on authorities in Louisiana to immediately release former Black Panther Albert Woodfox, who has spent over four decades in solitary confinement, from prison. A press release issued by Amnesty states, “On the eve of a federal court of appeals hearing on the case of Albert Woodfox, Amnesty International USA is calling on authorities in Louisiana to immediately release Woodfox… ‘A remedy to the injustice inflicted on Albert Woodfox by the state is long overdue,’ said [AI campaigner Tessa] Murphy.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that the New York City Department of Correction has curbed its use of solitary confinement of people with mental illness who break rules. According to the story, “The last of the prisoners being held in the Mental Health Assessment Unit for Infracted Inmates at Rikers Island jail were reassigned Dec. 31, and what is known as the punitive segregation program has been permanently closed, said Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro…”

BBC News Magazine publishes a piece describing how playing chess kept Russian human rights activist Natan Sharansky sane during his close to five years of being held in solitary confinement at a Siberian prison. “In his dark, empty, freezing punishment cell, with no-one to talk to, where he was forbidden to read or write, he played games in his head, obviously having to move for both sides, white and black: ‘Thousands of games – I won them all.’”

The post Seven Days in Solitary [1/12/13] appeared first on Solitary Watch.

Mentally Ill in South Carolina’s Prisons Suffer Decades of Abuse and Neglect

Sat, 01/11/2014 - 11:18

Photo: South Carolina Department of Corrections, Trial Exhibit

A court ruling out of South Carolina this week deserves the attention of anyone concerned with the use of solitary confinement and other brutal conditions and practices on the hundreds of thousands of people with mental illness who are held in our nation’s prisons. The best reporting on the ruling comes from The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen, in a lengthy piece titled “When Good People Do Nothing: The Appalling Story of South Carolina’s Prisons.”

On Wednesday, in one of the most wrenching opinions you will ever read, a state judge in Columbia ruled that South Carolina prison officials were culpable of pervasive, systemic, unremitting violations of the state’s constitution by abusing and neglecting mentally ill inmates. The judge, Michael Baxley, a decorated former legislator, called it the “most troubling” case he ever had seen and I cannot disagree. Read the ruling. It’s heartbreaking.

The evidence is now sadly familiar to anyone who follows these cases: South Carolina today mistreats these ill people without any evident traces of remorse.  Even though there are few disputed material issues of law or fact in the case, even though the judge implored the state to take responsibility for its conduct, South Carolina declared before the sun had set Wednesday that it would appeal the ruling—and thus likely doom the inmates to years more abuse and neglect. That’s not just “deliberate indifference,” the applicable legal standard in these prison abuse cases. That is immoral.

But what makes this ruling different from all the rest—and why it deserves to become a topic of national conversation—is the emphasis Judge Baxley placed upon the failure of the good people of South Carolina to remedy what they have known was terribly wrong since at least 2000. Where was the state’s medical community while the reports piled up chronicling the mistreatment of these prisoners? Where was the state’s legal community as government lawyers walked into court year after year with frivolous defenses for prison policies? Where were the religious leaders, the ones who preach peace and goodwill?

No one in power came forward. Even as the evidence became more clear and compelling that something horrible was happening inside those prisons.

Cohen delves into the history of the problem, from the early 1990s, when “South Carolina did reasonably good job of caring for its mentally ill prisoners,” through decades of growing prison populations and decreasing budgets for prison health care. He traces more than a decade of scathing reports, lawsuits, and whistleblower efforts that clearly documented what was going on in South Carolina’s prisons.

Judge Baxley wrote in his opinion: “The evidence in this case has proved that inmates have died in the South Carolina Department of Corrections for lack of basic mental health care, and hundreds more remain substantially at risk for serious physical injury, mental decompensation, and profound, permanent mental illness.” Cohen provides more detail as to “what these words mean”:

They mean that one mentally ill inmate, James Wilson, was kept in solitary confinement for at least 2,491 consecutive days. It means that an intellectually disabled (and schizophrenic) man named Jerome Laudman was abused and neglected, and then left to rot in his own feces and vomit, until he died of a heart attack. It means that force was used 81 times on a severely mentally ill inmate named James Howard. It means that some mentally ill inmates were restrained at length in what they called a “crucifix position.”

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It means some mentally ill prisoners were “routinely placed” naked “in shower stalls, ‘rec cages’, interview booths, and holding cells for hours and even days at a time.” It means that suicidal prisoners who were supposed to be receiving anti-psychotic medication were not receiving them. No surprise, the judge wrote, since SCDC’s “computer system cannot retrieve the names or numbers of all inmates referred” for mental health treatment, “the number of inmates who have made serious suicide attempts; or the number of inmates whose psychotropic medications have expired without being timely renewed.”

It means that mentally ill inmates are routinely caged for days in their own feces and urine, having to eat literally where they shit. It means, Judge Baxley wrote, that “the deposition testimony of some psychiatrists reveals an alarming lack of knowledge about the policies and procedures at SCDC.” One such psychiatrist did not know “what mental health counselors do, and had ‘no idea’ who drafted treatment plans” for inmates. And even if the mental health professionals knew what they were doing, they wouldn’t have been able to do much. The ratio of inmates needing treatment to professionals able to provide it was astronomically high.

The article, which combines solid facts with appropriate outrage, can be read in full here. Cohen concludes: “This epic ruling forces South Carolina, and the rest of us, to make a choice about what we want our prisons to say about who we are as a people and what we represent as a civilized society.”

The post Mentally Ill in South Carolina’s Prisons Suffer Decades of Abuse and Neglect appeared first on Solitary Watch.

Seven Days in Solitary [1/5/14]

Mon, 01/06/2014 - 00:23

The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts.

The Indo American News reports on the story of Akaash Dalal, an Indian American teen who was arrested for bombing four New Jersey synagogues. Dalal pleaded guilty, and Dalal’s father claims that Akaash had nothing to do with the bombing. While he awaits his trial, he’s been living in solitary, “holed up in a tiny, windowless cell.”

• According to NBC, after launching a nationwide investigation of detainees’ deaths in restraint chairs, the NBC Charlotte I-Team found that more than “more than three dozen men and women” have died in restraint chairs around the country. Even with these findings, there is no widespread ban on the use of chairs, aside from several human rights groups.

In These Times reports on the solitary confinement of Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, a former member of the New African liberation movement convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1970. In 2005, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and although he merely pleads for human contact, he still experiences confinement.

• In Trenton, New Jersey, the Juvenile Justice Commission and Rutgers University “have agreed to pay $400,000 to settle a federal lawsuit over the solitary confinement” of two boys who suffered from mental illness and were put into isolation for long stretches of time. Advocates hope that the settlement will decrease and change the future use of solitary confinement in the Juvenile Justice Commission.

The Washington Post reports that in Louisville, Kentucky, a pair of hearing-impaired prisoners sued the state of Kentucky for not providing proper interpreter services. According to the men’s representation, Deborah Golden, being deaf or hearing-impaired in prison is “like being in solitary confinement even though you’re in the middle of people.”

Amnesty International reports on the fate of Albert Woodfox, a member of the Angola 3, whose been held in solitary confinement for 40 years. On January 7th, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hold a hearing determining whether or not Albert will be removed from solitary, and perhaps whether or not he will be set free from prison entirely

The post Seven Days in Solitary [1/5/14] appeared first on Solitary Watch.

Voices from Solitary: “This Massive Mind-Fuck Machine”

Sun, 01/05/2014 - 13:04

Sean Swain is has served 22 years of a 20-to-life sentence for a murder he maintains was committed in self-defense. He has done many long stints in solitary confinement, and is currently being held at the supermax Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown. A self-proclaimed anarchist, he has twice run for governor of Ohio from his prison cell. His writing appears at www.seanswain.org. The following comes from a letter to Solitary Watch written in December. He welcomes mail at: Sean Swain 243205, OSP, 878 Coitsville-Hubbard Road, Youngstown, OH 44505.  –Jean Casella

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

I arrived here at Ohio’s super-duper-uber-meza-ultra-max on 29 August. I call it that because super-max sounds so ridiculous. If maximum is maximum, the most, what can be “super” or “beyond” the maximum? If it’s more secure than the already-existing maximum, then it supercedes it as being the new maximum, but it doesn’t become super-maximum. This is my deliberate, hyperbolic use of multiple prefixes to heckle the state’s grammatical euphemists.

They even have to abuse language.

Since August I note there are days I experience heightened anger. I call them rage days. They happen seemingly at random and I am self-aware enough to know that my emotional response is exagerrated. Sometimes pencil cups tip over. It’s not a cause for murderous rage. So I breathe deeply and recall that the situation I’m in creates those symptoms, and I self-talk through recognizing the relative insignificance of a spilled pencil cup compared to all the very serious disasters happening in the world. Re-centering. Re-grounding….

I fear losing my mind. I rear that on a long enough trajectory I’m doomed. I’m like a flood victim stacking sandbags, contemplating that I can hold out for six months, or a year, and if I am ambitious and scramble, I can hold off the inevitable for 18 months, but sooner or later the water will begin to trickle over the top of the barricades and then…

Smash. Pencil cup hits the wall.

Solitary confinement is waking every day already stacking the sandbags in your head to stave off the flood of irrationality that seeks to consume you…while operating within slow-motion mundanity of sensory deprivation. It’s almost comic, really, how those two realities, the internal and the external, are so oddly divergent. The internal feels like everything is emergent–bells and buzzers and sirens–and the external, that which triggers the internal madness, is less eventful the cows grazing or paint drying. But that’s just it. It’s the vacuum, the absence the gets the monkey of the mind scrambling for some kind of sensory toy to grab.

I smirk to myself when the shrink comes around once a week. He asks me if I’m OK. My response is always, “I think so.” It’s the best I can do when I know there are prisoners smeared in their own fecal matter and muttering to unseen demons and they tell the shrink, “Yes, I’m doing fantastic.”

I’m not smeared in fecal matter.

Yet.

I don’t hear disembodied voices screaming at me to check my tire pressure.

Yet.

Am I OK? I think so.

I don’t tell him that I’m afraid. I’m afraid of the day when a shit suit sounds like a grat idea, when Shabriri, the Demon of Blindness, screeches at me about unsafe driving conditions…

I also consider the irony that this massive mind-fuck machine works feverishly, day-in and day-out, prying out my psychological fingernails with a pair of rusty pliers, and then sends around this poor, well-intentioned, professor-ish clipboard dragger to inquire about my well being, prairie-dogging through the plexiglass bulletproof windown of the steel door on my tomb, seeking signs of my inevitable mental disorganization.

I think so. I think so. I think so. Yes…

A pencil-pusher was making rounds recently. Thru the bulletproof glass he asked me, “Do you know why you’re here?”

I responded, “Because there was an open cell available and the director doesn’t like my criticism of his policy?”

He looked side to side and saw the coast was clear. He shrugged. “Well, yeah,” was his reply.

Am I OK? I’m still stacking the sandbags. I haven’t given up.

Yet.

The post Voices from Solitary: “This Massive Mind-Fuck Machine” appeared first on Solitary Watch.

Seven Days in Solitary [12/29/13]

Sun, 12/29/2013 - 15:07

The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts.

The Denver Post publishes an editorial in support of providing people who are held in administrative segregation at the Colorado State Penitentiary with outdoor exercise. Noting that a lawsuit has been filed maintaining “that prisoners spend 23 hours in cells about 80 square feet and that the exercise room is a cell only slightly larger,” the story states that Colorado Department of Corrections Executive Director Rick Raemisch “is now considering three options to alleviate the exercise problem at the CSP, according to a Denver Post article last week. We’re glad to see it.”

• The Denver Channel reports on Colorado Department of Corrections Executive Director Rick Raemisch’s stated plans for change to the state’s prison system, which include increased transparency and limiting the use of solitary confinement. Quoting Raemisch, the story says “A year ago we had… 140 major mentally ill individuals in administrative segregation. Today we have 8 and we’re working on those 8. We are down from about slightly over 7 percent of the population being in administrative segregation to down to 3.9 percent.” 

Between the Lines reports on a recent speech delivered by Hope Metcalf, Director of the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School, on the cruelty of solitary confinement as practiced in U.S. prisons. Underscoring the need for change in the use of the practice, Metcalf states, “There may be people who are violent and who are also mentally ill, and they need to be dealt with, but dealt with in a way that actually works.”

Democracy Now! hosts a round-table discussion on the increasing number of aging political prisoners in the U.S., many of whom suffer from deteriorating health and are held in isolation, seeking “release, clemency or a pardon. In some cases, they are simply asking to be released into general population after decades of solitary confinement. Many have poorly treated diseases such as diabetes, while at least one has terminal cancer.”

• BBC News airs a Newsnight segment on the California prison hunger strike and the lives of people held inside Security Housing Units (SHUs) in prisons throughout the state.

The post Seven Days in Solitary [12/29/13] appeared first on Solitary Watch.



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