As we approach Day 60 of the California Prisoner Hunger Strike, and hopefully enter a period of constructive negotiations, I would like to share excerpts from letters I’ve received over the past year from my penpal, Kenny. He asked that his words be shared. He has been in prison in Texas for 27 years; I believe nearly 16 of those have been in solitary confinement. Though he was not a part of this hunger strike, he speaks truth to the cruelty of solitary and to the inhumanity of our prison system.
It is a miracle that you found me because I get no mail. We are guaranteed at least 22 1/2 hours of bleak confinement. We have little or no face to face contact with others – not even with guards, who have been largely replaced by round-the-clock electronic surveillance. We sit in a windowless cell with a poured concrete sleeping slab, immobile concrete stool,and a small writing platform… Guards monitor us from control booths with video cameras and communicate through speakers. We may not decorate our white cell walls. We have no job, no vocational classes, vocational training, counseling, religious services, or communal activities.
Whenever we are moved from place to place, we are handcuffed, shackled hands to waist, hoble-chained ankle-to-ankle and accompanied by two guards… Isolation is strictly enforced. The psychological torture comes in many forms- you are deprived of sleep, as the guards wake you every 15 minutes, slamming doors. If that doesn’t wake you they bang on your door and you are forced to have a light shining in your face. They torture us by keeping us in a perpetual state of hunger sand coldness, forcing us to take showers in handcuffs, and then walking us back to our cells nude, unable to cover ourselves.
Faced with constant harassment, sensory deprivation, and isolation, some prisoners become enraged and aggressive. Others retreat into themselves, choose to sleep most of the day, refuse exercise, stop writing to family and friends, and turn on their cell lights only to get light or medication… Some enter a private world of madness, scream incessantly in their cells. These places are nothing but soulless wasteland. You have no idea how lonely and discouraging it can be to sit behind bars for years wishing for someone to talk to. I hope you’ll write back.
I am sick and tired of prison!!! The public keeps dodging them, and the government keeps building them… Actually, the public is failing to understand that these “prisoncrats” are administering “psycho-tropic” drugs and all kinds of other “mental deterrents” to those of us they constitute uncontrollable – I’m sating that if you have several prisoners that have mental disorders established in a “white-blemished walled” cell, with illuminated lites on from 4:30am to 9:30pm then subject them to a “nightbrite lite” for the rest of the time, featuring an off colored green encasement with 5,700 micro-holes within it. Anybody will brake…
Let me say this: I was 22 when I came to prison and of course I have changed tremendously over the years. But I had always had a strong sense of myself and in the last few years I felt I was losing my identity. There was a deadness in my body that eluded me, as though I could not exactly locate its site. I would be aware of this numbness, this feeling of atrophy, and it haunted the back of my mind. Because of this numb spot, I felt peculiarly off balance, the awareness of something missing, of a blank spot, a certain intimation of emptiness…
I was very familiar with the Kenny who came to prison, but that Kenny no longer exists. And the one I am now is in some ways a stranger. You may find this difficult to understand but it is very easy for one in prison to lose his sense of self.In prison, we get only hate stares and sour frowns. Years and years of bitter looks… Individuality is not nourished in prison, neither by the officials nor by the convicts. It is a deep hole out of which to climb. First they cut us off systematically from what little family family members and friends that we have left, then once out of view of the public’s scrutiny, they torture and brutalize us! The media never report to the public that officials misuse their authority — and take their frustrations, avengements, etc, out on us…
Guards and administrative staff leak false information to the media. But, authorities defend he near absolute control of communications and environment as necessary to suppress violence. And while inmate-to-inmate violence is certainly reduced – the level of physical and mental abuse perpetrated by guards against prisoners is extreme… Minor offenses, such as refusing to return a cup in protest of cold coffee or declining to attend an optional hearing, can result in “cell extraction.”
In this brutal procedure, a team of six to eight guards in combat gear – with face visors and riot shields – often shoots and wounds the prisoner with a pellet gun and then with a taser stun-gun before opening the inmate’s cell door. Once the door is open, the guards rush inside, beat the prisoner, and fully restrain him with chains. Once restrained, the inmate is often beaten again, and then left hogtied for hours in the corridor or cell.
These blank gray torture chambers are now showcased nationwide as a 21st-century prototype… Their purpose is to minimize human contact and maximize sensory deprivation. The ACLU says yes that long-term confinement is torture… Physicians for Human Rights agrees… They said that at the very least, it constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment…
Meanwhile here: it is chic for politicians to be tough on crime, but is it really in the public’s interest to allow these places to become soulless wastelands? The employees become desensitized to the value of life and their children learn by example. And they function on their own exclusive ideology (racial supremacy, hegemony, sexism and homophobia) characteristic of nazi germany, fascism and imperial democracy. Many view themselves to be above the law because they operate in clandestine mode, outside of the public’s view, having to answer only to themselves, which allows them to cover up any misconduct…
No one seems to look under that soiled rug of social conditions — but rather seems more willing to sweep us as labeled criminals under a grimy mat and keep us here — forever!!! No one seems to grasp the concept that criminals are not born, but made. As are the system imposed to deal with them.