In 2002, Rob Will was convicted of the murder of a police officer and sentenced to death. The New York Times, among others, has pointed to a lack of physical evidence linking Will to the murder, and he continues to claim his innocence. Will remains on Texas death row, in the Allen B. Polunsky Unit, notorious for its use of extreme solitary confinement. Writing in Mother Jones, Solitary Watch editors Jean Casella and James Ridgeway noted that the men housed in the Polunsky Unit of Texas’ Death Row “are housed in single cells on 22-hour-a-day lockdown, and even during their daily “recreation” hour, they are confined in separate cages. With no access to phones, televisions, contact visits, they remain in essentially a concrete tomb until execution day—a stretch of at least three years for the mandatory appeals, and far longer if they opt to keep fighting. Some have been known to commit suicide or waive their appeals rather than continue living under such conditions.” In his essay The Heaviness of Blood, Will illustrates the ways in which the oppressive and unforgiving environment of solitary creates insanity. –Abby Taskier
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Must the Italians be so very wicked? They have done this all throughout history: created soul-stirring strings music. Music that pulls at ones heartstrings, enhances the emotions with a slight caress, grasps ones deepest feelings and thrusts them into the heavens with the force of Zeus hurling thunderbolts, or smash-smash-smashes emotions into the abysmal depths of hell with the promise of bringing them back up…up-up-up to the highest heights of deep visceral reflection. There is always beauty to the music but sometimes it’s a dark beauty , a call to raise ones consciousness to the realm of musical spheres regardless of what else is occurring in ones environment but at the same time it compels one to hyper focus on the emotions at hand. Paganini, Vivaldi, Arcangelo, Corelli, Boccherini, they are all guilty of this and they knew exactly what they were doing in creating such sense enlivening music.
They have been playing many Italian composers recently and right now some Alessandro Scarlatti is on. A light cello concerto is playing but all I can think about is the heaviness of blood. Within the last two weeks, two guys on the pods were gassed and one was taken off the pod, right past my cell, covered in blood. He was in a non-responsive, catatonic state, hacking on himself with a razor when a C.O. [corrections officer] walked by. He was gassed and dragged out of his cell, strapped to a gurney and wheeled off to… we couldn’t find out but surely either the Psych Unit or the disciplinary pod.
The guy has been here for over a decade and has never been gassed before and never exhibited any form of suicidal behavior and has never engaged in self-mutilation. What happened? What pushed him over the edge? He is usually a very talkative, sociable and gregarious person. No one knows.
The other guy was attacked with riot gas and assaulted with the 37 mm riot control assault rifle in the dayroom. It was early in the morning so most people were asleep and only woke up when gas was deployed, the incident was ending and he was taken away to the F-pod dungeon. What exactly happened? No one knows. Something about and argument with a particularly oppressive and antagonistic C.O. who then lied to the Lt. and Sgt. The SWAT team arrived and the guy just stood there, perplexed, as he was attacked. He has been here years and has never been gassed before. He has never been aggressive with staff members and he wasn’t that day. No one really knows what happened.
Incidents like this are all too common in this environment. They happen consistently and this takes a heavy toll on the minds of those involved both directly and indirectly. Picture this: I’m in my cell with my headphones halfway on, listening to some nice music and standing at my door talking to my neighbor about painting techniques. Someone yells out, “They just gassed T!”
Huh? What? What’s going on? Another person yells out, “Now they’re dragging him out of his cell and he’s all bloody.”
This dramatically jars the psyche and causes one to hyper focus at the incident at hand. Everyone tries to figure out what happened. No one can. It’s an enigma, a frightening enigma. A thousand possible explanations are thrown out and bounced around, everyone hoping for some form of answer. There is none. This absolutely terrorizes the human psyche.
Then the avoidance sets in. No one wants to talk or think about it. Everyone silently hopes that they won’t be the next victim of this twisted, unforgiving environment… and then another insane gassing incident happens a few days later… Again and again and again. At any given moment, on any given day, insanity can erupt. Tear gas and blood. SWAT teams and screams of the insane.
The Germans have tried but they’ve always lagged behind the Italians concerning strings music-with exception of J. S. Bach perhaps and Mozart is alright. His violin concerto No. 1 is on right now. Not moving enough to caress deep emotion from within me but this is good music to meditate to and try to get the image of yet another bloody body being dragged past my cell out of my mind…
The Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) has agreed to a settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Prison Law Office and their co-counsel on behalf of more than 33,000 people held in state prisons. Filed in 2012, the landmark case was scheduled to go to trial earlier this […]
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. • Dissident Voice published a profile of Mumia Abu-Jamal and Jeremy Hammond, two political prisoners who have faced time in solitary confinement. • Undocumented immigrants currently and formerly held […]
Pope Francis Denounces Solitary Confinement, Calls for Prison Conditions That “Respect Human Dignity”
In a wide-ranging speech on Thursday, Pope Francis revealed himself as a passionate criminal justice reformer. His words also suggest that he is familiar with the controversies surrounding solitary confinement and supermax prisons, and strongly opposes their use. Speaking at the Vatican to representatives of the International Association of Penal Law, the Pope said: “All Christians and people […]
The American Friends Service Committee has a long history of advocating for the rights of the incarcerated, and against injustice and abuse in U.S. prisons, jails, and detention centers. Recently, AFSC released a report called Survivors Speak: Prisoner Testimonies of Torture in United States Prisons and Jails. The document was prepared as a Shadow Report to the official U.S. […]
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. • Arizona’s Department of Corrections (ADOC) has agreed to a settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other organizations on behalf of […]
The following story comes from Mustafa Zulu, who has been in solitary confinement for most of the past 22 years. He was born and raised in Washington, DC, where he watched both parents struggle with drug addiction. At the age of 16, he was tried as an adult and convicted of murder. He is currently serving […]
U.S. Government Tells UN Committee on Torture: “There Is No Systematic Use of Solitary Confinement in the United States”
Today, dozens of advocates will travel from around the country to Washington, DC, to take part in what are called “Civil Society Consultations” with representatives of the U.S. government on the subject of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). As a signatory of CAT, the […]
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. • At a Nebraska legislative committee, two ombudsmen testified that they feared Nikko Jenkins would become violent if released, and attempted for years to get him treatment and assistance […]
William Blake is in solitary confinement at Elmira Correctional Facility in upstate New York. In 1987, while in county court on a drug charge, Blake, then 23, grabbed a gun from a sheriff’s deputy and, in a failed escape attempt, murdered one deputy and wounded another. He is now 50 years old, and is serving […]
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. • Eighth Amendment attorney Martin Garbus published an Op-ed with the LA Times about cruel and unusual punishment in prisons and jails. • About thirteen individuals incarcerated by the […]
Guest Post by Margo Schlanger The following piece originally appeared in September 2013 in Tablet, and is republished here by permission of the author. Margo Schlanger is a professor of law at the University of Michigan and the former Department of Homeland Security Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. She helped to draft the American […]
The New York City Department of Correction (DOC) has plans to minimize the solitary confinement of 16 and 17 year olds on Rikers Island. This according to an internal memo obtained by the New York Times, as reported in an article published earlier this week. The revelation comes on the heels of a three-year investigation […]