Perhaps the most moving testimony Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on solitary confinement came from death row exonoree Anthony Graves. Graves spent over 18 years on Texas’ death row for a crime he did not commit. Living in an 8 x 12 cell, he had little social contact, and described horrible, degrading conditions. “Like all death row inmates, I was kept in solitary confinement. I lived under some of the worst conditions imaginable with the filth, the food, the total disrespect of human dignity,” he testified, “I lived under the rules of a system that is literally driving men out of their minds.”
He goes on:
I was subjected to sleep deprivation. I would hear the clanging of metal doors throughout the night, an officer walking the runs and shining his flash light in your eyes, or an inmate kicking and screaming because he’s losing his mind. Guys become paranoid, schizophrenic, and can’t sleep because they are hearing voices. I was there when guys would attempt suicide by cutting themselves, trying to tie a sheet around their neck or overdosing on their medication. Then there were the guys that actually committed suicide.
Mr. Graves continues,
Solitary confinement does one thing, it breaks a man’s will to live and he ends up deteriorating. He’s never the same person again. Then his mother comes to see her son sitting behind plexiglass, whom she hasn’t been able to touch in years, and she has to watch as her child deteriorates right in front of her eyes. This madness has a ripple effect. It doesn’t just affect the inmate; it also affects his family, his children, his siblings and most importantly his mother.
His experience in isolation has continued to haunt him,
I have been free for almost two years and I still cry at night, because no one out here can relate to what I have gone through. I battle with feelings of loneliness. I’ve tried therapy but it didn’t work. The therapist was crying more than me. She couldn’t believe that our system was putting men through this sort of inhumane treatment.
To read his complete testimony, click here.
To watch the full hearing from Tuesday, click here.
Mr. Graves joined Solitary Watch co-founder James Ridgeway today on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman to discuss solitary confinement and the historic hearing.