“I write, read, cry, sleep and beg for death.”
That is how fifty-six-year-old inmate J., in Utah State Prison, Draper’s Uinta 1 facility describes life in Utah’s isolation units, which houses the state’s death row prisoners in addition to inmates placed there for disciplinary issues.
J. has spent six years in Uinta 1, a place he calls a “place of pain and terror.” Describing his “very ugly” cell as twelve by six feet, he says that with the protrusions by the “joke bed—concrete slab” and toilet, he can’t walk. There is “no prospect for either repair nor suitable sanitation.”
J. writes that his biggest struggle in Uinta 1 is the “daily, round the clock victimization.” His experience, a “physical, mental, emotional and spiritual horror.” J. is described by a fellow inmate in Uinta 1 as a “very religious” man, who is “able to sing almost any oldie song beautifully.”
According to one inmate, correctional guards once taunted J., calling him a “worthless piece of shit demon.”
J., an Air Force veteran who dedicated himself to Mormonism following a 1977 suicide attempt, has been in Uinta 1 for over 5 years. “I’ve had no clothing to wear since they stole my sweat pants bottoms in 2005,” he says.
He refuses to file grievances, he says, “because Chapter 13 of Deuteronomy precludes even the suggestion. Because I maintain my honor I am made a unique target. ‘Do what you want to him. He can’t file grievances!’ They laugh, and laugh, and laugh.”
J. has attempted suicide while in Uinta 1, and has been repeatedly moved back and forth between Uinta 1 and the prison’s mental health unit, called Olympus. His refusal to obey orders from the guards and his psychological state, keeps him perpetually isolated. Sentenced to a term of three years to life in prison on a “conspiracy to commit rape” charge for marrying his teenage daughter to an adult man, he believes that he will spend the rest of his life in prison. And for him, that likely means a lifetime in solitary confinement.
Uinta 1 is divided into 8 sections, each with 12 cells. As of this writing, there are 90 inmates in isolation. The unit is always at or near it’s 96-inmate capacity. According to the Department of Corrections, “the period of time any one inmate remains on admin segregation or disciplinary segregation varies drastically based on their individual case.”
The Corrections spokesman went on to state that “the minimum an offender would have the opportunity to come out of his cell is approximately 3 hours per week.”
In addition, “those housed on admin segregation and disciplinary segregation are seen periodically by housing and security officials as well as their caseworker for a discussion about their current status and to determine whether that classification needs to continue or can be lifted based on their progress.”
A Government Records Access and Management Act information request yielded a letter claiming that the Utah DOC does not maintain records pertaining to how many inmates are classified as segregated, nor anything pertaining to costs.
At Uinta 1, however, the reports from inmates are consistently bleak.
Inmate S. has spent over seven years in isolation, and has written that “like dogs in a kennel we are isolated and kept in individual cells twenty-four hours a day, fed half-rotten food and subject to every kind of psychological, social, verbal dehumanization known to man.”
S. has been held in isolation for his protection due to his status as a sex offender. However, he believes that his time in Uinta 1 amounts to torture. “When you are subject to dehumanization of any kind it is a form of torture. Torture is a criminal activity. It doesn’t matter whether the victim is a convict, civilian or cop. Torture is unacceptable. If you felt that my crime was irredeemable, society, you should’ve just executed me. Keeping me in here like this, you might as well have.”
Among the other Uinta 1 inmates is 76-year old D., who has been in Uinta 1 since 2001 following a disciplinary write-up. He reports he spends his time in his 6×12 cell working out “every other day in the hope that I may be able to live until 2060, at which time the U.S. is supposed to have a new plane that makes no noise and can fly real low to the ground and is shaped like a cigar, with no wings.”
D. has been reported by another inmate to throw things around his cell and groan; he is often frustrated by body cramps.
In correspondences with Solitary Watch, he would meticulously copy the indexes of books and count every line he had written something on.
The conditions of Utah’s Uinta 1 facility have received little attention over the years. Recently, the Salt Lake City magazine City Weekly featured a Cover Story on the isolation of inmates with mental health issues in Uinta 1. As happened with Solitary Watch’s official records requests, the Utah DOC claimed not to have access to information regarding the prevalence of mental health issues in Uinta 1.
Solitary Watch will continue to report on the situation in Uinta 1.