J. has been incarcerated for 12 years, the last eight of which have been in solitary confinement. Initially convicted of robbery and sentenced to a five year term as a juvenile, he was returned to prison in Mississippi on a parole violation. He was caught drinking beer at a beach. Admitting that he was “at war with the guards” and engaging in both physical and verbal attacks on guards, he was placed in the infamous Unit 32 at Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman.
In 2007, he killed a death row inmate at Unit 32 and was sent to the United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) facility in Florence, Colorado, where prisoners spend 23-24 hours a day in their cell.
His record at Unit 32 included the stabbing of multiple prison guards. “I admit, I was at war with the guards,” he says. Disrespect, he says prompted the attacks. For these incidents and his frequent verbal berating of guards, he was kept in isolation in the once infamous unit.
One prisoner has described his cell this way,
“The confined space that you are housed in is a 7-by-9 foot sound proof cell that comes with a concrete slab and a thin mattress for a bed, a shower within the cell with a timer to conserve water and prevent flooding, a sink with no taps, just touch buttons…a toilet with a valve that shuts off the water after two flushes automatically for an hour, an immovable concrete desk and concrete stool, a polished steel mirror riveted to the concrete wall and a thirteen inch black and white television encased in plexiglass to prevent tampering.”
J. has spent five years in this bleak environment, except without a television. He has not seen or been able to speak with family for the five years that he has been in the federal supermax.
“We’re poor folk,” he says of his family, “and coming to visit is too expensive…from what I can tell very few people get visits…this place is too far from anyone’s family.”
He is currently looking forward to a visit from his sister next year. “My younger sister has been saving up to come visit me,” he writes.
J. is allowed one hour of exercise in “basically another cell” five days a week. The rest of the time he spends confined in his small cell. He spends his time meditating, reading, and exercising. He says of his self-described “vicious workout routine” as being a consequence of being “just half crazy and trying to hold on to the other half.”
While reading writers such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Machiavelli, he spends his time in isolation listening to screaming inmates around him. “The crazies,” he calls them.
The food he receives is “very, very small, just enough to stay hungry.” He writes, “When I first came here they fed really good, the last couple years it’s been dropping off, now it is horribly small. It hurts to be so dependent.”
“Solitary effects a persons mind, you can become anti-social or hate filled and murderously angry,” he writes.
He argues that the death penalty is a more humane punishment than solitary confinement.
He describes the psychological torment of his situation:
I hate living in a cage, handcuffed, chained, no contact with family. It hurts the soul. It is a pain my words do no justice. To be treated as if I’m dangerous and need to be caged and chained hurts. And no matter how long I’ve been in this situation or will be, never makes me prefer it. This whole reality is unnatural, but solitary is above and beyond. Humanity escapes this place. Men lose their minds. This whole scene is ugly. Year after year alone in a cage affects the strongest mind. This why I tell you death is more humane. I’d never take my own life, but I’m not at all in fear of death. This, what I’m living in is torture. Believe that. Words do nothing in explaining the truth of it.
J. is unsure of when he’ll ever be able to get back to general population and be able to interact with others. Sentenced to life in prison, he will likely remain in solitary confinement for many more years to come. He is currently awaiting charges for an incident with another ADX inmate, whom he attacked eight months ago.