Since first appearing in an October 16th, 2010 Voices from Solitary post, Utah State Prison, Draper, prisoner Brandon Green has been a consistent and prolific chronicler of “the vortex” that is the supermax Uinta One facility. Over 90 inmates are held in solitary confinement in the facility, where inmates are held in 8×6 cells for up to 24 hours a day. Inmates may be placed in the facility for protection (voluntary and involuntary) or as punishment for rules violations. Most are not allowed phone calls or visitations, and reading materials are restricted. The facility has been described as “a place of pain and terror,” with one inmate commenting “no wonder there are so many suicides.”
Brandon Green, 30, born and raised in Utah, has been in and out of prisons, and solitary confinement, for a decade. In 2003, he was arrested for driving a stolen truck. In an essay published on a blog operated by a supporter, he writes of his entrance into the world of solitary confinement: “115 Lbs, sick and coming off a two year crack addiction, you had to fight to stay unmolested and alive. The prison sends you to solitary confinement for fighting.”
For eleven months he served time in prison, much of which was in solitary confinement. His time in isolation would have a profoundly negative effect on him. Writing, “While in solitary you developed these fears, this hate, this ‘animal-like’ emotion. You learned about needles from a neighbor and psychotropic medications from another neighbor. You start to shoot cocaine and methamphetamine at home. Your mom starts you on medication. You drive 400 miles, up and back, to Las Vegas every two days to keep your dope supply up and the money supply up by selling.”
Being rearrested, he was incarcerated for 18 months, much of which was in solitary. Sent to a half-way house upon release, due to “the stress after all that solitary” he was rearrested and served two additional months before being released. In 2006, he was turned in by his mother following a resumption of involvement in criminal activity, and was arrested while driving back to Utah from Las Vegas. Upon being arrested, and not wanting ‘to come back to solitary, ” he slipped his handcuffs and reached for the shotgun in the vehicle, prompting a swift response by officers. While in jail he pulled sprinklers to flood his cell, engaged in self-harm, and threw feces. He was forcibly medicated for a month while in a strip cell following a suicide attempt.
Following a stint in Utah State Prison, Draper’s Olympus facility, the prisons mental health facility, Green became a productive prisoner. Receiving his GED, completing courses for substance abuse, computer literacy, financial literacy, anger management, thinking for a change, he routinely lifted weights and worked a job as a food server for two years, Green felt that he was making significant progress. However, in 2008, the prison took “everybody’s jobs and closes the gym at the same time you graduate. You’re fucked. You can’t lift weights. You started with the needles. With the heroin. Your arm swells up the size of your leg from an infection and you contract Hepatitis-C. Another stroke. Your back’s blown out from too big a stomach and too many squats in the weight room. Your arms’ veins collapse. Your heart and brain hurt because of the infection and the loss of vein. You decide to jump the fence. Either they’ll shoot you or you can escape. Dumb idea. Back to solitary.”
In essays submitted to Solitary Watch, Green has expressed considerable frustration at his predicament. Since 2008, he has been in solitary confinement. Aside from the escape attempt, he has remained in solitary confinement for refusing psychiatric drugs for a “protected”. As other inmates in the facility have indicated, mental health treatment for inmates in solitary amounts to a detached, seconds long inquiry of “How are you doing?” The label of being deemed “mentally ill” due to a history of self-harm and suicide attempts, and the perceived legitimacy of such labels, he argues, is oppressive. “The worst is having my own mother, brother, sister, grandma, aunts, cousins, everyone hold me down and chase me down and bring me down into the needles reach. Telling me I need it. Leaving me when I refuse it. Dangling themselves before me saying if I’ll only submit to poison, torture, death, they’ll ‘be there.’ If not…’Bye Bye Son. You don’t exist anymore.’”
He spends virtually all of his time in his small cell. He refuses to leave his cell to take showers, preferring to use his sink for bathing, due to the requirement that his face be covered with a spit mask, and that along with the arm and leg shackles a dog-leash attached to him. Aside from periodic transfers to different cells and having blood drawn to monitor his Hepatitis-C (for which he receives no medical services), he spends his time in his small cell. When he isn’t working out (“traded drugs for pushups”), reading and writing, he meticulously cleans his cell. Outside of all of Uinta One’s cell doors are sandbags the prison set up to prevent flooding. As a consequence, small bugs regularly infest the bags and invade his cell.
“When I write these things. This hurt, anger, and despair because of a UN outlawed institution. When I write and people read it it just makes them happier to have taken the time out of their busy lives to listen. Just listening makes them feel like they’ve done something. Like they’ve contributed. Like they are progressive.”
Currently awaiting a parole hearing in spring 2013, Brandon Green has filed three lawsuits against Utah prison officials, challenging, respectively, prison censorship, torture, and medical malpractice. He writes more about them here.
The following is an essay written by Brandon Green that expands on the complex relationship between Green and the experience of solitary confinement.
Another similitude could be the two week drunk passed out with a lot of bile and alcohol just sitting in his stomach. A good friend dies so he locks himself in a room and drinks himself to death with a Whiskey Lullaby. Someone would have to come and slap his face real hard a couple times. To pour cold water on him. And accept his verbal abuse. Get him to sit up so his body can vomit the alcohol bile out of his stomach. Wash him and feed him.
Solitary becomes that after years. Yet no one’s coming around to slap you here. Everything and everyone just adds to the bile. And each day its like another good friend dies. Most times in reality people do die.
My grandma writes. But only with bad news. Last time I was denied parole in 2010 I told her her job would be worse than mine. All I have to do is hold up to the bad news she sends. She has to send it.
You hear about soldiers in wars who complete their tours and return to society feeling as if life’s not enjoyable or exciting enough. So they go back for another tour. Until they are killed. Our war is this place and we feel less when our tours are up. We keep coming back until we die. A kidnapped victim learns to love his/her kidnapper. Thats another similitude. We love this pain.
There has always been willing participants for drug trials, for air flight testing, for space expeditions, for deep sea submarines… dangerous occupations. Once a person is used to that lifestyle, nothing else compares.
I know how fucked up it sounds to compared torture to the above examples. But the very first 24 hours a person spends like this. In solitary. So alone. So much internal turbulence with nothing like TV, radio, magazines or conversation to hide it beneath. But I’ve seen it. I experience it. A man leaves this place to go to general population or to a less “secure” facility where you have electronics and a cellie. You can just count down the moths before he will return. T-minus nine, eight…
And the first thing one feels is “Whew, I’m back. I missed it. I love solitary.” He broke his cellies jaw with an elbow. To measure if he carried over some violence from solitary into that situation. Or he learned to employ violence just to come back. Its a countdown.
Certain people cry and do anything to get out of here. Certain people die just to stay here. I think it is the willpower involved to maintain your sanity in solitary. Every fiber of your being must focus on staying OK through the hours, days, years. And then to be removed into a place that supplies enough “OK” vibes to get you through, you come to miss your particular brand of OK. This ties into me only anting to hear my songs I have in my head. Me wanting to not listen to others way of thinking because its silly or less deep.
We become just a solitary willpower not wanting to go crazy. And we discover that all the bullshit we used to employ as a distraction to ourselves, to pain, to reflection, to hurt–the mainstream activities–are just so petty, trivial and above all unnecessary. We learn we can do without everything. Without anything. And we become content with nothing.
The more they take away from us year after year, the more family disappears, the more one doesn’t want to go home, doesn’t want a wife and a job and bills and an Amerikkan future…It is like waiting for the world to give us a reason to live. But the world just keeps giving us reasons to not give a shit.”
Years ago indigent captives received five envelopes a week. Now its one. We had five outside contacts a week. Now one. We used to be fed enough to stay full. Now we are starved. We used to have shampoo and lotion. Now we don’t. We grumble for an hour each time something is taken from us. Then move right along to inventing the creative willpower to survive with no penpals and mail, a full stomach or clean hair. Moving right along. We expect tragedy.