The following was written by Tony, 35, who is engaged in the statewide hunger strike against long-term solitary confinement and related issues at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, California. Incarcerated sine he was nineteen years old, he has been in the Security Housing Units (SHU) for over nine years, longer than the average term of 6.8 years. He writes about the mental challenges that he faces while locked in what he calls a “tomb box,” and makes an important, practical appeal to the reader: “Ask yourselves do we want a rehabilitated person with an education and job skills who can contribute to society? Or do we want an angrily, hateful, uneducated, and unskilled person who was mentally tortured back on the street?” –Sal Rodriguez
My letter to family and friends………
I am a prisoner, have been since the age of nineteen. I am now thirty-five years of age. I was placed in the S.H.U without Due Process, originally. Not for infractions of rules and regulations. Rather hearsay and embellishments. The California Department of Corrections, rather than provide me educational/ rehabilitation programs, instead simply warehouse me in a tomb box, windowless cell, with no human contact, I am basically sensory deprived. I live in the worlds infamous security housing unit at Pelican Bay State Prison. For us in the Security Housing Units (SHU) this place is nothing more than a torture chamber.
I have been in the S.H.U. for over nine (9) years . I was placed in Ad–Seg. in 2003, and I haven’t been able to touch or hug my loved one’s since then. Every single minute feels like being under water trying to gasp for air. Day in and day out, confined , isolated within a concrete box. The space is the size of a large bathroom. This is my daily existence. Isolation gnaws at the brain. Imagine yourself in your own windowless bathroom, day after day, with no human touch or able to see the sun, much less feel it. I am keenly aware of every single minute. Time weighs heavy. What is at stake? My sanity.
Who invented this type of punishment? Who thought it was a good idea to place a human being in a confined space, deeply isolated. Until, to the point, a human breaks and becomes mentally unraveled. Who? Only in an institution or group of people that have lost their humanness.
The use of isolation as a tactic to break humans was practiced by the once Soviet Union KGB and the North Korean government and Vietnam Government as a torture method. More recently, The United States of America on terrorist at Guantanamo Bay. P.O.W’s from the United States, would attest to the fact that this was a tactic to break a soldier who were prisoners of war. Senator John McCain of Arizona was subjected to this tactic for four years, as a P.O.W, in the Vietnam War. Is isolation torture? YES…
Long term isolation may not leave physical scars, but it scars the mind. With its timed, methodic, sinister, daily isolation, to break
Mental torture methods are being practiced everyday within our nation’s borders! You might say, “WHAT?!” Yes, everyday imprisoned humans, just like myself , all across civilized America are being subjected to long term isolation. NOT just in the state of California, but also, Colorado, Chicago, Ohio, New York, etc. Which most American people do not even know. Within the walls of the prison, I am in their: Security Housing Units. This is a cover up name for what is more suitable and should be called:
Mental Torture Chamber.
Many people think that it’s okay to torture prisoner’s because we have been dehumanized by the system. That we are nothing more than criminals. Worst of the worst. That we are monsters. That we are shot-callers, violent to the core. We have been called this and that long enough. They have conveniently convinced themselves and everyone else that this is to be true. for that, now, they can treat us anyway that they want. We are less than human to them.
It’s understandable that in a civil society there is a rule of law and justice must be served, but where within the functions of justice did it become acceptable to inflict the injustice of mental torture. Prisoner’s, criminals, convicts, we are still human. Are we not? We feel. We love and are loved. We have hope. Goals. We even dream….. We eagerly ask for rehabilitative programs, to be taught skills, to better ourselves, and to be educated. It’s a proven fact that prisoner’s who are provided such programs, have a greater chance of not returning to prison. That is a good thing for everyone. Even with the fact, prison administrations still fit to spend tax dollars not on rehabilitation programs, but rather to simply isolate us in a windowless concrete box. We are placed in long term isolation where we either develop a mental health condition, or naturally begin to hate our captors.
Our prison system has simply boiled down to a policy of: LOCK THEM UP AND THROW AWAY THE KEY. This, however, only works against the interests of society. Because the reality is simple; a large percentage of all people imprisoned will someday be released. Ask yourselves do we want a rehabilitated person with an education and job skills who can contribute to society? Or do we want an angrily, hateful, uneducated, and unskilled person who was mentally tortured back on the street? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.) is badly enough. Now, imagine some-thing equal or greater than that. The answer is quite simple. We can achieve this. It’s not impossible: all that needs to be done is to employ the human element of treating prisoner’s like human beings. That is all have ever requested.
It is up to us all to demand that the prison system spend tax dollars on rehabilitation programs, Not on employing long term isolation. Call and or write your Governor, Senators, Congressman, Congresswoman, and stress to them the importance to end long term isolation. They have your vote(s) and best of interest to listen. It’s been said that the humanness of a civilized society is measured in how it treats its prisoner’s.
The Security Housing Unit with its current policies and practices is an entity that does nothing else but breeds hate and despair. the Security Housing Units should be shut down. Nothing good is gained from long term isolation.
Every human being imprisoned within the confines of SHU wants nothing more than to achieve the complete closure of the “mental torture chambers”. It is why on July 8th, 2013 inmates who want better treatment of our human rights will be participating in a state wide, peaceful, non-violent, hunger strike. Others in other states similar to our situation are encouraged to participate. We will be demanding that the human element be the governing part of how prison’s are run. We will sacrifice our health and or lives for this belief. The frightening part of it all is, that we the so-called “MONSTERS”. and not our captors, demand this. We are on the side of human rights.
When you the readers out there hear about our peaceful protest don’t think, “SHIT, IT’S JUST A BUNCH OF SNIVELING PRISONER’S “. Rather know, get informed, and realize , it’s a group of human beings, from all races: Black, Brown, White, and Red, within a concrete box risking their health and lives to end the inhumane treatment being inflicted upon us. Especially to my younger cousins and younger family members whose support I didn’t have in the two hunger strikes in 2011. Hope this letter to you has opened your eyes and mind. It is one my reasons to write this letter. Therefore, we don’t want to spend another minute that feels like a year in mental torture chamber. We hope. We believe that justice and humane treatment should go hand in hand.
Tony Date: 6/16/13
Imprisoned now for 17 years and still full of hope.