This post is the next in a series of pieces Solitary Watch is publishing as part of a project calling for people held in solitary confinement to write on various proposed themes. Our first suggested theme, ”A Day in the Life,” calls for writers to describe a day in his or her life in solitary confinement (read previous entries here).
The following comes from Kenny Zulu Whitmore, a political prisoner and former member of the Black Panther Party at Angola correctional facility in Louisiana, who has spent a total of 35 years in Closed Cell Restriction, 28 of which have been served consecutively. In his piece, Zulu describes the inhumane conditions to which he has been subjected in near sensory deprivation for the last three-and-a-half decades.
Zulu welcomes letters from supporters and can be reached by writing Kenny Zulu Whitmore, 86468 D-Hawk/CCR-4L, Lousiana State Prison, Angola, LA 70712 or on his blog at Freezulu.org. –Lisa Dawson
My Prolonged Isolation of 35 Years on Angola’s CCR, the equivalent of solitary confinement
I have been held in CCR for a total of 35 years, 28 years of which have been consecutive. For over threedecades, I have been held in a 6×9’ cell, but because of the bunk bed on one wall and the lavatory-washbasin-combination toilet on the back wall, I have only 4×3 feet of actual floor space to live in, 24/7. This has been my existence for 35 years, with the exception of one hour a day when I am given an hour on the tier to shower, exercise or just walk the hall. Three days a week, weather permitting, I am also placed in full restraints: waist chain, handcuffs and leg irons. We are permitted to wear a jump suit with only boxers and a T-shirt, not fitting considering the cold winter season. During these cold winter months, for example, there are only nine (9) coats for 52 men, some of whom exercise in the coat, while others blow their noses on the sleeves of the coat, etc. So you either wear this outwear as is or you refuse your hour out for recreation.
In the Closed Cell Restrictive Unit, the cells are both poorly lighted and ventilated, causing various health problems. Many men held on CCR wear prescription glasses, because of the lack of light in the cell. Inside the cell itself, you have a vision span of only 11 feet because you cannot see out of the small window.
During the hot summer months, the outdated ventilation system causes the temperatures in the cells to reach 100-110 degrees, resulting in stress and hypertension. I am now on two different kinds of high blood pressure medications (Carzaar, Novac). My eyesight has greatly deteriorated. That has nothing to do with age, as I have a degenerative muscle in my left eye, which causes it to involuntarily move, resulting in double vision.
CCR is a non-punitive housing unit, but the men housed on CCR are prohibited from participating in any of the educational and religious programs. We are not allowed to learn meaningful job skills that could be transferred in the event of re-entry.
After 35 years in CCR solitary confinement, my visitors have been restricted to only immediate family. I can no longer have visits with my nieces, nephews, cousins or friends. Why else would this restriction be put in place besides to punish prisoners? When visitation is such a vital tool in the rehabilitation process, inmate visits with family and friends helps to prepare one to re-enter society. This visiting restriction that has been in place for two years only creates undue hardship for the inmates, their families and friends. There is no penological reason that justifies this restriction that “only applies to the 100 men on Angola’s CCR/solitary confinement” and no other inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
Inmates here at Camp-D CCR are punished and retaliated against when we speak out against the violation of our rights under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). Look what happened to Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, and what is happening to Albert Woodfox right now with the degrading, humiliating body cavity searches which he endures up to six times a day. Only because he questioned why he has been denied contact visitation with family and friends.
No doubt, I too will be retaliated against once this article becomes public knowledge, but sacrifices must be made to bring about change. The U.S. is a democratic society today because of those like Crispus Attucks , who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“Freedom ain’t never been free.” –Kenny Zulu Whitmore