The American Friends Service Committee has a long history of advocating for the rights of the incarcerated, and against injustice and abuse in U.S. prisons, jails, and detention centers. Recently, AFSC released a report called Survivors Speak: Prisoner Testimonies of Torture in United States Prisons and Jails. The document was prepared as a Shadow Report to the official U.S. Periodic Report on its adherence to the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT), which is further explained in this earlier post.
In the executive summary to the report, AFSC writes:
The list of abuses committed against U.S. prisoners is long and deeply distressing: sexual violence, humiliation, unsanitary conditions, extreme temperatures, insufficiently nutritious food, inadequate medical care, isolation, psychological torture, racism, chemical abuse and disproportionate uses of force. These are just a sample of experiences you will read about in these first-hand accounts from individuals living in jails and prisons throughout the United States.
Other civil society shadow reports addressing corrections conditions feature legal analysis, data illustrating the prevalence of ill treatment committed against prisoners and insights from experts. This shadow report supplements those crucial examinations by bringing the human experience to bear. Statistics are helpful in understanding the ways in which the U.S. prison system is fundamentally broken. Yet even the best charts are unable to fully convey the reality of what it is like to live through breaches of CAT obligations. These are their testimonials − verbatim − of inhuman conditions under which they are held, abuses that irrevocably change their lives.
What follows is a selection of testimonies from the section of the report that deals with prison isolation. Thanks to Bonnie Kerness of AFSC’s Prison Watch program for forwarding this material to Solitary Watch. –Jean Casella
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“None of the locks on cell doors work which resulted in the death of 5 prisoners in one month… We are supposed to get an hour a day outside our cell but that’s not true in Georgia. We gone [sic] months without seeing the sunlight with nothing to read but a bible. Prisoner suicide has tripled and it’s a medical fact that everyone has lost weight in this program.” —J.H., Hayes State Prison, Trion, GA, 2014
“They called it a 23 hour lockdown, but during the hour out, you had no other human contact- not even staff… As you are aware we are made to eat and sleep in a concrete and steel bathroom…In my particular case they never turned off the light. My window was covered on the outside with some type of white plastic so that we could not attempt any type of visual communication with whatever may have been out there.” —D.L., Plymouth County Correctional Facility, Plymouth, MA, 2014
“I have been in solitary since 1998. From 1998-2005 I was held on “High Risk Potential”… which in part includes zero staff and/or inmate contact, no group activities, no program participation, stripped of privileges (e.g. phone, canteen, contact visits, hobby craft, inter alia), and escorted with arm and leg restraints that have a dog leash attached to them during any movement. In 2005 I was removed from the “HRP” status and Disciplinary Segregation, but placed on Administrative Segregation. I’m still stripped of privileges, staff and/or inmate contact, no group activities, no program participation and in-cell confinement for 23 hours a day. I also only get to shower every 3 days.” —G.P., Ely State Prison, Ely, NV, 2014
“First and I feel most importantly is the solitary confinement at the last prison I was at. It is a dungeon like setting. Dark, no windows, you go weeks and months sometimes not seeing light. These are dangerous and unsupervised for the most part. Men are put in these cells with other men which fight and get injured without anyone knowing for hours on end… I have seen several times inmate getting beat while in cuffs or ganged up by a number of officers…” —C.M., Staton Correctional Center, Elmore, AL, 2014
“The conditions were very inhumane…hot, no working vents at all… stuffy and humid…my first cell bugs were biting me all over my body, when I said something about it they (the medical staff) played like I was crazy then finally after constant complaining they gave me Benadryl then moved me and still didn’t clean the cell. They had a light on all day that felt like a rotisserie lamp. It was hard to sleep because of the hot humid cells and constant bugs biting me all day and night…we had no cups to drink the brown colored water that came out of the sinks and toilets. There was constant screaming yelling kicking and banging (with objects on doors to multiply the sound on the doors).” —A.S.A., SCI Dallas Restricted Housing Unit (confinement), Jackson Township, PA 2014
“I have basically been in seg64 housing unit and while being here the guards have tormented and encouraged me to cut myself and even specified jugular, carotid arteries, and have taunted me every time I have cut my wrist arteries, saying that I did not do it to their satisfaction and have threatened to beat me to a pulp.” —G.C., Wapun Correctional Institution, Wapun, WI, 2014
“It’s hard to explain the multitude of little factors that induce stress, anxiety, frustration, and depression…My best attempt to describe prolonged isolation in a supermax prison is that it’s like Chinese water torture. A single drop may not harm you but the millions of little drops of stress, anxiety, uncertainty, depression, and sorrow build up until you can begin to feel your mind breaking. I wish I could explain it better. Maybe then people could understand and wouldn’t allow this hell to continue.” —J.D., Tamms Correctional Center, Tamms IL, 2009
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The following story comes from Mustafa Zulu, who has been in solitary confinement for most of the past 22 years. He was born and raised in Washington, DC, where he watched both parents struggle with drug addiction. At the age of 16, he was tried as an adult and convicted of murder. He is currently serving […]
U.S. Government Tells UN Committee on Torture: “There Is No Systematic Use of Solitary Confinement in the United States”
Today, dozens of advocates will travel from around the country to Washington, DC, to take part in what are called “Civil Society Consultations” with representatives of the U.S. government on the subject of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). As a signatory of CAT, the […]
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William Blake is in solitary confinement at Elmira Correctional Facility in upstate New York. In 1987, while in county court on a drug charge, Blake, then 23, grabbed a gun from a sheriff’s deputy and, in a failed escape attempt, murdered one deputy and wounded another. He is now 50 years old, and is serving […]
The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts. • Eighth Amendment attorney Martin Garbus published an Op-ed with the LA Times about cruel and unusual punishment in prisons and jails. • About thirteen individuals incarcerated by the […]
Guest Post by Margo Schlanger The following piece originally appeared in September 2013 in Tablet, and is republished here by permission of the author. Margo Schlanger is a professor of law at the University of Michigan and the former Department of Homeland Security Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. She helped to draft the American […]
The New York City Department of Correction (DOC) has plans to minimize the solitary confinement of 16 and 17 year olds on Rikers Island. This according to an internal memo obtained by the New York Times, as reported in an article published earlier this week. The revelation comes on the heels of a three-year investigation […]
This following account was written by Anthony Lamar Davis, 34, who has been incarcerated for 11 years of a 22-year sentence. He has spent more than six of those years in solitary confinement. In New York State prisons, about 13,000 sentences to solitary confinement in the Special Housing Units, or SHUs, are handed out each year, most […]
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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 […]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with California-based Prison Law Office and their co-counsel in federal class action lawsuit Parsons v. Ryan, has released a series of 26 reports alleging extensive problems with the Arizona Department of Corrections’ (ADC) healthcare program and its use of solitary confinement. Prison Law Office director Don Specter stated the groups requested the reports from national experts in […]