In response to AZ’s 500 new max prison beds, AFSC gathers prisoner testimonyby cell-out-arizona on Aug. 02, 2013, under AFSC, Arizona, Arizona Department of Corrections, Lifetime Lockdown, Mental Health, Prison Construction, Solitary confinement
As has been reported in the past, on this blog, as well as here, and here, the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) continues to move forward on its ill advised plans to build 500 new maximum-security prison beds at the Lewis complex in Buckeye, Arizona. AFSC has waxed poetic about just how much this $50 million plan makes no sense from an fiscal, management, or security perspective, not to mention the moral issues of stealing millions from victims of the mortgage crisis to torture people through long-term isolation.
But no one is as qualified to talk about the failures and torture of Arizona’s max units as the men and women who are living there. So AFSC has begun to gather testimony from the people on the inside who are living through the hell of isolation every day. Responses are still pouring in to this call for testimony, but some days the power of words is just plain overwhelming and must be shared. So here is a snippet from just one respondent who has been locked down but for four weeks since 2009 and expects to remain in solitary confinement until his release in 2016:
In light of the 30,000 California inmates recently going on a hunger strike to protest conditions of solitary confinement and a flawed STG validation process in their state’s prison system, it seems that any efforts to change our own system here is especially auspicious thanks to heightened awareness about prisoner rights issues. I sincerely hope that the recent media attention about their efforts in California will assist our own efforts in this state since our struggles are relatively the same.
He went on to describe life in solitary:
…this place is more like a concrete catacomb that consists of hundreds of small windowless, stark gray or white cells where natural sunlight and fresh air will never reach. There are four wings in this joint with either two or four clusters per wing. Each cluster has six pods and in each pod there are ten cells and a recreation pen. Two showers are also in each pod adjacent to the cells. Because of so-called overpopulation an increasing number of cells have now been converted to house two inmates instead of just one. Death-row and STG clusters remain solitary confinement due to professed security reasons by administration. A veritable prison within a prison – the silent, empty corridors that lead to any one of the twelve clusters are deceiving to the nearly one thousand languishing souls who are biding their time and, most often, struggling to maintain any semblance of sanity that might still remain after years and years of unnatural confinement in these psychologically numbing and physically decaying conditions.
On the lack of anything natural:
Rarely does one ever receive any direct sunlight because recreation is only offered during the morning or later in the afternoon – when sunlight can’t reach into the rec-pen. Thus, a small segment of the sky with its occasional passing bird, cloud formation, or distant streaking airplane has become the locked-down prisoner’s only cherished glimpse of the outside beyond this unnatural world within so devoid of the life and color. The pallor of one’s complexion is a poignant daily reminder of how the locked-down prisoner’s life has been relegated to a zombie-like state of existence. The atrophy of one’s muscles, from only being fed twice a day, adds to this image. After so many months and years of deprivation – we truly are akin to the walking dead or buried alive.
And when asked what he would say to politicians and policy makers, he said this:
I would implore anyone who has the power and authority to end the use of long-term, indefinite solitary confinement in any capacity to look beyond any myopic political motives in order to discern whether placing people under such torturous conditions serves the greater good of society or just some misguided agenda based on fear. I’d try to convince them to heed the findings of various scientific studies on the actual effects of solitary confinement. Furthermore, I’d request a comprehensive review of the policies and practices that have justified and enabled the use of solitary confinement for too long, especially “D.O. 806: Security Threat Groups” and the arbitrary validation process employed that leads to indefinite lockdown for many like myself.
There’s little more that I can offer to this man’s poignant words, other to point out that there are at least 2,000 more just like him in Arizona prisons alone. In California 30,000 prisoners are on hunger strike for the terrible conditions of the solitary confinement cells – most of whom are not actually in those conditions. The problem of long-term prisoner isolation is now, and its impacts will be long lasting.