After Isolation: Questioning the Effects of Solitary

An article by Texas inmates Noah Coffin and Patrick Rater exploring the long-term psychological effects of solitary confinement.

Submitted by R Totale on April 1, 2020

Stepping out into the morning light which filters through the chainlink, barbed wire and metal covering of the dog-kennel-like "recreation" cages, my eyes take time to adjust. Being held in utter isolation since 2014 has certainly taken a toll. The faces all about me, peering through their own cages look uncertain or bewildered. "Short-staffed" is a longtime issue in Texas. Without proper staffing, recreation is just not possible on any regular basis. Social skills are destroyed in isolation. I see the hesitant and awkward approach to face-to-face conversation, and know the feeling all too well... These same prisoners comfortably prattle on about mundane subjects all day long inside their cells, but following days, months, years inside a 5x9 foot space alone, talking face-to-face is disorientating and strange.
This past year, I was on a medical transport to Galveston, Texas. Being shacked and shuffled onto multiple buses and packed in knee-to-knee with others who have endured various lengths of isolation gave me a taste of the test to come following my liberation from this cruelty.
My stepfather told me before he died, when I was very young, "always look a man in the eye and never trust a person who doesn't." Being able to look a person in the eye seems simple enough. When trying to do so after 6 years in segregation, I've found that it's an act of will. The feeling isn't easy to describe, but imagine all the muscles in your face doing everything possible to jump while your mind struggles to keep them still. Your heart pounding and breathing becoming rapid. Every part of your body feels something's not where it should be. Your hands never feel they're where they should be and nothing feels "right" until you're back in the cell...
I've read that all who have been isolated in solitary for multiple years are able to file for social security disability once released. I can understand why. How will I be functional in a workplace now? How long will it take to "adjust", if at all? Being on social security is just another kind of imprisonment, leaving people dependant on a system designed to control. These are just effects I'm now aware of.
When I put my headphones on or people make a lot of noise, I hear my name being called. I've learned not to answer because nobody calls me by my name inside. We've all got nicknames.
I've got 5 years left on my sentence. This GRAD release program to population seems like a big lie, as I've been "approved" to go for a year and trying to go for 4 years... How much more is this going to destroy me?

Some thoughts from Patrick:
"It became clear very quickly after trying to enjoy a "treat", often called recreation, that something just wasn't right. As I came inside off of the yard after a long and very uncomfortable two hours of fidgetting and trying to monitor every movement and action, asking myself repeatedly, "Am I acting like a human being would outside this cage?" "Why do I have a hard time explaining my thoughts to someone face-to-face?" I have been in total isolation over three years now, and inside my cell I don't act like this.
Then again, I don't get face-to-face time or see how others act to start questioning my own actions. However, this is supposed to be for my own "safety", isn't it? I was so disorientated after coming inside from my "treat" for the first time in months that the red brick walls looked painted a strange hue of red, my cell felt stuffy and the air thick...
I had to lay down for about 30 minutes after the door slammed shut and the restraints were removed just to get my heart rate and breathing in order. After I got my bearings back, I have the whole experience some serious pondering. What I'm calling a "treat", is no doubt a necessity, one that is overlooked more often than not due to the "short staff" situation that is prevalent in Texas' overpopulated prison system. I'm currently trying everything possible to go through the channels of getting out of this tiny box, and have only just today seen that I've been set back another 90 days in the long process of "approval" to attend GRAD program. Though it's an ongoing battle, I strive every day to make some progress toward getting out of this cell and away from this oppressive system.

Brothers, sisters, friends and comrades, solitude is the opposite of life! Texas sentenced me to 15 years of "Justice", yet I wonder if this form of justice will become a life-long sentence of alienation, isolation and imprisonment of one form or another. I'm 34 years old today. 18 years of my life has been "lived" in one type of confinement or another in Texas, and 33% of that in solitary confinement. During those lost years of life, most every single person I've ever known is now simply a memory or a ghost. What exactly will I do at 34 to become "productive" in society?
How could I properly function in today's world with crowded public places when I feel every inch of my body going haywire in face-to-face situations, or hear things that aren't there when there's any background noise? Come what may, I am here, and I have only these little rants and those of you who care to read them. Solidarity forever!

Any letters of support to:
Noah Coffin #01795167
Patrick Rater #02164683

Snail mail: 2665 Prison Road #1, Lovelady, TX, 75851

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PS: Attention: No longer can outside people send in any of the following: cards, colored paper, perfumed letters, doodles, or more than 10 photos!