Revolutionary prisoner Jason Renard Walker writes on the practice of solitary confinement. Content warning for discussion of self-harm and related subjects. All of Jason's writings can be found at his new site, Jason's Prison Journal.
Mainstream media, the outside public, and the average layperson have no idea what goes on in the prison system that they support. America’s prisons are strategically placed in desolate, uninhabitable and rural parts of the U.S., which makes it hard for the abused prisoner to effectively reach out to a community that cares. Even then, if one was to draw attention, a prisoner’s integrity is so hoodwinked that the guard’s story of what may have happened reigns primacy and never favors the prisoner. Due to this, you have prisons all over America that are getting away with allowing its captives to rot and wither.
If the system ever got confronted, they could just simply provide a report of policies, rules, and data on how prison is supposedly operated, but this is usually contrary to what’s actually going on and Juan Mendez knows this first hand. Once being a victim of prison torture himself, he’s destined to get down to the nitty gritty and unearth the truth about what’s actually going on in solitary confinement in America. Once exposed, tax payers will see how their hard earned money is being used to endorse unjust practices that measure up to, if not worse than, captured on camera at the Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay Prison death camps!
After spending over five years studying how prolonged periods of solitary confinement harms the brains, the only conclusion that I could come up with is that it’s torture and I’m not the only one who knows this. There have been extensive studies that have shown how lengthy periods of isolation can cause a number of mental and psychological drawbacks on the brains allowance to percept information properly.
In a report concerning CIA torture, expert of sensory deprivation, Dr. Albert Biderman, reported: “The effect of isolation on the brain function of the prisoner is much like that which occurs if he is beaten, starved, or deprived of sleep.” Also, noted in Biderman’s full report is how the effects of sensory deprivation were similar to, if not worse than, physical torture. Dr. Biderman is not the only one who has taken time to research the effects of solitary confinement. There have been many others including, but not limited to, the CIA and the United Nations (U.N.).
Dr. Craig Haney at the University of California – Santa Cruz also did a researched study where he concluded: “To summarize, there is not a single published study of solitary or superman-like confinement in which non-voluntary confinement lasting for longer than 10 days where participants were unable to terminate their isolation at will, failed to result in negative psychological effects.” These effects included, but weren’t limited to: hypertension, uncontrollable anger, hallucinations, emotional breakdowns, chronic breakdowns, and suicidal thoughts and behavior. It’s also been discovered that symptoms can begin within as little as 48 hours after the individual has been cut off from external sensory stimulation, which is, in effect, what solitary confinement does.
In a 1951 study, Dr. Donald Hebb at McGill University tested his theory that sensory deprivation could break a person in a matter of days. He used paid male university students who were supposed to take part in a six-week, simulated solitary confinement experiment, but the majority quite after the first few days and none lasted longer than a week. An excerpt from the results of Dr. Hebb’s study shows: “Prolonged exposure to a monotonous environment definitely has deleterious effects. The individual’s thinking is impaired; he shows childish emotional response; his visual perception becomes disturbed; he suffers from hallucinations; his brain-wave pattern changes.” More precisely, the torturous effects of solitary confinement were given scientific study by the CIA and military in efforts to refine its application as a deliberate torture technique. This was exposed by Alfred McCoy in an exhaustive exposé following and in response to the 2004 military CIA torture scandal. McCoy revealed that this method of torture was studied and refined as part of a one billion a year CIA torture research and development project spanning from 1950 to 1962.
In fact, if you were to look inside the CIA’s 1963 torture manual “Kubrick Counter Intelligence Interrogation,” it has a specific four-step approach as to what solitary confinement like settings should do to its captives as noted here:
1 The deprivation of sensory stimuli induces stress,
2 the stress becomes unbearable for most subjects,
3 the subject has a growing need for physical and social stimuli, and
4 some subjects progressively lose touch with reality, focus inwardly, and produce delusions, hallucinations, and other pathological effects.
One torture technique that was used and very similar to the Texas prison system’s Gang Renunciation and Dissociation (GRAD) program is what the CIA calls “self-inflicted pain.” This torture style method forces the captive to be held in psychologically, mentally, and often demoralizing painful poses called “stress positions.” Its design is to attack the cultural sensitivities and phobias of the captive while giving the option to terminate at will, but only at the cost of contradicting his religion, beliefs, morals, social affiliation, and self-respect (ultimately making him the master of his own fate). Like forcing a Muslim to burn his Quran, prayer rug, and kufi or he will be fed nothing but porl, or have a nun sexually stimulate herself at length or be forced to hear and watch hardcore adult films until she complies. This, in essence, is how the GRAD program is setup. You have prisoners that are classified as Security Threat Group (STG) suspects in which case that have to serve part or all of their time in solitary confinement depending on if they willingly sign up to participate in the program.
This program’s only advantage is allowing the captive to be relieved or remaining in solitary confinement, but only under the mandatory terms that he rollover (snitch) on other affiliates that are in the streets, at other prisons, etc. Just by doing the, it puts him at high risk of getting knocked off (killed) by ex-gang member, devastatingly leaving him with the double threat of completing the program or remaining in solitary confinement permanently, sentence length notwithstanding.
These prisoners, in particular, are the ones affected the most. Their whole entire incarceration could possibly be done in a small cubic-like cell (often window-less) and they normally have the dilemma of debating between remaining caged and eventually going crazy or being a snitch with a death warrant and this in itself can induce psychological trauma.
These studies led to breakthrough developments in the art of torture that focused primarily on psychological methods and produced revolutionary effects with a consistency never seen before under physical torture. What the CIA learned was that states of mental disorder, collapse, capitulation, and psychosis could be produced in a victim by use of seemingly benign and harmless methods, namely sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain coupled with attacks on cultural sensitivities and personal phobias.
With these methods being known and adopted from the world’s prisons by the CIA as torture techniques. Why is it not considered torture within the U.S. prison system against the captives held in them? I’m not the only one that’s inquired about or sought answers to this question.
The United Nations torture rapporteur, Juan Mendez, has tried for years to get the state department to allow him to take a special tour inside the U.S. prison system; namely “ADX super max,” but they have yet to grant him access. It wasn’t until he got the courts to allow him in the Pelican Bay State Prison under the notion of being an expert witness for a class action suit on prolonged solitary confinement (Ashker v. Brown) before he’d been in a U.S. prison.
What kind of conditions could be so heinous, gloomy, and onerous that the U.S. won’t allow their friend the U.N. to take a peek inside its “constitutional” prison system? What kind of prison system could be so horrible that over 30 California prisoners would rather starve themselves in a statewide hunger strike than serve their time in good health? These are questions that must be answered because somewhere in-between serving time and being house in solitary confinement something isn’t adding up. Living in a country that claims to use their prison system as a reforming mechanism and not as a psychological, mental, or physical torture chamber, it’s only sensible and logical that questions arise when its factually proven that a reforming tool is causing irreversible mental health problems within its captives.
To prove accuracy in the studies I cited, here’s my case in point: There’s one victim I personally got a chance to observe for quite some time. This prisoner has been incarcerated for over three decades with two of them being spent in solitary confinement. For no apparent reason, he spends his days (when awake) kicking the door, screaming, ranting and raving as well as unleashing a litany of insulting, vulgar, and racial slurs at anyone under the slightest pretext (like glancing or laughing at his presence).
More often than not, if you happen to be a male staff member or prisoner that chooses to stand by and watch his antics out of curiosity, he would expose his penis at you, manipulating and forcing the watcher to scurry off in disgust. While the duration of his episodes varies, I’ve seen several times when he’s gone over two full days without sleeping, but spending this time acting out until his body shuts down, forcing him to sleep.
The average victim behaves similar to, if not worse than, him, but you also have those that are the complete opposite, but nevertheless full-fledged mental health patients. Another prisoner that I got the chance to observe daily rarely said anything, never kicked the door, and didn’t draw attention. He stayed in the dark, walking in circles endlessly and at random would cut deep gashes in his neck, chest, and temple. I unfortunately had to witness his cutting charade three times with the last being an attempt to cut his face off. After several guards went to his rescue, one Officer Desmond Finney (known for his loud mouth and assaultive history) boasted crudely, “What type of dumb motherfucker tries to cut his face off? You stupid asshole, you shoulda cut your throat.” This particular prisoner has also served at least a decade in solitary confinement.
There’s also those that go to the extreme! Just several years ago a victim of solitary made a successful effort to cut his own penis off. After he was discovered with blood everywhere and a severed penis, he was rushed to the hospital where it was reattached. He was returned back to the cell sometime later only to remove his penis, yet again, but flushing it the second time to ensure it wasn’t recovered. This particular incident has been verified by numerous prisoners and witnessing staff.
If one was to delve a little further into the pervasiveness of mental deterioration in those that fell victim to solitary confinement, you would find that there are also other types of the mentally ill variety that are just as disturbing, yet often common place to one that’s a guard, staff member, prisoner, or anyone that’s an avid dweller in the ghastly realms of solitary confinement. Just as the other types mentioned (these last two amongst several that I won’t name) are nothing like the others. One type has its victim refusing to wear any clothes, eat, sleep, or respond to anyone; only walking in circles, laughing out loud, and claiming to be God, Satan, or any number of divine and mythical figures. Finally, the last has no obvious perceptual dysfunction, eats normal, sleeps, and causes no trouble whatsoever. If you’ve lived next door to or spoke with this type, you wouldn’t find anything unsettling about them. Well that’s until you see or smell them. I was housed next door to one named “Montoya.” After weeks of getting to know him, I finally saw one of the truths about living around the mentally ill. One day, he was forced to take a shower. He was escorted out of his cell only to pass mine covered in feces, naked, with week old chunks matted in his hair and beard. After I bared witness to the strange, but environmentally normal act, I asked him why he chose to live in his own feces. He confidently replied, “I don’t know you talking bout [sic]. Only crazy people play with they boo boo, shit, and feces. You nasty.” In fact, I already knew the answer to this, but I was curious to see how he would respond since his common sense contradicted his actions.