[Ppnews] Herman Bell statement to the 7th Annual Symposium against Isolation

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 12 11:20:12 EST 2008


By Herman Bell, December 2008

                 When imprisoned, and placed in an isolation unit, at 
some point you begin to live inside yourself, assessing and measuring 
how you are doing against the moment-to-moment, day-to-day challenges 
that you are confronted by to gage how well you are getting on.  Even 
though we may spend countless years in prison, little if anything 
ever changes there.  This might sound contradictory:  in our minds we 
can become inured to the harshest conditions as a natural survival 
instinct; however in reality, they remain just as agonizing.  How we 
deal with them, process them, interact with them in our mind largely 
determines the change we perceive around us and inside ourselves.

                 Isolation bears two recognizable features:  one is 
introspection, the other is torture.  It brings out the worst in us 
and the best in us; regardless, we must somehow still make it through 
the day.  And in the course of that day, and every day, we must fight 
our demons, real and imagined.  The real ones are plain enough to 
see.  They turn the keys.  (But not all the turn-keys are bad, just 
most of them.  I like to think that the decent ones were well brought 
up by their parents; and that the bad ones, perhaps, didn't receive 
all they thought they should from their parents and others, and 
therefore will always feel the world owe them something and that 
meantime they can do whatever they want.  Controlling for greed and 
ideology -- how else do we explain the pathology of man's inhumanity to man?)

                 Isolation means you are cut off from the rest of the 
world, save for the occasional life-line that finds its way to you in 
the form of  a visit, a letter, and the occasional headline on a 
discarded newspaper that you might glimpse as you pass it by.  Your 
world is greatly reduced.  Fresh air, sunlight, food, keeping your 
body and clothes clean -- the things you once took for granted -- 
take on new importance in your life.

                 Under these reduced circumstances, you become so 
sucked into yourself that an hour feels like a day has gone by, a day 
feels like a week, and a week like a month.  You lose a sense of 
time; you no longer care whether it's day or night; you hallucinate; 
you hyperventilate.  You know your scene has to change, nothing lasts 
forever.  Your survival instincts keep you holding on.  And suddenly 
the unexpected melodic sound of jangling keys break through the 
cocoon that time and isolation had woven around you.  Then you wonder 
had all that been a dream.

                 Isolation transposes our reality; physical torture 
shapes it.  Physical torture is a ravening beast that has slipped its 
bounds from Hell to feast upon the soul of humanity.  It's the Big 
Bad Wolf threatening the Three Little Pigs.  It's the Boogeyman 
lurking in the woods we heard so much about, coming to get us.  It's 
our worst nightmare rattling a locked door, straining mightily to get 
at us.  It's Abu-Ghraib; it's Guantanamo; it's the CIA's 
Extraordinary Rendition; it's the screams of prisoners in U.S. police 
stations.  It's the cries of the torn, the battered, the tormented 
victims of this ravenous beast that rears its ugly head to feast on 
pried fingernails; electrically charred genitalia, ear lobes, and 
human breasts; chased down with a liter of water-boarding, 
stress-positions, extremes of hot and cold temperatures; and 
garnished with absolute silence and jarring noise.  All done to 
preserve an antiquated political and economic system that deprives 
the many of their needs and serves the few in their greed.  Outrage 
against this social practice should know no bounds; how can we not 
fight to end it?!  Let us send the beast and its minions back to 
where they belong.

Freedom Archives
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San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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