[Ppnews] Voices from Solitary: Welcome to Supermax

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Aug 19 13:41:24 EDT 2011



Voices from Solitary: Welcome to Supermax

August 19, 2011
http://solitarywatch.com/2011/08/19/voices-from-solitary-welcome-to-supermax/
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

Pornchai Moontri was sent to Maine State Prison 
at the age of eighteen and has served the first 
20 years of a 45-year sentence. Born in rural 
Thailand, he was brought to the United States at 
the age of eleven by his mother and American 
stepfather and endured years of abuse. His early 
life, as well as his crime, incarceration, and 
conversion to the Catholic faith, have been 
described in an 
<http://www.gordonmacrae.net/files/Pornchai%27s_Story.pdf>autobiographical 
essay.

In the following piece, titled “Super Max,” 
Pornchai Moontri writes about his introduction to 
solitary confinement in Maine State Prison’s 
supermax unit. It includes a description of being 
forcibly “extracted” from his cell by a 
Correctional Emergency Response Team, or CERT–a 
scenario similar to the one caught on video 
<http://www.bostonphoenix.com/boston/news_features/other_stories/documents/05104664.asp>here.

This account originally appeared on the blog 
<http://voicesfromthecracks.wordpress.com/>Voices 
from the Cracks, maintained by Sophie Inchains, 
who describes it as “a project with the purpose 
of allowing prisoners to express themselves in 
the public sphere.  We believe that visibility is 
key to undermining the systems that are created 
to oppress and silence the marginalized.  This 
blog is not a celebration of crimes nor in anyway 
does it seek to invalidate the experience of 
victims, only recognize that prisoners are still human and need to be heard.”

The time I spent in a New England state prison’s 
Super Max unit is not easy to write about.  It 
changed me more than I care to acknowledge or 
talk about.  I spent three-and-one-half years in 
one stretch in Super Max.  Of thirteen years in 
that prison system, more than half of it was spent in Super Max.

The first time I was sent to Super Max was kind 
of scary.  I was sent there because I was accused 
by “confidential inmate informants” of planning 
to make a homemade bomb to try to blow up the 
prison.  I was nineteen years old, and had been 
in prison only four months when I was sent to Super Max.

When I first saw the place, it looked really 
tough.  It had rows and rows of razor wire around 
its perimeter, cameras at every turn, and three 
check points before you even get to the 
entrance.  As I was getting out of the prison van 
at Super Max, I was met by six “SERT Team” guys 
in full riot gear.  They told me what they 
expected of me: no quick movements; keep my head 
up and my eyes forward; no speaking at all unless 
I was asked a question.  I was told that if I did 
not obey these rules perfectly upon command, as 
they put it, I would be dumped on my ass!  They 
really knew how to make a guy feel welcomed.

Once inside, when I first stepped onto the pod, 
it was the smell that I noticed first.  The smell 
of urine and fecal matter was so overwhelming, I 
thought I might get sick.  I was taken to a cell, 
and locked in.  My very first thought was that I 
didn’t want to touch anything.  It was 
filthy.  Then I knew that I would have to clean 
the place up before I could possibly live there, 
but I have nothing to clean with – no cleaning 
supplies at all.  Before I could ask the 
corrections officer (c/o) for something to clean 
with, the guy in the cell next to me told me that 
it would be easier to just set off the fire 
sprinkler system to douse the cell.  About ten 
minutes after the deluge began, the SERT Team was 
at my cell door to extract me from it.

I wrestled with four of them for a few minutes 
before they got me to the floor, and beat me like 
a dog.  My arm was so twisted behind my back, I 
thought it would break.  With a booted foot 
pressing my bare head to the concrete floor and 
another on my neck, my leg bent so far backward 
that my foot pressed against my butt, I was powerless.

Then I was placed in the black chair, chained and 
cuffed, and unable to move at all.  After five 
hours in the black Chair, I was asked if I was calm now, and ready to be

taken back to my cell.  I said something 
sarcastic and angry, and just spend longer in the 
chair.  Unfortunately for me, that was not my 
last time in the black chair.  I was brought back 
to it many times – usually for three or four 
hours at a stretch.  I just didn’t seem to learn my lesson.

Finally, I was brought back to my cell, cleaned 
by the sprinkler system just as my neighbor said 
it would be.  It got cleaned the hard way!  That was my first day in Super Max.

The Super Max cell had nothing in it but a 
stainless steel toilet, a bunk, and a stainless 
steel table bolted to the wall.  The window in 
the cell door was about twelve by sixteen 
inches.  Any time I had to be moved or let out of 
the cell, I was placed in four-point restraints, 
hands and feet, and then stripped to be searched after every movement.

Every day there was the same monotony: breakfast 
at 0530 followed by forty-five minutes alone in 
the rec pen.  That was like a big dog cage.  I 
could take exactly eleven steps inside it and 
then back again.  It was about five feet wide and 
eight feet long with chain link on all sides and 
above.  It really was a cage.  I could have a 
fifteen-minute shower five times a week, and one 
fifteen-minute telephone call per week.  There was no use of a TV or radio.

Lunch was always at 11:30 and dinner at 
4:30.  Four times a day guards would come to 
count me at the same time every day.  I would 
have to stand up or sit on the concrete bunk.  I 
was allowed to look at three books per week.  I 
would take any books that were big so they would 
last a long time.  I read the Bible cover to 
cover twice.  I read Stephen King books because 
they were big. I also read Shogun and any other 
large novel I could get.  At O7OO every day, 
someone would come by with a tube of toothpaste, 
put a dab on my finger, and I would “brush” with that.

Super Max was so depressing and so solitary that 
prisoners would try to cut themselves deeply or 
hang themselves just to get out of there.  Since 
this Super Max prison opened in 1992, there have 
been three inmate deaths there by suicide (one 
was a suspected homicide), and hundreds of 
prisoners were seriously injured.  One prisoner 
was extracted from his cell so he could not harm 
himself, and then he died from the injuries he sustained while being extracted.

The longer a prisoner stayed in Super Max, the 
more anti-social he became.  Inmates would do 
anything to try to break up their day and 
entertain themselves.  Some played with their own 
urine and feces, and others used those as 
weapons, throwing them at the guards after 
calling their names to get their attention.  Some 
of the more manipulative would talk other 
prisoners into acting up.  I know today that we 
acted like animals because we were treated like animals.

I survived Super Max by doing as many as 1,500 
push-ups a day, and venting as much of my anger, 
frustration, and energy as possible into physical 
fitness.  In a way, this also worked against 
me.  The more physically strong I became, the 
more I was treated like a dangerous animal.  I 
knew that self-discipline was my only way to stay 
sane, so I lived a strict regimen of exercise for many years.

When I finally left Super Max for good, I had a 
lot of emotional problems.  I was angry, 
depressed, often hostile, and anti-social.  Then 
I was transferred to an adjacent state’s prison 
system where I had a new beginning.  I found a 
lot of help here, and all the baggage of those 
long hard years left me in time.  I never want to 
go back.  I am 38 years old now, and haven’t seen 
freedom for almost 20 years.  However, I have 
learned that freedom begins on the inside, not 
the inside of a prison but the inside of my own 
soul.  It is there that I am free.





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