[Ppnews] Scarred by solitary
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Feb 13 20:03:42 EST 2013
Scarred by solitary
By ENCENO MACY
Solitary confinement is no place for a kid. I know this from firsthand
experience. As a young person in the criminal justice system, I was
placed in solitary - locked down in a small cell for up to 24 hours a
day - several different times before I was out of my teens. And although
you can't see them, I bear permanent scars from this treatment.
I first experienced a kind of solitary confinement in juvenile detention
when I was 13 years old. We would get sent to lockdown for bad language
or being too loud, or for forgetting to ask permission to talk, get up
from our seats, or change the card game we were playing - basically, for
acting like kids.
Where I was, the time in isolation usually lasted a few days. I know
that in some juvenile facilities, children get locked down for weeks or
months at a time.
When I was 15, I was accused of a serious felony, and while awaiting
trial I was placed in "involuntary segregation" in county jail. I was
put there solely due to my age and "for my own protection," but I was
treated the same way as adults who were put in solitary for serious rule
violations. We received two books a week, two sheets of paper, and a
golf pencil. There was no access to any form of education or counseling
for youth (or anyone else). In the wire cages we sometimes went to for
exercise, the space was not much bigger than the cell. I spent seven and
a half month in those conditions.
Once convicted, I was sent to adult prison, where I experienced several
stays in "disciplinary segregation," usually lasting a few months each -
for fighting, leaving my job early, arriving back late from a meal, and
copying out the lyrics to a song that they deemed "gang related,"
probably just because it was rap.
The guards were petty, and liked to single out youngsters who had a lot
of time to do - to try to "break" us, I guess. Something as simple as
using profanity when speaking with a state employee would get us a
couple of weeks in "seg." In other words, actions that would qualify as
everyday misbehavior for most American teenagers would get us placed in
conditions that have been widely denounced as torture, especially when
used on young people.
A typical day as a kid in seg involved a lot of sleep - probably 16
hours on average. I'd wake up for breakfast, sleep until lunch, read for
an hour or so, go back to sleep until dinner, pace back and forth, try
to write poems or rap song lyrics, read, and wait/hope for mail - then
go to sleep and do it all over again.
In some of that time I might find someone I could talk to through the
crack in my door. We had so little to do, we'd end up yelling insults at
the guards just to vent our anger and restlessness.
I was ruled by sorrow, fear and anger: Sorrow about missing people I
used to know, and my mom. Fear about what might be coming next in my
seemingly endless sentence. (I had no concept of what time really meant,
so 15 years felt the same as 50.) And anger at those who I felt had
wronged me. Back then I wasn't skilled in identifying my emotions, let
alone dealing with them appropriately.
There were no positives in my mind, no outlet to exercise the hurt and
confusion. I was so lost. I never cut myself or attempted suicide, as I
know a lot of kids in solitary do. But I did think about death a lot,
and I had dreams of an apocalyptic world (and still do).
I know that solitary confinement caused me considerable psychological
damage - or really, added to what was already brewing. It encouraged me
to retreat deep into a demented reality where I was so alone, it made me
feel as though I wasn't meant for this world. I still feel that way to
this day - like I don't fit. On the clinical side, I was even more
deeply depressed than I had been growing up.
Like most people who have served time in solitary as teenagers, I will
someday be released from prison and resume life in the free world. And
because of solitary I will never be right mentally, I fear. More than 10
years later, I think some of the effects have faded, but my panic
attacks are so severe that they put me on anti-depressants for PTSD. I
still have a hard time trusting, so I don't consider too many people my
"friends." It's pretty lonely because of that, but I'm used to the
I realize that prisoners, even young ones, sometimes need to be
separated from one another for safety reasons. But I don't think they
should be put in segregation for things like talking back or being late
for an appointment. And I don't believe solitary confinement as it is
practiced today is ever appropriate for teens. Kids need positive
outlets whenever they are separated from others. They need some kind of
program where they get counseling and periods to exercise their minds
On any given day there are hundreds, and probably thousands of kids
under 18 in solitary confinement in America's jails, prisons, and
juvenile detention facilities. I know what they are suffering, and I
wonder how many of them, like me, will bear the invisible scars of their
isolation. It may be too late for us, but there is still time to save
countless other children from this silent torture.
ABOUT THE WRITER
The author, now an adult, is serving a 15-year sentence in a West Coast
prison. He writes under a pseudonym to avoid the risk of retaliation. He
wishes to thank his mother and Solitary Watch for encouraging him to
write and assisting in the publication of this work.
Read more here:
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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