[Ppnews] Voices from Solitary: Disciplined Into Madness and Death

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Feb 18 11:43:52 EST 2013

  *Voices from Solitary: Disciplined Into Madness and Death 

Feb 18th, 2013 @ 12:27 pm > Voices from Solitary


/The following essay comes from Sara Rodrigues, a prisoner at Bedford 
Hills Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison for women in 
Westchester, New York. When Sara was sent to prison at the age of 
16, she found her friend D there as well. Both Sara and D had life-long 
struggles with mental health, and while in prison, spent long periods of 
time in solitary confinement (both Keeplock, which is lockdown in one's 
own cell, and SHU, which is the Special Housing Unit). /

/Sara writes about the difficulty D faced when she was finally released 
and put on parole, with no transitional assistance to move from prison 
to the free world. She ultimately ended up back in prison and committed 
suicide, shortly after giving birth to a baby girl. Sara Rodrigues wrote 
this piece in the hope of spreading awareness of her situation and the 
experience of many people around her. She writes, "Too many inmates in 
New York State under the age of 25 are killing themselves in prisons 
because they are literally being thrown away like garbage by the court 
systems." (Thanks to Jennifer Parish of the Urban Justice Center for 
forwarding this essay to Solitary Watch.) --Rachel M. Cohen/

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

This essay is dedicated to D and all those who have given their minds 
and/or lives trying to pay their debt to society and to those who will 
forever be haunted and scarred from our justice system. Once self-worth 
and hope dies within our souls, what is left behind is a shell of life 
that can see no future, no redemption and no chance for a normal life. 
It is then that our minds realize how truly unwanted we are and how on a 
daily basis we are reminded that society has no use for us. Day by day 
life becomes very dark, some lose their minds, some will never be the 
same, and some just give in and take their own lives.

Many people who are sentenced to prisons are very young and have serious 
behavioral and mental health problems and this environment only makes 
their sickness worse. This is D's story and how somehow out of the 
tragedy of her passing has made me resolve to open people's eyes to the 
greater damage that happens to everyone by throwing the very young, 
mentally and emotionally ill into cages to rot under the pretense that 
more punishment, isolation, and deprivation will make people change for 
the better. This story has nothing to do with not doing your time, but 
doing your time in a healthy corrective facility, not the factories of 
misery that most of our prisons are today. D's death had such an impact 
on me that she inspired me to keep fighting for my sanity, to try to 
never give up, and to get the word out whether people care to hear the 
truth or not.

In December 2008, I tripped and fell down the rabbit hole. Instead of 
"Alice in Wonderland," I became Sara in Prisonland and I am still to do 
this day trying to wake up from my nightmare. I was 16 years old 
entering RCOD (reception) in a maximum-security prison, Bedford Hills. 
My sentence was eight, years flat and 5-post release supervision, I was 
scared and in definite culture shock, it was all so alien and 
overwhelming. Later I learned D was there, to me D was my cousin, my 
best friend, and a sister all rolled into one. We could talk about 
anything, she helped me so much to get used to this crazy way to survive 
my new life. We also argued a lot as young teenage girls often do, now 
in hindsight I regret ever getting angry and wish I had been a better 

Some months later, she was paroled and went home but it did not take 
long and here she was again. Being so young when she went into prison, 
the outside world was just too overwhelming for her. This and coupled 
with the fact that there are no transitional programs for people leaving 
prisons in the area we live in, which is Jefferson County, this leaves 
all parolees pretty much on their own. Get out of prison, go report to 
parole, go to Credo, (drug and alcohol counseling), go to mental health, 
get a job, pay your rent, don't drive till we say you can, pay parole, 
pay credo, be home at curfew. You give up because it is all to 
stressful, can't get a decent job because you are just out of prison and 
no one wants to hire you, zero job programs or training programs for 
parolees. One can't even go to VESID (vocational training) until 6 
months after you get out of prison and by then it is usually too late.

People need these services as soon as they come home and because of all 
this lack of support, every parolee is set up for failure. So she just 
gave in to all the temptation around her and started partying and having 
a good time, and even though her mother begged parole to try to live in 
a drug and alcohol program instead of sending her back to prison, they 
didn't care and did what they do best. That is to not keep people out of 
prison but to make sure they end up back in. Do the math, almost zero 
services and supports for parolees in this country why is this and who 
lets this happen?

By this time she came back to Bedford Hills, she was pregnant. D's time 
in the prison system was not easy, she was an outsider even in prison, 
she had a extensive disciplinary record which was making her mental 
health issues worse, and she had a long history of suicidal behavior, 
she had been hospitalized before incarceration and during. Making 
matters worse, she was always in Keeplock or SHU and this did nothing to 
help her problems. In coming back to prison, it was so much harder to 
deal with than the time before and at that point, I believe she thought 
nothing would ever change, she was in a cycle she could not get out of 
and I think she was just getting soul tired.

D was a fun girl who could have done great things in life. She had a 
good support system; she was creative, beautiful, funny, and smart. She 
could do hair and nails like a professional, no matter what her issues 
were she had many good attributes. Even though she did not have a lot, 
she would give you the shirt off her back if you needed it. This girl 
was not a nothing; she was a living, breathing, strong willed human 
despite all of her troubles. To many others and me she was a much better 
human than many who claim to be A-one citizens.

January 22, 2010 D gave birth to a beautiful healthy baby girl. She got 
to spend some time with her until arrangements were made for her mom and 
step dad to come pick the baby up. At this time D seemed to be doing 
better and holding her own, then within a few months she went on the 
draft to Albion Correctional Facility. This was the beginning of the 
end, she hated being at that prison, she was scared of that place 
because she was always in trouble and spent almost all of her time in 
shu. It was not long before she had deteriorated so bad she was sent to 
Marcy Psychiatric, she spent some time there and was shipped back to 
Bedford. Two days later on June 17th 2010, D was dead; she was found 
hanging in her cell while she was in keep lock because of three tickets 
she received while still at Albion. It was two weeks before her 23rd 

Some thought she did it on accident because she didn't want to go back 
to Albion and some thought she just had enough but it didn't matter she 
was gone and me, I lost my mind, I was alone, grief stricken and sick. 
This was just too much for my mind to grasp. I became angry with her, 
God, and everyone around me. Every night I had horrible nightmares, I 
would wake up screaming and crying hoping this was just another 
nightmare, but it was real. Something went wrong, she should have never 
been sent back to Bedford Hills because she was just not stable enough. 
The fact that she was so desperate speaks volumes about how bleak she 
thought her situation was. Her family was devastated, as was my family; 
our worlds were in upheaval and pain.

In many ways, I can totally relate to the feeling of wanting to just 
give up. Since I came to Albion, I have spent most of my time in the box 
and I am so tired already. Having a medical condition, every time I go 
to the box my skin gets horrible, my skin cracks and bleeds, rick now I 
am so sick, I feel like death. After awhile I start talking to ants, 
crickets or any other living thing or imaginary thing I can think of so 
I do not totally lose what is left of my mind. My mother is convinced 
that they throw people like us in the box so much because they want us 
to go over the edge and kill ourselves. My mother documents everything 
that happens to me and she tries so hard to make people aware of what 
goes on. Right now, she is infuriated that I slipped up about a month 
ago and tried to hang myself and now I am back in the box for months. 
Mom says that we are not even allowed to treat animals that bad and keep 
them locked in cages for months, why is it ok to do it to humans. So 
yes, we do get tired and in a moment of disparity, I can see just ending 
it all. I keep telling myself to hang in it won't last forever hopefully 
I will listen to my own words and stay strong.

Although she died in prison, I believe the brunt of responsibility for 
her death lies in the hands of the people who put her in there. Prisons 
are not equipped or have the time or training to be able to deal with 
people with mental and behavioral problems. They have been taught that 
if they just keep disciplining with tickets, Keeplock and SHU, 
eventually they will stop acting out. This is far from the truth and 
that is why I believe that everybody I know with mental health or 
behavioral issues that goes to Albion ends with way worse issues. They 
are strictly about punishment whether you are guilty of your tickets or 
not. To them you are just a trouble maker who must love being locked all 
the time. They aren't educated to the bigger picture that people like D 
and myself have always had problems even as small children. If we 
understood why we are the way we are, and could be normal I know our 
lives would not have been hard. There are many good decent officers here 
at Albion, who are fair, try to understand and treat us with dignity and 
to all of them I say thank you and don't ever stop having heart, but 
there are others who well, the only way I can explain how I feel towards 
them is to refer you to "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" the 
dementors, the CO's of Azkaban prison who don't have a good happy 
positive thought about anyone, they take all good feelings and thoughts 
away, drain them of life, and take pleasure in watching you fail.

The powers that be, who send people like D and myself to prison full 
well know that prisons are dangerous for people with mental, emotional, 
and behavioral problems and worse than that, send children into adult 
prisons just because they can. They don't care to help them get the help 
they need, it is easier and cheaper to ship them to prisons. Too many 
inmates in New York State under the age of 25 are killing themselves in 
prisons because they are literally being thrown away like garbage by the 
court systems. We need good transitional programs and job training for 
those whose skills were not up to the training programs in prison and 
good decent parole officers who talk to people like humans, really 
support, and help parolees to keep from going back to prison. All these 
things if they were in place may have saved D's life. D needed a decent 
long term residential treatment and rehab program, that was equipped to 
deal with her mental health issues, not to be thrown away into prison as 
if she was disposable.

Although D's death was the most horrible time of my life, it was a 
learning experience and surprisingly she inspired me to try to be the 
best person I can be and I do try, and that is not an easy thing in 
here. I learned not to depend on anyone but God and myself. Since her 
death, I have realized how making fun of someone, teasing, embarrassing 
or humiliating someone does hurt. We sometimes do not realize how mean 
comments can hurt another. I have learned to try to never judge anyone 
because you never know the circumstances of what they have had to endure 
that may have made them become the way they are. A big thing I have 
learned is that with just a little common kindness, it may save a life, 
and just showing human concern and being there for someone makes a 
difference and may have a positive impact on them.

In writing this essay, I felt that maybe others that have been in 
similar situations could possibly relate and may reach out to help 
someone who needs to be lifted. In choosing this topic I felt the way to 
get the message to all inmates about the importance of sticking together 
and helping other inmates instead of being mean to each other. I hope 
this reaches at least a few hearts and helps them understand the impact 
we all have on each other's lives. This situation is real and it happens 
all the time inside and outside of prison. Try to remember you are not 
alone and try to never give up on life no matter how bad you feel like 
enough is enough. D left behind a family hat loved her very much and 
misses her everyday. More than anything I learned life is so precious, 
we take each other for granted never understanding that one moment 
someone can be there and the next day they can be gone from our lives 
forever. This had to be part of my healing process too; I had to tell 
her story so she did not die in vain. It is so ironic that my most 
notable surprising experience was with another inmate who taught me more 
than she could have ever imagined. Unbelievably I feel her with me 
sometimes holding me up when I feel like I just cannot do it anymore. No 
matter how bad people make you feel about yourself, no matter what they 
call you or how bad they try to degrade you, remember you are not 
unworthy, that everyone has issues especially the ones who want you to 
fail because that is the only way they have to feel good about themselves.

In closing, maybe this essay may shake some of the authorities, maybe 
someone somewhere will have the courage to stand up and start changing 
the system for the better. If you want people to pay their debts to 
society, come out and be better people, you cannot keep beating a dead 
horse with more and more punishment and shame. As we are all aware, many 
know and see how counterproductive prison can be; now we just need for 
someone with some common sense who has the power to take action because 
most of us are really worth trying to save. Too many lives have been 
lost or tossed aside in the name of paying for your crime.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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