[Ppnews] The “Vicious Cycles” Created by Solitary Confinement

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Feb 25 13:57:54 EST 2013

  The “Vicious Cycles” Created by Solitary Confinement

February 24, 2013 By Sal Rodriguez 

In 1993, Dr. Stuart Grassian 
<http://law.wustl.edu/journal/22/p325grassian.pdf>, following extensive 
interviews with men in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison Security 
Housing Unit (SHU), reported that extensive periods in solitary 
confinement lead to what he referred to as a “syndrome” particular to 
prison isolation units. Anxiety, ruminations, panic attacks, aggression, 
paranoia, and psychotic symptoms were observed as a consequence of 
prolonged solitary confinement. Prisoners already presenting problems 
with impulsivity, aggression, and other problematic mental health and 
behavioral problems may become far more aggravated in solitary 
confinement. This contributes to what Dr. Craig Haney has referred to as 
a vicious cycle in which emotionally troubled individuals placed in 
solitary become more aggravated and cause more problems, leading to 
longer or repeated terms in solitary confinement, and thus creates more 
negative behaviors in the process.

Unsurprisngly, it has also been well-established that inmates in 
solitary confinement have higher recidivism rates upon release from 
<http://www.vera.org/download?file=2845/Confronting_Confinement.pdf>. An 
August 2012 report 
<http://afsc.org/document/lifetime-lockdown-report>commissioned by the 
American Friends Service Committee found that prisoners released from 
Arizona supermax custody are emotionally and mentally harmed by the 
experience of solitary. Further, the report found that supermax inmates 
are  inadequately prepared for release, as they are prohibited from 
educational and vocational opportunities and are limited in visitation 
during their incarceration, which contribute to inmates being “deeply 
traumatized and essentially socially disabled.”

Presented here are profiles of two prisoners, in Washington and Utah, 
who have written to Solitary Watch about their experiences in isolation. 
  Both report extended periods in solitary confinement, which they 
report has had the effect of increasing their hostility against 
authority and leading to increased feelings of anxiety, respectively. 
They report receiving no constructive, rehabilitative programming, which 
they argue only contributes to escalating problems as they neither learn 
to “become productive” and are left at “rock bottom.”

*Washington State Penitentiary (Walla Walla, WA)*

C. is a self-described “45 year old revolutionary Chicano” from southern 
California. Incarcerated since 1997 on second-degree assault and arson 
charges, he is now serving a life sentence. He writes to Solitary 
Watch during his 10th stint in Washington’s Intensive Management Unit.

Following an assault on other prisoners, he was sentenced to a two year 
term in the solitary confinement unit. He is currently six months into 
this term.

He spends 23 hours a day, five days a week in his 7×12 foot windowless 
cell. For one hour he is allowed to exercise. On weekends, he spends his 
entire time in his cell.

C. claims that his frequent placements in the IMU has contributed to an 
increasing hostility against correctional officers. “You are not shown 
how to assimilate or become productive. Just the opposite, so defiance 
an refusal to submit have become the motivation.”

“Whenever I must leave this four walled entrapment, I have to do a full 
strip search,” he writes,” get dressed, turn around to get handcuffed 
through the cuffport, walk forward a few feet to kneel down while on a 
tether, four guards then enter the cell to place leg restraints on me 
with a sergeant present and then they all escort me to shower.”

Every day, he goes through the same procedure, “my personal property, 
mattress and bedding are placed on a cart and taken down the hallway…to 
be searched, to make sure that I have not made a weapon or instrument 
that will harm any staff.”

Further, “a rolled up mattress has been placed up against the front of 
the cell door so that DOC is assured that I cannot ‘fish’ in contraband 
from others on the tier.”

His prolonged confinement in isolation, as well as perceived racism and 
abuses on the part of the guards, has contributed, he says, to his 
tendency to lash out against others.

He writes, “When people are pushed into a corner, tortured and given no 
option of running away and no peaceful way to fight back…they will be 
forced into a violent response.”

*Utah State Prison (Draper, Utah)*

R. has been incarcerated since he was 17 years old, convicted of 
aggravated assault. Currently 22, he has spent over 4 1/2 years in Utah 
State Prison, Draper’s control units, Uinta 1 and Uinta 2.

Classified as having a Kappa (“assertive and sometimes aggressive”) 
personality, he spends most of his time in his cell. He is currently 
held in the prisons gang management unit, Uinta 2. Most in Uinta 2 are 
held two men to a cell, though many, like R., are not.

Like others in his unit, he is only allotted 1 hour and 15 minutes of 
recreation time every other day. He reports no educational 
opportunities, jobs, or programming.

“There is rarely interaction with anyone other than the 32 other inmates 
in the section…socially people are limited and damaged,” he reports, “I 
find myself feeling nervous even visiting my mom.”

His brief time in general population was marked by anxiety, “The time I 
spent in pop I wasn’t used to interacting with people…I still felt 
comfortable being in my cell.”

While in the control unit,  a family tragedy occurred, “I have had 5 
family members pass in a car accident when the case worker pulled me out 
he said he couldn’t even offer me a phone call…imagine being in a cell 
48 hours at a time and the thoughts that could arise.”

Like many in isolation units, one of the only means of maintaining a 
sense of control is by sticking to a rigid routine.

He reports that the stress and anxiety of close confinement have led him 
to seek mental health assistance. Which, apparently, amounted to  “he 
lady suggesting for me to basically live in a fantasy imagining things 
throughout the day.”

He has had to find an alternative means of coping with his 
confinement “meditation has helped me cope…to deal with being away from 
family…I would recommend anybody in solitary to look into he meditation 
and the Buddhist psychology,” he says.

“The goal of the system is to rehabilitate! How do you rehabilitate with 
NO resources? Being locked in a cage, how do you better yourself and 
prepare for release? Then they wonder why recidivism is so high, I was a 
kid when I was locked up…I have nothing so I’m starting rock bottom.”

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