[Pnews] A Prison Where the Building Becomes the Shackles - ADX Florence

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Nov 27 14:51:12 EST 2013

  Voices from Solitary: "A Prison Where the Building Becomes the Shackles"

November 27, 2013 By Voices from Solitary 

/Former political prisoner Ray Luc Levasseur was raised in Maine, born 
to a working-class family of Quebecois origin. He became politically 
radicalized at a young age, first after serving a term of duty in 
Vietnam, and again after spending two years in a Tennessee prison.  In 
1986, Ray Luc Levasseur was convicted for militant activities conducted 
with the United Freedom Front.  He would ultimately spend about 15 of 
his 18 years in prison in solitary confinement.  First sent to the 
Control Unit at USP Marion, he was transferred to the federal supermax, 
ADX Florence, after refusing to work for the Federal Prison Industries 
(UNICOR) since it produced military equipment for the Department of 
Defense. Levasseur was released in 2004 and now lives in Maine. (For 
more on Ray Luc Levasseur, see the interview 
<http://wp.me/p2HYoj-31r>published in conjunction with this piece.)/

/The following is an excerpt from a larger piece that Levasseur is 
writing. It describes the day he arrived at ADX Florence and his initial 
experiences at the prison. -- Aviva Stahl/

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

Approaching the federal prison complex, I saw majestic snow capped 
mountain peaks in the distance, an image to cherish when all else 
disappears behind closed walls.  We rode through the complex: minimum 
security camp, medium security prison, maximum security prison, and 
continued to the end of the compound of the federal prison system.

ADX, administrative maximum, a prison where the building becomes the 
shackles. From outside ADX look half-buried, built against an earth 
berm.   It wasn't underground but might as well have been, once you're 
inside. The mountains and the reminder of the outside world were erased 
as were entered the first door. We were led through a maze of polished 
hallways and bright lights, bar grills, steel doors and ubiquitous 
surveillance cameras. My travelling companion and I were placed in cells 
on an unoccupied tier. The cells were brand-spanking new, never before 
occupied.  I had never had a new house, a new car or a new apartment but 
I now had a new prison cell.

This is a boxcar cell, designed to suppress human sound and constrain 
the five senses.  I spoke to the walls.  "Ray Luc, present and accounted 
for!"  My voice echoed throughout the cell, a cough sounded like a 
racket ball carom.  There would be no casual conversations with my one 

When fed through a shoe-box sized slot in the door the meal looked like 
dog-food on noodles. We missed the regular feeding time and this tray 
was sitting around somewhere. I hadn't eaten all day so despite my 
trepidation I pushed the dog food aside and ate the noodles with a 
plastic spoon. I spent most of that first night retching and vomiting 
into the stainless steel commode. Food poisoning.   Forty-eight years 
old and I've entered a new phase in my life -- a mid life crisis 
embodied in a techno-fascist architectural wet dream.

Society reflects the self in a microcosm of prison. In a class based, 
economically driven, racially motivated life, devolved of a series of 
Chinese boxes. A set of boxes decreasing in size so that each box fits 
in the next larger one. I'm in the smallest box.

The essence of ADX is the boxcar cell.  This boxcar doesn't move.  It is 
a cage within a box encased by concrete. Entry is through a solid steel 
door that contains a small Plexiglas observation window. And then the 
trap -- dead space. Then a series of vertical steel bars which forms the 
front of the cage and a second door. I am confined to the boxcar cell 
157 hours of each 168 hour week. I am allowed 11 hours a week into a 
barren concrete area adjacent to the cellblock between Mondays and 
Fridays. The rec space (i.e. recreation space) is like the deep end of a 
dry swimming pool with walls. I see only walls, except straight up 
through the wire mesh, steel cables and joists a section of sky. That's 
the term, 'outside rec'.

Other men begin occupying the cells on my tier. The boxcar cell is 
designed to gouge prisoner's senses by suppressing human sound and 
communication with others. It puts blinders on one's eyes and limits on 
touching to that which is lifeless. A boxcar cell is designed to inflict 
physical, psychological, and spiritual isolation.  You will feel the 
pain. You will not leave the boxcar cell except in restraints.  Within 
months it seems endless. Every morning begins with a loud grating of the 
steel gate opening to the tier. One at a time, each of the 
electronically controlled doors opens, a guard steps to the second 
barred door and slides the food tray through the slot, then steps back 
while the door is closed, with a vengeance.   On down the line, until 
the last tray is delivered.  A half hour later we go through the paces 
again until the last tray is retrieved, followed by silence.

At my first visit with a friend and lawyer from Chicago, she said, "Ray, 
you seem agitated."

I had a thousand yard stare by then, and responded: "Hey, you'd be 
agitated too if you felt like your face was slapped every morning you 
get up in this shithole."

"Okay, I understand but why don't you sit down while you're talking? You 
step left to the wall, then right to the wall, you don't sit still."

"You see what I got to sit on? A concrete stump -- it's a ******* post- 
same as in my cell. Why would I wanna sit on that?"

"But you're unfocused at times, you're jumping all over while you're 
talking. First you talk about your kids one minute, then tell me about a 
prisoner in seg [segregation] who's tearing his flesh with his teeth. 
Then without missing a beat you're into Agent Orange and Vietnam."

"Look, there's nothing wrong with me, alright, nothing that the shining 
light of freedom wouldn't fix. I know why I'm in prison in ADX, I'll be 
a witness to what's happening here. That's what I'm doing, that's what 
I'm writing about.  They're keeping that segregation prisoner in four 
point restraints, you understand.  He's four pointed to a concrete slab. 
They say every time they unchain him, he's back to tearing at his flesh. 
Even the hacks are spooked by him. You know, what is it about this place 
that makes a man do that to himself. Several prisoners have already been 
a packed off to the pscyh ward at Springfield."

"How do you know this?"

"I know it from prisoners rotating in and out of segregation unit, 
otherwise there could a major riot in the cellblock next to mine and I 
wouldn't know about it, sound doesn't travel far here. You can't see 
beyond immediate walls and doors."

"You're in the same environment Ray, it's got to affect you."

"It does, it ******* enrages me, I get homicidal thoughts and migraines 
that begin with a spider crawling up my cervix and injecting a twelve 
load jolt of mind-******* pain into my skull. But you know what, in the 
immediate aftermath of physical pain I feel good.  It takes the absence 
of pain to feel good here.  It's scary, the psychological is not always 
as evidence as the physical."

"Unless you're eating your own flesh."

"Right, unless you're eating your own flesh, or your own shit, I saw 
that in MCC [Metropolitan Correctional Center] in New York."

I didn't dwell on if or when I'd extricate myself from ADX because this 
line of thinking would drive me into deeper depression.

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