[Pnews] I Am Buried Alive in a Michigan Prison
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Apr 2 15:34:59 EDT 2018
I Am Buried Alive in a Michigan Prison
Lacino Hamilton - April 01, 2018
Risking understatement, I am buried alive inside Michigan's Marquette
Maximum Security Prison. I am locked in a windowless cell measuring 10x8
feet, 24 hours per day. For one hour every other day, I am handcuffed,
chained around the waist and allowed exercise and a shower in a small
cage. I am not allowed to interact with others, or to participate in any
educational, vocational, or employment programs. All meals are delivered
to the cell. I have no access to a phone. And while I am permitted two,
one hour non-contact visits per month -- always conducted through glass
-- Marquette is 455 miles away from my hometown of Detroit.
Opportunities to visit family and friends are rare.
For all intents and purposes, I am dead to everything but melancholic
anxieties and horrible despair. This is torture.
I am dead to everything but melancholic anxieties and horrible
despair. This is torture.
I have existed under these conditions for over seven months with no
prospect of release in the near future. The system here is rigid, strict
and hopeless solitary confinement. It is not natural or humane to be
isolated like this day after day, month after month. Actually, it has
long been known by those who research and labor to abolish solitary
confinement that even a relatively brief exposure of time
severe environmental restrictions and social interactions has a
profoundly deleterious -- often catastrophic -- effect on mental
functioning. In such situations people often descend into a mental
torpor or "fog," in which alertness, attention and concentration all
Many of the men here with me descend into the horror of
self-mutilation, some eating parts of their own bodies.
In solitary, one can hear the madness coming from the throats of men who
cannot take it any more, frustrated souls from behind the bars of each
cell, rasping rackets from the walls, the hollow vibrations from sink
and toilet combined into one. Our iron beds are bolted to the floor.
Lights are never turned off. These things take on frightening
significance. They result in
loss of appetite, insomnia, irritability, emotional withdrawal,
depression, paranoid ideation and easily provoked anger, which may
escalate into "acting out."
Several guys on my tier have argued the last three days -- promising to
kill each other if the opportunity ever presents itself -- over a pair
of socks that came up missing in the laundry. This type of thing happens
all the time. Of course, the inability to shift attention away from
something as trivial as a pair of missing socks is not the worst of it.
Many of the men here with me smear themselves with feces. They mumble
and scream incoherently all day and night. They descend into the horror
of self-mutilation, some eating parts of their own bodies. My first
couple of weeks in solitary an older white gentleman in a wheelchair who
repeated over and over again how bored he was hanged and killed himself,
on a dare. The frequency in which these acts of despair and hopelessness
occur should attract administrative as well as clinical concern, but
rarely do. The guy in the cell next to me and a guy around the corner
both recently attempted suicide.
Not all people locked down in solitary confinement react precisely in
these manners. In some, the trauma and harms are less conspicuous. In
others, dejection and utter despondence set in earlier, or later. But
none are unaffected. Not anyone. Not me. The challenges of writing under
the tensions and hostilities created by social and sensory deprivation
cannot just be shrugged off. To encourage myself, I repeat out loud the
words of Viktor E. Frankl: "Life holds meaning under any conditions --
even the most miserable ones." I try to believe this.
How is making prison smaller, narrower and more confined going to
Before writing, I strip the sheets and blanket from the refurbished
piece of corrugated rubber that masquerades as my mattress, then fold it
in half to serve as a writing surface. I do the same with a pillow that
differs from the so-called mattress only in size, except it is used to
cushion my knees. Kneeling is the most comfortable position from which
to write. I take several deep breaths, wipe the cold perspiration from
my face, and go through a series of knuckle cracking and hand exercises.
Writing with a 3-inch rubber "security pen" causes my hand to cramp and
swell. The pain is both excruciating and debilitating. I feel like
giving up before getting started.
Prison administrators justify the use of all sorts of "security"
methods, in which solitary confinement is the central pathogenic
technique, by claiming the prison's need to modify aggressive behavior,
reduce tension, make prisoners more obedient and rehabilitate
recalcitrant prisoners. However, those justifications do not match the
How is making prison smaller, narrower and more confined going to reduce
tension? It is far more likely that solitary will not only place people
at risk for greater anxiety and stress but also lead to lasting negative
changes. These include persistent symptoms of post-traumatic stress
(such as flashbacks, chronic hypervigilance and a pervasive sense of
hopelessness), as well as a continuing pattern of intolerance of social
Isolating specific exemplary cases will not bring justice. That
model tends to emphasize the individual rather than the collective
All of these deep issues make people more susceptible to recidivism. The
same way over two-thirds of people released from prison are rearrested
in the first three years, a high percentage
of prisoners released from solitary confinement quickly return. After
people are released from solitary confinement, the trauma they
experienced often prevents them from successfully readjusting to the
environment of the "general population" in prison and perhaps even more
significantly, often severely impairs their capacity to reintegrate into
the broader community upon release.
My friends write to me and ask how I am holding up. I always reply,
"Just fine." While sincere in my response, I wonder if that is true, or
even possible. No one here openly acknowledges the psychological harm or
stress experienced as a result of the stringent conditions under which
we're placed. I believe the reluctance to acknowledge this harm is a
response to the perception that solitary confinement is an overt attempt
by administrators and guards to "break us down." If we fully acknowledge
that solitary is the product of an arbitrary exercise of power (rather
than the fair result of a reasonable process), it can be even more
difficult to bear.
What is important to note is not only that we as prisoners are often
extremely fearful of acknowledging the psychological stress and harm we
experience behind these walls, but that administrators and guards are
fearful of doing so too. The consequences of caging people cause damage
to both jailed and jailer. This is a point that has to be emphasized
more often -- all who exist or work in this environment are affected.
Prison solves no social problem; it merely creates new and more
complicated ones. It is a descending spiral ending in emotional and
psychological harm for all.
When you are suffering like we are suffering, you simply cannot
imagine that nobody will come along to stop the pain. And when no
one does, the temptation to choose death over despair, for many,
My friends also write and ask how they can aid me. Books and letters
help break up the monotony, loneliness and idleness. But I recognize my
experience as a social experience, not an individual sort of thing, and
so I ask that in aiding "me," they do not embrace the "spokesperson"
model of concern about solitary confinement. Isolating specific
exemplary cases will not bring justice. That model tends to emphasize
the individual rather than the collective injury. It dismantles
collective responses, and diverts attention from the larger picture:
Solitary confinement is a form of torture. And every day, in every
state, many thousands of people in American prisons aretortured
<https://www.afsc.org/document/torture-us-prisons> with little
recognition or outrage.
My friends, or anyone for that matter, can assist the fight against
solitary by becoming more informed that torture not only functions in
countries where leaders elect themselves, but routinely in our country,
under the cover of criminal "justice." Become more informed about how
torture operates in American prisons through normalizing "security
techniques" that are then taken as a given. Just being more informed is
likely to bring up the question, "In whose interest does the system of
social and sensory deprivation operate?" Asking who benefits and who
pays helps to expose our collective lack of imagination when it comes to
dealing with problems, pursuing accountability and determining what
actions should be taken to meet the needs of victims.
I hope what I write resonates with someone. Solitary is a tragic
problem. It's also terrifying. When you are suffering like we are
suffering, you simply cannot imagine that nobody will come along to stop
the pain. And when no one does, the temptation to choose death over
despair, for many, is overwhelming. Make no mistake: Solitary
confinement is torture.
Lacino Hamilton <http://www.truth-out.org/author/itemlist/user/51058>
Lacino Hamilton can be reached for a larger discussion on this and
related topics at: Lacino Hamilton 247310, Marquette Branch Prison, 1960
US Highway 41 S, Marquette, MI, 49855, or www.jpay.com
<http://www.jpay.com/>. Lacino has been incarcerated since July
1994. (For more information about his case, see "Ring of Snitches: How
Detroit Police Slapped False Murder Convictions on Young Black Men
being sent to prison, he spent four of his first six years in solitary
confinement. It was there that he began to read, think critically and
distinguish between expressing a desire to change and demonstrating the
ability to achieve it.
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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