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Friday, June 29, 2012

Voices from Solitary: High Tech Brutality

Voices from Solitary: High Tech Brutality
by Voices from Solitary

Robert "Saleem" Holbrook is serving life without parole in Pennsylvania for a crime committed when he was a juvenile. When he was 16, Holbrook was recruited by adults to serve as a lookout during a drug deal that escalated to robbery and then murder. Under the state's mandatory sentencing laws, he was given LWOP--an experience he describes in an essay called "Crushed Against the Law: A Child Offender’s Encounter with Blind Justice," published on the blog maintained for him by friends on the outside. It remains to be seen how the Supreme Court's recent decision banning mandatory juvenile LWOP will affect his sentence. Holbrook has now been in prison for 17 years, and has spent many of those years in solitary confinement. He is a member of the Human Rights Coaltion, which opposes solitary confinement and other forms of abuse in Pennsylvania's prisons. He wrote the following piece, titled "Control Units: High Tech Brutality" while in the "Special Management Unit" (SMU) at SCI Greene. -- Jean Casella

A prisoner’s whole existence, especially one in a control unit, is defined by numbers, statistics, and information transferred through an endless process of paperwork. When I go to the Program Review Committee here in the Special Management Unit (a control unit) at SCI Greene, my release to general population is repeatedly denied, they claim, because of a history of assaultive behavior. It is useless to defend myself against their rationale, yet I do to probe the predictable response of my captors.

Their justification for the continual confinement of myself and others in the SMU is based on the rational of a separate committee that determined I am an assaultive prisoner who has demonstrated the potential to harm others. Never mind the fact that this determination was made in another prison. Since a separate Administrative Committee determined that I am assaultive, I must therefore be assaultive. Their system of paper- work and statistics is never wrong; their committees are omnipotent and all knowing.

We the prisoners are mere spectators and captives to the process. Our presence is only necessary to secure our signatures on their paperwork or to say something that can be documented and used against us in future hearings. Our signatures place our consent on their paperwork. They permit us to seal our fate by certifying our consent of their process.

Every step of our day in the control unit is reduced to a methodical and omnipotent numbers system. I am housed in cell 23 on the 2nd tier. I receive 3 meals a day, 3 showers a week for 5 minutes each with 1 bar of soap, and 3 shaves a week with 1 razor that must be turned in after 15 minutes. I go to the yard 5 days a week for 1 hour a day with 1 prisoner per cage. I can only have 1 box in my cell containing only 2 pairs of socks, 2 t-shirts and 2 underwear. I can only have 4 books that must be exchanged on a 1 for 1 basis. I can only have 1 jumpsuit, 1 towel, 1 washcloth, and 1 toothbrush and toothpaste that are exchanged every 30 days on a 1 for 1 basis. I can only have 1 visit for 1 hour every week with only 1 visitor. The SMU Committee reviews my status every 30 days.

The prison officials tolerate no alternation in their process. There is no room for negotiation or compromise. The system must run smoothly. Dissent or resistance is crushed by the Correctional Response Teams dressed in futuristic battle fatigues. It is a ruthless war of attrition de- signed to grind a man down to his breaking point.

The previous method employed by the prison system to break prisoners was to break “bones.” They relied on brute force and unrestrained violence. This method did not sit well with the American public when it was exposed. It also tarnished America’s image in the world as a nation of high standards and values. The method was flawed in that it usually only strengthened prisoners’ resistance and made them stronger men. The prison system therefore directed its resources to develop a method of confinement that would destroy a prisoner’s mind and his will to resist.

The new assault was directed not against a prisoner’s body, but rather his mind and senses. The concept of a complete sensory deprivation and isolation was developed. This concept revolved around the ideas that if a prisoner is deprived of mental, physical, and emotional stimulation, his mind will inevitably turn inward and feed upon itself. With no outlet in an isolated environment, the mind is left to its own devices. The result is that a prisoner’s thoughts run out of control. Concentration becomes difficult and prisoners invent fantasies or images of themselves which they cocoon themselves in.

Some never emerge from this world they create. The mind will seek any relief available. It is not uncommon for men to talk to themselves for hours on end. Insanity and madness rule in a control unit. The units are filled with prisoner’s screams, outbursts and pleas for communication. A man’s nerves deteriorate right in front of his eyes. Each prisoner suffers his own personal hell. Everyone is affected in one way or another. Whether the experience affects him for the good or the bad depends upon the man. Read more of this post

http://solitarywatch.com/2012/06/28/voices-from-solitary-high-tech-brutality/

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