GUEST EDITORIAL: "Solitary Insanity"

The following piece was written by a prisoner currently housed in isolation in New Jersey State Prison, for 365 days.

"Solitary Insanity"

What occurs when a grown man is thrown into a cell that is so small it feels like a treasure chest? Well, to see that, all you have to do is pay a visit to New Jersey State Prison's Administrative Segregation unit. The cells are constraining enough that an average sized man like myself, can reach up and place my hands on the ceiling, I can reach to my sides and place my hands flat on each wall. Then, the toilet is an actual box in the back of the cell. Use your imagination and picture it. 

Now, think about the mindset of someone trapped in this treasure chest. Things have gotten progressively worse each month. It's gotten so bad that the new fad is to (pardon my French) "Shitting someone down"! It's exactly what you think. If someone has issues with another person, whether it be prisoner, officer or civilian, they heat up their own feces, urine and anything else they can imagine, and throw it on that person. Now, how insane must a person be to play in his own feces and urine? On top of that, they'll keep it for weeks in a jar, ready for the opportunity! Even children grow out of playing in feces, so for a grown man, what kind of damage is done to justify this behavior?

It's a culmination of things. Ad seg is horrible, and the conditions are virtually unlivable. The cells are Smurf blue, and when it rains, not only does it leak on the tier, but it leaks in most cells. You can see rust lines drawing their paths down the walls. There is a plethora of mold, dust and I suspect still some asbestos that was painted over. You can't even shower every day to get these ingredients for disease off of you. There's not even hot water in the cells to "bird bath" in the cell.
In the summer, which is quickly approaching, there is a formula for death. Here's why;

On top of what I already mentioned, ventilation is minimal on the tier, and nonexistent inside the cells. Prisoners are not given any pay for ad-seg time, so if they have no support from home, they can't purchase a fan. Most of the fans area so dirty that they barely blow air, and windows only cover a small percentage of cells, especially on the odd numbered tiers where you could be in a cell without any window in the vicinity. Add to that the fact that everything is brick and steel and we all know what happens when those are heated with no ventilation... it becomes a brick and steel oven. You want to see grown men cry like children, visit ad-seg on a day that is over 90degrees. Because in the cell it will be well over 100degrees. They're cooking us to serve on the institutional menu! That's a joke but the conditions aren't! 

Mice and rats are the true tenants of ad-seg. They come out when the lights go out and it's a feeding frenzy! We have to construct "blocks" for our cell doors to keep them out, but they are circus rodents! If there's a will there's a way! They'll get in and you may even wake up with one sitting on your chest, wondering why you are in its house. Waking in the morning entails cleaning out all of the rodent feces and urine and think like an engineer to keep them out. Its an ugly situation.

Now reflect on these facts, and imagine the aspects I haven't mentioned, and think of how it affects a man's mind having to endure this. Analyze how many men in ad-seg take psychological medications, the numbers are staggering. You may walk past a man's cell and see him naked in bed, rocking and taking to himself like a lunatic. And it takes a strong man to endure it...or an equally insane man who has already lost his mind. That makes it a sad state for a person's humanity. Add to that the fact that it takes weeks for men to receive their belongings and months to receive their TV, often more than 90 days! 

Now, ask yourself a question.... why is this unit still open to bring pain and insanity to more men. I still haven't figured that out and I'M IN AD-SEG RIGHT NOW! I get out in January 2018. I just pray that I don't lose my mind as well.

Pray for me.

EVENT June 11: "Solitary" Film Screening and Panel Discussion

Join NJ-CAIC and NeighborCorps Reentry Services for a screening of the HBO Documentary Film "Solitary." Following the film, Mary Buser (author of "Lockdown on Rikers") will deliver a keynote presentation and will be joined by Justice Rountree and Kunal Sharma for a panel discussion. This event will also feature original artwork by former political prisoner Ojore Lutalo. It is open to the public, and has a suggested donation of $10. 

This event will take place on June 11, from 4:00pm to 9:00pm, at Temple Anshe Emeth, located at 222 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. Contact Justina Otero (NeighborCorps Reentry Services) for more information.

TAKE ACTION: Sign Onto Interfaith Statement "In Defense of Human Dignity"

People of faith and moral conscience in New Jersey are coming together to renew their commitment to ending torture in the jails, prisons, and detention centers throughout the state. After a tremendously successful effort supporting a bill to end solitary confinement, which made its all the way to Governor Christie's desk in 2016, NJ-CAIC and its allies are preparing to impact the course of legislative and administrative decisions regarding prisoner housing and treatment.

EVENT April 14-15 "Toward Abolition: Dismantling the Carceral State"

This Friday, April 14th and 15th, Princeton University Students for Prison Education and Reform (SPEAR) is hosting its 4th annual conference: Toward Abolition: Dismantling the Carceral State

Every year, the conference brings together over 200 participants from various universities and advocacy groups for a weekend of lectures, panels, and activist workshops. You can register here!

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The conference will feature: 

  • An opening keynote by award-winning scholar and co-founder of Critical Resistance, Professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore on “Industrialized Punishment: Charting the Current Crisis in Racial Capitalism”
  • Lectures by Professor Judah Schept, on "Against Punishment: Seeing and Unseeing the Prison in Carceral America” and Alec Karakatsanis, founder and director of Civil Rights Corps, on “Fighting the Normalization of Human Caging” 
  • A performance of “The Bullpen,” a play written and performed by Joe Assadourian, who plays 18 different characters encountered in his experience in the criminal system. More information & RSVP here
  • Panels on taking the CLOSERikers campaign as a case study for abolition, new conceptions of justice, and “Real Women Real Voices,” which will feature the stories of currently and formerly incarcerated women 
  • Workshops facilitated by other activists, and formerly incarcerated/detained individuals on strategies for prison abolition, decarceration and decriminalization 
  • For a full schedule of events and speakers’ bios, click here

Please register here -- we hope to see you there!