The following letter was penned by a formerly incarcerated person, responding particularly to the first-hand testimonies of solitary confinement in New Jersey prisons. Jean Ross, esq. submitted this letter to NJCAIC for publication with the author's permission.
Reading [the accounts of isolation] gave me a chill down my back. Not merely for the atrocities going on in the NJDOC, but because it brought back memories of my time in Ad Seg and STGMU [the "Security Threat Group Management Units"]. I can relate to this man's story and have seen similar mental breakdowns. This I saw, not only while I worked as a para-legal in Trenton--now referred to as New Jersey State Prison--but also while housed in Administrative Segregation in Rahway, before they closed it, and the Security Threat Group Management Unit, which they deemed a non-punitive program unit. However, though the concept of solitary confinement paints a picture of one person alone in their cage, isolated from the very human contact that is essential to humanity, there are units they claim as non-solitary because they house two individuals in that same cell. This situation is worse and aggressive behavior is exacerbated. A person becomes hyper-sensitive from living in too close quarters without hope of escape from the constant presence of this other individual.
While Mr. K and Mr. M may be extreme cases of solitary, there are many more than the hundreds that have been lost mentally to the torture of this inhumane practice. In 1992, after being in an altercation in the slop trough (Dining Hall), I was awarded a stay in "Disciplinary Detention" (the hole) and then a period in "Administrative Segregation" and shipped to Rahway Ad Seg to serve my isolated time because working as a para-legal in Trenton they felt I was too well known by the legal serving staff and I may receive preferential treatment (fair assessment). This however was also the time the prison administration closed down the mental health ward part of the DOC at the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, sending the majority of those with mental illness to Rahway Ad Seg. While housed in the unit, my neighbor on the right side as I look at the door would go in fits of rage for hours fighting with an imaginary other person, throwing this imaginary person (himself) against the wall screaming "take that bitch" and "ya think ya can get away from me," and you can hear through the doors and vents him punching himself, the cops at the podium making mock bets on who would win the next round. On the other side of me, a man painted his cell with his own feces while he was on constant observation. Across from me and after I was moved to tier 2 below me to the right, a guy getting forced medication, each day they would come in suited in full riot gear, rush his cell and drag him out, hold him prone on the concrete floor and then the nurse would come through the fences and give him a shot. So it appears little progress was made with the decree.
I do not have a history of mental illness, however while in these units I have experienced similar issues the writer experienced, also finding myself paranoid of others--even those of good will such as Social Workers--and developing more aggressive behavioral patterns. This remained with me after returning to general population and only slowly dissipated over a period of time when I started being able to focus and reflect on my behavior.
So the narrative relayed by this individual is both disturbing and credible and in need of address. I hope something can be done; even we, the marginalized in society deserve to be treated humanely. If we had the right to vote, does anyone believe this would continue to be the blatant treatment delivered to this section of the citizenry?