In response to a recent rash of suicides, suicide attempts, and cries for help from those experiencing suicidal breakdowns as a result of long-term solitary confinement in TDCJ, prison officials’ solution is to paint a cloudy butthole on the wall along with a constant reminder that suicide is an option and that TDCJ sees no redemptive value in those of us confined to long-term solitary confinement. Of course, TDCJ doesn’t call it what it is, because that would require acknowledging the inhumanity of their policies or would call attention to it. They used to call ot “administrative segregation” until that became too well known, with too much public awareness, too synonymous with the cruelty of long-term solitary confinement. And oh, how TDCJ, like any government bureaucracy, loves euphemisms.
Over the years, prisoners have gone from being called “prisoners,” to “inmates,” to “offenders,” to the newest designation of “residents.” As if we are rent-paying tenants? If I’m simply a “resident” can I PLEASE cancel my lease? I’ll gladly forfeit the security deposit and accept the hit to my credit score.
Until recently, TDCJ’s preferred euphemism for long-term solitary confinement was “administrative segregation.” But apparently that has become too problematic with all the increasing attention to the extremely detrimental effects of long-term solitary confinement. Even TDCJ was forced to acknowledge this fact when proudly announcing a few years ago that they were ending the practice of solitary confinement as a disciplinary punishment. Officials cited studies and statistics proving that solitary confinement is an ineffective disciplinary tool and inflicts disproportionate, lasting harm to prisoners...err, I mean inmates...err, I mean residents. What officials conveniently omitted was that thousand of prisoners still remained in solitary confineemnt, some for decades, and often for no good, rational reason. Only, it was by another name: administrative-segregation. Apparently, labelling it “administrative” rather than “disciplinary” negates the validity of these studies? Or that somehow the disciplinary punishment of solitary confinement (which was limited by rule to 14 days), is somehow more effective and humane if imposed indefinitely and irrationally for years or decades? As long as they slap a different euphemism upon it?
For a while this misdirection worked. Until more and more people began asking questions about the effects and vlidity of TDCJ’s abuse of administrative segregation. There are more prisoners in solitary confinement in Texas than all other states combined. (*Texas Observer, Jan/Feb 2020, A Solitary Condition, by Michael Barajas) But in true bureaucratic fashion, rather than address the issue, TDCJ simply changed the name to a more palatable euphemism--restrictive housing--so they could disingenuously proclaim that TDCJ no longer uses administrative segregation. Problem solved! Of course, the only thing that changes is the name. The conditions and effects remain the same. But not that we are no longer prisoners confined to administrative segregation (ooo, sounds so ominous and draconian!), we are now the joyful and appreciative “residents of restrictive housing.”
So why should anyone be surprised that when those joyful and appreciative residents of resatrictive housing exhibit the same suicidal depression and behaviors as before? Or that TDCJ’s “solution” is to paint a cloudy butthole on the wall along with a constant reminder to contemplate suicide?
A few weeks ago as I was returning from a visit I glanced across the hallway into the wing across from my own, where they put the guys on suicide watch. Trough the bars I spied no less than a half a dozen officers parked on “CDO”: Constant Direct Observation. Another of thos ewonderful TDCJ euphemisms for “suicide watch.” Presumably this euphemism assists the bureaucratic denial that their policies drive their residents to severe mental health crises and suicidal behavior. When one of their ungrateful residents expresses these thoughts and requests help, they are placed on “CDO” where they are stripped naked, placed in an empty cell with nothing by a thin-plastic covered matress, while an officer sits in a chair directly in front of the cell on constant suicide watch, err...I mean, “direct observation.” This degrading humiliation can last for days until the resident suddenly recognizes how ungrateful and non-suicidal he is, and informs the psych doctor that he is suddenly cured and no longer feels suicidal, just so that he can have his clothing, personal property, dignity, and minimal privacy returned to him. Or, conversely, if his suicidal feeling persist, he will either remain on CDO or be sent to a psych facility for a few days and then returned to solitary confi...err, restrictive housing. Granted, some prisoners manipulate the system by expressing suicidal thoughts and are willing to subject themselves to CDO just to have someone to talk to face-to-face for a while (the guard on CDO), or for a trip to the psych facility as a brief respite from the unending drudgery and monotony of long-term solitary confinement. Dammit. I mean “restrictive housing.” But for those who are genuinely contemplating suicide as their only option for ending this torment, how does such degrading, humiliating conditions of suicide watch/CDO encourage anyone to ask for help? If anything, it only discourages reporting suicidal thoughts in order to avoid conditions that will certainly deepen their feelings of despair and hopelessness and worthlessness. But then again, maybe this is another of TDCJ’s “solutions” for the effects of their practice of long-term solitary confinement? Deter residents ffrom asking for help? Because if nobody cries out for help, then nothing is wrong with their inhumane policies? Who would ever imagine that such Stalinesque reasoning could be found alive and well in Texas of all places? If we discourage them from reporting problems, then there are no problems, therefore there are no problems and all is well, comrade. See, it says so right here in Pravda.
And yet, despite all of TDCJ’s sincere efforts at reducing suicide in solitary confinement, over the past several months there have been numerous attempts and a few completed suicides here at the Memorial unit. (*footnote) And rather than address the source of the problem (long-term solitary confinement) and its detrimental effects on mental health, or reevaluating the process by which it is used, or finding ways to end it, TDCJ officials’ solution is to paint on the wall a cloudy butthole and constant reminder to contemplate suicide.
On a recent Saturday afternoon as the inmate minister, err…“resident” minister (yes, TDCJ uses prisoners, graduates of TDCJ’s “Bible College,” as “field ministers” to spread the gospel...and act as informants for the administration) was haranguing the entire wing with his weekly sermon (yes, we are forced to attend church every week, even if we don’t want to. We cannot leave our cells, so they send their bible-thumping, boot-licking, informant-propagandists with a booming public address system and force everyone to listen to religious services and amateurish gospel music), another group of “residents” (the paint crew) were on a scaffold airbrushing a message on one of the brick support columns across from our cells.
In blood-red block letters, approximately a foot tall and four feet wide, it says, “STOP.” Except that the O is an open hand in the universal halt sign, which is so poorly done stylistically rendered that it resembles a child’s drawing of a puffy cloud with vague finger clouds, and a hole in the center of the palm, presumably to resemble the letter O, which in reality only makes it look like a cloud’s butthole. I’m still somewhat confused by what the message is.
Then, about two feet below this S-T-cloudy asshole-P is the word SUICIDE, in bood-red Roman font, a foot high and five-feet wide.
So, apparently, TDCJ’s solution to the issue of suicide in long-term solitary confinement isn’t to end the practice that is causing the problem, but rather to paint a constant reminder about suicide directly acress from the cells of those most likely to be driven to suicide by TDCJ’s inhumane and barbaric practices of long-term solitary confineemnt. Blaring it in blood red letters. Every time a prisoner, err…“resident” looks out of his cage, err…“cell. (Although I’m certain that TDCJ will soon euphemize our cages into “rooms” or “apartments.”) A constant reminder of “SUICIDE!” So that even if he didn’t wake up miserable and contemplating suicide, as soon as he peers from his cage he will be. If someone tells you not to think about a pink elephant, what’s the first thing you’re going to think about? A pink elephant! Is the TDCJ administration truly this ignorant and tone-deaf and uncaring? Most of us thought it was a joke and made our own usualk sarcastic and caustic cynical remarks (sorry, it’s difficult not to enbrow sarcastic and cynical about TDCJ after mroe than two decades in solitary confinement.). My own contribution was, “Hell, why don’t they put a neon Nike sign below it that says ‘just do it!’”
I often tell friends and family, Just when you think TDCJ cannot possibly get any dumber, they will find a way to prove you wrong.
Oh, how true. I suppose the neon Nike sign, “just do it”” below the exhortation to suicide would have been too subtle for TDCJ, because the next day they proved just how much dumber and more tone-deaf they can get. The paint crew returned to complete their Kafka-esque masterpiece. Below the encouragement to contemplate suicide, they painted in dark blue Roman lettering (to match the reminder of “SUICIDE!” of course.), “KNOW YOUR WORTH.”
Did they reboot Punked? Is some obnoxious turd with a camera crew going to arrive soon to let us know this is all a lame joke?
TDCJ locks people in tiny 5x9 cages and treats them worse than the livestock that TDCJ agricultural division raises to feed (and profit) these same people in cages. They feed us like animals, through a slot. Force us to live in filth, infested with vermin (rats, mice, roaches, spiders, other insects). Deny us contact with other humans for years and decades. Train their guards to ignore us or not speak to us unless absolutely necessary. Strip search us every time we leave our cages, handcuffed and shackled everywhere we go. Deny us contact with loved ones. Deny us education, vocational training, and rehabilitative programs. Every minute of every day, for years and decades, is designed to reinforce that we are worthless, no social value, less than human, not even worth the effort or resources to try to redeem us even if we desperately desire it. Our only “worth” to this system is the $28,000 per year it receives in taxpayer funding for each prisoner in long-term solitary confinement, err...I mean, each resident of restrictive housing. (as opposed to the $18,000 per year it receives for general population residents. you do the math. Why is this incentivized?) Yes, this is done in your name with your money. You. The tax paying public.
“KNOW YOUR WORTH.”
TDCJ has the audacity to encourage us to “KNOW YOUR WORTH” under these conditions? TDCJ’s concept of “worth” is obviously a twisted distortion of that word. I suppose “worth” has become another euphemism for “you will be reminded every day that you are a worthless subhuman?” As for me, my own concept of worth is dailt defiance of every dehumanizing, degrading, and torturous condition I have been subjected to throughout more than two decades as a prisoner in solitary confinement in TDCJ.
TDCJ has become that obnoxious, drug-addled, drama-filled, narcissistic twit on social mediawhose carefully curated profile is full of hollow, cliched, inspirational quotes that they believe makes them look like a good, caring person, but which they fail to ever live up to in their daily lives because that would require some real effort at substantive change. Any criticism is just “haters” and met with a response of “imma be me.” How soon until TDCJ’s spokesperson begins quoting insipid lyrics from the latest hit song? And for those awaiting a Kardashian joke, think again, because TDCJ is worse than a Kardashian. At least a Kardashian actually achieved some meaningful criminal justice reforms. Who is the real bimbo now?
TDCJ seems to believe that decorating the walls with empty, cliche inspirational messages will solve the problem of suicide in solitary confinement. Maybe their next solution will include sending the psych department around with our daily horoscopes? Or maybe they will just create more cynical bureaucratic euphemisms to make the problem disappear? Or they could just paint more cloudy anuses on the walls...because nothing cures solitary-induced insanity and suicidal depression like euphemisms and assholes.
*footnote: Memorial Unit was formerly known as the Darrington Unit, but due to problematic history of Col. John C. Darrington as a slave owner, it was recently renamed to the Memorial Unit, in “memory” of all those TDCJ staff and prisoners who died of COVID. I stil find it incomprehensible how Texas considers it an honor to name a place of pain, misery, brutality, and death after someone, to honor someone’s memory? This alone exemplifies how dysfunctional and draconian and backwards the Texas prison system truly is. We will honor your memory by subjecting thousands of your fellow humans to punishment, degradation, inhumanity, misery, and brutality in your name for decades to come. Even the Nazis werent so low and cynical to name their concentration camps after “honored” officials.
Memorial Unit, Rosharon, Texas
19 years in solitary / ad seg
October 5, 2021
Words by AARON STRIZ
Photography by TEXAS LETTERS