Prior to being placed in “Administrative Segregation” in 1995 I had no idea of the deprivations I would endure. I have always been a person that likes space and the ability to move around independently. That ceased the day they strip searched, handcuffed and escorted me to an Ad. Seg. cell.
Here in Ad. Seg. it is a control environment, anything I get a guard has to bring it to me. They control the lights, water, temperature, food, medical treatment etc. It’s their decision when I get to come out of the cell and for how long.
This degree of control over another person is intoxicating to some of the guards. They often make comments about they decide who comes out of the cell and when. It’s the younger officers this form of control becomes so intoxicating to. The human aspect quickly becomes overlooked.
It is this degree of control and better than you are attitude that makes me resent the guards. Most of them can’t make their kids pick up their toys or clean their room, but they get to tell a grown man what to do & when to do it.
For over twenty-six years I’ve been housed in a 9’ x 6’ cell where guards control everything. Due to the denial of social stimulation, human contact, not seeing television and the constant noise it has made me withdraw from the energetic and outgoing person I was. I keep to myself more and keep most of my thoughts to myself as well. At times I deal with bouts of depression but keep it to myself. Letting the guards know you are mentally deteriorating allows them to celebrate breaking you down.
I also deal with anxiety due to decades of such close confinement and limited movement outside the cell. As I write this it has been eighteen days since I was given recreation and we aren’t even on “lockdown”. Prior to this it was an eleven day stretch without any recreation and that was coming off of a twenty-eight day lockdown. Out of cell time has become harder & harder to come by.
My anxiety flares to its peak when I know I am about to come out of the cell. My palms get sweaty, my blood pressure gets elevated and my breathing quickens. Even though I am handcuff with my hands behind my back, when I step out of the cell I feel a sense of freedom. Once I’m placed in a dayroom or recreation cage my breathing slows, blood pressure drops and I feel a degree of freedom.
When I was a kid I had a dog that knew when I was getting ready to go outside the house. He would go stand by the door hoping I would either let him out or take him with me. The closer I got to the door the more he would prance and look up at me. I would ask him if he wanted to go outside and he would bark and look at the door. I would stall and the longer I did the more he worked himself into a frenzy, waiting for me to open that door. Once I opened that door out he would go, full speed he’d run and then turn around and run back to me, happy to be out of the house.
I often think about how my dog felt and how I was in control of whether he got outside & for how long. I never considered the emotions he went through or the anxiety built up in him waiting for that door to open. I can no longer say that. Every day for the last twenty-six plus years I have had those same feelings. For those reasons I will never cage a pet of mine up again.
Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas
26 years in solitary / ad seg
July 15, 2021
Words by DENNIS HOPE
Photography by TEXAS LETTERS