Connally Unit, Kenedy, Texas
27 years in solitary / ad seg
July 1, 2023
Words by DENNIS HOPE
Photography by TEXAS LETTERS
For decades I fought for my release from solitary confinement. In 2007 and 2010 a classification committee ordered my release from solitary, it was ignored. Finally after 27 years of solitary and a federal civil rights lawsuit I was released from solitary.
When a sergeant came to my cell and told me to pack my property I thought I was being moved to another cell like had happened so many times before. When I asked what cell I was moving to I was told, “You’re going to the C.I.T.P. (Cognitive Intervention Transition Program). I was shocked and at first didn’t believe them because the chain bus had already left for the day. I was told I was being taken by van to the Ellis unit to hurry up and pack. I packed faster than I have ever packed.
The whole ride over I couldn’t believe this was happening. I had a pending lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme court and in the back of my mind I thought they were doing this to try and get the court to decline to hear the case by releasing me from solitary. I was skeptical to say the least.
After going before the warden and classification chairperson I was escorted to a cell and the handcuffs were removed. Several hours later my door opened and I was allowed to go to the dayroom. I hadn’t been around groups of people in decades and certainly not handcuffed. Almost everyone there was in the transition program too. Most had only spent a few years in solitary before being released.
When I walked into the dayroom the first thing I noticed was how bright the T.V. was and how fast things were moving on it. The people around me could tell I had just gotten out of solitary confinement by how I acted. I had difficulty focusing on the movement of the things on the T.V. I wondered if my mind was moving that fast or if the things on the T.V. were actually moving that fast. My senses were on overdrive on every level. Being around others in such close quarters has been a difficult adjustment. I don’t want people getting close to me or standing behind me. I tend to sit or stand so that the majority of the people in that area are in front of me. Although I have shaken hands or given a fist bump, I haven’t yet hugged anyone.
Transitioning from being alone in a cell for 23/7 is a much harder task than I had expected. Having to share a cell has been a challenge. It took a few weeks for me to get used to someone else walking around in the cell, flushing the toilet, walking around while I was laying down and having the door come open when they were allowing us out to go to the dayroom.
Being allowed to leave the cell without being strip searched or handcuffed gave me a sense of dignity and I felt a little human again. A sense of freedom would come over me each time the cell door opened. I was quickly adjusting to the speed and movement of activities in general population.
Communications are faster now because I can use the telephone and don’t have to wait for letters to find out anything. My medical appointments are in private. For years excuses were made about why they didn’t feel I needed a MRI done on my back. Now That I’m out of solitary they took me to the hospital and I was given a MRI. It substantiated what I had complained of all along. I was previously denied the MRI because they didn’t want to remove the restraints from me to put me in the NRI machine.
While I was in solitary I felt I was alone and few people cared. I dealt with bouts of anxiety and depression. Although I still deal with those things at times, they are more manageable because I can move around more and talk to others on the phone.
Now I feel like I am in a better place both physically and mentally now that I am free of solitary. I’m still working on my social skills and developing tolerance and patience. It’s a one day at a time process.
About a week after I was placed in the transitioning program I got to go outside for recreation. A basketball rollled off the court and I ran out onto the grass to get it. That was the first time I had been on any surface other than concrete or steel in 27 years. My feet were unsteady and I could feel the grass crunch and compress under my shoes. I took my hands and felt the grass and then took off my shoes and socks so I could walk barefooted on the grass. Feeling the softness and cool blades of grass under my feet felt like freedom. Even though there was razor wire just twenty feet away, I felt free.
Scores of times I have seen other inmates in handcuffs being escorted. Each time I see one it reminds me of how it felt to be treated like that. Although I am still in prison, solitary was like a prison within a prison.
Although I have now been out of solitary for one year, I keep thinking they will find a reason to lock me back up. That feeling comes from the circumstances that surrounded my release. I’m not going to dwell on it because it is out of my control. Instead I work to make myself as suitable as possible for parole so that I can full regain all of my freedom.
I want to thank all of those that helped to secure my release from solitary and who still continue to work to reduce the use of solitary confinement here in Texas and across the United States ofAmerica.
Dennis Wayne Hope #579097