Alexis de Tocqueville, French statesman and author said almost two centuries ago that putting prisoners in isolation “Does not reform, it kills.” We’ve known this. Solitary confinement is acknowledged as torture by the United Nations. We’ve known this. America is addicted to imprisonment from slavery to incarcerations. America has immunity from the International Criminal Court of Justice? Let’s not play make believe. We have been exporting torture. We teach torture techniques to military reps of various dictatorships. A school of torture. We practiced at home, in the vast gulag of prisons across the US in the form of solitary confinement. 24% of the total population of incarcerated women in the US are African American but 41% of the women held in solitary confinement are African American. We are the victims of practicing torture using restraint chairs, gas, stun guns, pepper ball rifles, random brutality, systemic rape and abuse - its all common practice. Americas pretensions to moral authority on the world stage - colossal hypocrisy.
You can change laws easier than minds. People of color have been fighting to be seen as human beings, since the country’s existence. Ive often wondered how could the Nazis at Auschwitz engage in such horror and go home eat dinner, listen to Bach record and make love to their wife and sleep soundly? In order to treat someone in a dehumanizing manner, you must convince yourself - they arent human. This is the commonality of all genocides. They must make us into monsters to justify their mistreatment.
The harm Ive experienced from exposure not to a single terrifying incident, but to prolonged, repeated trauma in solitary confinement, wont be an easy fix. I cant expect a PTSD counselor to help me upon release. No, I need someone specializing in treating P.O.W.’s. Intense PTSD treatment.
People leave solitary after decades, released directly in society from Texas womens prisons. We just began a C.I.P.P. program for 90 days prior to release. A type of re-entry. Where are the studies of completion? By my account, less than 25% of people finish it. Many opt to spend their last 3-6 months remaining in solitary. If we are so “dangerous,” why hasn’t there been any violent episodes of people recently released from solitary? Men, who are majority in solitary confinement, have an option - Gangs Renunciation. We dont have gangs - so we have no option to get out.
We are stuck here - forced to listen to weekly in person sermons. The latest was - women must learn to prevent harm by not drinking, dressing inappropriately, walking places and dont lead a man on. All burdens of preventing their own assault. Rather than teaching men not to do such things or to simply value our humanity as their own. The media isn’t allowed to visit solitary but preachers/church groups who have formerly incarcerated men do. I have watched so many people slowly descend into madness. I was an extrovert, a social butterfly who would talk to everyone. Im quiet. Im guarded. Not having physical/ emotional freedom for the way my personality type was - is like having a whale confined to a creek.
Im confused about the STG label at male solitary units. We have guards with tattoos - lightning bolts, feathers, 44, HH, 88. All which are confirmation tattoos for white nationalist groups. But, I guess - if youre in prison living - you must live in solitary with those tattoos. But, if you work at the prison, its accepted.
When someone from solitary is escorted to Dr. Appts and must walk amongst peers. The others must stop, face away from you and not talk to you. A public shunning that they masquerade as “safety.” But each time Im escorted, women all yell - keep your head up sister! We love you! Dont let them break you! Once, a friend I havent seen in a decade, touched my arm as I passed and said - God Bless You. I withdrew you. So very uncomfortable with human touch.
Recently I was in county court and realized during a meeting with my attorney, Im having visibly difficulty with maintaining eye contact. Im afraid I come off as deceptive but I truly dont know why it has become so difficult to look anyone in the eye. I reflexively avert my eyes.
Last June, my cell temp reached 129. I had a heat episode. Winter 2023 has been mild, due to Global Warming. I am terrified of melting this summer.
The staff shortage is so severe, Ive had my hospital appt’s rescheduled several times. Staff morale is in the toilet. They have bad leadership training at the top. They are overly focused on hiring staff, instead of keeping staff. The new hires always quit. Its not because of us. Its the working conditions, excessive hours, travel, and low pay. Many confide, they dont like the supervisors, nor the way they’re punished when they show us humanity. This is unsafe. The system is collapsing on itself.
Its been a year without hot water in our showers. We’re so short staffed, we dont even bother asking to go to rec anymore. Yet, the higher ups threaten us with disciplinary infractions due to too many books.
The fairly new tv’s in the inside rec cages lack closed captioning and are only permitted on if someone is in the cage. The tablets lack phone access, podcasts (free), tv shows, movies, games. We’re only permitted one book weekly from the library. I notice the younger girls, direct transfers from juvenile to adult solitary confinement at 16 ½ become so bored that they begin to self harm. Many are older now, 19-20. They cant purchase beer or cigarettes but they’re adult enough to be tortured in solitary. Some are sentenced here due to staff assaults from juvenile. The same juveniles - DOJ is investigating for staff physical and sexual abuse after 20 arrests of staff for having sex with your offenders. People should be evaluated for “current” risk of violence. Not a “History” of violence. I have a history of being a size 4. That isnt current.
My cell is not much bigger than a broom closest. I dont live in solitary, I exist, this could never be mistaken for living.
Murray Unit, Gatesville, Texas
6 years in solitary / ad seg
March 13, 2023
Words by KWANETA HARRIS
Photography by TEXAS LETTERS