Anonymous is currently incarcerated in Arkansas.
What is solitary confinement? Alternative housing for inmates deemed threatening and harmful to prison staff and fellow inmates and therefore require segregation into a more secured environment for the safety and welfare of his/herself and those around them. Basically, that is what administrative segregation (ad seg) was designed for. However, its use exceeds its original design. In essence, it is a punishment, and any inmate at any time for any reason can and often will be placed in ad seg and be officially assigned there for however long the unit classification committee desires. Even inmates who are not prone to violence, who may have only been found with minor contraband (money, tobacco, drugs) have been placed and assigned to ad seg for undeterminate amounts of time. From one state to the next, from one penitentiary to the next, ad seg cells differ in size, as do the privileges inmates are given. I have experienced first hand the Arkansas Department of Corrections ad seg. Cummins Unit and Varner Super Max to be exact. Currently in Cummins there are two ad seg barracks, each barracks having three tiers with fifteen two-man cells per tier. Showers are three days a week. One hour of yard per day. Meals are brought to your cell three times daily. Two small televisions are mounted on the wall approximately thirty feet away from the cells. Phone calls are three times a week, if you are able to get the officer to bring you the phone (provided you are not on phone restriction). Commissary is once a week with a $10 maximum spending limit (if not on restriction and are fortunate to have someone send you money). When placed in ad seg, because the cells are for two men to share, you are thrust into a frighteningly uncertain situation. Often, you have no idea who your cell mate is and the officers do not care if there will be problems between the two of you. Once you are in the cell and the cuffs are removed from your wrists, you are on your own. There are two upper and lower bunks, a sink, a toilet, a very small table, and a narrow strip of floor shared between two people twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for weeks or even months on end. In best cases you and your cell mate are like-minded and a peaceful balance comes easy. But in many cases, the moment you walk into the cell, you instantly feel the tension in the air. Maybe your cell mate has a mean streak with a chip on their shoulder, violent by nature, or perhaps they simply do not want you in there. Try as you might, talking and reasoning do no good. Sleeping becomes hard, and waking hours are tense and stressful, as you are unsure of what they have on their mind. You ease around each other, or maybe it’s just you easing around them, doing your best not to disturb them and incite an unfavorable reaction. Imagine the tense moments of using something as trite yet quite necessary as the toilet. A challenging situation if there ever was one. There have been many times when these situations end in the one way that one of the inmates did their very best to avoid, by fighting. And then once separated, the inmate may likely be placed in another cell facing a similar situation. Varner Super Max is basically the same structure and barracks design the cells are one man only. You are left to yourself 24/7 and if made to do a lengthy period of time in ad seg, especially if assigned permanently, in my own experience as well as others I’ve known, it will take a toll on your mind. First you try to occupy yourself, maybe work out a daily routine. Exercising, reading, writing, drawing, listening to your radio (if you have one) are all good ways to pass the time and keep yourself occupied, but it all lasts only for so long day in and day out until eventually it all becomes a monotonous bore. It’s almost a certainty, for the lack of anything else, you begin to replay your life in your head and the damaging choices you made. You think, “I should have done this… or that…” You begin to think out loud, creating in your head the life you wish you lived, as if the very act of speaking it will allow it to be. You pace the floor while acting out scenarios which can start to shift from the path not taken to a much more surreal life. Like, say, one of luxury or success or conquest. Whatever your starving mind can cook up, that is what you are in that particular moment in time. And make no mistake, your mind is starving. Like, food for your body, your mind needs positive stimuli to function normally and sanely. Segregation deprives the mind from any positive, outside stimulus and in effect the mind will naturally begin to reach for any outlet it can and leech from it. Reality can potentially lapse into the surreal, causing the mind to collapse in on itself. Administrative segregation may be necessary concerning a certain type of individual, and in my opinion can be helpful and effective if utilized carefully and properly under the observation and care of mental health counselors, which despite what is shown, are not always readily available when needed.
Expert Testimony is a project of decARcerate's Campaign to End Solitary. End Solitary works to end Arkansas' practice of extreme isolation, replacing it with program-rich evidence-based alternatives.