While I was incarcerated at Marana State Prison, another inmate gave me a poem she wrote called “What No One Wants to Hear”. *It’s a pretty heavy poem- it captures a lot of the emotion of being incarcerated- anger, sadness, isolation, and inhumanity.
I had been in and out of the system starting at the age of 26, each time as a consequence of my addiction to cocaine and crack. When I first read the poem I felt its truth. It illustrates how we feel as formerly incarcerated people as we try to enter back into society, and describes how others see us.
When I got out this last time, what I found most challenging was that I had no family support. My mom had passed away in 2004, which was my breaking point in life. I say “her death brought me life” because her death helped me to pursue sobriety. For a long time, my life in Arizona was about doing/selling drugs. I say “her death brought me life” because her death helped me to pursue sobriety. For a long time, my life in Arizona was about doing/selling drugs. That was actually a barrier to re-entry for me- I didn’t have a community of support to return to when I got out. Ultimately, what helped me overcome and rebuild my life was the support and resources I gained from the counselors in the Women in Recovery program I attended at Southern Arizona Correctional Release Center, which no longer exists.Continue reading
On Monday, December 1, AFSC Arizona released Still Buried Alive: Arizona Prisoner Testimonies on Isolation in Maximum-Security (2014), a report on solitary confinement in the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) that catalogues the testimonies of prisoners who have first-hand experience with isolation. One of the more prevalent themes raised in those testimonies is the extreme dehumanization that takes place while being held in isolation. AFSC Graduate Student Intern, Alison Wood will occasionally be reporting on her work and experiences here in the AFSC Arizona office. Stay tuned for more of her thoughts in the coming months!
ADC communications representative, Doug Nick says that the “single-cell environment” is designed for prisoner safety. Perhaps Nick truly believes that turning people into animals (as so many prisoners repeatedly remarked) makes it safer for everyone. Or perhaps he just does not care that, as one prisoner wrote,
“Solitary confinement does not change us for the better. It makes us hate everyone and creates monsters within us.”
One of Tucson’s most well-known community events is the All Souls’ Procession. It’s a celebration of life and death, open to all members of the community. This year it was held on November 9 and a group of AFSC volunteers and interns participated in order to honor the prisoners who have died while incarcerated, especially in conditions of solitary confinement. During the Procession, I carried a sign that said, “Prisoners are People.” As both a graduate student in social work, and an AFSC intern, this is something I believe wholeheartedly. How can you say that human beings, no matter what they’ve done, aren’t people? Call them inmates, call them prisoners, heck, call them criminals. It doesn’t change the fact that, inside those cages, they are people.
To my shock and sadness, a few folks along the route of the procession seem to believe otherwise. I saw heads shaking in disgust and heard negative comments muttered or yelled. It didn’t bother me much for my own sake — I’m a tough (young) bird. But as I walked, my heart broke a little more for the people behind bars. Continue reading
AFSC Arizona hosted a press conference on Monday December 1st, 2014 to announce the release of our newest report, Still Buried Alive: Arizona Prisoner Testimonies on Isolation in Maximum-Security (2014). This report is distinctive from other reports that we have released, in that it is predominantly filled with the words that were written to us by people in maximum-security prisons in Arizona. And the recommendations that we make at the end of the report are based on those testimonies provided to AFSC Arizona by the men and women who endure prolonged isolation every day for years at a time.
“I have spent about 9 years of my 21 years in prison in supermax lockdown. Too many to list by date.”
Following the press conference, I was asked how we verified the truth of what had been documented in the pages and pages of prisoner letters sent to the AFSC Arizona office. As if we should assume that we were being lied to by people simply because they had been convicted of a crime. Shouldn’t we instead be asking similar questions to people like ADC Director Charles Ryan when he tells us that we need a new $50 million maximum-security prison even when Arizona already has the sixth highest rate of incarceration in the country?!?
“For starters, Charles Ryan claims that we’re only locked in our cells for 22 hours a day. Either this is another lie on his behalf or he just has no idea what’s going on in his own facilities.”
I responded by saying, “We at AFSC have the radical notion that just because someone is in prison does not mean that person is lying to us.” Unsurprisingly that quote didn’t make it into the story. It’s not a popular belief to assume that people who are incarcerated are trustworthy. For that matter it’s not popular to believe that they are people to begin with, because then we might have to confront the reality that what we are doing to them in our maximum-security prisons is in fact torture.
Following the release of AFSC’s new report on prisoner isolation in maximum-security prisons, Still Buried Alive: Arizona Prisoner Testimonies on Isolation in Maximum-Security (2014), ADC representative Doug Nick attempted to dismiss the claim that Arizona prisons use solitary confinement calling it archaic. The Phoenix NPR affiliate KJZZ quoted Nick as saying,
“The state has single cells, of course…If you have a predatory inmate, a violent inmate, an inmate who is a threat to somebody else, clearly there’s a reason to have a single-cell environment for their safety, of the institution, and the safety of the other inmates.“
Further confirming that the Arizona Department of Corrections has no understanding of the critiques leveled against it by AFSC or any other prisoner rights advocates, Nick seems to suggest that being in a single cell is the problem, and not the fact that over 2,000 prisoners – and soon 500 more in ASPC Lewis – barely leave their cells for years at a time. Single, double, or tripled bunked, when prisoners aren’t allowed out of their cells and are confined to a space the size of a bathroom for years at time it causes mental, physical, and psychological damage that often cannot be undone. It drives people crazy, makes them suicidal, and results in physical deterioration.
Mr. Nick and all ADC officials, we have a solution to your lack of understanding just how terrible solitary confinement and maximum-security prisons can be: READ OUR REPORT! Here is an easy-to-use link for finding it and then reading it. We’ve compiled testimonies from 41 of your prisoners, and organized the most powerful and representative quotations by theme and focus for your ease and understanding. Seriously, READ OUR REPORT! We’ll even promise to send you a hard copy via the good ol’ United States Post Office so you don’t get a headache from your computer screen. The only headache you’re likely to get is from reading about the frighteningly scary descriptions of what it does to someone to be locked in a cage and barely get out year after year after year. Continue reading
AFSC Arizona is proud to announce a critical follow-up report to Buried Alive (2007) and Lifetime Lockdown (2012) on solitary confinement in Arizona prisons, highlighting the voices of maximum-security prisoners and cataloguing their testimonies describing those experiences. This report, Still Buried Alive: Arizona Prisoner Testimonies on Isolation in Maximum-Security (2014), is being released on the same day that the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) is opening 500 newly constructed maximum-security prison beds in ASPC Lewis in Buckeye, Arizona.
No one knows what life is like in solitary confinement better than those men and women who have endured years in isolation conditions. And as ADC Director Ryan and Governor Brewer have decided to double down on their commitment to long-term prisoner isolation with these 500 new max beds, AFSC Arizona decided to go ahead and ask the men and women who have already been in similar conditions what they thought. Still Buried Alive (2014) is the product of their poignant and powerful answers.
Forty-one prisoners responded to AFSC Arizona’s call for testimony, with a combined total of over 367 years in solitary confinement. There responses were poignant as they were chilling, and offered a clear road map towards decreased in-cell time for maximum-security prisoners. ADC Director Ryan and Governor Brewer needs to heed their call.
Read the full report including AFSC Arizona’s recommendations here.
***Stay tuned this week for new posts each day, highlighting stories and quotes from this report as well as other posts about AFSC Arizona’s work on prisoner isolation.***