Super Segregation in Prison, by Jay Goodman

This is part two of the essay I started about the TDCJ’s high-security super segregation units. As I talked about the war between the gangs and all the Violence that was happening, I suspect a lot of you probably thought, “What crazy people! They NEED to be locked up.” And I must admit, there’s a kernel of truth to that. There is certainly a need for isolation cells, because there needs to be some place to house the truly violent offender. I’m not speaking out against isolation, per se. I AM speaking out against
the treatment the prisoners back there receive, and certainly even the most diehard “tough on crime” thinkers believe that there needs to be a pathway to rehabilitation. Right how, there is no such thing for prisoners in isolation. These men have sometimes spent years and years in high-security super seg, and nothing has been done to get them to the place where they can come out and be successfully interrgrated into general population, and then into the society where, sooner or later, they must return.

I promised to tell you in my last chapter about the different levels of seg. There are three. When you first go
into super seg, you arrive as a Level 3. You go into a 
cell with nothing but linens and the clothes on your back. 
If you behave for the next 30 days, you will be moved to Level 2. Here you get a few amenities like your radio, your clip-on lamp, and your fan- that is IF you have these items in your property. The TDCJ will provide fans for indigent prisoners so they don’t die of heat stroke, but luxury items like light and a radio are your problem. Now, keep doing good for the next thirty days, and you move up to Level 1, where you are permitted to spend (I think) $60.00 a month to get commissary items. THIS IS THE CLOSEST THING THE TDCJ HAS TO A BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION SYSTEM IN SEG! As I’ve already told you, parole is no incentive, because the TDCJ doesn’t honor good time and work time, anyway. The selection process for parolees is so arbitrary, no prisoner believes that his behavior will get him paroled. So, in relation to seg, the TDCJ needs to take the next step above Level I and put these prisoners into some kind of rehabilitation program. Instead, they are abused, manipulated, and, by some, literally tortured through sleep deprivation or actual physical or mental torment.

Here are some examples of what I’m talking about. Let’s say there are two gang bangers in seg, and the guards know they’re at war with each other. They’ll actually bring one out and let him go into the other one’s cell to fight each other for their own amusement. I’ve even seen them run a “Pool” to see who will win. This has been going on for years. Not just here in Texas, but on other states, too.

Abuses like this are what I’m talking about, along with (like I told you in my last chapter) how the guards will steal the inmate’s only hour of rec time out of that little cell. And so, what better place to stick prisoners with mental disorders? They’re hidden away back there, and they sure won’t be causing anyone trouble segged out. Now, you know, it’s hard for men with a right mind to survive seg. “Normal” men come out warped. Can you just imagine how it must be for someone that is already dealing with mental
 or psychological issues, or one that is legally retarded? One thing’s for sure. The prison system puts these inmates 
on a lot of different kinds of medication.

They receive
 huge doses of Phenphen, Dandan or Saraquil. They also keep them doped up on Thorazine. The sight of one of these inmates doing the “Thorazine shuffle” is quite common. But, when the inmates see a medication being dispensed in liquid form, as opposed to the usual pills, the inmate will ask
the nurse of pharmacy tech dispensing the drug, “Hey, what’s that?” And they’ll respond, “It’s a new type of experimental drug.” Prisoners who are given these meds will often sleep through the entire day, until it’s time for them to get 
their next dose at the pill window. They wouldn’t even eat. Finally, when the guards or other inmates say something,
 they’ll “adjust” the meds. Most guards wouldn’t care, because this is where the extra trays come from to buy off the rec times.

In the last chapter, Ricardo almost died from appendicitis. He told me about one inmate that was housed next to him for a period of time. He would cut his mattress open and shit inside of it. He did this time after time, day after day for weeks. Finally, it was so bad, no one could stand it any more. Everyone started beating on the doors until rank came down to see what was wrong. When they pulled this guy’s mat out, it was full of feces, and it made everyone sick. They took the inmate out, completely naked and hosed him down to wash the excrement off his body, and then shoved him right back in the cell. Of course, none of the guards are qualified to deal with these types of prisoners.

These are psych patients, not criminals, but they get treated the worst of all, mostly because they are completely incapable of standing up for themselves. They need to be in hospitals where they at least have a chance to receive proper care. Instead, they back they’re getting used as guinea pigs, or simply rotting away.
Even the guys that have their head screwed on straight are going crazy back in these isolation cells. They’re back there 24 hours a day for months, years, decades- all alone in a cell. Can you only imagine the long-term effects of the conditions on the psyche? And I ask again, if I can see these things, and I’m just an ordinary prisoner, can you believe for one minute that the men controlling the TDCJ can’t see it?

Of course, I get discouraged sometimes. I think, “Am I the only son of a bitch that sees all this? Am I the only one who even cares?” I know, I know. Some of you are saying, “Look what these dudes did to get put in prison.’” And the people running the system say, “We can’t let these men out into general population can we?” Well, THIS is what I say. These men are NOT lifers, for the most part. They’ll finish their sentences, and what’s going to happen to them when they get out? I’ll tell you what. They’ll be their in your neighborhood. They’ll be walking your city streets. They’ll be shopping next to your family in the grocery store. You’ll be driving next to them on the freeway. I told you what Danny Boy did. Can you imagine hundreds of Danny Boys running the streets with access to who knows what kind of weapons? IF THEY DON’T GET HELP, THESE PRISONERS ARE TICKING TIME BOMBS!”
Does the state need high-security super segs? Yes! There has to be isolation. But the existence of the place shouldn’t exclude the possibility of rehabilitation. It’s already
a proven fact that if you treat people like animals long enough, then they’ll start acting like animals. Or worse.

Men who have lived in seg almost always talk about the high rate of suicide they’ve seen while there. Ricardo was able to recall at least five just while he was living in seg on the Ferguson Unit. He couldn’t even give a number when I asked him about attempted suicides. It was too high to count. After sitting in these cells for years and years, insanity starts creeping in, an unbroken silence occasionaly pierced by the opening or closing of the slot, or by the tormented cries of someone screaming endlessly because they’ve reached the end of themselves, screaming so persistent that the guards don’t even go look to see what’s happening anymore. And you see that your life is so worthless that if you were
to lose your mind and start screaming like that, then there’d be no one to check on you either. Now you remember that you don’t have any family or freeworld support. There’s no one who cares in the whole world if you scream yourself to death, or what happens to your body after you do. Is it any wonder this man is considering suicide?

If it sounds like I’m angry, I am. It’s not so much with the officers. I think they’re just doing a job- trying to pay their bills. No, I’m angry with the Puppetmasters- the people who put this system together. I’m angry because I believe they fully understand what’s happening behind these, walls, but they do nothing to change it. Believe me, I understand that they’re prisoners who have to answer for their crimes, who are accountable for their actions. And I believe there are certain, violent offenders who need high-security super seg, too. But I also believe that with the right programming and counseling and therapy, almost all of the men in high-security super segs could be rehabilitated. As a matter of fact, I have some very strong evidence to support this claim. I recently read an article about a high-ranking criminal justice official, Rick Raemisch, who is the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections.

To experience the conditions for himself, Mr. Raemisch spent 20 hours in a supermax cell himself. This led him to begin a push for reform of the state’s isolation program, and he did so with success. In 2011, there were 1,500 prisoners in solitary confinement. That number is down to 160! Wow. When I read this, I admit even I was surprised at his success. And I certainly applaud Mr. Raemisch for his courage to go 
sit in one of the supermax cells for 20 hours. And he had 
the courage to step up to the plate and do something about the problems back there. He made changes. Truth be told, he easily could have had better success, but the 160 men still in seg indicated they didn’t want to come out. And if a study was done on these men, you’d surely find that they had sustained psychological damage from long-term isolation. Danny Boy wasn’t crazy. He was a likeable person with beautiful artistic talents. Moreover, he had served almost his entire time needed to be eligible for parole.
 He even had family support. But after 17 years in isolation, he no longer knew how to cope with basic social interactions. The story about Mr. Raemisch mentioned that the man who
 had previously run the supermax was murdered by an ex-offender who had left isolation to parole, and after four days, went to this man’s house and killed him.

There are 450,000 prisoners in U.S. isolation in any given year. That’s about the population of Miami. 25,000 of those are in supermax conditions. Amnesty International and the United Nations have expressed crticism of U.S. prison conditions, finding them contrary to principles of the U.S. Constitution and U.N. resolutions. Such conditions have sparked anxiety, depression, paranoia, delusion, psychosis, and physical problems like high blood pressure in prisoners. Erika Guevera Rosas, Amnesty International’s American Director, says Texas prisoners are being exposed to such condi
tions as a daily practice. And experts on torture have strongly condemned any form of solitary confinement that lasts more than 15 days. But instead of respecting internationally recognized standards, Texas wants to focus on revenge instead of rehabilitation.

What do you think will happen to these men when they go back out on the street after decades of this treatment? Raemisch’s program, which includes behavioral therapy, vocational prep, and education has reduced the rate of’ recidivism among isolation prisoners by 40%. If the Puppetmasters won’t intorduce these programs because of budget concerns, can you take a moment and contemplate how much money the state would save if they could induce a similar reduction in recidivism rates like Mr. Raemisch did in Colorado?

Bringing reform to Texas’s high-security super segs is not only the right thing to do humanly speaking. It’s also a great way to protect our families and our budget in the future.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez