Case Study: Isolation and Its Effects on Inmates. Place: Pelican Bay State Prison

      The easiest way to portray life in the SHU for the lay person is to just picture a maximum security prison inside the walls of a bigger maximum security prison.  Now some prisons will have a unit built into the main prison, but if we are talking about a facility to house the most problematic inmates in CA, some will even have a stand-alone building. This building has its own staff that report right to the SHU and pretty much have no  coexistence with the main prison.  Pelican Bay State Prison, located in Crescent City, CA, is just this way.  It is an infamous building, that has seen its fair share of controversy.  Looking from above, the SHU  at Pelican Bay is chillingly designed in the shape of an X.

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Thirteen years ago Pelican Bay State Prison was cut out of a dense forest near Crescent City, CA. The highlight of the new super-max prison was the Security Housing Unit (SHU), the X-shaped builing at front, where 1,300 of the state’s most hardened criminals are kept in near isolation.

      After being in the system a bit myself, let me first tell you that these cells are not the deep, dark, solitary confinement you see in the movies.  They are not thrown in there with no clothes, nor do they get firehoused every other day.  But, nonetheless, they are extremely detrimental to the mental health of any inmate sent there.  Just picture being locked in your bathroom for years at a time, with no windows, and at the mercy of just Correctional Officers.  You rely on them for every meal, your clothing exchange, when the lights dim or do not.  Why I say that is one of the two torturous methods used in the SHU is keeping the lights on 24/7, and disturbing inmates’ sleep every 30 minutes under the guise of “Suicide Checks.”  This has been causing inmates already dealing with PTSD to suffer from serious Sleep Deprivation.

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This practice has caused many prisoners’ rights’ advocate groups to publish videos and excerpts of Hunger Strikes by prisoners, and a call to action by family members of those incarcerated.

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      When we try to understand the motives behind the CDCR and its relationship to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, we may see how Pelican Bay in CA may have been somewhat of a model for the federal ADX in Florence, CO(Administrative Max-Florence, CO. Screen Shot 2018-04-16 at 4.33.27 AM.png

     Before 1983, Solitary and Isolation Units were somewhat unheard of.  It was in that year that Thomas Silverstein, a ranking member of the Aryan Brotherhood, murdered officer Merle Clutts at the USP in Marion, Ill.  That same day, but in the afternoon another guard was murdered.  It was the first time two guards had been killed by 2 different inmates on the same day.  As a result, Marion went on a total lockdown but never came off.  This was the actual birth of the Supermax, and inmates confined to their cells for 23 hours a day, only coming out for showers and exercise.  Overnight, Marion became the prison to send all problem inmates in the Federal System too.  It was now a Control Unit Prison.  Control Units are another name for AdSeg, The Hole, The SHU and other units like those.Screen Shot 2018-04-16 at 5.02.46 AM  As Marion aged, the need for a newer, state of the art facility arose that could be built for the sole purpose of confining and punishing problem inmates.  ADX now houses Prison Gangs, Mafia Dons, Terrorists, and OKC bomber Terry Nichols.  The ADX has, Soundproof cells, computerized opening of cell doors, Shower in the cell, and the need for limited human contact has basically been wiped out in this prison.  Many prisoners have committed suicide as a result, mutilated their own body parts, and have become very delusional suffering from Psychosis as they now have visual and auditory hallucinations.  In short, their is talk of opening a new ADX, with so many people, families, and congress seeing the devastation, it is hard to believe.  In closing, in a 60 minutes interview, a former warden of ADX Florence has said he likens this facility to a “Cleaner Version of Hell.”  Now that should get all of our attention. But the ADX is not the only Federal Supermax doing harm to its inmates. Older Penitenties in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, such as USP Lewisburg are known for leaving inmates in 4 point restraints up to 3 days.

SAdSeg: Federal Style

Here we are again, fighting our government to treat human beings like human beings.  I heard something funny the other day, this man said he gets anxious everytime he hears news stories about how inmates are getting better treatment.  Unfortunately,  I have learned not to be excited at this news as well.  It took me awhile to find out why, then it came to me how simple and elementary it really was.  It is because when they bring up how inmates are getting better treatment, out comes an extremely uninformed population of people who do not believe that anyone is treated bad, and if they are, they deserve it. Or that “they should of thought about that before they committed a crime.”  Alot of you, believe it or not, do little things each and every day you think is not a big deal. I will bet you that some of these things are definitely misdemeanors, if not felonies.  I can hear some of your screaming denials but when unfamiliar with the law it is ofter the truth.   I am not a blind liberal, to an extent I believe if you make your bed lie in it. But here what we are looking at is a don’t ask, don’t tell attitude about the abuse of our inmates, and they somehow have this coming to them.
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Above: The Jewel of the Federal Supermax. AdMax(ADX Florence, CO). This Federal Penitentiary is the home of Terrorists(Ramzi Yousef), Aryan Brotherhood Leaders (Tyler Bingham and Barry Mills), OKC bomber (Terry Nichols) and La EME(Mexican Mafia Leaders) and the DC Blacks.

Alot of our country’s Supermax facilities were not built by naivete, but pure retribution. If we look back we can see that “Control units” were a sort of experiment on how to deal with assaultive, hostile, and disruptive inmates. Below is an early history of the H-Unit at USP Marion in Marion, Ill. : an excerpt from Thomas Silverstein’s carefully managed webpage. If you are not familiar with his name it might be because he is the Federal System’s most Isolated Prisoner.

.The transformation began with the prison’s implementation in 1968 of a behavior modification program called Control and Rehabilitation Effort, or CARE. Prisoners in the program were put in solitary confinement and otherwise coerced into participating in group “therapy,” which consisted of intense psychological “attack sessions.” The purpose was to bring prisoners under the staff’s control as totally as possible and turn them against other prisoners (Mitford, 1973: 134-5). 1972 marked a turning point in the program. In July, prisoners began a work stoppage to protest a guard’s beating of a Mexican prisoner (Cancel Miranda, 1990). Officials confined all prisoners to their cells for six days, then put seven suspected strike leaders into segregation (solitary confinement). The strike abated briefly, then began again. Prisoners were then subjected to a mass reprisal to end the strike, with sixty men locked in segregation and enrolled in the CARE program, establishing the Control Unit. In 1973, H-Unit at Marion was officially designated the Long-Term Control Unit (Adams v. Carlson, 1973: 621-2; Anderson, 1975; Gruenberg, 1975).

The transformation began with the prison’s implementation in 1968 of a behavior modification program called Control and Rehabilitation Effort, or CARE. Prisoners in the program were put in solitary confinement and otherwise coerced into participating in group “therapy,” which consisted of intense psychological “attack sessions.” The purpose was to bring prisoners under the staff’s control as totally as possible and turn them against other prisoners (Mitford, 1973: 134-5). 1972 marked a turning point in the program. In July, prisoners began a work stoppage to protest a guard’s beating of a Mexican prisoner (Cancel Miranda, 1990). Officials confined all prisoners to their cells for six days, then put seven suspected strike leaders into segregation (solitary confinement). The strike abated briefly, then began again. Prisoners were then subjected to a mass reprisal to end the strike, with sixty men locked in segregation and enrolled in the CARE program, establishing the Control Unit. In 1973, H-Unit at Marion was officially designated the Long-Term Control Unit (Adams v. Carlson, 1973: 621-2; Anderson, 1975; Gruenberg, 1975).

The Control Unit was used to expand the CARE program to include prisoners from throughout the federal prison system “whose behavior seriously disrupted the orderly operation of an institution,” according to official federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) policy (Breed and Ward, 1984: 10). This marked a return to a feature of BOP practice missing since Alcatraz’s closing – the concentration in a single prison of those the BOP targeted for special punishment. Like some of the prisoners in Marion’s traditional solitary confinement unit, the Disciplinary Segregation Unit (I-Unit), prisoners in the Control Unit were under “administrative” rather than disciplinary segregation. Officially, administrative segregation differed from disciplinary segregation in that it was not considered punishment, but rather an administrative response to the prison’s purported inability to manage the prisoner by normal means (Adams v. Carlson, 1973: 606).
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A more telling excerpt is from Justin Peters Blog about how a 1983 Murder in Marion’s Control Unit started America’s Love Affair with Long Term Isolation and the “SUPERMAX.:”

In 1983 Marion was the toughest penitentiary in the federal prison system. The maximum-security complex housed some of the country’s most violent inmates, and the worst of those were put in Marion’s “control unit.” Getting placed in the control unit was akin to being buried alive. Inmates were confined to their small cells for almost 23 hours a day. When they left their cells, they were shackled, guarded, and under constant surveillance. The conditions there echoed the commandant’s line in The Great Escape: “We have, in effect, put all our rotten eggs in one basket. And we intend to watch that basket very carefully.

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Then in 1989, the states followed suit and wanted to emulate the SUPERMAX. And it seems the one state to blame, it there is a state, or  professional who is the best at it, it is California.  With the rest of nation looking west at what they did with the most gang-infested state, and how to house the worst of the worst, California has done it.  Afterall, they have over 1000 problem pisoneers in one stand alone Range on the grounds of Pelican Bay State Prison.  And thus, the Security Housing Unit was born.  The SHU, as most people in the know call it.  It has leaders from the AB, Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia, and other STG’s I don’t really touch on.  These have all thrived in the federal system as well.

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Above: A California state prison inmate being escorted by a minimum of 2 guards, waist, hand, and leg chains for either transfer, court, medical, visit, or library. (Security Housing Unit (SHU): Pelican Bay State Prison)

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