Hello Rabbi Feinberg,
I hope all is well. I'm sending another note for the IAHR website. This past week there was a gang fight in my housing unit, so the administration has locked us down. I figure this is an ideal experience to write about and give your readers a glimpse into institutional lockdowns. As usual, I hope it's enlightening and inspires people to take action for positive change. Thank you again for this opportunity. I hope to hear from you soon!!
Lockdown essay 6/8/2019
It's been over 72 hours since I've showered, since I've breathed fresh air, since the sun's rays have touched my skin, and since I've been able to call or email my family. My complete range of motion has been limited to the confines of my prison cell for over 72 hours. My skin and hair are starting to itch, my back aches from laying in my bunk so much, I have no appetite since I'm not expelling any energy, and I'm so bored I often catch myself staring blankly around the cell, sort of "stuck" in thoughts about absolutely nothing. Any semblance of control over my mobility, hygiene, and social life I may have held 72 hours ago has been completely stripped away from me.
What frustrates me is that this punishment to which I'm being subjected is due to no fault of my own. It's the result of a gang fight that occurred in my housing unit a few days ago, during which weapons were used. Even though the fight was caught on camera, all the offenders involved were identified and taken to segregation, and all of the weapons used were recovered, my entire housing unit has been placed on lockdown. This sort of mass punishment happens all the time in prison. All it takes is for a handful of offenders to get into a serious altercation, and the whole unit - or sometimes the entire institution - gets locked down. This is another form of segregation that usually goes unnoticed. Just like the offenders in the actual Segregation Housing Unit, we're locked in our cells 24 hours a day, unable to enjoy most of the rights and privileges we'd normally be entitled to in general population.
As part of this lockdown, the C/O's have been going cell-to-cell, ostensibly searching for more weapons. I've been incarcerated long enough to know that no weapons will be found. Sure, some inmates have them, but they've likely found or created hiding spots that the officers would never even think to look. I suspect the officers know this as well. However, this lockdown isn't truly about finding weapons. My cell was searched a couple hours prior to me writing this essay, and if the real motive of this lockdown wasn't known before, it was crystal clear afterward.
As the C/O's entered my cell, the first thing they did was make my cellmate and me both strip naked, lift our arms, feet, and genitals, then bend over and cough while holding our buttocks open. Oh, the humiliation! Afterward, we were told to remove all the linen from our beds and take our mattresses and pillows out to the hallway to be x-ray scanned. This took a few minutes, and while we waited, the officers were conducting their search of my cell. Neither my cellmate nor I have any contraband, so I figured I had nothing to worry about. I just wanted the officers to quickly finish their search and clear my cell so I could go about my day in peace. How naive of me to think my sense of peace actually mattered to these people.
When my mattress was finally x-rayed and I returned to my cell with it, I was taken aback by the fiasco I walked into. My cell looked like a tornado had passed through it. All of my clean clothing and bed linen were strewn all over the floor, covered in boot prints from the officers carelessly walking on top of them. My mail had been opened and tossed everywhere. My pictures had been removed from my photo albums and thrown everywhere. My commissary food had been dumped out of my box onto the floor. My hygiene products had been knocked off the table. My TV - which cost me $200 dollars - was inexplicably lying face down on the table. The adhesive hooks I'd purchased through commissary to hang my clothes on the wall had been broken off. I immediately looked for the building Sargent so I could report the horrible condition in which his officers had left my cell, but when I spotted him there were already about 15 other inmates notifying him about the same issue with the officers who'd searched their cells. They were tearing up every cell the same way they'd done mine. That's when it hit me...the fact that they'd locked us down for an incident none of us were involved in; the fact that they were not allowing us to take showers; the fact that they were now spitefully destroying our cells...this lockdown isn't about them searching for weapons. It's a power tactic by the administration to put us in our place. This is their way of reinforcing the hierarchy and reminding us who's really in control. It's to teach us that any rights or privileges we THINK we have are ultimately at their mercy and can be taken at any time.
I understand the administration's intention with these mass punishment lockdowns. After incidents that threaten institutional security, order must be restored and maintained. But is the right to be free from arbitrary and unwarranted punishment not a basic human right? Are the rights to hygiene, fresh air, sunlight, and communication with my family not basic human rights? Is the right to be secure from someone intruding into my personal living quarters and throwing, breaking, and stepping all over my belongings not a basic human right? The fact that I'm incarcerated doesn't void my humanity; therefore, the administration shouldn't be allowed to violate my human rights under ANY circumstance! Ask yourself: if the integrity of a nation is judged by how it treats its prisoners, what does that say about our nation that our prisoners' human rights are legally violable?