Letter from MarQui: March 2020

Letter from MarQui: March 2020

This is the eleventh installation of a column composed by MarQui Clardy Jr, one of our pen pals incarcerated at the Lawrenceville Correctional Center in Virginia.

The word dreadful may best describe the way I felt the first day I was placed in that small, cold, empty, isolation cell, and heard the door lock behind me. I still remember sitting on the bunk looking around at what would be my new home for the following few days, weeks, or months. [I had no idea how long the administration would keep me in there. It ended up being 51 days.] I remember how my heart began beating so hard, I thought it would burst; how my breathing became ragged as if I'd just finished running a mile; how sweat beads dotted my forehead and pooled under my armpits; and how I struggled to calm my mind from tricking me into believing the walls and ceiling were closing in on me. The officers didn't allow me to bring my TV with me. I was given my CD player, but I wasn't allowed to have any CDs or my adapter, and I had no batteries. On top of that, my library books were taken from me, even though that was clearly the time I would need them the most. I had no idea how - or if - I would survive being stuck in there with nothing to stimulate my mind and help ease the boredom.

On day #2 of my isolation, I was shocked beyond words when the officers entered the pod and announced, "REC CALL! REC CALL! GET READY FOR OUTSIDE REC!" Then, cell by cell, they began opening the doors and escorting everyone outside. This surprised me because I'd been under the impression that isolation meant I'd be locked inside my cell 24 hours a day and would only be allowed out once every three days to take a shower. So of course, I was beyond elated about being able to get out of that stuffy cell and go outside, work out, maybe shoot some hoops, and socialize with a few other people I knew who were also in segregation. "Maybe the hole isn't as bad as I'd assumed," I thought to myself as I stood at my door eagerly awaiting the officers.



My elation quickly dissipated, however, when the officers escorted me outside to the segregation rec yard. It was unlike anything I would've ever imagined.

In fact, it wasn't a rec yard at all. Instead, there was a long row of about 60 kennels stretching along the back and side of the building, and there was one offender locked inside each of them. My jaw hit the ground so hard, it might've triggered an earthquake somewhere. Never in my wildest dream would I have thought there would be a place in America where they'd have human beings locked inside kennels like they were dogs. The only difference was that these kennels sat on the concrete instead of in the grass. The sides and top were made of the same metal fencing as actual dog kennels, and there were chains wrapped around the gated doors to lock the inmates in. I couldn't believe my eyes.

After taking me to my kennel, the officers locked me inside before returning to the building to bring out the next offender. I was in such a state of shock that, even now, almost ten years later, it's difficult to describe how humiliated and dehumanized I felt. The inside of the kennel was about the same length and width of a cell (if not a little smaller). The height, however, was decidedly lower. I could reach up and touch the roof of the kennel with no effort. In all, the dimensions were about 8 x 8 x 8. There wasn't enough room to run around. None of us were given any workout or sports equipment, or anything useful for actual recreation. I couldn't even do jumping jacks because my hands kept hitting the "ceiling" of the kennel. There was literally nothing to do in there but sit down or pace around ... like a dog.

Socializing with other offenders I knew was also out of the question because, as I stated, the kennels were lined up in one long row, and I didn't know either of the offenders in the kennels to my left or right. The officers didn't allow us the luxury of choosing where they put us - even though it couldn't have hurt - so no one usually ended up next to their buddies. Also, shouting between kennels wasn't allowed, so even if I ended up in close proximity to someone I knew (if they were a few kennels over, for example), I still wouldn't have been able to communicate with them if it required shouting. Doing so would result in an infraction that could lead to more time in solitary confinement.

One of the worst things about being inside those kennels was that we were completely vulnerable to the outside elements. The only clothing we were given were underwear, shower slippers, and an orange 'SEGREGATION' jumper. We weren't given coats, so if it was cold or snowing, we'd freeze. We weren't given hats, so if the sun was beating down on us, we couldn't block it. We had no raincoats, so if it was raining, we'd get wet. No matter the weather, once the officers put us in those kennels, we had to stay outside for the whole hour. Sometimes, it wouldn't start raining until we'd already been put out there, and we would be stuck. Whenever I see those ASPCA commercials depicting helpless dogs outside shivering in the cold rain, abandoned by their owners, I remember those days in those kennels.

It didn't take me long to realize that going outside was not a break from the psychologically onerous conditions of solitary confinement. After all, I was still being isolated in a small, confined space with no mental stimulation. There were times I'd go to my hour of outside rec, only to realize that I would've been better off staying in the relative comfort of my cell. I'm not sure what lawmakers had in mind when they enacted the legislation mandating that offenders in solitary confinement receive a daily hour of recreation, but surely it wasn't this. Recreation hour in solitary confinement is no less inhumane than being inside the cell. The only difference is the fresh air.