prison / Renee Acoby / Segregation / Solitary Confinement

Solitary – by Renee Acoby

Many people have asked me what it was like to live in solitary confinement for years on end under the infamous “management Protocol” that CSC designed for unruly federal females.

You wonder what right you have to feel angry about your confinement because it was your own actions/reactions that led to your conditions. So, you solder up and tell yourself to deal with it…until you find yourself in a tangled web of carceral politics and loopholes that rendered indefinite solitary justifiable. You submit the customary grievances and rebuttal at every thirty day segregation review, inwardly questioning if you’re closet-case masochistic. Experience dictates that Regional and national levels in CSC will only regurgitate prior findings at institutional hearings, which in turn lead to frustration, anger and the millionth self-proclamation for abandoning the internal grievance system forever. Of course, you never do give up on submitting grievances because, ha ha, maybe someone will eventually listen.

Then you have those renegade days where you wake up feistier than the notorious Black Widow on a geriatric ward. Ten squares of toilet paper? Fuck you. One book for four hours? Fuck you, I have my imagination. So it goes. You push back to reclaim your so-called dignity, know it’s one word with a dictionary definition, especially on the rare days you opt for a nude Mexican stand-off. Ironic how you used to attribute weakness to the heads and bug cases that used to wild out for human contact, only to find yourself on the same trip, minus the lovely baby doll attire.

Your mood fluctuates. Although some staff acknowledge that instability in mood is common for long-term degradation, most are quick to opine that mood swings are indicative of a major incident. You try to avoid the intake of endless CSC reports because the general consensus is at odds with what you and your loved ones know to be bona fide about yourself. You are categorized as a number and compared to inanimate/volatile objects, ie; “handle her as though you are carrying a can of gasoline in one hand and a lighter in the other.” The asshole aspect of you wonders if the clowns are making a double-entendre about your brief juvenile gig as a pyromaniac.

Your body bounces back and forth between healthy and unhealthy, with a dash of grey pallor to highlight your chiseled cheekbones. Your friend is quick to tell you that in medieval era; political prisoners were very gaunt and pale, likening these sickly characteristics to noble suffering?! Only a dear friend could romanticize such ugliness, and you smile at the loyalty. You spend so much time pacing your cell that you being to feel a tingling sensation that could signal restless leg syndrome or perhaps it are simply psychosomatic. Even though you know you’re too slender to take on a fast, you do it anyway///why??? Because you can.

Spirituality is a swinging pendulum in solitary, especially when you’re on the red road. Medicines, drums and other cultural entitlements become privileges or behavior modification instruments. At times, you question the existence of God simply because you’re still breathing. You wonder if redemption will come in the form of some Dante’s Inferno inspired hell. And even if you did gain access to Heaven, what if I got so angry about my mistreatment in Hell that I fuck up and get tossed back for another round of fire and brimstone? Your find yourself agreeing to see the chaplain, simply to toss out these questions and gauge their level of confusion and faith.

You mind feels like a Molotov cocktail was thrown into it. Sometimes it could be the scent of a shampoo that triggers an old memory, good or bad and sometimes both. You have tunnel vision some days, with every smile you see hiding an agenda and every tear lurks a crocodile. Anger and unbridled hostility permeate ever fiber of your being like a virus…

It stays in your system longer than clarity. The proverbial goblin on one shoulder and the voice of reason on the other is a constant battlefield; traversing the minefield between “why” and “why not” becomes almost analogous to defective neurons that can’t seem to fire. You joke about the smoke detector concealing a pinhead camera in your cell and tend to get overly-sensitive when the screws remove the toilet paper from the smoke detector during cell search. Everything is magnified, yet all of the solutions are so simplistic. Classic Zimbardo-ism.

You reflect on the validity of being compartmentalized as manipulative, violent, and threatening and generally as a bad seed by CSC, yet the System that claims to have zero tolerance for such unsavory traits is the first to adopt them when it suits their purpose. When you witness them use OC spray on women with ligatures around their neck over and over, your mind begins to question your logic and values. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you remember a poignant phrase you read in a Holocaust Survivor memoir: “we speak out against torture not to complain, rather to make sure the people never forget what happened.” You know you’ll continue to speak out, no matter what the cost, because every inch of you believes that someone would do the same for you.

You tend to over-analyze your conversations with people and become slightly annoyed when some people pontificate how similar they were to you, but have since changed. Unsolicited advice pertaining to the battle against an “entity” like CSC is like molten lava being injected into your marrow. You feel no affinity with such despondent individuals because you and at least a million other people don’t believe corrupt systems ever win. When your exterior radiates how adversity is overcome, you are met with resistance. It’s almost as if by refusing to be a victim, you are rendered incorrigible. It is not related to rationalization, minimizing or reaction-formation. And while you don’t feel any compelling need to reiterate this to the System, you do point out that Canada is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, namely: “WHERAS IT IS ESSENTIAL, IF MAN IS NOT TO BE COMPELLED TO HAVE RECOURSE, AS A LAST RESORT TO REBELLION AGAINST TYRANNY AND OPPRESSION, THAT HUMAN RIGHTS SHOULD BE PROTECTED BY THE RULE OF LAW.”

When you are not intellectualizing your conditions of confinement, you rely on your television for socialization. Mind-numbing, scripted reality shows is far more appealing than the mundane queries you encounter from the undesirables that can’t function in solitary without constant attention. Yeah, all you cons know who I’m talking about…you’ve all had your fair share of vent-whores on the range.

You become very OCD about your surroundings, noticing when (not if) your books are askew and not color-coded from the daily cell search. It becomes a perverse game between you and the guards (TO SEIZE, OR NOT TO SEIZE), and you cut your losses with a grievance or two. You are one of the lucky ones that are denied access to appliances of any kind, so in a way you are relieved of the burden of trying to iron your socks and floss-thin undergarments. Yes, the OCD can get that bad when you have little to no control over the minuscule details of life in solitary.

Since there have been no longitudinal studies conducted on the long-term effects of being in solitary for years on end (none that I’m aware of, but if so, holler at me), I can only describe what it feels like. When I was told in May 2011 that the Management Protocol was no longer an option, my first inclinations was to hide my reaction from Management. This was a way of survival for me while I was in segregation, and I found it very hard to shake.

But when I got back to my cell, I broke down in tears. I couldn’t believe that after close to seven years of being held on the Protocol, the end was in sight. But that’s another story for another time. I’m still alive, and that’s all that matters.

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