“Waiting For The World To Give Us A Reason To Live”: Solitary Confinement in Utah

From: SolitaryWatch, Oct. 24th, 2012
By Sal Rodriguez

Utah State Prison’s Uinta 1 facility serves as the prison’s super-maximum security unit, where inmates are held in solitary confinement. Inmates in Uinta 1 may be there for disciplinary infractions, notoriety reasons, protective custody, or because they are security/escape risks. The unit is divided into eight sections with twelve inmates in each section, for a total of 96 maximum inmates. Currently, there are 90 inmates in Uinta 1. The Utah Department of Corrections, in response to a government records request by Solitary Watch, claims it has no records regarding its use of segregation.

Several inmates have recently written Solitary Watch about the conditions in Uinta 1.

L., who has been in Uinta 1 for five months and previously served 28 months there, reports that he is only able to leave his cell three days a week, for a shower and 1 hour alone in a concrete yard. He reports that, in being transported to a 15 minute shower, “we have to wear a spit mask over our faces and handcuffed from behind with a dog leash hooked to us.”

“The rest of the time except on the shower days we are locked down in our cells with the door window closed so you can’t see out,” he writes.

A., who has been in Uinta 1 for a year, adds that, “just the other day, the [Correctional Officers] came and shook our cells down and took away all of our hygiene. They took away shampoo, lotion, conditioner, everything…they also don’t give us anything to clean our cells with.”

A. is in Uinta 1 for his own protection, following what he says was a decision to leave gang life after much “self-study.” Despite this, he says, he is treated as if he committed a  serious offense.

Inmate Brandon Green, who has frequently written on the conditions of Uinta 1, describes the environment in Uinta 1 as reinforcing a vicious cycle in which inmates placed in solitary usually end up back not long after they are released. Green, who has been in Uinta 1 for five years, previously served 18 months in Uinta 1 before a brief period on parole before returning to Utah State Prison. He has been held in Uinta 1 following an escape attempt and refusal to take psychiatric drugs, which he says will only harm his health.

“So alone. So much internal turbulence with nothing like T.V., radio, magazines or conversation to hide [this pain] beneath,” he writes, “a man leaves this place to go to general population or to a less secure facility where you have electronics and a cellie. You can just count down the months before he will return…We learn we can do without anything. And we become content with nothing. The more they take away from us year after year, the more family disappears, the more one doesn’t want to go home, doesn’t want a wife and a job and bills and an Amerikkan future…It is like waiting for the world to give us a reason to live. But the world just keeps giving us reasons to not give a shit.”

This situation leads many inmates to report severe mental health problems that are aggravated by the long-term isolation. The prison routinely responds to such crises by placing suicidal inmates in a strip cell, where they are to be alone in a cell with  and checked every fifteen minutes. Included in many of these cells are cameras.

L. writes that “if someone is gonna kill themselves they take them and out to a strip cell and you sleep on the hard floor and treated like a dog.”

A. reports that “if I lose control because of something I have no control over, they’ll punish me and put me on strip cell for three days…when a mentally ill inmate feels suicidal, they send us to the infirmary to be on suicide watch…then we get from suicide watch back to Uinta 1 and the staff put us back in the strip cell when we get back to Uinta 1.”

In Uinta 1, suicide is not an uncommon occurrence. In 2009, two prisoners in Uinta 1 committed suicide. One was Danny Gallegos, who was found hanged in his cell in June. Another was a friend of Green, Spencer “Spider” Hooper, a “Pink Floyd fan and singer on medications for schizophrenia and depression.” Months after a previous suicide attempt, Hooper was found dead in February 2009, hanging in his cell.

A. and L. also independently confirm that sandbags at the cell doors of inmates gather bugs, which enter their cells. “They got sandbags around all the cells but never pick them up and clean under them so there’s all kinds of bugs and dirt that comes right under our doors,” A. writes.

Green also writes about the declining array of services provided to Uinta 1 inmates. “Years ago indigent captives received five envelopes a week. Now its one. We had five outside contacts a week. Now one. We used to be fed enough to stay full. Now we are starved. We used to have shampoo and lotion. Now we don’t. We grumble for an hour each time something is taken from us. Then move right along to inventing the creative willpower to survive with no penpals and mail, a full stomach or clean hair. Moving right along. We expect tragedy.”

Solitary Watch will continue to report on Uinta 1 as more information becomes available.

Brandon Green welcomes letters. His mailing address is:
Brandon Green #147075, Uinta One 305, Utah State Prison, PO Box 250, Draper, Utah 84020. His blog, updated by an outside supporter, can be seen here.

Lost In the Hole: Mentally ill felons locked in own hell

The Salt Lake City Weekly published a 4 part story about Uinta 1, Utah State Prison, the supermax, where we have been publishing stories about written by one of its inhabitants, Brandon Green. A few years ago, we knew they were planning to write about the situation inside this draconian hellhole, and finally they did.

Written by Stephen Dark, posted in the SLC City Week Sept 26th, 2012.

Here is Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Page 4

Please also read: http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/blog-24-8503-inmates-leave-the-hole.html

Mentally Ill Inmate Starves to Death in Utah Jail

June 6, 2011
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway
From: SolitaryWatch

The Salt Lake City Tribune reports that a young prisoner who apparently suffered from serious mental illness died of starvation and dehydration after spending four months in the Salt Lake County Jail, much of them in solitary confinement. Carlos Umana, 20, weighed at 180 pounds when he entered the jail in October 2010; when he died on February 27, he weighed just 77 pounds. Tests showed that none of his prescribed psychiatric drugs were in his system at the time of his death.

As a teenager, Umana was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. According to the Tribune, his mother, Tammy Martinez, said that Umana had ”stopped taking his medication in the fall. ’Then he started hearing voices and thinking people was poisoning him,’ Martinez said. Umana was so concerned about people poisoning him, she said, that he started preparing all his own food.”

On October 26, Umana stabbed his mother’s boyfriend, who was preparing a meal in her kitchen; he later told the police that he believed the man was going to kill him. He was charged him with first-degree felony attempted murder and held in the county jail. The Tribune describes what happened next:

Read the rest here.

SOS: Suicide in Massachusetts state prisons

This comes with a shout out from Arizona Prison Watch; we’ve had some suicides of our own of late. Our condolences to the loved ones of these prisoners referred to below. Let us know if we can offer any support.

With 8th suicide, appeals for change in prison system

State brings in a specialist

Suicides in Massachusetts state prisons are occurring at a rate more than four times the national average this year, prompting advocates and inmates’ relatives to call for an urgent response from state officials — and spurring the Patrick administration yesterday to hire a suicide prevention specialist.

With the discovery of an eighth inmate found hanging in his cell at Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater yesterday morning, Massachusetts prisons have reached a suicide rate of about 71 per 100,000 inmates so far this year, more than quadruple the average annual national rate of 16 per 100,000 inmates reported by the US Bureau for Justice Statistics.

Even if no additional inmates commit suicide this year, the eight deaths to date match the highest annual total in the past 14 years, according to Department of Correction statistics.

“To hear that so many people have committed suicide, it just boggles my mind,’’ said Antonia Chasse, of Westfield, whose brother, Ramon DeJesus, a 58-year-old convicted murderer, was found hanging in his cell on June 2 at MCI-Norfolk. “This is a place where individuals are being watched 24 hours a day.’’

Alarmed by the surge in suicides, Leslie Walker, executive director of Boston-based Prisoners’ Legal Services, said in a phone interview Wednesday that the state should rehire the suicide prevention specialist, Lindsay M. Hayes, of Mansfield, who worked on a plan for the Correction Department in 2007.
Late yesterday afternoon, Diane Wiffin, a spokeswoman for the prison system, said the department had indeed rehired Hayes, project director for the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, and asked him to examine each recent suicide.

In February 2007, following seven suicides the previous year, Hayes issued a 63-page report that found serious shortcomings in the state’s handling of inmates at risk for suicide. The state immediately pledged to comply with all 29 recommendations in his report, and suicides fell.

But advocates question whether the state has lived up to its promise. Inmates who spent time on suicide watches in the past two years, Walker said, told her that officials placed them in barren cells, made them change from regular prison garb into gowns, revoked routine privileges such as family visits, and deprived them of belongings, including books, mail, family photographs, and toiletries.
Hayes’s 2007 report had urged that such practices be avoided because they exacerbate a sense of isolation and discourage some inmates from reporting suicidal feelings, but Walker said they persist.
“There’s a lack of vigilance and compliance with Hayes’s recommendations,’’ said Walker, who added that she planned to write Commissioner Harold W. Clarke about what she called “an epidemic, a crisis’’ within the state prison system. In response, the Correction Department’s Wiffin said suicide prevention is a top priority and “we have made significant investments to protect the prisoners in our care.’’

The department has opened several relatively small treatment and behavior modification units for mentally ill prisoners and made cells more resistant to suicide, she said. All new prison employees undergo eight hours of suicide prevention training. Prison officials, she said, consult mental health professionals about appropriate possessions and privileges that inmates on suicide watches can have.
“Despite these efforts, eight prisoners, including one this morning, have tragically ended their lives,’’ she said. “While privacy concerns prevent us from commenting about specific cases, our initial reviews have found no common trends.’’

The state’s prison system has more than 11,000 inmates.

The inmate who officials said committed suicide yesterday was John Pappageris, a 51-year-old former Waltham man serving three to four years for breaking and entering and a concurrent one-year sentence for assault and battery on a public servant, Wiffin said.

He was found hanging in his cell at 5:15 a.m. by a correction officer and taken to Morton Hospital and Medical Center in Taunton, where he was pronounced dead at 6:27 a.m., Wiffin said. Prison officials notified the Plymouth County district attorney’s office, as is routine with such deaths.
Pappageris was a client of Prisoners’ Legal Services, had a lengthy history of mental illness, and had attempted suicide several times before, according to Walker.

His aunt, Lucille Mahakian, of Watertown, said last night that Pappageris had never gotten over the suicide of his mother in 1971. He mutilated himself in prison and ate batteries, she said.
“They knew of his history with mental issues,’’ she said of prison officials. “He was on their watch, and this happened.’’

A Globe Spotlight Team series in December 2007 revealed deepening mental illness and misery behind the walls of the state’s prisons and identified numerous problems, including botched background screenings on suicidal inmates, missing mental health records, and skipped security rounds by correction officers.

Some advocates for inmates say this year’s increase in suicides tells only part of the story.
“The number of completed suicides is always the tip of the iceberg,’’ said Rick Glassman, litigation director of the Disability Law Center of Massachusetts, a nonprofit group that advocates for people with disabilities, including mental illness. “What lies beneath it is the number of suicide attempts and self-injurious behavior.’’

In March 2007, the center sued the state in federal court, alleging that hundreds of mentally ill prisoners were kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day, leading to suicides and self-mutilation. The suit called on the state to build large special treatment units similar to those constructed in other states as a result of federal lawsuits.

In November 2008, Clarke told the Globe he expected the suit would be settled out of court shortly with the announcement of plans to build maximum-security residential treatment units. But a year later, lawyers for the prison system disclosed that the Patrick administration had shelved the plans because of the state’s fiscal crisis. The suit is pending.

In addition to wanting the state to bring Hayes back to study the latest surge in suicides, Walker and other advocates for prisoners want the Legislature to pass a bill to appoint a permanent panel to review problems in the prisons and recommend improvements.

State Representative Kay Khan, Democrat of Newton and a psychiatric nurse, has sponsored the bill in every session over the past 15 years but said it has gotten nowhere, largely because of opposition from the union that represents correction officers.

Khan said she believes top prison officials are doing the best they can but face daunting challenges: The vast majority of inmates have mental health or substance abuse problems, the state has cut prison budgets, and few lawmakers are interested in what happens in prisons.

Read the rest here.