Some Reflections on Effects of Long Term SHU: Imprisoned Responses to excerpts From Dr. Terry Kuper's Report: Psychological Effects of Long Term SHU

PHSS Coalition

[The PHSS Parole Committee prepared a condensed version of Dr. Terry A. Kuper's expert report, Psychological Effects of Long Term SHU (July 2017). The following letters were received from prisoners who read the condensed report. A copy of the condensed report can be requested from PHSS Parole Committee, P.P. Box 5586, Lancaster, CA 95359.]

“I will be calling again after getting in touch with my grandchildren, (Vino 17, Princess Snoony 15, Velli 13 and lil Eric 11), who live back in Leavenworth City, Kansas, who were all born while I was in SHU. So far, they have been receptive to communicating openly and warmly with the “PA PA” (that’s what they call me). Now I owe these young ones so much, but I’m still trying to get my normalcy balanced, because of the deep psychic struggles of PTSD and what Solitary Confinement does to your internal being.

“Both Brutha and I are constantly trying to wrap our minds around that whole decades-long ordeal. We speak with some of the other class fellas here with us who are also suffering in their own PTSD-SC effects. For instance, one guy who spent 20+ years in SC (since he was 19) came out here, and when his 80-year-old, Mother Queen, hugged him in the visiting room for the first time, he froze up, wanting her to stop. A few others said they, too, had this experience. (But not me, I pushed myself to challenge the abnormality…)”

“I hope and pray my letter finds you well in health and strength. I’ve just finished reading Terry Kupers’ analysis of the psychological effects of long term isolation and he did a very thorough study of the ramifications of the SHU. It’s sad to say I do feel some of these symptoms now, but I can maintain my mind in a way that allows me to not give into the despair, loneliness, panic and anxiety, and further isolating myself is out of the question.

“Being that we’re already anti-social, the AEH (Agreement to End Hostilities) stops that practice and allows us to get to know each other, even more than when we limited ourselves to just football and March Madness game pools, or shared literature and minimal conversation at Medical or helping each other with legal work.

“I think what is needed are programs that are community-based, like if you all at PHSS had an outpatient program for those of us who parole from long-term isolation. That will minimize the substance abuse and further self-isolation, I think. You all have the Parole Committee in Lancaster and the End Sleep Deprivation in Eureka, so it looks like you all can attack this thing in important areas. It would be much better than the State’s Educational Opportunity Program and Correctional Clinical Case Management Medications that I feel hurt people, rather than help them. I know you might not have the resources now but, hopefully, this is something to consider in the future.

“Now that Black August resistance is upon us, I have a lot of work to do this time. Being that I’m one of the program developers, I’ve put together a little essay writing for the few young New Afrikans in my section, for them to do on specific days that have meaning and purpose. Exercise routines go well, and this pamphlet by Dr. Kupers I’d like them to read also, so I’ll pass it around for them to understand how this place was built to break us, and we can’t let it. Thank you for this. It is helpful now! I’ve heard of California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement (CFASC), but what do they do now?”

(Editor’s note: The author spent about 10 years in Corcoran SHU. He was released to the general population thanks to the hunger strike and the class action settlement. But three weeks later, the guards put him back in Ad Seg (Administrative Segregation), and he’s now been in Ad Seg for almost a year.)

FROM LANCASTER August 1, 2017
“Thank you so much for the most recent PLEJ (Power Love Education and Justice for Liberation) packet. Dr. Krupers' expert report on Psychological Effects of Long Term SHU (Solitary Confinement). I guess I don’t have to tell you that I saw a lot of myself in the majority of those 24 men that were interviewed. Though I hate to admit it, I know that my 27 years of extreme solitary isolation at Pelican Bay State Prison-SHU (PBSP) had a harmful effect on me mentally that’s not all that easily detected by the people that I interact with daily.

“The people that I’m around in GP are mostly those I know from the SHU, and I do often retreat to my cell during yard and dayroom. My excuse is always the same: ‘There’s nothing to do out here’ or ‘they just want to talk about women—whom they are very disrespectful of—’ or ‘they want to talk about killin’words, past and present.’ Mostly, it’s a rumor mill about people they don’t like, or they hear a rumor and build on it in their heads to distort it and present it as a fact. In order to avoid it, I retreat to my isolated space and do my thing: read, write, all the while with my radio or TV/CD player pumping out music into my ears.

“It’s so true that my concentration and memory are off-kilter, in the sense that I will misplace things—in my tiny area of the bottom bunk—and take several minutes to look for it, sometimes finding it during the search for it, sometimes not finding it until I come across it accidentally.

“Being out of the SHU has been an experience in trying to get on back to living again. Thanks to . . ., and you all at Human Rights Pen Pals/PLEJ/PHSS; I am learning to rebuild my relationship to the community and regain confidence in social interactions with others. You all have been a very important part of my healing process. Thank you.

“Can we ever replace the parts of our minds that PBSP-
SHU erased."

FROM NEW FOLSOM August 7, 2017
“The Psychological Effects of Long-Term SHU Solitary Confinement – after reading that material, it brought back so many memories. I can recall while in SHU how much anger I would be feeling, how I stayed on edge, didn’t want to socialize. At times, unexpected noises would cause me to be jumpy, when the c/os would count at night and put the light in the eyes, that would anger me as well.

“I can most-definitely relate to what those who were interviewed said in this material.

“And the transition from SHU to mainline – it’s a whole other animal and it requires one to be very disciplined in dealing with General Population. After reading the prisoners’ stories, I can recall going through some of the growing pains that those guys were experiencing. It took time to adjust to being around so many prisoners, dealing with the c/os, because in the SHU, you had very little contact with them, but on the mainline, you are almost forced to have some kind of interactions with them, or you can isolate yourself from the population, as well.
“I made the decision to be active in General Population, go out and interact with the prison population, regardless of race. I am a work-in-progress and still have things to work on in how to conduct myself, but I am learning to do that each and every day. And you, Pen Pals, have been, and still are, ones who have made my transition from SHU to General Population as smooth as I could have imagined, along with the Pen Pal program and all the people who have worked so hard to make all those who spent decades in the SHUs transition to GP or even to the community…”

FROM SOLANO August 6, 2017
"I for one believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they will create their own program, and when the people create a program, you get action.” . . . Malcolm X

“One of the things that I have become very much aware of is the difference in how we manage our time in the General Population, compared to Solitary.

“How well you were able to deal with the distractive affects of isolation depended on how engaged you were in the work that you were committed to, which included every relationship that you developed, both personally and professionally/ principally/progressively. You felt as though your every waking hour had to be occupied by work, (writing or discussions on the tiers/exercise), except for those occasions when you might be asleep (and at some point, many of us started to think in our sleep). Or [there were] those occasions when you allowed yourself to drift to a time in your life when you were liberated enough to love, and live without all of the concrete and metal and isolation!

“In solitary, the work was confined to struggle. Out here in general population, that work has expanded to include aspects that you simply did not know existed then. And it is all important work.

"Being able to compartmentalize issues according to their importance is absolutely doable. But it is here in the General Population that you realize how, as a result of the volume of work that is before you, (and there are times when an issue is presented to you immediately in the moment), it becomes overwhelming.

"You think of everything: ‘OK, what do I have to do to create the space that makes it possible to consider a different perspective – not to agree with what we might be saying, but just [to] get the person/people to consider that there might be another side to whatever the issue is.’

"Rest is a very effective tool, but it usually does not last long for me. I tend to think even with my eyes closed at times (smiles). A buddy let me listen to a couple of jazz CDs; they were smooth jazz recordings. I have always been a bit biased when it came to jazz; it is either Miles Davis and the John Coltranes, or nothing at all, at least for now. It creates the space for me/us that makes things seem less overwhelming."●

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