Dee Dee’s sixty-to-life prison sentence has taken an agonizing toll on her well-being, and subjected her to violence both emotional and physical at the hands of the prison industrial complex. As a jailhouse lawyer, she struggles to engage in effective work due to the limitations of her solitary confinement, which not only prevents her from working, but also from stimulating her mind in a fulfilling or supposedly “rehabilitative” way. She describes how officers and other prison officials recklessly do their jobs, and why a severe lack of structure within the New York prison system contributes to the chaos.
Warning: The following letter discusses topics like murder, hunger strikes, and emotional and physical abuse.
“Effects of Long Term Solitary Confinement
and How it Feels to Me,”
by Dee Dee.
My name is Dee Dee and I’m a transgender woman doing a sixty-to-life sentence in a men’s prison in the State of N.Y. While in general population I’ve been raped in two different prisons. The last time was June 15th of 2010. Since then I’ve been in three different prisons all the while continuously housed in solitary long-term confinement “for my protection.” To date, I’ve been without opportunity to program or educate myself. Nor can I obtain employment or utilize anything that the general population has access to. Simply, I’m confined to a cell, by myself, 23 hours a day, every day. Socializing is almost non-existent amongst my fellow captives who also are confined like myself. There is a “recreation pen” at the back of our cells that is opened most of the day. It’s more like a kennel cage, bare of anything except a view to the outside perimeter fence. On most days you can clearly hear the officers at the shooting range firing loud guns and booming rifles all the day long. It’s frightening.
The one hour (which is usually 45 minutes) that we are allowed in the block yard gives us no opportunity to interact with one another. During this time we are out, we use the phone to call loved ones, or exercise with the weights. The human contact is hurried at best, and it’s mostly us complaining about the torture we are enduring. I myself do not go out anymore.
The frustration and bitterness is deep within me. I realize that I’m harboring such ill will with no outlet. When I first arrived here, I wrote grievances and spoke up to staff and the administration. Grievances were “lost,” and my complaints were ignored. Most times, their replies are constructed to frustrate me and side-track the issues I’m complaining about. At one time, I had a sergeant come to my cell and told me that what I was complaining about was right but he said that they’ll never comply with it so drop it. Finally, I went on a hunger strike in December of 2013 in order to bring their full attention to our issues. Other inmates wrote grievances at the same time. And I personally submitted 14 of them. Only 6 were acknowledged, and the rest they “never received,” supposedly.
When I was in the hospital on the hunger strike – that lasted 21 days – a deputy superintendent of administration came to talk to me. I had memorized the DOCCS Directives for the Protective Custody Units in every prison. And I raised all the issues that I and others were complaining of. This official basically played semantics with me, and actually misinterpreted what the DOCCS Directive was saying. I quoted it to him and pointed out his misinterpretation, and I believed that he realized that I knew, intimately, what I was talking about. From that point on, he “yessed” me on everything thereafter. He agreed that my issues and concerns over the treatment and harassment and retribution from the unit officers were vain, and that how the unit was run is not in accordance with the DOCCS Directives. And, he acknowledged that they were in violation of many things in the Directive, including not having a Protective Custody rule book. Without a rule book, the unit is run any which way, and we are constantly the ones that receive the mistakes or inadequate treatment. There is absolutely no structure here.
This is just a small window into the chaos I live in daily. And to top it all off, this Security Housing Unit (S.H.U., i.e. solitary confinement) block has Box inmates, administrative Segregation inmates, Sex Offender Program inmates (that are also serving Box time while programming), and Willard Drug Treatment Transit inmates who were discharged from that program and sent here (in transit either back to the program or prison). There is also Voluntary Protective Custody inmates and Involuntary Protective Custody inmates, and inmates who are separate from everyone while pending placement for protective custody. All these different statuses are separated from one another in this same block. You can imagine the confusion the officers have trying to keep all this straight. On top of all this madness, this block is constantly flooded with brand new officers that are still learning the ins and outs of things, and all their fuck ups and mistakes (like forgetting to let us out to the yard or phone). Or, not picking up the mail, or not making rounds so that inmates can ask for toilet paper, or not turning in commissary sheets before the deadline.
The anxiety is tremendous. You never know what the next day will be like. There is no normalcy here or routine to follow. You never hear when a list is being made during an officer’s rounds (for the signing up for yard or phone) because most of these new officers don’t announce themselves when they come on to the unit, and they skate past you if you’re not on your door to get put down. There is a certain time they are supposed to make their rounds, and most times I am on my gate waiting a half hour before, and sometimes still waiting a half hour or forty five minutes later. It’s aggravating.
Everyday I cry. Every day. The solitude, the depression, the lack of interaction or structure. Or even the opportunity to program or educate myself. My mind yearns for something to occupy it with; to challenge it. I ache for human contact. I am left to my own thoughts and depression. This is torture that I live in. No, survive in. There are dark moments in my days where I think of harming myself or actually killing myself. How much more can I endure? I ask myself daily. I have four walls to look at all day. There is NOTHING constructive to do. I’ve been in this particular prison since Feb. of 2013. I’ve had counselors try to place me in certain prisons with no success. The powers-that-be in Albany say I’m fine where I’m at. Staff – even the mental health staff – agree and acknowledge that this unit and the whole block of S.H.U. is messed up, but they all say they are powerless to make the necessary changes that are needed to turn this unit from torture to something rehabilitative and positive.
They actually KNOW that we are suffering, but act like their hands are tied! I can’t get through to anyone. And the grievances and protesting just get us nowhere, and abused with retaliation. It’s not about winning, it’s about surviving. And if I push too hard, I can be put in a worse environment than this, as they hold the power to make it happen. 95% of inmates that filed grievances back in December during my hunger strike were transferred out en masse as staff’s way of getting rid of the inmates who were speaking up for their rights and better treatment. Yet I, as well as a few others, are stuck here in this torture chamber.
My mind is stagnant. There is no concept of social norms when I talk to others. The slang of new arrivals are foreign to me. I am socially disadvantaged. My sleep is sparse at best. I have no idea what the future holds for me. I am basically hopeless. I cannot see past this solitary confinement. I have no goals or motivation to do much of anything. I do a lot of pro bono legal work, and try to stay busy as I ignore – without much success – the madness that creeps in my mind. The flashes of impulsive behavior for destructive purposes ride hard on my thoughts constantly. My anger and bitterness mingles with my deep depression and anxiety, making me have thoughts of hurting myself or others. A lot of people in prison that are serving a very long incarceration – like myself, or are doing life – surrender themselves to their time, and become a product of the destructive and negative environment that we are subjected to. They literally become beasts and monsters. Not caring about anything, and rampage in the chaos that surrounds them. They reason and justify their madness and destructive behavior, saying “I got life and I don’t give a F*** about nothing.”
I must admit that that urge to just say “F*** it” tempts me, but I’m not built for that madness and tempting release of all responsibility. I can’t be a monster or a beast. That’s not in me to do. However, that doesn’t stop me from wishing I could.
Robin Williams gave up. He was my idol. I met him and Billy Crystal in Central Park in New York City, as they were filming a commercial or part of a movie. They used regular people that were in the park as background to their scene. It broke my heart when I heard of him killing himself. He was a wonderful person and he gave up. I think of doing the same. Yet I lack the courage to fully go through with it. As I write this, I have the urge to cut myself. He felt like I feel everyday in here. I fight it every day. Every day, I have to give myself a reason not to pick up a can top, or break my razor, to slice my wrists. Every day.
I feel as if there is an invisible cloud over me that oppresses me and dampens any good feelings or positive, constructive thought. It’s like a depressing cloud that is constantly pressing down on me; smothering me. I’m drowning in it. I have options of causing myself such trouble that I’ll get put in the Box and possibly transferred that way or even get placed back in this unit once my box time is up. Or, I could try to do what another inmate that was here did. He also was here for years; here when I got here. This place drove him mad. He was constantly challenging the officers and acting up by kicking his door for long periods of time. Or covering the window on his door so that the supervising sergeant would come up to his cell to either get him to take it off (so that they could see into his cell), or if not, prepare to rush his cell with officers in combat gear and shields. It’s not a nice sight, and inmates get a bad beating. But he always took the covering off and complained directly to the supervisor. Finally, he got so fed up that he went on a hunger strike. From May 2, 2014 to August 22, 2014, he resided in the facility hospital with a feeding tube down his throat and wasting away to nothing. He was determined and his will won out. He got transferred.
I know the physical damage that one can do to their bodies doing such a thing. Some of it is permanent. Yet I entertain this option. I do believe I have the willpower and desperation of my situation to achieve the same result as he did.
Mental Health in prison in New York State is a joke, and a serious waste of taxpayer’s money. They acknowledged how detrimental this solitary confinement is on people, and know that it must be changed, but are powerless to do anything about it. Everyone on staff knows the system is broken, but are not doing anything about it. They stand by as we are tortured by the circumstances of our environment.
I welcome anyone to reach out to me, to either discuss more of this “world” I’m trapped in, and/or give me some advice as to what I can do. Mental Health here only advises coping skills, or wants to medicate you to make you more docile in order to continue to endure this harmful environment. They won’t fix the root of the problems here (that they acknowledge); they are useless. I ask myself, “What the F*** is going on?”
Please, anyone, I need help dealing with this. My voice isn’t loud enough or strong enough. I do have great friends that have been with me in my struggle, and do what they can for me. I love them very much and appreciate the support they provide. Without them, I think I’d be worse off than I am now. They’ve encouraged me to write these articles so that all of you out there can hear firsthand what it’s like in here, and realize that what they tell you it’s like in here is a bunch of B.S. (like what’s on T.V.) that is far from the horrible reality of this prison life that we are subjected to.
I can write about the mental torture that we survive daily, all the while fearing in the back of my mind that this torture is changing who I am. Am I the same person that is DEE DEE? What mental scars are marking my mind? I trust no one in here. I live in constant fear and anxiety and depression. My tears are the only outlet I have that let out the frustration and anger of my existence.
You all have the voice and power of solidarity to bring about change. Look into the organizations that use the avenues of the laws to cause the legislators to take notice of the destructive institutions that are torturing men and women who one day will have to reintegrate back into society. How can a damaged person hope to do it? They must take responsibility and acknowledge that any solitary confinement is torture, pure and simple.
I will continue to write about the reality of what New York prison life is like. I’ve been in prison since July of 1991, minus 17 days of freedom in 2001. So I have a total of 24 years of the madness of my survival in here. I fight and research my case constantly. I’ve managed to give back about 15 years. Yet, I’m still 35 years away from my first Parole Board appearance. So I’m still looking to shorten that time, whereas I’m 43 years old now.
I have no children or significant other. When I was released in 2001, my boyfriend abused me physically and sexually. We fought, and I killed him. That’s why I only lasted those 17 days of freedom. And that’s why I have the time I have. I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder during the WHOLE TIME that I was in the County Jail without any Mental Health evaluation. I wasn’t in control of myself, and I agreed to take a sixty-to-life plea. I could’ve went to trial and lost, and gotten twenty-five-to-life, but I went ahead and unknowingly took a sixty-to-life sentence. I tried to appeal that aspect, but I failed. I should have gotten a professional to do it properly. I believe that I failed to present it properly, and thus failed to be concise in my argument. A lot of jailhouse lawyers can do law work easily, but when they work on their own, the feelings of anger and frustration cloud the thought process. I took up smoking during the period of constructing my appeal. I stopped 2 weeks after I submitted it. I have all the paper work that says that I was not in the right frame of mind during all of the court proceedings. But they don’t care. Madness. I cried all the time. Then, an inmate cut my face by reaching into my cell as I stood at the bars talking, and he was on his way back from using the gallery phone (this was in the solitary confinement I was placed in “for my protection” in my previous prison). Recently, another inmate in this unit sucker-punched me during our one-hour yard time. He broke my jaw, and I had to have surgery to have it fixed, and I now have a titanium plate permanently in my jaw, and lost feeling and taste in a lot of my mouth.
I can go on and on. This is my existence. Get together and raise your voices to raise awareness to the horror and torture that is happening right under your noses with your taxes dollars. You have the power to help. Anything you can do: a phone call, a donation to any of the organizations that are fighting for change, a letter or e-mail to the lawmakers or the executive staff of DOCCS. Solidarity. Don’t just stand by – you CAN help. Thank you.
I love you all. Aloha Nui Loa.