by Abdul Olugbala Shakur
The following assessment is far from being complete; it is a brief analysis compelled by a question an activist posed to me: How does sensory deprivation (S.D.) impact the psyche of those prisoners who have been subjected to long-term solitary confinement? Actually, this text is but a modified letter that I wrote in response to the above question.
Most people in society are unfamiliar with the term “sensory deprivation.” It is not terminology that is regularly used within societal, everyday vernacular, and this is why. I believe it is imperative for us as prisoners who have endured the blunt forces of this deprivation to articulate its tortuous impositions upon our very humanity.
The intent is to dull our natural senses to touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing, while simultaneously attempting to suffocate our human spirit. It is a means of facilitating our unnatural death within the catacomb of this concrete construct serving as our burial as they introduce their step down pilot program which is equivalent to scripting the obituary to the demise of our humanity.
Admittedly, this task to navigate through the vortex of dementia that can be brought on by confinement to the Security Housing Unit, or SHU, with the intent to convey its inherent peculiarities will be a toilsome and laborious assignment, though many may boast of its simplicity. But trust me, for those of us who have been held hostage within the confines of the CDCR SHU between 20 and 40 years, we are still struggling to wrap our consciousness around the scope and profundity of the ramifications of S.D. (sensory deprivation), for it is constantly revealing complex variables within its destructive capacity.
The intent is to dull our natural senses to touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing, while simultaneously attempting to suffocate our human spirit.
But in spite of its difficulties, it is an obligatory prerequisite that we forge a comprehensive blueprint designed to assist us in our endeavors to magnify for the outside world the malignity of S.D., so we have become psychologically battered embedded reporters for the people, with the sincere hope of inviting you into our fight for justice and the restoration of humanity. Though this is not a complete assessment, I believe it would provide you with a glimpse into the ills of S.D. and that this would encourage other SHU survivors to present their assessment.
I realize many of you are becoming exasperated with my self-proclaimed inability to write and/or express myself, but each time I attempt to put pen to paper it becomes a struggle between my mind and the symptoms of a deprived psyche; I no longer have the capacity to concentrate. I tend to wander and become distracted by the most abstract and/or trivial thoughts.
So, for me, the act of writing in itself becomes a burdensome task, but yet I love to write, to propagate our revolutionary culture of resistance. I have disciplined my mind not to be distracted and I have developed a process that allows me to write in spurts while maintaining my focus on the task at hand.
We have become psychologically battered embedded reporters for the people, with the sincere hope of inviting you into our fight for justice and the restoration of humanity.
A lack of concentration is no doubt a symptom of a sensory deprived mind that many of us who have spent decades in SHU have in common, a symptom that permeates all prison systems across the country, qualifying itself as a substantiated symptom.
Those with a disciplined mind can resist this symptom, but once you lose that ability and surrender to the symptom of a loss of concentration, your mind will begin to wander uncontrollably until it finds comfort in the erratic chaos that lies beneath one’s self-awareness, flirting with the seduction of insanity, as one probes deeper into its solace, away from the conscious reality where torment fornicates with the senses, challenging the equilibrium between the mind and the spirit.
People, escaping the harsh reality of solitary confinement, for some, may console their mind, a parallel space that takes one far away from this man-made hell. Though they are physically confined, their minds are in another space, between the conscious and subconscious – the equidistance where the cognitive dissonance theory defines the moment. We don’t condemn them for succumbing to the temptation of escape; it is not their fault. They are the victims of an evil construct, a reminder for the rest of us the desired goal of S.D.
Some may even wonder why would I initiate this analytical assessment, implying that a lack of concentration is a principal symptom in prognosticating the initial effects of S.D. The disciplined mind is our first line of defense, and the architects of S.D. understood this. In order for S.D. to achieve its desired goals, it must penetrate our first line of defense, and once we lose that focus, we become more vulnerable to the seductive trappings of S.D. So the battle of demarcation occurs at the periphery of our conscious discernment of the particular, for it is here where our fate is determined, and the symptoms can rapidly precipitate into a psychosis that has the potential to hold our sanity hostage in perpetuity.
The disciplined mind is our first line of defense, and the architects of S.D. understood this. In order for S.D. to achieve its desired goals, it must penetrate our first line of defense, and once we lose that focus, we become more vulnerable to the seductive trappings of S.D.
When the senses are so deprived, it petitions recompense that embodies a commiserated reciprocity that momentarily encapsulates our attention. There exist numerous examples to illustrate the validity of this observation. Prisoners, political prisoners and POWs who have spent time in isolation – solitary confinement – throughout the world have reported that while in isolation they often sought out interaction with the rodents and/or bugs that invade their torturous cubicles.
Instead of reviling them, they would invite the temporary distraction and begin to identify with the rat or bug. This is not a phenomenon that is only associated with prisoners in other countries; it is equally common among prisoners in the U.S. In Pelikkkan Bay State Prison (PBSP) many of us, since our arrival, have captured a frog or spider and kept it as a pet, something that most of us would have never done prior to our incarceration, a clear illustration to corroborate our findings that this behavior is a direct result of S.D.
For me it was more like a revelation. I recalled as a manchild I used to catch bugs and butterflies and place them in jars. I would poke holes in the lid. I would also place food in the jar, or what I thought was the food they ate. As a young manchild, I could never comprehend why my insects would try to escape. I had provided them with free room and board. But now I finally understand. Even though I have free room and board, I equally desire to escape my artificial home. Though our senses are deprived, we are constantly compensating, and it is in this process that we reconfirm our sanity.
Psychological torture in Amerikkka is real, not an illusion conjured up by disgruntled prisoners.
Sensory deprivation (S.D.) – make no mistake about it – is a tool of psychological torture, and our survival by no means repudiates its destructive capacity. It is not a tool that leaves obvious physical wounds. This is an art of torture that by design attacks the minds and spirits of its intended targets, attempting to incapacitate our sense of humanity, reducing us into a catatonic stupor or a chronic cycle of recidivism, addicted to the smell and touch of concrete and steel.
As a manchild I used to catch bugs and butterflies and place them in jars. I could never comprehend why my insects would try to escape. I had provided them with free room and board. But now I finally understand. Even though I have free room and board, I equally desire to escape my artificial home. Though our senses are deprived, we are constantly compensating, and it is in this process that we reconfirm our sanity.
We have heard the warden, the overseer of this concrete plantation, on a number of occasions attempting to mitigate the severity of the SHU and S.D. He would often tell the media how we are allowed to purchase TVs in the SHU and unfortunately many people in society tend to accept the implications that a TV somehow compensates for the impact of solitary confinement and S.D. Even a prison rights activist asked me about the warden’s statement.
I told her, if you were placed in the middle of Chernobyl, a nuclear and highly radioactive wasteland, and given a 42-inch flat screen TV with all the available channels of the world and all the free food you can eat, this doesn’t abrogate the fact that you are trapped in the middle of a radioactive deathtrap that is designed to inflict pain upon your physical being and lead inevitability to an unnatural death.
People, the TV is not a privilege afforded by our overseer. To the contrary, it is a calculated injurious contrivance devised to impede our adroitness to develop the necessary defenses to empower us to resist the trappings of S.D. It is more of a detriment than an asset. Why do you think they have never removed TVs from the SHU? This is confirmation that the TV is, in fact, a tactical instrument in support of executing S.D. in its fullest arrangement. So please understand the facts: Having a TV or radio in solitary confinement doesn’t change the reality of our situation, which is the SHU is equivalent to solitary confinement and that S.D. is a form of psychological torture that can produce physical pain.
Though we are SHU survivors, we are not immune to the impact of S.D. Many of us do suffer from some of the symptoms of being exposed to S.D., but it is our disciplined mind that allows us to resist. Psychological torture in Amerikkka is real, not an illusion conjured up by disgruntled prisoners. The evidence is overwhelming. I ask you the next time you hear a politician condemn Cuba, China or Iran for torturing their prisoners, ask them about Pelikkkan Bay State Prison or Corcoran State Prison.
The CDCR has introduced a proposed solution and on paper it looks reasonable, but in practice it would not release the vast majority of us being housed in the Short Corridor.
There’s torture right here in Amerikkka. You can’t tell me spending 30 years in solitary confinement or being exposed to sensory deprivation for the last 23 years is not torture. People, as you know, the CDCR has introduced a proposed solution and on paper it looks reasonable, but in practice it would not release the vast majority of us being housed in the Short Corridor. People, please don’t allow yourselves to be deceived by forked tongues that slither across mouths that protrude from grotesque human-like caricatures that disguise themselves as correctional guards.
Send our brother some love and light: Adbul Olugbala Shakur (s/n J. Harvey), C-48884, D1-119 (SHU), P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532.