From SHU to mainline, you will be tested

by Vitani (Michael Spencer)

This is the advice I share with anyone getting out of the SHU (isolation unit) and going into GP (general population). Now this advice I would like to share and some of the challenges I faced were based on over a decade in Pelican Bay SHU, the last five years in the “Short Corridor.” And I was the only New Afrikan in that pod for my last five years!

Michael Spencer recommends that prisoners transitioning from SHU to mainline “get connected to as many self-help programs as you can.” At San Quentin Prison, Curtis Carroll, 36, who’s been in prison since he was 15, has gained a reputation for his self-taught stock-picking prowess, earning the nickname “Wall Street.” He teaches financial literacy to fellow prisoners. – Photo: CDCR
Michael Spencer recommends that prisoners transitioning from SHU to mainline “get connected to as many self-help programs as you can.” At San Quentin Prison, Curtis Carroll, 36, who’s been in prison since he was 15, has gained a reputation for his self-taught stock-picking prowess, earning the nickname “Wall Street.” He teaches financial literacy to fellow prisoners. – Photo: CDCR

The first thing I did when I was released to GP was to find out all I could about the mainline and the programs that they offered. You want to get connected to as many self-help programs as you can. It is important that, coming out of the SHU, you set goals for yourself and you stay mentally engaged. It’s not going to be easy at first because of where you have come from – the SHU. But all those programs will help you get re-acclimated into being a social being.

Don’t get me wrong! Your patience will be tested every step of the way, as you will be coming out of a microcosm environment to a macrocosm. You can’t expect the men on these mainlines to conduct themselves as those men you just left behind in those SHUs. It’s a totally different mentality. That to me was the greatest obstacle to overcome.

Now I know you have been locked up in some of the most inhumane conditions that one can imagine, but we can’t allow ourselves to conduct ourselves to be that “animal” that our captors think us to be. At times you are going to need to call on the high power to control your thoughts and actions.

There will be times you will need to bite your tongue instead of roaring like a lion. Our captors will be trying to provoke you to fury, but we are much smarter than they think. Those New Afrikans who have been educated see our captors before they see us.

You want to get connected to as many self-help programs as you can. It is important that, coming out of the SHU, you set goals for yourself and you stay mentally engaged. All those programs will help you get re-acclimated into being a social being.

Remember, we are not just out on these mainlines to act out as we please. We represent all the men and women who are still trapped in those SHUs and other isolation units. And I am here to tell you: you will be tested.

This photo was taken May 25, 2013, a few weeks after Vitani's release from solitary, still pale from years in the SHU with no sunlight.
This photo was taken May 25, 2013, a few weeks after Vitani’s release from solitary, still pale from years in the SHU with no sunlight.

Something else that helped me to transition from SHU to mainline was to surround myself with positive people and keep myself busy. I have been out of the SHU for over a year and I am still transitioning. And I am always on my guard against my captors.

Now, this is something to which I attribute my success: communication with people on the outside. That plays such an enormous part! If you have family, that is great, especially if they have maintained communication with you – a wife, your children, mother, father, sister, brother, a friend. And, they have a lot of these outside activist groups who are doing a lot of good work with those in SHU and on the mainlines.

Something else that helped me to transition from SHU to mainline was to surround myself with positive people and keep myself busy.

There are the Human Rights Pen Pals that are so very good at helping prisoners transition out of SHU to these mainlines, and in some cases to the streets. Now let me tell you how this Human Rights Pen Pal Program has been and still is so very helpful to me.

It has been over a year since me and my pen pal have been communicating. I feel that my pen pal has been a true blessing from heaven. She allowed me to share a part of me that I at one time didn’t think I could talk about. She has provided me a line of communication that I am able to share with her and trust her with my thoughts.

She has been there to advocate for me when my captors mistreated me. She has not only been a voice for me, but an even better listener. And most important, I trust her. And one knows after spending years in SHU, trusting people is not an easy thing to do. But my pen pal has helped me get over that.

Now we all know that years in the SHU have been known to have a psychological effect on people. That is why it is so very important to have someone that you can talk to, trust in, and not be worried about being judged or made to feel as if you’re crazy.

Send our brother some love and light: Vitani (s/n Michael E Spencer), E-90535, CSP-SAC C4-103, P.O. Box 290066, Represa, CA 95671.