Indian activist Arundhati Roy once said:
“There is really no such thing as the voiceless… only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.”
She’s right. People behind bars do have voices. But they are forcibly shut up and told no one wants to hear them. With their names replaced by numbers and stigmatized as criminals, it feels like being relegated to the dregs of humanity for eternity.
I know, because for the last 24 years, six months and 24 days of my life, I have lived among them.
My name is Robert Barton and at the age of 16, I…
By Robert Barton
“I’m sure glad I was in the hole.”
Did I just think that? For the uninitiated, the “hole” is solitary confinement — what prison administrators call the “special housing unit,” or SHU (because bureaucrats everywhere seem to like euphemisms, so they can fool themselves into thinking they aren’t being cruel). Let me explain just what that is: You’re alone in what is basically a box, with no access to phone, email or TV — just a crank-operated radio (no batteries allowed). Newspapers and magazines are banned; the only book you can read is what they decide to…
In prison, freedom is only a mirage
By Robert Barton
This past month has been the most trying and emotionally draining in my entire incarceration. I have never felt more vulnerable, out of sorts, and miserable. Some of it has to do with me being quarantined in my cell 24 hours a day (with only 10-minute breaks for a shower on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays), without being able to communicate with the family members and friends who I count on for support.
But the main driver of my despair was my cellie [cellmate]: After being granted parole — a status…
When we ask for information, we’re told to get f**ked
Every two hours, an announcement blares on the loudspeaker in both English and Spanish: “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, inmates and staff should be sure to wear their masks and keep areas sanitized at all times.”
For the most part, the announcement goes unheeded, and thus COVID is now spreading in the institution once again.
The majority of inmates have been fully vaccinated for the past few months, and thus life here had begun returning to “normal.” But most COs have not been vaccinated and, just like…
In solitary confinement, the mind becomes a rich playground
It’s imperative that prisoners develop the mental fortitude and discipline to compartmentalize their most cherished and radical thoughts, deepest emotions and grandest ideas — hiding them in a safe space where the insanity of mass incarceration can’t soil them.
This is what you learn when living/surviving under the repressive boot-rule of a system that wields the power to order you, at any time — day or night — to strip naked, squat and open your buttocks so your anal cavity can be checked for contraband.
I am my only physical companion for the foreseeable future
By Kenneth Jamal Lighty
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” John Milton, Paradise Lost
Few others have walked a journey lending more credence to such a profound statement.
I have spent the last 18 years of my life under the heavy boot of America’s criminal “justice” system. In 2006, I was sentenced by the federal government to die by lethal injection.
My journey has been different from most who become ensnared in the American prison system. I…
I can’t recall the exact day that the pre-coronavirus lockdown policy began at USP Big Sandy*. It’s not as if the warden passed out a memo saying, “We’re going to lock you and your cellie in this closet with a toilet for as often and as long as we can.” The paradigm shift began sometime in late 2017, early 2018; it’s hard to remember exactly when, because it was gradual, an incremental increase in frequency and duration. Soon, however, it became my norm; any remembrance of a penitentiary life without perpetual lockdowns faded away.
Let me introduce myself. I have several names:
The name on my birth certificate is Damian Kareem Abdul Jabbar Cunningham Herndon. But by the time I started grade school, my mother had shortened it to Darnel Vincent Herndon Jr. (after my father).
My nickname as a young teen in the streets was Bart because people said I resembled the cartoon character from The Simpsons. I was a skinny kid with a slight overbite and a high-top/fade haircut.
But today, I prefer to be known as Askia A. Afrika-Ber. I took Askia from the illustrious West African Songhai Emperor Muhammad Toure…
By Pam Bailey
As I scroll through my Twitter feed, reading posts from my friends behind bars with contraband phones or collaborators on the outside who share for them, I read a string of messages with a similar theme:
It is disappointing and heartbreaking after having limited visitation for a few months, we are going back to no physical contact with our family and loved ones. This goes beyond cruel because it never should have got to this point. Please mandate vaccinations for staff.
It is official. Prison announced today that visitation, religious services, recreation, education and non-essential inmate…
Calling for more police on the street and more people behind bars is satisfying because it’s easy; what is most effective is messy and requires work
By Pam Bailey
The latest example of “pack journalism” (the tendency of media to jump en masse on one topic/event) is the coverage of increasing gun violence across the country. Among the dominant narratives are calls to beef up police patrols (reversing the recent progressive push to “de-fund”) and lock up the troublemakers. …