CI: A Voice from the Tombs

July 31, 2013 at 6:48 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

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Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Editors Note: Many thanks to Victoria Law for forwarding this letter from Saiyd Muhammad #0295512, who writes from a High Security Control Unit in North Carolina. The letter is reprinted in full below. It more than speaks for itself.

Mr. Muhammad’s story is a sadly familiar tale, one shared by more than 80,000 inmates kept in restricted housing in our nations prisons and jails. This includes the California Prison Hunger Strikers, who numbered more than 30,000 on the first day. This is the second major California strike, as prisoners continue to seek basic human treatment via their 5 Core Demands. The strike is now on Day 24, and has already resulted in one death, that of Billy “Guero” Sell, whose art may be found here.

The torturous details of life in solitary are difficult to read, but please do. And then Act – please support Mr. Muhammad, the California Hunger Strikers, and inmates everywhere  however you can..

Thank you..

Voices from the Tombs of HCON!
from Saiyd Muhammad #0295512

If prison is considered the “Belly of the Beast”, then surely the prison’s solitary confinement units are its bowels.  I am one of approximately 96 inmates currently being held in North Carolina’s Super-maximum Security Units.  These units may also be known as High Security Control Unit (HCON), solitary confinement segregation, “the hole”, and others.  I however, as a result of  enduring mistreatment  and cruelty from certain prison personnel, choose to refer to North  Carolina’s super-maximum security units as the N.C. Dept. of Public Safety TORTURE CHAMBERS!  Yes!  State sanctioned torture!!

shackles2Torture: “…the act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment  or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty.” This is the only word that I can find to accurately express the horrific inhumane treatment I endure here on a regular basis in HCON.  Unlike NC’s death row unit in Raleigh where men and women wait for a possible execution by whatever means the state and federal courts declare humane, here on HCON at the Polk Correctional facility in Butner, NC, we are executed psychologically every moment of everyday.  The 96 men are confined in what can only be described as a concrete box much like a mausoleum tomb.   It is like being in a tomb, a stone building for en-tomb-ment of the dead above ground!  Yes!  A mausoleum best describes the 96 concrete boxes they call cells to house its inmates.

Concrete vaults! They hold us locked in 24 hours a day; only unlike an actual mausoleum that houses the dead, these concrete vaults house the living!

Imagine that!!! We have absolutely NO access to outdoor and outside activities. We receive absolutely NO fresh air. Absolutely NO direct sun light (a basic human essential I would add!). We have absolutely NO human contact (another basic human need). The showers are in the cells that are controlled by the staff electronically from the officer’s booth.  Not only are the showers controlled by guards, so are the toilets. The toilets are programmed to flush twice every hour.  So not only do they control the time we wash, but also when we relieve ourselves! (A basic human need).  The inmates’ only means of communication with one another on HCON is through the  filthy ventilation system. One would have to speak, then pause a moment, wait for the echo to pass and then continue.  This is unnecessary torturous treatment of inmates, who do to at least be treated humanely!!

We are however allowed non-contact visits (through glass) but we are forced to wear handcuffs; shackles, and chains.  We do not have permission to place a hand on the glass as a way of expressing to our loved ones affection for them; even though by virtue of such separation, there is  no possible way to touch them!  So while we are not on the death row, we are really dying a substantial death inside: emotionally & internally from the lack of humane treatment and the lack of other basic human essentials.  This is why I refer to our confinement in these concrete boxes as mausoleums.  These are truthfully tortuous conditions, undeniably!!

 When I have the rare occasion to hear other victims (inmates) of this torture, I can hear their broken spirits.  There is nothing sadder than to hear the broken spirit of an adult human being, except to hear the broken spirit of young adults, boys.  There should be NO QUESTION that this in-human treatment is a slow but sure psychological death sentence.  It is even more likely with the young men who are erroneously referred to and wrongfully cleared for isolation (HC01′{).  I know of at least two young tnen, 23 & 25 years young, who tried to kill themselves.  One swallowed ten (10) AA batteries.  The other young man swallowed dozens of psychotropic pills, i.e. drugs like Thorozine (Chlorpromazine) and Tegrator (lithium carbonate), etc. etc.

Obviously these are very potent mental health medicines. These young men should never have been cleared for housing in solitary (HCON) per North Carolina Dept. of Corrections Policy & Procedure Title: High Security Maximum Control (HCON) chapter – C Section 1700, 1701(b) (3). Essentially, this passage of the policy states that no inmate with a significant mental health history should be housed in isolation (HCON). Not only did the two young men I speak of have a very significant mental health history, but they also had a well-documented history of attempted suicides and self-mutilations. There are also several other inmates with a well-documented history of suicides also had been wrongfully cleared for HCON.  Most of them attempted suicide only after a few months of HCON.  Some had even conmitted vicious acts of self-mutilation too graphic to describe in this article.

NC DOC has knowingly and wrongfully employed psychologists and psychiatrists who are biased against inmates. Staff knows that these doctors will wrongfully clear mentally ill inmates for isolation, even without regard for their ethical responsibility or for the HIPPO- laws or their oaths to practice medicine with the best interest of their patients above ALL ELSE!  Most inmates with no prior mental health issues will certainly have mental health concerns after HCON  (‘Super-max’), no matter how strong an individual is, as a result of the inhumane treatment and torturous conditions  of HCON or any Super-max Units in the U.S., he will have post-traumatic stress disorder (P.T.S.D.) concerns  thereafter.

 shack 3Inmates who tend to seek mental health counseling are more often than not PUNISHED for pursuing care.  For example, if an inmate tells the so-called psychologist here at HCON that he’s having thoughts of suicide the psychologist will have that inmate placed in so-called observation cell under video surveillance by officers in the control booth whom of which are usually females.  He is then stripped naked with nothing to cover his private areas.  He is then placed in a totally bare cell with no mattress and no covers.  He isn’t given toilet tissue, wash clothes, nor is he given soap. NOTHING!  In essence, he is placed in increased torturous conditions as a result of seeking help!! This treatment sends the message to other inmates as a way of discouraging the act of seeking help!

After all, it is the very psychologist who is responsible for his well-being that maliciously betrayed the inmates’ trust!  To be placed in a bare, cold, in some cases freezing cell NAKED, is not intervention …its TORTURE!!  Prison psychiatrists and psychologists are some of the coldest, uncaring people I’ve ever met.  Not all….but most …especially in this environment at HCON.

It is well established that isolation, sensory, and deprivation can aggravate or even cause a variety of psychiatric .symptoms.  Human rights watch noted in a brief that:prisoners subjected to prolonged isolation m{fy experience depression, despair, anxiety, rage, claustrophobia, prob/ems with impulses control and inability to think and remember simple things.
Dr. Stuart Grassian, a psychiatrist of Harvard University Medical School is well known for his expert testimony on the effects of isolation. In an article titled Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement, he discusses the implications of solitary confinement. He is quoted saying:

”the courts have recognized that solitary confinement itself can cause a very specific kind of psychiatric syndrome which in its worst stages can lead to an agitated, hallucinatory, confused psychotic state often involving random violence and self-mutilation, suicide behavior {and other] agitated fearful and delusional symptoms”.

Dr. Grassian visited a super max unit and was shocked  at what he found:   ”that inmates were so ill that they all tended to be ill in very similar ways and that they were so frightened by what was happening to them that they were tending to minimize it. To deny it. They were scared. “

The large majority of HCON staff is extremely abusive and corrupt. CRIMINALLY CORRUPT! From the brutal beatings of inmates who are in full restraints, to bringing inmates both threatening and non-threatening contraband such as cigarettes, illegal drugs, iPods and often cell phones. All for profits! All of this is logged and photographed immediately following institutionalsearches and shakedowns. IT IS ALL A MATTER OF RECORD! So I’m not revealing any secrets that could be in anyway classified as snitching. As I said, it is all on record. More often than not, HCON superintendents Mr. Reid and Mr. Ryan Jr. know who’s doing most of the dirt but because it’s happening on their watch, it is in their best interest and in the best interest of the Department to cover it up. Especially as far as protecting the staff. However, they don’t hesitate to punish the inmates.

 Both Reid & Ryan are corrupt superintendents themselves to the point of perhaps being sadistic. You see, they suspected an inmate of being in possession of a cell phone. They had this particular inmate put in a literal concrete box, naked, in the cold of the winter, this so-called cell had NOTHING in it! No bed nor mat, no toilet nor sink. ..NOTHING!  They left him this way for over 72 hours. That case is currently being litigated in the U.S. District Court for at least clear  Eighth Amendment violations under the U.S. Constitution case file #5:11-ct-3272. There were so many incidents involving excessive use of force cases resulting in serious bodily injury that attorneys for those incidents had to file a CLASS ACTION in the U.S. District Court also for Eighth Amendment violations.  There is an inmate at HCON who wrote the above cases that were later picked up by licensed attorneys. For now, I will exclude that inmate’s name for his personal protection. He has been enduring unimaginable retaliations. Such as: tampering with his food and excessive unconstitutional search and seizure of all of his legal property. Yet superintendents Reid and Ryan practice what is called in legal terms: WILLFUL BLINDNESS!! To protect themselves from blame, they [act] as though they don’t see while secretly condoning the abuses.

For the first time ever in the history of Federal and State super-max units, the U.S. Congress finally held congressional hearings just this past June 2012.  They convened to determine if such units violates the U.S. constitution.  There should be no question that the horrific conditions I’ve previously described herein violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.   More importantly,  they violate our God-given human rights.  Rights recognized by national and international law certainly under the Geneva Convention.  How dare we (Americans) judge and condemn China, Egypt, Africa, and Syria for their human rights violations while we (Americans) quietly allow the violation of rights of our close to eighty thousand men, women, and children that are housed .in super-max units all throughout the United States?! STOP THE TORTURE!! Email, tweet, and write your Politicians NOW!

shackles2I thank you all for listening to the voices of the living inside HCON a.k.a. the super-max units, the tombs, the torture chambers, etc.  We are your fathers, sons, uncles, mothers, sisters, brothers, cousins, etc.  Help us stop the TORTURE!  In the beginning of this article, my intentions were to remain anonymous.  Well, I’ve decided to take the risk!  I will reveal my identity …after all, how much worst can it actually get?  I’m living inside of a tomb!  I don’t fear what man can do to me; I put my trust in GOD ALMIGHTY!

 If you desire to provide support or advice, or you would like more information, please feel free to write me at:

Saiyd Muhammad #0295512
P. 0. Box 2500
Butner NC 27509

I  welcome and encourage any question the public may have and in closing, I ask that you keep us (inmates) in your thoughts and prayers. Likewise, I pray that GOD richly bless you and your loved ones, especially those enduring these torturous conditions.  GOD BLESS!

After reading this article, if you are compelled to help STOP THE TORTURE, you can write the following elected officials pleading with their good conscience to CLOSE HCON. My goal is to make you aware and to help. Together, we have true power!!!  So,please write the following.elected officials:

hcon add


Thanks also to Vikki Law for helping to amplify these voices. 


Thanks so much for giving Saiyd and those 95 other people in extreme solitary confinement a forum to speak. Pelican Bay is just the tip of the iceberg...

Seeta moderator

thanks so much for this call to action Nancy!

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg moderator

Call Governor Jerry Brown
Phone: (916) 445-2841, (510) 289-0336, (510) 628-0202
Fax: (916) 558-3160

Suggested script: I’m calling in support of the prisoners on hunger strike. The governor has the power to stop the torture of solitary confinement. I urge the governor to compel the CDCR to enter into negotiations to end the strike. RIGHT NOW is their chance to enter into clear, honest negotiations with the strikers to end the torture.
  2. Take the Pledge of Resistance to Stop Torture in the SHU
  3. Sign the petition to the Governor
  4. Attend or organize an action (see below)
  5. Donate

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg moderator

@Vikkithank you for sharing this letter..appreciate it greatly!

so much suffering and yes -- the tip of the iceberg


@Vikki Thanks so much, Vikki.  We must support the Hunger Strike.

All respect to Saiyd, others in extreme solitary confinement, and all prisoners taking part in and supporting the hunger strike in other ways.