One of the things I find most perplexing about incarcerated men is how they are able to withstand such lengthy periods in the hole, or in segregation, locked down in their cells. Women in prison serve periods in the hole, or the SHU – Segregation Housing Unit, for disciplinary infractions, but the terms are shorter. Throughout my 18 years in prison, the longest stint I served in the hole was 90 days.
Being in the hole for that long was major for me. Previously I had only served a few weeks at a time. When I was locked down for 90 days I spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years in the SHU. I felt like I could snap at any given moment.
Video: The Hole: A Monster Factory?
I have heard stories about men serving years in segregation while incarcerated. Oftentimes when I’m talking to my significant other we end up sharing stories about our painful past way before we met one another, when we were both incarcerated for lengthy periods. He almost always brings up being in the hole, and even with my shared experience I can’t fully relate.
The last time I asked him, I decided to write as he spoke. This is what he said:
It’s actually called the Special Management Facility (SMF) in the Maximum Security Prison in Missouri State Penitentiary. This SMF was modeled after the ADX in Marion, Illinois USP. It was a prison within a prison. It has its own recreation yard, kitchen, work crews etc. For the first six months I was in total lock down, 23 hours a day with one-hour recreation and a shower every other day. With good behavior you could purchase a radio after 90 days. After the first six months in the basement, as we refer to it, you move upstairs where movement is under extreme control. I was housed alongside about 500 men who were deemed ‘Missouri Incorrigibles.’ We were escorted everywhere we went, including the kitchen, the recreation center, and the law library. After one year we were allowed to move to another unit. Then, we were allowed to purchase a television and get a job. Any infraction could set you right back to the beginning phase and cause you to be placed back in the basement. You could get a new disciplinary infraction for something as simple as insolence, or cursing at a guard. Many of us felt that if we were going to get set back that far it would be for something much more serious. From April through September of 1985 or 86 there were four murders and about 135 stabbings in that unit. The federal government came in, and took control of the prison. Eventually it was closed down. That was the most dangerous place I’ve ever been in my life.
After our conversation I couldn’t help but reflect on how I was affected by the time I spent in the SHU. I remember one time coming out of the hole with severe depression. Fortunately for me I was able to work through it with the prison psychologist and some cognitive therapy.
I’ve thought, no wonder Sean has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Oftentimes throughout his incarceration he was living under inhumane circumstances for lengthy periods of time. His peace of mind was predicated on those conditions. The ability to adapt is the greatest blessing to a man, or woman, but as I often tell him, ‘That’s all behind us now.’