Voices From Solitary: Among the Blood of Last Year’s June

by | January 20, 2022

Patrick Irving, 41, has been in Administrative Segregation, a form of solitary confinement, at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution in Kuna for two years. His writing is published on the website Book of Irving #82431. In March of 2021, Irving was invited to speak at the Idaho Law Review Symposium. He gave his video presentation from the Ad-Seg unit while in shackles.

In this essay, Irving writes about the contradictions between public statements made by the Idaho Department of Corrections regarding the so-called reform efforts in his Ad-Seg unit, and the violence he has observed there himself. He describes one day in June 2020, when he says guards carried out four different cell extractions of people in his unit. A “cell extraction” is the removal of a person from a cell by force, carried out by multiple armed guards, and often accompanied by the use of chemical agents and stun shields that deliver electric current. They are supposed to be used as a last resort. –– Sara Rain Tree

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In front of my cell that day in June of  2020: four trails of blood, one per person. One source was slammed face down, his wrists and ankles already restrained. 

I watched the puddle form feet away from the cages, where once a week we can view videos and messages from our loved ones—at least, those of us who are lucky enough to have them but cannot afford the device that would enable us to communicate with them more frequently. 

Twice the distance from the puddle to the cage—but really just a few feet more—are the desks where programming and socialization should happen but that, instead, are used to hang shackles. 

It’s the first cell extraction I’ve witnessed in solitary confinement. And while choking on the gas that punishes the whole unit, somehow considered their solution for subduing individuals, I grab my notebook and calendar, and attempt to extract a correlation from seeing four at once:

15 Months Ago—Our Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU) policies were changed to “reflect Idaho’s commitment to Ad-Seg reform.” The changes made in print were never put into effect.

11 Months Ago—In a Board of Correction meeting, our DOC’s director commended our chief of prisons and my facility’s warden for moving forward with the ideas of inside enclosures, modified programming chairs, and enclosed table modules for RHUs. Those ideas have yet to be put to use. 

7 Months Ago—I wrote to our DOC’s Office of Professional Standards to ask that our complaints be considered when submitted directly to their office, as staff have been responding to grievances after investigating themselves. No reply from the office was issued. 

6 Months Ago—Our warden circulated a memo that promised a combined three hours of out-of-cell time would be offered daily, and that programming opportunities were also coming soon. Today, we’re still receiving only one hour out of our cells in outdoor cages—but only on the day that they actually rec (count 25 days they’ve refused us since November). Nothing in the memo thus far has been true. 

3 Months Ago—IDOC stopped in-person visitation with all approved visitors due to Covid-19. The provider they use for video visitation has been charging for visits that don’t ever work. 

3 Weeks Ago—I overheard the captain tell one of those now bleeding, who at the time was still using words to communicate the issues he’d been having with staff, “Well, then it’s up to you to be the adult,” as if the same isn’t expected of state employees.

1 Week Ago—They started heavily enforcing the weekly one-hour of phone time RHU residents are “privileged” to receive. Those sympathetic to the benefits of human communication must now enforce the policy strictly, for familial love poses some hazard when it’s allowed to be exchanged for an extra minute or few. Meanwhile, staff are seldom reprimanded for ignoring the policies that benefit residents or for ignoring those that pertain to staff conduct. 

12 Hours Ago—We received a memo describing the privileges we’re given to combat excessive heat once a day: “Inmates must have their own container for ice. Staff will place one scoop of ice in your container. If you are not ready at your door, it will be considered a refusal of ice for the day… ice service is a privilege and can be revoked based on behavior.” 

12 Hours Ago—In another memo, we were instructed that from now on, should we attempt to bring our morning coffee or magazines to the outside rec cages, it will be noted as “a refusal to participate in recreation for the day.” 

As I’m writing, I’m listening to my neighbor choke and gasp and beg to be rolled on his side. I can imagine the DOC’s director at his keyboard typing up more empty promises:

“I can acknowledge the pain that’s being expressed here… can listen and learn, and can choose to act in ways that move our system toward greater equity and inclusion instead of otherness…Before us is the opportunity to set the example and standard for how safety agencies should operate. If you betray that trust with your actions or fail to report others who do, you are not long for this agency. It will not be tolerated, accepted, or ignored within our agency… We’re not choosing between treating people with dignity and respect or trying to improve public safety. We can do both.”

Four bloody cell extractions in one day. How many will it take to see the correlation between the lack of reform and the violence these men suffer?

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