By John Jay Powers

Jack Powers is an inmate in the federal Bureau of Prisons convicted of bank robbery and escaping from prison. He spent more than a decade in extreme isolation at the ADX where he amputated his fingers, earlobes, a testicle and his scrotum. He has tried several times to commit suicide. “The world outside is like another planet,” he wrote from ADX. “I feel like I am trapped within a disease.” Powers is a plaintiff in a civil rights lawsuit against the federal government regarding its use of longterm solitary confinement for the mentally ill. – S.G.

After 12 long, hard years at the ADX Control Unit Supermax Prison in Florence, Colorado, I’m finally out and among the living. Oh, I’m not on the streets. I’m here among the general population of a federal penitentiary in the dry and dusty desert of Tucson, Arizona.

For a guy who has lived alone in a cement box for more than a decade, the transfer here was really something. First there was a bus and then air-service called “Con-Air” – big passenger jets flown around the U.S. by the Marshalls Service. I had the opportunity to speak with other prisoners and see a couple of cities both from land and air. It was a trip for me for sure.

When we pulled up at the pen, I was all prepared to go straight to the segregation where, once again, I’d be put into solitary confinement. Instead, a number of prison officials met me inside the door and told me that I’d be going directly into the population – into the best unit, in fact, where I’d have single cell. I was so shocked by this turn-around that I began to shed tears.

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By Dianne Frazee-Walker

“Adios diablo, may you burn for 1,000 years, just like you were sentenced,”  read a Blog posted in a Cleveland newspaper after Ariel Castro received a life sentence for  kidnapping and torturing three woman for a decade in his Cleveland home.

There is probably no sentence stringent enough to match the heinous crimes Castro committed.  

After plea-bargaining for life in prison as opposed to the death penalty, Castro decided to take his own life by hanging himself in his prison cell.

Dramatic circumstances surrounding Castro’s conviction cause one to speculate; 

Would this have happened if Castro was on suicide watch instead of protective custody?

What would have brought justice for the three victims Castro tormented for 10 years?

One of the victims, 30-year-old Michelle Knight, who was kidnapped at the age of 20,  sobbingly bore witness during her testimony stating death would have been “so much easier” for her captor.

Fate would have it that Castro was still in control of his victim’s emotions when he made the final decision about his punishment.

But did he have the final say?

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By Christopher Zoukis

Within two days of his 2009 arrival at the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ “Special Management Unit” at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, PA, William Thrower was beaten and stomped into unconsciousness by his gang member cellmate, with whom he was assigned to share a tiny, ancient cell, 24 hours a day.  After a month in a coma, Thrower now suffers from “severe cognitive impairment,” that, according to a government neurologist requires his participation in basic functioning therapy.  Nonetheless, Thrower was returned to an SMU program.  His lawsuit was later dismissed because his allegations did not constitute an “atypical” hardship for a prisoner.

Thrower’s experience is not unique; the federal district courts are rife with similar lawsuits by prisoners confined in such programs, alleging inhumane conditions, murders, “gladiator” fights arranged by guards, and other atrocities generally attributed to societies less enlightened than ours.  Yet the federal government’s use of “control units” like SMU has expanded exponentially in the last decade, as have the states.  And while many correctional industry experts insist that such programs are necessary, one might ask at what cost to our national ideals of humane punishment and dignity for all members of our society do these programs exist.

It is well known that the United States incarcerates its citizens at a rate far higher than any other Western nation.  More than two million men and women are detained in our prisons and jails at any one time, and we admit more than 1.3 million to such facilities each year.*1   It is perhaps not surprising that government officials and private prison industry corporations have in recent years looked for creative ways to store these men and women in a more manageable and cost-effective manner.

One way to achieve these goals is, of course, to simply lock prisoners in a cell, 24 hours a day.  While the courts have generally mandated that it is unconstitutional to do so, they have allowed prison officials to subject prisoners to such treatment provided they are given an hour or so in an outdoor cage a few times a week.  In 2005, the last year such figures were compiled, over 80,000 men and women were confined in such conditions.*2

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By Derek Gilna

Omar Rezaq, Mohammed Saleh, El-Sayyid Nosair and Ibrahim Elgabrowny, convicted of terrorism-related offenses and confined at the federal supermax ADX facility in Florence, Colorado, filed suit contending they had a liberty interest in “avoiding transfer without due process to the high-security prison.” The district court denied relief, which was affirmed by the Tenth Circuit on April 20, 2012.

ADX, according to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), serves two primary penological interests: 1) “maintaining the safety of both staff and inmates, while eliminating the need to increase the security of other penitentiaries,” and 2) “confin[ing] prisoners under close controls while providing them opportunities to demonstrate progressively responsible behavior … and establish readiness for transfer to a less secure institution.”

In this case the plaintiffs were transferred to ADX from a U.S. Penitentiary, itself a high-security facility, but during the course of the litigation were moved from ADX to one of the BOP’s two Communications Management Units (CMUs). The CMUs are located in Marion, Illinois and Terre Haute, Indiana. [See: PLN, Sept. 2012, p.26]. While CMUs are also highly-controlled, they include the added feature of heavily-restricted communications with the outside world.

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By Jean Trounstine This past February 25th, a panel of experts on solitary confinement converged at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to discuss the horrendous practice in our U.S. prisons that many call “cruel and unusual punishment.” While the panel detailed the disastrous effects such isolation causes, the legal challenges through the years and the…

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