Editor’s note: This story was originally published on March 25, 2022. Read more of CT Mirror’s “Best of 2022” stories here.
For at least the second consecutive year, people incarcerated in the state’s prisons and jails wrote letters to legislators to express their support for a bill that would reduce the Department of Correction’s use of solitary confinement.
As the Judiciary Committee holds what looks to be a marathon public hearing on Friday, at least 27 incarcerated people submitted written testimony of their own. The letters offer a perspective rarely heard at the Capitol — that of the individuals confined in Connecticut’s prisons and jails.
The legislature passed a bill last year reducing the prison system’s use of solitary confinement, but the governor vetoed it. Instead, Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order, which Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven and co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, expressed concern over, since executive orders can simply be rescinded if a governor no longer wants to adhere to them.
Lawmakers are trying again this year to enshrine the curtailment of solitary confinement in law. In a last-minute twist, Department of Correction Commissioner Angel Quiros testified before the Judiciary Committee Friday morning that he had reached an agreement with Stop Solitary CT, an advocacy group that has been pushing for years to end solitary confinement, on substitute language that would increase prisoners’ out-of-cell time and establish an independent office that would have oversight of the prison system.
Below are excerpts from letters submitted as written testimony. The first thing written in the top left of each envelope is the incarcerated person’s name. The second is the six-digit prisoner ID number provided to them by the state.
“I would like to remember how it feels to be a person, not just a number,” Robert Homar told legislators.
Jacky Robinson Jr.
“We are beaten, bruised, threatened, and silenced with no hope in sight. Then when released back into society we’re expected to function at a ‘normal’ level as everyone else without fully realizing ourselves how much trauma we’ve undergone.”
[Referring to being strip-searched when sent to a Restrictive Housing Unit] “That act is done when they want to take away your dignity, humiliate you, make you feel less than a human being. I was left with no clothes only … suicide watch gown and no footwear at all for [a] few days.”
“Some may even say, ‘Well, that’s prison.’ While I agree that prison should not be a comfortable experience, it should also not be a harmful one. We are sent to prison as punishment, not to be punished.”
“I’ve seen and experienced firsthand the dehumanizing effects of sensory deprivation and long-term confinement, and they’re ugly. Human beings are social animals — when you deprive them of social interaction there are irreparable consequences. Men can’t have healthy relationships or hold jobs, which harms their families and lands them back in prison. Women can’t mother their children, who grow up with problems of their own. The consequences are more than punishing the wrongdoers — they’re punishing everyone.”
“Sometimes this place makes you forget who you are. Maybe that’s why I have lost my way, and find myself back behind these walls … I understand that this is not suppose to be anything like freedom. But just the simple things that should be given to us inmates are not being held by staff or overseers to them.”
“Being a twenty-three-year-old young male incarcerated at time where mental health treatment is not offered to individuals in a timely manner or as needed when rehabilitation is supposed to be the goal before reentering the community, not only is this the total opposite, but it’s worse because DOC is now allowing emotionally, mentally, and socially unstable individuals back into the community with lack of resources and tools to properly be a productive individual in the community.”
“After being apprised of the studies and research by the scientific community regarding this subject matter, I have come to the conclusion and belief that I became a worse criminal and person because of the treatment [I was] subjected to. If you are treated like an animal, you tend to behave as such.”
“Being locked up so much makes you feel like an animal; when you lock an animal up for long periods of time then let him out, they go crazy.”
“They give you food early. Breakfast at 4:30 a.m., lunch at 10:00 a.m. and dinner at 4 p.m. So you are left to starve for 12.5 hours from dinner until breakfast because commissary is not permitted during punitive segregation. The food portions in solitary confinement are smaller than the general population. They use food as a weapon to punish us in isolation.”
“I didn’t have a window so I could look outside to see if it was day or night time.”
“The DOC refuses to act on my mental health as if nothing is wrong with me. I been to jail 18 times just thrown in the cell like an animal.”
“Individuals such as myself with mental health issue/illness are abused even worse cause we’re beaten like it still slavery times and hidden with no contact to family, friends, love ones, even lawyers cause there isn’t any oversight or accountability to ensure that these type of acts of abuse don’t ever happen.”
“I agree with everything including the need to increase transparency. This would, in my opinion, help end the public misconception of ‘everyone in prison are monsters.’ People in prison are just that, people.”
“I been incarcerated since the age of 16 and my experience within these walls was somewhat of a between good and bad one depending on the administration that’s in operation within the correctional facilities. Not all of the correctional employees are bad seeds, but some do have agendas which deprive and oppress those that are mentally feeble by the misuse and abuse of their authority, and they do so because they do not fear any retribution, especially at the facility which I’ve been held for three months now, Cheshire Correctional.”
Agustin Morales Rojas
“I’ve been incarcerated since 2005 and horrible things happened to me. I’ve suffered physical & verbal abuse as well as sexual abuse many times. I thought nobody would help me because I’m a inmate.”
“It has reached the point I’ve been deemed in need of inpatient hospitalization with close treatment because I’ve been conditioned enough to be gravely disabled and a threat to myself and others. CT DOC to date has failed to properly provide this. Every day I wake up in fear that I’ll detach from myself and hurt someone.”
Troy Westberry Sr.
“The rule-breaking and lack of accountability that takes place behind these walls is an abuse of power.”
“Some days the affect of the isolation becomes so overbearingly stressful that I’ve broken down and cried out to D.O.C staff, yet often met with apathy.”
[Recalling an incident in which he was being sprayed with mace and placed in restraints, in which one white correction officer spoke out about how other correction staff were treating him] “It’s strange that, with all the pain and blindness, the torture is not as vivid as that one anonymous voice … ‘C’mon guys, don’t you think he’s had enough?’ This protest was the one break in a renewed round of torture, but I’ll always remember than single thorn of dissent in that plodding and domineering boot. Allowing an oversight commission for confidential informants would give formal voice and refuge to those heroes, and that minority compelled to choose humanity over the boot.”
“We were not sentenced to torture and physical and mental abuse. Please help us.”