Solitary Confinement a Fate Worse Than Death, Inmate Writes

ff1esolitaryconfinement Solitary Confinement a Fate Worse Than Death, Inmate Writes

In 1987, William Blake, at the age of
23, killed a police officer and injured another while trying to
escape a county courthouse he was held in on a drug charge. He was
given a 77-year minimum sentence and has spent the last 26 years in
solitary confinement at the maximum-security Elmira Correctional
Facility in New York state. Blake
wrote an essay on his experience in jail where he calls
solitary confinement a fate worse than death. He starts with some
“You deserve an eternity in hell,” Onondaga County
Supreme Court judge Kevin Mulroy told me from his bench as I stood
before him for sentencing on July 10, 1987. Apparently he had the
idea that God was not the only one justified to make such judgment

Judge Mulroy wanted to “pump six buck’s worth of electricity into
[my] body,” he also said, though I suggest that it wouldn’t have
taken six cent’s worth to get me good and dead. He must have wanted
to reduce me and The Chair to a pile of ashes. My “friend” Governor
Mario Cuomo wouldn’t allow him to do that, though, the judge went
on, bemoaning New York State’s lack of a death statute due to the
then-Governor’s repeated vetoes of death penalty bills that had
been approved by the state legislature. Governor Cuomo’s publicly
expressed dudgeon over being called a friend of mine by Judge
Mulroy was understandable, given the crimes that I had just been
convicted of committing. I didn’t care much for him either, truth
be told. He built too many new prisons in my opinion, and cut
academic and vocational programs in the prisons already
It seemed like everybody wanted him dead, Blake
writes, and he couldn’t blame them. What he ended up with, he
writes, was worse:
Though it is true that I’ve never died and so don’t
know exactly what the experience would entail, for the life of me I
cannot fathom how dying any death could be harder or more terrible
than living through all that I have been forced to endure for the
last quarter-century…

I’ve read of the studies done regarding the effects of long-term
isolation in solitary confinement on inmates, seen how researchers
say it can ruin a man’s mind, and I’ve watched with my own eyes the
slow descent of sane men into madness—sometimes not so slow. What
I’ve never seen the experts write about, though, is what year after
year of abject isolation can do to that immaterial part in our
middle where hopes survive or die and the spirit resides. So please
allow me to speak to you of what I’ve seen and felt during some of
the harder times of my twenty-five-year SHU odyssey.

I’ve experienced times so difficult and felt broken and loneliness
to such a degree that it seemed to be a physical thing inside so
thick it felt like it was choking me, trying to squeeze the sanity
from my mind, the spirit from my soul, and the life from my body.
I’ve seen and felt hope becoming like a foggy ephemeral thing, hard
to get ahold of, even harder to keep ahold of as the years as the
years and then decades disappeared while I stayed trapped in the
emptiness of the SHU world. I’ve seen minds slipping down the slope
of sanity, descending into insanity, and I’ve been terrified that I
would end up like the guys around me that have cracked and become
nuts. It’s a sad thing to watch a human being go insane before your
eyes because he can’t handle the pressure that the box exerts on
the mind, but it is sadder still to see the spirit shaken from a
soul. And it is more disastrous. Sometimes the prison guards find
them hanging and blue; sometimes their necks get broken when they
jump from their bed, the sheet tied around the neck that’s also
wrapped around the grate covering the light in the ceiling snapping
taut with a pop. I’ve seen the spirit leaving men in SHU and have
witnessed the results.
Read the rest of the piece, which won an Honorable Mention in
the ;Yale Law Journal’s ;Prison Law Writing Contest,


Taken from – 

Solitary Confinement a Fate Worse Than Death, Inmate Writes

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