On Torture, Art, and Prisons

Tiny - Posted on 15 July 2014

Jose Villareal/Pelican Bay SHU Correspondent for PNN

July 15, 2014

Many today are beginning to understand that within US prisons and particularly the SHU construct that torture is at the helm of this program. I would agree with this assessment, especially since I am being held captive in solitary confinement. However, torture comes in many forms.

Most understand the physical aspects of torture in US prisons, the beatings, the scaldings, gassings and of course the shootings. These are all part of the program but there are also other aspects of this experience with many are not aware of. There are also many psychological methods employed in the SHUs which serve no other purpose than to exercise cruelty or instill a sense of helplessness or hopelessness in imprisoned poor folks.

Perhaps the starkest example of repression in the SHU is the fact that we are housed in windowless cells. Imagine for a moment what it would be like to never be able to see the outside again, and everywhere that you looked was a concrete wall. There is no reason for building cells without windows except for repression. Likewise, not allowing us to receive contact visits also serves no purpose because cameras are watching our every move at visits and we are strip searched when we go to visits anyway. Up until a couple of months ago we had no bowl. For over 20 years people here have been eating soups out of old chip bags. Denying us bowls was not a security risk, rather it was used as another psychological blow to dehumanize us, which works to break our determination to resist.

There are just so many aspects that comprise the repression employed in the SHU. For those of us who write, read and study, our mail and publications are heavily censored. The slightest effort to speak in our interests as prisoners is used to censor mail. Your brother and sister both writing letters in the same envelope is often deemed “3rd party mail.” This is a reason for denial. A lipstick kiss on a letter or envelope will be denied, as is a letter with a spray of perfume on it. Any effort to remind us that we are still human is deemed “A threat to the safety and security of the institution” and denied to us. This is no security threat. It is simply meant to dehumanize us SHU prisoners. I say SHU prisoners because prisoners in other prisons are allowed these things.

Those of us who find ways to cope with being tortured in isolation and learn to draw are targeted by having our art labeled “gang activity” on the newly worded “security threat group activity.” ANy art which identifies one’s culture is seen as gang-related. I taught myself how to draw after being locked in a windowless tomb because I was tired of staring at the walls all day. I have since had my art refused to be allowed to leave the prison on different occassions because I was accused of violating some rule or another. Those of us who become successful via art are further repressed because of this.

I recently had some of my art shown at an art gallery and as a result some folks fromaa prisoners support group contacted me requesting to sell my art at an auction. Being that I rarely receive money from outside sources I replied. I usually give my art away to people for free, I even have a website where folks can download selected pieces of my art for free, but when folks contacted me requesting particular work I decided to reply and to discuss a specific price. For this I as written up and charged with “Unauthorized Business Dealings.”

So just so you’re with me, because I was discussing money for my art I was penalized. For those who do not get money sent to them they cannot purchase art supplies, i.e. pens, pastels, paper--nor can we get these items sent to us through the mail. So someone who attempts to discuss ways to sell art is written up. The ability to communicate is extremely chilled because most prisoner artists don’t even want their words to be misconstrued to be seen as discussing prices. What’s really horrible is that those who attempt to learn a craft and hustle for meager items like soap or toothpaste are penalized for it. The message is we will sit here and not just experience torture and sensory deprivation but then when we attempt to communicate for our sanity, our mail is censored, when we attempt to learn in order to keep our mind working and to change our behavior, publications are censored. And when we learn a craft and attempt to be able to obtain simple things like writing supplies, etc., we are infracted for it. Our captors send a strong message that we will sit here isolated in as many ways as possible in a concerted effort to break us so that we no longer resist, so that we capitulate in our efforts for human rights.

The outcome of this write-up that I received on March 9, 2014, was that I was banned from buying anything from the prison commissary for one month. So because I discussed a price for my art I was disallowed the ability to buy soap, toothpaste, or deoderant for one month. It’s important to note that here in SHU the prison does not provide prisoners with these items.

I was written up by Corrections Officer M. Shrewsberry and Sgt. R Achziger signed off on it. How they can come to believe that taking away my ability to purchase hygiene products for a month is a teaching method or rehabilitation, is beyond me. But this speaks to what is occurring here in this concentration kamp and what poor folks are going through in Pelikkkan Bay SHU. Even artists are repressed in the 21st century Amerikkka. I read that in Hitler’s Germany artists were also persecuted and art was confiscated. Well, my art was confiscated and I was also persecuted. Artists, beware of Pelican Bay SHU.


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