By SWASC Member Saint Solomon
In the broadest of strokes, solitary confinement is synonymous to being buried alive. Imagine a hundred separate prisoners, trapped in a hundred different cages; but all locked inside the same mausoleum.
One body at a time. Firstly, the sentencing arbitrator eulogizes the burial. Next the pall bearers or, better yet, the gate keepers hauls the body to its final resting place. Finally, they dump the body into a hell hole that becomes home until a higher authority resurrects the remains.
I guess this is called Prisoner’s Purgatory because only God knows if the sinner will either expiate or proliferate his/her sins. It has been the experience of this writer that if your orbit consists of ninety-nine sinners, you’re bound to be that hundredth one. If numbers don’t lie then all of us who are imprisoned are all hell-bound.
Nevertheless, this was my fate. Sooner than later, you begin to lose track of time. There is no day or night. There is no sun or moon. There is just a light. No OFF or ON switch. Just an eternal light. An unblinking eye that simply stares, continuously. It watches you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It knows when you’re sleeping. It knows when you’re awake. It knows when you’re relieving yourself. It knows when you’re showering. The light is like God because it knows everything.
Noise is your only interaction with normalcy. Keys jangling signals that a gate keeper is near. Sounds of screams combined with grunts and heavy breathing means a convicted sinner is involved in a physical confrontation with four or five turnkeys.
How does one escape from the simmering heat of this hellfire? How does one avoid this eternal damnation?
An aging lifer donates: The Autobiography of Malcolm X or Manchild in the Promised Land or Makes Me Wanna Holla or Uncle Sam’s Nieces and Nephews or the soon to be released: Three Strikes and I’m Out by Saint Solomon
In the meantime, I penned all three of my experiences in solitary confinement: 1987; 1994; and 1996. I’ve attached 1987.
At the tender age of seventeen, I decided to forego college and apply for a job as a petty drug peddler. I was hired immediately. Unfortunately, ignorance combined with greed has a tendency to produce adverse outcomes and deadly destinies.
Nevertheless, once I was employed, I would purchase a score of five dollar valves of crack in Brooklyn, NY and then resell them for twenty dollars out in suburban Long Island. One would’ve thought I was hired by a temp-agency because the job ended quickly. Before I knew it, I was being boxed up and shipped to a jail called: Yaphank. It’s located somewhere in Long Island, New York.
The officers’ called Yaphank a farm, but there were no animals. There were no barns. There were no farmers. There were no crops. There was simply a huge, one-story building centered on several acres of land.
Where the hell am I? I wondered. How long would I be out here? How do I tell someone where I am? Better yet, how can I tell anybody anything, if I don’t even know my own whereabouts?
After my police escort paroled my wrists from his handcuffs, he ushered me inside of the building and led me into a tiny grey room that lacked windows. Two burly white correctional officers seemed to be awaiting my arrival.
The two white men were towering and menacing. I felt fear creep into my body. I looked around. There was no one about. Would these white men hurt me? Would they hang me? I became deathly afraid, extremely paranoid. It was the first time in my life that I was ever in a closed space with white men. Usually, I would see them in passing or on television or read about them in books. Even though I had several white teachers, they never appeared threatening. And, that’s because I was normally in class with thirty or more students. I was never alone. But, today, I was by myself. And, on top of that, I knew that I represented one side of the law and I knew that they represented another side of the law, or so they claim. Didn’t that make us enemies?
“Strip,” one of them ordered.
I stared at the two men.
“Strip!” the other one yelled. His voice echoed off the walls and surged loudly throughout the empty room.
I was startled with fright.
“What’s the matter, little boy? Are you frightened to take off your clothes in front of us?” one of them taunted.
They both chuckled.
I thought about fighting; but rapidly erased that thought from my mental black board. I was about five feet and a few inches in stature; and I weighed a mere one hundred and thirty pounds. Both of the turnkeys were well over six feet, and the slimmest one weighed about two hundred and fifty pounds.
What else could I do? I felt as if I was about to be raped, molested.
“I don’t plan to be here all day,” the heaviest officer said, taking a step closer to me. “Start taking off your clothes!”
Frightened, I removed my shirt.
“Toss it over there in the corner,” the officer said, pointing to the far right hand side of the room.
I flung my shirt in the general direction of the corner. I stood still, head down. I needed to think.
“Let’s go,” the impatient guard urged.
I stepped out my shoes and out my socks. I tossed those items near my shirt, creating a small pile.
“Let’s go,” the guard continued to rush me.
My eyes peered upward, silently asking God to make this all a dream.
“Is this your first time locked up?” the slimmer guard asked.
I looked at him. Perhaps this was my way out of this rape. Maybe he was sympathetic to my feelings of uneasiness. “Yes,” I answered. “This is my very first time locked up. I’ve never been in any trouble before in my life. Never!”
I waited for his response. I figured the natural human attachment of brotherhood would propel him to say, “Well, since you’ve never been here before, just put on your clothes and we’ll take you to your room. Just don’t get locked up again.”
But, instead, this inhumane robot walked mechanically up to me, bent down until his nose was directly in front of my nose, and said, “Well, this is jail. And, jail means that I tell you what to do and you hurry up and do it. No ifs, ands, or buts. Do you understand me?”
I nodded my head affirmatively, but I didn’t understand these white men. It would be many years and many books later before I got a glimpse of their psyches.
Nonetheless, fear of physical harm forced me to shed the rest of my garments. As I stood there stark naked in front of these two men, humiliated and ashamed, I tried to keep my mind millions of miles away from my present situation. Thus, without any more thoughts, I simply followed instructions.
“Open your mouth,” the slimmer guard said.
I opened my mouth.
He peered inside of my mouth as if he were a dentist seeking cavities.
“Lift your arms in the air and spread your fingers apart,” he ordered.
I did as I was told.
“Put your arms back down.”
My arms collapsed.
“Lift up your sack.”
I lifted my testicles.
“Turn around and squat.”
I spun around and squatted.
“Spread your cheeks with your hands and cough.”
Oh God, I thought. Here it comes.
“Spread your cheeks with your hands and cough,” he repeated.
I did as I was instructed.
“Okay, stand up and put on this jumpsuit.”
I peered upward and saw that he was handing me a grey jumpsuit.
Where did he get that? I wondered. I grabbed the grey jumpsuit and quickly draped it over my nakedness. They then ushered me out the room, stopped at a closet; and handed me a bedroll which consisted of a sheet, a pillowcase, and a wool blanket.
Next the two turnkeys led me to a dormitory. The heaviest officer opened the gate with an unusually large bronze colored key, and then told me to find an empty bed.
I immediately tried to forget the traumatic experience that I just encountered. I needed to focus on my present situation. There were about sixty unruly inmates. They were be-bopping around the dorm. None of them seemed to be paying me any attention. My eyes scanned the human zoo, hunting for an empty cot. I didn’t see one. I walked to the back of the dorm and still did not see an unoccupied bed. Perhaps, the guard made a mistake, I thought. Maybe, I’m in the wrong dorm.
I headed back toward the front gate. My path was cut off by a young, curly-headed chap.
“Hey, my name is Wise,” he said, his arm extended. “I’m from Wyandanch.”
Wyandanch was a small town located on Long Island.
“What’s up?” I said, shaking his hand. “My name is Saint. I’m from Brooklyn.”
After we introduced ourselves, he said, “Why are you still carrying your blanket?”
“I can’t find a bed,” I said truthfully.
He laughed and then said, “Come on.”
I followed him to a bed that was carpeted with several sets of folded garments.
“Put your stuff here,” he said.
“Isn’t this someone’s bed?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s my other bed. A lot of niggas in here got two beds. But they only sleep in one. The other bed they use for a desk or a dresser or a footstool.”
I sat down with my bedroll in my lap and pondered my situation. Wise seemed like a nice guy; but this was jail, home of the bad guys. However, I wanted..no, I needed someone to talk to, someone to confide in; so I didn’t back away.
“Hey, Wise,” I said. “Did they make you strip before they put you in this dorm?”
“Yeah, man,” he said nonchalantly. “They strip-search everybody.”
He spoke of strip-searching as if was nothing more than a routine pat down. I guess he noticed the perplexed look plastered upon my face because he said, “Don’t worry. It’s just gonna take a little getting used to.”
I nodded as if I understood, but I sincerely doubted that I could get used to being strip-searched by a couple of strange men.
“I need to make a phone call,” I told Wise.
“Come on,” he said, standing.
I stood up and followed him to a couple of phone receivers that were hanging lifelessly. I picked up one of the receivers and then dialed my aunt.
She answered on the third ring.
An automated voice said, “Hello, you have a collect call from______.”
“Saint!” I screamed into the phone.
“Will you accept the charges?” the automated voice continued.
“Yes,” my aunt answered.
“Hello, Scherrille,” I said, excited to hear a familiar voice.
“Hey, Saint, Happy Birthday! Where are you?” Scherrille asked.
Happy Birthday? I had totally forgotten that today was my eighteenth birthday. “I’m locked up,” I responded, dryly.
“Locked up? For what?” she asked.
Why did I call? I wondered. I should have known that she was going to give me the third degree.
“They said that I had some drugs on me,” I said.
“What do you mean, they said? Did you have drugs or didn’t you?” she asked.
“I didn’t,” I lied.
“So where are you?” she asked.
“In Long Island,” I said, “Yaphank.”
“Do you have a bail?” she asked.
“Yes, five thousand dollars,” I said.
“Whew,” she whistled. “Well, call me back later,” she ended the conversation..
“Okay,” I agreed. I went back to my cot and lay down. Well, at least somebody knows where I am, I thought.
What were the chances of my aunt attaining five grand? I asked myself. Slim to none, probably, I mused, disheartened. Perhaps I should call my mother, I thought. I sat up and stared at the phones. Nah, she’ll give me a long, drawn-out speech on how she told me not to live in Brooklyn or how she told me to pay attention in school and not play hooky or how she tried to keep me from going wayward or the hardness of my head or some other wisdom which I could only understand through hindsight. No, I was not in the mood for a speech.
Well, maybe I need to adapt to jail life, I pondered. What did I know about incarceration? I had heard stories about rapes and stabbings and gang fights; but I hadn’t seen any of that. At least, not yet. I guessed that I needed to establish myself early. In fact, that’s exactly what I’m going to do, I decided. I’m going to fight the first person who appears disrespectful to me in the slightest manner.
An hour or so elapsed. I felt someone tapping my left foot.
Damn, I must’ve dozed off. I peeped upward at Wise and asked, “what’s up?”
“Chow,” he said. “They’re serving chow.”
I scouted the dorm and noticed that the inmates were forming a line near the front of the gate.
As soon as I lifted myself from the bed and erected my body, a boy rushed past me, brushing me as he did so.
“You better watch yourself,” I warned.
“What?” he said, back pedaling toward me.
As soon as he got within reach, I slapped him.
Stunned, he draped both of his arms around me, and a wrestling match began.
A crowd of sweaty crooks whom noticed the commotion dashed toward us. They then circled us and began cheering.
My opponent and I tossed and tumbled for a good minute or two before several correctional officers stormed in and separated us.
“What were y’all fighting over?” a white-shirted officer inquired.
Neither one of us responded.
“They’re going to the hole,” the white-shirted man said.
The hole? Where’s that? I wondered.
Hours later, both of us were shipped to another jail called Riverhead. I found out later that Yaphank was a farm where the “good” inmates were kept and given special privileges. Since I was no longer considered a “good” inmate, I would spend my jail time in Riverhead where the “bad” inmates were detained.
In Riverhead, I found out about the hole. I was placed in a tiny, windowless cell that was only equipped with a cot, a toilet and a metal sink. Depressed, I fell fast asleep.
Sometime later, a correctional officer disturbed my sleep by informing me that I have visitor. He then walked away from my cell.
I looked up and saw the bright morning sun streaming through the iron bars. Visit? It must be my aunt, I figured. I got up and splashed a few droplets of water on my face. I then rinsed my mouth out in the miniature water fountain that resembled a sink.
“I’m ready,” I called down the hall, wondering where the officer had gone.
Moments later, my cell opened mechanically.
I exited the cell. I immediately spotted the guard. He was standing at the far end of the hallway. I moved in his direction.
He led me into a room that was decorated with three chairs and a table.
“Sit here,” he ordered, pointing at one of the chairs.
Moments later, two white man draped in blue suits entered the room. They sat in the two remaining seats.
“Hello, Randy,” they sang together.
“Hi,” I responded.
“We’re from Siben and Siben law office. Your mother has retained us for your case. You have another court date in three days. Tell us what happened.”
I recounted the events.
“Don’t worry about anything. We’ll see you in court,” they said. They then stood up and exited the room.
Minutes later, the guards led me back to my cage. I sat and thought about my mother. Yes, it was true that at times I thought that I hated her, but no matter how rebellious I decided to be, she would never completely abandon me.
Nowadays, I realize that most of our miscommunication stemmed from the undisputed fact that my mother would not let her love for me overwhelm or cloud her common sense. Each and every time she decided not to let me take advantage of her or her resources, I’d catch an attitude and swear to the heavens that I despised her. But the truth of the matter was that I never hated her, I simply hated the fact that I couldn’t take advantage of her.
Later that day, an officer stepped into my cell and handed me a pink sheet of paper. The document informed me that I would have to remain in administrative segregation until a hearing was conducted on the physical altercation in which I was involved.
That was fine with me. Everything else was going wrong. Why should things suddenly turn around?
My thoughts were interrupted by the same turnkey who was standing outside my cage.
“Today seems to be your lucky day, Randy. You have another visitor,” he said.
I dismounted my cot and trailed him to the visiting room. Damn, who can this be? I wondered.
I sat in the same chair and waited and waited and waited. My patience was beyond thin. Suddenly, the door opened and a Goddess emerged. She was indescribably beautiful. Her head was lifted and held high by self-assurance and confidence. I began to believe that she was an actual angel sent from Heaven. Her complexion was neither Black not white; but more so a miscegenation of caramel and chocolate.
She introduced herself as Ms. Kyneike King. And, then she said that she is a social worker who is against–not only solitary confinement–but also lengthy imprisonment and mass incarceration.
Why does she even care? I wondered.
She must’ve read my thoughts because she continued by saying, “African-Americans only comprise 12% to 14% of the nation’s population, yet, they make up the majority of the prison population. She said that this new prison slavery was birthed with insidious intentions. She also informed me that if I were to get convicted of the felony, I would return to being 3/5 of a man.
What in the hell is she saying? I asked myself. Is she talking about my height? I wondered.
She must’ve noticed my perplexity because she clarified herself when she said, “At one point in this country African-Americans were property; therefore, considered subhuman. And, although Blacks are no longer slaves, a felony conviction sends the convict sprawling back into forced servitude.
“How so?” I asked.
“Well, first and foremost, the 13th amendment of the United States Constitution legalizes slavery for convicted felons. Secondly, the felony conviction nullifies your right to vote in many states. The felony conviction nullifies your right to bear arms. And, the felony conviction nullifies your right to serve on a jury. Now if those aren’t the attributes and the characteristics of a slave, what are?
“And, instead of suffering and dying in the bowels of a slave ship, you’re suffering and dying in the bowels of prison!”
I was at a loss for words. Instinctively I knew that everything she was saying was true. I mean, how could I deny anything she said?
She then handed me her business card, and told me to call her after I go to court.
“I will,” I told her.
“Ok. I have a few other people to see,” she said. She stood up, sauntered over to the steel door and rapped lightly upon it, signaling for the guard.
Moments later the turnkey entered and said, “Let’s go, Randy.”
I stood up and trailed him out of the room. He led me back into my lonely cell located in bowels of this jail. They called it SOLITARY CONFINEMENT! Clang!
For the next 72 hours, I went sleepless. I thought that I was losing my mind. I paced back and forth, forth and back, back and forth CONTINUOUSLY until my feet ached. I felt as if I were buried alive. I could hear voices, but I couldn’t see any people. It even reached the point where I thought I was imagining the sounds of the voices.
Finally, I was summoned to court. I met with my attorneys. I was released on my own recognizance. I was ordered to return to court in fourteen days. For the next two weeks I hibernated inside of my aunt’s apartment. I continued to hear Ms. Kyneike King’s voice. Her words are still in my head.
I was traumatized by the experience. I’ll call it: CELL SHOCKED!
After I hibernated for two long weeks, I returned to court.
“Don’t worry, Randy,” my lawyer said. “I know the judge.”
Moments later, my case was called.
“Randy, is there any particular reason why you were playing in the middle of the street?” the judge asked.
Playing in the street? I thought, bewildered. What is this man talking about? I looked at my lawyer.
“Just go along with it,” my lawyer prodded.
I stared at my attorney, perplexed.
“Just trust me,” he said. “Just apologize for playing in the street.”
“Your Honor,” I said. “I apologize for playing in the middle of the street.”
“Well, don’t let it happen again. I’m giving you a twenty-five dollar fine for impeding traffic. The rest of the charges are dismissed.” He slammed his gavel on an oak desk.
I turned toward the lawyer.
He winked his eye and said, “You’re free to go.”
To this day, I don’t know exactly how the judge and the lawyer were connected; but I learned that it was definitely good to be connected.
Saint Solomon, 2019