“Madness” (Eyal Press, May 2nd) strikes horror in many of us who have been advocating on behalf of those with mental health diagnosis who end up in US prisons. The excellent investigation done in the piece is reflective of the soul ripping testimonies that many of us have received for decades. We, who have been monitoring the use of “no touch” torture (solitary confinement), find that the cruelty described abounds throughout prisons nationally with impunity; and that the propensity to torture other human beings travels into our foreign policy (think Abu Ghraib, Bahgram, Guantanamo Bay).
Although “Madness” focuses on what is going on in Florida, there are entire solitary confinement prisons built throughout the nation for “special needs” prisoners. I am reminded of Frank H. who committed suicide in New Jersey, who was forced to dance for his food; the man in California who smeared himself in feces and was put in a bath that boiled 30th percent of the skin from his body, and the woman in Arizona who was put in an outdoor cage in 108 degree weather, lasted four hours before she died. I can hear the tears and utter trauma of the mother of TS because he was refused water! He died of thirst! That this goes on in a country purporting to fulfill its obligations to the signed and ratified UN Convention Against Torture. That much of this medical care is privatized holds more than vestiges of slavery and is unconscionable. This is public money going into private hands per diem per body with no oversight. Although Press did not focus on the role of racism and classism in who goes to prison “special needs units”, both race and class play a dominant role in the US criminal legal system. The conditions of confinement in US prisons, jails and detention facilities has been a long time concern of the many US human rights groups and the United Nations who has, since the 90’s, criticized the US use of isolation, particularly for juveniles, the aged, and those with mental and physical health issues. Those of us who work in some way with the system work very hard to stop these unacceptable practices. Thank you to Eyal Press for raising these issues of sadism and shame.