VOICES: A Sentence Worse Than Death

By William Blake. Reprinted from Solitary Watch.

elmiraThe following essay is by William Blake, who has been held in solitary confinement in the New York State prison system for close to 26 years. Currently he is in administrative segregation at Elmira Correctional Facility, a maximum security facility located in south central New York State. In 1987, Blake, then 23 and in county court on a drug charge, murdered one deputy and wounded another in a failed escape attempt. Sentenced to 77 years to life, Blake has no chance of ever leaving prison alive, and almost no chance of ever leaving solitary—-a fate he considers  “a sentence worse than death.”

This powerful essay earned Blake an Honorable Mention in the Yale Law Journal’s Prison Law Writing Contest. Chosen from more than 1,500 entries, it will be published in the Journal this spring. He describes here in painstaking detail his excruciating experiences over 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,” Blake writes. “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.” That is what Blake himself seeks to convey in his essay. —Lisa Dawson

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“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 calls.

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 standing.

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VOICES: Disciplined Into Madness and Death

By Sara Rodrigues. Reprinted from Solitary Watch.

bedford hillsThe following essay comes from Sara Rodrigues, formerly a prisoner at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison for women in Westchester, New York, and now further upstate at Albion. When Sara was sent to prison at the age of 16, she found her friend D there as well. Both Sara and D had life-long struggles with mental health, and while in prison, spent long periods of time in solitary confinement (both Keeplock, which is lockdown in one’s own cell, and SHU, which is the Special Housing Unit).

Sara writes about the difficulty D faced when she was finally released and put on parole, with no transitional assistance to move from prison to the free world. She ultimately ended up back in prison and committed suicide, shortly after giving birth to a baby girl. Sara Rodrigues wrote this piece in the hope of spreading awareness of her situation and the experience of many people around her. She writes, “Too many inmates in New York State under the age of 25 are killing themselves in prisons because they are literally being thrown away like garbage by the court systems.”

Thanks to Jennifer Parish of the Urban Justice Center for forwarding this essay to Solitary Watch. — Rachel M. Cohen, Solitary Watch

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This essay is dedicated to D and all those who have given their minds and/or lives trying to pay their debt to society and to those who will forever be haunted and scarred from our justice system. Once self-worth and hope dies within our souls, what is left behind is a shell of life that can see no future, no redemption and no chance for a normal life. It is then that our minds realize how truly unwanted we are and how on a daily basis we are reminded that society has no use for us. Day by day life becomes very dark, some lose their minds, some will never be the same, and some just give in and take their own lives.

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