By Paul Grondahl. Excerpted from the Albany Times-Union.
“He’s never had a day of peace in his life,” his mother said.
Now 44 years old and released from state prison five months ago, Rockefeller spent nearly 20 months, half his 40-month incarceration, in solitary confinement. Even as a free man, he still struggles with sleeplessness, nightmares and crying fits. “I was locked up in a cage like an animal,” he said. “It’s torture.”
“He’s different since he got out,” said his girlfriend, Mary, a 66-year-old retired state worker who asked to be identified only by her first name. “He can’t sleep. He’s jumpy. He’s having a hard time easing back into his former life. Nobody should be treated the way he was.”
She recalled his anguished letters from prison, writing that he couldn’t take it anymore and wanted to end his life. In phone calls from prison, he broke down in sobs.
Rockefeller’s psychiatric problems — which helped land him in “The Box” and worsened during his long months in 23-hour-a-day disciplinary isolation — symbolize a form of punitive incarceration that prisoner advocates call inhuman. Correction officials defend it as an effective method to control unruly inmates.
Prison watchdog groups said Rockefeller’s prison experience is a sad but not uncommon saga. On any given day, about 4,500 inmates are in solitary confinement in New York’s prisons, according to the state Department of Corrections and Community Services. There are currently 8,197 mentally ill inmates out of a total prison population of 54,643. Three of the 14 prisoners who committed suicide in 2012 were in solitary confinement, according to DOCCS records.
Prison suicides between 2001 and 2010 rose 186 percent to the highest level in 28 years, according to the Correctional Association of New York State, a watchdog group.
Prisoners in solitary are confined to cells 6 feet by 8 feet, with almost no human contact. One hour per day, in newer prisons, a caged balcony is unlocked remotely so inmates can breathe fresh air. Lights and shower are controlled remotely. Meals are pushed through a slot in a reinforced cell door. Inmates experience intense sensory deprivation in these so-called Special Housing Units, or SHUs…
Read the full article for quotations from Jack Beck and Jennifer Parish and references to CAIC!