Some Effects of Long-term Lock-down Facilities

by Sundiata Acoli

Long-term Lock-down Facilities usually come in two forms: Lock-down Units and Lock-Down Prisons.

A Lock-down Unit is basically a hi-security housing unit for specified prisoners within a prison that also has other, regular housing units for its general-population prisoners.

Most prisons have two forms of Lock-down Units, one for short-term detentions and another for Long-term Lock-downs. “The Hole”, formally called a Disciplinary Segregation Unit, is normally used for short-term detentions of 30 to 90 days or so. The CU, or Control Unit, is usually used for long-term detentions of years and decades.

A Lock-down Prison is one in which each and all of its housing units are high-security Lock-down Units. It contains no regular housing units nor does it have an open or general population where prisoners circulate freely. Typical Lock-down Prisons are USP (U.S. Penitentiary) Marion, IL, and the ADX (Administrative Maximum) at Florence, CO. Both are federal prisons and both are Long-term Lock-down Prisons.

The defining feature of a Lock-down Unit or Prison is that you are usually locked in your cell for 23 hours or more each day. This brings you into unavoidable direct and constant contact with guards whom you are totally dependent on for everything – from food and clothing to toothpaste and toilet paper – and who have total control over everything you need. The frequent contact with guards makes the likelihood of clashes higher and their absolute-control status makes the clashes more intense. As a result, Long-term Units (LTLU) generally inflicts serious physical and psychological damage upon their prisoners.
Physical Damage

The physical damage done by LTLUs is more noticeable because you can actually see, with the naked eye, the result of its injuries: scars from wounds, burn marks from mace, missing teeth or eyes, crooked fingers, walking limps, trick knees or elbows, separated shoulders and other injuries that flow from assaults by guards, fights with other prisoners, or sometimes even the self-inflicted razor-blade cuts of psychologically disturbed prisoners.

Other visible results are facial tics or twitches, bald patches in the scalp where hair has fallen out due to long-term intense stress; also skin rashes from mites in contaminated mattresses and/or the yellow jaundiced eyes of those infected with Hepatitis contracted from overflowing toilets that flood feces throughout the crowded unit.

Prisoners recently released from LTLUs are easily identifiable by their pale, ashy skin caused by lack of sunlight and skin lotion; also by their heavy hair dandruff due to lack of shampoo and hair dressing.

Less visible physical injuries are the bad backs caused by physical assaults or by years of confinement in strip-cells that lack chairs to sit in or by sleeping on iron or concrete beds or bunks with weak springs that curve the spine. Other such injuries are poor eyesight due to dim cell lighting or nearsightedness from years of close confinement with little opportunity to focus the eyes beyond the cell walls; chronic hoarseness due to the constant need to shout above the high noise level or from smoking loose or harsh pipe tobacco rolled in notebook paper or whatever other paper available; loss of voice volume from lack of speaking for long periods; hard of hearing due to the constant high noise level that echoes throughout the closed unit; flat feet from years of being forced to wear only shower shoes or deck-tennis shoes; ill-health from lack of fresh air, sunshine and fresh exercise in a crowded, unsanitary environment that breeds and spreads contagious diseases; infertility due to sleeping on fireproof asbestos-laced mattress covers; and other yet-to-surface maladies due to the many Lock-down Units and Prisons that are located on lands that were previously toxic dumps.
Psychological Damage

The psychological damage done by LTLUs is often less noticeable than the physical damage because most of the psychological injuries are internal: to the mind and psyche. An exception is those LTLU prisoners who were forced to take psychotropic drugs (Thorazine, Prolixin, Haldol, etc.) while confined there. Their easily detected symptoms are the vacant stares, tendencies to drift into trances, short attention spans, inabilities to focus at length, shuffling gaits, slurred speech, foam at the corners of the mouth, general muscle weaknesses, and tendencies to tire easily.

The psychological damage is harder to detect in those not medicated. Often the prisoner him/herself is not fully aware of the damage done; the LTLU experience being similar to someone injured during a fight. The adrenalin flow often keeps them from feeling or noticing the injuries until the fight is over; then the aches, pains and, awareness of injury set in.

Although the psychological damage is harder to detect because of the absence of physical scars, some indicators of the damage are the temporary difficulty the released prisoner has in adjusting to normal prison routines that require being on time, remembering and keeping appointments, talking with strangers, keeping one’s voice loud enough to be heard in normal conversations, holding normal conversations with members of the opposite sex, shaking off feelings of tension or confusion when confronting new but ordinary situations, and ridding oneself of the insomnia, if one turned into a night-owl in LTLU, that comes from having to suddenly revert to a daytime schedule. Frequently, one finds that his or her temper is shorter than usual, paranoia is higher, dislike for authority figures is stronger and s/he temporarily engages in daydreaming and diversion fantasies more than previously.

Also some psychological damages are difficult to distinguish from the normal or accelerated effects of aging that bring on a noticeable loss of short and/or long-term memory that makes it difficult at times to recall names, people, time, place, and circumstances. Some damages are subtle, others are more pronounced. Some prisoners are totally destroyed by LTLUs while others survive, and some even thrive in LTLUs.

Those who survive or thrive are usually those who use the seclusion of LTLU, despite its constant all-around chaos, to strengthen and develop themselves (and others) in areas they are deficient through reading, writing (essays and letters), studying, and researching new topics or increasing their knowledge in familiar ones: politics, history, culture, law, martial and military arts, meditation, spirituality, religion; learning new hobbies in arts and crafts, chess, learning new lifestyles, new eating habits, and engaging in regular exercise and athletics to keep the body, mind, and spirit as fit as possible under the circumstances.

In a nutshell, whether one emerges stronger or weaker, LTLUs inflict serious physical and psychological damages on their occupants and no one escapes unscathed from their effects.