Q: Describe a day in the life in Solitary Housing Unit (SHU);

A day in the SHU becomes a part of your own body, you know it just as well and it rarely changes. You wake at the same time each morning without an alarm clock; you become programmed to do so. I wake at 5:30 every morning, wash up, brush my teeth with a finger tip tooth brush that is as good as a wooden nickel, fold my blankets, roll up my mattress, clean my sink and toilet area, and clean the floor and the rest of my cell. If you have some coffee you might make yourself a warm cup; there is no hot water only warm. You may, like me, do some reading while waiting for breakfast or just sit there if you have nothing. Everything you do have, reading material or something to occupy your mind with, is bought by you. The SHU has a library but you rarely get the book you order and the delivery of library books can take weeks. If you have family or friends they can send you books through the approved procedure or they may order the inmate a subscription to a magazine or newspaper, which are highly prized by inmates in the SHU because they contain current events and news, especially if the newspaper is from home. I used to receive a newspaper from Southern California but it got to be too expensive to keep up so now I settle for whatever I can get. If I have nothing to read I will start doing legal work and research. I have several legal books and I pursue my own legal claims in my appeal or litigation against my conditions of confinement in SHU; it’s a very time consuming process and for a layman like me it can be frustrating and mind boggling. Also I may start writing my personal letters to the numerous family members I try to stay in contact with, not to mention my young daughters.

Breakfast will arrive between 6:30 am and 7:00 am, they deliver all meals to each cell. I will already have my spoon (the only utensil we are allowed) ready and napkin (which is also my wash cloth, I wash it after every use) and I will have an empty milk carton I use for a cup filled with water. I will have it all arranged like I was eating at a restaurant. They pass our food tray though a door called a food port or tray slot, it’s only big enough for the tray to pass through and for my hands to pass through in order for prison staff to apply handcuffs and chains when I leave my cell. When breakfast comes they also pass out our sack lunch at the same time. It becomes second nature to some to know what is supposed to be on the food tray for that day and in your lunch, the menu rarely changes. You quickly eye your tray and make sure you got everything, it’s so little to begin with. You check as your setting it down on the spot you eat at in your cell, for me its my own my sink. I stand up when I eat, a habit I picked up several years ago. You do this quick in order so that you can look inside your lunch to make sure its all there because if your missing something you must let the officer know before they leave the pod or else its very difficult to convince them that your missing something. A lot of times items are missing for I only care that my sandwich is there and milk for breakfast, anything else I won’t bother trying to convince them that I didn’t get. The less verbal exchange I have with them the better, unless I know the officer is reasonable. I try not to ask for anything from them if I can avoid it, I learned along ago that one thing can lead to another, so it’s best to avoid the situation if possible. Of course there is always that exception when something unexpected may happen, such as a cell search that may come at any time during the day or night and the officers may take something personal or be overzealous in their search. Recently this happened to me where they took all of my linen (sheets) because the ends were grayed from long time use and they wouldn’t give me anymore unless I paid for them. Of course I refused to pay for something that I didn’t destroy. I went the night without linen and received a rules violation report for destruction of property and I blew up and had a verbal exchange with the officer. Anyways I got some new linen from another officer and I appealed the change. After a few months I had it dismissed but they retaliated by not processing the paper work, so I had my trust account froze for a few months.

After breakfast I will continue doing whatever I was doing before or I will start something new and await my allotted yard time. We are allowed to have outdoor exercise for 90 minutes a day alone in a small exercise yard, which is nothing more than a cell without a roof. It’s surrounded by 30 foot concrete walls. The roof is a wire mesh with a plexi-glass covering; f you look up your view is distorted by the mesh. You do not get any direct sunlight and you are under surveillance by the video camera the whole time. I do not know the exact measurement of the yard but I have walked it so long that it takes me 26 paces to complete one lap. It’s the size of a dog kennel and is often referred to as the dog walk. It is located at the end of each 8 cell pod; from my cell its located to the left and if I exit my cell and turn left it is 12 paces. If I turn right and walk 20 paces I will reach the shower cell, if I continue for another 8 paces I will reach the pod door that leads out of the pod.

I know these things like I know the front of my cell door, which is made out of perforated steel and has a total of seven hundred and thirty holes in it, and just like I know that anytime one of the seven other cells in my pod flushes their toilet I can tell by the sound which cell it is, and the same goes for any cell door that might open. These things are not something that I purposely learned; they are naturally or unnaturally thrust upon your subconscious and acquired by the sheer idleness of SHU confinement after years of living the same day over and over again, hearing the same sounds over and over, and walking the dame distances and paths that you’re allowed.

A day in the SHU is a repetitive motion that has absorbed me into it. I realize I have no control over it, although I fight against not allowing myself to evolve around it to the point that when yard time, a shower, or breakfast and dinner are late or canceled I am lost and confused and do not know how to adjust like sometimes happens to inmates and they become angry or depressed. I myself have experienced that, its very easy to let that happen. I can walk around my little box of a yard blind folded and not rub up against one of its four walls.

Being housed in SHU has left me looking like a ghost as my color has faded to a very pale shade as many inmates here do without any sun light to beat down upon our faces. How I long to feel warmth steadily beating down on me. When my family does see me my paleness worries them. My mother and family are used to seeing me a good dark color of brown; however, if I were to be placed in the sun today I would get a case of sun burn!

As my day passes in the SHU I may do some exercise out on the yard or in my cell. For some, exercise becomes an escape and they exercise for hours a day out of idleness and boredom, sometimes twice a day.

The highlight of the day for most inmates is mail call, although some will not admit. Mail call is around 4pm, sometimes later depending. Its also the worst time. Everyone knows when the mail is coming but will rarely talk about it. The pod door will open and the floor officer will walk in and go cell by cell and stop at your cell if you have mail. He will ask you to repeat your c.d. number and then hand you your mail through the side of your cell door or he’ll keep walking if there is none for you. For myself, I look forward to mail call the most; it’s the only sunshine I get and of course when I don’t get any it can be the loneliest time ever. I can admit that each day I hope to get some kind of mail from loved ones or anyone. It breaks up my time and the stillness of my captivity and it allows me for that brief moment a bit of freedom and an escape from here. Mail is something that comes from outside these walls and stimulates the senses and my mind which is deprived of such stimulation. Mail is our link to the outside; news from home can do wonders for one’s mental attitude and state. Even just the smallest bit of news, a postcard does wonders! A lot of times news from home may be shared with a neighbor. In my case several of my neighbors here I have known and been around for years, two of them grew up in the same area I did and one even attended high school with my brother and sister, the other grew up with relatives of mine and is a family friend. The others around me have been here with me for over five years and in that time it’s very hard not to create a bond with these men that suffer the same pains that you do. We have lost family members together and shared our sorrows with one another; how do you not create a bond? Of course, this bond is later used against us as gang activity to continue to retain us in SHU. They put us together and then not expect us to talk to each other, or maybe that’s their purpose after all? Even our families create a bond with each other; they too share the suffering and have a common bond. So it’s not surprising that when I get mail from home I share news, especially having to do with my daughters, I am a very proud father. I speak of them regularly and share report cards and stuff like that. When my daughters birthdays come around its not uncommon that all my friends here will sign a card from them, and of course this is considered gang activity by the gang investigator even if no such activity exists. If the department of corrections used this same policy on itself at least of the departments staff would be out of work and deemed gang associates of their own gang and that’s exactly what they are, but go by another name called a “union.” I could go on about the corruptions of the department from the bottom all the way to the director.

Dinner has come, the day is almost gone, and the last repetitive motion for the day is mail pick up, which is usually between 7pm and 8pm. You rush to get things out, a letter, post-card, b-day card or legal work, whatever you might have been working on. For some there is no rush, they do not have any outside contact or anything else going on; they have been forgotten and the SHU has won.

The day is now over so you start thinking about tomorrow. You may set something out to get started on in the morning. You try not to have nothing to do or any free time; in the SHU that is a dangerous thing to do and many have nothing to do. The SHU does not provide you with those things and what it does is not nearly enough, that’s why even a month old newspaper is read with much pleasure. You lay there in your concrete tomb trying to block out the cold especially during winter when this place is more like a morgue. The wall I lay next to is an exterior wall so when the temperature drops to about 40 degrees so does the wall. It’s like sleeping next to a block of ice; you can feel the cold from it more than two feet away. Needless to say, I sleep inches away from it. Believe it or not sometimes the floor is warmer and there I will sleep.