SOLITARY: An Observation from Within by adoptee Jesse Neubert

Tamms SuperMax in Illinois was closed in 2013 – more prisons need to close

By Lara Trace Hentz  (Third Mom)

The following essay was written by my nephew Jesse Fasthorse Neubert. I’ve adopted him into my family. He first wrote to me when my article “Generation after Generation We are Coming Home” was published in 2005 about adoptees called Lost Birds.  Since then we have been in constant contact by phone and letter. Jesse calls me his “third Mom” and I am proud of that.  Jesse is incarcerated in Arizona, found guilty of armed robbery when he belonged to a gang.  He is an adoptee like me. He’s Lakota (Cheyenne River) and Dakota (Rosebud). He’s a good writer and contributed to the two anthologies Two Worlds and Called Home (excerpt.)

Until last month Jesse was held in solitary confinement.  He ate two meals a day, not three. He was very underweight. He was not allowed outside for sunlight and fresh air. I asked him to write about it so all of us would know what it feels like…  His words: An Observation from Within was written on Feb. 24, 2015.

“The use of solitary confinement contributes to untreated serious mental illness and high rates of suicide.”

By Jessup Fasthorse Neubert

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” -Dostoyevsky

I know why the caged man screams.

So that you may also come to know why he screams, take a few moments and imagine a windowless concrete room about the size of an average household bathroom. Like any other bathroom, this room has a sink and a toilet. However, in place of a bathtub or shower, there is instead a small bed and perhaps a tiny desk bolted to one of the walls. All of the walls are blank and gray and there is no mirror. The only view beyond this room is through slits or perforations in a steel door that faces nothing but another gray stark wall in an empty corridor. An oppressive white light constantly emanates from a ceiling fixture that can’t be controlled. It dims only slightly for a few hours each night. Natural sunlight or fresh air will never reach into this room. For all intents and purposes this room is nothing more than a box, a human cage. Can you imagine a room like this?

Now for a few moments longer, can you imagine being indefinitely confined to this room for months or even years on end? Imagine only being allowed out of this room of yours maybe three times each week for a limited recreation period and a brief shower. Basically only 8-10 hours of the 168 hours in each week might be spent beyond your room. Even your two daily meals will always be eaten alone at your tiny desk. An abrupt search of your room, a medical appointment or an emergency, or a two-hour visit from your loved ones once a week (typically separated by plexi-glass) might be the only other reasons that you will temporarily escape your soul-stifling room for the foreseeable future. Your desire and need to attend church or school won’t even be reason enough to leave your room since such services will almost entirely be denied to you during your confinement here. Essentially the vast majority of your daily existence has been reduced to this one room – this cage – of yours – for years, possibly decades to come. Imagine that for just a moment longer.

Imagine how being caged alone like this, for any prolonged amount of time might affect you? Could this perpetual mental, physical and spiritual separation make you scream too?

If you can imagine these dehumanizing conditions, then now you have an idea of what solitary confinement in prison is like – and now you know why a caged man screams out from within in such a place. Regrettably, solitary confinement is not some imaginary place, it’s real for those who have languished there before, or currently still are. For them solitary confinement isn’t something abstract or easily ignored – it is a suffocating reality that exists, albeit hidden, deep within the walls of variously-named isolation or control units throughout this nation’s prison system.

I am one of those unfortunate enough to know the reality of solitary confinement. Since July 2009, I’ve been indefinitely locked-down under such conditions here in Arizona’s Special Management Units (S.M.U.). (First at Eyman and now at Lewis). Whether known as an S.M.U., S.H.U., Ad.Seg. or by any other Max-Custody designation – these dark prisons within a prison all share similar or parallel details as the one I described for you.

Some may find themselves trapped in these modern dungeons for clear and easily articulated reasons – such as having committed a serious disciplinary infraction; while others may find themselves in here for less valid or speculative reasons – such as being classified as “a potential threat to security” based on groundless conjecture. Either way, both rationales will often perpetuate a prolonged or indefinite term of confinement to these units. With no serious disciplinary convictions since 2009, I remain caged in here according to the latter reasoning (speculation) by the prison administration.

During my time in this place I’ve experienced how mind-numbing and soul-wrenching it can be. I’ve observed the many forms of deterioration and madness that this place can drive men into, after years without meaningful social interaction or human contact. I’ve seen men, with and without documented Mental Health issues, decline and fall into pieces. It’s often discomforting to hear an otherwise rational man begin to mutter or talk to himself – but the screams of a man who has gone completely stir-crazy or insane in the SMU are always the most jarring. Worse still is when a man can no longer cope with this harsh reality and attempts suicide – sometimes even succeeding. Maybe the sorrow of losing a loved one while in here was too much to bear, or maybe he just could no longer endure the forced solitude – and so, feeling anguished and forsaken, he sought some desperately needed attention or an immediate end to his caged misery.

Sadly I’ve observed enough tragedy in here to know that most of it must be ascribed to solitary confinement itself. These tragedies are ongoing testament to the detrimental effects that this place will have on those subjected to these conditions. Although this crushing depravation won’t necessarily break everyone who enters it – none will emerge from it completely unaffected or unscathed. A dysfunctional behavior, a personality disorder, or a mental illness may develop or become exacerbated after years of isolation and being treated like a caged animal.

If prison is a microcosm of the problems with our society – a reflection of our degree of civilization – then the institution of solitary confinement should remind us of our most poignant failures. When institutions fail us, we as a civilized society have a moral obligation to abolish or reform those institutions. Experience compels me to argue for the former in regard to solving the problem posed by solitary confinement. We must stop living in a state of denial or ignorance about its existence, widespread use and the nature of solitary confinement. We must dispel our collective apathy or complacency towards this uncomfortable reality and instead confront this dilemma in order to address it. This is because a neglected problem will never just disappear or spontaneously solve itself – in fact, it will usually only worsen when ignored. Hence, we can no longer morally or fiscally afford the high cost of ignoring the discrepancies between the ideals we espouse and the actual practices we exhibit when it comes to the conditions in our prison systems. We must recognize that no good will ever come from the inhumane treatment of any member of our society.

For although we prisoners are currently the pariahs of society – most of us, including myself in 2016, will eventually reenter society for better or for worse.

Solitary confinement ensures the likelihood that a man will exit prison worse than when he went in because being caged alone hinders rehabilitation. As a society that claims to be civilized with a high standard of moral decency, we must then be guided by the moral discipline expressed by Goethe:

“Treat a man as he is and he will remain as is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.”

Let’s finally put an end to solitary confinement. We need to imagine a better way.

Jessup is incarcerated in the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis in Arizona until 2016.  Please write him: Jesse F. Neubert, #186050, ASPC LEWIS, Buckley Unit, PO Box 3400, Buckeye, AZ 85326. He is now in general population and continuing his college degree.
Jesse and his sister Tashea were adopted together
Jesse and his sister Tashea were adopted together (All six children were adopted by Mormons)

UPDATE: Mississippi has proven that it is possible to dramatically curb the use of solitary confinement and still put safety first. Prison officials there reduced the solitary-confinement population by 90 percent. Doing so resulted in a 70 percent decrease in violence and $8 million annual savings. There are already 2,000 maximum security inmates in solitary confinement in Arizona’s prisons in 2013. Arizona Gov. Brewer was still finalizing plans in 2013 to construct 500 new maximum-security prison beds and 1,000 new privately contracted prison beds, adding to the already bloated $1 billion annual corrections spending. (Source: “More max-security prison beds make no sense” www.azcentral.com/opinions/articles/20130314)

MUST READ:

AEON / Twilight in the Box by Shruti Ravindran

“In 2005, there were an estimated 81,600 prisoners in solitary in the US; this month’s Senate Subcommittee Hearing puts the numbers at about the same. That’s 3.6 per cent of the 2.2 million presently incarcerated, many of whom, like King, were put in there for random acts of non-violent rule-breaking. Some, like him, shuttle in and out of solitary; others remain locked up for decades. Prison authorities in every state are running a massive uncontrolled experiment on all of them. And every day, the products of these trials trickle out on to the streets, with their prospects of rehabilitation professionally, socially, even physiologically diminished.”

Jesse wrote in great detail about his adoption experience and being raised by Mormons in my book Two Worlds [read more https://laratracehentz.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/ebook-two-worlds/.]

Thoughts on a very big mystery and my latest adoption miracle

my friend Rae is in the book MISSISSIPIANS
my friend Rae is in the book MISSISSIPIANS because she’s a famous opera singer

By Lara Trace

In mid-April my husband and I took a road-trip to visit our friends from Austria who also keep a family home in Gulfport, Mississippi.

My friend/sister/relative Dr. Raeschelle Potter-Deimel (left) is originally from Gulfport and at one time worked as an opera singer at the Met in New York City and on many stages in Europe and Austria.  After opera, Rae became a renowned doctor of anthropology in Vienna!  (She has American Indian and African American ancestry.)

Rae and I met in person at the American Indian Workshop (AIW) in Munich in 2005 but we’d actually met earlier via phone and email when I was editor of the Pequot Times in Connecticut.  Rae had told me about the AIW and put me in touch with them.  So my academic paper Power Politics and the Pequot: America’s Richest Indians was my first paper at AIW; then it was published in Poland, Italy and Germany. Many European historians were curious about the modern-day Mashantucket Pequot, including my friend Rae …luckily I had spent 5 years editing their tribal newspaper and their annual reports (1999-2004).  With so little known or written about this hugely successful tribe, I offered a more modern view of their activity and successes. I was interviewed by the BBC and a German TV station so my Pequot paper was NEWS! (Of course I was very pleased they liked my presentation… I am now an official member of the AIW and invited to give a paper every year…) Later Rae and I wrote a paper together on the adoption projects and we continue to talk on the phone and make every effort to see each other when they come to the US.

Dr. Rae, the anthropologist, lectures about Native American history in Europe and writes and gives papers regularly. What I never realized until I met her:  in Europe they teach a true version of Native and American history, with all it’s complications, gore and tragedy. Europeans actually know more than Americans know about American Indian history… Rae, in particular, is aware of the discrepancies and revisions in American history textbooks that purposefully glorify the invader-conqueror-colonizer and portray American Indians as vanquished, disappeared, drunk and/or dead.

Currently Rae is drafting a book on Texas Lumbee history and even though I retired from my publisher duties at Blue Hand Books in January this year, I do plan to help her get this remarkable book published in the near future. This trip we met to talk about the Lumbee book and just smooze like sisters do…

TracesBookFINAL.indd
my memoir

I’ve now been to Gulfport twice, my only trips to the Gulf Coast, and both times I remembered a story my birthfather Earl Bland had told me. I was sitting at his kitchen table in Pana, Illinois when I was 38 (in 1994), meeting my dad for the very first time. He was standing up and calmly said, “You have a brother in New Orleans and I think he’s an attorney.” I NEVER forgot this!  (Did I ask questions? No. I was in a state of shock just being in reunion.)

From Gulfport, it is an easy drive to New Orleans. My husband and I had lunch in the French Quarter our last trip.  Again Earl’s words haunted me… I have a brother in Louisiana.  But how could I ever solve this mystery or find this missing brother? I didn’t know his name! Earl died in 1996 and he never elaborated on his story.

I could have a brother (?) or I did have a brother. I wasn’t sure.  Teresa and I were close; she was my half-sister (same dad) and she never mentioned this in the 20 years we’d been in reunion!  I wasn’t even sure if Earl had met this son. Yet somehow Earl believed he was an attorney?  (Earl raised 5 kids who are my half-siblings. I’ve met them and we all thought I was the only one given up for adoption.)

When Herb and I got back from our roadtrip, we headed to Philadelphia for a funeral. My husband’s cousin Gwenny had died. The night before her funeral, sitting in our hotel, we watched on TV how two sisters who were separated by adoption met in a writing class at the same college in New York City. This was my first time seeing them reunited on TV.  More than one person had told me about this miracle!

(READ: Two Sisters United After Decades when They Take the Same Class: http://www.smartmomstyle.com/two-sisters-united-after-decades-when-they-take-the-same-class/#sthash.EwzQzD1l.dpuf)

That same Sunday night I got an email.

Because I wrote my memoir One Small Sacrifice and mentioned my first father is Earl Bland and his name had made its way onto the internet and onto Ancestry.com, my mystery brother found ME

YES!! Ronnie and his wife had wanted to find Earl Bland for many years. They asked their daughter in Texas to help search. Their daughter is named Tracy. My brother Ronnie chose her name — yup, my adopted name! It was Tracy who found my memoir and emailed ME!

my brother RONNIE!
my brother RONNIE!

Ronnie did live in New Orleans but he wasn’t an attorney. He had served in the Navy (same as our dad Earl) and worked many years in law enforcement and is retired. Ronnie was adopted by a relative (his aunt) and was told the truth when he was 13.  And he carried a small photo of Earl Bland in his wallet. (Ronnie is ten years older than me so our dad Earl was 18 when Ronnie was born.)

When I got home, I could hardly wait to talk to them!  I spoke to my niece Tracy (two hours+) and she has shared all my emails with her dad.  I’ve emailed photos of Earl (and our family) and all the ancestry records I’d scanned.

(Remember we just drove through Alabama to get to and from Gulfport!  REALLY! We had lunch in Mobile, Alabama where my brother Ronnie had lived and worked many years!)

Ronnie emailed me a few days ago. He lives in northern Alabama and wants to know how soon can I come visit.

Des Moines adoptee finds birthmother using social media

VIDEO LINK: Woman finds birthmother

Des Moines woman finds birth mother: Social media helps Hannah Stouffer find mom

Apr 17, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa —A picture and social media have helped a Des Moines woman find her birth mother.

It took about three days for Hannah Stouffer to get the name she was looking for.

“It’s actually happening,” Stouffer said.

It was the moment Stouffer had waited years for.

“I felt like I was going to throw up, like I wanted to scream,” Stouffer said. “It was within three days, 50,000 people.”

Thousands of people saw the picture and couldn’t help but spread the word.

“Within an hour, I had over 1,000 retweets. I have over hundreds of shares on Facebook,” Stouffer said. “The next day, it was on KCCI.”

It was a simple photo with a huge plea.

“My name is Hannah. I was born April 12, 1995, at Des Moines Hospital, Iowa. My birth mom was 15 years old … I was adopted through a closed adoption and am trying to find my birth mom. I just want to meet her,” Stouffer posted.

“I won’t go every day wondering what I look like. I won’t go every day wondering where I got my nose from, my eyes from,” Stouffer said.

A woman who saw the post three days later thought she knew Stouffer’s birth mother.

“I didn’t believe it at first, and then she was asking different questions, and then she … asked her who delivered me, and she told me the name of the doctor,” Stouffer said.

There was something else.

“I asked her if she left me anything, and she said, ‘Yes, a blanket and an outfit,’ and I knew no one else would have known that,” Stouffer said.

Stouffer has already talked to her birth mother on the phone, and they’ve exchanged text messages. Now, 19 years later, she’ll once again get to feel her mother’s arms around her.

“I want to see her. I want to thank her, hug her, talk to her, her her voice,” Stouffer said.

Stouffer will reunite with her mother over the weekend. Her mother also lives in Des Moines.

Stouffer said she doesn’t yet know her mother’s address, but she’s excited to meet her.

#NDN Child Welfare, three interviews

Click here: Indian Child Welfare, three interviews.

I am helping a new friend find his tribe. It’s against the law to open your adoption records in many states in this country. He and his brother are Native and were adopted in NY and now need to know where their family is… the Indian Adoption Projects attempted to kill our Indian-ness but it cannot be killed by adoption… Lara/Trace (adoptee)

Thoughts on Adoptee Rights Activism (via Joy’s Division)

Please read this and consider our rights as human beings called adoptees.
Visit my blog: http://www.splitfeathers.blogspot.com and get educated on this issue.
Lara/Trace

Most adopted adults who live in the United States do not have access to their original birth certificates. We are treated like criminals and yet our only crime is being born of low status. We are born to mothers who cannot or do not want to care for us. That causes us in turn to be available for a lot, without our mother's protection we are for sale. Sometimes that works out for us, in our favor and we go into homes that nurture and care for us, … Read More

via Joy's Division

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