This article appears with permission of Standing Deer. It was printed in North Coast Xpress, Fall, 1998.
I know something about consuming High Security corrections. I spent some years in the Control Unit at Marion, Illinois -- the prototype of later High Security/Control Unit/ Adjustment Center/Ad Seg/Administrative Maximum/Special Handling Unit, manmade, hell-on-earth nightmares. I was sent to USP Marion in 1976 after being convicted of bank robbery. While there, I watched men's minds deteriorate and dissolve into madness. I nearly crossed that line myself.
What do these severe terms of confinement do to the minds of the men? Does living in a cage smaller than your bathroom with constant harassment from guards reduce men to sniveling, quivering jellyfish -- like the parole board wants -- or are some of these prisoners harboring a seething rage, a hatred and lust for revenge so deep that citizens will have to pay with their lives when these men get out? The justification for the death penalty in some minds is "At least they can't kill again." But most of the men in High Security will get out.
I do not suggest that all, or even most of those in High Security, will be driven to madness and terrorism. I don't even suggest that most of these men belong in High Security. I am saying that if the State of Texas has its way and builds eight of these things, there will be nearly 5,000 men subjected to this cruel and unusual punishment. If just one out of a thousand seeks revenge for his mistreatment when he gets out, and kills only one person, five Texans will die because of the blunders of their prisoncrats.
To bring to light the truth that High Security doesn't make men better -- it simply makes them crazier -- I wrote an article in 1982 which included the poem "When I Get Out," written some 20 years ago by a convict who was in the Marion Control Unit with me in the late '70s. He was executed in 1992 by the State of Delaware, but not before he had killed 19 people. He is an example of the monsters that mind-torture creates, bought by big bucks spent on ever more sophisticated mind-control techniques used in legal, behavior modification torture chambers. The poem is obviously the product of a totally deranged mind. I had to clean it up, cut out parts of it, and change some of the wording before I could include it. Even so, it still shocks and jolts the reader.
"When I Get Out" and my original introduction to it have been published all over the world, including appearances in the books Cages of Steel, Criminal Injustice, Journal of Prisons, and in the intellectual publication Issues in Radical Therapy. So when the editor of The Huntsville Item asked me for a guest column in December 1997,1 cleaned up the 1982 piece with the poem and sent it in.
Here is the poem. Listen carefully. You're about to step into the nightmare that prisoncrats have created in your name.
WHEN I GET OUT When I get out the first thing I'm gonna do is get me a gun to protect myself from the police. Probably more than one gun because there's so many different kinds of police. Maybe a .460 Weatherby with a twelve-power scope for kings, dictators, presidents and popes. A .357 magnum for law enforcement officials in general, and a nice nine millimeter Browning High Power for just plain folks like you. When I get out I want to kill as many people as I can before they get me. I'd like to get the Queen Mother and the Pope and the President if I have the time. Remember when you cut off my eyelids by putting me in a sensory deprivation chamber in total darkness because I wanted to go to my mother's funeral? Remember when you chained me to a bed and beat on my feet with wooden paddles until they turned to blood and swelled up like basketballs? When I get out I'm going to spend the hatred you've taught me by becoming a mass murderer. And all you judges, jurypersons, cops, jailers and executioners can't stop me because it was you who murdered Charles Brooke and taught me that it's cool to kill. It was you who told me I lived in a free country as you ground your heel in my humanity and laughed at my pleas for dignity and spat on my manhood. It was you who dressed up in moon man suits beat me to the floor with clubs and drugged me with Prolixin because I couldn't stop calling my baby daughter's name when she left this world. So, in return for the lessons you have given me I'm going to teach you two things: First, that these sealed-tomb, tiger cages belong to you, Mr. & Mrs. America, and it is you who must accept the responsibility for what you and your hirelings have done to me. The second thing I'm going to teach you is something you should already know but don't act like you do, namely the Christians say "Do Unto Others, etc." the Buddhists Say something about "What goes around comes around." In prison we simply say: Payback belongs to me when I get out. It won't be much longer. I'm counting the days So, you better pray I don't find you, gentle reader, 'cause when I've paid my debt to society society must pay its debt to me. When I get out . .
I never dreamed The Huntsville Item, which is read only by guards, Ku Klux Klan members, and other redneck types, would publish my piece with the poem. But on January 6, 1998, as I was sitting in my cage trying to talk my cellie out of tattooing MAYHEM on his forehead, here comes Turd Head Red -- a runner at the law library -- with the January 6 edition of The Item. Turd was all out of breath as he handed me the paper with my piece in it.
My cellie looked at me and said, "Oh shit."
"Oh shit," I replied.
So l packed my books and legal files and waited for the guards to gather me up. Three days later, on January 9, here they came, four deep -- two rushed me and handcuffed me behind my back while two began destroying my cage, pouring my legal files out on the floor and stealing everything pertaining to Leonard Pettier, political prisoners, my political files and notes and the draft of The Item piece, plus some books, Cages of Steel, Can't Jail the Spirit, With the Power of Justice in our Eyes, and other titles.
Before they throw you in the hole, they take you to the "infirmary" where a guard posing as a nurse takes your temperature and blood pressure to assure you are healthy enough for solitary confinement. They charge the victim $3 for this service and you have no choice but to go. My blood pressure was 276/148, a reading that means you have been dead for about a week, but the guard/nurse recorded it as 229/121 and claimed it was so high because I was scared of the guards. (Yeah, right! Hee, hee, hee. They really frighten me.) They tried to kill me by refusing me all blood pressure meds.
I was held incommunicado without a charge for 13 days (never mind their "Rules of Disciplinary Procedure," which say if a pre-trial detainee is held 10 days without a charge he'll be released.) They falsified my lock-up date from 1/9/98 to 1/13/98 in order to comply with the pre-hearing 10-day rule. The charge was "Threatening Capt. Pickett, other correctional officers, and public officials." The FBI laughed at it.
The rules also say that in pre-trial hearing you will be allowed all your property. I couldn't even get a stamp, envelope, pencil, or sheet of paper out of my property even though I had tons of writing materials stored in a room about 10 feet from my cage. They had me where prisoners can't come, so nobody could slip me anything or smuggle a letter out. But through an extralegal resource I was able to get word out.
Bonnie Kerness of the Control Unit Project of American Friends Service Committee was the first to post my situation on the Internet, then Anna Dobbyn in San Antonio, Zoitista, and now my wife has Peter D. Erricho's web page in Boston. So the cards and letters poured in, along with faxes and phone calls and telegrams. By March 26, 1998,1 had received 1,600 letters, and people were calling the prison, faxing the warden and director and writing outraged letters. Whoever thinks that emergency responses are a waste of time and resources can argue with me because if it had not been for the Power of the People, I would be dead today.
The authorities figured out how to tame my support. On February 4, they confiscated my legal files and political notes and began moving me from wing to wing for no apparent reason. Then they took my name away from me and on March 26, transferred me to Pack I Prison. My name must now be written as "Robert H. Wilson," even though my legal name is Standing Deer Wilson. What they accomplished by changing my name is that now they send all the mail coming to Estelle back to the sender without explanation. This makes all but the most dogged or experienced give up. When they call the warden at Estelle, he says "Wilson is no longer here," and when they call the warden at Pack 1, he says "Who? Standing Deer? We have no such person!"
And we thought we were slick!
When they put me on a bus and brought me to Pack 1, I had none of my property, not envelopes, stamps, writing paper -- or any meds. My blood pressure med is Clonidine 0.02 mg three times a day, and if you abruptly cease taking it you go into withdrawal and your blood pressure shoots sky high -- there are recorded deaths for not getting it. So I went into a blood pressure crisis with a reading of 276/148 and nearly died. The health care professional in the guise of a male nurse told me, "Nothing is an emergency. Put in a sick call request." This happened at 2 p.m. By luck I had an attorney phone call at 3 p.m. from Margaret Gold . When I told Margaret about the denial of Clonidine, she called the medical director and bared her fangs, so they got me to the clinic and put Clonidine and Anlodipine down me and just barely saved my life.
The ACLU in Houston is now my good friend, and I've got a lot of help in Texas. On 90.1 FM radio at 9 p.m. every Friday night, "The Prison Show" airs with Ray Hill, an ex-prisoner, as the host. He said kind words about me for two weeks running and gained me more friends, so a whole bunch of folks will crawl down the prison's throat if they try to kill me again.
Ted Koppel did four "Nightline" evenings from Estelle's new control unit. One evening he spent the night there to emphasize his journalistic dedication. Now he really knows what it's like to be thrown into a control unit with no company other than the camera crew, sound technicians, producer, director, and guards bringing pizza, coffee, cupcakes, and seeking autographs all night long!
Koppel got dynamite interviews from Marta Glass, an ACLU volunteer, Debora Perkey, an ACLU attorney, and Ray Hill, but much of what they said came out of Ted Koppel's mouth live as if he said it. That Friday night Ray Hill started "The Prison Show" saying, "This is Ray Hill and Marta Glass coming to you from Ted Koppel's cutting room floor."
Ted Koppel also said, "It's one thing to isolate dangerous inmates 23 hours a day, but it becomes a deeper social problem when those men are literally driven nuts by the process, but then released right back out on the street when their time's up." Hey Ted! That's exactly what I said, but I got 24 days solitary confinement in the hole and lost parole eligibility for another year. Ted Koppel should at least have lost his good time.Attorney Margaret Gold sent Ted Koppel a big packet about how I was locked up and given a major case, destroying my parole possibilities for at least a year, and how the propaganda minister for the TDC lied to the press, saying, "This is not a First Amendment case" and claiming I was not locked up for having my guest editorial published in The Huntsville Item, but rather because they found contraband in my cage and I was "verbally assaultive" to the guards.
A total fabrication! There was NO contraband. There was NO verbal assault. There might have been in other circumstances, but I was so happy to be locked up for publishing a piece I have been trying for 15 years to have published in a mainstream newspaper, knowing it was a clear First Amendment case, that I wanted to keep it pristine.
By the way, when I went to the hole, my cellie did tattoo MAYHEM on his forehead. Looks pretty good too. In color.
Write to Standing Deer as follows:
Robert H. Wilson, 640289,
Pack 1 Unit
Rt. 3, Box 300
Navasota, TX 77869