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Letters from Inside the Belly: The Insanity of Housing a 16-Year-Old with Adults

Webmaster note: For many years, this column has printed work from persons incarcerated by the Connecticut Department of Corrections (“DOC”). As part of this journalistic exercise, we ran their names and addresses and inmate number and told something of their crimes to give the piece context.

 Recently, a prisoner contacted me about the sentencing of juveniles as adults, since the Sentencing Commission is soliciting testimony from inmates about this and the practice of housing juveniles with adult populations.

 Currently, DOC incarcerates about 200 people convicted as juveniles and who were housed in adult prisons as juveniles. Much scientific evidence rebuts this practice as wrong-headed and detrimental to rehabilitation of kids.

 This inmate has provided testimony with his name to help change the law, but he has asked to remain anonymous for the publication of this report from inside the belly. Therefore, his crimes and names must remain unknown.

 “My parents are supportive of my writing but are concerned that using my name may not be a good idea,” the inmate writes. “The DOC is much like the Gestapo, in that inmates who find their voice are silenced.

 “The possibility of the [DOC] doing something to influence my chance of release is all too real,” the inmate continues. “This is upsetting to me because I want to use my name to let the DOC know I am no longer intimidated by them. But I know how they operate and I know I have a lot to lose.”

 I have long thought some of our prison writers received harsher treatment because of their journalistic activities in these pages. Our inmate now confirms this, and this is as important a revelation as what you are about to read.

If DOC really wanted to determine who this person was, they might be able to track him down based on his anecdotes in the story, thus I have attempted to purge certain details to protect him.

 Yet if anything negative happens to this inmate, the DOC, he and I will know the real reason, and we will deal with it then.

 But DOC bureaucrats aren’t that twisted and hell-bent on maintaining the veil of silence and secrecy about the atrocities that occur beyond the view of the public as to waste public dollars researching the minutiae of a file to retaliate against a jail-bound activist, are they?

 Sadly, the answer may be yes. Thus our Correspondent begins:

Linoleum floor tiles cascaded inches before my face as I flew down the bright hallway. Drifting off, I imagined my body soaring over a vast landscape of some forgotten kingdom. Instantly, the unimaginable pain shooting through my wrists and ankles like lightning brought me back to reality.

I was still on the move but unsure as to where. Muffled voices exchanged above me seemed disembodied from the pairs of black boots walking beside me, stepping on my periphery.

I was hogtied and being carried by prison guards from the medical unit of my juvenile facility to a waiting van. I was forcibly transported again in a short time to an adult psychiatric prison.

As a 16-year-old I did not understand my powerlessness over my newly incarcerated situation and had naively insisted I was not going back to the adult prison, not after what happened last time. Now guards carried me like a piece of luggage and nothing would stop where they were taking me.

Heavy doors bussed and swung open. The cold night air stabbed at my face like a thousand needles. I was packed into the unmarked van and the juvenile facility was soon in the rearview.

Traveling on the highway, I watched passing cars with passengers so focused on the road ahead and unaware of my existence. I felt hauntingly alone. I wondered if my parents even knew where I was in this moment.

We arrived at Garner and I was escorted down a series of hallways underneath the prison where the infirmary rooms were located. This area was commonly referred to “The Dungeon”. As we entered the unit my pulse began to quicken. Fear swept over me just as it had the last time.

The smell of urine and feces permeated the air and I suddenly felt the sensation of eyes on me. Naked and disheveled men stood behind large plexiglass windows watching my arrival. I was placed in an empty cell and ordered to strip naked before the guards and a recording camera.

Corrections officers barked commands: “Palms up, Run your fingers through your mouth, Lift your balls, Bend over and spread you ass”.

The door slammed shut and I received the only attire allowed for suicide watch: a blue Velcro gown and green foam slippers with smiley faces on the toes. I felt like a clown in a glass display. I laid down on the bare plastic bunk and drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

Awakening to a commotion and the sound of screaming, I stood up and looked across the unit to find another inmate had smeared feces across the windows of his cell. Guards gathered to prepare for a cell extraction.

I watched as the wild-eyed man was forcibly removed and locked in a nearby shower. Large fans were brought in to blow the thick odor out an exit door while inmate workers cleaned the cell.

The next morning breakfast arrived, a cheese and mustard sandwich and a cup of juice. The guard said I could not receive hot meals until seen by the doctor. Perplexed by this statement, I wasn’t sure how to respond. I peeled apart the soggy specimen and decided to go back to sleep.

I was startled awake to more screaming, “No! No! please, I don’t want it”! I jumped up to see guards entering a cell with shields, followed by a person preparing a hypodermic needle. The needle wielding man exited a few moments later and the panicked cries eventually faded.

What was happening? Would they be doing this to me? And was this the “doctor”? I learned the screaming man was being forcibly injected with medication he did not want. I watched them inject him again and again with medication he did not want.

Sometimes I just wanted him to stop screaming. He never came to his window or even got off the bed.

One day the guards again entered the screaming man’s cell, but only this time they brought a wheelchair instead of a needle. A curiosity swept over me as I awaited a face to put to the screams. The chair reappeared carrying an emaciated elderly man.

His thin frame slumped forward as he was wheeled into a running shower. A wave of emotions washed over me for this helpless man.

Over the next several days I watched as the inmates around me lost their minds. One man who has been tied in four point restraints had begun chewing the flesh of his armpits.

Another stood naked on his bed masturbating while screaming about Jesus and the Virgin Mary. The guards laughed at him and called fellow officers into the unit to watch. Inmates out for showers and phones would wander over to my cell and stare at me through the glass. I was terrified they would find a way to get at me.

A hollow feeling hung over me like I was trapped in an endless nightmare. I was eventually returned to the juvenile facility. I would be taken to Garner for suicide watch one more time as a juvenile and then formally transferred there once I turned eighteen.

Coming to prison at the age of fifteen was difficult enough. I was severely troubled and afflicted with mental illness. Being transferred to an adult prison at such a young age only compounded the stress and fear I experienced.

I am now well into adulthood, and have come a long way despite my experiences. But I am still just a faceless number warehoused in this uncaring system we call the Department of Corrections.

The Connecticut prison system houses hundreds of children, but their voices cannot be heard through concrete walls and razor wire. If our state is to continue to condone encaging these troubled kids, then we should be confronted by the reality of their confinement.

How they are treated behind bars is an issue of both morality and public safety, because every child left defenseless in the system is eventually a damaged person released back into our communities.

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