I have served nearly 25 years prison/jail time in the United States. In fact, all but a small portion of my adult life has been spent behind bars. My California tour includes Chino, Soledad, Solano, Calipatria and Donovan. In Nevada: Southern Desert, Lovelock, Ely and, yes, Hight Desert State Prison (HDSP). As you can probably imagine, violence and drugs are common fare in most of these institutions. And while a few of these places were just plain filthy, others simply stagnate with the decay of deliberate indifference. I've done "hole-time" in all of them and certainly thought I'd seen it all.
Boy was I wrong.
Let me spell it out for you: B.M.U. (Behavioral Management Unit). Described by COs, Medical Staff and other institutional employees as the "Zombie Unit," the "Weirdo Pod," the "Freak Show," the "Psych Ward," and "Behavioral Mismanagement" and affectionately referred to by the prisoners as the "Beat-a-Motherfucker-Up" Unit at HDSP.
Absolutely and without a doubt, the worst of the worst. In the short time, 90 days, that I've been here within this restrictive unit I've witnessed unchecked violence, coercion, extortion, drug abuse, overdoses, 3 attempted suicides and "senior" officers feeding prisoners food which had fallen on the filthy unit floor before being placed on the serving trays and given to prisoners.
The most disturbing incident, by far, occurred on 24 December 2017, this past Christmas Eve, when an emotionally wrought prisoner, was locked in the shower for approximately 4 hours after stating to staff that he was having suicidal thoughts. During this time the prisoner was slamming his own head against the metal grating. I witnessed the COs laughing and encouraging the prisoner to bang his head harder and advising him to use the tiled wall at the back of the shower stating, "Bang it against the tiles, they're harder." By the time medical staff did arrive the prisoner was a bloody mess.
According to the HDSP BMU Manual: "The Behavior Modification Unit (BMU) will house inmates who have been housed in segregation for 90 days or longer, to assist in the reintegration into a lower custody level."
How I ended up here isn't much of a mystery. About 4 weeks after arriving at HDSP, while I was still in the "Fish Tank" I made the mistake of telling the case worker that I was appealing my jury conviction and needed request forms for the law library. At which point I was advised that I was being "sent to BMU." From that moment on, all access to the legal materials I require for my case have been denied despite numerous verbal and written grievances. In fact I spent the first 9 weeks in BMU confined in my cell without so much as a book to read. My only contact with the administration was the initial interview with the token mental health worker who advised me that "this rehabilitation program is the warden's baby."
Well, I'm here to tell you that as a person who struggles with PTSD, the constant and continuous confinement to a cell without any mental stimulation whatsoever can be devastating to an person's mental health and psyche. While confined in this unit I have experienced an increase in PTSD symptoms, ten times the frequency that is usual for me. Furthermore, I found it extremely unsettling that after completing the program, as a "graduation present," I was escorted into a small room filled with BMU staff members where I was threatened, berated, belittled and finally told to just "Get the Fuck Out."
I'm not sure what to expect next. The lack of access and communication with the outside, the restricted closed custody level 4 housing, the refusal on the administration's part to answer or address any grievance combined with limited family contact by phone has reduced me to an uncertain, fearful, panicky, hopeless, helpless mess. And, by the way, I have absolutely zero disciplinary history. Not a single "write up" for anything.
Fortunately another prisoner gave me your Under Lock & Key pamphlet. Hopefully you can get the word out on this de-habilitation program and the warden's dirty little secret.
MIM(Prisons) responds: These dangerous and abusive conditions at HDSP expose the Amerikan prison system for its complete lack of rehabilitation. If the criminal injustice system really believed that prisons are an effective tool to prevent crime, it would not put people in conditions that make their survival on the streets nearly impossible. It would be offering programs to help people learn and change their behavior, and prepare them for life outside. This is just one of the reasons we see the Amerikan criminal injustice system as primarily a tool of social control.