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Still Buried Alive: AZ Prisoner Testimonies on Solitary AFSC 2014

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Captive, by Todd Tarselli



Compiled by Matthew Lowen,
Testimonies by Prisoners in the Arizona
Department of Corrections
American Friends Service Committee –
103 N Park Avenue, Suite 111
Tucson, AZ 85719




Arizona Prisoner Testimonies
on Isolation in Maximum-Security
Compiled by Matthew Lowen,
Testimonies by Prisoners in the Arizona Department of Corrections
American Friends Service Committee – Arizona
103 N Park Avenue, Suite 111
Tucson, AZ 85719



This document is in honor of all the men and women in Arizona prisons who daily
face the pain of incarceration and isolation. May their testimonies be heard beyond
the prison walls and inspire long-lasting, powerful change.
Many thanks to the prisoners who took the time and energy to document their
experiences of solitary confinement in Arizona prisons and share with AFSC.
Thanks also to the interns who have contributed to this collection of testimonies:
Victoria Perez and Alison Wood.
The cover image, The Captive, is an original work by Todd Tarselli, a prisoner in
Pennsylvania. AFSC is extremely grateful to the artist and his willingness to have his
work used in association with reporting on solitary confinement.
All other images contained in this report are publicly accessed photographs of the
construction of the new maximum-security facility at ASPC Lewis.
© American Friends Service Committee. Permission granted to reproduce this
material for noncommercial educational use, provided such use credits the authors
and AFSC.
This report is available to download in PDF format at





A. Summary & Methodology






A. Mental Health
B. Suicide
C. Physical Health









Captive, by Todd Tarselli

----American Friends Service Committee, Arizona
December 2014

Nowhere in [the] Department of Corrections do we have solitary confinement.1
Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) Director Charles Ryan made this claim on
Wednesday, June 12, 2013, in front of the Joint Committee on Capital Review (JCCR).
Director Ryan’s dismissal of the fact that minimally some 2,000 ADC prisoners are
confined to solitary confinement struck many as both bold and blatantly inaccurate. Same
day articles in The Arizona Capitol Times and The Arizona Republic questioned this claim,
as did human rights organizations including the American Friends Service Committee of
Arizona (AFSC). For years AFSC has documented and criticized the use of solitary
confinement and prisoner isolation in ADC facilities, specifically SMU I and Browning
Unit, both located in Arizona State Prison Complex (ASPC) Eyman.
At the time, Director Ryan was presenting in front of the JCCR requesting approval for 500
new maximum-security prison beds at the Lewis Complex in Buckeye, Arizona. Director
Ryan’s above quoted statement was a response to a question by Senator Anna Tovar
regarding how many of the proposed prison beds would be solitary confinement. These
500 maximum-security prison beds in ASPC Lewis will be modeled after existing facilities
SMU I and Browning Units – which are exclusively designed for single cell long-term
prisoner isolation. The additional beds are set to cost Arizona taxpayers an estimated $50
million. Following Director Ryan’s presentation to the JCCR, the funding was approved,
and on December 1, 2014 the 500 beds are set to be available for holding prisoners.
In anticipation of the opening of the new maximum-security facility, ADC invited media
representatives to view the nearly completed construction on November 7, 2014. The new
unit is comprised of a total of 416 cells – 332 single cell and 84 cells that can hold two
people – for a capacity of 500 prisoners. Craig Harris reporting for The Arizona Republic
described the new cells like this:

As quoted by Gary Grado in The Arizona Capitol Times, “Inmate advocates question claim that Arizona
prison have no solitary confinement”, June 12, 2013.



Each cell is about 12 by 8 feet, with a stainless steel toilet and sink. The bed is a
concrete slab, which will have a mattress. At the head of each bed are electrical
and cable outlets, which can be used for a television.2
As expected, these cells essentially mimic Arizona’s supermax
facilities, SMU I and Browning Unit in ASPC Eyman. When
ADC opens the newly constructed maximum-security prison
facility located in the Lewis Complex, it will be the first new
state prison construction in years. This decision commits
Arizona towards increased statewide incarceration rather than
seeking cost-saving, evidence-based alternatives to
incarceration as other states have recently begun exploring and
Director Ryan’s statement that ADC does not use solitary confinement is critical to
understanding the present day conditions of confinement for the 2,000 or more men and
women held in long-term isolation, as well as those that might one day find themselves
confined in in the new maximum-security facility. The Arizona Republic reported that
Director Ryan does not consider their conditions to be solitary confinement “because
inmates can easily communicate with other inmates”, they “can also purchase
televisions”, and “have access to magazines and books.”3 Based on years of reporting4 5
and monitoring, AFSC strongly rejects Director Ryan’s obfuscation of the realities of
prisoner isolation in the facilities he manages.
In response and in anticipation to the December 1, 2014 opening of the new 500
maximum-security prison beds, AFSC asked the men and women held in ADC facilities
for their reaction. Specifically they were asked about Director Ryan’s statement on
solitary confinement compared to their own experiences of confinement. Their
responses are overwhelming, poignant, and critical to the conversation about Arizona’s
imprisonment practices especially as the state commits to more restrictive forms of
incarceration. Responses such as this:
“The day to day conditions of confinement are horrendous. For starters, Charles
Ryan claims that we’re only locked in our cells for 22 hours a day. Either this is
another lie on his behalf or he just has no idea what’s going on in his own
facilities.6 By policy, we’re given two hours of “recreation in a small concrete box
and a shower and every time we leave our cells we’re strip searched and hand
cuffed. These days are routinely canceled due to a “staff shortage” to conduct
them. The other days of the week are 24-hour lockdown. The food they give us is

As quoted by Craig Harris, The Arizona Republic, “Critics question the need for new maximum-security
prison near Buckeye”, November 10, 2014.
As quoted by Craig Harris, The Arizona Republic, “$50 million prison project advances”, June 12, 2013.
AFSC Arizona, Buried Alive: Solitary Confinement in Arizona’s Prisons and Jails, May 2007.
AFSC Arizona, Lifetime Lockdown: How Isolation Conditions Impact Prisoner Reentry, August 2012.
All bolding here and throughout this report of prisoner quotations has been added by AFSC for emphasis.




minimal and not enough to sustain weight. My mail takes up to two to three weeks
to reach me. The “sanitation” of this place is deplorable. Cross contamination from
staff is rampant and people regularly get sick as a result. Our “health care” is nonexistent. It often takes up to one to three months to be pulled out and seen. The list
goes on…” (R23)

Summary & Methodology
All of the testimony contained in this report was gathered by AFSC via mail
communication with prisoners who were or are held in isolation conditions in the Arizona
Department of Corrections (ADC). AFSC has long corresponded with thousands of
prisoners over the years regarding prisoner resources, health issues, conditions of
confinement, release information, and more. From AFSC’s database of prisoner contacts,
132 prisoners were identified as being held in SMU I, Browning Unit, or Perryville SMA.
The men and women were mailed a simple questionnaire regarding the statements of
Director Ryan and their experiences of confinement. The questions were as follows:
1. Time(s) Spent in Solitary Confinement/Lockdown/Isolation While in Arizona
Prisons: (Briefly describe the amount of time and facility/unit where you were held
in solitary confinement. Please include times that you were on lockdown but
double or triple bunked as well. If there are multiple instances, feel free to list the
various times.)
2. Is there anything about the conditions of your confinement while in solitary
confinement/lockdown/isolation that you would like to share?
3. How has the time you have been held in solitary confinement while incarcerated in
Arizona impacted you? Physically, mentally, or otherwise?
4. If you could say anything to Arizona Legislators, the Governor, or other policy
makers in Arizona regarding the use of solitary confinement in prison, what would
you say?
AFSC received responses from 41 individuals (39 men, and 2 women). They were at the
time of their responses all held in SMU I, Browning Unit, or the Perryville women’s prison.
Responses ranged from extremely succinct answers, to multi-page letters.7 The full
transcription of the responses filled over 46 single-spaced pages and provided a powerful
argument that the Arizona Department of Corrections does in fact use solitary confinement
as a management tool. The selected quotes that will follow in this report are some of the
most representative, powerful, and descriptive of the experiences of the men and women
held in isolation in Arizona prisons. On one point every respondent was in agreement –

Nearly all of the respondents gave AFSC permission to publicly use his or her name in association with
their written testimony, but not everyone. AFSC has made the decision to withhold the identities of the
respondents, for reasons of individual safety. As such, each prisoner quote is referenced by the letter “R” and
a number that simply indicates the order by which AFSC received and transcribed each response, such as
R1. The intent of this anonymity is not to assign yet another numerical designation to prisoners, but rather to
protect against the possibility of retribution for criticism of ADC and prison policy, as well as maintain a
consistent reference point for each of the quotations.



solitary confinement exists in Arizona prisons and it is extremely damaging to every
person who endures it. As one person wrote,
“This is inhumane. I’ve seen many people mentally break down. I’ve seen the
physical health of people deteriorate. Inmates that I know in here have committed
suicide! The conditions are extremely poor. Something has got to be done about
this. Why is the state being funded to destroy one’s mind? Why are the officials not
being funded to repair one’s mind?” (R41)
The primary goal of this report is to allow the voices of Arizona prisoners to be heard.
Specifically those Arizona prisoners who have endured and continue to be held in
conditions of solitary confinement and isolation, as they will be the people who are most
directly impacted by the continued enthusiasm with which Director Ryan, the Arizona
Legislature, and ADC employ the use of long-term isolation as a management tool.
Much has been written by AFSC, and elsewhere, regarding the horrific conditions of
confinement8, the impacts of isolation9, and the dire lack of medical and mental health
care provided to prisoners10. Indeed, the ADC just agreed to a settlement in the classaction lawsuit Parsons v. Ryan, which claimed that ADC had failed to provide adequate
medical and mental health care to prisoners. The resulting settlement serves as a critical
reminder of just how damaging solitary confinement in Arizona’s maximum-security
prisons can be, and how powerful the voices of prisoners who experience that long-term
isolation are when given an opportunity to be heard.
The following prisoner testimonies are necessary and needed voices to any conversation
about prisons, criminal justice, sentencing reform, or responses to crime in Arizona. This
report has been organized along the lines of the four original questions that AFSC asked of
the prisoners. They correspond with the above listed questions (on page 7), and are titled:
Years of Isolation, Conditions of Confinement, Impacts of Isolation, and Prisoner
Testimonies. Largely these testimonies speak for themselves and AFSC has endeavored to
allow them to do so, but the report also provides context and organization as needed.
The use of solitary confinement as a management tool in Arizona prisons is both real and
tremendously damaging, contrary to what Director Ryan says. The opening of a new
maximum-security prison in ASPC Lewis only means more prisoners will be held in
isolation and more suffering as a result. This report, Still Buried Alive, is an extension of
the previous reporting on solitary confinement in Arizona. It documents the experiences of
the survivors of solitary and catalogues what they have to say about the impacts of their
own confinement.


AFSC Arizona, Buried Alive: Solitary Confinement in Arizona’s Prisons and Jails, May 2007.
AFSC Arizona, Lifetime Lockdown: How Isolation Conditions Impact Prisoner Reentry, August 2012.
AFSC Arizona, Death Yards: Continuing Problems With Arizona’s Correctional Health Care, October



Director Ryan’s unwillingness to acknowledge the
practice of solitary confinement in his facilities, let
alone the conditions of confinement in the new
500 bed maximum-security unit in the Lewis
Complex, is an affront to the men and women who
have spent years in conditions of isolation. It is
dangerous public policy and it is irresponsible as
the Director of the Arizona Department of
Corrections. The pages and pages of prisoner
testimonies received by AFSC make it abundantly
clear that the true experts on solitary confinement
and long-term isolation in Arizona are in fact the
people who have been surviving under these torturous conditions for years at a time.
Between the 39 respondents to AFSC’s request for testimony11, there is a combined total of
367 years and 7.5 months spent in solitary confinement. The average amount of time in
isolation for each person quoted in this report is 9.4 years.12 If anyone knows what it is
like to spend time in SMU I, Browning Unit, the Perryville SMA, or any other lockdown
conditions, it is the men and women who are quoted in this report. As such, these voices
deserve to be heard, and their critiques of the ADC and its continued practice of solitary
confinement in Arizona prisons.
“I have spent about 9 years of my 21 years in prison in supermax lockdown. Too
many to list by date. Several of those were at the Lewis prison being triple bunked
in double bunk cells. I was even placed into isolation cells at Lewis to where I had
been in detention as a max custody inmate waiting to be moved to SMU I.” (R3)
“I have been in solitary for about 5 different times. Every time I come back to the
system I am brought back to solitary confinement, it doesn’t matter what the crime
is. I’ve probably done more time in solitary confinement than in general population.
I know people tend to over exaggerate. I’m not that person. I will be straight. This
unit Browning and SMU I are lockdown units. Out of 168 hours per week we get
6 hours of rec.” (R4)


Two of the 41 total respondents did not offer an answer to the amount of time spent in solitary
Eight of the 39 respondents (who supplied information on number of years in solitary) are on Death Row.
As Death Row prisoners inevitably spend a greater amount of time in prison – all of which is in solitary
confinement – AFSC also ran the numbers excluding these individuals. Excluding Death Row prisoners, the
total number of years in solitary confinement for the 31 remaining respondents added up to 216 years and
1.5 months, with an average of 6.97 years per person in isolation. Either way the math is done, there is an
extraordinary amount of experience in these responses.



“It’s like locking yourself in your restroom at home for years. I will be here until
2017 or 2018. I have never had any real reason to put me here for this many years.
Two drug cases.” (R4)
Repeatedly, the responses included references to being treated as, or worse than animals
by being held for years in solitary confinement.
“I have been locked up for 9.5 years – 7 years have been spent in lockdown. I have
forgotten how to be around and deal with people. I am getting out in a year and a
half and am a wreck. I’ve been kept in a cage on meds with no human contact, no
programs, and am expected to get out and be normal. I’m well aware I broke the
law and know why I’m in prison. I also know that most of us will be getting out.
Why would you want to treat people like this, then set them free with no skills, not
knowing how to deal with people, offering no programs, and wonder why so many
return to prison for violent crimes. [If] you treat humans like animals, they become
animals. You’ll spend money on new prisons, but cut funding for everything that
will help people stay out of prison.” (R17)
“So I’ve spent at least 10 years in isolation cells, including Pinal County jail, this
makes me feel like a caged up animal! I’ll never ever put my dog on a chain again.”
“Mentally this place is very noisy. Steel doors slamming. People talking over one
another. People screaming all day. Toilets flushing. People banging at all hours of
the day. You hear people talking to themselves. All the noisy noise bothers you. No
way of blocking it out. It tends to take a toll on you. You can’t read because you
get distracted. Feel trapped like an animal in a cage.” (R4)
The frustration of prisoners is palpable as they confront the mere suggestion that the
extreme conditions of their confinement are not in fact solitary confinement. Regardless of
what Director Ryan chooses to label these conditions, they are decidedly inhumane.
“First I’d like to point out that Charles Ryan is either a straight liar, or he is so far
out of touch with the daily operations of Arizona’s maximum custody facilities.
We are not locked in our cells 22 hours a day. We only come out of our cells three
times a week, period. (And that is for an hour or two in a rec cell and then a
shower.) … I’m only permitted six hours out of my cell a week. So I don’t know
what Charles Ryan is talking about.” (R18)


- 10 -

Maximum-security prisoners held in SMU I and Browning Unit are according to policy
allowed out of their cells three times per week for two hours at a time for recreation and a
shower. Prisoner testimonies make it extremely clear that there is a distinct difference
between ADC policy and implementation in these units. Even when policy is adhered to,
the following descriptions in this section paint a devastating picture of what those
conditions of confinement are like for a person.
“I’ve essentially been locked-down since July 2009 and in my own experiences and
personal observations I can attest to the fact that the conditions in this unit are not
conducive to the physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being of those confined
here – especially for those who are confined here indefinitely and/or are in solitary
confinement. Although these conditions may not appear overtly degrading to
some outsiders, it is the subtle torture of the day-to-day month-to-month, and
year-to-year passing of precious time under these oppressive, alienated conditions
that truly makes confinement here such a dehumanizing experience. Conditions
such as these will always have a decaying and detrimental effect on human beings
and society-at-large unless improved.” (R11)
Of particular note, prisoners rejected any notion that the conditions of their confinement
were anything short of solitary confinement. Even the stated policy that prisoners are kept
for no more than 22 hours per day in their cells was roundly objected to in their
descriptions of day-to-day practice.
“We are actually locked in our cells 24 hours a day. We do get recreation time six
hours per week. So every other day we are allowed two hours out of our cells
which then we are taken to (another solitary confined cell outside) and that is
considered recreation time.” (R15)
“Well first I would like to bring up something that was stated by ADC Director
Charles Ryan to the hearing committee: that inmates spend 22 hours a day in their
cells. That is a direct lie. Where I am at [Browning Unit] we are held in 24-hour
lockdown, except for the following days and times: Monday, Thursday, and
Saturday. Those days we get two hours recreation in an enclosed rec pen. In my
case as well, he lies because I have “no” violent crimes keeping me in lockdown.”
“It doesn’t matter if a convict is locked in a cell with another convict as long as
such convict is confined to a cell 24 hours a day. That is considered solitary
confinement – in my opinion it’s worse when there are two in a cell confined 24
hours a day because it’s more frustrating seeing a stranger every day and dealing
with his habits and attitudes.” (R15)


- 11 -

Prevalent among many of the respondents were concerns over their treatment by staff as
well as staffing levels and how that impacted the already limited amount of out-of-cell
time prisoners receive. Many questioned how ADC could expect to maintain proper
staffing levels in a new facility when existing units are already having trouble doing so.
“ADC can’t even properly staff to capacity SMU I and Browning Units. It’s
constantly under-staffed which results in parts of the units and sometimes the whole
unit being shut down – meaning no recreation and showers for that shift or even for
the day. The shortage of staff (Corrections Officers) results in inmate frustrations
causing harm to both inmates and officers.” (16)
“…the COs [Correctional Officers] treat us real
bad compared to lower custody yards. They cuss
at us, threaten us and ignore our issues. They do
this because they say that we are “fuck ups”,
inmates who don’t know how to behave
themselves, so the only way we are going to
learn is to be treated the way we treat others. I
also believe they treat us this way because we
are locked behind doors. They know that there is
nothing we can do about their mistreatment and
they can get away with it.” (R25)
“The ADC is already short staffed and we lose
rec[reation] and showers every month because of
the short staff, rec & showers are never made up
on another day. How are they gonna pay to staff
another supermax unit? They can’t staff this one
properly. How about ensuring that ADC follows
the law properly and comply with the sentences
given out. Following the law should not be that
difficult for [the Arizona Department of
Corrections]?” (R13)
When one is locked in a cell all day, food and sustenance can become one of the only
things to look forward to for prisoners. Over and over again, prisoners described the food
as often being delivered cold and in far too small servings to fill one up.
“The food isn’t enough to fill up a 12 year old… The water tastes like chalk! … It’s
made me worse off than ever! Physically, I’m drained with no energy! Lack of food!
1 sack lunch for breakfast and lunch! It only contains enough food for one lunch!
And then dinner is a joke. I’ve ate better in soup kitchens, than here!” (R1)
The pain of solitary confinement is overwhelmingly evident in the ways that prisoners
catalogue the suffering of their daily isolated existence.

- 12 -


“Isolation at Browning Unit is 24/7. Time spent in a shower is worse isolation than
cells. Time spent at recreation in a 10’ by 20’ concrete box with 20’ high walls is
still isolation. You see no one, there is no one to converse with. There is no activity
except to stand, exercise, or walk in a circle. This is harsher than being in the cell.
Most people do not have regular visits. This is still isolation, being locked in a box
with glass between you and the visitor. Going to medical is usually associated with
an illness. Plus, most people rarely go to medical. We can talk to our neighbors, we
cannot see them. There is no window. No together time. We have to shout over
the run and hearing is not easy. Browning is 24/7 isolation. We do not get one hour
a day outside of a locked box. We leave one box and go to another box.” (R21)
“It is a breeding ground for violent behavior with no benefit for the inmate nor the
public because 90 percent of all inmates leave the solitary confinement experience
10 times worse than when they got here.” (R2)


- 13 -

“I am not sure anyone can answer this question. It is not easy living in isolation.
You can become a bit crazy I think, but how do you know? I know it has impacted
me negatively. I talk to myself more. I feel frustration a lot when I start to wonder
why ADC wants to make prison so difficult. I’m a model prisoner, yet everyone
here endures extra restrictions simply because we are here. What is worse, is that it
is not required to be this difficult. ADC could add activity to the recreation box.
ADC could let us come out of our cells into the pod for time out of cells. ADC
could allow a better store menu. ADC could allow puzzles. ADC could turn off
these bright cell lights for more than 6-7 hours a night.” (R21)

Mental Health
The most commonly associated impacts of isolation
are the impacts on a prisoner’s mental health. Even
for periods of time as short as 15 days, isolation can
have long-term consequences. It is widely
documented that isolation exacerbates existing
mental health problems, and can create new and
dangerous symptoms of mental illness. Additionally,
mentally ill prisoners are held in Arizona’s maximumsecurity facilities where isolation is employed at
much higher rates than prisoners who have not been
diagnosed with mental health issues. The resulting
negative impacts of isolation on prisoners’ mental
health have both immediate and long-lasting
In this selection of testimonies, these negative impacts on mental health are notable.
“Because the potential greatly exist to have health issues, diabetes, anxiety,
depression, become less social etc... There is also absolutely no existing mental
health treatment or programs available for inmates such as myself. Since the state of
Arizona would much rather throw someone inside a cell and leave you to rot and
fend for yourself. Because for the state it’s “too expensive” to cover the cost of
programs for inmates who have to deal with mental health problems.” (R6)
“Mentally, I’m breaking down each passing day! I have to put up four walls around
me, to protect myself from all the screaming and crying – that you hear in here. It
feels like hell is breaking loose. And it’s taken its toll on my life! I need meds just to
cope. I’m mentally unstable, insecure and I am anti-social. I never was like this
before.” (R1)


- 14 -


“The impact has been distinctive, my memory is shot. I have a hard time
remembering the short term/recent stuff.” (R13)
“Mentally it has caused me to want to end my appeals, for numerous reasons. It
has caused me to not be able to focus on the things that I do on a regular basis, to
help pass the time. I am easily angered by what others say, even staff, and I have
been trying to change that because that isn’t me.” (R10)
Prolonged isolation is a serious health and safety risk. The impacts of isolation are more
than simply dangerous for those prisoners who are already mentally ill upon arrival –
isolation is causing mental illness, psychological deterioration, and leaving long-lasting
emotional problems for people once they are released from prison. Many of the following
quotes are full of anger and confusion at what each person is experiencing while isolated
in maximum-security prisons, which sadly are extremely common symptoms of isolation.
“Mentally it turns everyone into hateful individuals – if you’ve never hated anyone
before, go to solitary and start hating everyone. Especially law enforcement and
you will literally start plotting ways to kill people. Because one gets so lonely and
deprived from human contact that your mind starts to entertain itself. It’s the worst.
I’ve never ever hated anyone until I came to solitary and now it seems like it’s hard
for me to get along with others. I would rather be in a cell by myself now because
I’ve been in solitary so long. I can’t stand other people. It made me completely
antisocial. I’m getting close to being released, but I’m really scared because I
don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve been in solitary so long I don’t know if I can
function around normal civilians in the outside world.” (R15)
“Indefinite solitary confinement has twisted my values.” (R14)
“It has made it very hard to be around people. I have gained weight, lost weight. I
don’t want to leave my cell. I don’t like to leave even for visits. I have very
depressing thoughts. I get mad and stressed for no reason. It is hard not to lash out
at everything.” (R17)
“I believe it has destroyed my ability to socially interact with people in the free
world. I also believe it has severely destroyed my relationship with my family. Also I
believe that I was already psychologically impaired before I was placed in a
“solitary confinement” setting, but being placed in it only magnified and
compounded my issues.” (R20)
“Mentally it’s hard to judge oneself. I have noticed that as the years go by I’m
becoming increasingly withdrawn from people. The only face-to-face
communication I have is when my family comes to visit me once or twice a year
and even that is behind glass. When I do see them face-to-face it makes me anxious
just because I’m not used to it and that’s with my own family. I haven’t had contact
with another person in almost 11 years.” (R23)

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“Being in solitary confinement [about 7 months total] made me so depressed I had
to start taking medication for it and still take medication for depression today. I
believe that solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment to any inmate
and it cause mental health problems in the future of anyone that has to go
through it for any length of time. This should not be allowed anywhere.” (R24)

One of the most common and most dangerous
“Being here in solitary
consequences of isolation is high rates of
confinement is not helping anyone
suicide and suicide attempts. Unfortunately in
mentally. Nor is it helping us to
Arizona, the perils of isolation paired with the
change our lives. What they are
lack of adequate mental health care have
resulted in a devastating increase in the number
doing is breaking minds.” (R34)
of suicides and prisoner deaths. During the first
eight months of 2013 there were 8 deaths in the Eyman complex where SMU I and
Browning Unit are located. Half of these deaths were suicides. Between 2011 and 2012,
the suicide rate in Arizona prisons overall was found to be 60 percent higher than the rest
of the country.13
Thoughts of suicide, severe depression, self-harm, and suicide attempts are all regularly
reported by Arizona prisoners in letters to AFSC, and are among the common symptoms of
prolonged isolation. Conditions of isolation in maximum-security facilities in Arizona are
distressingly contrary to an environment where people can begin to find meaningful ways
to cope with these serious suicidal ideations. The following quotes speak for themselves
and the desperation is clear.
“This place will destroy one’s mind and one’s health. I’ve watched grown men
break down and even kill themselves in here.” (R41)
“I’ve also seen inmates kill themselves, and go insane (behavior that was
abnormal). And I’ve seen inmates treated beyond the scope of inhumane.” (R20)
“I almost committed suicide like other females are doing while locked down. I tried
hanging myself and took a bunch of pills the second and third time.” (R8)
“But it also stresses you out. It irritates your mind. That’s why my seizures have
increased these past two years, especially this last year here in SMU I. That’s why
inmates are most likely to commit suicide in solitary than medium or minimum
custody, and statistics prove that.” (R21)


AFSC Arizona, Death Yards: Continuing Problems With Arizona’s Correctional Health Care, October


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“The treatment and conditions I’ve been subjected to over the past 13+ months is
something I wouldn’t wish on anybody. Nobody knows about it though. Inmates
commit suicide because of it, but ADC denies that. Recently, I even heard a
[Correctional Officer] tell a nurse not to tell anyone that an inmate who’d just killed
himself had made suicidal threats just before his death. We seem not to even be
human to the guards.” (R27)
There is no reason that prisoners should be placed in conditions that create more harm.
Maximum-security and isolation conditions in Arizona prisons are doing just that.

Physical Health
Often the physical toll of long-term isolation is overlooked and underestimated, yet can be
just as long lasting as the mental and psychological impacts. The realities of isolation
further the barriers between a prisoner and access to even a modicum of good health care
in the best of circumstances.14 The physical confinement of isolation in a concrete cell
where movement and individual exercise proves extremely damaging to the joints,
muscles, and range of movement. Formerly incarcerated individuals often report chronic
physical pain from years of isolation, as the body had deteriorated in ways that only being
locked in a confined space for years at a time can do.15
Prisoners reported varied but consistent physical consequences of isolation. Repeatedly
they raised issues of their formal Health Needs Requests (HNR) being ignored. Commonly
prisoners went six months or more between doctor visits, meanwhile describing severe
weight loss, hair loss, untreated medical ailments, and constant migraine headaches.
Many of the reports were even graver.16
“It’s impacted me more than I probably realize.
Physically we’re provided no room or equipment to
exercise with. Our “recreation pen” is a small
concrete box that’s roughly twice the size of our
cell and there’s nothing in it except a handball.
They leave bright fluorescent lights on in our cells
for approximately 18 hours a day and I constantly
have severe headaches as a result and am sure that
it has damaged my eye-sight.” (R23)
“Physically it has caused me health issues with my
lower back, legs, and other body parts due to
medical problems of being seen on my chronic

AFSC Arizona, Death Yards: Continuing Problems With Arizona’s Correctional Health Care, October
AFSC Arizona, Lifetime Lockdown: How Isolation Conditions Impact Prisoner Reentry, August 2012.
For greater detail into the life-threatening examples of medical neglect in ADC facilities see Death Yards:
Continuing Problems With Arizona’s Correctional Health Care (October 2013), and the class-action lawsuit,
Parsons v. Ryan.


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care. I have been waiting now for over 4 or 5 months to be seen on my diabetes
checkup, and chronic care issues.” (R10)
“I contracted MRSA in solitary confinement. No medical was offered me by ADOC
until I nearly died from septic shock from the MRSA. I had my abdomen muscles
amputated and have no belly button now, and my abdomen is held together by
mesh in place of my muscles I lost.” (R28)
“Currently it is directly placing my life in imminent danger of death! Due to SMU I
only have like three nurses total on any shift. Back logs of patients I am not being
seen for my stage 3 liver cancer. My HNR’s are not answered correctly, my
attempts to take it to the FHA gets intercepted by the nurses and answered
incorrectly. My pain goes unfixed. And knowing each day I sit in here I proceed
closer to liver failure due to no medical attention. And I am at a custody level
where I should be on an open yard not in max custody and would have better
access to medical attention.” (R3)
Complaints about lack of recreation opportunities were frequent. Lack of exercise
equipment, not enough time for exercise, and dramatic weight loss as a result were regular
points of contention.
“We also don’t receive adequate exercise in here. Because our so-called recreation
only consists of being placed in a 9 by 20 feet enclosure all by yourself and with
only a racquet ball to play with or throw against the wall. We also are not allowed
to physically interact with other inmates, people, nor family since all of our visits
are conducted through an amplified glass window. We also are not permitted to
either work, nor attend school, and although we are entitled of getting up to 6
hours of recreation a week. This recreation has to be used during your scheduled
days for same time recreation and shower days 3 times per week, period!” (R6)
“Physically – my weight was real low, without food or enough food to keep you full
is a big strain on you. You can’t work out or do much because you burn the
calories one dose try to maintain here, you feel tired, lazy, burnt out, and a person
who doesn’t overcome the seclusion, loneliness, depression, isolation will snap or
lose their mind. I know a hand full of people who committed suicide while here.
People who are alright when they get here and later on are on pills for depression
and if not they isolate themselves from others and break down. There’s a lot of
anger that you build in this place. I wouldn’t have maintain “strong” if it wasn’t for
my art, but even with that hobby, I find myself becoming a little off, distant, always
upset, always thinking of food, lonely, not understood and unloved. SMU is
nothing but a human dog kennel, the only difference is a animal can get adopted,
we can’t … Some are just waiting to die, or to be put down like a dog…” (R7)
“During my first three years of lockdown here I rapidly lost weight and muscle mass
due to the reduced diet, lack of any exercise equipment, limited recreation time,

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and inability to afford commissary. I entered lockdown at a robust 205 pounds and
briefly went back to a (general population yard at 162 pounds in 2012. I’m 6’3”. I
lost more than 40 pounds and had been experiencing fatigue, lethargy, and
frequent dizzy spells. My starving body gained back 10 pounds during just the first
week back on the yard, but now that I’m back in solitary confinement indefinitely
my body and strength are suffering again.” (R11)
“Physically it’s the worst because we can’t move or walk or anything. We are in a
small cell all day – what would you do? Sleep! All day and night and watch TV if
you’re lucky to have one. They don’t let us work or do any programming at all. So
while you we are in solitary one or two or three years it’s all wasted time and
physically it kills your muscles [and] turns most into either really skinny individuals
because they don’t have the money to buy food from expensive commissary. So
their body feeds of itself literally and those who do have money get fat and
flabby.” (R15)
Concerns over under-staffing in ADC facilities, particularly of medical staff are especially
concerning given the opening of a new 500 bed maximum-security facility in ASPC Lewis.
“Yes, the health unit here is horrendous, and this facility is severely
understaffed… I’ve been diagnosed by this medical staff with “degenerative lumbar
disease”, and a heart murmur, and have been completely ignored. I’ve exhausted
my administrative grievance process to no avail.” (R20)
“I’m epileptic. I have had seizures since I was 15 due to brain damage and stress.
But my seizures rarely occurred and were very minor up until I came to max. But
even in max they were minor up to my second year in lockdown and all of the
sudden I started having bad bad seizures. Going to the emergency room. Since
2011 I’ve been have gone to the hospital four times in two years. Solitary
confinement for 23 hours a day is insane and doesn’t help those who are trying to
change their lives before their release date… My seizures have gotten worse since
I’ve been here in SMU I. I’ve been to the ER in Florence two times. And that was
only because the nurse just so happened to witness me black out and have a
seizure twice. My seizures are getting worse and worse. Medical care in SMU I is
understaffed. I’ve been waiting to be seen for over a month and have had back to
back seizures at least three days a week.” (R22)
And regardless of these repeated complaints and overwhelmingly consistent criticisms,
prisoners needs often go unheeded, ignored, or neglected:
“I did a grievance, last appealed to director Charles Ryan and won. He said I’d see
medical within 30 days – well its been going on 2 months with no medical
attention.” (R35)


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“…For inmates who are older or have chronic illnesses things can be bad for them
at times. I’ve seen many times where inmates complain of illnesses and medical
would dismiss it as minor without conducting proper tests on them. When we
complain that we have really bad headaches or cramps or breathing problems,
medical always just thinks we are over-exaggerating and will just tell us to drink
more water. There’s been many times when us inmates had to get together and
cause a “disturbance” just so we could get attention and force medical to come see
a fellow inmate.” (R25)


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There is a great deal of discussion over prisons and criminal justice in Arizona. Yet for all
the decisions that are made and discourse surrounding these very important issues, the
voices of the people most directly affected by laws, policies, and correctional spending
remains absent from the conversation.
Prisoners are people, with families at home, and communities they’ve left behind – all of
which they will almost certainly return to one day. Yet these prisoner voices are rarely
sought out, and even more rarely listened to by policy makers. With the decision by the
State of Arizona to spend $50 million to build and open a new maximum-security prison,
never once were the voices of prisoners who would be held in those future cells
considered by Governor Brewer, Director Ryan, or the policy makers in the capital. For
that reason, AFSC is giving them that chance with this report. Below are some final
statements by maximum-security prisoners about their experiences in the most restrictive
of confinements directed at those in the seats of power in Arizona.
“On Wednesday June 12, 2013
ADC Director Charles Ryan claimed
that solitary confinement does not
exist in Arizona prisons. If a man is
locked in a airtight naked cage
alone for 23 hours each day, every
day and they only take him out for a
shower 3 times a week in a airtight
cell or one hour recreation alone in
a empty pin. It is solitary no matter
their double speak… The Lewis
Complex also has a CDU [Complex
Detention Unit]. Each cell in the
CDU [were] designed for one
person. As usual, they manage to
put inside the cell another bed. Inside the cell has no closet. Often, they put inside
the cell four people. Two have to sleep with mattress on the floor and two have to
sleep on their bunk. This is only the beginning.” (R39)
“I would say it doesn’t work and does more harm than good. You can’t expect an
inmate to change just because you throw him in a cell for two or three years at a
time and forget about him. You have to treat us, educate us, talk to us, offer us
programs. When you throw us in solitary confinement and don’t offer us any
treatment we rot away, while at the same time becoming angry and bitter about
being forgotten. You have to remember that most of us will be getting out again. So
while you just lock us up and don’t offer us treatment, you’re not doing anything
for us. We remain untreated and just get kicked back out to society as the same
people we were when we first came to prison.” (R25)

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“I would implore anyone who has the power and authority to end the use of longterm, indefinite solitary confinement in any capacity to look beyond any myopic
political motives in order to discern whether placing people under such torturous
conditions serves the greater good of society or just some misguided agenda based
on fear. I’d try to convince them to heed the findings of various scientific studies on
the actual effects of solitary confinement.” (R11)
“I would say short of them showing up unannounced to walk through these
facilities to talk to the inmates forced to live in these cells 23 to 24 hours a day and
see for themselves how we live then they cannot trust in others who claim there is
no solitary confinement in these prisons. I am proof, my DOC hard file and medical
file prove all I have listed above! No inmate in my current situation should be
forced to sit in a max custody cell day in and day out begging for medical help for
pain due to cancer and being ignored. Then told this is not solitary confinement!”
“I would emphasize that they personally need to ask themselves: So what certain
life expectations or productivity can an individual who’s been placed decades in
solitary confinement, segregation, etc…? What can they look forward towards
accomplishing if, or when they are released back into society? And even more so
if their mental illness has also gone untreated all those years without physical
interaction with other people or with any structural rehabilitation.” (R6)
“I would ask why they’re continuing the practice of solitary confinement when it’s
statistically done nothing to lessen the amount of overall violence in prison which
was its intended objective. I would ask why they’re so intent on pursuing this failed
objective. I would ask why they’re so intent on pursuing this failed policy when all
they have to do is look at such states as Mississippi to see how they’ve closed down
their isolation units and added programs – excessively lowering their violence
levels. I would ask them to stop rubber-stamping everything Charles Ryan says and
look beneath the surface to uncover his lies and find that the vast majority of us do
not deserve to be treated this way. I would ask why they’re treating us like animals
and in a lot of cases turning us into animals when most of us will be re-entering
these communities and neighborhoods. A healthier alternative for everybody
would seem to be to keep us socially connected…give us jobs, programs, and
opportunities…give us a chance!!!” (R23)


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“Solitary confinement does not change us for the better. It makes us hate
everyone and creates monsters within us. They make us who we are. I am speaking
for the inmates that should not be in solitary when our classification points do not
warrant our stay. We become aggressive and hostile towards people I don’t know.“
There is no evidence that solitary confinement has
any benefits for the people who are held there, the
staff that work there, or the community as a whole.
To the contrary, the impacts on the men and
women held in isolation are deeply damaging and
long lasting. Yet Arizona has once again chosen to
double down on solitary confinement with these
500 new maximum-security prison beds in the
Lewis complex. Arizona is the only state in the
country that is building and filling more maximumsecurity prison facilities, at a time that the ADC’s
own statistics demonstrate vacancies and open
beds. This $50 million project will undoubtedly
continue to cost the state in day-to-day management costs, upkeep, and higher staffing
costs as all maximum-security facilities do. Arizonan’s will be paying the social and
economic price of this new facility for decades to come.
“Being in isolation is torture that drives people crazy.” (R32)
Perhaps most critical, are voices such as those contained in this report that catalogue the
human suffering that takes place daily and for years at a time while caged in isolation.
These voices must be acknowledged and heeded from behind the prison walls if progress
is to be made on issues such as public safety, mass incarceration, and sentencing reform.
As the vast majority of prisoners one day return to the community, the experiences that
they endure matter not just during their incarceration but for the rest of their lives.
“Maximum facilities don’t need to be 24-hour lockdowns. But they should be
monitored frequently with greater staff. SMU I is short staffed as it is! And ADC is
asking for money for another max facility?! That’s crazy.” (R22)


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The Arizona Department of Corrections has decided to open the new $50 million
maximum-security facility in ASPC Lewis. While AFSC has strongly opposed this decision
and use of public funds, and appealed to Governor Brewer to change her mind,
unfortunately this facility is set to be filled with prisoners beginning December 1, 2014.
However the manner in which these prisoners and other maximum-security prisoners are
treated is still something that ADC Director Ryan and Governor Brewer have the ability
and authority to dramatically alter.
The testimonies of maximum-security prisoners contained in this report offer a clear
roadmap to changing the practice and impacts of long-term isolation in the Arizona
Department of Corrections. Based on these testimonies, extensive prisoner
communication, and years of monitoring the conditions of confinement in Arizona
prisons, AFSC makes the following recommendations. They are straight forward, common
sense, and necessary for increased public safety for everyone.
1. ADC must limit use of isolation for ALL maximum-security prisoners regardless of
their mental health score. Isolation is damaging to all people who are held in such
conditions. In order to ensure that higher numbers of people do not develop
Serious Mental Illness, there must be greater restrictions on the amount of in-cell
time for all prisoners.
2. ADC should move towards full compliance with the Parsons v. Ryan Settlement
Agreement as quickly as possible. The Settlement Agreement in Parsons is a critical
step in the right direction for Arizona. AFSC believes that ADC should take every
possible step to meet and exceed the compliance benchmarks in the Settlement
ahead of schedule.
3. ADC should improve access to out-of-cell medical and mental health care. The
conditions of one’s confinement should in no way hinder the ability of prisoners to
request and receive medical and mental health care. Yet repeatedly AFSC receives
reports of Health Needs Requests being ignored and/or slow in response time. ADC
needs to make medical and mental health a top priority in its management policies.
4. Increase the number of and access to educational programming, jobs, and group
activities throughout the ADC. One of the biggest shortcomings of maximumsecurity facilities according to prisoners who are held there is the lack of programs
and out-of-cell activities. All manner of programs are critical to the eventual
successful reentry of prisoners to society, and they should be expanded to include
prisoner access regardless of their security status.


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