Commentary: What I Asked For

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By S. Hutson

On the last Thursday of April 2020, I was in general population at Keen Mountain Correctional Center in Virginia. I was desperate. I told an officer in  my pod that I was having a hard time since my medication had been taken away.

Keen Mountain had a policy where if you are charged with having drugs in your system at the urine screen during intake you are taken off of the medication that you are already taking. I self-medicated at Sussex 1 State Prison so Keen Mountain took me off the psych meds I was on when I arrived. I had been on the same meds for 10 years.

I couldn’t function. I finally had to ask for help. I told an officer that I was having racing thoughts and I was too full of energy. I was manic. Officers came, handcuffed me and escorted me to the medical department. They put me in a cold cell in the back, stripped me naked, gave me a “safety smock” and left me there with nothing but a hard rubber bed to sleep on and an officer to watch me all night.

The next say I was put into a wheelchair and pushed out of medical, past the recreation yard, past A-building, B-building, into C-Building in the safety smock with my crotch exposed to all the prisoners outside on the rec yard, whoever happened to be looking out the window, the sun, and the breeze. I still feel the embarrassment to this day.

I deserved it. I deserved whatever I got. I deserved to stand in a shower still wet from use, barefoot while guards moved a prisoner out of C-202 cell. It was a “mental health observation cell” with a camera high on the wall and a rubber bed.

I deserved a filthy cell full of trash, spilled food, and shed hair. I was given a pair of boxer shorts and strapped to another rubber bed in a cold room with an air vent high on the wall that kept a constant breeze swirling around the small room.

Anyone in the Virginia prison system knows that all segregation pods are kept cold. Keen Mountain was no different.

That Friday evening, night and following morning was the worst physical torture I have ever endured. For 24 hours, I was a new kind of cold. One where my mind wondered how hypothermia works. One where all I could do is shiver. The cold made the discomfort of being cuffed at the wrist and ankle with a broad strap compressing my chest so much more incapacitating. It was compounded by the officers who came to the cell door to look in the window at me. I know they saw something anyone could identify as fundamentally wrong. They looked at me then walked off. Every face added to the feeling of isolation and powerlessness.

Every 4 hours I was covered by a shock shield as officers unlocked the plastic straps and released me from those restraints. I was handcuffed and shackled with a separate chain connecting them so I could not stand up straight. I was then allowed to drink some water and use the bathroom in the small cell surrounded by no less than six COs in shoulder pads with chest protection, helmets with clear plastic face guards and the shock shield held close by.

After a few minutes of officers asking “Are you done?” over and over again, I was made to lie back down and be restrained again. The straps were pulled tighter every time they were reapplied.

At the coldest part of the night, I was sure I would die. At the end of all resolve, I cried. I prayed to no certain god for sleep. I begged whoever came to the window for help, for clothes, a sheet, anything.

I could not be still. I squirmed constantly. My thoughts came and went faster than I could monitor. I flipped from the expectation that an officer would soon rush into the cell and bury an axe in my torso to an old belief that my hairs stood on end because when I shivered it was waking up parasites that lived under my skin, wrapped around my hairs’ roots. My thoughts became all fear, agony, and regret.

I finally dozed off but awoke just as I was slipping out of my hellish reality into a dream. It happened over and over until I screamed my frustration at the almost escape snatched away.

I was broken in short time. There was nothing I would not have done for a blanket. To not be so cold and alone.

24 hours in I was released from the restraints and given back the safety smock. I answered the QMHP’s questions with what I thought she wanted to hear.

I should have never asked for help. I didn’t deserve it.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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