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The Anarchist Black Cross was originated in Tsarist Russia to organise aid for political prisoners. In the late 1960s the organisation resurfaced in Britain, where it first worked to aid prisoners of the Spanish resistance fighting the dictator Franco's police. Now it has expanded and groups are found in many countries around the world. We support anarchist and other class struggle prisoners, fund-raise on behalf of prisoners in need of funds for legal cases or otherwise, and organise demonstrations of solidarity with imprisoned anarchists and other prisoners.

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Segregation and Solitary Confinement

What is the impact of segregation and solitary confinement on prisoners?
What alternatives are there to making use of these methods?

Before entering the notorious Close Supervision Centre (CSC) system back in 2010 I had very little knowledge of either segregation of solitary confinement. Having just turned twenty three years of age and spent as little as two and a half years of those in prison, my mind was not and never had been focused on or even interested in this topic. Midway through my seventh year of isolation things have changed, the horrors I have witnessed and torture I have been subjected to over this period of time have left me with little option but to become fully aware of the devastation even short periods in these conditions can have.

For those who have not experienced the ordeal of solitary confinement, there are no words or description that could allow to fully comprehend what it truly means. I should probably start by explaining that the official terminology of solitary confinement equates to at least twenty two hours a day locked away with every hour of the day spent in isolation from other prisoners. Whereas, segregation is the removal from normal location without without specified conditions although generally both equate to the same thing due to the harshness of segregation units within this country. The CSC is commonly described as a prison within a prison; it allows for indefinite isolation of prisoners under the most oppressive conditions. Effectively permanent segregation, almost always meets the definition of solitary confinement and it is from here that I bring you my voice.

The Prison Reform Trust (PRT) did some good work with their 'Deep Custody' report although, they could never truly reflect the dire reality of life appalling environment without living it themselves. The common belief is that prisons are holiday camps, human rights have led to things being too easy for prisoners. This propaganda relates to the facts most clearly demonstrated by the deplorable way prisoners in segregation are treated. Routinely abused by prison officers appointed to look after their care needs, starved,assaulted and made to live in filfthy cells made of nothing more than an empty concrete box wearing the same clothes day in and day out. A holiday camp offering this would not sell many tickets. Only when the extent of what solitary confinement entails is accepted will it be possible to understand the impact it has and consideration of alternatives be made.

One day, less than six months after first being placed in the CSC, I was shocked into awareness of the consequences of what I was enduring. Another prisoner who had been unfortunate enough to be located in HMP Woodhill CSC unit along with the rest of us (never totalling more than ten) had been struggling to cope since his arrival a few weeks earlier. He complained of the difficulties he was having and was directed toward the psychiatrist who duly prescribed medicine to help him survive the CSC. As the effects wore off he continually required higher dosages.

Eventually, the drugs were not enough, he began to hear voices and took action to put a stop to it. Using a prison issue razor he sliced off one of his ears out of pure desperation, even this did not resolve his problem. Pumped full of anti-psychotics and anti-depression drugs, anti anxiety drugs and sleeping pills the CSC did not go away for him.

About six weeks later he removed his other ear yet, this man had been totally fine in the beginning. This man simply crumbled beneath the weight of pressure being in solitary confinement puts on a person. Having seen events like this occur again and again with nothing being done to prevent mental deterioration of human beings held in the CSC it is apparent that this is happening by design.

The official objective of the CSC is to reduce alleged risk factors of the prisoners detained within it then return them to mainstream prison population. However, the statistics show a darker picture. More than half of all prisoners who enter the CSC are driven insane before being removed to a psychiatric hospital, less than 10% actually ever return to normal conditions. Hearing this the question is not what alternatives are there? but why is this being allowed?

Self-mutilation is one symptom but, dealing with extreme environmental stress manifests itself in many ways most of which are unhealthy. You would think that the few prisoners lumped together in these places would form some kind of solidarity to overcome their shared ordeal but, instead, an irrational hatred for everything forms or they attempt to appease their guards by joining in with the victimisation of a particular individual.
Racism is more prevalent in the CSC among those who have suffered their the longest. It is an outlet to focus their rage when the faceless bureaucrats responsible for inflicting the harm upon them are out of reach. It is encouraged by prison officers. I am certain that discriminatory views are developed fastest and held strongest by those who spend their meagre allowance purchasing tabloid newspapers; this says something about the weakness of mind of the prisoners held in these conditions leaving them open to manipulation. This danger has, though, always been known which is why prisoners of war have faced such conditions and why the CSC's should rightly be labelled as torture camps.

Literature exists on the impact of segregation and solitary confinement on prisoners, indeed, it is because of this that the sadistic individuals managing the prison service utilise it so frequently. It is used as a weapon against the vulnerable, marginalised and all too often the minorities. Considering that the concept of the CSC was created by the man who has since been repeatedly promoted all the way to his current position at the top of HMPPS Chief Executive/director or whatever title he has these days Michael Spurr, which can be found in the Spurr Report it is unlikely he will allow any alternatives.

Amnesty International have even condemned the segregation units albeit when they were operating under a different name and with a less oppressive regime. Their report 'United Kingdom Special Security Units- Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment?' which raises another issue being if somehow successful in bringing about change today how can a simple re-branding to enable the torture to perpetuate be avoided.

Desperation consumes so many prisoners being held in solidarity confinement which leads to desperate acts. In 2015 at Woodhill CS one man even began the transition to become female purely to escape the dreadful environment then, committed suicide before achieving his goal, he was no longer able to tolerate the constant harm.

This is not humane yet, steps are being taken to expand the use of segregation through the creation of what are being called 'Segregation Centres' aimed specifically at the minority group of Muslim prisoners. With segregation being almost unheard of in the female prison estate it has been shown to not be required. A total abolition of the CSC solitary confinement and segregation units is the only way to end this insidious destruction of human minds and lives.

Kevan Thakrar A4907AE
HMP Woodhill
Tattenhoe Street
Milton Keynes