Tomorrow, the 23rd of the month, invoking the 23 hours per day that prisoners spend in their cells in the SHU, activists throughout California will take action to bring attention to prison conditions. Below former Pelican Bay SHU prisoner Brutha Baridi Williamson shares his experience of leaving the SHU after 25 years. Originally published by Prisoner Human Rights Movement.
Leaving out of Pelican Bay Solitary Confinement Torture Prison-Facilities/Units-Cages for the first time on Jan. 23rd, 2015 (after arriving there Nov. 29, 1990), I remember witnessing my first sunrise as the CDCr [CA Dept. of Corrections and rehabilitation] “gray goose” transportation bus travelled up the mountainside along Highway 101. Staring out the window at the skyline as it transformed into a mixture of blended orange-red-violet-blue colors, I sat there in deep silence just appreciating the beauty of Nature … It would be the first of many first time experiences of using my natural senses again after being buried alive in that concrete box deprived of the natural use of those senses for the last twenty five (25) years . . . a quarter century.
My next First was at the San Quentin Receiving and Release Center where our bus stopped over. And while we was standing in small holding cages waiting to get back on the bus, another of the men (in another cage) asked to use the restroom across the hall. I was surprised when the guard walked over to the cage, unlocked the door, and let the guy walk out and across the hall (around other staff) unhandcuffed! I knew that I had to experience this after years/decades being chained and cuffed (like a 19th century slave). I asked to use the restroom and the guard let me out to walk freely across the hall uncuffed. It was not far, but just the absence of cuffs made a world of difference between being treated like a (chained) animal and feeling Humyn!
My next First may seem small to many outside hearing this, but for me it was special for my humanity. On January 28th, 2015 I arrived at SVSP (Salinas Valley State Prison) general population and was housed with a fellow human being named Malik. He gave me a brand new toothbrush (that he was allowed to purchase from an outside quarterly package vendor.) This was not the 2″ miniature size toothbrush (normally for brushing pet animals’ teeth) I had been using since the 1990s. This was the normal regular-size toothbrush used for brushing humans’ teeth. And each time (twice in the morning, afternoon and evening-night) I use it. The feel of being human is always at the front of my mind. With each stroke of the brush I humbly give in to the use of this part of my deprived senses.
There has been many more Firsts since then over the course of this first year, but the one that is so close and dear to heart was my first visit (contact) with my family in my thirty-plus (30+) years of confinement in CDCr, when I was able to visit my sister Donnita Benson, when she flew out from Oklahoma City and we hugged/kissed for the first time since 1980. It was a memorable experience to go from tears of hurtful pain and suffering (that dates back to our childhood struggles – domestic violence, being separated at ages 10 [me] and 14 [her], as “survivors” - she survived breast cancer and I survived being lost to the street jungles at age 15, then these concrete prison jungles, including decades in solitary confinement) then went to tears of joy, laughter, and happiness as we enjoyed those two days together. She said I squeezed her hand so tight and would not let it go that it went numb … Oops, my bad. I guess I subconsciously was that little child back home walking everywhere holding securely to my older sister’s hand.
I will close this off with a solidarity salute of respect, appreciation, and honor to all of the PHSS-PHRM outside supporters who believe in our cause enough to keep the spotlight upon both this states’ massive dysfunctional system of mass incarceration, its evil solitary confinement torture use, non-rehabilitative and social re-entry parole opportunities, and their contributions for helping those released from long-term solitary confinement and its own unique post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome (PTSD-solitary confinement) identi[ty], cope-heal, etc. from its effects. Thank you/Asante to each and all.
In solidarity with all oppressed peoples struggles, Brutha Baridi