Sunday, March 9, 2014

Joseph Dole's Prison Diary

Photo from How to Survive Life in Solitary Confinement
--Business Insider 
I just finished reading a prison diary that Joseph Dole wrote for The Anne Frank Center USA as part of their Prison Diary Project. I found it posted on The Real Cost of Prisons website while I was researching solitary confinement for a blog post that I am still working on. At the time that Dole wrote the diary (March/April 2011) he was in solitary confinement at Tamms in Illinois. Tamms had two sections a minnimum security housing unit with 200 beds and a 500 bed supermax side called the Closed Maximum Security Unit (CMAX), this is where Dole was living. Tamms was closed in 2013 due to the inhumane conditions that those held in CMAX side of the prison faced. When I looked up Tamms on Wikipedia to find out more about it I was surprised to read this:
 "In 2010, U.S. District Judge G. Patrick Murphy ruled that inmates must be allowed to challenge their transfer to Tamms at a formal hearing and wrote in his decision that "Tamms imposes drastic limitation on human contact, so much so as to inflict lasting psychological and emotional harm on inmates confined there for long periods." 
 With those judges words in mind it is amazing what Dole accomplished from his cell in CMAX, including learning Spanish, French, and Italian, taking college classes, and working on court cases for himself and others at the prison. I was moved by how he described what it is like to know that, unless his case is overturned, he is never going to be released from prison and all the consequences that go along with that. He also gave a very clear picture of what it is like to live in Tamms. The only connection he had to his family was letters that didn't always get delivered to him. His mother and children lived 13 hours from the prison and couldn't afford to visit him and the prison didn't allow inmates in CMAX to use the phone. He says in the diary that terrorists held in other supermax facilities were allowed to use the phone yet those housed at Tamms weren't allow access to phones because the prison administration felt that it was a threat to the security of the facility. Here is just an example of his effective and powerful writing style and a glimpse of the pain that can be felt throughout the diary:
"How can I communicate what it is like to get arrested when you have one four month old daughter and a second daughter on the way, and then be sentenced to a term of life without the possibility of parole after your first felony conviction, by way of a theory of accountability, for a crime you didn’t commit? How can I depict what it feels like now to have two daughters who are twelve and thirteen years old whom I haven’t held in over nine years because I’m confined in a supermax prison for my sole legitimate disciplinary infraction? A prison which Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Tamms Year Ten all condemn because they consider the conditions here as amounting to torture. The English language lacks adequate terminology for such an endeavor."
The only criticism of the diary that I have is that it is only a little over 34 pages long. I finished reading it wanting to know what happened in the weeks, months and years after he stopped writing. According to The Real Cost of Prisons website Dole is now at Stateville Correctional Center, but they don't say if he is still in solitary confinement. Also, on their website is a few other things written by Dole I have saved this page so that I can read them later.

If you would like to read more 1st hand accounts from those in solitary confinement I would recommend Solitary Watch's Voices from Solitary.

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