To the Editor:
I read about the opioid settlement with mixed emotions. I applaud the moms who fought tenaciously for accountability for the loss of their loved ones caught up in the opioid crisis. At the same time, it was a painful reminder the tears of white mothers receive national response. One mom tearfully spoke about the loss of two children to the opioid crisis. She fought to hold the wealthy Sackler family accountable for her pain stating “They destroyed our lives”. As an African American mom, I have cried many tears since my son was tortured at the age of 17 inside Ct’s supermax prison. He entered Manson Youth a promising hip hop performer and writer and left Northern with a shattered mind and a broken spirit. He spent time at Garner CI where he was heavily medicated to treat psychosis, anxiety, PTSD and depression following what the United Nations defined as torture. There is no Attorney General to assist me in holding Ct Dept of Correction liable for harm my son endured. His role is to protect the state.
I witnessed firsthand the irreparable harm isolation causes and so I cannot rest until state sanctioned abuse of incarcerated people is no longer a norm. I am determined to rid the state of unscrupulous correctional staff who degrade, humiliate and abuse incarcerated people with impunity. I can’t rest until PROTECT Act 2022 is codified into law. An executive order no matter how meaningful won’t do. Especially one that does not incorporate independent oversight.
Connecticut Dept of Corrections is one of few states with no independent oversight. It is the only state who treats and oversees its own health care. As a result, countless incarcerated people end up living with chronic disease which diminishes their quality of life and reduces their life span. Many have suffered and died as a direct result of medical neglect. If there was at least a community standard of care many might be alive today. Every deceased individual left a family behind to grieve their loss of life. The sentence rendered by the court turned into a death sentence.
Stop Solitary Ct have worked with legislators since 2016 to significantly reduce the use of isolation in Ct prisons, jails and youth facilities. Solitary confinement as defined by Mandela Rules is the act of holding individuals for 22 hours a day in a cell with no programming and meaningful social contact. Its definition speaks to the minimum standards of care for incarcerated people. Mandela rules state it should only be used in exceptional cases, as last resort, never as punishment and never beyond 15 days at a time due to the psychological harm it causes. Ct has held people in these conditions for months and years. Psychiatrists say the brain begins to work differently within a few days of isolation. Young people with developing brains (under 25) are at great risk of irreparable brain damage.
The department seeks funding to hire more staff. They have an abundance of administrative staff making close to and over $100,000 a year. Funding should be allocated to increase wages for support workers, like nurses, doctors, dentists and social workers. Support staff say they leave the department for two primary reasons. One was wages much lower than the public sector and also the toxic environment which won’t allow them to provide even the minimal standard of care to incarcerated individuals. Many find departmental policies in conflict with their code of ethics.
Connecticut has a surplus budget of $1.5 billion and rainy-day fund of $3.1 billion so money is clearly not the problem. The lack of will to treat incarcerated people in a more humane manner is at the root of resistance from guards. Allowing people more out of cell time would mean the “leisure” job guards have enjoyed for decades would be over. Those days of keeping people in cages for 20-22 hours a day would no longer be a norm.
Solitary confinement robs one of sanity and humanity. Many return to their families and communities without resources to support them. I think of minds being shattered, spirits being broken, humanity diminished while we wait for justice for incarcerated people. There is no settlement for those moms. No one is held accountable for “destroying their lives” and devastating their families.
Last year legislatures did their job. They passed the PROTECT Act with bi partisan support. A monumental task. The governor chose to veto legislation which would have put us in line with other states who have legislation codified into law. Connecticut remains convinced they are a national model for change. Time to face reality.
I applaud the success of moms holding the Sackler family accountable for harms caused by opioids and the multi- billion settlement. I hope the day will come when “other moms” who are invisible to broader Connecticut society can find restitution for harms their sons and daughters endured within the belly of this insidious carceral system in Connecticut. We cry too.
West Haven resident and CT licensed clinical social worker