There were two points during my prison stint when I was subjected to extreme and extended periods of confinement. They called it CM, Close Management. Six DR’s, Disciplinary Reports, in 6 months would earn you an express ticket to “The Red Roof Inn,” the CM building. It was designed for the most dangerous and belligerent inmates. I never considered myself to be amongst the most dangerous and belligerent, not even close, but I do believe there was something about my indifference towards “The Box” that may have irked some of the guards.
One time, as punishment for “looking at” a female officer, I was given a 5-gallon bucket by another officer, a skinny dude with a big mustache, and led to a desolate area behind the medical building, in sight of a Guard Tower.
“Fill it to the top with those rocks,” he said.
I’d heard stories of officers handing inmates brooms and instructing them to “sweep the sun off the sidewalk,” or handing them toothbrushes to “clean the toilets” with. I always told myself I’d refuse to complete any of those ridiculous requests. I looked at the officer and nodded my head. “Okay.”
He returned a half hour later and I was sitting on the bucket smoking one of those hand-rolled jail cigarettes.
“What are you doing,” he asked. “I told you to fill the bucket.”
I stood up. “I was,” I said, “but I got tired and needed a break.”
He came over, looked in the bucket and saw three small rocks in it. “When I come back this bucket better be halfway full,” he demanded, then walked away.
When he returned I was 20 feet away from the bucket, shooting buzzer beaters. I was caught in the middle of one of those 3-2-1-he-shoots-scores-and-the-crowd-goes-wild fantasies.
“Varela,” he said, “I’m gonna lock your ass up! Is that what you want?”
“Honestly,” I responded, “Whether I’m on the compound or in confinement, I’m still locked up, I still can’t see my family and I’m still not free, so I don’t really care.”
His face did a near-perfect impression of a strawberry. “You just got yourself a D.R. Turn around and put your hands behind your back.”
For the most part, those were the types of infractions that got me to CM the first time. Nine months later I was released from CM. Three months after that, I was back on CM, this time would be for 13 months, for a more serious infraction. I was accused of “Attempting to Incite a Riot.” It was a situation that could’ve gotten out of control, and yes, there was a tension about the incident that felt as if a sudden eruption was imminent, but I didn’t orchestrate the moment. It just unfolded that way. But that’s a story for another time. Right now, I’m focusing on the combined twenty-two months on CM in just a twenty-five month period.
Close Management is 24-hour lockdown. You’re taken to the showers on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, in cuffs and shackles. And you’re allowed to go to the “rec yard” once a week for 3 hours. The rec yard is a fenced-in square that’s cut through diagonally by another fence, so it’s more like two fenced-in triangles butted up against each other. Most inmates would go to the rec yard to get that 3 hours of sunlight. Not me. On the way to the rec yard, or on the way back, or sometimes both, there’d be a strip search involved, where you’d have to grab your “sack,” lift, turn around, spread your cheeks, lift both feet, showing the bottom, squat down and cough. It was way too much degradation for 3 hours of sunlight. I would go out maybe once a month.
At first, I was able to deal with being confined to a cell all day. I think I was able to block out the reality of it. Then it got more comfortable. I could relax in there, read all day and pray and think and plan what I was going to do when I got released. Then it was normal. I eventually got to the point where I preferred it. I know that sounds crazy, to you, but it’s true, I preferred it. Not once did I consider the psychological effects of long-term isolation.
Close Management wasn’t my first time in confinement. Throughout the years leading to that point I had visited The Box many times, a month here, two or three months there. Stepping foot in prison, I knew that if I became familiar with confinement then there would be nothing that the officers could threaten me with. And it worked, maybe all too well. I sometimes wonder if the time I spent in confinement is the reason I’m so introverted today. I wonder if it’s the reason I chose to major in creative writing, something I can do in solitude. I wonder if I have Social-Sensory Deprivation Syndrome. Most times, however, I do not question my introversion. It seems the most natural state for me, the most comfortable, where I’m free to just be.