Category Archives: Solitary Confinement

It Was A Panic Attack!!! Trust Me… I Know??

Since my arrival in the Missouri Department of Corruptions, I’ve grown.  I have developed. I have matured… but I’ve become some – thing, something I cannot place in words.  I have learned how to speak Swahili.  I’ve learned about religion, dogma, doctrine and esoteric science.  I have accepted life, I have endured pain.  I have seen conflict.  I have waged war…  I, in a nutshell, became insensitive to people, places, things, etcetera.

What I haven’t found is self. I overstand that many different key fundamental elements make up the crux of my being.  I know that I exist, yet I don’t know… I just don’t.  I sometimes sit and ponder as to the ‘how’ of things.  The ‘why’ of situations.  That ‘what if’.  My answers have merit, this I do know.  I get them in my most manic of states.  However, I am not crazy, or so I think.

In all of the malarkey that I hear, all of the beef I contend, all of the pigs that I resist, I still just am.  This is my issue.  Why won’t ‘they’ just allow me to be?  This is my question every nanosecond of every single hell scorned day, WHY?

Out of everything that I lost once, I was forcibly kidnapped, held for ransom and subsequently placed in the gulag to rot, wither and die – I have yet to lose my mind.  Of all the things that were taken away when they stripped me of my dignity, I was able to retain my thoughts. Every tangible object was taken and then memory obliterated, however, they have yet to kill my hopes and dreams.  I will not leave those behind.  Not because I am so strong to appropriate them from the death grasp of these feral hogs, only due to the reality that this is all that I have left. They would have to literally murder me in order for me to subserviently turn them over – or so I hope.

One other thing I haven’t lost is control.  It humors me to utter (write) such a statement.  I mean of self, but even this is frail.

I’m not pessimistic.  I just see nothing but darkness. Like Riddick in miseries Chronicle.  I view those most ugly of creatures, fighting with only tooth, nail, brawn, and vigor.   Still I remain the victor.

As the day twists into night, time seems not to matter much.  I can care less about a clock.  Maybe this is because I’ve gone years without seeing one.  Sun up, sun down.  Lights on, lights out. Three measly portions and a flex pen later it’s time to retire and they still won’t stop racing.  Even upon forced slumber, LaLa Land rejects me.  Will I ever be accepted?  Is there anybody who won’t ostracize me?  Do I approve of who I have become?  And the story goes on – the sun is peeking.  Nearly Fajr time.  I finally nod… yet still aware.

I’ve romanticized with the idea, the vision, experience, even aftermath of a revolution.  I am no revolutionary – I am a reformist in the most contemporary sense.  An ‘illegitimate capitalist’ as Huey P. Newton placed it in his essay, “Prison, Where is Thy Victory”.  I’m a militant feminist, debatist, reactionist, humanist, and a (poly)monotheist.  I’m intolerantly intolerant [sic], confused, yet in the know.  I’m an opportunist.  A follower as well as a leader.  I AM A CONTRADICTION; DUALISTIC.  If I cannot be true with self, I’ll be the epitome of a fraud to a jury of my non-peers.  They will judge.  It’s just the way of (wo)men.  Trust me, I know.  I am of them.  This is my struggle.  What occurs in my psyche daily. The thing I battle with subconsciously until my cerebral cortex feels as if it’s on the verge of implosion.  The shit I can’t control… my thoughts!!!  WHO AM I?  What will I become??? This is the question.

As I stir, I sit up and groggily walk over to the grimy steel sink.  “Bismellah,” as I make wudu, purification, I think about the Last Day.  I heard the wail of the Adhan, and its breaks my thoughts abruptly.  As I fall into sajdah, prostration, and mouth the prayer of Ibraheem and taslim to the left and then the right to the Noble Scribers, “Count time, Count time.  Standing count.  Name and number.  Make yourselves visible!”

I begin to think.  Unnaturally, I growl, “Greer 1153032.”  WHO AM I?  Is this my life?? My heart races.  Breathe… I thought I saw a monster out of my peripheral.  I turn to my left in alarm, braced for the attack.  Nobody??  It’s me, the man in the mirror.  As I look at my reflection, is it??  Damn! This can’t be happening again.  Breathe…

Tracy Greer, Jr. has been in ‘the hole’ for two years.  He is a gifted writer of poetry, fiction and essays.

Tracy Greer, Jr. 1153032
South Central Correctional Center
255 W. Hwy 32
Licking MO 65542


Let Us Break Men In Our Image

Most prisoners housed in solitary confinement for extensive periods of time, at some point, will see in the mirror an almost unrecognizable Dr. Frankenstein like creation.  Their own disfigured features are the result of the institution’s mode of dismembering faculties and a person’s natural resistance to being tortured.

Some choose suicide rather than be a co-conspirator in their own dehumanization.  The most atrocious part is not necessarily when we experience our intellect losing the battle with our instincts to preserve whatever fragile fragments of sanity we have miraculously salvaged.   Nor is it the pressure of our desire to make sense out of no sense crushing our conscience.  No, the most atrocious part may be the toxic chemical combustion of our hyper sensationalized reactionary parts, most of which are undetectable to the untrained eye until there is a violent explosion of highly flammable feelings. Including one feeling in particular I have discovered in which the source of the pressure, the desire to escape the inescapable fate that is my institutionalization, has evolved just as much as my necessity to breathe oxygen, drink water, or eat food.

It is a God like force we know as self preservation.  We each have immaterial faculties like our will, our reason, our emotions, and any inmate who is genuinely interested in rehabilitation cannot put his or her human nature up for ransom, even under the illusion that it is payment for a debt to society.  Not when this debt requires one’s agencies of independence to be traded for a politically induced state of permanent  dependency.

Let me be clear, as I want to leave absolutely no room for any misinterpretation or doubt about what I mean  by the title, ‘Let Us Break Men In Our Image.’  The Tennessee Department of Corrections, while acting under the official capacity of state law, demands at gunpoint that every aspect of my functioning be in full compliance with my own dehumanization.  The ultimate goal is to incapacitate my rights, incapacitate my mind, incapacitate my heart, and incapacitate my soul, until I have no power, until I have no will, until I have no reason, until I have no conscience, nor feelings, nor individuality.  Until I have no potential to survive the challenges of the day to day struggle to adjust and fit in outside these prison walls, nor even so much as love myself enough to care.

By the time some inmates are unleashed on society, after having long endured the post traumatic stress disorder like effects of extensive psychological warfare, it’s too late.  It’s too late when it takes the form of an impulsive, irrational, unprovoked criminal act because we’ve been left with nothing of our humanity but our instincts.

The majority of the institutionalized will end up back in state or federal custody, and in actuality, many will have never left.  The institution was designed, by its nature, to metamorphosis into a living and breathing replica of its own likeness.  You can call the system Torture and Dehumanization of Prisoners by State and Federal Design, or tough on crime, or you can even call it criminal justice.

As for me, I’ll just call what is left of the so called ‘department of corrections’ what it is.   I’ll just call it, this broken thing, that keeps reproducing these broken things…

The author, James Smith, has served nearly twenty years and will be eligible for parole in 2056.
James Smith #323820
P.O. Box 2000
Wartburg, TN 37887



The Womb Of The Beast

After walking away from a decade in solitary, I did not feel rehabilitated.  I was and am frustrated at not really being able to understand the real damage done to my mind until I am released from prison all together.  Who can predict the type of person or monster these isolation units will re-birth back into society?  Is there a possibility that destructive behavior will be born out of being forced into an environment where an individual is purposely outcast, ‘misfitted’, and alienated through prolonged solitary confinement?

An elephant has one of the longest gestation periods, lasting twenty two months.  A woman’s pregnancy lasts about forty weeks.  The figurative gestation period of isolation units holding prisoners sometimes exceeds years, even decades.  If the cells in a prison are the belly of the beast, the isolation units are the womb.

When prisoners are left to languish within isolation cells for prolonged periods, those cells then become a place of development.  But nothing about this development period is constructive to the mind and spirit.  The environment is made of cold metal and concrete and filled with air that carries the sound of screams, fists pounding on doors, and unpredictable moments of dead silence.   There is little to no compassion or communication with the outside world, and the opening of the cell door acts as the umbilical cord the beast uses to maintain our life through food, mail and medications.

In the womb of a woman, a baby is surrounded by warmth and the nourishment of amniotic fluid.  Doctors can test the fluids to determine the baby’s health.  In the womb of the beast, there are no amniotic fluids, rather psychological pressure attacking those it holds within.  The pressure is a mix of horror, anger, wrath, loneliness, hate and sadness.  There is no way for doctors to test a prisoner’s well-being and monitor health.  So what happens upon rebirth?

Some prisoners may come out strong, others broken, but all affected.  Many will get lost in the psychological labyrinth and come out part human and part beast – psychopathic minotaurs.

Restrictive conditions within the ‘womb’, solitary, are radically different in harshness than in the ‘belly’, general population.  When exposed to the radical prison gestation conditions of the Womb of The Beast, prisoners are more prone to develop mental and personality disorders, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Post Incarcerated Syndrome, Dependent Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, etc.  While suffering such mental and emotional traumas, these prisoners are more susceptible to staying in or joining gangs, or worse, becoming radicalized for religious or political causes.  All of which makes them more likely to commit more crimes upon release, even the extreme kinds.  But, this could be the goal of the Beast and its many minions (investors and employees).   If it doesn’t end, we will continue to see…

Illegitimate Trick Babies
Conceived from the blood of society’s lust,
Forcing thousands into an underworld
That never gave a fuck,
One way or another,
DNA make ups
Of crooked cops, prosecutors, and judges,
Who wear the masks of equality
Knowing damn well
They never loved us!

It’s Toxic Wombs Constructed
Of barbed-wire labyrinths of unforeseen change,
Too many years developing
Within the womb of a fiend,
Drowning us in the fathoms of tattoo tears
While constantly stabbing our souls
With infected syringes of loss and pain,
Depriving the many caterpillars
Held within its concrete cocoons,
Slowly killing the moths
Before they can reach
The lights of truth!

While Never Preparing
It’s offspring to breath
The polluted air of society:
“The Deceit of nature!”
Designed to systematically scrape you,
Of all your humanity
And class,
While it proudly welcomes you:
“Com’on man!”
Before it’s billy-clubbed hands
Smack numbers on your ass,
Push you back inside
For the labor process
To start all over again.

As you can gather at this point, I am not an educated person, nor a certified psychologist or behavioral scientist, but my experiences and my descriptions are truthful and authentic.  My experience being exposed to solitary units for prolonged periods has afforded me valuable perspective.  We need to continuously move toward abolishing the use of solitary confinement in all U.S. prisons.

While in general population, people often look at me strange when they realize I’m one of the guys who has spent ten or more years in solitary.  Many have asked me, “Did you lose your mind while you were in there, bruh?”

I always reply, “Hell, nah.  I’m too strong to go out like that!”

But the reality of it is, that I do not know how damaged I really am, because I suffer underneath my soldier’s mask of strength and fortitude and sometimes whisper to myself in the mirror, “They got me fucked up…”

‘But, who isn’t messed up in some type of way?’ my thoughts try to rationalize with my deepest internal cries.

I am haunted by a statement made by Friedrich Nietzche in “Beyond Good and Evil” (1986):

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.  And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”


Leon Benson #995256
4490 W. Reformatory Road
Pendleton, IN 46064
(Due to mailroom restrictions, any communication with Leon Benson is required to be written or typed on notebook lined paper.  Unfortunately, he cannot receive printed correspondence.)

The Echoes of Solitary

When people try to tell me I can find a better ‘cause’ than criminal justice reform, it only punctuates how much need there is for education. This is just one story. This story and the countless like it are why this is my cause.

I have children, and it isn’t a stretch to envision one of them being picked up by the police for something or other. As a matter of fact, I’ve received a phone call or two regarding my children. Their brains aren’t fully developed at the age of sixteen, and it’s fair to say there will be bumps in the road. It’s life. I’m not talking about gang violence or rape or home invasions. I am talking about kid stuff. One of the more concerning calls I ever received was when one of my boys was on top of a Staples office supply store.   Who knows what he was doing up there, because the police who were holding him when I arrived didn’t climb up on the building to find out.

But – what if. What if I didn’t know the officer? I did. What if there had been something on that roof that pointed towards my son. Kalief Browder was sixteen years old when he was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack. The charge was second degree robbery. The boy was walking home, in his own neighborhood when the arrest took place. Nothing was found on Browder at the time.

Kalief was given a choice. He could take a plea bargain. If he did, he would be released. He refused though, trusting in the fairness of the system. He was confident his innocence would speak for itself.

Browder’s family couldn’t come up with the bail money. So, a boy who was not found guilty of any crime, was sent to Rikers Island to await a trial. The trial never took place though. He was held for three years, at which time the charges were dropped.

Rikers Island has long been thought of as a dangerous and isolated place – with good reason. It is just that – dangerous and isolated. Not only are there walls and fences to keep eyes from seeing what takes place inside, but it is also on an island. That, in itself, fosters feelings of hopelessness.

During his stay at Rikers, Kalief was offered several opportunities to take a plea. He never waivered, maintaining his innocence. He also attempted to take his own life on several occasions while there. Kalief Browder’s stay at Rikers changed him. He reported abuse by inmates and officers and spent nearly two years of his stay in solitary. In an article written by Jennifer Gonnerman, she included a clip of footage that was obtained from inside Rikers. It’s haunting when you see this young man being tossed around like a rag doll, knowing that this is just the footage that we have access to. He had several more stories of abuse to tell, of which we don’t have footage.

Kalief wasn’t able to shake his experiences when the charges against him were finally dropped. He was twenty. He couldn’t fill his old shoes anymore. He’d missed his place in life. He didn’t know where he fit in while the rest of the world had kept moving without him. He was quoted in one article as saying, “…in my mind right now, I feel like I’m still in jail, because I’m still feeling the side effects from what happened in there.”

He reportedly couldn’t sleep at night until he checked all the locks throughout the home. At one point, he was fearful his TV was watching him, so he got rid of it. He wasn’t able to escape his experience. He tried to end his life on numerous occasions and finally succeeded at his parents’ home when he was twenty two years old.

This is what’s happening in the United States of America. This is my cause. The expanse of this problem – from the judges, to the corrections officers, to the prosecutors, to the public defenders – is overwhelming. Saying this is not a ‘just’ cause is so far from the truth. People like Kalief Browder deserve advocates. You can see a sick puppy, you can see an orphan – you can’t see what is happening behind the walls of a prison.

It’s difficult to open ourselves up to the possibility that this could happen to our sixteen year old son. It’s much easier to think it can’t. Kalief’s mom found him after he took his life. She heard banging in the house and couldn’t figure out what the noise was, so she went outside. When she looked up from her backyard, she saw her son dangling from a window by a cord. He’d hung himself.

It wasn’t long after that Venida Browder, Kalief’s mother, also passed away. Some say she died of a broken heart. I say the same when I try to feel what she must have felt during those years when she couldn’t free her son. When I look up and try to envision what she saw from where she stood in her yard, I am certain her heart was broken. It’s time we all cared.


Gonnerman, Jennifer. “Before the Law.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 08 June 2015. Web. 07 Jan. 2017.

Gonnerman, Jennifer. “Kalief Browder, 1993–2015.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 17 Oct. 2016. Web. 07 Jan. 2017.