Thursday, December 18, 2008

U.S. Political Prisoner Herman Bell Describes The Agony Of Isolation.


By Herman Bell, December 2008

When imprisoned, and placed in an isolation unit, at some point you begin to live inside yourself, assessing and measuring how you are doing against the moment-to-moment, day-to-day challenges that you are confronted by to gage how well you are getting on. Even though we may spend countless years in prison, little if anything ever changes there. This might sound contradictory: in our minds we can become inured to the harshest conditions as a natural survival instinct; however in reality, they remain just as agonizing. How we deal with them, process them, interact with them in our mind largely determines the change we perceive around us and inside ourselves.

Isolation bears two recognizable features: one is introspection, the other is torture. It brings out the worst in us and the best in us; regardless, we must somehow still make it through the day. And in the course of that day, and every day, we must fight our demons, real and imagined. The real ones are plain enough to see. They turn the keys. (But not all the turn-keys are bad, just most of them. I like to think that the decent ones were well brought up by their parents; and that the bad ones, perhaps, didn’t receive all they thought they should from their parents and others, and therefore will always feel the world owe them something and that meantime they can do whatever they want. Controlling for greed and ideology -- how else do we explain the pathology of man’s inhumanity to man?)

Isolation means you are cut off from the rest of the world, save for the occasional life-line that finds its way to you in the form of a visit, a letter, and the occasional headline on a discarded newspaper that you might glimpse as you pass it by. Your world is greatly reduced. Fresh air, sunlight, food, keeping your body and clothes clean -- the things you once took for granted -- take on new importance in your life.

Under these reduced circumstances, you become so sucked into yourself that an hour feels like a day has gone by, a day feels like a week, and a week like a month. You lose a sense of time; you no longer care whether it’s day or night; you hallucinate; you hyperventilate. You know your scene has to change, nothing lasts forever. Your survival instincts keep you holding on. And suddenly the unexpected melodic sound of jangling keys break through the cocoon that time and isolation had woven around you. Then you wonder had all that been a dream.

Isolation transposes our reality; physical torture shapes it. Physical torture is a ravening beast that has slipped its bounds from Hell to feast upon the soul of humanity. It’s the Big Bad Wolf threatening the Three Little Pigs. It’s the Boogeyman lurking in the woods we heard so much about, coming to get us. It’s our worst nightmare rattling a locked door, straining mightily to get at us. It’s Abu-Ghraib; it’s Guantanamo; it’s the CIA’s Extraordinary Rendition; it’s the screams of prisoners in U.S. police stations. It’s the cries of the torn, the battered, the tormented victims of this ravenous beast that rears its ugly head to feast on pried fingernails; electrically charred genitalia, ear lobes, and human breasts; chased down with a liter of water-boarding, stress-positions, extremes of hot and cold temperatures; and garnished with absolute silence and jarring noise. All done to preserve an antiquated political and economic system that deprives the many of their needs and serves the few in their greed. Outrage against this social practice should know no bounds; how can we not fight to end it?! Let us send the beast and its minions back to where they belong.

Herman Bell, One Of The New York Three

In 1995, when my mother became gravely ill, I was not allowed to visit her sick bed, to hold her hand, to ease her pain. And later that year when she passed away, my keepers gave me a ten-minute phone call to learn of her final words from my siblings.

Given these long years of being locked down, having to fight each day of them on one level or another, nothing caused me more pain than the passing of my momma and me being unable to look upon her face or hold her hand one final time. She and I had made big plans for when I got out, going fishing at the reservoir was at the top of our list. It was a longstanding deal between us. From childhood, I acquired her love of flowers, especially for red roses. Hers were exceptionally pretty and fragrant, and she would remark: Not bad for a country girl. She had no direct hand in shaping my politics, but her strength of character, gentle spirit, wisdom, and easy laughter had much to do with making me the person I am today; and I miss her so.

Throughout these past 24 years of imprisonment for my participation in the Black Liberation Movement of the 60's and early 70's, I have had the good fortune to know and care for so many people who have shared my experience of living a good portion of our adult lives behind these walls. Just the other day I received another one of those special letters I receive now and again from young men whom I have befriended over the years. This particular young man had not checked in for almost fifteen years. He began by thanking me for making him go to school to get his General Education Diploma (G.E.D.) and to vocational shop to earn a state certification in "plumbing." Says he now has a good job as a plumber (chuckle), that he got married, owns his own home, and is the father of two teenage sons. He even mentioned the family dog . . .

A letter like that would make anybody's day. But as we can all well imagine, a little nudge here, a word of encouragement there, would go a far piece with our troubled youth in helping them turn their lives around. We just have to take the time to care. Caring for and respecting others are qualities I also learned from my mother.

At any rate, this is some of what I do in here, and I'm sure many of my fellow political prisoners and POW comrades do the same! We care about the people.

Together, Let us build to win


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