My dramaturgy student wrote a scene – on his year of isolation


Steph wrote a scene about being locked up in Ad Seg – administrative segregation – in Trenton. He was sent to Ad Seg for 365 days in 2009 after he was found in possession of a contraband cell phone he had bought from a guard for $ 200 while in Northern State Prison in Newark. There are guards ready to sell the prisoners contraband items ranging from cell phones to drugs, including heroin.

Almost all of the students in the class had spent some time in solitary confinement – euphemistically called control units. Those accused of committing an offense are first sent to the “hole”, a pre-trial screening unit, until they are found guilty or innocent, which is almost always determined by the authorities. statements submitted by correctional officers. Prisoners in the hole are not allowed to have personal property or telephone privileges. They are held there between five and thirty days before being returned to the general population or, if found guilty, transferred to Ad Seg. Inmates can stay there for many years.

Prolonged isolation is psychologically damaging, promoting aggressive and self-destructive behavior. Prisoners can receive up to ninety days in Ad Seg for even minor offenses. It is not uncommon to spend a year, sometimes more, in Ad Seg, especially since a single offense, such as a brawl, can cause prisoners to be charged with many offenses such as a charge of assault. in fact, an accusation of brawl and an interruption of the institutional travel tax. Prisoners who only engage in one brawl can rape so many offenses in this case that they spend up to three to five years in Ad Seg. He was banned by a solitary confinement law in New Jersey in August 2020, but he was resurrected in the New Jersey prison system under a new name, Restorative Housing Unit.

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Ad segment cells are six feet by eight feet. They include a bed, a sink and two small shelves. There are no windows. In summer, it is so hot that the metal walls sweat and the temperatures can rise to ninety-five degrees. Steph had a little fan in Ad Seg. He could buy a small bag of ice cream for seventy-five cents. He rubbed the ice cream on his face because it was melting quickly. In the back wall was a depression three feet high, two feet wide, and eighteen inches deep. It was his toilet. He didn’t blush. It was cleaned every few days. The stench of feces and urine filled the tiny cell. He was locked up twenty-three hours a day. The sound of voices echoing off the walls and in the hallways was deafening and constant. The cell was infested with mice. Meals were often rancid, and all the portions were so small that he was constantly hungry. Another prisoner kept a mouse on a string as a pet, a detail Steph wrote in the room. Steph was strip searched every time he left the cell, forced not only to stand naked, but also to open his mouth, run his fingers in his mouth, lift his genitals, pull himself together. bending over and coughing. The guards, to put him down, often forced him to repeat the process from the beginning so that he put his fingers in his mouth after manipulating his genitals.

“I saw inmates lose their grip on reality while they were in Ad Seg and how it damaged their sanity,” said Steph, who was going to graduate summa cum laude from Rutgers University. “They were playing with their own feces and even trying to kill themselves. The psychiatrist walked up a floor once a week, slowed down without stopping at each cell and asked through the bars: “Are you okay with that?” want to hurt yourself? The inmates never answered in the affirmative, because the neighbors could hear this questioning, and not being able to deal with Ad Seg was a sign of weakness that should not be displayed in prison.

“I became antisocial. I felt uncomfortable with people once I got out. I became more numb and struggled to hold a conversation for a while. It made me feel better. more angry. I hated people in positions of authority the moment I came out of isolation. For me, anyone who could bear to subject a human being to such dehumanizing conditions was bad. Ad Seg was the wildest moment of my life. “

It was eleven at night and everyone was locked in their tiny cells in the commercial segment of the scene written by Steph. The prisoners were screaming in the hallway for the things they needed. Steph yelled he wanted a newspaper.

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The objects had passed along the corridor by “fishing”, in which seven or eight narrow strips of fabric, torn from a sheet along its length, were tied together in a line. A bar of soap was attached to the end of the line. The prisoner wrapped the soap-free end around his left hand and lay down on the floor facing the bars. Then he reached between the narrow opening in the bars and began to throw the long cord of tissue out of the cell. Once he was out he grabbed the end with the soap. Lying on his stomach, his right arm out of his cell through the bars, he raised his left arm in the air. He let the soap hang in about ten inches of line. He twirled the thread in a lassoing motion, the soap swaying in the air, and tossed it down the hall until the soap slipped as far as the thread would allow. Steph had attached a laundry bag to the end of the line. When the line was returned and the laundry bag returned, he took out the newspaper and read a story about an eighteen-year-old named Amir, the same age and name as his son, who was shot dead in Newark. . But even then, he didn’t fully register. “It’s a common name. It’s a common name,” he repeated to himself desperately. He called home the next morning.

“I was reading the newspaper …” he said to his daughter.

“Yes, that was him,” she said.

“It must have been tough,” I told Steph after he read the scene.

“It was a difficult time,” he conceded.

Steph did not attend the viewing of his son. The cost was prohibitive. Inmates have fifteen minutes to visit a dying family member or deceased family member at a funeral home. No one other than correctional officers is allowed to be present. Prisoners have to pay overtime for accompanying correctional officers, which costs hundreds of dollars.

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