About a week after Thanksgiving of 2004, I stabbed a cop (prison guard) when I was at the Barrington Unit, located between Houston and Galveston. I spent the next fifteen years in administrative segregation, or, “ad-seg,” as it’s known.
I was finally released from ad-seg in January of 2020 after years of TDC telling me that they were never going to let me out. And after fifteen years I was beginning to believe them.
Ad-seg, in reality, is just a cute little euphemism used by the State to mean “the lockup” — solitary confinement. It is also being referred to these days as “Restricted Housing,” a public relations stunt so that the public may believe that administrative segregation has been abolished—whatever.
Inmates, on the same hand, are now being referred to as “residents;” like we’re not all a bunch of thugs but, instead, smiley-faced kiddos away from mom and dad for the summer. I know, it makes me laugh too. But whatever kind of dress the State puts on it, a rose is still a rose, a crook is still a crook, and restricted housing is still the lockup and still ad-seg.
Administrative segregation, in theory anyway, is used primarily for housing certain inmates (or “residents,” if you like) apart from the general prison population for “security reasons.” However, “security” is one of those vague, catch-all terms that prison bureaucracies love to use but in actuality could mean anything.
Administrative segregation is divided into two distinct designations: Security Detention and Protective Custody. The latter generally applies to those who have given information to the cops and are now at risk of reprisals. They have turned State’s evidence on other crooks in order to obtain lesser sentences, or they have bounties on their heads by gang members they “snitched” on, or they have something else going on that puts them in serious fear for their lives.
Those placed in security detention, however, refer to those inmates who pose a threat to “the safety of staff or other inmates” (another largely meaningless phrase). To a large extent, security detention consists of those that the State has “tagged” as a member of a gang labelled “disruptive.” Many of these cats have been “segged up” for simply belonging to the gang with no other serious rule violation. In fact, many of these guys have not had a disciplinary case in years.
TDC also has this little thing going on where they place people in ad-seg for “gang associations.” This is something far different from actual “associations” and amounts to little more than hair splitting. If they can’t tag someone as a member, TDC places people into the lockup for “associating with known gangsters.” Well, hell. You can’t throw a rock in any direction without hitting a gangster. Are we therefore being ordered by the administration to simply ignore these people? Many of these guys are our friends, our neighbors, and sometimes even our blood relatives. We do not get to choose who we live around.
As with those who are affiliated, associates are put into the lockup as a means to isolate gang members and the people who associate with them, effectively shutting down these organizations within the prison system. TDC had stopped using this practice around 1996 or 1997, but has begun using it again over the last ten or twelve years.
Security detention also includes those with serious rule violations. Some examples are rape, murder, extortion, assault with a weapon, escape (although I can’t imagine why anyone would want to. Can you?), and hostage taking. This last one, as a rule, seems to do more time in the lockup than anyone else. I think that TDC feels that if you’re crazy enough to take another person hostage then there probably ain’t much you won’t do.
Over the last few years, there has been more than a little talk about the psychologically unsafe, unsound, and non-redemptive qualities of long-term isolation. These criticisms mostly come from psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, and other garden variety detractors. From what I have read of their published writings, they, as a group, generally feel that the practice verges on barbaric and is a major contributor to such mental bogeys as bipolar disorder and suicidal ideation. Other detractors believe that long-term isolation is a leading cause of depression, anxiety, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as psychosis like schizophrenia and sociopathy. Arguably, ad-seg creates monsters.
These detractors, however, do not know everything. In fact, there is far more that they do not know about the prison system in general and administrative segregation specifically than they do.
While I have done enough ad-seg time to see more than one person begin to high side it, the truth is that the majority of the cats in the lockup whose mental gears start slipping already had something going on. The isolation just tends to aggravate it. TDC has taken cats with mental problems and hidden them in ad-seg for as long as I can remember just to keep them from getting maimed or killed. I mean, there is no shortage of cats in the population who have just enough sense to get their head busted. There are no institutions down here for people with mental illnesses and no real help for them. I mean, even on “medical” farms doctors and nurses just keep the “residents” doped up so they’ll be quiet and let everybody get some sleep. Churn ’em and burn ’em.
But after years in the lockup, where are we to go? Nothing is the same as we remember, and adapting to being around people once again is not as easy as you might think. Except for an eleven month hiatus in 2004, I have effectively been in administrative segregation since March of 1994. Yes–it’s been a long while. And although today I might not be your average American, I am still of sound mind…well, mostly. The key to surviving ad-seg and coming out in one mental piece is to keep your mind active. Read, write, draw, paint, work out, learn a new language, brush up on an old one, or learn to write shorthand. It doesn’t matter. Anything to get you out of your own head and out of your own way. Something to gain you another perspective. After enough years, objectivity cannot always be counted on.
This isn’t to say that if you stay active ad-seg won’t take its toll. It will and it does. That’s just the nature of the beast, and I will be the first person to attest as to the psychological unhealthiness of long-term administrative segregation. What I couldn’t see while down the rabbit hole, however,, is that ad-seg has opened a sense of detachment within me, almost a feeling of dissociation. I am impatient and short-tempered. Minor aggravations get under my skin and bother me far more than they do most people. My social skills suck. There are many times I just don’t know what to say or how to respond to others. So I grin and try to fake my way through. Sometimes I’m even successful. People talk to me and it’s as if their words are tumbling down some weird auditory kaleidoscope. Well, that latter ain’t exactly right but it’s close enough for government work.
Since getting out of ad-seg I no longer like crowds or enjoy being around people very much. I long for the solitude of segregation. I always feel as if this is all temporary, as though I’m constantly one minute away from something happening. Like being all dressed up in your tux and waiting for the limo to arrive.
This is what I mean when I say that ad-seg makes monsters of us. Not only are we no longer the men we once were, or had hoped to become, but we are no longer fit company for anyone. Not even ourselves.
While serving time for burglary, J.S. Slaymaker assaulted two guards and received an additional 170 years in prison.
J.S. Slaymaker #634548
Ramsey I Unit
1100 FM 655
Rosharon, Texas 77583