Transcript: Anthony Graves’s testimony on solitary confinement before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on June 19, 2012

Partial transcript of testimony of Anthony Graves, Founder of Anthony Believes and former incarcerated for 18 years on death row in Texas, on solitary confinement. The hearing on “Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences” was held before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights on June 19, 2012:

…My name is Anthony Graves, and I’m a death row exoneree number 138. I was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in Texas back in 1992.

Like all death row inmates, I was kept in solitary confinement under some of the worst conditions imaginable, with the filth, the food, the total disrespect of human dignity.

I lived under the rules of a system that is literally driving men out of their minds.

I survived the torture, but I – those 18 years were no way to live.

I lived in a small 8 by 12 foot cage. I had a steel bunk bed with very thin plastic mattress and pillow that you could only trade out once a year. I had back problems as a result. I had a steel toilet and sink that were connected together, and it was positioned in the sight of male and female officers. Degrading.

I had a small shelf that I was able to use as a desk to write on and eat on. There was a very small window up at the top of the back wall. In order to see the sky, you would have to roll your plastic mattress up to stand on. I had concrete walls that was always peeling with old paint.

I lived behind a steel door that had two small slits in it, the space replaced with iron mesh wire, which was dirty and filthy. Those slits were cut out to communicate with the officers that were right outside your door.

There was a slot that was called a pan hole and that’s how you would receive your food.

I had to sit on my steel bunk like a trained dog while the officers would place the trays in my slot. This is no different from the way we train our pets.

The food lacks the proper nutrition because it’s either dehydrated when served to you or perhaps you’ll find things like rat feces or a small piece of broken glass. When I was escorted to the infirmary one day, I was walking past where they fixed the food and I watched this guy fix the food and was sweating in it. That was the food they was going to bring me.

There is no real medical care. I had no television, no telephone, and most importantly, I had no physical contact with another human being for 10 of the 18 years I was incarcerated.

Today, I have a hard time being around a group of people for long periods of time without feeling too crowded. No one can begin to imagine the psychological effects isolation has on another human being.

I was subjected to sleep deprivation. I would hear the clanging of metal doors throughout the night or inmate kicking and screaming because he’s lost his mind.

Guys become paranoid, schizophrenic, and can’t sleep because they’re hearing voices. I was there when guys would attempt suicide by cutting themselves, trying to tie a sheet on their neck, overdosing on their medication. Then there were the guys that actually committed suicide.

I would have to live with these vivid memories for the rest of my life. I would watch guys come to prison totally sane and in three years they don’t live in the real world anymore.

I know a guy who would sit in the middle of his floor, rip his sheet up, wrap it around himself and light it on fire.

Another guy who would go out in the recreation yard, get naked, lie down, and urinate all over himself. He would take his feces and smear on himself as though he was in combat. They ruled he was competent to be executed.

I knew guys who dropped their appeals not because they gave up hope on their legal claims but because the conditions were just intolerable. They would rather die than continue to exist under such inhumane conditions.

Solitary confinement – it breaks a man’s will to live and he deteriorates right in front of your eyes. He’s never the same person again. Then his mother comes to see him; she can’t touch him – she hasn’t touched him in years. And she watches as her son deteriorates in front of her eyes.
This thing has a ripple effect. It don’t just affect the inmate. It affects his family, his siblings, his children, and most importantly it affects his mother.
I have been free for almost two years, and I still cry at night because no one out here can relate to what I’ve gone through. I battle with these feelings of loneliness.

I’ve tried therapy but it didn’t work. The therapist was crying more than me. She could not imagine how inhumane, how a system would treat people.

I haven’t had a good night sleep since I’ve been out. I only sleep about 2.5 to 3 hours a night and then I’m up. My body has not made the adjustment.
I have mood swings that just causes emotional breakdowns. I don’t know where they come from. They just come out of nowhere.

Solitary confinement makes our criminal justice system criminal. Criminal. It is inhumane and by its design it is driving men insane.

I am living amongst millions of people out here but I still feel alone, and I cry at night because of these feelings. I want them to stop but they won’t.

I watch men literally self-mutilate themselves. They have to be put on razor restrictions because if they’re given a razor, they’ll cut their own throat, their own neck, whatever they can cut on their bodies. Just stand there in front of you and cut themselves. And there’s one man in particular that I watched do this. They took him to what they called the psych ward. A few days later, he hung himself. All because of the conditions.

There’s a man that’s sitting on Texas’s death row right now who was housed in solitary confinement pulled his eye out and swallowed it. All because of the conditions.

Solitary confinement dehumanizes us all.

Thank you, Chair.

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