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The word “security” and the ideas about prison environments go together like a hand and glove.

This can be simply explained if we look at something as seemingly inconsequential as lighting. Humans require a certain amount of uninterrupted darkness, which allows their internal pharmaceutical company — the brain — to produce a number of bio-chemicals like melatonin and perform other functions required to maintain both mental and physical health. 

But, in the name of security, jails and prisons put a 10- to 20-watt light bulb in every cell, a light which remains on 24/7, not to mention the endless light streaming in through the narrow windows of the cell and cell door. If your biological need for approximately four hours of uninterrupted darkness is interrupted, you do not operate at peak capacity.

Sound is another way to apply psychological violence under the guise of security. Where I am held captive, hidden deep in the mountains of Virginia at the dead end of a wrong-turn road, we are miles from anything. It is a low- to medium-security facility even though it is operated like a max security. 

We have six counts a day, four formal ones and two as we sleep. The formal counts are always accompanied by a whistle blown for far longer than necessary and an announcement over the PA system that has its volume pushed so loud you can hear the speaker cone distorting the voice of whoever is making the announcement. 

Both of these unnecessarily loud noises are extra redundancies backing up the scream of “STAND FOR COUNT!!” 

Once again, this is a security measure, but on a compound with no gate passes and fully controlled movement. What are they attempting to secure? 

These are just two examples of psychological violence that builds daily to a crescendo of life-altering, deep trauma that will become permanent. It is not for anything good, not in any way. 

Everyone is aware that prison staff are trained to be verbally abusive as a means of not only creating a master/servant relationship, but also of instigating a captive to react the wrong way. This reaction — completely natural after months and years of daily harm and abuse — is then cited as justification for the use of enhanced violence against the captive, most often physical, at the hands of five or more staff. 

There is also malnutrition to consider. In Virginia, we see fewer than 1,500 calories per day, usually all carbs with no vitamins and minerals to be found in any meal. 

BOOM, another psychological kick to the teeth. 

And speaking of teeth, dental problems are often ignored, and care is not provided. Now take a good look in the mirror. The black bags and circles around the eyes, the lost teeth, the 40 pounds of carbs on your distended stomach, the pasty skin, the odd buzz from somewhere deep inside your disturbed and agitated mind, the hair gone gray seemingly overnight. 

It is then you start to realize that no future exists so long as this abusive psychological violence continues. You begin to wonder how much more degradation you will be able to handle. 

For the first time in your 40 years, you give serious consideration to ending your own life. Not only to stop the horrible and cruel daily trauma, but also to force everyone to acknowledge that in fact you were actually murdered by the Department of Corrections (DOC), which has done so much damage and harm behind the euphemism of security that death was a better option when compared to another day of getting hurt. 

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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David Annarelli

David Annarelli is a contributing writer, who began writing as a means of coping with captivity. He was born in Ft. Worth, Texas, and was raised in Philadelphia by his adoptive parents. He is a father, musician and activist. He is serving a 20-year sentence at the Pocahontas State Correctional Center in Pocahontas, Virginia.