The Vortex of Dementia
By Abdul Olugbala Shakur
Transcribed by Kilaika Baruti
Though I have been active in the struggle for practically all of my life, from a Panther cub to an Urban guerrilla in the service of the underground, I have never considered myself to be a writer or at least not a good writer, but I felt it was imperative for me to conjure up whatever hidden skills I may possess to find the words to articulate this man-made construct that many of you out there call the Prison Industrial Complex. But for many of us trapped within its catacomb of solitary madness, this man-made construct of nefarious intent possess a more sinister title: The Vortex of Dementia.
For the vast majority of us, when we initially enter these gates of hell, the protection of our physical being was of paramount concern, not realizing the booty bandits were the least of our worries. But this realization doesn’t become manifest in its fullness until we enter into its vortex of twisted official-sanctioned configuration (i.e. the security housing unit: SHU) where our inherent stability becomes subjected to conditions specifically designed with both deliberate and malicious intent to disfigure our basic grasp onto the center gravity of our sanity, often times these conditions are subtle, but effective nonetheless.
My first three years in the security housing unit (SHU) was a blur, any attempt to probe my sanity was undetected by my conscious awareness, but it was my fourth year in isolation that my captors’ motives revealed themselves. While in the adjustment centers at San Quentin State Prison, I was arbitrarily placed in the quiet cell, no running water, no lights, no mattress, or blankets, just my boxer shorts and t-shirt. I didn’t sleep at all that first night. I was still trying to wrap my sensibility around my new reality. The cell stanched of urine and fecal matter, and on each side of my cell there were screams of torment, and constant banging on my walls, obviously an attempt orchestrated by my captors to deprive me of sleep, while I contemplated the now visible probes into my sanity.
Many of you are unaware of the overall objective of the Prison Industrial Complex, may be quick to dismiss the above experience as an aberration, not an elaborate scheme designed to break the spirit and torment the minds of its captives, the New Afrikan Revolutionary prisoners in particular. On the tenth day of being in the quiet cell, my neighbors were informed that if they did not kick on my wall late at night they’d not be removed from the quiet cell, a clear incentive in their complacent involvement to facilitate my captors’ endeavors to rob me of my sanity. For an entire month my neighbors kicked on my walls,and losing myself in sleep to escape this psychological torture was not an option, I was forced to confront this deliberate assault on my sanity. This scheme would repeat itself two more times. Each time longer than the next, the second times was approximately 45 days, and the third was 90 days. Then I was emergency transformed to Old Folsom State prison in 1985. San Quentin called Folsom Administration and lied to them about my alleged involvement in a prison guard murder, I was not even in the unit when it occurred, nor was I ever implicated in this matter, but it was San Quentin intent to evoke Folsom Administration to continue my psychological torture. Folsom placed me in four point restraint, butt naked under the guises that I allegedly had contraband in my rectum, which was not true. Two days later I was placed on the exercise yard and left out there all night in the rain, the next morning I was placed in the quiet cell in 4-A , where I stayed an additional six months. Then in 1987, I was placed in the first ever Bedrock Unit, I along with 24 white prisoners, I was the only New Afrikan(Black) Prisoner assigned to this unit and spent approximately eight (8) months in an environment designed to encourage a racial attack on me. I was eventually released from Bedrock (i.e.) behavioral control unit) once my captors realized their plan of racial attack did not work, about four months later I was placed back in Bedrock, where I spent over a year (note: both Corcoran and Pelican bay State Prison) were modeled after the original Bedrock Unit). My second return to Bedrock was under the false allegation that I was involved in a conspiracy to assault prison staff, in response to this fabricated charge, I was physically assaulted and had Tasers placed on my testicles while handcuffed behind my back.
The above experiences represents the traditional methods of both psychological and physical torture, each challenging the resilience of my mental health, which I admit was beginning to succumb to the seduction of dementia. Then, in 1989, I entered the Gladiator yards of Corcoran state prison, where fights were staged daily for the pleasure of sadistic pigs. Though I only received two (2) disciplinary reports, I was involved in at least fourteen staged fights. Another experience that took a toll on my already exhausted sanity, then 22 years ago, I entered the cold corridors of Pelican Bay State Prison, that have exposed me to a new form of mental torture, a more subtle, but sophisticated and systematic assault on one’s sense, a deprivation so complete that it leaves one drowning within the depths of one’s own emptiness. This was (and is) a sanctioned assault or attrition being waged upon our mental health. A constant probing of our undiagnosed psychosis, as dementia was beginning to look more enticing, as I personally watched hundreds of prisoners around me surrender to the temptation of insanity, an escape from the harsh reality of sensory deprivation.
Many have asked how I’ve survived 30 years of solitary confinement/isolation under constant assault of one’s mental state. I tell them, first of all, my ordeal is far from being over, so I have yet to survive my isolation, but I am surviving in spite of my (our) situation. For me, I believe identifying the symptoms are essential in resisting (our) situation. For me I believe identifying the symptoms is essential in resisting the attraction of dementia. Many convicts because of the stigma attached to dementia, deny any symptoms. I don’t care who you are, anybody that have spent 20 years or more in solitary/or the security housing unit (SHU) are going to have some symptoms, though they may be subtle, they have the potential to mature into a full blown psychosis if ignored. This is why I believe by embracing the symptoms helps us to subdue them, I recognized my symptoms 20 years ago, and I refused to give into them, but it is a constant battle, dementia is forever present, waiting to claim our sanity!
Before I close, I would like to briefly touch on a hypothesis that I’ve yet to hear anyone speak on, which I believe is worthy of further examination, and that is the Stockholm syndrome. Many people became aware of this syndrome during the Patty Hearst Trial, when she was captured on camera robbing a bank with her alleged captors. Simply put, the Stockholm syndromes when a captive(s) begins to emulate the characteristics and or belief systems of his/her captors(s). Many prisoners don’t even have a clue that they are emulating the same cowardly and immoral practices of their captors. I provide you with two brief examples: