Lockdown

By LANCE TAPLEY  |  December 14, 2006

The authorities maintain that outgoing mail isn’t read unless it’s from a list of inmates who are suspected of criminal activity. Incoming mail isn’t read, they say, though it’s screened for contraband. But while Brown was on suicide watch, he did not receive mail I sent him, he says. Other letters I have sent prisoners asking for a reply have not had a response, so I assume some of my letters or theirs have been confiscated. The prison has not responded to my query asking if any of them were.

On November 13, around the time I received the above letter, Brown was shipped out to a maximum-security prison in Maryland. Maine Department of Corrections commissioner Martin Magnusson says, vaguely, Brown was a threat to prison security. Brown believes his transfer was in retribution for his activism. (See “Baldacci’s ‘Political Prisoner,’” November 24, by Lance Tapley.)

Put yourself again in the shoes of a reporter: should I discount what the above letter-writer says, on the reasonable-sounding assumption that criminals are not to be trusted?

In confirmation of his description of Deane Brown’s treatment, however, I have letters from two other current Supermax inmates. They paint the same scene of what many people would perceive as torture — especially, for a man officially deemed suicidal. They describe also the same intention by prison officials to deny Brown access to the press — namely, to me.

Isolation chamber

061215_inside_prison
HAPPIER DAYS: Deane Brown with friend Bethany Berry.
Providing many more details, Brown himself sent a letter from his Maryland cell to his best friend, Bethany Berry, of Rockland, giving a chronology of what happened to him. He reports these highlights of his recent treatment in the Maine Supermax:

— “I was kept under constant watch with no clothing, bedding, soap, toothbrush, or toothpaste. Only a thin mat and security blanket.”

— His daily menu was “two sandwiches, two apples, and four pieces of celery or carrot three times a day, no liquids except water from the dirty tap, no cup.”

— Especially, the experience was “torture because my hands were required to be visible at all times, and it was freezing cold in there, with rain flooding my floor.” He confirms he was denied his eyeglasses. As a result, “I was suffering headaches to the point of vomiting.”

Why was he put on suicide watch? As he explains in a letter to me, “The night I was hauled off to [the] SMU (again!), I was of the mind-frame of ‘This is it; I’ve done all I can do. Someone else can carry the ball. By killing myself I will keep the heat on the situation’!”

And so he threatened to kill himself, even sending me a suicide note via another prisoner. He had earlier told me, “If I end up in another stint [in the Supermax], it’s going to kill me.” He hadn’t been in it in over a year.

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