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Mentally Ill in Solitary: ‘We’re Not Addressing the Problem, We’re Making it Worse’

We ussualy don’t reblog mainstream media but for this article we made an exception. Kristopher’s mother, Gemma Pena asked us to spread this article about her son.

In Florida, one in five mentally ill prisoners is in solitary confinement. For Kristopher Pena, being diagnosed with schizophrenia began a nightmare.

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Originally published by The Guardian. Kristopher’s mother, Gemma Pena asked us to spread it.

Note: Enough is Enough is not organizing any of  these events, we are publishing this text for people across the US and Europe to be able to see what is going on and for documentation only.

Mentally Ill in Solitary: ‘We’re Not Addressing the Problem, We’re Making it Worse’

In Florida, one in five mentally ill prisoners is in solitary confinement. For Kristopher Pena, being diagnosed with schizophrenia began a nightmare.

After her son tore off his penis with his bare hands in his cell, Gemma Pena thought Florida’s prison authorities might see his illness. They’d see he needed a hospital, instead of solitary confinement.

“No,” she said. “That’s when the nightmare really started.”

As her son Kristopher has moved through Florida’s prison system; so has Pena, relocating around the state to stay close to him. Now she lives in a tiny one-room apartment in a run-down Miami neighborhood. There’s a bed, a small table, two chairs, and a little window. She keeps the door locked. She lives in a solitary confinement of her own.

The room is tidy to the point of emptiness. But as she talked about her son, materials emerged from hiding places. Childhood mementos from under the bed, medical records in a closet. Before long they covered the table, the chairs, spilling on to the floor. She has saved everything – everything – starting with his birth certificate, the “Happy Tooth Cavity Fighter Club” certificate, and eventually darker certifications from mental institutions.

Recently she unearthed them like an archeologist, moving through the layers from his childhood through his illness and imprisonment. But then the record falls silent, for two years. He disappeared.

“They call it ‘the box’,” she said.

Solitary prisoners live in isolation, but in Florida they’re far from alone. One in eight prisoners in the state lives in solitary confinement, according to recent statistics from the Florida department of corrections (FDC). That’s more than three times the average in state prisons across the nation.

One in five prisoners with mental illness is in solitary, and among juveniles housed in adult prisons the number jumps to one in three.

At any time, across the United States there are 80,000 to 100,000 people in solitary confinement, which means Florida alone – with more than 12,000 isolated inmates – accounts for one in eight of the US total.

Those statistics recently spurred the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida to send a letter to the US Department of Justice, requesting a federal investigation. “We wish to bring to your attention the overuse of solitary confinement in our state,” the organization wrote. It cited President Obama’s recent ban on confining juveniles to solitary in federal prisons as an indication that in many cases isolation is not useful, and in others it’s harmful.

“Florida is one of the major – if not the major – states in the country that has relied on incarceration as the solution to its problems,” Howard Simon, head of the ACLU in Florida, recently told the Guardian. Piling people into prisons, he said, has left the state’s prison wardens with no choice but to use solitary confinement. They don’t have the staff to handle so many prisoners.

The Florida department of corrections disputes the numbers the ACLU used to call for federal intervention. “They’re just incorrect,” said McKinley Lewis, the FDC’s spokesman.

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