Untitled by Christopher Lovato (New Mexico)

My living area is made of concrete cinderblock walls. My desk’s a slab of concrete as well. The bed, too. I have a window but it’s scratched to the point that I can’t see outside. Prison bars block the view, but I do feel warmth and see some sunlight.

There’s a stainless steel sink and toilet, no mirror. My door is solid steel with a thin vertical window three feet long and five inches wide. There’s a vent at the bottom for circulation.

The most important thing in my cell is the food port; an opening big enough to put my food through the door. As soon as the correctional officers use their keys to open it, they shove my meal through, and slam it shut.

I am confined to this space twenty-three hours a day, five days a week, and twenty- four hours a day on the weekend.

I’ve grown accustomed to it.

What choice do I have?

I’ve been in solitary for sixteen months; I have twenty more to go before I’m eligible to return to general population.

While here, I’ve learned human behavior is based on social interaction, or lack of it. At the North Level Six Maximum Security, it’s non-existent. I use books and writing to stimulate my mind, but I have no human contact. In order to prevent inmate/staff relationships, the facility implemented a policy to prevent all correctional officers from having any social interaction with inmates.

So, any interaction I might have had, is gone.

I am on disciplinary segregation. I’m allowed just two twenty-minute phone calls with family each month.

We depend on those phone calls with loved ones. Without positive, encouraging contact with other people, we become anti-social, which, in turn, teaches us nothing.

The New Mexico Secretary of Corrections recently put himself in solitary confinement, in order to experience this punishment from an inmate’s perspective.

During his short 24-hour stay, he realized solitary affects the mind.

He recognized the inherent problems with this form of rehabilitation.

The positive outcome of this?

A revision in policy to prevent non-violent inmates from long-term segregation sanctions.

After his experience, he reflected, “My reason for putting myself in [solitary] was to find ways to help those in this situation.”

However, since his stay, I’ve yet to see a benefit affecting inmates confined to solitary. We’re still expected to rehabilitate ourselves.

To me, the North Facility is a place of solitary confinement and nothing more. There are no programs to assist inmates. There’s nowhere to learn the expectations we have to meet when we return to society. There’s no incentive for good behavior.

When the Department of Corrections revised the policy to prevent long term exposure to this type of punishment, they overlooked the need to focus on how they might actually help inmates in solitary make better use of their time.

Programs could be implemented to help us reflect on why we are in prison and what we need to change to ensure a successful release.

Real rehabilitation does not happen overnight. It’s a process that takes time. We must change‑not only for ourselves‑but for those around us.

I’ve been in prison for five years. My experience in solitude has been nothing more than just that: solitude.

It’s important to teach inmates skills and build their capacity for productivity.

Criminal activity is attractive to those who lack life skills.

It’s easy to sell drugs or steal, but to work productively takes education and training.

I believe the cornerstone of any rehabilitation for those in prison is maintaining positive contact with family. In the end, the only real motivation any inmate has, is his family.

Rehabilitation programs—for all inmates, including those in solitary—are necessary to prevent future crime.

Without them, we’re just wasting taxpayers’ dollars.