Jonathan Blake is currently a Licensed Social Worker in Pennsylvania. Jonathan obtained both Bachelor’s (BSW) and Master’s (MSW) degrees in Social work from Marywood University, graduating with his MSW ins 2014. Jonathan has worked in the substance use field, as a primary counselor in both inpatient and outpatient settings, and currently works as a medical social worker, with main focus on behavioral health.
Blake is also the (LSW) of the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.
Today we discuss "Solitary Confinement" in prisons, and the movement to make it's abolishment a ballot measure. Action Committees, advocacy, and legal battles are being waged in multiple states to see this change in US Human Rights come to pass.
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Joe Van Wie 0:00
Hello, and thanks again for listening to another episode of all better. I'm your host, Joe van leaf. If you like what you hear, please stop by Apple podcasts and give us a review takes about a minute, I'll just be more relevant and Mental Health Services searches for a podcast or substance use disorder. Today's guest is my friend, Jonathan Blake. Jonathan is currently a licensed social worker in Pennsylvania, and obtained both bachelor's and master's degrees in Social Work from Marywood. University, graduating with his MSW in 2014. Jonathan has worked in the substance use field as a primary counselor in both inpatient and outpatient settings. And He currently works as a medical social worker with the main focus on behavioral health. Jonathan stops by today to talk about recovery, incarceration, and a topic that is getting much attention locally, nationwide, solitary confinement. Let's meet Jonathan and start the discussion. Breaking the wall. Okay. So, my friend John Blake was all betters first guests, your second guests. John's a licensed social worker and tell tell us a little bit about a petition that was jahmene around the summer, but we're going to talk about incarceration, the dignity of recovery that can be found incarceration, and solitary confinement, which is defined as torture. And specifically, I think that's where we could start and John, if you don't mind, I'm going to define it. Solitary confinement of prisoners goes by a number of names isolation, as Hu special housing units, administrative segregation, supermax prisons, the whole MCU. Its management control unit, C MMU. Communications Management units as TGM you security threat group management units, voluntary or involuntary protective custody, special needs units, or permanent lock now, although solitary confinement conditions vary from state to state and among correctional facilities, systematic policies and conditions include this when we're talking about solitary confinement, confinement behind a solid steel door for 22 to 24 hours a day, severely limited contact with other human beings in frequent phone calls, and rare non contact family visits, extremely limited access to rehabilitative or educational programming, grossly inadequate medical and mental health treatment, restricted reading material and personal property, physical torture such as hard time restraint chairs, forced cell extraction. No one told this, this one's freakish to just fucking read, it looks like Soviet no touch torture, such as sensory deprivation, permanent bright lighting, extreme temperatures and forced insomnia, chemical torture, such as stun guns and stun grenades, and sexual intimidation, and other forms of brutality and humiliation. So when we're talking about solitary confinement, I wanted to take the time to read that because it is a pretty broad thing. And it's given unique names. For its use, some of them sounded utilitarian, some of them sounded even like they were mental health or protective. But every one of these definitions according to every dignified entity, in organization from Geneva, to human rights organizations define this as torture. John, do we have this at our county jail locally and state is solitary confinement? Kind of a normal practice?
Jonathan Blake 4:28
As far as my experience and understanding is, yeah, there's segregation units in county jails, state prisons, federal prisons, commonly used segregations used on admission into a jail or intake into a jail, medical quarantine to make sure that people are safe to be part of the population of the prison prior to entering it, but yeah, as far as I know.
Joe Van Wie 4:52
So, when you arrive, let's make some distinctions. County Prison How would you describe the difference between county prison and state prison?
Jonathan Blake 5:05
As far as the arrival? Yeah, um, I would say it is. So I mean, county when you go into a county jail you're going in, you know, the, the first step would be, you know, going into a medical block or a segregation unit, as it would be called for anywhere from, you know, I guess it could range from one to x amount of days, seven days, I think three to four days would be the normal experience for most people. A TB test is typically done physical that kind of stuff, I guess, to make sure that there's no you know, communicable diseases or viruses or you're not sick or something. So, it sounds reasonable, right? Yeah. But so for that unit, if once you go in there, you're in a cell 24 hours a day. So I mean, once you go into the county jail, I mean, you are locked down, I mean, there's no, there's no yard, there's no rec, there's no basketball, um, there may be an hour out, that lacks any kind of recreation, maybe an opportunity to use a phone, but they're probably difficult to get to limited time, not real opportunities to do that. So. So when you go into a county jail, I mean, you are stripped away from everything you know, and you don't have obviously, you wouldn't have the perks that come with being in jail after a period of time. So you would have nothing, going into a state prison will look a little different, because for most people, they've been incarcerated for X amount of time while they've been in trial. And now they're transferring to a prison. And for most people, it's, you know, for lack of a better concept, it's a joyous kind of situation. Most people are looking forward to go to a state prison because county jails are typically there's less services, less things going on for people and less opportunities. Wow.
Joe Van Wie 6:48
I've never considered that. I mean, you just want to get, especially if you're doing one over three years, five years, you want to get to your home. Yeah, yeah. So there is a circumstance that seems you know, utilitarian, private, you're going to be isolated when you're on arrival. Medical Reasons TB, waiting for tests, you have no you know, I don't know what the amenities are chilled the phone calls, canteen, or the commissary. So that's not even though they're you're you're alone, you're alienated from the rest of the prison, you're isolated. For those reasons, you wouldn't Would you consider that solitary confinement?
Jonathan Blake 7:31
So I mean, I think also, you'd be in a cell with another person. So okay, you know, yeah, you wouldn't be completely isolated. But if we go back to that definition, that was read, I mean, it severely limited human contact. So even if you're in there with one person that can be really deranged, right, or they could, you know, be nonverbal, or you know, like any, you know, any any, any number of things could be going on with them. And so, so yeah, so there is some, there is there is a purpose behind it, and it seems reasonable. And then on the other side, that I think that most people think of when solitary is used is for, to keep other people safe within the prison or to keep a person safe and in prison. And I think when it's described that way, or presented that way, then it's people like of course, there has to be tools at the disposal of the institution to keep people safe in the institution. Well, I
Joe Van Wie 8:21
have a website up, it's AF s c.org. It's a resource for a lobby to get rid of this as a torture in there. One of the tabs here is why are people placed in solitary confinement, the other one from not just the processing of getting into jail? Now we're kind of talking about it being an extra punitive measure, be it for a justification of protecting the other population, or its punishment. They're saying prisoners can be placed in isolation for many reasons from serious infractions, such as fighting with another inmate, to minor ones, like taking a talking back to a guard or getting caught with a pack of cigarettes. Other times prisoners are thrown into solitary confinement for not breaking any rules at all. prisons have used solitary confinement as a tool to manage gangs, isolating people for simply talking to a suspected gang member of prisons have also used solitary confinement as retribution for political activism. So just I mean, this is this is how long has this movement that were maybe we should describe it? You were part of an effort this summer to get a petition signed many social workers and people in the area that had this idea that solitary confinement torture. What was that what was that call here locally in Lackawanna County,
Jonathan Blake 9:51
so it was really Yeah, I just jumped on board of a group that was really that was already doing it. They were deep into it. They had been doing it for a while. NEPA Stan Sub Northeastern pa stands up, which is part of a large organ organization pa stands up, which has been doing this and other counties, I believe they were successful in Allegheny County, in getting it as a ballot measure so people could vote on, you know, changing how solitary is used or what the practice of solitary confinement is in their local jail. So they were effective there. And then the same organization or same goal in Lackawanna County and Lehigh County. And yeah, they the, the number of the threshold for signatures was around 9000, they reached that they exceeded that, and they were submitted to the board of electors.
Joe Van Wie 10:36
And so it's caught up right now. There was an article not too long ago, it's gone up if Home Rule charter to acknowledge this for it to be on a ballot, county decision. Kind of putting that on its own place, and still talking about the legal definition of torture, and this been used in a civil society. Have you experienced treating, or giving therapy or being working as a social worker with people who had long term effects from being in solitary confinement,
Jonathan Blake 11:12
I worked with people who had effects of long term incarceration, and the majority of people who've been incarcerated, especially for a long time, have spent some time in isolation or segregated just because you know, when we go back to the rationale for using this or for this practice, and people think of, you know, keeping people safe or violating the rules within a prison, and then you read all the reasons that it's actually used for. And that's what you see, most of the time, or, in my experience, what I saw most of the time as a punitive measure and retribution measure, you know, threatening to take people to the hole, minor infractions talking back to a guard, just really anything because again, that is when you're in a jail and your freedom is taken away, and you start to then, you know, build a life and a prison. And you know, you have some freedoms, like maybe you have a TV in your cell, you have a guitar in your cell, you're attending some little business class, this the prison puts on, it's not a college class, but a business class. So you're doing some of these things, and then going to the hole or integration removes all of that from you. So all of these things that you've built up, or you've built, are taken away, you know, just because of somebody's having, you know, just because they decide, and that's how they want to do it. And similarly, you know, my experience in seeing the way the criminal justice population or the incarcerated population has been treated, it's similarly with probation and parole, minor infractions. And, you know, people being sent back to jail and violations and keep going back and going back not not breaking another crime, not not committing a new offense, not doing something to harm society, but breaking a rule, like a rule that's been put in place by probation, parole, and then again, being removed from society pulled out and put in the whole of society, which would be prison. And then And then again, once you're in prison, then you know,
Joe Van Wie 12:55
so the crime falls under this, this broad description of what a violation can be.
Jonathan Blake 13:02
Yeah, it would be like not not a direct crime. It's the rule. Maybe you got fired from your job, and you didn't get a job. And you know, the amount of time that the probation officer wanted you to maybe you change addresses, and you didn't let them know. Yeah, I mean, whatever the rules are for the probation or the parole, and you're not following them. But yeah, certainly not crimes are illegal activities.
Joe Van Wie 13:22
Alright, going back to how long have you ever heard of maybe firsthand or read about? What's the longest someone could be in solitary confinement?
Jonathan Blake 13:35
I mean, decades, the think about death row and what death row is, and people who are waiting execution, what those units look like, secure housing units in state prisons. Yeah, I mean, there's long term people in there. Yeah, there's folks that don't, you know, they're not in the hole for 30 days, and then coming back to the block or coming back to the unit and, you know, be playing ball with them again, soon, like, no, they're, they're just on J block. Like, that's where they are now.
Joe Van Wie 14:06
And this idea of confining one person, do you think it started as a measure to prove, you know, first it's protect the public, then within the jail to protect the population of the jail? It was, is there merit? And before we started to redefine what torture is for,
Jonathan Blake 14:25
I don't know, I guess part of me thinks that people are punitive and want revenge and want retribution and want people to suffer. And people who, you know, I would have to think of who would want to be in the position, like in the roles that then you're putting somebody in the hole, like what motivates somebody to be there? Because again, the power and the control that comes with it that's inherent with it that we built into it, you know, it's just yeah.
Joe Van Wie 14:51
Now do many Western nations in Europe that do not allow for solitary confinement? It's defined as torture. Yeah, yeah. Okay, so just to read off a couple, that's all right, my my arm fell off some long term effects that a person can experience from any period of solitary confinement within the jail visual and auditory hallucinations, hypersensitivity to noise, touch saamiya paranoia, uncontrollable feelings of rage and fear, distortions of time and perception, increased risk of suicide, and post traumatic stress disorder PTSD, which is just constantly reliving a trauma. Now, I can think someone could callously say, Well, this is deviance, these people had some agency and chose a life of crime. And what this is, this is the offering we offer we all agreed to, is to torture them if they break the law. And, you know, you can go from the extremes of you know, it's very possible scenario guys in there for addiction crimes of addiction, DUIs, you know, to risk multiple offender, goes to jail breaks the rules in jail is just not getting through this process easily or gets himself in trouble. So essentially, a scenario could arise where he goes to solitary confinement. And, you know, his real issues of mental health disorder or substance use disorder. What does this do to a person? And why I'm thinking of it is kind of I'm thinking a rat park, you know, you know, was Johann Hari shares in bread, Alexander his uncle, he was, did this rap Park experiment for drug, drug addicted rats, and all them were addicted when they were isolated. Like, well, this is kind of there's no control here or other offering when they gave them a community and a nice park. A lot of them broke the addiction. These rats were more complex and rats but just in the context of that you have a mental health crisis, your crimes are being committed, not out of like a psychopathy or a pathology to harm others. You're in you have had a life of trauma, your crimes of that of your socio economic situation, and mental health. Now, as a measure to deal with you, we're gonna put you in a room and the lights don't fucking go off. You can't sleep. No one cares about your medical situation, your mental health. What the fuck man? Like what what what is the solution to this? Like, why are we Why is it jarring for us to start to reconsider this?
Jonathan Blake 17:45
It's strange to me because the people, the people suffering from severe mental illness, mainly severe mental illness, people with you know, more mild or maybe are able to navigate negotiate things differently. But people with severe mental illness are already like the voiceless public. And then so we further alienate and take away their voice and in a prison, because again, yeah, like you said, like nobody cares about your medical, your mental health. I mean, they certainly you hope that they're going to do everything they can to keep people alive, and you know, and treat people, at least the bare minimum of care. But yeah, I mean, you're further alienating and marginalized and already marginalized population. And then the the way you're treating it and the way you're handling it, exacerbates mental health symptoms, as you just heard. And so then in a prison or institution like that, how do you think when when mental health symptoms symptoms manifest? How do you think they're responded to?
Joe Van Wie 18:41
Yeah, and when in history to punishment work, like, like to outlaw murder, like, say, even the worst crimes, but so not these petty crimes of just, you emerge in a situation you don't choose? Like the continent you're born on, you don't choose the socio economics, your parents, your religion, your hair, color your eyes. And it's some place we when do we tell that person there, they have sovereignty, and they're autonomous, a, you're making your own decisions. They've had severe abuse, sexual, physical, verbal, domestic violence in their house. And now you're telling me that person has the same agency as other people like the people who are not in jail or not? Why? What can we do? What would be the lobby, to have sympathy, a sense of empathy, beyond the crime. So there's just not these cheap discussions of well, they're in jail. Right? Well, a lot of we have the largest prison population in the world. Like this. We're talking about millions of people. And every one of them has solitary confinement. I mean, the majority, would that be accurate?
Jonathan Blake 19:52
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
Joe Van Wie 19:54
And so this got on the ballot and Allegheny.
Jonathan Blake 19:57
It got on the ballot and Allegheny. They were success. So I'm getting it as a ballot measure. Yes.
Joe Van Wie 20:02
So I wonder like, what is being laid out? Is it? Are they lifting models from Europe to say this can replace it like does this cost the taxpayer reconstruction like construction built? Like what? What are we looking at? That could be the pushback, besides bureaucratic nonsense the like you hear now, that's not a Homeworld tonight, even talking about torture, right? Well, we can, technically we can. There's a charter in place, and people are being tortured. Like, like, so do you believe it's torture or not? It really kind of comes down to? Yeah, and
Jonathan Blake 20:35
that's the it's another thing where I'm surprised that well, I shouldn't be surprised, but I am that everybody isn't just like, yeah, why would we torture people who are incarcerated? Why would we want to do that to people? And, yeah, I mean, especially when you look at the lifetime incidence of incarceration. And it's very common, you know, very common, especially for people of color. So it's something that we should all be able to empathize with, because whether we experience it directly ourselves, or we know people, family members, friends, loved ones could potentially have poor decision making, can potentially be suffering from mental health issues, and you potentially find themselves incarcerated. And again, when when those same symptoms, or those same issues present themselves in prison. Ultimately, it's gonna be manifested as breaking the rules or doing something. And so again, you're gonna be treated or the mechanisms that they have to think to stop, that is what they're going to use. And that's going to be, you know, the hole or segregation or whatever they want to call it.
Joe Van Wie 21:40
So it's kind of, we're still in this kind of muddy place. That's slowly changing. And I think, you know, Lackawanna County, in comparison is progressive, just just when you take measurements of the drug court, and just moving forward, what's the diff the definition? I think we're still people are still confused. A punishment versus rehabilitation. A justice system that's kind of designed for the the the idea of revenge to be not chaos victim. So I just don't know like, where's the first agents like, the first thing this group would want to do is define that this is torture. And the UN Convention Against Torture defines it as a state sanctioned act by which is severe pain or suffering, whether it's physical or mental, intentionally inflicted on a person for information, punishment, intimidation, for any reason, based on discrimination. In 2011, the UN had a special report on torture, and Ward solitary confinement, can amount to torture or cruel, inhumane degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment during pre trial detention, and definitely for the prolonged period for persons with mental disabilities, or juveniles. Juveniles are going in solitary confinement.
Jonathan Blake 23:12
That's horrifying. But just another thing that you mentioned the pretrial. Right, the jail, but that's people pretrial. So, so pretrial, what's the assumption?
Joe Van Wie 23:22
You're guilty? Well, you shouldn't be right.
Jonathan Blake 23:25
But you're actually innocent until proven guilty. Right. But then we're treated as
Joe Van Wie 23:28
since you're innocent. Let
Jonathan Blake 23:30
us allow you to stay here. Right. And we'll leave the lights on for you.
Joe Van Wie 23:34
Yeah. It's complex. I guess. It's it's it's really, you know, do communities have a shared definition of compassion? What they're afraid of? Is this an individual case by case, but it can't be that we're talking about architecture and structure of buildings that have been designed without any second hesitation for this to be the system? This is, you know, this definition has been out there since the 50s 60s. And it's solitary confinement is increased exponentially every since the 70s. Every decade.
Jonathan Blake 24:16
Yeah, just like our prison population.
Joe Van Wie 24:18
Is there no one voice against this? Is it because of it's hard for general public people who don't have? Do they have not have sympathy? What's the disconnect? That 90, you know, most of these people are not violent? Criminals, right?
Jonathan Blake 24:37
Yeah. Yeah. And I think that, yeah, so my assumption would be that people just aren't aware that these things are going on, right. And then when we can were like, wow, like that shouldn't be there. And I think that's the case when you see the amount of signatures that they were able to get in northeastern pa over a period of time and exceeding the amount of 13,000 around there. Right. Yeah. And like, obviously, people are into this idea. Yeah, like maybe we should consider it. Maybe we should think about it. Maybe we could do a little bit better like, and I think that the, you know, it may seem like an attack on the system as it is. But I guess that would only be is if that you feel that you're torturing people that it will be an attack because otherwise, I mean, if somebody said I was torturing people, I would just move on with my day. And when I think about it again, because I don't
Joe Van Wie 25:24
Well, I was in juvenile detention. I spent 1820 hours a day, if they were short staffed, in the cell line on went off at night. Sometimes you'd have roommates, sometimes you wouldn't. And it was it was mind bending, you have to you have to retreat somewhere deep. Forget. You kind of Buddhism washes over you, regardless of your knowledge or experience with it. Or you will go Matt, you start bugging out, you start drip and man I was I always in the cell. Is this some kind of matrix? Pause and in somewhere? I don't know, man. I can't even you know, the thought experiment. Okay, so we can't just say they're just for a thought experiment. We can't put this burden on the taxpayers to what redesign jails fit more people in there. We're not changed this whole system. Why don't we just insert pleasant music in there? Like music? Like, yeah, just like just elevator music and, you know, a PA system that gives, you know, guided meditations. And, you know, I think you see the real horror and solitary confinement when you try to do the thought experiment of improving.
Jonathan Blake 26:48
Yeah, well, I think yeah, like, sounds so psychotic. Yeah, it's almost like, we all know, each person that is there is a dynamic individual with thoughts, feelings, attitudes, everything, fears, anxieties, everything. And maybe guided meditation. Some people be like, Oh, wow, this is cool. I'm into it. But not everybody. Right? I mean, torture. Torture, right? Yeah. Yeah. So it's just kind of treating everybody
Joe Van Wie 27:15
this is when is a guide it when it's coerced. This isn't even like, Yeah, I can't even you can't even use the right words to describe what you're doing it coercive meditation, that's what it should be called. You. Open your ears, we got the lights on. It sounds like you couldn't think of a worse nightmare, especially with, you know. I wouldn't describe myself as any kind of mood port personality or disorder, I can point to maybe just lurks in there but of substance use disorder, generalized anxiety. If I committed a crime, I say it would be out of an act of addiction. No withdrawal, it gets in there and make some mistake. I'm sent in solitary confinement. What a fucking nightmare. The nightmares that already go on in my head without being in jail. Now I'm confined into a room. I can't even imagine the size. Listening to guided meditations. No, but I mean, this is I can't believe juveniles. This is this is kind of obscene. Yeah, it's kind of gross.
Jonathan Blake 28:24
Yeah, yeah. I mean, whenever whenever I think that the juvenile criminal justice system I get every part of it is horrifying, because we treat it there. Folks in there are treated like adults. That's the same model. It's the same way and their children.
Joe Van Wie 28:40
And you see clearly as a social worker that you're not seeing at that age, they didn't even get a chance. You're just seeing responses to trauma. That's how you present the lens. You just see
Jonathan Blake 28:50
undeveloped brain making poor decisions. I mean, we can't we can't make diagnoses with children. I mean, you wouldn't want to I mean, yeah, I mean, yeah, it's
Joe Van Wie 28:59
like you do see victims like you. Do you see it in the lens that they're a victim of, like, just let's just peel it back existence. Their existence does not meet the same variables, like it's causing these poor decision making those they can be surrounded the probability of the making bad decisions. It's a round.
Jonathan Blake 29:20
Yeah, yeah. I might not the word victim. Maybe not. But yeah, but yeah, but they're people are pushed in, in a direction or in, in boxed in with the decisions that they can make.
Joe Van Wie 29:32
I learned a lot when we're talking and we were friends and we shoot the breeze a lot. And I like to focus on stuff, why not victim? Is that a bit? Why would that be a bad word?
Jonathan Blake 29:41
I just because I don't think everybody in that situation would see themselves as victims. I think the one thing that I forget sometimes too, is that people are very resilient and people don't view themselves as victims and sometimes that can be more damaging. Than you know, it's done with like, like Oh, it's okay, you're a victim.
Joe Van Wie 30:01
So you're saying the word, Pac and identity if they feel like being
Jonathan Blake 30:05
helpless or this and maybe that's not the case, they're just been subjected to some really rotten things like in domestic violence, we refer to people as survivors and not victims, because it's just, you know, and it's just a matter of framing the individual and viewing the individual. Yeah,
Joe Van Wie 30:20
I don't use the word for myself. I know when I was really, emotionally, it feels unstable. Depression washes over me. The story, cognitively, I'm telling myself and how I fit the world is that I'm a victim I may not be using the word was making me really ill. It's making me helpless. No agency. I can't change the world crush me the world sucks. And I will I like always the description that, you know, I woke up and the world was blurry. And went downstairs is still blurry. At no point. Would a rational human being considered the planet with blurry? would think something's wrong with my eyes. Yeah. And it's hard to do that. Like, it's not always clear to someone who has a mental health issue or substance. The world sucks. If the world changed, I'd be happier. And to regardless of the circumstances, it could be some trauma involved, people could have hurt you, with no fault of your own. But to change that narrative, to not be a victim of that world to give yourself clear sight to take your ownership over your own mind and perceptions. That's powerful. So I'm glad we stopped there because I think it'd be a little more cautious applying the word victim to anyone. Yeah,
Jonathan Blake 31:41
yeah. I think he played it out too, because you don't use it for yourself. No, I
Joe Van Wie 31:44
don't. Oh, wow. In cars, incarceration. Tell me about recovery and incarceration. Is it common? While you're incarcerated?
Jonathan Blake 32:01
Oh, yeah. Yeah, there's Yeah, I think not. I think I know. And my experience that in a state prison, where people are, you know, I hate to say it, but it is. It's their home, you know, for some people. That's the end. But um, there is more. Yeah, people, they're making the best of it. I mean, you're have to versus a county jail type situation. Everybody knows that short term, you know, you're not going to be there for more than two years, anybody, whatever it is, and then most people are going to be going on or graduating to a bigger prison or bigger prison system. So so the the state jail,
Joe Van Wie 32:42
it County, just socially? Is it hard to make it allegiances and comfort and friendships that you could pair up and there's just outside of gang activity? There's
Jonathan Blake 32:56
just a different attitude. The I think the best way I can contextualize it is the county jail felt immature in a state prison felt more mature. Okay. Like, that makes sense. That's just how it felt.
Joe Van Wie 33:10
Isn't that slang? Don't they kind of apply academics to it? Like it's high school? Yeah. Yeah. You're
Jonathan Blake 33:17
kind of graduating, you know, college, you know, Khan College, the state prison, but yeah, I mean, it's more it's more stable. You know, it's a violent environment, you know, 100% Because the administration makes it violent, not because the inmates make it violent. Describe
Joe Van Wie 33:31
that, like, what how, what, what you're telling me that I'm like, Well, how's that? True? They're, they're like, this exists because of their crime. How do you explain that to someone?
Jonathan Blake 33:41
How do you explain what that is? Where it creates violence?
Joe Van Wie 33:43
Yeah. Yeah. I
Jonathan Blake 33:44
mean, I think the way you're treated from the beginning, uh, you know, when you talk about going in, you're stripped of all your clothes, your hair may be cut off. And, you know, your pictures are taken a view of all your tattoos and, and people kind of have their way with your body. So you're already you know, demoralized. Yeah. And then, you know, you're taught what the rules are of the prison and you're taught what happens if you you know, if you have an infraction or misconduct, and the response isn't brutality, it's violence every time and if you don't comply, it's violent. So everything is you comply, or there's violence and what's
Joe Van Wie 34:22
the violence? A maze,
Jonathan Blake 34:26
maze man handling you I mean, restraint, beating people senseless. I mean, the horror. I mean, yeah, I mean, people. Yeah, I mean, all that kind of violence. I mean, anything short of, you know, shooting or stabbing someone, because that's just not what they have. But yeah, I mean, I witnessed Yeah, I mean, multiple people who are incarcerated be brutalized by staff, staff and Ino. And from their perspective, not that it's right, but they're working within the policy. Is that they have and they feel they're justified. So in that arena, you may have P other people who are incarcerated who are cheering this on who are grateful this is happening. Yeah. Because maybe it's assault arrival. Yeah. Or maybe it's somebody's having a crisis, and it's upsetting the status quo or the homeostasis of the block. So, you know, it may be welcomed by other people in, you know, cheering it on, but certainly there is no, there's no like, like, oh, maybe we should be a little nicer to this person, like, oh, maybe this is making it worse. It's like, no, if they're not going to comply, if they're gonna fight back, then we just become more violent. And we're always going to win, because we can just lock the door.
Joe Van Wie 35:38
Yeah. So and then, looking at some of the most notable prison riots last 50 years, Attica. All of these were concerns, prisoners, kind of voicing their own rights, right? Yeah. Do you say describe?
Jonathan Blake 36:00
Yeah, so I had an experience while I was incarcerated in a state prison, there was the prison I was in was brand new, it was just opened. And they were closing in older prison Western penitentiary, which was in Pittsburgh, downtown Pittsburgh. And they were closing that and opening these two prisons that I went through, so I went to one. So the goal was to move everybody that was in western, to these new prisons, while also mixing in, you know, new prisoners, because, of course, that doesn't stop the flow of people coming in. So they had people in this new prison, we were moving there, when incarcerated for decades, five years, you know, decades, people doing life. And you know, you could smoke cigarettes in that prison that they came from new prison, couldn't smoke cigarettes, they deemed it and I remember when we got on the bus, and you get to the little guard shack, before they let you in, there was a huge sign, like huge that it was a tobacco free smoke free facility. And, you know, as we were like, looking forward to going to the state because we could smoke cigarettes, and that was like, oh, man, I can't even smoke. So in this prison, and for me, it was just life. That was the reality. But again, for people who had been incarcerated, and they're gonna continue to be incarcerated, smoking was a big part of their life, tobacco products was part of their life. And now it's just taken away arbitrarily, because they're moved to a new prison, they don't have any say, nothing. So fast forward a couple months, more, you know, long term incarcerated people move to the new prison. And they're not having it. They're not they're not into the no smoking in the prison. So there was a, you know, a call to action. And everybody was instructed all the all the incarcerated people by the other incarcerated people to when it was time to go in for yard, we don't go in, okay, we stay here, we stay in the yard peaceful if we just we're not, we're just staying in the yard. Like, we're not fighting, we're just staying and we're not we're not going back to ourselves. So that's what happened. So the response was, every person who worked in the prison surrounded the yard, because it's a riot. So eventually, you know, the response. Eventually, people go back to their cells. It's a no win situation, you're not going to want to get hurt. Somebody's gonna get shot. You know, eventually, everybody went back to to their, to their sales, but the outcome, so the response was, they fired the superintendent or the warden at the time. So they brought in a new superintendent. Wow, his first order of business, what do you think it was to do? Smoking, allowed smoking? So smoking was brought back into the prison. But so that's the long term. Yeah. So the short term outcome, those next three days after that happened, the entire prison was locked down the entire prison, nobody got to go to the ER, nobody got to go out for phone call reset. They searched they bring in what they call a CERT team or this like the CEOs on steroids or something. I don't know what they are. But they come in and they're, you know, paramilitary and dressed and yelling and barking in every cell. They pulled it to people, you know, you and your cellmate come out, you have to be stripped to your boxers? Well, first they strip search you and yourself, then you can put your little boxers on and your little undershirt and your shower shoes, and then they handcuff you behind your back, and you stand outside your cell with your head against the wall, while they search your cell. And they tear everything out. They literally throw it in the hallway. It's just you're just sitting there with your head while things are coming out drug dogs are going in. And then they leave. They're looking for, you know, contraband or whatever it is. But really all it is they're destroying your stuff. And they could toss it around and throw it around and then they leave. And then you just stay locked down until it's all completed and then yeah, then they lift the lockdown and life goes back to normal.
Joe Van Wie 39:43
Well, it was you had an Action Committee? Yeah. Yeah. I'm surprised that they that like I kind of think I'm just surprised that you got your smoking back.
Jonathan Blake 39:58
Yeah, no, I mean, yeah. Very surprising, I was shocked. I was shocked. So
Joe Van Wie 40:03
maybe it's, you know, everything's my bias, my experience my point of view, what the hell do I know? I get a real insight when I talk to you and my sympathies just enlarged. It's things you don't consider every day unless you've you had to experience it. And you have friends or loved ones that are like do you think the sympathy of the general public is changing on some of these ideas? I mean, just firsthand from this experience of the petition. Did you meet any resistance with people saying, well, yeah, no, screw it there. Yeah, there was
Jonathan Blake 40:39
like people who worked in law enforcement or half assed had a connection to law enforcement. And they would say, like, oh, I can't sign that. Sure. Well, why can't
Joe Van Wie 40:49
like it's it's two cultures. I don't know. You know, I have family in law enforcement. And it's, it's really hard to talk because I'm not it's it's so bizarre, but they protect each other. And,
Jonathan Blake 41:07
yeah, I mean, I guess if I was in some weird world where I was a police officer, I would be horrified and offended away Correctional Officers Act. I was a different standard. Yeah. And to be grouped in as law enforcement. Yeah, I wouldn't want to be a
Joe Van Wie 41:23
NCOs are considered law enforcement. Yeah. I'm going back to recovery, long term, this idea of finding a homeostasis, making the best of life and what you call in your home. Did you see guys really experience you know, what you call a spiritual wait in 12 Step groups, they call it a spiritual awakening other people a stability, the reduction of symptoms like anxiety, torment, PTSD, resentment, anger, what some could call enlightenment? Is this just open awareness that I'm going to be alright, because if you're in the moment, like, have you seen that accomplished, from short term to long people who are doing long time?
Jonathan Blake 42:11
Oh, yeah, definitely. And it occurs despite the prison and despite the staff and despite the facility and despite the policies and the rules that aren't meant to support an individual or uplifting individual, but ya know, there was, in my experience, there was, you know, outside, people from from Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous that brought meetings into the prison. I knew guys who were doing life who I knew guys who were doing life who came in with a substance use disorder continue to use while incarcerated, and then got clean and sober while incarcerated. I knew guys who were doing life in prison didn't have a substance use disorder prior to coming to prison, developed one in prison, and then got sober in prison. So yeah, it definitely happens. And, you know, it seems to be through the same mechanisms that happen like on the outside on the
Joe Van Wie 43:09
outside peer to peer Yeah, so well, what's the support look like? In early sobriety? Then? Like, if two people sponsor each other? How does this this is social structure still operate? Like AAA? Or is it a little more like, there's there's so original pimp? They're like, the guy that has the most time
Jonathan Blake 43:30
Yeah, so like, it was mostly like the outside visitors. Like I didn't really, and I'm sure it happens. And, um, but I didn't really like I would never like I wouldn't have been sponsored, like how to sponsor in prison prison because because the nature of it, but um, but ya know, I mean, I mean, guys did, but a lot of it was making connections with the outside people. And then they would have folks that we could contact and stay in contact with while incarcerated while incarcerated. And for people who, you know, I was incarcerated in Pittsburgh, from that area, you know, certainly could maintain that.
Joe Van Wie 44:04
What's the contact letters or phone call letters and phone calls? So in that scenario, communicate through letters and phone calls, can someone go through the steps in the sense that after step three for step four requires writing, you know, an inventory this this narrative of fear, resentment, fronton that not just the dishonesty, they stole this dishonesty that the world hurt me? Why am I still hurt? I can resolve this, this It's dishonest for me to believe this and be stuck here. And can someone experienced that it was that common that someone would do all the steps? Or would just would it be the social kind of support of each other saying you're in recovery? Did they do people actually work the steps and
Jonathan Blake 44:50
yeah, I think, you know, based on the situation so again, people who were doing you know, significant time or life in prison, then Yeah, I mean, definitely there was definitely people doing stirrup step work. And the even the NA step working guides, you know, we had access to that, and any kind of literature that you would want, you could certainly get your hands on. So that was going on, but but I think also, you know, people also saw it as like, you know, maybe had less time to do that they were gonna get out eventually, and probably kind of putting most of the recovery stuff for like the work when they get home, you know, and kind of seeing what prison was just getting through.
Joe Van Wie 45:27
Is any of this outside support that come on put meetings, home groups? Is this coupled with any individual therapy or group therapy? That wouldn't be considered 12? Step?
Jonathan Blake 45:38
No, there's no there's every every, at least, you know, in my experience, be incarcerated. Every unit or block had a counselor that was usually of CEO that had got promoted to be a counselor, they got an associate's degree, I don't know, it was a cognitive behavioral. No, they were counseling so much as they would like, I don't know, I honestly,
Joe Van Wie 46:03
I am feeling blue. I don't
Jonathan Blake 46:05
even think like, Hey, you broke the rules, you're gonna get a misconduct, and might be able to save you from going into the hole, you might get, like, just you might get what did they call it? You there was another punch where they wouldn't you would have to stay in your cell for like, 30 days, like you couldn't go to yard when other people went to er, like, you just had to watch it like you were grounded. It was
Joe Van Wie 46:27
I think there is in 30 time, the perception of time. You know, and its natural course, you know, accelerates as you go farther from the start of what you assume is closer to the end. Is that interrupted by being in prison? Like the experience of time passing? Like, in your own experience, I'm not not metric. There has to be a different experience from being in the same visuals. Yeah, for 1015 years. You can't be experiencing time.
Jonathan Blake 46:59
Yeah, no, it doesn't even like my thinking back on my experience of cars. I like it doesn't seem real part of it. Yeah, it just doesn't seem like it doesn't seem like me, it doesn't seem like
Joe Van Wie 47:10
deeper though. Does do any of your not to go like because I haven't this problem. Or any of my memories don't have the feeling of being real like they did when I was useful, like the romantic because there's a separation I'm experiencing because I meditate right longer and longer every day. That you can only experience now like there's this stream of consciousness of what I'm calling myself I have to put this thread of memories together that says it's me recognize it really much anymore. It freaks it's a little freaky.
Jonathan Blake 47:46
Yeah, well, yeah, I mean, you can only experience memories based on who you are in the moment experiencing it right through
Joe Van Wie 47:52
you at a time how much could you think about one says you know, one moment space consciously well, not to go on to a rabbit hole, but I do enjoy talking. So I want to talk about just a little more so na could come in and and this has been going on for decades, which is people appreciate for sure. Is AAA in itself in the prison or Narcotics Anonymous a subculture within the prison? And if so, is it a subculture? That is like when, you know, saying The Jungle Book when they all meet to you know, Lion gets sit with the sheep and have water because it's drought season? Do do. Does this rise above any gang activity? Oh.
Jonathan Blake 48:44
So my experience Pennsylvania prisons are, were very It wasn't divisive like that. In my experience in exercising and playing sports, and any activity I did, there was I never ran into a situation where there was groups or I felt out of place like a group out group. No, it honestly it all felt. I can say for the majority of the time I was in a state prison that we were all in this together. Like that's honestly, the whole structure its power versus us. That's what it felt like it when I was there. I didn't feel the gang stuff. There wasn't Nazis walking the yard if they had Nazi tattoos, they weren't allowed to, like, showcase they weren't showcasing because yeah, I mean, they would find out that that was
Joe Van Wie 49:39
pretty cinematic appeal in the last 20 years of any prison movie. First one that kind of kind of grabbed my whole zeitgeist of what I thought the horrors of prison Wars was with America me with Pepe submarines in it. James Olmos Most 1980s movie about 50s and 60s, Latinos Gaines in LA in the prison population brings it up to the 80s. And I think it's not an homage. I think it's a true story of one of the leaders of East LA's gangs. And I mean, I was young, I could watch whatever I wanted. I'd always sneak watching. But it was brutal. Like, like, that's what I always it just stayed with me because my first imagery of seeing that jail wasn't you know, like the cat Popeye behind the bars and stuff. It was terrified. So, AES Oh,
Jonathan Blake 50:44
but yeah, so the, but so with Na. So what the most what I experienced in my attendance while incarcerated, was get made fun of by other people, really,
Joe Van Wie 50:55
but not like your rest. Yeah, you
Jonathan Blake 50:57
get ready. Like what are you what are you gonna you're gonna pray to God tonight? What do you you know, like, Oh, you think somebody's gonna, but ya know, like, you would just get made fun of and it wasn't like, you know, mean, or like, you felt like it was just again, like, you know, like making fun of your favorite sports team. But that's kind of what what you put up with, you know, like, I'm
Joe Van Wie 51:16
once peanut butter jealous dude. Hey, man, chill, I got a lot of time to kill her. I got a if I was wasn't even I didn't even have a drink. I mean, don't you want to break the monotony of a schedule there? That's a long time ago. And you've been in recovery a long time, and you're a licensed social worker? Do you feel it will always is it branded in your heart to advocate for the dignity of the incarcerated?
Jonathan Blake 51:51
I think that, that experience it just when I look back on it, certainly not knowing at the time, but when I look back on it, I think it gives me an empathy with with just a marginalized group, you know, with a marginalized population. So
Joe Van Wie 52:06
and that's millions of people nationally. I mean, 2.2 million, I
Jonathan Blake 52:11
believe are in current. Yeah,
Joe Van Wie 52:12
I mean, that's, that's lower. That's Manhattan. And that's not even
Jonathan Blake 52:15
that's not considering people who are on probation and parole when you incorporate that number. Yeah, it's obscene. So the people who have been incarcerated, but um,
Joe Van Wie 52:22
yeah, and these are family, this our family, friends, people we know, just gotta look a little deeper. That's 2 million people.
Jonathan Blake 52:31
The lifetime incidence for men is one in nine, like one in nine will be incarcerated.
Joe Van Wie 52:35
So outside of your, your direct social work. Congrats, a new position soon. But when you every day, like how you lobby and position this when you hear an opposition to increase sympathy and empathy for people who are incarcerated. And meeting the definition their own country of torture. This is the this is you can't equivocate this. We're just why is it so hard to retreat from it? Like Do we just always want to play second fiddle to the Netherlands and some of their, their jails? I would, yeah, but if I explained that to like, save my grandfather's like, dudes at a Zedek gets campus education, it's reform. There was some free port
Jonathan Blake 53:30
amazing, but it was like so yeah, like why does it work
Joe Van Wie 53:33
there? Why Why could you say that camp? What? It can't work here. We have too much. Our populations too diverse. All Yeah. What do you say to that? Yeah,
Jonathan Blake 53:44
one, I wouldn't know what diversity would have with treating people like, like a person for one. But yeah, I've heard that that people in because it was like, No, like everybody was the same. So it was like it was a homogeneous group. So it was easier to treat that way. And I always hear
Joe Van Wie 53:56
that first argument. And I'm like, do you just hear what you're saying? I have seen
Jonathan Blake 54:00
the I don't know why diversity? I guess it would change potentially be if there was racist guard? Yeah, they wouldn't want to treat people like humans. But um, what was the question?
Joe Van Wie 54:09
Like, where do you begin? Where do you begin to explore and realize that, you know, this is happening to millions of people there. There are friends or brothers or peeved their fellow primates on Earth. It's fucking hard year. And they're getting stuffed for 22 hours at a time in a room where the light doesn't go off. Then we're not talking about serial killers. We're talking about all kinds of infractions. We're talking about juveniles. Where do you start to consider this and how do you grow someone's empathy and sympathy in a discussion just a discussion?
Jonathan Blake 54:48
Yeah, I mean, I guess the so the first thing that I would imagine in you know, when you say like, if you told your grandfather how this and same if I told you know, anybody about like how they did things? And normally they'd be like, yeah, that's not right. Because it's not how you incarcerate people. So it'd be a paradigm shift that would have to happen. And that would be to me, long term, it would take a while. And I would imagine, it seems like something that as more people become aware of it, and it becomes more commonplace to talk about it. President Obama, you know, whether it was a political charade or not, he went into a prison and had an interview with a handful of prisoner. I mean, he was the first sitting president to ever step foot into a prison prison. And I mean, and again, you know, so I think that as we go forward, you know, just having more conversation talking about it more, and then I think when there is the resistance to it, for the people that can be reached, presenting the factual information, presenting the statistics of how many people incarcerated who's incarcerated, why, why are we incarcerated. And to me, if somebody has a discerning individual and has critical thinking, they would be able to say like, oh, yeah, like, something's off. So why then if somebody is breaking, you know, let's say a drug law, nonviolent most of the time, then we can just treat them however we want torture them, and they can just be subjected to it. And not to mention the loss of constitutional rights and all that stuff that's happening as well. And just to be treated, not as a human, other people are watching you as you shower like, oh, just just horrible things that we wouldn't do in society in there. It's just the norm and nobody questions that. And yeah, so again, I think it's a paradigm shift. And it's out of sight presenting information is out of sight, out of mind. And then, you know, I don't know what the revenge of the retribution is thing where it's just like, oh, like, why would people would
Joe Van Wie 56:44
want to advocate for themselves, mostly the, the urgency to advocate would be that you're incarcerated, and who are the people on the outside? That are the voice, but there's a lot of good organizations are gonna put links to if people want to explore what's, what this could mean to them. And what they're aware of, and what they're not is vera.org to confront the idea of mass and carbon incarceration of a large population of US citizens. And ww.af s c.org is a lobby and advocates for the end to solitary confinement. John, there's so much to talk about. Now. I wanted to try to talk, you know, for an hour just on solitary confinement, because it's it's intense. I mean, you could anyone could do a thought exercise of what it's like to be alone, for 10 minutes, all movement, some Yogi masters always say you move because of pain, you always move. But try to sit still, for as long as you can't move because of pain. This is the agency of life, you're just moving around because you're uncomfortable. Put that person who's suffering from any number of mental health disorders. And it's just nightmarish to think about. It really freaks me out. Yeah, you gotta come back, because you're always schooling me. And things I haven't had time to really consider. And I'm around a lot of people that just aren't getting out of jail. And I don't see them being any different than me at all. And I would advocate for the dignity of anybody not to be isolated in a room alone, without human contact. When maybe they're the poorest decisions they made in their life are a result of not having connection. Sounds like a total nightmare. We're stuck. Well, John, please come back to anything. You're right up the street right at the stream. Yeah. Welcome to the show. Sometimes it's my Eric. Sometimes it's all better. I'll put those websites out there. I'd like to thank you for listening to another episode of all better. Find us on all better.fm or listen to us on Apple podcasts. Spotify, Google, podcasts, Stitcher, I Heart Radio, and Alexa. Special thanks to our producer John Edwards, an engineering company 570. Drone. Please like or subscribe to us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. And if you're not on social media, you're awesome. Looking forward to seeing you again. And remember, just because you're sober doesn't mean you're right.
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