Letter from Josh O’Connor: solitary confinement, food access, and being Native in prison

The following is excerpted from a letter sent to us a Prison Health News reader, published with his permission.

My name is Josh O’Connor.  I’m 20 years old and serving a 22 yr sentence for a crime I committed at 17 years old.  I’m Native American and a vegan. 

I’m in solitary for a fight I got into and have been here for 4 months and was told I would be forced to stay in solitary confinement for the next 6-8 months.    I fear the mental/physical detrimental effects being in solitary confinement for so long and how I may suffer permanent health effects.   I have met many inmates who have spent years – 7, 10, and even up to 20 in solitary confinement and you can easily see the adverse/detrimental deterioration of their health.  Many have had insufficient brain activity to communicate with others not to mention get a job, and you can see many don’t get enough nutrients, because of the lack of sun/vitamins, which makes us very sick.  I hope something will be done soon regarding limiting or abolishing solitary confinement.  

The lack of fresh vegan meals and fresh fruits/vegetables is astounding here at my prison.   Many prisoners are suffering from lack of sufficient food here in solitary confinement.   We don’t get enough food as it is let alone fresh food/vitamins.  I hope this corruption within my prison ends in my lifetime.   I would love to see other prisoners get healthy food and not have to be subjected to the torture of solitary confinement.   It makes me sad to see how many of us are treated. I feel as if we prisoners have no voice.  Many of the correctional officers here show denial/deliberate indifference towards even our most basic rights.   I have had C.O.s withhold my meals from me because they don’t like me and are pissed off at me because when I got into “the fight that brought me to solitary confinement” I unintentionally struck a C.O. because I was so blinded by mace spray and trying to defend myself, because of this the C.O.s here in my facility (specifically the ones working in solitary confinement) brought me to my solitary confinement cell and repeatedly denied me access to a shower for 3 days while I was covered in mace spray. 

These kinds of torture happen to us inmates a lot, I am not the only exception.  I want to shed light on this not to “Fight the Man” or the system, but to improve the policies/living conditions for those under the system.  In hopes that an end will be put to the oppression of inmates in solitary or other units and the active mistreatment.  I understand I committed crimes that brought me here.  I take full responsibility for my actions, but prisons are supposed to be here to “correct” not punish and mistreat/torture us inmates.  

There are so much more mistreatments that I haven’t even mentioned especially denial of spiritual services for Native Americans like me in solitary confinement.   They won’t allow me to go to the sweat lodge until I’m out of solitary confinement and they have taken my medicine bag from me (my sacred religious item) until I get out of solitary confinement.   There is so much oppression/mistreatment of my fellow Native American peoples incarcerated.   

John O’Connor

Aka Apache 

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