A prisoner with a history of mental illness lost the ability to speak after spending more than 600 days in solitary confinement, a lawsuit has claimed. Between 26 May 2016 and 31 January 2018, Tyquine Lee, 26, spent only two hours a day outside his 80 square foot concrete cell behind a steel door at the Red Onion state prison in Virginia, the lawsuit says.
His only regular time outside the cell was allegedly for showers three times a week and an hour of recreation each day in a cage the size of a parking space. During his incarceration he lost over 30 pounds and could not even remember his own name, the lawsuit against the Virgina Department of Corrections stated.
“He had almost no meaningful human contact beyond brief, cursory interactions with correctional officers and staff. The sensory stimuli that the human brain needs to function—colors, shapes, sounds, natural light, everyday conversation, mental engagement with purposeful activity—were all removed and replaced with an unbearable monotony,” the document states.
Takeisha Brown, Lee’s mother and legal guardian who filed the lawsuit with the MacArthur Justice Center said: “He went from talking regular to talking in numbers, and a whole other language which I nor anyone else could understand.
“My heart ached from pain when I heard from my son and I could not get a regular conversation out of him. I’ve lost sleep, and couldn’t eat because of this,” she said, The Guardian reported.
“Tyquine would start to growl and bark like a dog. When I got back to my hotel room, I locked myself in the bathroom for hours crying and praying to God that he have mercy on Tyquine’s life,” said Brown.
A psychiatric review carried out in January 2018 diagnosed him with schizophrenia and an unspecified personality disorder that were allegedly left untreated and became worse.
Lawyers for Lee allege the prison violated Lee’s process rights under the constitution as well as “the right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.”
In May, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a class-action lawsuit against the department seeking to stop solitary confinement at Red Onion and Wallens Ridge state prisons.
Newsweek has contacted the Virginia Department of Corrections for comment. The Guardian noted that the department has not responded to several requests for a media statement.
The report comes amid a growing debate about solitary confinement and its effectiveness. A survey for the Liman Center for Public Interest Law at Yale Law School estimated there were around 61,000 prisoners across the U.S. in solitary confinement.
It concluded that there was an international consensus that this “imposes grave harms on individuals confined, on staff, and on the communities to which prisoners return.”
Some Democratic presidential candidates, including Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, and Beto O’Rourke have denounced solitary confinement as torture, TruthOut.org reported.