Six years of prison, solitary confinement, and denial of medical care, all for a nonviolent drug offense? Thank you, War on Drugs. You gave us such sane ways to deal with addiction.
Officials at Central Virginia Regional Jail said they had initially placed Maria Benita Santamaria in solitary confinement because they feared she would be raped by male inmates. Her attorney, Cathy Alterman, said they moved the 35-year-old to the medical wing late Wednesday night after U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis ordered them to do so.
Santamaria pleaded guilty to trafficking 10 pounds of methamphetamine in August. She was arrested in June at a Lorton Comfort Inn and held without bail.
Alterman said Santamaria was born a male, but lives life as a woman and has a feminine appearance. She has been undergoing hormone treatment in preparation for a sex change operation for the past two years. Since she's been in prison, however, Alterman says Santamaria has not received the hormones and has started to grow facial hair.
During her stay in solitary confinement, Santamaria was treated no different than inmates on punitive lockdown, Deputy Superintendent Susan Fletcher said. She was allowed out of her cell for one hour a day and allowed to shower every three days.
Alterman said jail guards referred to Santamaria as "it" and the conditions have pushed her to consider suicide. Despite the threat of being raped by male inmates, Santamaria has repeatedly asked to be placed in general population.
Solitary confinement is the second worst punishment we dole out in the US for a reason - it's torture that drives people crazy:
There are a couple reasons why solitary confinement is typically used. One is that it's a very painful experience. People experience isolation panic. They have a difficult time psychologically coping with the experience of being completely alone.
In addition, solitary confinement imposes conditions of social and perceptual stimulus deprivation. Often it's the deprivation of activity, the deprivation of cognitive stimulation, that some people find to be painful and frightening.
Some of them lose their grasp of their identity. Who we are, and how we function in the world around us, is very much nested in our relation to other people. Over a long period of time, solitary confinement undermines one's sense of self. It undermines your ability to register and regulate emotion. The appropriateness of what you're thinking and feeling is difficult to index, because we're so dependent on contact with others for that feedback. And for some people, it becomes a struggle to maintain sanity.
That leads to the other reason why solitary is so often a part of torture protocols. When people's sense of themselves is placed in jeopardy, they are more malleable and easily manipulated. In a certain sense, solitary confinement is thought to enhance the effectiveness of other torture techniques.
Add that in with the fact that she was being denied necessary medical treatment related to her identity as well as being called "it" by the guards, and no wonder she'd want to be put back in with the general population, no matter what the cost.
All this for carrying some meth on her. Something tells me that her risk of addiction, or recidivism, will not have been reduced when she gets released. These were not the steps to take to put her on track, help her get work and a stable life with a stable identity, which, for her, includes hormone therapy. If it weren't for the judge ordering her moved to another prison, her punishment would have been lasting psychological damage for a nonviolent drug offense.
And if that judge hadn't ordered her moved to a federal prison that, the newspaper claims, can handle transgender prisoners, she would have effectively gotten a steeper sentence than a cissexual person who committed the same crime. It all started with a country that went crazy with trying to treat drug addiction with prisons that are obviously not equipped to deal with such issues.