Jacob Davis is currently incarcerated in a Tennessee prison with a 51 year life sentence. He wrote the following story about his experience in solitary confinement at Riverbend. This story was presented at Tenx9 by a friend. 

Confined
After 16 years of living as a model prisoner in minimum security honor units, I discovered that my efforts and struggle for dignity and community meant nothing when I was found guilty of a Class B disciplinary offense. I did nothing violent or threatening to anyone, certainly nothing to justify being treated as dangerous. My infraction, rather, was perceived as a threat to the system itself, and so I was held in solitary confinement for two weeks and then banished to another penitentiary, away from the community and family I love. Yes we have family and community in prison, and those already in hell can be further exiled into deeper hell. My sojourn into solitary confinement left me with the surest deepest understanding that we as prisoners today are engaged in a struggle for our very humanity.

In my two weeks in solitary confinement, I learned that a stripped-down, burned-out concrete box with a steel door and a toilet without toilet paper are all that are required to bring me to the point of kicking the door and screaming to get attention in desperate frustration. This type of outburst is a behavior I had witnessed before from the other side of the door as a minimum security inmate. Back then I was comforted by the thought that I could never be brought that low. The brute fact is that had I not acted out this way, the man in the cell next to me and I would have remained soiled with our own feces. I had to throw a fit to receive toilet paper. Aside from shoving food through the double-locking pie flaps that eliminate human contact, the guards ignored our cells, as if they were empty. And I might have used my hand or shirt and held on to my dignity out of sheer stubbornness, but the man in the cell next to me was my best friend of 14 years, and I knew he would not act out that way. It was my fault he was there, and I could not bear the thought of him being reduced to having no toilet paper.

I tried every manner of normal, polite behavior, confident that the officers would respond in kind to someone making the effort to remain civilized in the midst of the hammering cacophony. But what I learned instead was that polite, normal requests almost never receive a response. Only those willing to act out in the most vile, inhuman, animalistic ways could even get the slightest attention from the staff for the things they needed or wanted.

Confined in that kennel, listening to the supernaturally loud noise of all the other animals competing for what they could only receive from the officer milling around and ignoring them outside in the dayroom, the bare facts of the situation reduced my humanity to a simple choice: kick and scream like an animal, or do without the necessities of civilized life. Either way felt like a most bitter defeat.

I struggled over such choices the entire time I sat in that hole. Every moment I imagined all the people who know and love me – my family, friends, the good people that attend church services with me, both free and inmate, my spiritual mentors, my professors and allies in the community – and what they would think or feel if they could see me in this situation, squatting like an animal, held captive by my own body’s functions in a concrete box that still bore marks on the walls where a previous inhabitant literally tried to destroy his confines. He went so far as to tear the metal out of the walls, set the place on fire, and covered the walls and ceiling with feces.

The literal function of these cages is to ignore and degrade the humanity of those placed within them. The authorities who claim solitary confinement is necessary contend that the cages are required for prisoners who display a lack of humanity, who are a danger to others and to the system itself. I, however, found that the use of the cage very quickly and effectively functioned to diminish my humanity.

Terrifying.

The threat of this power continues to loom over me. Recently my entire world has suffered apocalypse, but I will not return in anger. I know that some people celebrated a job well done when they destroyed my life and gutted a whole community. Some people have lived in the one-sided cartoon world of cops and robbers for a long time now. But I remain dedicated to the principles of reconciliation and live with hope for a better day precisely because, other than the humanity which they may one day take by force, hope and the bonds of love which cannot be broken by a tragically ignorant system defending itself are all I have left.

Those 15 days come back to me now months later in waking moments and in my dreams. There are many ways to confine an animal, to try and break its spirit. The efforts are more subtle in my new surroundings in a different prison, but the more subtle technologies of dehumanization are no less effective than cages and feces, torture takes many forms.

Days ago the unit manager stands outside my cell during morning inspection. “Good morning,” he said to me in front of my cell when he went in. “Good morning,” I replied while I suppressed the basic human instinct to resist having one’s only personal space casually violated, judged, and raked over, after just the promise of it happening in the future had been enough that morning to cause me to rearrange every single possession I own in a way not intuitive or convenient. Then I also suppressed the question which naturally arose in my mind as a man who has served sixteen years already and faces the need to live permanently somewhere on this earth, whether my basic human dignity will endure the Chinese water torture effect of such daily assaults for the rest of my long life, or whether I and everyone else will simply go mad long before then.

Two minutes later the unit manager emerged with a rolled piece of maroon upholstery fabric in his hand, about six inches wife and twenty-four long, which my cellmate uses to cover the cell window when he uses the toilet.

“See this?” He holds it out to me, and I nod.” “Not good. It’s not good to have colored pieces of cloth like this in your cell!”

At that moment, an elaborate response played out in my head, and I suppose I may be the worst kind of coward for writing about it now instead of just saying it out loud. This is how it went in my head:

“But Mr. B____, how can a piece of upholstery cloth be good or bad? Is God looking down upon us right now and declaring ‘BAD!’ The human race struggled for millennia to produce the technology to manufacture such embroidered cloth, but now there are a trillion shreds of such material in our landfills. Nobody cares. And you’ve been around longer than me, so you remember just as I do only fifteen years ago all over the state men in our prisons had bits of carpet on their floors, cushions on their toilets, bedding from Wal-Mart, and even wall hangings to warm the walls. Nobody cared. Why would they? We were still the poorest, most pathetic people you knew, barely scratching out an existence on the planet, merely trying to take some pride in our hovels. And the thought of holding up a bit of cloth and calling it ‘bad’ would have seemed ridiculous to men such as you and me. What has happened to us? Why this obsession with the way things look instead of the way they really are? Why not inspect the inmates themselves instead of their uniforms? How about that guy with the cuts all over his face? What happened to him while the inspectors weren’t watching?”

Instead, I said nothing and looked at him and looked at the piece of cloth and nodded. I know it does no good to protest to the person who has a job to do. After all, he is also following orders. “Look, I hear what you’re saying,” he would say, “but you know I’m just doing my job. I’ve got people watching me and they expect me to get it done or they’ll find somebody else who will. I got mouths to feed. So let’s make this as painless as possible, okay?”

As painless as possible. But for whom?

In the movie Saving Private Ryan, there’s a scene in which a German soldier kills one of the American heroes by driving a knife slowly into his chest. “Shhh,” the German urges as the American’s strength fades and the blade slowly sinks deeper. “Shhh. Shhh.”

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8 comments

  1. My husband is also in prison due to ineffective council he was 18 at the time sentenced for 2 murders he never committed, he was convicted because his Co defendant hated him and was trying to get rid of him and that was the ony way. My husband’s 14 year old friend was made to sign a statement against my husband as well as his 19 year old friend both of them were forced or they were going to be charged with murder.the jurors on my husband’s trial was talking to the media during his trial, my husband was never put in a line up, my husband was in another state at the time of his arrest. He was set up. He has been sitting in prison for almost 20 years on a 92 year sentence and has seen alot.officers in the prison dnt care about you in there especially in the hole it’s filthy and smells in there. The the food in the prison isn’t enough to feed a 2 year old and is digesting the people working there wouldn’t even eat it. Some of the guards beat the cap out of some inmates throw them in the hole until they heal with no contact with anyone so no one will no but them and the inmate. There is a serious problem going on in these prisons and with the State of Tennessee’state Justice System. I sold my car to get my husband a lawyer he took my money and disappeared. I need help to free my husband before he dies in prison an innocent man!!!!

    1. They do indeed live in a hell. This story doesn’t mean to deny that reality. We have had murder victim family members tell stories on our stage too. But no one has a monopoly on human suffering, and there is more than one hell to live in. And this story told of one such hell. We’ve heard of others at Tenx9. We want all stories to be welcome.

  2. Really! You complain and Your Victim is Dead! You really should join your Victim and not be subject to Your Inconvenience!

  3. He intentionally took the life of another human being. He took a son from his Mother and Father. He took away his future, his dreams, his future children, his career, holidays, love and happiness. I’m sorry Jacob that you don’t have toilet paper to wipe your stinking ass.

  4. Wow! Haters hate. Congratulaters congratulate.

    Two people very close to me have been incarcerated since they were 16 years old – for the rest of their natural lives.

    They’ve just both been resentenced to 30 to 60 years – no good time in the state they’re in, though good time was intact at the time they were originally sentenced in the early 90’s.

    Oddly enough – their lawyer is presenting oral arguments in September 2017 in Nashville in an attempt to garner their illegally taken good time credit back in the 6th District Federal Court.

    Their cases aren’t quite as clear cut as Jacob Davis’s case, and they were 16.

    But what is a 70 year old man who knows nothing about the real life of the real world going to do when and if he is ever released?

    Of course the victims must be considered, but does creating another victim in Jacob really serve anything other than the bloodlust for revenge – the same as he sought against his victim? In my opinion the answer is a resounding NO!

    I don’t think he’d be a danger to anyone but who has already suffered his juvenile fantasies of love, broken hearted teen angst.

    Should he walk free? Certainly not initially, and he didn’t. But to keep him in prison until he is 70 – and hopeless, has done nothing more than create another victim.

    I won’t sign the petition to have him released early – only because I don’t know him personally. However, those of you who do – need to continue to struggle for a more just justice as I did for the last 14 years for one of the above resentenced kids.

    Warehousing of humans, stacking them like cord wood isn’t the answer or the solution to a troubled teen such as Jacob – or anyone else.

    The inhumanity this guy and most American inmates are subjected to are mostly incomprehensible to the average person.

    I’ve been in a “cement tomb” myself, at some point in my life… for a long time. (A financial crime.) So I know first-hand the horror of Jacob and 2.2 million others in the United States who are currently the bread and butter of prison staff – who for the most part… are more criminal than the criminals they oversee.

    Wake up people. This vengeful act of Jacob is no more – no less vengeful than much of what I’ve seen posted here.

    Jacob should sit in front of a panel of highly qualified professional clinicians, sooner than later. If those psychiatrists, sociologists, psychologists, social workers, and even a polygrapher deem him no further threat to anyone else… why continue to turn him into what he’s under threat of becoming – surrounded by people who genuinely deserve to never walk amongst us again… every single day of his life? Given the opportunity to be something other than a number – I think he probably would be.

    Wrapping up… just because someone wears a DOC uniform – does not make them saintly, special, or impervious to the ills of the environment. Greed wears khaki uniforms too! Criminals wear khaki as well. Tormentors too.

    We’re all people, people. Act like it and save the hate for something worthy of it. I don’t think Jacob Lee Davis is worthy of this. Y’all are acting out more profoundly than he did. He’s in a cage for gosh sake – and some of your comments are the equivalent of one of those morons who poke a caged animal with sticks.

    Insanity prevails very clearly on this site with some of these comments.

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