Marc’s Blog About Being Put Into Solitary Confinement

Marc Emery on bass guitar in prisonOn the morning of Monday, June 3rd, I was called to the Lieutenant’s office. Getting called to the Lieutenant’s office is never a good thing; at best it’s a random urine test, at worst it’s some disciplinary measure. As I approached the office, a C.O. (Corrections Officer) came up to me, got handcuffs out without explanation, and handcuffed my hands behind my back, and immediately led me the 80 feet over to Special Housing Unit (SHU), otherwise known as solitary, or the ‘hole’ or ‘jail’.

This is a seriously depressing place. I was put in a holding cell for three hours and I saw my former band drummer, Sapp, get lead into the SHU as well, and thought that was an odd coincidence… or was it? Then an SIS officer (Special Investigations and Security) came into the SHU, and I was put in an interview room with him.

SIS man: “You’ve got a rock band here?”

Me: “Yes.”

SIS: “You had some photos made of your band playing… in the band room, is it?

Me: “Yes.”

SIS: “This investigation is to determine if you used a smuggled iPhone or some kind of device to take those photos.”

Me: “What? That’s bizarre. You, SIS, approved those photos, in writing. The head of recreation approved them, the head of the music department approved them, and the head of inmate photography approved them. All in writing, on a cop-out [permission form]that is still in Bubba’s [the authorized inmate photographer]file, and Bubba only took those photos once he witnessed all three department heads give approval and sign the form.”

SIS: “Mr. ******, head of recreation, says he knows nothing about them.”

Me: “That’s impossible. Mr. Booth, head of the music department, went to Mr. ****** with me, and in front of both of us and the photographer he said he had no objection at all, and at that point Mr. Booth signed off on it. And Mr. Anderson had already signed off on it. In fact, not only did I get all the authorized permissions for those 23 photos, but SIS authorized in writing a second round of photographs – thirty-two in all – of my band in the band room, on an electronic cop-out, and all three department heads approved those. And those photos are in Mr. Anderson’s office right now. So you can check in several ways to confirm I did not do anything outside of the very precise rules to get those photos done. Plus, I used the $1 photo coupons to pay for each photo, 55 in all, and those payments are all logged, and there are negatives of all those photos on file too. They are all even approved by a C.O. once developed, to make sure there are no gang signs or any prohibited imagery.”

SIS: “Well, it seems someone is embarrassed about that photo of your band that appears in your blog. I’ll try not to take too long in the investigation, it sounds like what you say should check out.”

Me: “But why am I here? You could just talk to Mr. Booth or Mr. Anderson right now and straighten this out in minutes. Or you could check your own records, you’ll have recorded that you, SIS, approved not one, but two rounds of photos specifically of my band.”

SIS: “I’m sure you’re correct, but it’s going to take some time. I’ll try not to make it a long time, hopefully it will only be a short time.”

Me: “What does that mean? It should take a few minutes!”

SIS: “A short time for an investigation is measured in days, maybe weeks, a longer investigation takes weeks and months.”

And with that I was put in a SHU cell, with someone named Arnold – fortunately, not too crazy a guy (it could have been much worse) – for the next eight days. Of course, my story was precise, and the facts corroborated what I said. But two other members of my band were put in the SHU also: Sapp (let out after 8 days with me) and Terry, my lead guitarist, who is still there after 35 days. Two other members of the band from the photos in question (in my April blog) did not get put in the SHU because with sunglasses on and no names attached to the photo, they couldn’t effectively be identified, or they would have been put in SHU too.

Solitary itself is disturbing, because you no longer have any means to communicate with the outside world. No phone calls, no Corrlinks email. It was four days before I was given paper and envelopes. It was six days before I was given a pen to write letters. You can only buy postage stamps on one occasion per week. A letter to Canada from prison takes eight or nine days (and in many cases, due to a very weird and oddball local Yazoo US post office, up to two or three weeks) minimum, so the first letter in the mail Jodie received from me was 12 days after I was first put in the SHU (family members of other inmates contacted her the day I was put in SHU, so she knew I was there, but no one knew why). You don’t get any shampoo, and razors came just once in those eight days, and you have to shave and give the razor back a few hours later. The clothing was way too large and I had to tie a string around my waist to hold up my bright orange shorts, and the one pair of socks I got was full of holes from top to toe.

The first night I was there some guy in a cell near me set fire to his blanket somehow, and then set fire to his door, which is oddly made of plastic (all others seem to be made of steel, I have no idea why that one door for a clearly disturbed person was made of plastic), which caused lots of smoke in the hallway, which made me very scared because prisoners do die in prison fires, and of course the smoke came into our cell. After the fire was put out (no doubt just another day in paradise for the guards who, I’m sure, deal with a number of disturbed personalities – no doubt made worse by being in solitary confinement), then the air-conditioning was shut off, and our cells got very warm (it’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit each day here now, 35-38 degrees Celsius) that night. Then they had to put giant industrial fans outside our door to send the smoke out of the hallways, which whined all night like a vacuum cleaner set on high.

You don’t get any of your property when you are put in solitary, unlike the Sea-Tac (Seattle Tacoma detention centre) SHU, where exactly three years ago, on June 3, 2010, I was put in for 21 days over what officials there described as a ‘misunderstanding’ (I was accused of breaking a rule by having Jodie broadcast a phone call message in a video online, despite no concrete rule having being violated). In the Sea-Tac SHU they bring you your property and you can get up to five softcover books, a book of personal photos, and packaged foods that you already own, like packs of tuna. Here at Yazoo SHU, you get nothing, and there is virtually nothing you can buy from commissary.  

The one fortunate turn of events was on my second day in solitary I got six consecutive issues of the New York Times and five magazines – Time, Bloomberg Business Week, Islands, Reason, and National Geographic – and Scalped #8 (the next sequence in a graphic novel series I was enjoying), which all turned into sanity preservers. I did all the daily crosswords that night, and worked on the giant Sunday NY Times magazine crossword over the next three days.

Marc and Jodie in Yazoo prison March 2The weekend after I was put in solitary, Jodie was scheduled to visit me. The problem is, Jodie would normally fly all day Friday (it’s 2,600 miles/4,200 kilometers away; she wakes at 3:00am to get to the Vancouver airport at 5:00am, and after non-stop flights and driving, she makes it to Yazoo City at 8:00pm at night) in order to see me for our Saturday and Sunday visits, for six hours each day, the normal visiting time for most inmates. But when you are in solitary confinement, you only get two hours, on Fridays. So Jodie had to pay a high cost to re-book her flight to fly here Thursday instead, to see me Friday and find out why I was in the SHU (she had no contact from me, and no information at all from the prison, which never provides answers).

Jodie called the prison when she stopped getting calls and emails from me, to see if I was in solitary, but the prison won’t tell anyone anything, so she had to make the journey to find out if I was okay. She had a nightmarish trip, with the flight from Texas to Mississippi being delayed many times and then cancelled because of a massive storm, leaving her stranded, and left hoping for a standby seat on the final flight that night – which she lucked out and got, allowing for her to make the drive into Yazoo City at 2:00am in the morning. It was a terribly stressful ordeal, with her not knowing anything about whether I was safe or not, and wondering if she would miss her one chance to see me (which she would have, had she not made that last flight).

When Jodie finally made it to the prison for SHU visits the next afternoon, we didn’t even get the full two hours allotted. It took one full hour just for her to get processed and brought to the visitation room, leaving only an hour left for us and the three other SHU inmates to spend together. However, the C.O.s working that day were kind enough to let everyone stay for an extra 30 minutes, because it was clearly unfair to have such a short time period for people who traveled so far.

That 90-minute visit was one of only two visits I have gotten from Jodie in a 12-week span, from April 15 to July 5, so it has been a very difficult time lately. That SHU visit was much too short. Being sent to the SHU has all sorts of punishing repercussions, even when you’re not guilty of anything and it’s just some bizarre over-reaction by somebody somewhere. No apology when they let you out, no ‘Ooops, our mistake’, just ‘Emery, pack up, you’re outta here.’ Mind you, it still feels good; when you get back ‘on the compound’, for a few days you feel like you’re in the free world. But that quickly wears off, and over this last month of June I realize I am so frustrated being in federal prison for 40 months now, while there are over 100 cannabis seed stores in Canada selling to Americans (and certainly doing nothing to advance the cause of legalization with their profits), and states like Colorado and Washington are setting up massive marijuana production and sales systems to distribute more marijuana in a few hours that I was responsible for in ten years.

When you get let out of SHU, you don’t return to your cell; you get put into one of the three-man cells, which are very crowded, and even possibly in violation of guidelines for prisoner housing. Eventually I ended up back in my two-man cell with my fellow Canadian, Dev, who’s been my cellie since he arrived here last November as the only other Canadian. Four days later, I got very sick, so debilitating I could not stand up without being violently dizzy and nauseous. I’ve been ill like this before: twice in the year 2000, at home on the Sunshine Coast of BC; once in the Canadian prison awaiting extradition in 2009; and here, last year. It’s a reaction to vitamin powders.

In 2000, I started putting together various vitamin supplements in gel caps and taking them after I’d get up each morning. One morning, about 20 minutes after taking 10-16 gel caps of various powders of about 15-20 vitamins and enzymes, it was like the earth had violently tilted on its axis in a way that no movie earthquake even begins to convey. I wanted to throw up and I began to sweat so profusely that my entire shirt and trousers were soaked within five minutes. I immediately got down on the floor, where I felt horrible, but not as dizzy. Kelly, my first wife, wanted to drive me to the hospital, as she was in a panic; that was a hellish drive because I had to sit up, so I threw up several times on the way.

Thirty very long minutes later, at the little Sechelt hospital, they noticed my profuse sweating and nausea, and monitored me lying down. No conclusions were reached, and because the vitamin supplements had never affected me like this before, I failed to mention those to them. Hours later they told Kelly to take me home, but standing up was so nauseating and crippling, and the ride back was very miserable. I got home and lay down for the next 48 hours, and did not get up again for days. On the third day I felt better, and began to behave normally. By day four I was completely recovered.

Soon after that, I started doing my vitamin combinations again. I would come to realize that some combination of vitamins and supplements was having an adverse affect on me (when consumed on an empty stomach, I hypothesized later) because three weeks later I had the identical same adverse reaction about 20 minutes after downing 15 or so gel caps of supplements with water on an empty stomach. The world immediately seemed to herald a gravity-less oblivion again. I had ataxia, a dizziness (from poisoning in my case) that brings with it powerful nausea. Kelly again saw me soak my clothes with sweat within moments, and again wanted to drive me to hospital, but this time I said no. I realized taking the supplements on an empty stomach was the commonality between the two experiences, and right there knew I had to end taking those. I stayed in bed, and recovered again 72 hours later, both times being identical and very unpleasant. But as long as I stayed horizontal, I was not nauseous, and I was very tired for 72 hours. So I stopped taking any vitamin supplements at all, and those symptoms never came back.

In September 2009, I was put in North Fraser Pretrial Detention Center, just outside of Vancouver, awaiting extradition to the US. The food was sparse, and though it was better quality than what I have here now at Yazoo, I was concerned about my health and decided to buy one – just one – multivitamin pill, sold in the prisoner vending machine. I took that multivitamin the next morning, and bang! The terrible imbalance, nausea, and dizziness was back, though not quite as intensely (the onset was so severe in 2000, Kelly thought I was having a heart attack). Nonetheless, I soaked my clothes and had to lay down on my upper bunk for the next 48 hours. After this, I was convinced. Some combination of vitamins was having a very bad effect on me.

Then one morning last year, I made up some flavoured oatmeal. I had eaten it before, though usually later in the day. It is fortified by 10 vitamin additives. Plain rolled oats alone (which are also sold here) only contain small amounts of iron, and nothing else; but these flavoured oatmeal packs contain vitamin A, Calcium, Iron, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, B6, Folic Acid, Phosphorus, and Magnesium in the powder that is in each package. I usually put three packages in a cup and add hot water; minutes later, I had a recurrence of the same sickness. And again, months after that incident, I had the same reaction to something served at in the chow hall at lunch. I suspect the food had vitamin supplements added, because 40-50 other inmates suffered the same symptoms as I did and were laid out on their beds with nausea, dizziness, and a malaise that lasted one to four days, depending on the person.

Then on Friday, June 14, I did something I never do: I made a coffee in the morning. At 9:00am, adding two heaping spoonfuls of powdered milk (and I had certainly consumed this powdered milk on perhaps 30 occasions before, though always much later in the day) and 20 minutes or so later was struck suddenly by a violent dizziness, an immediate terrible feeling, and an inability to stand, or even sit upright. I threw up and was sweating, though not to the extent of the original 2000 attacks. It wasn’t until the fourth day later until I felt completely normal and stable, and again I slept almost non-stop for 48 hours, then most of the 24 hours after that. In that Paramount-brand powdered milk is Vitamin A, Calcium, Vitamin D, Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus, Thiamine, B6, B12 and Magnesium. In all situations, the suspect items were consumed in the morning and on an empty stomach.

But now I’m thoroughly spooked about eating anything fortified by vitamins. It’s like a seasickness or vertigo-induced sickness, very unpleasant, and all I can do is lie down and essentially sleep. In that way it’s like altitude sickness, which I experienced climbing Mount Kinabalu in Sabah province in Borneo in May 1993, when I reached 12,300 feet and simply lost all power in my legs and could not climb more without throwing up every ten feet and feeling horrible. (It subsided once I descended 200 feet). I also experienced a very queasy nausea and miserable altitude-related malaise when I took a gondola up to 8,500 feet in Golden, BC in 2004. The thing about seasickness or altitude sickness is that at least those symptoms dissipate within an hour or two after getting on land or going to a lower altitude.

Marc and Jodie in Yazoo prison March 3The human body can be a peculiar thing, but mine also works very predictably and if I look carefully at any situation where I am ill, I can usually isolate the cause (which is good considering the sketchy medical help available in any prison in the USA) and change my pattern of behaviour to avoid similar trouble in the future.

While recovering from that most recent sickness, I began to receive numerous letters from concerned people in Canada and the USA responding to Jodie’s tweets and Facebook posts about me being put in solitary. I have begun to respond to the 50 or so letters I received so far. Some are very precious and thoughtful, one particularly by Laura Tarnara in Clive, Alberta, who sent me a lovely compassionate letter with a poem that made me feel very good. I forwarded her letter to Jodie so we can keep it in our archive, and I do hope I see Laura at one of the Alberta stops of my speaking tour with Jodie in 2014 (yes, next year, yay!).

By the way, since last October I carry all letters I have received around with me until I respond to them, and since October, I have written over 300 letters. It sometimes takes even six months to get to them (I pull two letters randomly out the ‘Respond ASAP’ envelope each day) but I have responded to almost everyone who has written me in the last eight months.

I’d like to share part of one correspondence I received last week from Libby Davies, the wonderful Member of Parliament representing Vancouver East. I’ve added some notes afterward:

Dear Marc,

I think of you quite often and the terrible ordeal you’ve gone through. What I recall is the interview we did down at the new Woodward’s building, where you talked of that great depiction in the atrium of what happened in Gastown*.

In that interview you spoke so profoundly of your experience with others who were incarcerated^, and how that gave you extraordinary insight and learning, particularly of the First Nations people you met~. You were very philosophical then. I mention this because I was so impressed with how positive you were. I only hope that what you have gone through in the US system, while harsh and difficult, also has brought you to a place in your heart where compassion and belief in positive things, and belief in all the people who support you, gives you comfort and hope.

I’m sure you keep up with the goings on in Canada (not pretty) but what gives me hope is the resilience of people to stay strong and keep the movement for progressive change going forward.

A couple of days ago the government of Canada introduced an awful bill to do away with Safe Injection sites. It will make it near impossible to open a new site or even renew Insite’s existing permit.

I have to say Jodie is an extraordinary person, and her support for you, and the people she inspires, is incredible to behold. You are lucky to have her by your side. She is a wonderful woman.

I wish you well and know that we will not give up on your situation.

With warmest wishes,
Libby Davies, MP

Notes to references in that letter:

* Remarkably, for a commercial endeavor, the giant Woodward’s building complex (near Cannabis Culture Headquarters store, in Gastown) has a retail concourse with a giant staged photo mural of police violently breaking up a peaceful marijuana legalization rally that famously took place on August 7, 1971. That rally, promoted and sponsored by the Georgia Straight newspaper, was held at the nexus of Water, Carroll, Cordova, and Alexander streets (where the statue of Vancouver founder Gassy Jack Deighton now is) and has always been referred to as the “Grasstown” Police Riot. Over 100 peaceful demonstrators, journalists, tourists, bystanders, businesspeople, and Vancouver citizens were injured and hospitalized by violent Vancouver police on mounted horses in Vancouver’s bloodiest incident of the last 100 years (previously, the 1907 Vancouver anti-Asian riot was the worst – which, incidentally, was the catalyst for the Government of Canada bringing in prohibition of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana). It is a day that lives in infamy in the movement, and changed Vancouver forever. It is immortalized by Rand Holmes in Harold Hedd Comics #1 and is best learned about in Cannabis Canada Magazine #5 in a piece by David Malmo-Levine (available for online reading here). Every five years on August 7, (in 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011) Vancouver activists, led by David, have sanctified the square by holding a daytime rally on that very place of history.

^ I have been arrested 28 times and jailed 22 times in Canada from 1996 to 2005 for cannabis civil disobedience, with arrests for selling bongs, promoting bongs and vaporizers (yes, promoting them!), selling seeds, passing one joint, giving a piece of hash free to an American tourist, smoking out 18 police departments across Canada in 2003 on my Summer of Legalization Tour (and being cleared of all charges during that tour), possessing four grams of cannabis, and many other remarkable incidents (but never, tellingly, for selling cannabis or possessing more than four grams). I’ve been arrested and jailed for cannabis or cannabis-related offenses in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. I was sentenced to three months in jail for passing a joint in Saskatoon at a rally in a park, though the police officer did not actually see this happen and someone merely said I passed them a joint. And of course, the granddaddy of all prison terms is my current one, five years for selling seeds from my office in Vancouver, which makes it my 23rd time in jail/prison for cannabis civil disobedience (see the DEA statement regarding my arrest HERE).

~ At Saskatoon Correctional, eighty percent of the inmates were native. I went to the their sweat lodges every two weeks (that first one tested me, I tell you). I spent all my spare time reading Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., the history of the civil rights movement, the genocide of the native people, the hidden history of prohibition, and the generally insidious evil that is the history of government in Canada and the USA. In my first year incarcerated in the USA, I read all three volumes of Taylor Branch’s magnificent history of the civil rights movement, with the incomparable MLK, Jr., at its center, all 2,500 pages of it.

To add anxiety to a difficult month, my great pride and joy, my rock’n’roll band YAZOO, is currently in disarray. Terry, my lead guitarist, was put in the SHU with me on the bogus photo investigation, but hasn’t been let out after 27 days. He did get a 300-shot for having too many books in his cell; almost all of those books are tablature guitar books or guitar magazines that our band uses. That charge – which is outrageous, that books or music material could end up putting you in solitary – at most should net no more than 15 days in solitary. It is mysterious then, that Terry has been in solitary for 28 days. We haven’t been able to rehearse or practice now for a month, and now I have lost my singer to another band, both because Terry hasn’t been with us – but also because it’s thought I may be transferred back to Canada, so our singer Chap is now playing bass in our former band member Don’s band. You can only be in one band, so now I have a very good drummer, a new rhythm guitarist who still doesn’t really know our material, me on bass, no lead guitarist, and now no singer.

I’m disappointed because the 20 songs we were hoping to perform for the July 6 show (and that Terry and I had worked on for months, and which I know well now) won’t be presentable. Singers are in short supply in prison, so when Terry gets out, we may have to be an instrumental rock band for a while. The band is a source of routine and stability for me, and, along with worrying about why my friend is in solitary for minor ‘offenses’  for so long, this hiatus for an unspecified time has me kind of disoriented and a bit shaken up. Plus the band as it was, which I was so proud of, is no more. Sigh.

It is right at this time that I should be hearing from the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, regarding my treaty transfer application to return to Canada to serve out my sentence in a Canadian prison. Although I qualify for immediate parole and statutory release upon my arrival in Canada (having served 40 months of a 60 month sentence as of July 9), it’s likely I wouldn’t be at home with Jodie until Christmas, and that’s if all goes well.

As of today, Thursday July 4th, the DOJ has had my application on their desk for eight weeks, so I should be hearing from them very soon. An answer typically takes six to ten weeks. Yesterday I received an “Order for Removal” from US Customs and Immigration, which officially recognizes I am to be deported to Canada at the earliest available time. That seems positive to me, so I await the word from the US DOJ with some degree of trepidation. I sure missed not being at the Cannabis Day celebrations at the Vancouver Art Gallery on July 1st, but I’m hoping this was my last Canada Day in captivity. I would really like to be home.

Marc Emery
Marc Emery

Marc Emery is a Canadian cannabis activist, entrepreneur, and politician. Known to his fans as the Prince of Pot, Emery has been a notable advocate of international cannabis policy reform for decades. Marc is the founding publisher of Cannabis Culture and Pot TV.