|Pender in 2008, at the time of her arrest|
While Sarah Pender was denied an appeal last week, she has been removed from the solitary confinement cell she has lived in since being apprehended following a prison escape in 2008, according to a report in a prisoner advocacy journal.
Pender writes in an article for Solitary Watch, a journal that examines the practice of solitary confinement in our corrections system:
I am confined to my cell 22 hours each day, and the other 2 hours am handcuffed and escorted 25 feet down the hallway to another locked room for “recreation and exercise,” though the space is only twice the size of my cell…Despite knowing that isolation can drive people insane, the mental health care here is woefully inadequate. Once a month, a mental health staff comes to ask us if we are hallucinating, hearing voices, or are suicidal. More frequent meetings can be requested, but they offer no coping skills, no therapy, no advocacy. The luckiest among us are prescribed anti-depressants to numb us from the hardest parts of being alone. I am fortunate to have incredible support from my family and friends. To pass the time, I read, write, learn and plan for the future when I can be with them again. What sanity I eek out of these letters, books, phone calls and visits is enough to sustain me just a little longer. I am mentally stable now, but my mind broke down under the weight of isolation 3 1/2 years ago, and it was a long, slow, painful process of putting myself back together.
She is living in a transition dorm before returning to general population, according to Solitary Watch.
Pender is serving 110 years for her role in a double homicide in 2000. Pender escaped from prison in 2008 and spent 136 days hiding in plain site before being captured. My book, Girl, Wanted, details her time on the run. From the book, this is where Pender is talking to Ryan Harmon, the cop who doggedly chased her while she was temporarily free. This is from a tape I obtained in the course of my reporting:
“I don’t have a sink, and I can’t flush my toilet. I can’t open or close my door, I can’t turn off my own light. I have a video camera in my room, I can’t make phone calls, I can’t have visits. I can’t even flush my own toilet. I’m in like the suicide room . . . the other rooms can’t talk to me. My door has to be closed at all times. If I come out of my room, all the doors have to be closed. They are not allowed to talk to me. The Commissioner said as a direct order, ‘If you talk to her you’ll get written up.’ The staff can’t even talk to me. The staff can only talk to me if I am asking them for something I need, like if I need my toilet flushed or I need a pencil sharpener. Like I could not even get a pencil for like five days; I think it was more like a week. They ask me if I want ice or whatever and I can say yes. But other than that there is no conversation. They cannot talk to me like a normal person. No conversation outside my immediate needs. And if it’s like a male officer they cannot even speak to me at all unless there’s someone else there. I can’t have my own clothes in there; everyone else has their own clothes. They have to bring me mine. I just now got my hygienes. I use to not be able to brush my teeth until I took a shower and when I take a shower . . . everyone else can just get let into the shower. I have to get locked in a cage in the shower. So that I am handcuffed at all times and I have no contact with the people. If I come out of my room there has to be three people on the floor. Two officers and the third has to be a supervisor or a man. Oh, it’s insane.
“I couldn’t have any mail at all for like the first week and a half. And then when they finally came over and interviewed me . . . they finally let me have a pencil and paper and they told me I could receive mail right now but I couldn’t order commissary so I have no stamps and envelopes to send out so my parents must think like ‘What’s going on?’ You get what they feed you. . . . which is really bad food.”