Because his sentence is 77 years to life, he is virtually certain to die in prison.
Day after day all I saw was gray walls and over time my world became the gray box,” Brian Nelson has written of his 12 years in solitary confinement in Illinois.
“Every day I went to sleep I got down on my knees and prayed that I would die in my sleep, yet God’s will was not mine.
Some prisoners who have spent longer amounts of time in isolation describe it as a condition that slowly degrades both their humanity and sanity, turning them into blind animals given to interminable pacing, smearing their cells with feces, or engaging in self-mutilation.
“I went days pacing back and forth like a zombie…I looked like I was already dead and I had no will to live.
Instead, for the past 27 years, Blake has lived in extreme isolation in a 7 x 9 cell.
He is fed through a slot in the solid steel door, and on some days he’s allowed out for an hour to “exercise” alone in a small, barren pen.Hartman, who is serving life without parole in California, agrees with such an assessment—and for that reason, strongly opposed the referendum to replace capital punishment with life without parole.Hartman runs, from prison, a campaign called the Other Death Penalty Project, on the premise that a sentence of life without parole amounts to “a long, slow, dissipating death sentence without any of the legal or administrative safeguards rightly awarded to those condemned to the traditional forms of execution.” “Though I will never be strapped down onto a gurney with life-stopping drugs pumped into my veins,” Hartmann has written, “be assured I have already begun the slow drip of my execution [which] won’t come to full effect for 50, maybe 60 years.” Like William Blake in New York, he states: “I have often wondered if that 15 or 20 minutes of terror found to be cruel and unusual wouldn’t be a better option.” Complicating matters is the fact that life without parole rarely takes its place as simply a one-for-one alternative to the death penalty.In California, where over 700 people languish on San Quentin’s death row, just 13 men have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977.But 22 have committed suicide—eight of them after the state’s moratorium on capital punishment went into effect in 2006.Support for capital punishment in the United States is at its lowest point in four decades, and seems likely to fall further as the number of exonerations and gruesomely botched executions continues to grow. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund's latest “Death Row U. A.” report found 3,049 individuals awaiting execution in the United States.According to the Sentencing Project, at last count nearly 50,000 people were serving sentences of life without the possibility of parole—a number that has more than tripled since the early 1990s.In New York State, for example, life without parole did not exist before the state’s brief reinstitution of capital punishment from 1995 to 2004.During this period, there were never more than half a dozen men on New York’s death row, and no executions took place.Though the requirement that life/LWOP sentences be served in solitary confinement is codified into law only in Connecticut, it exists in practice throughout the nation.An unknown number of lifers have, like William Blake, been placed in permanent or indefinite solitary confinement by prison officials, without benefit of any kind of due process.