By Angela Antoine
Guest Writer

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ACLU of Virginia.

Just over two years ago, my life took a drastic turn for the worse.

On June 26, 2016, I was sentenced to six months in jail for a third offense petty larceny. Crazy is an understatement. I have never been charged with larceny. Worthless check? Yes. But larceny? No.

A week before my sentencing I had two stents placed - one in my right arm and one on the right side of my chest. Also, I was diagnosed with a chronic ectopic pregnancy. The state did not care that I had these health issues as they were only concerned about a conviction. I was sent to Chesapeake Correctional Center where I was housed in “medical hold” with a woman that had a staph infection. I had an open wound, but they refused to separate us. I complained of pain in my arm and chest and no one answered.

After getting so sick that the officers had to call EMS, I was transported to Chesapeake Regional Hospital. Within an hour I was admitted into the hospital due to a blood clot in my right arm (where I had just had surgery). I stayed in the hospital for three days.

Placing individuals there (in solitary confinement) is a way to show the inmate who’s in control. Many individuals have mental breakdowns or even commit suicide.

On July 1, 2016, I was moved to Hampton Roads Regional Jail. To say I was terrified would be an understatement. I was so scared that I would die in this place. After being booked, I was placed in solitary confinement. They say I was placed in solitary because I had a medical condition. I was puzzled because the other 19 women in solitary were placed in pods and I was not.

I believe I was put in solitary because I am an advocate for current and formerly incarcerated people through House of Dreams Outreach & ReEntry, LLC, in Hampton. While I was being held in Chesapeake, many phone calls poured in demanding my release. Being outspoken comes with a cost, and you just have to get through it the best that you know how. I was in solitary confinement for almost two weeks. During this time, no one knew where I was, and that was scary as hell. When I was finally able to speak to my husband I remember telling him, “I don’t want to die in here!”

There may be some extreme situations for which there is no alternative to solitary confinement, but no one should be placed there for weeks or years and without any real documentation. That is the worst thing to do to anyone.

People’s mental health is at stake. Do corrections officials care? No! Placing individuals there is a way to show the inmate who’s in control. Many individuals have mental breakdowns or even commit suicide.

I support the ACLU of Virginia’s efforts to limit the practice of solitary confinement in our state, and I will continue to share my experience and advocate for my brothers and sisters who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated, many of whom are afraid to speak out for themselves because they fear punishment.

While being in solitary confinement was a horrifying experience, I am no longer afraid. I thank God for my experience because it only heightened my ability to fight for others’ rights today.