Call it the SHU (acronym for special housing unit)…or SEG…or ISO (as they say in the Tombs). It’s all the same thing. Solitary confinement in the context of the Manhattan Detention Center means the inmate subjected to that style of incarceration can’t leave his cell – and can’t make a phone call. His meals are slipped under his cell door which as with all cell doors there, has a 4 inch space between the floor and that sliding slab of metal.
So what does an inmate have to do for the privilege of gaining entry to the bad boys club? I’m not exactly sure of all the ways a detainee can merit separation. But I can tell you what I observed. Calling an hispanic corrections officer a fucking spic doesn’t do it! And mouthing off to a female CO “Fuck you, bitch” likewise didn’t earn the move! But here are two things that do:
Refusing to take a blood test at intake will automatically put an inmate in ISO. Why? Because that test determines whether the entering individual has tuberculosis or syphilis. And if you’re unwilling to prove you don’t suffer from either disease, you can’t be housed with the general population. One of my compatriots declared he wasn’t “about to give up no blood” until he discovered the consequences of refusal.
And here’s another surprising infraction that earns a trip to the promised land: A week before I entered, the unit which would become my home was subjected to a thorough search. Which means CO’s invade all the individual seeking contraband of which I could smell some during my stay (dudes were smoking weed in their rooms). During that search, CO’s discovered a little Mexican guy brewing hooch in his cell! And that earned him the walk! Upon his return (which happened during my stay), all inmates stopped what they were doing to cheer his reentry to the unit. It was then that I learned of his offense and resulting banishment.
In my buddy Crackhead Charlie’s case, hurling racial epithets at virtually every inmate in the unit (rather than just a CO) didn’t result in the move to ISO. Just to another unit which apparently, the warden is willing to execute in the name of peace and harmony.
I have to think that an inmate assaulting a CO would get him a transfer to ISO. But that wouldn’t be likely to happen. Overall, I found the corrections officers extremely permissive when it came to unruly inmates. They might fire back verbally if a rube got under their skin. But I didn’t see any violence perpetrated by CO’s (though I wouldn’t have blamed them a couple of times) and as I’ve said, certainly no punishment for racial slurs.
In fact, when it came to racial slurs, I found the complete lack of political correctness in the joint refreshing. There’s no blacks, whites or hispanics in the Tombs. Only niggers, honkies and spics. Alas, we ultimately find racism in actions and attitudes – and not words and epithets. And while those epithets flew freely in the joint, the guys who spewed them simply weren’t all that prejudiced. A good thing for me I think we can all agree.