Constante, 44, was one of three inmates who communicated with the Guardian via prison emails. They set out the extreme conditions that drove them to participate in the hunger strike that began in January.
The protest is still continuing in small numbers. But at its peak, several hundred prisoners joined the action among the more than 3,000 confined in “restrictive housing”, as solitary confinement is known in Texas.
“They took us out before the sun came up. You are put in a cage about twice the size of our 6ft x 9ft cells. The rest of the time we are locked up 23 to 24 hours a day, year after year, decade after decade.”
Constante said that the most difficult aspect was the lack of human contact. “I miss not being able to go outside or just sit at a table and talk to people without having to yell out your door or through the walls. I haven’t held my kids in 17 years. The only touch I have had in that time is when an officer comes to put on the cuffs.”
As part of their demands, the hunger strikers prepared a set of written complaints and proposals. They called for an end to the system in which inmates found to have any association with gangs are kept in isolation indefinitely, irrespective of whether they have committed any rules violations.
Raymond Lopez, 67, who has spent about 28 years in solitary, said that it amounted to torture – a designation that has been upheld by the UN and international human rights organisations. Suicide attempts and self-mutilation were common, he said, exacerbated by severe staffing shortages.