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 dark places .png

dark places
mix-media, Illustrator, & indesign

I have a back injury that I sustained last year during an altercation with a guard. They attacked me in my cell at 1 AM, handcuffed me face-down on the ground, and shot me twice in the spine with a Taser. Then they strapped me to a restraint chair for six-and-a-half hours. I complained about the pain in my back right after the injury, but they never examined me and just said I was fine. It took six months of me putting in requests to medical just to get an x-ray. I finally saw a specialist - someone outside the jail, so they were unbiased - who found a bulged disc in my lower back. I also still have a bump on my head from the altercation and I get frequent migraines. They just give me Tylenol for it. I wake up to migraines every morning; they’re constant reminders of what happened. 


I finally got a cane this year to help support me when I walk. I get made fun of sometimes, like being called “old man,” even though I’m 32 years old. I only got the cane a few months ago, but they’ve already taken it away from me twice. The first time, I was walking back to my cell with my cane and the guard told me I was taking too long and told me to walk faster. Then he told me I couldn’t have the cane. He said to put it down and cuff up. He cuffed me behind my back, which hurt me even more; he should've cuffed me in front. SERT [Special Emergency Response Team] showed up with their armor, AR-15s, and gadgets to escort me to the hole. They dragged me even though I kept telling them it hurt and asking them to let me walk. SERT is only supposed to be for when situations get out of hand, like an escape or a riot. But they’ll come for a medical or mental health emergency, which then turns to physical altercations and restraints rather than actual help. My cane never made it to the hole and they said they lost it, but I saw a sergeant playing with it like a ninja stick. I was in the hole for 16 days without it. I even had to miss a legal call because I couldn’t get to it without my cane. 


The second time they took my cane, a guard asked if I was allowed to have it. He came back with SERT the next day to confiscate it. They said my medical records said the injury was expired, but my injury is for life! The guard just told me to get in touch with medical. I asked the nurse if there was an expiration date and she said no. They confiscated my cane just to make it hard for me. They want to see me in the hole and beat me up and try their toys on me. They’re mad because I question everything they do. When you treat me like I’m human, I’ll stop. But I already filed my own pro se civil lawsuit. The people at the jail said it was lost and didn’t mail it out until two or three weeks later, but it’s on the docket now. In their eyes, they’re undefeated. That’s why they are arrogant.

 Skin .png

mix-media, Illustrator, & indesign

I was without my cane for a month and a half. I tossed and turned at night and had a lot of trouble walking. They just gave me Ibuprofen, which didn’t do anything for my pain. They told me there were security reasons for not giving me my cane back. I wrote grievances about the agony I experienced, but they never responded. Finally, I got my cane back this week. The nurse also got me a plastic chair for my cell because leaning forward in the standard metal chair hurt my back. Now, I can pull the plastic chair up to the desk without having to stretch my back. I’ve also been on top tier this whole year, even when I didn’t have the cane, but I’ve had lower tier status since last year. I have to go upstairs and could fall. I have a lower bunk pass, too, but when I had a cellmate, the other guy was there first so I had to take the top bunk. There wasn’t even a ladder, so I had to pull myself up and push through the pain. I did it for months. 


When I got COVID, they just gave me Tylenol and orange juice. I had chills, sneezing, and coughing. It felt like I was coughing my lungs up, which made my back pain even worse. Then they put me back in the same unit I caught it on, and nothing was sanitized. I couldn’t wash my clothes, the blankets, or the mattress. I also have asthma and went months without my inhaler, but they renew it now. It seems like COVID created a spark. But I still have to tell an officer when I need a refill, and then it takes a week or two to get it. 


There are two handicap cells on the lower tier, but they’re full. Those cells have support bars, which would make me feel safer, and everything is a little lower. The last two jails I was at gave me a soft shoe pass to support me while I was walking. They told me at this jail that it’s a security breach and I have to buy the shoes off commissary. I have shower shoes and velcro shoes, which are flat and not good for support. They just bring more pain. They didn’t even have my size in the velcro shoes so I had to wear the shower shoes for months. Then I got a foot fungus because my feet were always wet from the shower, but I couldn’t take the shoes off.

planes .png

mix-media, Illustrator, & indesign

I’ve had mental health assessments and I have lots of diagnoses. They diagnosed me with PTSD, insomnia, depression, high anxiety, and bipolar disorder. They try to drug me up and kill me. They keep trying to up the doses, hoping I go into a comatose state and stop pressuring them. I see mental health every 30 days and they’re always trying to raise the dose. Sometimes I don’t take the drugs; I have my ways of avoiding them. I don’t think I’m depressed, but I do think I have PTSD. Certain situations give me anxiety, but they have to be tied to the PTSD. 


When I see too many guards now, I get nervous and think they’ll attack me. I get chest pains and feel anxious. I’ve also been getting nightmares since the attack. The guard who did it works on my unit, so I have to face him all the time. This is the same guard who threw my books and religious material away. I filed a PREA [Prison Rape Elimination Act] against him because he did a strip search on me with my door wide open for everyone to see. When I complained to him about it, he opened the door even wider and said, “No one is worried about seeing your little penis.” 


Meanwhile, they’re claiming their library is down and they’re selectively sending books to people. There’s no physical library in the jail. If you want to read a book, you buy a book. I just focus on my criminal case, though. I also have a radio and listen to the news to hear about what’s going on in the world. I haven’t been to commissary in seven months because I’m on restriction. And they’re skipping rec at least twice per week, so we only get five hours of time out of the cell the whole week. We just received tablets a week ago, but they’re expensive! Why am I paying money for a video visit?

safiyah maurice


Safiyah Maurice is a Portland-based artist, researcher, organizer, curator, and co-founder of SHED. As a multi-disciplinary artist, she investigates sensory-based practices and enjoys creating works that activate a variety of senses, reflecting varied ways people learn and experience.

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