The Massachusetts Prison Camp For the Mentally Ill

Ev R0ck
6 min readJun 2, 2023

Fun fact: In Plymouth, Massachusetts, people are sent to prison camp for being mentally ill and put into solitary confinement for their symptoms. In 2019, I was one of them.

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you can legally commit an active addict into treatment. “Section 35” is a court proceeding for family members, law enforcement, or medical professionals to force an addict into treatment, whether they want to or not. They go to court, get shackled on wrists and ankles, and take a prison van to their “treatment center.”

There are many inherent problems with this approach, the chief one being that treatment only works for an addict with a desire to get clean. In all my years as both an active and recovering addict, no one else has ever been able to make me change if I had no desire to stop getting high. Sobriety has to come from an internal desire to live a better life.

In 2019, a particularly brutal relapse had put me back in Boston, where I was doing what I had always done: huffing air duster and passing out all over the city. I suppose the Cambridge Police Department had seen me laid out in Central Square one too many times that summer because they arrested me at the hospital, brought me to court, and had a Section 35 placed on me.

There are two facilities where a Section 35 case ends up. One is a pretty run-of-the-mill rehab in Brockton. Men’s Addiction Treatment Center, or MATC, is where you hope they send you if you’ve been apprehended on a Section 35 because the alternative is awful (as I found out for myself that summer). I have been there numerous times in my life. The stay is 21 days by court order, and the doors are unlocked. Apparently, if you just decide to take off, the police are called, and a warrant is issued for your arrest. I had given up on any possibility of getting clean and living a decent life, so I made my escape after about 3 days. I went straight to Walgreens, stole a can of air duster, and huffed it on the bus back to Boston. Unfortunately, I had a warrant out for my arrest, however…and I was apprehended within 24 hours of my escape. I was not sent back to the relatively comfortable MATC in brockton this time.

This brings me to the other place you go when you’re a Section 35 case, and you take that long shackled van ride from court. MASAC is a medium-security prison camp deep in the Myles Standish State Forest in Plymouth, MA. It is a couple of buildings, surrounded by razor wire fences, and staffed by real correction officers (prison guards) and pre-release federal inmates on work release. There is no escaping the facility; I tried on my first day there, and it landed me in solitary confinement for 3 days, where I would end up a number of times over the course of my 45-day imprisonment.

There must’ve been a hundred of us, held captive against our will in this prison camp without being convicted of a crime. Some of the other men in there were suffering from severe mental illness, including acute schizophrenic episodes. It didn’t help that they took everyone off their medication and changed their regimen when they got there. The correction officers made fun of those who were falling apart due to mental illness and sent them into solitary confinement for acting out.

Solitary confinement, by the way, is classified as psychological torture and cruel and unusual punishment by the United Nations. Even someone without preexisting mental health issues can develop them after prolonged time in the hole. So, take it in: in the United States, people with DSM-5 classified mental illnesses are being imprisoned in solitary confinement for days on end without their prescribed medications, without being convicted of a crime. I was one of them, and I called the ACLU from the payphone every single day, trying to get myself out. I have been to regular county jail, and let me tell you, the Plymouth gulag was much, much worse. You couldn’t sleep; people were screaming for help throughout the night. Someone with serious schizophrenia was throwing up his antipsychotics under his bed so that he could spend time with his imaginary friend. When this was discovered, the smell was overpowering, and the man was dragged off to the hole for non-compliance. That day I called my mother crying and made her promise me that I was going to make it through the ordeal, and that I’d be okay.

At one point, I asked a CO to see a mental health professional, and this is what he said: “Go and eat this bar of soap in front of the surveillance camera; I’m sure mental health will see you then.” I told him he was a piece of shit for making fun of sick people and that he must be devoid of any human decency, which makes perfect sense given his livelihood is trafficking in the human misery of the marginalized. I was thrown back in the hole (solitary) for insulting this piece of human excrement.

This brings me to my general rule of corrections officers: Fuck them. Seriously, I wouldn’t say that all police officers are bad; I’ve met plenty that have really helped me in times of need. Therefore, I can’t go by the “All Cops Are Bastards” policy; it’s a case-by-case thing. All corrections officers are pieces of shit, though. They pick a career where the proximity to human misery is constant because they get off on the power they have over people, and there’s a pretty sweet pension in it at retirement. It takes a certain type of asshole to get into that profession, and they are all shitbags, even if they pretend to be your friend. They are the enforcers of an oppressive prison industrial system; their bread and butter is the misery of their fellow man. Therefore: fuck them.

I spent 45 days inside the forest prison camp. I caught a bacterial infection from the squalid conditions that caused me to have colitis, and so I was in extreme digestive pain and discomfort to add to the mental anguish of being held captive. I returned to getting high immediately after my release, so nothing beneficial was accomplished. I assume all of the detainees had a similar result.

Chemical dependence is a mental illness. Addiction is a disease; this is not up for debate; it’s a medical fact. Addiction is not a moral failing, nor is it a crime. It’s amazing to me that in the bluest of states in the union, people are being imprisoned for having an illness. That’s the kind of shit the Soviets were doing in the USSR before the fall of the Berlin Wall. How wrong is that? Dead wrong. Not to mention, it does absolutely nothing to treat addiction. It’s just draconian and authoritarian cruelty in your fucking backyard, wildly unconstitutional to strip someone of all of their rights without conviction.

The ACLU was trying to close MASAC, and I hope they succeeded. I don’t want anyone to experience the trauma that I went through; that was maybe the worst month and a half of my life.

HEY NOW! did you know you can buy me a coffee for telling my stories? You absolutely can!

https://ko-fi.com/evr0ck17

i’ve written a lot of other things too, actually. you can read them:

https://medium.com/writing-community/i-have-been-very-busy-29dcda8c115c

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