Anthony Graves spent nearly 20 years behind bars, including 12 in solitary confinement, for a string of murders he didn’t commit. Now that the former Texas inmate has finally obtained his freedom, he is pushing for major reform in the state’s justice system.
It was back in 1994 that a false testimony sent the innocent Texas resident to jail despite the lack of physical evidence presented by the prosecution.
Graves was found guilty of murdering two adults and four children in Somerville, Texas.
Throughout his 18 years in prison, he was scheduled for lethal injection twice before finally being freed in 2010. The key witness had finally recanted his testimony, which led to the judge’s discovery that the prosecutor withheld evidence and intimidated witnesses.
It could have been the end of Graves’s story. He could have spent the rest of his life trying to make up for nearly two decades he spent behind bars.
Instead, Graves is leading a fight to reform Texas’s justice system and expose the inhumanity and counter productive nature of solitary confinement.
Graves spent more than 20 hours every day in a concrete cell with nothing more than a metal bed and a toilet.
He was completely isolated from human interaction and subjected to serious psychological damage. This damage was so severe that Graves believes nobody, regardless of guilt or innocence, should have to face the same conditions.
“Solitary confinement is designed to break a man’s will to live,” Graves said during an interview with Take Part. “You’re sitting there, in a little cage, day in and day out, year in and year out, waiting for the state to execute you or release you.”
He added that some inmates couldn’t bare the torment any longer and would find ways to slit their own throats.
Even after being released, the psychological and physical torment that Graves suffered was evident in his every day life.
He would have emotional outbursts, struggled with human interactions and had difficulty sleeping.
He said this lasted for at least three years after his released although he eventually showed signs of improvement.
Unfortunately, Graves’s story of recovery is a rare one. Many studies suggest that years of isolation and inhumane living conditions often turn inmates into repeat offenders, worsens mental illnesses and slashes offenders’ chances of ever being successfully reintegrated back into society.
This is exactly what Graves is now fighting to put an end to.
A report by the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project revealed that more than 6,500 inmates in Texas are currently in solitary confinement.
To make matters worse, these statistics don’t include a large number of inmates on death row who are also kept in solitary for years before being transferred or released.
The statistics are alarming on their own and extremely concerning once compared to the national average. Texas’s percentage of inmates in solitary confinement is more than four times greater than the national average.
While other states have made slight progress in trying to keep more inmates out of solitary confinement, Texas hasn’t seen the same trend.
Instead, inmates are left in deplorable living conditions where it becomes nearly impossible to regulate their behavior.
“When someone’s in solitary, they have nothing to lose,” explained attorney Burke Butler, according to the Daily Mail.
Butler helped produce the report about solitary confinement in Texas and said that the impact these conditions had on mentally ill inmates was so disturbing that he opted out of commenting on any details about their stories.
While other prisoners are encouraged to stay out of trouble or risk losing certain privileges, those in solitary often don’t see the same need for any sense of restraint, Butler said.
Graves said there is only one way to describe the use of solitary, especially in Texas.
“It is totally inhumane,” he said. “There’s no way around it. You know, you really don’t truly understand the impact of removing someone from human contact for years.”
Graves has since created a foundation to push for reform of the criminal justice system. The foundation is seeking ways for prisons to be able to rehabilitate offenders rather than continue “driving people crazy” and pushing them to the brink of insanity.