After Nearly 3 Decades In Solitary Confinement, Texas Prisoner Seeks Court's Help
Convicted robber Dennis Wayne Hope was captured shortly after he escaped prison in 1994 and put in isolation—where he remains to this day.
A prisoner in Texas who has spent more than a quarter century in solitary confinement — or around half his life — is requesting the Supreme Court limit how long he and other prisoners can be isolated while behind bars.
In 1990, a judge sentenced Dennis Wayne Hope, now 53, to 80 years in prison after he was found guilty of committing multiple armed robberies.
In 1994, Hope escaped and was on the lam for around two months, during which time he robbed four grocery stores and carjacked an elderly man at knifepoint. When recaptured, he was placed in solitary confinement, where he has remained ever since.
Hope’s lawyers contended that prison administrative committee reviews conducted twice a year were shams that “merely rubber stamped Mr. Hope’s ongoing solitary confinement.”
“So pre-ordained are the outcomes of Mr. Hope’s reviews that committee members have stopped pretending to even read Mr. Hope’s file; instead, they make small talk about, for instance, ‘the availability of firewood and whether or not it can be delivered,’” the attorneys wrote in court documents.
In January 2022, Hope asked the highest court in the country to consider whether his 27 years of confinement were a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution, which asserts no “cruel and unusual punishments” shall be “inflicted” on criminal defendants.
“Mr. Hope was initially placed in solitary confinement in 1994, following an escape attempt. After he spent 11 years in solitary confinement, a committee of prison security personnel concluded he was no longer an ‘escape risk.’ But another 16 years later, Mr. Hope remains in solitary confinement,’” the prisoner’s lawyers wrote in a petition filed with the Supreme Court of the United States.
In a response to an earlier lawsuit Hope brought against prison officials, a lower court had ruled solitary confinement never violates the Eighth Amendment “no matter how long it is imposed for, how devastating its effects on a prisoner, or how penologically unnecessary.”
Hope’s legal team, however, has now countered that the prisoner “has spent virtually every waking minute [since 1994] alone in a cell somewhere between the size of an elevator and a compact parking space.”
“He eats alone, exercises alone, and worships alone. His only human contact is with the guards who strip search and handcuff him,” his lawyers explained. “He has alleged that decades of isolation have led to hallucinations and thoughts of suicide and that there is no reason for his ongoing solitary confinement.”
“When Mr. Hope is removed from his cell to exercise, he is taken to another enclosure, where he exercises alone. He does not socialize with other prisoners, participate in religious activities, work, or attend group vocational programs,” his lawyers wrote, adding that officials have granted Hope only one personal phone call since 1994. According to The New York Times, the call occurred in 2013 when Hope’s mother passed away.
The convicted prisoner’s time, his lawyers said, has taken a toll on both his physical and mental health.
“He is afflicted by visual and auditory hallucinations and suicidal ideation,” the Supreme Court filing stated. “He suffers from anxiety and depression. And he endures chronic pain from constant confinement in cramped quarters.”
According to the petition, over 500 prisoners in Texas have served more than a decade in solitary confinement and nearly 140 have spent over 20 years in isolation.
After Hope filed his lawsuit with the Supreme Court in winter 2022, Texas prison officials told the justices they did not intend to submit a response, a move The New York Times reported appeared to indicate they were unconcerned about the case.
According to the publication, Hope recently wrote in a letter to his lawyers that challenging the use of solitary confinement in prison has given him “a purpose and goal.”
“[It’s] helped me maintain a degree of my sanity in an otherwise insane environment,” Hope reportedly wrote. “Having sat back here and watched men commit suicide, mutilate themselves, try to overdose on pills and slowly lose their minds, I said to myself that I was going to try to make a positive change in the way we are housed and treated if it was the last thing I did.”
Stream the episode “Got to Impersonate a Guard” from I (Almost) Got Away With It on discovery+ to learn more about the events that led to Dennis’s incarceration.