Julian Assange: the prison of the mind

I spent 520 days in jail fighting hacking charges when Julian Assange was arrested for publishing on WikiLeaks.

The viral 2007 US military helicopter attack in Baghdad killed a dozen civilians, including two Reuters news staff.

Which was followed by 91,000 documents consisting of secret US military reports and an additional 400,000 classified State Department cables.

All of which painted an elaborate picture depicting US war crimes, corruption, and a history of illegal spying.

I will never forget this case. Not only was something new happening, but WikiLeaks and Assange’s legal dilemma seemingly caused a ripple effect across the World Wide Web.

This event attracted the attention of Anonymous, who rose up to defend the “journalist” and his whistleblower website in a united cyberattack protest known as Operation: Payback.

Anonymous was already on the FBI’s radar before that.

Nevertheless, since hackers are so difficult for authorities to catch, the course of causality played a dirty hand in the game of justice concerning my case, WikiLeaks, and the cyberattacks carried out by Anonymous.

Blow, the testimony of an FBI agent addressed to the court, which was used to exaggerate my reputation as a hacker in an effort to establish relevant conduct.


In a little twist of irony, I was arrested for hacking on June 26th, 2009.

On this very day, Wednesday, June 26th, 2024, the harrowing saga of Julian Assange's case came to an end.

Assange is now a free man, no longer having 175 years on 18 counts of espionage and computer intrusion looming over his head, which is irrevocably life in prison.

A deal was reached, arranging for a guilty plea in exchange for leniency by a U.S. court in Saipan, part of the Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth.

As a result, Assange was freed. All eyes are a witness to this landmark event.

However, as one “journalist” goes free, free journalism takes its place in chains, and thus, the world has also borne witness as we collectively took one giant leap deeper into the dark recesses of criminalizing journalism, news gathering, and the “Free Press.”

Now, using the term journalist to describe Julian Assange is a contested subject. Many believe that document dumping in the way that he did does not classify as journalism, ethical or not. This is purely an opinion.

After everything Assange has had to survive till now, I feel there is something more that warrants attention: Prison and the psychological effects of his incarceration after spending 1,901 days confined at the Belmarsh Maximum Security Prison in London.

This is Britain’s roughest prison, and it is notorious for brutal gang violence in addition to the U.S. formerly demanding to have Assange’s head on a silver platter, so to speak.

Psychology of the dehumanized

Prison is a dehumanizing experience, and the U.S. Prison Industrial Complex is notorious for dehumanizing its incarcerated persons.

Some light research will reveal enough content about prison conditions to fill the Library of Congress.

Let’s start with the fact he had not been outside since seeking refuge in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy all the way back in June 2012. Aside from that, he was confined within the walls of Belmarsh for five and a half years since April 11, 2019.

This means the sun was hidden from him while he was confined to a small cell for 23 hours a day and afforded only a single hour of recreation within four walls.

In the US, we call these “kennels,” which is ironic. If we did this to animals, it would be animal abuse, but it's not considered abuse when done to people.

Assange described the prison conditions as “atrocious.”

His wife Stella described these conditions by saying that "The prison is a dangerous place, suicides and murders are commonplace, he is surrounded by very serious criminals, one in five are convicted of murder.”

A lack of environmental and social stimulation is perhaps one of the worst conditions that increase an incarcerated person's soul agony.

That 23-hour lockdown I lived through myself when I lived through 13 months of solitary confinement between 2012 and 2013. In conditions like this, the mind is forced to generate stimuli in the form of hallucinations.

Assange also reported a lack of educational or communal activities in addition to this punitive confinement. These factors must’ve only intensified his sense of isolation.

When four walls, a lack of personal control, the power to act, and the loss of identity are coupled with the food you eat in a “chow hall” that is arguably worse quality than dog food, you go mad from the violation of your humanity.

Oftentimes, there is irreversible mental trauma from experiencing incarceration.

This makes post-prison life extremely difficult without an understanding support system. With or without support, former prisoners face an uphill battle to be free from the prison of the mind that has been force-fed isolation, prison violence ad nauseam, and the daily psychological manipulative tactics by fellow inmates laying snares for others, preying on each other.

Prison is its own microcosm, detached from our everyday reality. Returning to social norms is impossible when we have all sociologically, politically, and technologically taken a quantum leap since 2012. That era ended with all its norms. Assange must acclimate to a whole new world.

Thankfully, Assange’s support system is strong.

Post-traumatic stress

If there’s one thing I think is worth mentioning, it's post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

While my own criminal case and subsequent prison experience is quite incomparable to Assange’s, we have shared similar experiences at different degrees.

I used to experience a profound sense of paranoia and was terrified to be seen using a computer or smart device after I was first released from prison in December 2016.

It's not that I believe law enforcement is omniscient; the opposite is true.

I didn’t want to have to revisit prison or have anything twisted out of context or someone accusing me of hacking after serving my sentence. Ironically enough, that’s exactly what transpired, but that’s a story for another time.

Assange became the face of the Justice Department’s war on free journalism. He survived against insurmountable odds after leaking U.S. military secrets and his subsequent isolation for the past 14 years.

It was only a few years ago that then CIA director Mike Pompeo, along with his top officials, were discussing options for kidnapping and assassinating Assange over WikiLeaks publication of Vault 7.

With this in recent memory, I worry that there are still some on Capitol Hill who harbor the same resentment of having the country’s dirty little secrets thrown open for the world to see.

Will Assange feel anxiety and paranoia now that he’s been released and those four prison cell walls are no longer “protecting him” - if I can even use such a phrase?

I remember a time when Garry McKinnon, who was arrested for hacking NASA back in 2002 for blowing the whistle concerning evidence related to UFOs and advanced technology, also fought extradition to the US.

It was deemed he would end his own life if extradited, in addition to the belief that the US would not afford him a fair trial. After everything we learned from Assange, that belief has merit.

This was also the case with Assange, but not out of hopelessness or despair but rather out of self-preservation.

"I don't want to go into that. It’s not just about suicide; it’s about how he wouldn’t be safe from the authorities," Stella said.

Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower, believed he would be tortured and receive the death penalty if he self-surrendered to US authorities. Given the gravity of what these men revealed, it’s not too difficult to imagine the merits of such fears from world-renowned whistleblowers who have put everything on the line to give us the truth.

As I conclude, the path to healing may be a long one. But they will always watch over their backs—not because they suffer from delusions of paranoia, but rather because they know better than to let their guard down after whistleblowing.