According to statements from several federal death row prisoners, the new “adverse conditions” on death row in Terre Haute, Indiana, contributed to the December 1, 2023 death of Nasih Khalil Ra’id. Fellow prisoners say Mr. Ra’id, whose given name at birth was Odell Corley, died by suicide. Prison officials have not released the report from Mr. Ra’id’s autopsy or commented on the cause of his death.

Two journalists in touch with federally death-sentenced prisoners have reported on the circumstances of Mr. Ra’id’s death. One prisoner, Rejon Taylor, reported that Mr. Ra’id had become depressed after all federal death row prisoners were moved to a different part of the prison in October 2023. As a result of the move, the already harsh conditions of death row became even more restrictive. Windows in the new facility were spraypainted by prison officials, according to Mr, Taylor, to prevent prisoners from “looking out at the natural world, the real outdoors.” Prisoners’ access to phones and email was reduced. Recreation time was initially eliminated but has now been restored, albeit at a lower level than before the move. That change was especially difficult for Mr. Ra’id, according to Mr. Taylor. “He had been most consistent with his exercise routine, no matter how he felt. It had kept depression at bay,” Mr. Taylor told Indiana Public Media. “When rec was eventually made available to us, Nasih struggled to get back in rhythm … He’d fallen prey to the adverse conditions of our solitary confinement — a mental force stronger than any the body could withstand.” 

Death-sentenced prisoner Billie Allen told one journalist that Mr. Ra’id asked him for help filing a motion to be executed, but Mr. Allen refused. “I think everyone knew he was ready to die, because he said so on many occasions. He said that ‘this isn’t living,’ and I agree.” A third prisoner, Edgar Garcia, said, “I know how it affects us and it is like stripping us of hope, purpose … We all deal with it in our own way, but Odell decided he had enough of this.” Mr. Taylor reported that Mr. Ra’id had told him he was “weighed down with depression, his thoughts orbiting around his suicide.” 

A lawsuit filed in January 2023 alleges that the “severely isolating” and “unrelenting solitary confinement” to which federal death row prisoners are subjected falls below the minimum standard prescribed by international human rights treaties for the treatment of prisoners and violates the U.S. constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The class action complaint on behalf of 38 federally death-sentenced prisoners seeks to end automatic solitary confinement and require the federal Bureau of Prisons to allow prisoners “to be out of their cells for multiple hours a day and to engage in congregate activities.”