Solitary confinement: Torture chambers for black revolutionaries

An estimated 80,000 men, women and even children are being held in solitary confinement on any given day in US prisons.
10 August 2012

“The torture technicians who developed the paradigm used in (prisons’) ‘control units’ realised that they not only had to separate those with leadership qualities, but also break those individuals’ minds and bodies and keep them separated until they are dead.”  – Russell “Maroon” Shoats

Russell “Maroon” Shoats has been kept in solitary confinement in the state of Pennsylvania for 30 years after being elected president of the prison-approved Lifers’ Association. He was initially convicted for his alleged role in an attack authorities claim was carried out by militant black activists on the Fairmont Park Police Station in Philadelphia that left a park sergeant dead.

Despite not having violated prison rules in more than two decades, state prison officials refuse to release him into the general prison population.

Russell’s family and supporters claim that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) has unlawfully altered the consequences of his criminal conviction, sentencing him to die in solitary confinement – a death imposed by decades of no-touch torture.

The severity of the conditions he is subjected to and the extraordinary length of time they have been imposed for has sparked an international campaign to release him from solitary confinement – a campaign that has quickly attracted the support of leading human rights legal organisations, such as the Centre for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild.

Less than two months after the campaign was formally launched with events in New York City and London, Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, agreed to make an official inquiry into Shoats’ 21 years of solitary confinement, sending a communication to the US State Department representative in Geneva, Switzerland.

What the liberals won’t tell you

While the state of Pennsylvania has remained unmoved in this matter so far, some in the US government are finally catching on. Decades after rights activists first began to refer to the practice of solitary confinement as “torture”, the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights and human rights held a hearing on June 19 to “reassess” the fiscal, security and human costs of locking prisoners into tiny, windowless cells for 23 hours a day.

Needless to say, the hearing echoed in a whisper what human rights defenders have been shouting for nearly an entire generation: that sensory deprivation, lack of social contact, a near total absence of zeitgebers and restricted access to all intellectual and emotional stimuli are an evil and unproductive combination.

The hearing opened a spate of debate: with newspapers in Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Ohio and elsewhere seizing the occasion to denounce the practice as “torture” and call for a reversal of a 30-year trend that has shattered – at a minimum – tens of thousands of people’s lives inside the vast US prison archipelago.

But as happens with virtually all prison-related stories in the US mainstream media, the two most important words were left unprinted, unuttered: race and revolution. Continue reading

Palestinian inmates escalate hunger strike

Reuters, 2012-05-11

Gaza – Hundreds of Palestinians on hunger strike in Israeli jails said on Friday they would shun vitamin supplements and prison clinics in an escalation of their mass protest against detention conditions.
“We swear we will not retreat. We are potential martyrs. Either we live in dignity or die,” prisoner organisers said in a letter announcing the move and which was read out by Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Islamist Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, during a demonstration.

An estimated 1 600 inmates out of 4 800 launched the hunger strike on 17 April to demand improved conditions in Israeli custody, such as an end to solitary confinement and more family visits.

They have also challenged Israel’s policy of indefinite detention without charge of suspected Palestinian militants. Continue reading

Forty years in solitary: two men mark sombre anniversary in Louisiana prison

Herman’s House – Trailer – Herman Wallace / Angola 3 Documentary 2012

Published on Mar 19, 2012 by HermansHouseTheFilm

Please sign the Amnesty Int’l petition to end the decades of isolation in Louisiana state prisons http://bit.ly/amnestyactionFor more information about our film please visit the website http://www.hermanshousethefilm.comThere are 2.2 million people in jail in the U.S. More than 80,000 of those are in solitary confinement. New Orleans native Herman Wallace has been there longer than anyone.In 1972, Herman was serving a 25-year sentence for bank robbery when he was accused of murdering an Angola Prison guard and immediately thrown into solitary. Many believed he was wrongfully convicted. Then in 2001 he received a letter from art student Jackie Sumnell, who posed the provocative question:”What kind of house does a man who has lived in a six-foot-by-nine-foot cell for over 30 years dream of?”An inspired creative dialogue led to a collaborative art project: “The House That Herman Built.” The exhibition has brought thousands of gallery visitors around the world face-to-face with the harsh realities of the American prison system.But as Herman’s House reveals, the exhibition is just the first step.

Their journey takes an unpredictable turn when Herman asks Jackie to make his dream a reality. As her own finances dwindle, Jackie wonders if she will ever succeed. Meanwhile, the Louisiana courts consider Herman’s latest appeal. Along the way we meet former “stick-up kid” Michael Musser; Herman’s sister Vickie, a loyal and tireless supporter; and former long-term solitary inmate and fellow Black Panther activist Robert King.

With compassion and meaningful artistry, Herman’s House takes us inside the lives and imaginations of two unforgettable characters–forging a friendship and building a dream in the struggle to end the “cruel and unusual punishment” of long-term solitary confinement.

  • They’ve spent 23 hours of each day in the last 40 years in a 9ft-by-6ft cell. Now, as human rights groups intensify calls for their release, a documentary provides insight into an isolated life

in New York,guardian.co.uk, Monday 16 April 2012

Herman Wallace, left, and Albert Woodfox in Angola prison in Louisiana. Robert King, the third member of the Angola 3, had his conviction overturned and was released in 2001.

“I can make about four steps forward before I touch the door,” Herman Wallace says as he describes the cell in which he has lived for the past 40 years. “If I turn an about-face, I’m going to bump into something. I’m used to it, and that’s one of the bad things about it.”

On Tuesday, Wallace and his friend Albert Woodfox will mark one of the more unusual, and shameful, anniversaries in American penal history. Forty years ago to the day, they were put into solitary confinement in Louisiana‘s notorious Angola jail. They have been there ever since.

They have spent 23 hours of every one of the past 14,610 days locked in their single-occupancy 9ft-by-6ft cells. Each cell, Amnesty International records, has a toilet, a mattress, sheets, a blanket, pillow and a small bench attached to the wall. Their contact with the world outside the windowless room is limited to the occasional visit and telephone call, “exercise” three times a week in a caged concrete yard, and letters that are opened and read by prison guards.

A new documentary film takes us into that cell, providing rare insight into the personal psychological impact of such prolonged isolation. Herman’s House tracks the experiences and thoughts of Wallace as he reflects on four decades banged away in a box.

The film is based on recorded telephone conversations between Wallace and the documentary’s director Angad Bhalla. Wallace, a New Orleans native now aged 70, speaks with powerful understatement about his time in solitary.

“Being in a cage for such an extended period of time, it has its downfalls. You may not feel it, you may not know it, you may think you’re OK, and you’re just perfunctory about it.” Continue reading

Solitary Confinement as Torture: Some US Prisons Recognize the Problem, as California Inmates Ask the UN to Act

by Andy Worthington

Last July, when prisoners held in long-term solitary confinement in Security Housing Units (SHUs) in Pelican Bay State Prison in California embarked on a hunger strike to protest about the conditions in which they are held, I was pleased to find the time to wrote about it (which I did here, here and here — and again in October, here and here), as it had long been apparent to me that the abusive conditions to which foreign prisoners were subjected at Guantánamo — though shockingly innovative in terms of arbitrary detention — was otherwise a reflection of how America treats tens of thousands of domestic prisoners held in isolation, in some cases for decades.

This is barbaric, and clearly constitutes torture, and I was reassured to note that, three weeks ago, prisoners in California asked the United Nations to help them. As San Francisco Bay View explained in an article on March 21:

Comparing their conditions to a “living coffin,” 400 California prisoners held in long-term or indefinite solitary confinement petitioned the United Nations Tuesday to intervene on behalf of all of the more than 4,000 prisoners similarly situated [see here for the petition, and here for quotes from 22 of the petitioners].

“California holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other state in the United States or any other nation on earth. The treatment of these prisoners is barbaric and, numerous experts agree, amounts to torture,” [said] Peter Schey, who heads the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, [and] is lead counsel for the prisoners who have “joined together to petition the United Nations to intervene by conducting on-site investigations, permitting Red Cross visits, and ultimately ruling that California’s policy on isolated segregation amounts to torture and violates well-established international human rights norms.”

The petition, as the article described it, “calls for UN action against California’s prison administration and deplores the conditions of thousands of California prisoners,” who in Peter Schey’s words, are “being detained in isolated segregated units for indefinite periods or determinate periods of many years solely because they have been identified as members of gangs or found to have associated with a gang.” As the petition describes it, “The policy that has resulted in their prolonged detention does not require that they have actually engaged in any misconduct or illegal activity, or that they even planned” to do so.

Peter Schey also noted that, for the 400 petitioners, the lockdown for 23 hours a day in the SHUs and Administrative Segregation Units (ASUs or AdSegs),is designed to “destroy their mental and physical health and destroy them spiritually.” He added, “They live like prisoners held in a gulag, not a modern democracy.” Continue reading

Torture in America–The Gray Box

[In the US, between 6 and 7 million people–overwhelmingly black and brown–are subject to the controls and conditions of the “judicial” system.  Of these, two million, five hundred thousand are confined to jails and prisons, and hundreds of thousands more in indefinite “ICE” detention centers.  Over eighty thousand are confined in solitary confinement and SHUs–special arrangements to deprive prisoners of human contact, usually 23 hours a day.  From these conditions, prisoners have been organizing campaigns and hunger strikes in protest , determined to get the word out, determined to fight for their own humanity.  Susan Greene, an investigative reporter, examines these tortuous conditions. — Frontlines ed.]

————————————-

An investigative look at solitary confinement

A few weeks ago, on the fifteenth anniversary of his first day in prison, Osiel Rodriguez set about cleaning the 87 square feet he inhabits at ADX, a federal mass isolation facility in Colorado.

“I got it in my head to destroy all my photographs,” he writes in a letter to me. “I spent some five hours ripping each one to pieces. No one was safe. I did not save one of my mother, father, sisters. Who are those people anyway?”

Such is the logic of the gray box, of sitting year after year in solitude.

Whether Rodriguez had psychological problems when he robbed a bank, burglarized a pawn shop and stole some guns at age 22, or whether mental illness set in during the eight years he has spent in seclusion since trying to walk out of a federal penitentiary in Florida – it’s academic. What’s true now is that he’s sick, literally, of being alone, as are scores of other prisoners in extreme isolation.

Among the misperceptions about solitary confinement is that it’s used only on the most violent inmates, and only for a few weeks or months. In fact, an estimated 80,000 Americans — many with no record of violence either inside or outside prison — are living in seclusion. They stay there for years, even decades. What this means, generally, is 23 hours a day in a cell the size of two queen-sized mattresses, with a single hour in an exercise cage, also alone. Some prisoners aren’t allowed visits or phone calls. Some have no TV or radio. Some never lay eyes on each other. And some go years without fresh air or sunlight. Continue reading

California: Prisoner Hunger Strike Grows to Nearly 12,000!

Stop Torture in U.S. Prisons!

A short video about solitary confinement by the American Friends Service Committee

For more information about AFSC’s campaign to stop torture in prison, visit: http://www.stopmax.org – On any given day, as many as 200,000 men and women are locked in solitary in U.S. prisons – alone…

——————————————————-

by prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity

Numbers released by the federal receiver’s office show that on September 28th, nearly 12,000 prisoners were on hunger strike, including California prisoners who are housed in out of state prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma. This historic and unprecedented number shows the strength and resolve of the prisoners to win their 5 core demands and is a serious challenge to the power of the California prison system and to the Prison Industrial Complex in general.

Prisoners are currently on strike in Pelican Bay State Prison, Calipatria, Centinela, Corcoran, Ironwood State Prison, Kern Valley State Prison, North Kern State Prison, and Salinas Valley State Prison. Throughout the last week prisoners at California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, Pleasant Valley State Prison, San Quentin as well as West Valley Detention Center in San Bernadino County were participating.

The receiver’s office and the CDCR begin monitoring prisoners who have refused food for 72 hours or for 9 consecutive meals. Representatives of the hunger strikers have previously stated that this will be a rolling strike, allowing prisoners to come off strike to regain strength. Because of this, numbers will likely fluctuate throughout the duration of the strike.

prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity | October 1, 2011

On Bradley Manning, Solitary Confinement, and Selective Outrage

January 2, 2011
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

For the past few weeks, progressive online media sources have been burning with outrage over the conditions in which accused Wikileaker Bradley Manning is being held. Manning (as we first noted on Solitary Watch back in July) is in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement at a Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, denied sunlight, exercise, possessions, and all but the most limited contact with family and friends. He has now been in isolation for more than seven months. The cruel and inhuman conditions of his detention, first widely publicized by Glenn Greenwald on Salon and expanded upon by others, are now being discussed, lamented, and protested throughout the progressive blogosphere ( ourselves included). Few of those taking part in the conversation hesitate to describe Manning’s situation as torture.

Meanwhile, here at Solitary Watch, we’ve been receiving calls and emails from our modest band of readers, all of them saying more or less the same thing: We’re glad Bradley Manning’s treatment is getting some attention, but what about the tens of thousands of others who are languishing in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails? According to available data, there are some 25,000 inmates in long-term isolation in the nation’s supermax prisons, and as many as 80,000 more in solitary in other facilities. Where is the outrage–even among progressives–for these forgotten souls? Where, for that matter, is some acknowledgment of their existence? Continue reading

MSNBC on “Bradley Manning Held as ‘Political Prisoner,’ UN to Investigate”

Dylan Ratigan Show, MSNBC—

Dec. 23, 2010–Julian Assange calls Bradley Manning a political prisoner.

United Nations to investigate. Bradley’s friend discusses on Dylan Ratigan Show.

——————————————————————-

Bradley Manning Speaks About His Conditions

By: David House Thursday December 23, 2010

Stop the Inhumane Treatment of Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old Army private accused of leaking classified information to Wikileaks, has been held in the brig at Quantico Marine Corp Base for five months in inhumane conditions, with severe restrictions on his ability to exercise, communicate, or even sleep. Manning has not been convicted of any crime. Nor is there a date certain for any court hearing.

The conditions of Bradley Manning’s confinement became a top issue in the press last week as bloggers traded blows with US officials over allegations that Manning endures inhumane treatment at the Quantico, VA detainment facility. In the midst of this rush by the Defense Department to contextualize Manning’s confinement, I traveled to see the man himself at the Marine Corps detainment facility in Quantico, VA. Continue reading

US prisons, Muslims and torture in solitary confinement units

Muslims in US prisons, subject to long periods of solitary confinement

Oped News, September 3, 2010

US Prisons, Muslims and Human Rights Violations

By Bonnie Kerness

A former warden at Marion, Illinois said at a congressional hearing, “The purpose of the Marion Control Unit is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and in society at large.”

In 1986, I received a letter from Ojore Lutalo who had just been placed in the Management Control Unit at Trenton State Prison in New Jersey. He asked what a control unit was, why he was in there and how long he would have to stay. We knew little of control units then, except what we learned from the many prisoners who reached out to the AFSC [American Friends Service Committee] to mentor those of us trying to give voice to what was – and is still – happening.

Today the continued use of these instruments of torture coupled with the persistent misunderstanding and mislabeling of prisoners as Muslim extremists threatens the security of Americans both inside and outside prison walls, and eats away the moral and spiritual compass that purports to drive American justice.

After Ojore’s letter, we began hearing from people throughout the country saying that they were prisoners being held in extended isolation for political reasons. We heard from jailhouse lawyers, and prisoner activists, many of whom were Muslim who found themselves targeted and locked down in 24/7 solitary confinement. The AFSC began contacting people inside and outside the prisons to collect testimonies of what was going on in those isolation units which by definition are forms of torture. We had no idea how many people were experiencing this, the conditions in those units and how many control units there were.

One woman wrote “the guard sprayed me with pepper spray because I wouldn’t take my clothes off in front of five male guards. They carried me to my isolation cell, laid me down on a steel bed and took my clothes off, leaving me with that pepper spray burning my face.” Continue reading