Seven Days in Solitary [10/27/13]

by | October 27, 2013

Solitary confinement cellThe following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts.

• The Associated Press reports on a lawsuit alleging that a man with mental illness was repeatedly pepper sprayed by guards while held in solitary confinement at North Carolina’s Central Prison. Solitary Watch reports on a federal lawsuit filed earlier this year alleging that guards at Central used security camera blind spots to beat prisoners here.

• The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, joins HuffPost Live to discuss California prisons, the prison hunger strike and solitary confinement.

• In an opinion piece published by The Washington Post, David Cole discusses the isolation of Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, writing that “[t]heir 41-year confinement to cells not much larger than a grave, without human contact, was cruel and inhumane treatment.”

• The Colorado Independent reports that Colorado Senator Jessie Ulibarri is sponsoring a bill to find alternatives to the use of solitary confinement for prisoners who have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

• A blogger for Slate discusses the role of the 1983 murders of two guards at the United States Penitentiary near Marion, Illinois, in creating this country’s “terrible supermax-prison culture.” According to the post, “The murders sent Marion into lockdown for 23 years, ushered in the era of the modern Supermax prison, and normalized the chilling idea that the only rational way to deal with violent or notorious prisoners is to lock them up in small, isolated cells.”

• The United Nations reports on Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Méndez’ push for a review of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Méndez states, “‘It is very important to prohibit solitary confinement to some categories under no circumstances, like minors, people with mental disability, women – especially pregnant or feeding babies.’

• The ACLU reports on the process underway to revise the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs) to include increased protections against solitary confinement. “Updated SMRs are a vital step in the campaign to stop the use of long-term solitary confinement and create more robust protections and oversight against abuse.”

• Amnesty International USA reports that it has delivered more than 25,000 petition signatures to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal demanding the immediate release of the last Angola 3 prisoner, Albert Woodfox.

• Campaign for Youth Justice reports on youth held in adult jails and prisons, noting that, oftentimes, “adult facilities use solitary confinement or ‘segregation’ to keep youth safe and away from adult offenders.”

• Fusion posts a video which provides an animated look inside solitary confinement in the state of California.


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  • 8forever

    WE can not blame Tom for the Supermax if that is true there would just be 1 there is no reason to abuse someone with 30 years of isolation. Torture is always wrong in any case.

  • Alan CYA # 65085

    At least this article ends on a more positive note for “all those still held in isolation.”

    Excerpts from Irish Times article titled

    “Stories of survival in solitary have a message for the prison system”:

    What became of the Marion protagonists?

    All prison systems contain people who have done awful things, and there is often pessimism about their capacity for change. This, however, may be exaggerated.

    Silverstein was transferred to another institution, where he was placed in a tiny, “no human contact” cell. He began to study the Bible and Buddhism and concentrated on yoga and his artistic endeavours insofar as this was possible. In 2005 he was moved to the supermax in Florence, Colorado, where he remains. Few prisoners have been so isolated for so long.

    Craig Haney, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has written authoritatively about the mental health consequences of solitary confinement, interviewed Silverstein and remarked upon his psychological resilience under these circumstances.

    Given his age, it is scarcely credible that Silverstein poses the physical threat he did 30 years ago but the authorities have been unyielding in their response to his pleas for an amelioration of conditions and a return to congregate living.

    Fountain was moved to an isolation chamber in the medical centre for federal prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, where he remained until his death in 2004. Out of loyalty to their murdered colleagues, the staff ensured the solitude of his confinement was as complete as they could make it.

    Silverstein and Fountain have enhanced our understanding of how men cope with protracted, involuntary solitude. Denied meaningful human interaction for decades, they were thrown back on their internal resources.

    To carry on day after unchanging, lonely day requires steely determination and a radical reappraisal of the situation. Silverstein chose yoga, art and litigation as his props for life. Fountain opted for Christian monasticism. Both refrained from violence.

    These were men who, managed to retain a vestige of humanity.

    The lesson is that people can survive harsh treatment, some- times damaged, bitter and terrifyingly angry (as Fountain and Silverstein were at Marion) and sometimes damaged but anxiously reconciled to their lot (as Silverstein and Fountain became).

    There is a redemption story to be heard here if those charged with prison policy are prepared to listen.

  • Alan CYA # 65085

    On that Slate article claiming Silverstein and Fountain caused the permanent lock-down of Marion and the creation of supermax prisons.

    Without question both corrections officers at Marion died inexcusable and gruesomely violent deaths but to blame the lockdown solely on these two deaths is a classic logical fallacy or in Latin “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” meaning “after this, therefore because of this.

    Here are some preceding events.

    Alcatraz: The Gangster Years by David Ward Page 463-64

    “In an effort to cope with rising violence related to the increased influence of prison gangs and the drug trade, a “control unit” was established in 1973 at the Federal penitentiary in Marion Illinois….This change in the function of Marion represented the rebirth of the Alcatraz model.”

    From “The Rise and Fall of California’s Radical Prison Movement” by Eric Cummins

    Page 91: “In the mid-1960’s at San Quentin the treatment era ended in riots and Draconian prison crackdowns…

    Page 90: The (San Quentin) “Riot of 67” set the pattern of radical-political violence in the prison for a decade…What followed was a long period of brutal race retaliation on the yard…

    Page 154: Inside San Quentin, yard politics were becoming increasingly dominated by revolutionary…inmates.

    After the Soledad Incident of January 13, 1970 the level of killing in the prisons increased dramatically.

    Nine guards and 24 inmates would be killed in 1970-71.

    Page 229: The California Right had from the very first reacted with intense fear to the Marxist language in which the Left had chosen to couch its prison ideology. Fired by the bogeyman of communism, conservatives had generously contributed to committees funding police unites to investigate California radicals.

    Page 231: In hearings before a congressional subcommittee investigating San Quentin in October, Moe Camacho, President of the CCOA, called for the creation of separate, maximum security prisons for revolutionary inmates and demanded stricter treatment for the remaining maximum security prisoners.

    Page 233: In 1970 Warden Nelson had served on the Committee on Riots and Disturbances of the American Correction Association. The first firm decision the group came to was that convict ringleaders must be “removed and isolated from the general population before an opportunity to carry out their plans presents itself.” In other words, “troublemakers” were to be identified and punished before they committed any offenses.”

    Page 236: In the face of the conservative backlash, inmate radicalism took on uncontrollable forms.”

    From the 1950’s up until the mid-60’s the philosophy of correctional facilities had been one of rehabilitation, but as that false premise was dropped and the hope of ever reentering society was lost with the longer, harsher sentences liberally given out the number of violent incidents became more commonplace.

    In response to this rise of institutional violence, the control unit was created at Marion. However the goal of increased safety for staff, prevention of inmate-on-inmate violence and riots was not successful. The violence had grown out of control.

    With the founding of Marion “every warden in the entire system suddenly had an opportunity to get rid of his worst inmates by sending them to us, and that is exactly what they did,” a veteran Marion guard recalled. “I’m not certain that anyone in Washington really understood just how many bad apples we had streaming in here.” (Earley, The Hot House p. 228).

    Over time, the unit continued to deteriorate and violence became more commonplace within Marion’s walls.

    “Prison logs would later show that between January 1980 and October 1983, there were more serious disturbances at Marion than at any other prison, including fourteen escape attempts, fifty-eight serious inmate-on-inmate assaults, thirty-three attacks on staff, and nine murders.” (Earley, p. 229).

    A corrections officer named Haley that had worked at Marion at the time had claimed before his death in October 2011, that the prison’s superintendant had calculated that two CO’s would need to die in order for him to given the permission to place the entire prison under lockdown. Haley believed his management was just waiting for such an incident to happen. The rumors of a planned hit on COs had made Haley very uncomfortable and so he warned his supervisors.

    Haley’s concerns were not managements.

    At the end you’ll of this article below you’ll find a video in which you can hear Haley make this claim.

    I found this quote in an Atlantic article by Nicholas Slayton.

    “We are each our own devils, and we make this world our hell.”

    Oscar Wilde told this to Dorian Gray—in the first episode of the British TV series The Confessions of Dorian Gray.

    The original Picture of Dorian Gray is a horror story of the effects that guilt can have on the human psyche. From base fears such as death to more existential concepts of corruption or isolation, horror reflects human nature and behavior.

    By focusing on guilt and loneliness, (Both of which Silverstein laments in his declaration) Confessions is also an effective horror story.”

    One that sounds familiar here!

    For Halloween, check out the audio drama The Confessions of Dorian Gray’s creepy portrayal of immortal man’s descent into depression and hedonism.”

    Thankfully Silverstein is not immortal so the hell he is living in is just temporary!

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