Seven Days in Solitary [12/28/20]

Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement

by | December 28, 2020

• USA Today published an opinion piece by solitary survivors Johnny Perez, Jack Morris, and Pamela Winn, all of whom now advocate for the rights of incarcerated people. All three recounted their own experiences being trapped in prison for the holidays. Perez, the director of the U.S. Prisons Program at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, said that while many people in society are missing their extended family members for the holidays because of the pandemic, “This year, approximately 300,000 incarcerated people will spend their holidays in solitary, more alone than anyone else could be.” Perez pointed out that the most humane solution to the virus is releasing people who are especially vulnerable and do not pose a risk to public safety. “But our leaders continue to ignore the humanity of the incarcerated and place them in situations that can turn any prison sentence into a death sentence,” Perez wrote.

• The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the family of Tyrone Briggs filed a lawsuit against the state for Briggs’ death in solitary confinement at the State Correctional Institution Mahanoy in Pennsylvania on November 11, 2019. According to the lawsuit, correctional officers used “an extraordinary and unjustifiable amount’ of pepper spray on Briggs who was overheard saying, “I can’t breathe.” Instead of receiving proper medical care for his asthma attack, officers placed Briggs in solitary confinement, where he stopped breathing and died. Briggs was serving a 15 to 30-year sentence for a crime he committed when he was fifteen years old. Briggs’ mother said, “My son’s loss is a great deal to my whole family. We’ll never get a chance to experience him as an adult.”

• The Portsmouth Herald reported that the York County Jail in Maine faced a coronavirus outbreak, after a staff member exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms was allowed to work for five days in two separate jail units. York County Sheriff Bill King said that wearing a mask was not required and was not “a regular occurrence” at the jail prior to the outbreak. Twenty-nine year old Ian Barwise recalled being moved from his cell—along with four others—into the medical unit, after they apparently had tested positive. Barwise said, “The jail will not answer any of my questions regarding the COVID situation, and they won’t let us inform our families. They have just thrown us into solitary confinement without anything to do…Not knowing what time it is and having the lights always on can make a person start to lose themselves.”

• According to Truthout, the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) has announced a “30-day blackout” prison strike across Alabama around the New Year in hopes of sparking national change. Swift Justice, an organizer held in the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), said people on the state’s death row and in administrative segregation will participate in the hunger strike. A lawsuit filed this month by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) claims that the ADOC is violating the 8th and 14th Amendments by failing to protect incarcerated people from excessive force, sexual abuse, violence, and retaliation. Swift Justice said, “Nobody is going to come and save us from this. So the simple fact is, we got to care and if we don’t care, nobody else is going to care.”

• The New York Daily News reported that 40-year-old Felix Collazo was sent to solitary confinement after he spoke out to the Daily News about the conditions in Unit 73 at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center. Public defender Robert Radick, representing Collazo, said, “It appears that Mr. Collazo was moved into administrative segregation almost immediately after (and likely as a result of) the publication of an article in the New York Daily News [that] recounted Mr. Collazo’s candid first-hand observations of the conditions in the jail, the lack of adequate medical care, and the absence of preventative measures amidst the recent COVID-19 outbreak.” Radick said that the jail used solitary confinement to retaliate against his client “for having exercised his First Amendment right to openly discuss what is a gravely important matter of fundamental public concern.”

• The Texas Observer published an article about the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ)’s handling of the pandemic in its prisons. Ricky Hernandez was 26 years old on May 22, 2020 when he was found “unresponsive and hanging” in his solitary confinement cell at the Coffield Unit. Hernandez’s family routinely visited him, since he struggled with mental illness and the visits would cheer him up. While his family still has not gotten answers from the Office of the Inspector General, Hernandez’s neighbor told his family that officers had failed to check on Hernandez in the hours leading up to his death. While TDCJ is testing a “pilot” program for video visits in certain prisons, this program still excludes several prisons and family members. Prison oversight expert Michele Deitch said there is now a mental health crisis inside Texas prisons. “This has been such a traumatizing experience for so many people. The fear, the anxiety, the fact that people are seeing more of their cellmates die,” said Deitch.

• Dig Boston published an article telling the stories of women held at Massachusetts Correctional Institution—Framingham and the neglect and abuse they face inside. One woman named Connie Garcia, formerly incarcerated at Framingham, described the deterioration of her mental health. “I had a nervous breakdown because I was young and they gave me ten years. My best friend died there. She committed suicide.” Then, instead of receiving mental health care, Connie said she was sent to solitary confinement and placed in a four-point restraint. “They tie you up, handcuff you, your feet and your hands and video you. It was like animal treatment,” she said. An investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice found that the Massachusetts Department of Corrections “routinely violates” the constitutional rights of incarcerated people by providing inadequate health care and sending people to solitary for prolonged periods of time.

• WHYY reported that a U.S. district judge ruled that incarcerated people in Philadelphia must be allowed outside of their cells for a minimum of 45 minutes each day and ordered the city to provide testing for all its incarcerated residents and jail staff. But advocates say some people have reported only getting 20 minutes or less out of their cells per day since early December. At a city council hearing, lawmakers expressed concerns about the city placing sick people in solitary confinement as well as the city charging family members for video visitation. Councilmember Cindy Bass said that using solitary confinement for quarantine is “absolutely unacceptable” considering its “extreme psychological effects.” She said, “There’s got to be another way.” So far, one incarcerated person and one staffer have died from the coronavirus in Philadelphia.

• Florida Prisoner Solidarity reported that the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) has been sending people to solitary confinement—namely elderly Black men—who have spoken out against violent conditions in prison. Keith Soanes, incarcerated at Florida State Prison, is currently held in a close management unit, another name for solitary confinement. While Soanes never received a disciplinary infraction, he was accused of “encouraging disturbances and unrest type activities.” No evidence was ever presented, but officials pointed to his ideological alignment with the Black Panther Party as proof of gang affiliation. Soanes has been confined to a 9×7 cell for 24 hours a day, and he is only allowed one phone call per month and is barred from visits. So far, there have been almost 200 deaths in Florida prisons related to the coronavirus, according to Florida Prisoner Solidarity.

• Grist published an article about Solitary Gardens, an art project by Jackie Summell that invites people in solitary confinement—or “solitary gardeners”—to design a garden plot with flowers or vegetables that volunteers on the outside plant and nurture. Summell conceived the project after Herman Wallace, one of the “Angola 3” who spent over 40 years in solitary at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, died three days following his release from prison. Each garden measures the dimensions of the cell where Wallace spent 23 hours a day and has an aluminum gate resembling bars with walls of “revolutionary mortar,” or ground sugarcane, cotton, tobacco, and indigo. Summell said that using those specific plantation crops underscores “the evolution of slavery into mass incarceration to identify the fact that we as a society have not eradicated chattel slavery, but renamed it.”


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  • Kathy

    Even though these men and women have committed crimes they are people just like you and I. They say it al about rehabilitation. Treating a person like a wild animal in a cage isn’t helping no one. They sre someone father, mother, sons, daughter & spouse.. what it was yours? I believe that our justice system think that just because they law on their side makes them God, especial in the great state of Texas. Ya’ll don’t have God in your heart, y’all go in to Seg for a year or 2 , l would love to see the out come of that

  • Julie watkins

    How not acceptable t0 d0 this t0 sny human ‘merica :”( my fiance has spent 9 mos straight in there before :”( #freegarrengentrywrongfulconvictions

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