Dear Readers, Supporters, Colleagues, and Friends:
This second pandemic year has been a difficult one for just about everyone, with political and environmental maelstroms on top of a public health crisis. Like hundreds of thousands of people around the world, all of us at Solitary Watch have also contended with an overwhelming private loss with the unexpected passing of James Ridgeway, who founded the project 12 years ago and remained its guide and its conscience.
Jim was drawn to the issue of solitary confinement, long before it was the subject of public debate or mainstream media attention, because what he learned from people living in solitary just hit him in the gut. But he also recognized solitary for what it is: a prison within a prison, and an extreme expression of the injustice, racism, and outright cruelty that saturates our criminal justice system (which has little to do with justice, and everything to do with punishment and exclusion).
In the past decade, the body of evidence showing the deep and lasting harms caused by solitary confinement—and its failure to reduce prison violence—has grown to the point that it can no longer honestly be viewed as a two-sided issue. Yet, despite much greater public awareness and some early signs of meaningful progress, tens of thousands of people still wake up every day in solitary cells.
Next year Solitary Watch will be publishing a Roadmap to Ending Solitary—a comprehensive report offering alternatives to every form and every use of solitary in our prisons and jails. The powerful introduction to the report is written by Solitary Watch contributing writer Sarah Shourd, an award-winning journalist and playwright and a survivor of solitary confinement. Our last word on why solitary needs to end—and why our work matters—goes to her.
Hidden deep within our prisons and jails are torture chambers. Why mince words? Being locked in a tiny, often windowless, 6-by-10-foot cell with nothing but four concrete walls, a mattress, and a sink for 22–23 hours a day can permanently damage or even destroy a human being. Be it for a week, a month, a year, a decade, or a remaining lifetime, solitary confinement is a physical and psychological deprivation so extreme that it amounts to nothing less than torture.
The message that society delivers to the mind, body, and spirit of the person subjected to this practice is this: You have zero value, you do not even deserve to hear a bird chirp or look into the eyes of another human being. You are so loathsome and unworthy that we will strip you of your voice and your story, ignore your gifts and potential, and reduce you to a body in a cage. We as a society would rather spend our tax dollars hurting you than giving you any opportunity to be accountable for the harm you might have done, or provide you with the resources you need to change. We cannot always kill you, but we can bury you alive…
By exposing the inhumanity of our prison system as exemplified by its most extreme form of disciplinary punishment, we strengthen the argument for decarceration, because in the context of the larger prison system, the practice of total isolation falls along a continuum of suffering: it is both a uniquely cruel form of punishment, and also exactly what our prisons were designed to do.
Before the year ends, please help us secure the funding we need to carry on and expand our work. If you give by midnight on December 31st, your donation will be matched and its impact will be doubled.
From all of us at Solitary Watch, many thanks for your support, and best wishes for health and justice in the new year.