New this week from Solitary Watch:
• A series of haiku was published this week in the Solitary Watch Voices from Solitary series, featuring work from people incarcerated in Pennsylvania. The project, called Holler with Haiku, was a collection effort by Keystone DBlock, an offshoot from the advocacy group Straight Ahead, in honor of Mental Health Awareness month in May. Over 200 submissions were received and published on Twitter. Voices from Solitary selected a few of those poems to feature.
Our pick of other news about solitary confinement:
• A press release from Congressman David Trone (D-MD) announced that he and Congresswoman Stephanie Bice (R-OK) have introduced the the Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act, a bill to study the effects of solitary confinement in the U.S. prison system, and provide the Attorney General with recommendations for new national standards. Trone stated, “I’m proud to introduce this bill alongside Congresswoman Bice so we can develop new ethical standards and provide additional behavioral and mental health funding to help get folks back on track in life.”
• The Philadelphia Inquirer writes about the “torture of the mind” in the solitary confinement unit in Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution Phoenix, and dives into solitary confinement’s origins in Philadelphia in 1790. The Inquirer traces the disproportionate use of solitary on Black Americans all the way to the beginning, explaining how “The story that begins in that prison at Sixth and Walnut is a history of social control in America — one contaminated by racism at the outset”
• Pittsburgh City Paper reports that advocates in Pennsylvania have filed a lawsuit against Allegheny County Jail for brutal treatment of individuals with mental illnesses, seeking class-action relief. According to a press release from the Abolitionist Law Center, Allegheny County is accused of “failing to provide them with proper treatment and subjecting them to prolonged solitary confinement and routine excessive force.”
• Mountain State Spotlight profiles Jason Lively, a man who wrongfully spent 14 years in prison in Virginia. He is currently seeking retribution for the years he was incarcerated, many of which he spent in solitary. Lively said of his time in Virginia lockup, “They’ve screwed me over since day one, put me in prison. Nobody’s even said sorry.”
• A blog post from NYCLU marks the three- and seven-year anniversaries of the deaths of Layleen Polanco Xtravaganza and Kalief Browder in solitary confinement. The article describes recent efforts in anti-solitary work in New York City and insists that “Lawmakers must protect the important civil rights victory that HALT and other solitary reforms represent, and reject the unsubstantiated claims of corrections unions.
• Daily Kos reports that the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) filed a complaint on behalf of three people who claimed to have been denied mental healthcare, and were threatened with solitary confinement if they complained about their conditions. NIJC alleges that “ICE uses solitary confinement regularly across detention facilities both as punishment and also as a short-term and long-term approach to managing mental health and illness in detention facilities.”
• NPR interviews prison reporter Keri Blakinger about her new memoir Corrections In Ink, which reflects on her years in prison. One of the chapters focuses on a period of time Blakinger spent in solitary confinement, describing, “just as soon as the door shut behind me, I just sort of burst out into tears because I immediately realized how maddening and claustrophobic this was, especially with no clock.”
• ABC reports that the ACLU of Delaware is raising awareness to end the mistreatment and placement in solitary confinement of people with mental illnesses. The ACLU argues that the newly created Residential Treatment Unit at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center is insufficient, and the DOC needs to be doing more to end solitary confinement.
• Colorado Sun reports that Seifullah Chapman, a man who was incarcerated in the federal ADX Florence, until 2018, was awarded $300,000 in a settlement after he was deprived of the insulin necessary to treat his Type 1 diabetes. ADX is a supermax facility, where individuals spend 23 hours a day in a small solitary confinement cell. Chapman called it “a prison that causes people to lose hope and experience inhumanity to an extent that I had not before nor since experienced.”
• Vogue writes about artist jackie sumell’s exhibition, Growing Abolition, created in collaboration with the Lower Eastside Girls Club, which is currently on display in the courtyard of MoMA PS1 in New York. sumell’s team correspond with people in solitary confinement, offering them the chance to design a garden in the exhibition that the team will grow. sumell explains, “A lot of times folks think of abolition as a destination, an achievement, or a set list of goals, but it’s an ongoing practice.”