At the end of 2022, Solitary Watch announced that it is accepting proposals for the Ridgeway Reporting Project, which will award grants to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated journalists. The project will fund work in all media for publication in outlets nationwide, with the goal of expanding public awareness and understanding of solitary confinement and other dangerous or inhumane conditions of confinement in U.S. federal and state prisons, local and tribal jails, immigration detention centers, and juvenile facilities. Through the generosity of the Vital Projects Fund and the James Ridgeway Memorial Fund, Solitary Watch will be awarding grants ranging from $500 to $2,500. The deadline for submissions is January 15, 2023.
While it contains more than two million people—a population larger than all but four U.S. cities—the American carceral system has been kept largely off-limits to the public and the press. Barbaric and unconstitutional living conditions, deadly neglect, and routine brutality are widespread, yet receive minimal attention. Solitary confinement, which functions as a prison within a prison, has been particularly difficult to access. The Ridgeway Reporting Project aims to expose this world from the inside out, and honors the late James Ridgeway (1936-2021), veteran investigative journalist and founder of Solitary Watch.
Grant recipients were announced in June 2023 to support 16 projects that expose prison policies and practices from the inside out, exploring their impact on incarcerated people, the criminal legal system, and the larger society that permits and pays for them. The journalists, who have experienced firsthand the realities of prison abuse, solitary confinement, inadequate medical and mental health care, environmental contamination, and the “slave wages” paid in prison, will report on these topics and others. In addition to funding, the Ridgeway Reporting Project will provide assistance to incarcerated journalists in shaping their stories, conducting research, and placing their work with publications.
The 16 projects were chosen from more than 60 submissions by incarcerated journalist and Solitary Watch Editor-in-Chief Juan Moreno Haines. “The goal of the Ridgeway Reporting Project is to give voice to incarcerated people, who are uniquely positioned to show where certain prison policies are failing our society,” said Haines. “The RRP turns up the volume of these brave, yet vulnerable voices. Listening to them will help us take the next steps toward change.”
- Christopher Blackwell will report on how Victim Services is being misused to block the free expression of incarcerated voices in Washington State prisons.
- William Blake, in collaboration with Val Kiebala, will write about suicides in solitary in New York State prisons, emphasizing their impact on other incarcerated people.
- Nicholas Brooks will explore how the “slave wages” paid to individuals in New York’s prisons lead to rule-breaking and solitary confinement, as incarcerated people struggle to provide for their basic needs.
- Steve Brooks will document how California’s drought conditions are affecting incarcerated people, and how water shortages are being handled by the state’s prison system.
- Jeremy Busby will investigate a Texas prison’s use of telephone-booth-sized holding cages to house suicidal individuals, and the lack of oversight that allows such practices to take place.
- Brittney Gulley will document the treatment of transgender men in Texas women’s prisons, based on his own experience and interviews with others.
- Kwaneta Harris will report on the “adolescent-to-adult sexual violence pipeline” experienced by women and girls in Texas carceral facilities.
- Elizabeth Hawes will write about forced strip searches and public urination for drug tests in a Minnesota women’s prison, and the use of solitary to punish non-compliance.
- Sara Kielly will look at changes made in New York’s largest women’s prison since the passage of the HALT Solitary Confinement Law, as well as resistance to its implementation.
- Abraham Santiago, in collaboration with Ellyn Santiago, will write about the failures of prison healthcare in Connecticut, from the viewpoint of an incarcerated Certified Nursing Assistant.
- Kevin Sawyer will draw on public records requests to investigate the fate of California’s “seven-up lifers,” who have been permanently trapped in prison by politics.
- Felix Sitthivong will report on new policies in the Washington state prison system that undermine cultural awareness groups, which have historically challenged racism, discrimination, and inhumane conditions.
- J. Strange will write about the collateral consequences of poor food quality in fueling the high rate of diabetes in San Quentin State Prison and in threatening the health and well-being of every incarcerated Californian.
- “Swift Justice” Traywick, in collaboration with Lauren Faraino, will document the reality of forced labor in Alabama prisons and retaliation against incarcerated people who resist it, against the background of a 2022 statewide vote banning slavery in Alabama.
- Thomas Whitaker, writing from solitary confinement, will report on the religion-based courses that are the only in-cell programs available to people in solitary in Texas.
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In 2019, a group of journalists received grants in a previous round of this project, then called the Solitary Confinement Reporting Project. The grants supported projects in a variety of media that examined the use of solitary confinement across the U.S. carceral landscape, from prisons and jails to immigrant detention facilities. Recipients ranged from award-winning veteran journalists to emerging young reporters, and included six incarcerated writers as well as one recently released from prison. Projects were chosen from dozens of submissions by the team of Wilbert Rideau, a renowned prison journalist who edited The Angolite and received the George Polk, Sidney Hillman, and Robert F. Kennedy Awards, and Solitary Watch’s James Ridgeway.
For the two years following distribution of the grants, Solitary Watch staff worked with recipients to help shape, edit, and place the stories in a variety of publications—especially essential for journalists working from the inside. Links to the grant-funded stories can be found below.
• Roshan Abraham, “In New York, Few Resources for Solitary Confinement Survivors After Prison,” City Limits
• Matthew Azzano, “Inside the Underground Economy of Solitary Confinement,” The Marshall Project
• Jeremiah Bourgeois, “Digging Our Way Out of the Hole: The Safe Alternative to Solitary,” The Crime Report
• Renée Feltz, “Hunger for Justice: Immigrant Detainees Are Being Punished for Refusing to Eat,” The Progressive
• Susan Greene, “GEO-run Aurora ICE Detention Center Is Isolating Immigrants—Some Mentally Ill—in Prolonged Solitary Confinement,” The Colorado Independent
• Juan Moreno Haines, “In San Quentin Prison, Getting the Flu Can Land You in Solitary Confinement,” The Appeal
• Kenneth Hartman, “Inside the Hole: The Experience of Solitary Confinement in California,” Solitary Watch
• Elizabeth Hawes, “Incarcerated Women Are Punished for Their Trauma With Solitary Confinement,” Truthout
• Arthur Longworth, “How to Survive Supermax,” The New Republic
• Thomas Whitaker, “Secret Solitary,” Guernica
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A Note to Readers: Our late founder, James Ridgeway (1936-2021), was at the heart of Solitary Watch’s dedication to the voices of incarcerated people—as sources, as writers in our Voices from Solitary series, and most recently, as journalists reporting from inside prison walls. After Jim’s unexpected passing, Solitary Watch created the James Ridgeway Memorial Fund.
To support this work, which was so close to Jim’s heart, please consider donating to the fund. To make an online donation, please go to solitarywatch.org/donate and designate your donation for the Ridgeway Fund. To donate by check, please make your check payable to Social & Environmental Entrepreneurs and indicate “Solitary Watch/Ridgeway Fund” in the memo. Send to: SEE, 23564 Calabasas Road, Suite 201, Calabasas, CA 91302. All donations are fully tax-deductible. Thank you for your caring and generosity.