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Whether the timing was deliberate or accidental, I like that an interview with me about loneliness was published on Valentines Day.
The new website This On That interviews photo people about non-photo things. I was quizzed about solitude, forced isolation, the PCT and other things. Thanks to Barney and Matt for the questions. Here’s my answer to the ninth question of thirteen:
Who is/was the loneliest person you met doing your prisons project? Can anything be done to help him/her?
Not for me to say. Prisons are toxic and they degrade the spirit of any one who is inside.
That said, I’ve met some incredibly lonely people who are locked up but they know they only have themselves to rely on and in spite of the system, hold it together and do immense good. I’ve seen prisoners mentor, educate and counsel other prisoners. They do so because they feel and live the isolation. Incredibly, they can contain that struggle and frustration and turn it into something powerful and good and community-building. I’m thinking here of prisoners who teach remedial math, Spanish, life skills and coping strategies to other, usually younger, prisoners.
Prisoners in California will no longer be kept in windowless boxes indefinitely. That improves the lives of 3,000 people. It also brings California into line with the practices of virtually all other states. This is landmark.
Many groups were involved in the support of the plaintiffs in the class action suit. Legal Services for Prisoners with Children put out a press release. Below I copy the press release of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity group.
OAKLAND — Today, California prisoners locked in isolation achieved a groundbreaking legal victory in their ongoing struggle against the use of solitary confinement. A settlement was reached in the federal class action suit Ashker v. Brown, originally filed in 2012, effectively ending indefinite long-term solitary confinement, and greatly limiting the prison administration’s ability to use the practice, widely seen as a form of torture. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of prisoners held in Pelican Bay State Prison’s infamous Security Housing Units (SHU) for more than 10 years, where they spend 23 hours a day or more in their cells with little to no access to family visits, outdoor time, or any kind of programming.
“From the historic prisoner-led hunger strikes of 2011 and 2013, to the work of families, loved ones, and advocate, this settlement is a direct result of our grassroots organizing, both inside and outside prison walls,” said Dolores Canales of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC), and mother of a prisoner in Pelican Bay. “This legal victory is huge, but is not the end of our fight – it will only make the struggle against solitary and imprisonment everywhere stronger.” The 2011 and 2013 hunger strikes gained widespread international attention that for the first time in recent years put solitary confinement under mainstream scrutiny.
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) coalition members commemorating the first anniversary of the 2013 hunger strike suspension.
Currently, many prisoners are in solitary because of their “status” – having been associated with political ideologies or gang affiliation. However, this settlement does away with the status-based system, leaving solitary as an option only in cases of serious behavioral rule violations. Furthermore, the settlement limits the amount of time a prisoner may be held in solitary, and sets a two year Step-Down Program for the release of current solitary prisoners into the prison general population.
It is estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 prisoners will be released from SHU within one year of this settlement. A higher security general population unit will be created for a small number of cases where people have been in SHU for more than 10 years and have a recent serious rule violation.
“Despite the repeated attempts by the prison regime to break the prisoners’ strength, they have remained unified in this fight,” said Marie Levin of CFASC and sister of a prisoner representative named in the lawsuit. “The Agreement to End Hostilities and the unity of the prisoners are crucial to this victory, and will continue to play a significant role in their ongoing struggle.” The Agreement to End Hostilities is an historic document put out by prisoner representatives in Pelican Bay in 2012 calling on all prisoners to build unity and cease hostilities between racial groups.
Drawn by Michael D. Russell, Pelican Bay SHU
Prisoner representatives and their legal counsel will regularly meet with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials as well as with Federal Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas, who is tasked with overseeing the reforms, to insure that the settlement terms are being implemented.
“Without the hunger strikes and without the Agreement to End Hostilities to bring California’s prisoners together and commit to risking their lives— by being willing to die for their cause by starving for 60 days, we would not have this settlement today,” said Anne Weills of Siegel and Yee, co-counsel in the case. “It will improve the living conditions for thousands of men and women and no longer have them languishing for decades in the hole at Pelican Bay.”
“This victory was achieved by the efforts of people in prison, their families and loved ones, lawyers, and outside supporters,” said the prisoners represented in the settlement in a joint statement. “We celebrate this victory while at the same time, we recognize that achieving our goal of fundamentally transforming the criminal justice system and stopping the practice of warehousing people in prison will be a protracted struggle.”
Drawn by Carlos Ramirez while in Pelican Bay SHU
Legal co-counsel in the case includes California Prison Focus, Siegel & Yee, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, Chistensen O’Connor Johnson Kindness PLLC, and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone. The lead counsel is the Center for Constitutional Rights. The judge in the case is Judge Claudia Wilken in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.
A rally and press conference are set for 12pm in front of the Elihu M Harris State Building in Oakland, which will be livestreamed at http://livestre.am/5bsWO.
By Chris Garcia, drawn while in Pelican Bay SHU.
If I ever have kids I’ll read them Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine at bedtime. I’ll use Klein’s words as proxy for my own in imparting the necessary cautions of governments and guns in our f*#ked up world.
(Hold up, there’s reason enough why not to have kids.)
Chapters two and three deal with the growth of Chicago School economics and its pernicious experiments and infiltration into the ‘Southern Cone’.
Throughout the 60s and 70s, the US & the CIA facilitated right-wing opposition movements, juntas, military coups and consequent torture programs in Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.
During this time between 100,000 and 150,000 people were killed or ‘disappeared’. Estimates are wide and varied because the murders were out of control, accountability suspended and the terror doled out faster than it could be monitored.
During the Dirty War in Argentina, the terror of each night repeated the previous; a seven-year state-sanctioned massacre that bled into every neighbourhood under the cover of darkness.
The inhumanity is incomprehensible, but Klein attempts to describe the various methods used at times by different forces in each of the countries. Uruguay had a particular penchant for isolation;
Prisoners in Uruguay’s Libertad Prison were sent to la isla, the island: tiny windowless cells in which one bare light bulb was illuminated at all times. High value prisoners were kept in absolute isolation for more than a decade.
“We were beginning to think we were dead, that our cells weren’t cells but rather graves, that the outside world didn’t exist, that the sun was a myth,” one of these prisoners, Mauricio Rosencof, recalled. He saw the sun for a total of eight hours over eleven and a half years. So deprived were his senses during this time that he “forgot colors – there were no colors.”
In a foot-note Klein remarks:
‘The prison administration at Libertad worked closely with behavioral psychologists to design torture techniques tailored to each individual’s psychological profile – a method now used at Guantanamo Bay.’