On the return trip from the Senate Hearing on Solitary in D.C. I couldn’t wait to share my experience with Albert Woodfox. My letter began, “Dear Woodfox, at the risk of sounding absolutely ridiculous, this moment feels like a paradigm shift, maybe it is like one of those rare occasions from history, when abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips clinked their tea cups and said— this is possible. This is totally possible. …I am encouraged to wonder what kind of tea they were drinking…”
I do believe, for the first time in my 13 years of committed advocacy work that we can truly eradicate solitary confinement from the vocabulary of punishment in the United States. My position is upheld by a brief scan of recent events:
New York agreed to ban the use of extreme isolation for juveniles and to limit its use with adults. After only 20 hours in solitary, Colorado Director of Corrections, Rick Raemisch, called for immediate reforms to the practice of solitary, or administrative segregation. Washington State has made waves on the forefront of prison management, focusing its efforts on eliminating IMU’s (or solitary cells). After 4 decades of solitary Hugo “Yogi” Pinell was moved to another facility, and had his first contact visit with his mother after 4 decades. Russell Maroon Shoats, another political prisoner serving decades of solitary, was moved into general population in Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, Juan Mendez UN Special Rapporteur on torture, publicly condemns the use of indefinite isolation and calls for the end of solitary for Albert Woodfox in his report for the United Nations. Succinctly, Amnesty International released a NEW interview with widow of slain prison guard Brent Miller, courageously demanding justice for the Angola 3. At the national level, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and other senators called for the end of solitary confinement for juveniles, pregnant women and the severely mentally ill nationwide. A powerful Op Ed was written by generally conservative columnist David Brooks in the NY Times. Solitary Watch –News From A Nation In Lockdown- wins an Alicia Patterson Award for journalism and continues to rock it out, steadfastly reporting on solitary confinement in the US–
And let us not forget that Herman Wallace died free and innocent in the eyes of the law in early October.
In the growing struggle to abolish solitary confinement, the pendulum will continue to swing between these emotional moments of victory and defeat. In the greater struggle for justice we must remember that, it is just a matter of time until the next travesty is upon us and as a result we must continue to collectively point towards compassion in order to tip the scales, and resist the back swing towards injustice, torture, and punishment. Let’s return to these moments of victory in order to inspire us to do more, so we can experience the collective victory, so we can dream of abolition, so we can fantasize about what kind of tea we will drink when the practice of solitary confinement is finally rendered cruel and unusual punishment by constitution of principle and practice.Let’s tip the scales together:
1. Sign this!
2. Write Letters of Support & Recognition (we don’t always get to do this, so have fun!)
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5. Join NRCAT with small acts of Compassion