I was forwarded an email earlier this afternoon which purports to examine the “highlights” of 2017 legislation nationwide aimed at solitary confinement “reform.” Illinois was curiously missing from the list. Interesting story that I’ll lay out for your perusal to see how close to a lowlight the Illinois example is.
Condensing a lot of prefatory and background matters for brevity, for the last couple legislative sessions a bill to drastically limit solitary confinement in Illinois has been brought forward by Rep. LaShawn Ford, in consultation with a number of groups opposing solitary and mass incarceration more broadly.
One of the initial versions of said bill was primarily conceived and set in motion by a group in Illinois with next to zero connection to those currently in solitary in Illinois nor solitary survivors in Illinois. When a group of survivors became aware of this, including further details regarding said group bringing forth the bill preparing to cut a deal with Illinois sheriff’s to exclude them from the bill, among other unprincipled and opportunistic machinations, the solitary survivors had to step in and take over in order to stop unprincipled collusion with the State’s armed enforcers and to push the bill into a direction that those still behind the walls in solitary, their loved ones and other survivors could support. This bill, which was supported by many on the inside as well as survivors and other groups on the outside, was killed after one of the main collaborators with the Illinois Department of Correction, a supposed “watchdog” group, entered into a backroom campaign to kill the bill on the absurd and ridiculous basis that “Illinois prisons are already too overcrowded; how could they possible let people out of solitary when the have no room?” Patently absurd and morally reprehensible – to condone and collude with state representatives to stop a bill that would have drastically limited solitary in Illinois and ensuring the bill would not pass and therefore thousands of brothers and sisters would continue to be tortured by the state of Illinois in solitary confinement. This groups annual fundraiser was subsequently protested by a group of solitary survivors and others.
The bill was then re-entered in 2017. As the bill moved toward having the support to have it passed, an associate of the Stop Solitary Coalition of Illinois spoke to a lobbyist for the Illinois Sheriffs Association, informing the sheriff’s of the bills’ advance and possible passing. After being informed about the bill, the Illinois Sheriff Association then colluded with various Illinois political representatives to have the bill killed – and killed explicitly on the barbaric basis that the sheriff’s had a statewide policy and practice of using solitary confinement to torture the mentally ill under their “care.” This policy was openly laid out in an article from the Illinois Times, a piece of s̶h̶i̶t̶ “journalism” which failed entirely to mention the fact that solitary confinement in excess of 15 days is considered torture under international law, nor the fact that the mentally ill are the one specific class of people that the United States Supreme Court has stated cannot be placed in solitary – see Madrid v. Gomez, which held:
The Court did find that it would violate the Eighth Amendment to subject prisoners who already had serious mental illnesses to prolonged solitary confinement, because such prolonged social isolation was very likely to inflict serious psychological pain on that subclass of prisoners. (PROLONGED SOLITARY CONFINEMENT AND THE CONSTITUTION, by Jules Lobel, 2008, in Journal of Constitutional Law Vol. 11 Issue 1, online at http://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/jcl/vol11/iss1/6/
Apparently such trivial matters are beyond the scope of a piece of “journalism” on the topic of solitary confinement; all you need to do is parrot the false and criminal claims of the Illinois Sheriffs Association.
But, in brief, that is a short history of Illinois’ failed bill to drastically reduce solitary confinement. Sold out from its inception by a group with no ties to those in solitary confinement, their families and survivors, who wanted to cut a deal with sheriffs to allow them to continue torturing people in solitary confinement; then, after the bill was entered the first time, sold out by a phoney prison “watchdog” group, then by someone formerly incarcerated tipping off the Illinois Sheriffs Association.
So, apologies for the delay in getting this written, and other things, but we’ve been dealing with a number of things… Recently, we somewhat reluctantly spoke at the American College of Correctional Physicians national conference regarding solitary confinement. Brian Nelson, Monica Cosby, Afrika Lockett and myself as survivors made it clear we were there to let them know the real deal about the torture practice of solitary confinement.
Unfortunately I missed recording the beginning of Monica’s piece, but got most of the rest of the talk. Hard to do everything at once, without assistance… But we’ll keep doing it, cause no one else is. We’re currently raising funding to start our solitary confinement survivors group with Dr. Antonio Martinez.
Friday, April 21, 2017
5:30 PM – 7:30 PM
430 S Michigan Ave,
“Solitary confinement” is defined by the United Nations Committee Against Torture as incarceration in a cell for 22-24 hours a day. Around 8,000 Illinois prisoners are held in a form of solitary confinement. Some have been held in the box for over a decade. To disguise its use of solitary, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) calls the practice by other names, such as Disciplinary Segregation, Administrative Detention, and Room Restriction. All of these are forms of solitary.
Join us for an evening of testimony and outrage against state-sanctioned torture. State representatives and senators from Chicago and the surrounding suburbs have been invited and will be asked at the tribunal to sign on to support HB259, the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, which would limit the amount to time people can be held in solitary to 10 days within any 150 period. Call your elected representatives and ask that they be present.
We’ve got a number of things in motion that are coming together. Our nonprofit project – the Prison Liberation Collective – has received fiscal sponsorship from the Urbana Champaign Independent Media Center, and we’re working to get several of the main components in operation within the next few months. We met with and will be receiving a small grant from the Crossroads Fund to concretize some of our operations. More details on all of this soon, but here’s an overview of some of our initial projects.
We anticipate starting our solitary confinement group program within the next few months, with Dr. Antonio Martinez, one of the founders of the Kovler Center for the Treatment for Survivors of Torture. This program will begin an unprecedented investigation into the effects of solitary confinement, led by survivors of solitary in conjunction with world-renowned psychologists who have treated torture survivors worldwide, with the hope and expectation that we will be able to learn and share important insights into collectively overcoming the effects of the torture we faced at the hands of the United States government.
And as the torture practice of solitary confinement continues to be imposed upon an estimated 80,000 – 100,000 men, women and children in the United States, the Prison Liberation Collective will be focused politically and organizationally on fighting to stop solitary confinement and mass incarceration in the US. One major component of this will be the implementation of the nationwide prison journal that I’ve been planning, to connect up those behind the walls with each other and family members, loved ones, supporters and the movements for liberation and justice on this side of the walls, as well as to showcase prison writers. This will entail an online media component as well, building upon some of the work we started with the Torture Survivors Against Solitary website, and anticipating including podcasts and video interviews & discussions regarding solitary confinement and mass incarceration.
We’ll continue to have speaking events, including one coming up on February 10th in Champaign, IL. The bill we fought for last year to drastically limit solitary in Illinois (which was not passed because of the backroom machinations of a phoney prison “watchdog” group whose long-term agenda is to collaborate with the Illinois Department of “Corrections”) is being reintroduced, though because of the pitiful organizational experience of the previous attempt – and the lack of consideration for the effects that reliving solitary has on us as survivors – the bill will likely not be something that I intend to spend much time on. There’s a public art exposure campaign featuring photos of solitary survivors and those currently locked in solitary that will be coming soon. And a major article on solitary confinement featuring survivors in Illinois in a major magazine will be coming soon.
With the Prison Liberation Collective receiving fiscal sponsorship, we will be able to do a lot of work collectively on many issues related to ending solitary confinement and mass incarceration, with a directly built-in psychological support system. I will be able to let you know more soon about how you can contribute to our work.
Our purpose in attending this hearing was to oppose changes to the IDOC rules that could make retaliation against jailhouse lawyers easier, and to continue to oppose the IDOC & State of Illinois’ use of torture in the form of solitary confinement.
Brian spoke at the hearing, video below.
Solitary confinement in excess of 15 days is torture under international law. Brian spent 23 years in solitary. I spent about seven and a half years out of the 11 years I was locked up in solitary and various forms of segregation, including being placed into administrative detention solitary confinement in the county jail before I had even been convicted. I went to trial at 17 years old from solitary confinement in an adult county jail. In prison, as conditions became more repressive, I became more politically conscious. After getting in a fight with some C/O’s in Stateville I was given indeterminate segregation and spent over 6 years straight in solitary confinement in Pontiac.
Even though the IDOC hearing dealt mainly with rewrites to the IDOC “disciplinary” and grievance rules and procedures, the IDOC went out of their way to claim they are “so concerned” (to look like they are doing something about) solitary confinement.
One simple step they must take: stop torturing people in solitary confinement. Period.
Above: Africa of Black & Pink and the Stop Solitary Coalition speaks at IDOC Hearing.
Its interesting reading and its all about a Lawsuit settlement that has been in the Courts for years. Strangely, as I read this report there is no mention of any of the Great Attorneys and Law Firms that gave so much time, effort and themselves fighting for the voiceless and in cases the helpless men and women suffering in Illinois Prisons. I asked several people to read the report and asked them who do you think fought this lawsuit and everyone had the same opinion (John Howard Assoc.).
Then I asked why they thought that and they again responded the same, there are repeated statements like JHA has been pushing for these changes for years, If you have any questions about the case please contact John Howard Association.
Interesting that there is no mention of the actual Attorneys from the Rasho case. And let’s be fair: JHA did not say specifically that they were a part of this case or changes. But they sure don’t give credit to those that actually were. JHA did write this report and they are willing to answer any questions about the case even though they had absolutely nothing to do with the case at all.
Then again it seems to be a common practice of certain groups to mislead donors into thinking that they actually had something to do with significant changes that affect groups that are suffering for financial gains. This is so misleading!
For years while incarcerated I tried to get assistance from a so-called prison “watchdog” group that claims to help prisoners and is bipartisan. I spent years on a psychological experimental program called the circuit. This group told me year after year there was no such program. After a judge ruled on the conditions of the program, this group chimed in.
For over 20 years they have released reports claiming that they help prisoners and their families when in fact they allow the Illinois Department of Corrections to review the reports prior to releasing them. Donors mistakenly give large donations to this group believing they actually do something to help prisoners and change the prison system in Illinois. This is completely false. They collect money, write reports and that’s it! Another twist is look at the history of JHA and IDOC. Look at ranking Officials change from organization to organization.
If you remember history, IDOC Director Donald Synder (serving federal prison time) and the Director of John Howard Mike Mahoney were indicted in a kickback scheme together! Mahoney admitted to taking kick backs during his trial before Judge Zagel. As The State-Journal Registerreported:
Snyder admitted that he took $30,000 from Larry Sims, a lobbyist for two vendors. He said he pocketed up to $20,000 from two other lobbyists, former Cook County undersheriff John Robinson and Michael J. Mahoney.
Sims and Robinson have pleaded guilty. Mahoney was acquitted in a bench trial before Zagel who said he didn’t believe Snyder’s testimony.
The case drew the spotlight not only because of Snyder’s position but because Mahoney had lobbied the prison system while executive director of the John Howard Association, a prison reform organization.
At his trial, Mahoney admitted what he had done but argued that whatever the ethical lapses, he simply had not done anything illegal.
John Howard has an extensive history of telling the public that they are the only nonpartisian prison watchdog group in Illinois fighting for social reform through working with legislative system. But seeing the horrific job they did monitoring the juvenile justice at the Juvenile Detention center in Chicago shows it all. Priest openly criticizes the monitoring job as horrific. How is it they have numerous Attorneys on staff but refuse – or rather have a charter that forbids them from litigating conditions in IDOC? So donors you give donations to them and they publish reports approved by IDOC that have zero authority to enforce reforms.
For the past several years in every report published by John Howard and IDOC about a prison there is the condemnation of the overuse of solitary confinement in IDOC. Yet as the years pass nothing has ever changed. Solitary/segregation is still over used report after report. JHA makes strong recommendations for change yet that is all it is – hot air. Tamms was okayed by JHA because IDOC wanted it. Then the Governor decided to close Tamms and JHA changed their position – not because of Human Rights abuses happening at Tamms but only because of the excessive cost of having a completely solitary confinement prison. JHA never once issued a report that condemned the torture happening inside Tamms even as men cut off parts of their bodies and went crazy. The prisoner didn’t matter to JHA.
Now is 2016 and a bill was entered by Illinois Representative La Shawn Ford that would limit the use of solitary confinement. JHA at first was some what supportive and brought up every report they have written about the over use of solitary/segregation. A week later after what I can only term as talking to IDOC (I say this because of the wording) JHA used the exact same words as IDOC why this House Bill should be stopped. JHA is now against the Bill to limit the over use of solitary/segregation. Makes no sense.
So I have to ask what is the actual function of this alleged prison watch dog group. They don’t represent or help prisoners, in fact they seem to actually be another arm of IDOC. So a false representation!
Please listen to Pleasant Encounters radio show about the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, solitary confinement and the John Howard Association with formerly incarcerated host Geraldine Smith and guests Brain Nelson and Gregory Koger.
My life is controlled by the I.D.O.C. everyday. Not because I committed a crime, but because I love someone tortured by the I.D.O.C. in solitary confinement for the last 8 years.
It’s really hard to keep a family together under that pressure. Its because I’m so focused on surviving and keeping the I.D.O C. in line that I’m sometimes vulnerable to people and organizations and take them at face value. I shouldn’t, but sometimes I just lack the energy to investigate. Gerard says I fall for snake oil salesmen. He’s rarely ever mad at me but this is one of the things that really upsets him.
Well this time with The Marshall Project we both bought that oil. I understand what nonpartisan means but that’s not the same as misquoting and using sensationalism to lean opinions one way or the other. That’s what they did to me. I should have learned my lesson when Gerard was quoted in an article about double bunking in solitary. He had written back and forth with the writer for months. He gave the letters he wrote to me to read before sending them off so I knew what he said. The article came out and it was good. I even messaged the writer and thanked her and sent her the link to a video about our current situation.
It bothered me though. I know Gerard better than anyone. I recognized the article as mostly his own writing and yet he was given credit for one quote. She should have just said “Here write an article about this topic” because basically that’s what happened. He’s intelligent and articulate. He can do it. Give him credit. I kept my mouth shut because it was a helpful article. I did send him a copy and mention my suspicions.
Then the Texas decision to stop family members from doing social media for their family members in prison came out. At that time we were going through Gerard being threatened with solitary for the Facebook page I made for his art. I was very vocal about it. Someone else from The Marshall Project contacted me and asked if they could speak with me about the decision. I sent the the link to a video I made with Brian and Greg from the Torture Survivors Against Solitary site and told the writer he should watch that and then contact me with questions. He called the next day. I felt I had given a lot of good information as to why social media is good for all of us in and out of the prison system. I was happy with it. He called again the next day to ask a few more questions.
A few days later my mom sent me a link and asked if I had seen it. I wasn’t even notified it was done and out. I was horrified. Besides being misquoted and made to look ignorant, he used the “selling serial killer art” as sensationalism to draw people into his horrible article. That makes him no better than someone who profits from their crime or profits from someone else’s crime. Its disgusting. I have NEVER used who Gerard is or what he’s incarcerated for as a way to advance myself or make a profit EVER. We most certainly could.
Unlike that writer, we have morals. It was basically a trash article that could go in National Enquierer with me thrown in at the end in a mess of misquote and misinformation. No help to the reform movement whatsoever and most definitely NOT neutral. I feel as though it was a passive aggressive move to harm us. I was hurt, embarrassed, ashamed. I didn’t know what to do. I emailed the so called writer and told him how I felt and that Gerard and I were no longer available for The Marshall Project. A week and a half later I decided to put my name and The Marshall Project in the search engine to see who shared the article so I could do a little damage control and stick up for myself. What I found was that countless websites and blogs took the Marshall Projects horrible article and switched it up a bit and used it as their own. With the misinformation.
I feel violated. No one ever got ahold of me to fact check or anything whatsoever. If this happened to me how many other people do you think its happened to? I put my heart out there to make things right in the Dept. of Corrections. I’m honest and give my all. My life is hard and I go through hell. All I ask for in this world is for people to do the right thing. The Marshall Project doesn’t. Thats the nicest way I can put how I really feel, but yes I feel violated and I’m mad as hell about it. Our lives are too hard already to have to deal with things like this. Beware of wolves in sheeps clothing.
As we fight torture in the State of illinois (solitary confinement) on several fronts and we have struggled to work with other groups and like minded activist to abolish solitary confinement we have struggled with being misled, let standing alone or utterly disrespected. So to clear the murky waters Greg Koger created this page and this page is not controlled or ran by any group except:
We have been helped by Uptown People’s Law Center, United Voices for Prisoner’s and Greg Kulis & Associates (Brian Orozco) but not by Illinois Coalition Against Torture. ICAT has not assisted us in any way at all in creating the web page or helping us film survivors, family members and loved ones of those still being torture in solitary by Illinois Department of Corrections.