Solitary confinement is categorically condemned as a form of torture by the United Nations, yet the United States has perfected its coldly inhuman use in supermax prisons, SHUs and segregation units throughout the country. The use of solitary confinement is intimately interconnected with the white supremacist implementation of mass incarceration and New Jim Crow laws targeting principally Black and Brown youth – who this system has utterly failed and has no future for – condemning them to a life of harassment by police and incarceration unprecedented in human history.
Imagine locking yourself in your bathroom for a week, a month, a year, a decade. Imagine never seeing the sun for years. Imagine never being able to touch or hug your loved ones for years. That might give you a small glimpse into what it would be like to be locked in solitary confinement, yet it would be much more comfortable in many ways than being in those cells.
I spent many years in solitary confinement in Illinois prisons. In fact, before I was even convicted I went to trial as a seventeen year old charged as an adult from solitary confinement in the county jail.
Due to the heroic struggles of the Pelican Bay and California prison hunger strikers and the work of many people in recent years protesting and exposing the pervasive use of torture by the United States government, there is now momentum pushing the rulers of this system to back away from the use of this torture practice.
In Illinois, we may have a unique opportunity to drastically limit the use of solitary confinement. A recent bill has been introduced by Rep. LaShawn Ford to limit the use of isolation to 5 days, currently named the “Isolated Confinement Restriction Act.” As currently written, this bill would restrict the use of isolation to 5 days at a time during any 150 day period, and incorporates a number of restrictions.
Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t participate in electoral politics. This bill will on its face severely restrict the use of solitary confinement and remove from the Illinois Department of Corrections and Sheriffs in County Jails, and any private prison or detention center in the state of Illinois the ability to formally use State-sanctioned torture in the form of solitary confinement. As long as this bill remains true to its current form and intentions, I can do nothing but support it and work to ensure that it passes so that those still languishing in those cells where I spent over six years straight in solitary confinement will no longer be subjected to that form of torture.
Our understanding is that this bill may move rather quickly and be put to a vote by May. There are several hearings scheduled, one in March and one in April, which I will convey the further details of once I have the exact information. Mobilizing people to come out to those hearings and to to convey to both the public at large as well as the representatives of the government of the State of Illinois that we will no longer allow the practice of torture in the form of solitary confinement will be imperative.
I generally ask very little of my friends, comrades, and supporters. Supporting this struggle to end solitary confinement in Illinois is one thing that I am asking that you step up and be part of.
We will have more details to convey as they become available. But we, those of us who have survived the horrors of long-term solitary confinement and live with the aftermath every moment of every day, are committed to ensuring that our brothers and sisters who remain there are no longer subjected to this torture.
March 3, 2016
Letter from my Friend and Comrade Brian Nelson on Ending Solitary Confinement in Illinois:
Over the past several years, I have spoken at numerous Universities and other forums about the torture I endured in solitary confinement. There is no doubt that solitary confinement is torture and has taken a terrible toll on my life. Anyone that has seen me talk have seen the affects first hand and understand why we need to join together in this fight to stop these horrific acts of torture. Some have asked me why I continually put myself through the torment of reliving solitary when I talk about it. First off, I believe that nobody should ever have to endure the evil treatment I endured. Second, no mother, wife, parent, child or friend should be tormented by seeing what solitary confinement does to their loved one. Have no doubt that my mother was tortured just by looking at me. Thirdly, solitary confinement is morally wrong and so barbaric that most of the countries in the world have outlawed its use and condemn the United States for the use of solitary and its overuse.
The United States government has admitted that they have no idea who is in solitary confinement in the Federal Prison system, nor why they are there, how long they have been there, or if they will ever be released. Recently, the federal government has restricted the use of solitary on juveniles and mentally ill prisoners. Unfortunately, this only applies to the federal prison system not the states and it is the states that hold most of the prisoners in solitary! We need to work to protect the millions of individuals incarcerated in the state penal systems.
I have been asked hundreds of times, “What can we do to stop this?” Well, I finally have an answer. Illinois State Representative Ford has entered a bill to restrict the use of solitary and he needs us to help educate the public about the evils of solitary confinement. Representative Ford needs us to form groups to lobby our local Representatives and State Senators to support this bill. I am appealing to everyone to help. Form a student group, create web pages, educate friends, family, and yourselves about how horrific and destructive solitary confinement is upon a person’s mind!
I am positive you have hundreds of other ideas. I will help anyway I can. Just let me know the best way I can help you in this fight. As I have said numerous times, you are the future and you can change this. I firmly believe that you can do this and a lot more.
Please help stop this evil and horrific torture that is being unjustly inflicted upon human beings. THANK YOU!
Brian Nelson – Prisoners’ Rights Coordinator, Uptown People’s Law Center