Confronting Torture in the United States: An Analysis of Solitary Confinement

Confronting Torture in the United States:
An Analysis of Solitary Confinement

Thursday, February 23, 2017
6:00 – 7:30 PM
Spanish Community Center
Joliet, IL
Panelists:

 

Treating US Solitary Confinement Torture Survivors & Nationwide Prison Journal

Next to zero research has been done on the effects of – and how to treat survivors of – long-term solitary confinement. As a survivor of over six years straight in solitary in the US, nearly ten years after my release the effects of solitary confinement still dominate my life.

In addition to all of the other organizing work against solitary confinement and mass incarceration I’m working on, one major project that I am beginning to work on is a center for the treatment of survivors of torture in the form of solitary confinement in the United States. My doctor and dear friend Dr. Antonio Martinez, one of the founders of the Marjorie Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture, is working very closely with me and Brian Nelson, another dear friend of mine who spent 23 years in solitary confinement, to form a non-profit organization dedicated to treating survivors of solitary confinement in the US.

In addition to treating torture survivors, we intend to be able to do more of our work against solitary confinement and mass incarceration within this organization. For example, one other major project that I have conceptualized but not implemented yet because of the need to deal with more of my own issues as a survivor first is a nationwide prison journal that connects prisoners across the nation, showcases writing of prisoners, connects up the family members of those incarcerated and brings some connections between the prison movement and the movements for Black liberation and against police murder on this side of the walls. This is long overdue in my opinion.

But I wanted to fill people in on some of the longer-term projects that I have been working on and will in the near future be putting significantly more energy into. We will have more concrete ways that people can contribute to these projects soon.

Gregory A.K.

Co-Founder of Torture Survivors Against Solitary

Stop Solitary Confinement! A Teach-in and Call to Action – November 1, 2016

Brian Nelson & Gregory Koger, founders of Torture Survivors Against Solitary, will be speaking at University of Chicago on November 1, 2016:

Stop Solitary Confinement! A Teach-in and Call to Action 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016 – 6pm – 8pm

University of Chicago
The Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality
5733 S University Ave.
Chicago, IL

Why is solitary confinement torture? What makes it a racial justice and queer issue? What is the history of solitary confinement in IL? What are the ramifications of recent IL solitary confinement policy changes? The Stop Solitary Coalition of Illinois will lead this teach-in answering these questions and more. Then they will talk about how students can join the current fight to end solitary confinement. We will also write letters in support of prisoners who are currently hunger striking against solitary confinement in CA and WI.

Dinner will be served.

Our teachers will include:
Alan Mills, Executive Director of Uptown People’s Law Center, an attorney that has litigated against solitary confinement since 1982
Gregory Koger, a solitary confinement survivor
Brian Nelson, Prisoners’ Rights Coordinator at Uptown People’s Law Center
Afrika, a member of Black and Pink: Chicago

Also be on the look out for our installation of a box the size of a solitary confinement cell, starting Thursday October 27th.

All are welcome!

Funded in part by Student Government

University of Chicago Students Working Against Prisons

The Attica Rebellion: Its Legacy & the Prison Struggle Today

Brian Nelson of Torture Survivors Against Solitary was part of a great panel last night at Loyola put together by Loyola NLG, the Uptown People’s Law Center, and the People’s Law Office –
The Attica Rebellion: Its Legacy & the Prison Struggle Today

The Attica Rebellion: Its Legacy & the Prison Struggle Today

Moderated by Michael Deutsch, Attica Brothers Lawyer

Heather Ann Thompson – author of “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Rebellion of 1971 and its Legacy”

Albert Jackson – Pontiac Brother

Alan Mills – Uptown People’s Law Center

Brian Nelson – Solitary Survivor and community organizer with Torture Survivors Against Solitary

Chicago Supports the September 9th National Prison Strike

September 9th National Prison Strike 2016

From within the tombs and dungeons of the United States’ historically unprecedented system of mass incarceration comes a Call from prisoners to rise up together on September 9th 2016 – the 45th anniversary of the Attica Prison Rebellion. As their Call states:

On September 9th of 1971 prisoners took over and shut down Attica, New York State’s most notorious prison. On September 9th of 2016, we will begin an action to shut down prisons all across this country. We will not only demand the end to prison slavery, we will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves.

At a time when US police are killing three people every day, and a national movement for Black Liberation is being forged in the streets, men and women being held in horrendous conditions of imprisonment will be putting their lives on the line to stand against the state-sanctioned slavery of the New Jim Crow police state that farcically calls itself “the greatest country in the world.”

As someone who personally knows the living death of the US prison system – and who spent many years in solitary confinement in that system – I find it incumbent upon me to stand in solidarity with those brothers and sisters still locked down in those hellholes.

We will be marching in support of the September 9th National Prison Strike. On September 9th we will meet at the State of Illinois Thompson Center at 1pm and march to the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC). The Illinois Department of Corrections has administrative offices in the Thompson Center, and the MCC is a United States federal prison in the heart of downtown Chicago.

Other actions will be planned as well. If you or your organization is planning anything, please let us know so we can support it. I will post any further details here.

September  9th National Prison Strike flyer

Please join and spread the FaceBook event for the demo

Interviews With Survivors of Solitary Confinement and Those With Loved Ones In Solitary

Over the last week, Brian Nelson and I have worked together to record interviews with torture survivors and family members to share the stories of those most affected by solitary confinement. I’ve posted many of those interviews on this site already – below are links to the interviews. We will be adding more.

Earl – 50 Years in Prison – Solitary & Being Released

Monica – 20 Years In Prison – Solitary & Being Released

Eddie Talks About His Time In Solitary Confinement

Rosario Talks About Her Brother In Solitary

Michelle Talks About Her Brother In Solitary

Francisco Talks About His Uncle In Solitary

Federico Talks About His Uncle In Solitary

Francisca Talks About Her Son & Family In Solitary

Sammy Talks About His Time In Solitary Confinement

Celia Talks About Her Time In Solitary Confinement

Susana Talks About Family Member on Death Row

We’d like to thank Alan Mills and Uptown People’s Law Center for allowing us to use their space for interviews. Thanks to Brian Nelson for coordinating the space and interviews with many of the family members from United Voices for Prisoners. Thanks to Brian Orozco from Gregory E. Kulis and Associates, who volunteered and helped record the interviews. Thanks to Eddie from Black and Black & Pink for sharing his story. Thanks to Monica Cosby, who was just released a couple months ago, for sharing her story and helping craft the questions and video recording.

And special thanks to all the survivors and family members who have shared their stories and who are putting themselves through the pain of reliving the trauma of solitary in order to ensure that no one else suffers the torture of solitary confinement.

We hope that others will step up and join us in this struggle to end solitary confinement, and the broader struggle to end mass incarceration and the New Jim Crow.

Ending the Torture of Solitary Confinement In Illinois

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.

Gregory Koger

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