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.
Solitary Confinement Survivors ACCP 11-4-2017
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.
Prison Liberation Collective
People’s Tribunal Against Solitary Confinement
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’re in motion – you can donate to the Prison Liberation Collective here:
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.
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.
Co-Founder of Torture Survivors Against Solitary
Brian Nelson & Gregory Koger, founders of Torture Survivors Against Solitary, will be speaking at University of Chicago on November 1, 2016:
Tuesday, November 1, 2016 – 6pm – 8pm
University of Chicago
The Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality
5733 S University Ave.
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
Brian Nelson and Gregory Koger of Torture Survivors Against Solitary attended an IDOC Hearing in Springfield, IL on October 19, 2016, along with other solitary survivors, formerly incarcerated and comrades with the Stop Solitary Coalition.
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.
Earlier this year the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act was introduced in the Illinois legislature. This bill, which was drafted in conjunction with a number of groups who oppose torture and the deplorable conditions in US prisons, would have severely restricted the use of solitary confinement in all prisons, jails, immigrant detention prisons etc in Illinois by reducing the amount of time any person could be held in isolation to 5 days in any 6 month period.
This bill had bipartisan support and a number of torture survivors who spent many years in solitary confinement in Illinois, as well as people with loved ones in solitary confinement, put themselves through significant retraumatization by speaking out about the conditions they faced in solitary confinement, including speaking at hearings at the Capitol in Springfield, IL.
The John Howard Association opposed the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act. The John Howard Association, in opposing a bill that would have drastically reduced solitary confinement in Illinois and would have been one of the most restrictive limitations on solitary confinement in the entire country, contacted legislators and organizations to defeat the bill. As if that weren’t bad enough, the John Howard Association used talking points that were identical to frivolous talking points put forward by the Illinois Department of Corrections, who also were vehemently against the restrictions on the use of torture in the form of solitary confinement in Illinois.
The John Howard Association has a long history of collaborating with the Illinois Department of Corrections against the interests of people incarcerated in Illinois. But the John Howard Association’s two-faced backroom machinations opposing a bill that would have drastically reduced the use of solitary confinement in Illinois is beyond reprehensible.
Those of us who have spent many years in solitary confinement under conditions that are categorically considered torture under international law, cannot remain silent in the face of this. We cannot allow an organization that collaborates with the Illinois Department of Corrections to continue to farcically misrepresent itself as a “watchdog” and raise money off the misery of men and women who they have no concern for.
Torture Survivors Against Solitary
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