An End to Solitary is Long Overdue

California’s Savage System of Confinement

Less than two weeks ago the United Nations Committee against Torture issued a report strongly criticizing the U.S. record on a number of issues, among them the extensive use of solitary confinement. While the U.S. uses long-term solitary more than any other country in the world, California uses it more than any other state. It’s one of the few places in the world where someone can be held indefinitely in solitary. This practice is designed to break the human spirit and is condemned as a form of torture under international law.

Despite these repeated condemnations by the U.N., the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is harshening rather than easing its policies, currently with three new sets of regulations. The administration’s iron-fisted strategy is emerging: project the appearance of a reforming system while extending its reach, and restrict the ability of prisoners and their loved ones to organize for their rights.

First, the CDCR has instituted a “Step Down Program” ostensibly to create a pathway out of indefinite solitary. However, the program actually widens the net of who can be considered a threat and therefore eligible for placement in solitary. Recently adopted regulations replace the old language of “gang” with “Security Threat Group” (STG) and the previous list of a dozen identified gangs is now replaced with a dizzying list of over 1500 STGs. Under these new regulations, even family members and others outside the prisons can be designated as part of an STG. Given the fact that indefinite solitary is used disproportionately against people of color – in Pelican Bay, 85% of those in isolation are Latino – the language used to justify placement in solitary eerily mirrors the rhetoric of the federal government and its permanent state of war against its declared enemies, all of whom are people of color.

The CDCR promulgated a second set of rule changes last summer with sweeping new “obscenity” regulations governing mail going both in and out of prisons. The original proposal was to explicitly ban any “publications that indicate an association with groups that are oppositional to authority and society,” yet after coming under heavy criticism, CDCR decided to mask its Orwellian motives by hiding behind the above mentioned language of STGs. This ominous language violates First Amendment rights, and reveals a broader agenda: to censor writings that educate the public about what is actually occurring inside the prisons, and to stifle the intellectual and political education and organizing of prisoners themselves.

A third element of CDCR’s strategy of containment is the implementation of highly intimidating visiting procedures designed to keep family members away from their loved ones. Draconian new visiting regulations authorize the use of dogs and electronic drug detectors to indiscriminately search visitors for contraband, even though both methods are notoriously unreliable. These procedures effectively criminalize family members and deter them from visiting, especially in a period of a growing family-led movement against solitary.

The three new policies are also intended to extend CDCR’s reach beyond the prison walls. As an organizer and family member of a prisoner, I’m censored when sending letters to my brother, Sitawa N. Jamaa, subjected to gratuitous and intimidating searches during visits, and susceptible to being labeled an STG associate. These are all ways that CDCR is trying to keep me from knowing how my brother and others are doing, and to repress my organizing.

Taken individually, these regulations may seem to address unrelated issues. But given they are all coming down simultaneously – just a year after the last of a series of historic hunger strikes by people in California prisons has given rise to the highest level of self-organization and empowerment among imprisoned people since the 1970s – these regulations are nothing less than a systematic attempt to silence and retaliate against prisoners’ growing resistance. Over 30,000 prisoners participated in 2013’s strike, some for 60 days, risking their health and lives for an end to indefinite solitary. Prisoners’ family members and loved ones also took up leadership roles in political organizing in unprecedented ways. The movement to abolish solitary continues to gain momentum around the country.

The hunger strikes were a significant part of an ongoing national sea change regarding the use of solitary, as states are waking up to its dangers. Illinois, Maine and Mississippi have closed or drastically downsized their solitary units without any loss of institutional safety. New York and Arizona were recently forced to reduce their use of isolation, with Colorado and New Jersey following suit.

Yet California steadfastly remains an outlier seemingly impervious to change, led by an administration that relies on tired rhetoric about “the worst of the worst” to justify torture. People locked up in California have a decades-long history of fighting for the rights and dignity of prisoners, affirming their humanity in the face of inhumane conditions and demanding change. The U.N. report calls on this government to “ban prison regimes of solitary confinement such as those in super-maximum security detention facilities.” It’s time for California to listen.

Marie Levin is the sister of Sitawa N. Jamaa, a prisoner in solitary confinement at Tehachapi. She is a member of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS).

Mohamed Shehk is the Media and Communications Director of Critical Resistance, and also contributed to this piece.

Pack the Courthouse on Dec. 2nd! Support Keith LaMar!

Keith LaMar (aka Bomani Shakur) was placed on death row after the State framed him for crimes he can prove he did not commit during the 1993 Lucasville Prison Uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. He has been held in solitary confinement for the past 21 years.

Please show up to events, come to the oral argument on December 2nd, read Keith’s book, Condemned, and spread the word. Let’s join Keith LaMar in his fight to stay alive!

Keith’s death sentence is nearing its most critical stage. His final appeal will be heard through oral arguments, scheduled for 2 p.m. on Tuesday, December 2nd at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The address is:

540 Potter Steward U.S. Courthouse
100 East Fifth Street
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
Phone: 513-564-7000

Schedule of Events for Tuesday, December 2nd — Keith LaMar Oral Arguments, Cincinnati, Ohio

12:45 p.m. — Supporters’ Rally before Keith’s Oral Arguments. Let’s come together in Lytle Park, East 4th Street, 2 blocks east of the Potter-Stewart Courthouse in downtown Cincinnati. Wear or carry your shirt if you have one (more will be available for $15).

1:10 — March to the Potter-Steward U.S. Courthouse together. Family and close friends will lead us there (per Keith’s wishes). Address: 100 East Fifth Street in Cincinnati.

1:20 — (T-shirts off/covered/put away). Check in through security and be seated.

2-3 p.m. — Oral Arguments will take place. Be Keith’s ears and eyes and please conduct yourselves peacefully (per Keith’s wishes).

3-3:15 p.m. — Please make your way to a private Vigil for Justice for friends and family at 1st Unitarian Church of Cincinnati. Address: 536 Linton Street (In Avondale off Reading Rd). Free parking and security provided.

3:15 — Fellowship and refreshments in the Fellowship Hall

3:45-5:15 — Vigil for Justice in the Sanctuary

Keith’s is a story about racialized injustice, State corruption, struggle, perseverance and truth. He has laid it all out in Condemned–a soulful, fiery, and captivating book. In it, he traces how the prosecutors fabricated a case against him, dismantles their lies by highlighting their inconsistencies, and proves that his Constitutional rights were violated by their willful withholding of evidence favorable to his defense. Most importantly, Keith compels readers to consider their place within the larger social system, inviting those who would stand on the side of social justice to join him, on his behalf and also for the countless other nameless, faceless people caught up in the struggle for humanity.

A documentary film that focuses on the State’s intentional railroading of Keith LaMar has just been completed (October 2014).

Message from Marie Mason Calling for Compassionate Release of Lynne Stewart

From: Blog for and by Marie Mason, Dec. 18, 2013:

I would like to add my voice to the many who have called for Lynne Stewart to be granted compassionate release. Though we are nominally at the same prison facility at Carswell, we have been unfortunately unable to meet. The Admin Unit (where I am housed) is an isolated unit, separate from the rest of the facility here. But I would have been proud to make her acquaintance and to thank her for her years of tireless work on behalf of those in need of defense and advocacy. From all that I have read about her, she is a formidable attorney – both fearless and compassionate.

It is tragic that this hero of the people, this astute, talented and conscientious woman, is prevented from accessing the care she needs to give her the best chance at survival, and to at least be given the closeness and connection to her partner, Ralph, and family during this time of grave illness. I have had the opportunity to thank the Warden here for speaking on Ms. Stewart’s behalf in her request for compassionate release. If the decision were his, Ms. Stewart would be home now. So I am still hopeful that other prison officials will also come to the opinion that Ms. Stewart should be allowed to go home.

I hope that the ever increasing numbers of good hearted people working together to apply some pressure will eventually bring about her release. If you are able to call or write on Ms. Stewart’s behalf, I urge you to do so now. She is precious to us all, and worth fighting for. Wishing you well, Ms. Stewart, with love and solidarity
– Marie Mason
A life and Death appeal from Lynne Stewart:

by Lynne Stewart

I need to ask once again for your assistance in forcing the Bureau of Prisons to grant my compassionate release. They have been stonewalling since August and my life expectancy, as per my cancer doctor, is down to 12 months.

Ralph Poynter, Lynne Stewart shouting, smiling

Ralph Poynter and Lynne Stewart, loving husband and wife – re-unite them now! – Photo: Channer TV
They know that I am fully qualified and that over 40,000 people have signed on to force them to do the right thing, which is to let me go home to my family and to receive advanced care in New York City. Yet they refuse to act.

While this is entirely within the range of their politics and their cruelty to hold political prisoners until we have days to live before releasing us – witness Herman Wallace of Angola and Marilyn Buck – we are fighting not to permit this and call for a BIG push.”

Send our sister some love and light: Lynne Stewart, 53504-054, FMC Carswell, Unit 2N, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth TX 76127.

Take action between now and the New Year

Telephone and send emails or other messages to Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Charles E. Samuels Jr. and Attorney General Eric Holder:

  • Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Charles E. Samuels Jr.: (202) 307-3250 or 3062, info@bop.gov
  • Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Department of Justice: (202) 353-1555, AskDOJ@usdoj.gov

Contact U.S. embassies and consulates in nations throughout the world.
Send an International Action Center petition: iacenter.org/NewLynneStewartPetition/.
Send a petition from Change.org: change.org/petitions/new-petition-to-free-lynne-stewart-support-compassionate-release
Let us create a tidal wave of effort internationally. Together, we can prevent the bureaucratic murder of Lynne Stewart.

Jailers as judges

In a new 237-page report entitled “A Living Death,” the American Civil Liberties Union documents unconstitutional practices permeating federal and state prisons in the U.S. Focused on life imprisonment without parole for minor offenses, the ACLU details conditions of 3,278 individual prisoners whose denial of release is deemed “a flagrant violation of the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment” occurring on an increasing scale.

The ACLU labels the deliberate stonewalling as “willful,” a touchstone of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Justice’s flagrant violation of the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. These conclusions corroborate the findings of Human Rights Watch in 2012: “The Answer is ‘No’: Too Little Compassionate Release in U.S. Prisons.”

The report is definitive in exposing arbitrary and illegal conduct that infuses every facet of the treatment accorded Lynne Stewart. “(T)he Bureau [of Prisons] has usurped the role of the courts. In fact, it is fair to say the jailers are acting as judges. Congress intended the sentencing judge, not the BOP to determine whether a prisoner should receive a sentence reduction.”

Lynne Stewart’s medical findings show less than 12 months to live as stipulated by her oncologist at FMC Carswell. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has failed to file the legally required motion declaring solely that the matter is “with the Department of Justice.”

Women Over-Incarcerated

There is a new website, petition and hopefully a new movement: 

Womenoverincarcerated.org (WOI.org) is an online advocacy group created to educate the public about the rising epidemic of federally incarcerated women and the consequences of their imprisonment. 

Its focus is on exposing the gross injustice women face in the U.S. judicial system, and the disparities between state and federal, male and female, and minority and non-minority offenders. 

WOI.org aims to challenge the absence of parole, which causes each federal prisoner to serve 85% of her sentence without recourse, and introduce alternatives.

Sign their petition please: click here.

Text accompanying the petition: 

This petition is sponsored by a group called womenoverincarcerated.org. The group is made up of supporters or women in federal prison serving excessive sentences for white collar crime. 

The supporters are family, friends, members of the general public who are appalled by the recent report prepared by CultureQuantiX that shows drastic sentencing disparities between white males and females in white collar sentences. The report documents that women receive sentences averaging 300% higher than those of white males for the same or similar crime (it is 480% for Black women). This % held whether it was comparing women and men defendants in the same case, different cases same judge, different judges same court, different courts same jurisdiction or different courts and different jurisdictions. The % held in every category of white collar crime studied, i.e. wire fraud, bank fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, securities, tax crimes and conspiracy.

We want Congress to move immediately to reestablish a federal parole system. Congress abolished the parole system in 1984 in response to Pres. Reagan’s planned war on drugs. 

Congress then created the U.S. Sentencing Commission who created Sentencing Guidelines which were supposed to be followed by judges in order to avoid wide disparities in drug cases. 

The Commission soon adopted Guidelines for white collar crime with the same goal, avoiding disparities. It is clear from the report that the plan has not worked.


It is critical that Congress act because barring such, thousands of women, ripped away from their families and communities, are left to serve patently unfair and biased excessive federal sentences. These women have no recourse or redress in the courts which is where the sentences were handed down in the first place. The only relief must come from Congress.

Unlike State sentences where defendants often serve only 1/3 to 1/2 of their sentences and are then paroled, federal defendants, like these women, will serve nearly 90% of their sentences because the federal system has no parole nor anything comparable.

Free Albert Woodfox! Take Action with Amnesty Intl: "Herman died a free man. Let’s help Albert live as one."

Please take action for Albert Woodfox here!

(FLYER: Amnesty Intl actions for Albert Woodfox on Oct. 19 in New Orleans and Oct. 21 at the Capitol in Baton Rouge)


RELATED:  UN statement on Albert Woodfox

Today, Amnesty International kicked off a new campaign in support of Albert Woodfox. The email action alert and a separate press release are both reprinted below, in full:

——
Herman died a free man. Let’s help Albert live as one.

Herman Wallace died nine days before his 72nd birthday. The famed ‘Angola 3′ prisoner succumbed to liver cancer on Friday, 3 days after being released from prison. 

Herman survived more than 41 years of isolation, becoming a fierce activist calling for an end to the cruel, inhuman use of solitary confinement. 

He died a free man, but the search for justice is far from over. The third member of the Angola 3, Albert Woodfox, is STILL being held in solitary confinement.

Enough is enough — call on Louisiana authorities to free Albert Woodfox. 

Albert was placed in solitary after a 1972 murder that he maintains he did not commit. There is no physical evidence linking him to the crime. 

Albert’s conviction has already been overturned three times — most recently by a federal district court — but the state obsessively appeals every time the court rules in his favor.

Tell the Louisiana authorities to free Albert Woodfox today.

Before he died, Herman said this about Albert and their struggle for human rights: 

“I want the world to know that I am an innocent man and that Albert Woodfox is innocent as well…The state may have stolen my life, but my spirit will continue to struggle along with Albert and the many comrades that have joined us along the way here in the belly of the beast.”

I never met Herman, and yet I will always remember him as larger-than-life — a symbol of resistance to human rights abuses and injustice who refused to be silenced. More than 110,000 people like you rose up to free him — Now it’s time to shine the light for Albert — take action. 

In solidarity,

Jasmine Heiss
Campaigner, Individuals and Communities at Risk
Amnesty International USA

(End of email alert. The Oct. 10 Amnesty USA press release begins.)

Louisiana Must End Campaign of ‘Vengeance’ Against Remaining Angola 3 Prisoner Albert Woodfox

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @AIUSAmedia

(NEW YORK) – Following the death of Herman Wallace, who was held in solitary confinement for nearly 40 years, Amnesty International today launches a campaign demanding the release of his co-defendant Albert Woodfox, who also has been held in cruel conditions of isolation following a deeply flawed trial.

‘Enough is enough,’ said Steven W. Hawkins, Amnesty International USA executive director. ‘Nothing can justify the cruel treatment that the state of Louisiana has inflicted on Albert Woodfox. It’s simply unconscionable for the state to hold him one day longer. His trial was flawed and his conviction has been overturned three separate times. Authorities must let the most recent court ruling stand and release Woodfox from prison. At this point, Louisiana officials seem to be out for vengeance; instead, we call on them to act in the interest of justice and see that he is released.’

Woodfox and Wallace were both convicted of the 1972 murder of prison guard Brent Miller. There was no physical evidence to link them to the crime and their convictions relied primarily on the dubious testimony of a sole eyewitness who received favorable treatment in return for his testimony.

Both men have robustly denied any involvement in the crime. They believe they were falsely implicated in the murder because of their political activism in prison as members of the Black Panther Party.

Earlier this year a federal judge overturned the conviction. However, Woodfox continues to languish in prison after the state of Louisiana appealed against his release.

During a legal process that has spanned four decades, Woodfox’s conviction has been overturned three times.

‘Were it not for the state of Louisiana’s dogged determination to appeal against these rulings, Woodfox would almost certainly be a free man by now,’ said Tessa Murphy, an Amnesty campaigner.

Wallace was released last week just days before he died of liver cancer. A federal judge who overturned his conviction said it would hold the state in contempt of court if it attempted to appeal the case.

For most of the last four decades, Woodfox has been confined to a small cell for 23 hours a day, denied access to meaningful human interaction and rehabilitation.

Prison records show that Albert has not committed any serious disciplinary infractions for years and that he doesn’t pose a threat to himself or others.

Take action: Demand the release of Albert Woodfox.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

Guantánamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes – video animation

This is posted on The Guardian: In March 2013, reports of a hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay, the US detention camp in Cuba, began to surface. Details were sketchy and were contradicted by statements from the US military. Now, using testimony from five detainees, this animated film reveals the daily brutality of life inside Guantánamo. Today there are 17 prisoners still on hunger strike, 16 of whom are being force-fed. Two are in hospital

Warning: contains scenes some viewers might find disturbing

شاهد هذا الفيلم مع ترجمة بالعربية

The "Muhammad Ali of the Criminal Justice System" Passes On

From: Angola3News:
Oct. 4th 2013

-Special thanks to PBS, who is currently honoring Herman by streaming the film Herman’s House. Watch the full movie here.

MEDIA COVERAGE:  NY Times  II  Amnesty International  II  Times-Picayune  II  ABC  II  Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC  II  NBC  II  The Independent, UK  II  UPI  II  Common Dreams  II Toronto Sun / Reuters  II  NY Daily News / Associated Press 


This morning we lost without a doubt the biggest, bravest, and brashest personality in the political prisoner world.  It is with great sadness that we write with the news of Herman Wallace’s passing.

Herman never did anything half way.  He embraced his many quests and adventures in life with a tenacious gusto and fearless determination that will absolutely never be rivaled.  He was exceptionally loyal and loving to those he considered friends, and always went out of his way to stand up for those causes and individuals in need of a strong voice or fierce advocate, no matter the consequences.

Anyone lucky enough to have spent any time with Herman knows that his indomitable spirit will live on through his work and the example he left behind.  May each of us aspire to be as dedicated to something as Herman was to life, and to justice.

Below is a short obituary/press statement for those who didn’t know him well in case you wish to circulate something.  Tributes from those who were closest to Herman and more information on how to help preserve his legacy by keeping his struggle alive will soon follow.
——————
 On October 4th, 2013, Herman Wallace, an icon of the modern prison reform movement and an innocent man, died a free man after spending an unimaginable 41 years in solitary confinement.

Herman spent the last four decades of his life fighting against all that is unjust in the criminal justice system, making international the inhuman plight that is long term solitary confinement, and struggling to prove that he was an innocent man.  Just 3 days before his passing, he succeeded, his conviction was overturned, and he was released to spend his final hours surrounded by loved ones.  Despite his brief moments of freedom, his case will now forever serve as a tragic example that justice delayed is justice denied.

Herman Wallace’s early life in New Orleans during the heyday of an unforgiving and unjust Jim Crow south often found him on the wrong side of the law and eventually he was sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for armed robbery.  While there, he was introduced to the Black Panther’s powerful message of self determination and collective community action and quickly became one of its most persuasive and ardent practitioners.

Not long after he began to organize hunger and work strikes to protest the continued segregation, endemic corruption, and horrific abuse rampant at the prison, he and his fellow panther comrades Albert Woodfox and Robert King were charged with murders they did not commit and thrown in solitary.  Robert was released in 2001 after 29 years in solitary but Herman remained there for an unprecedented 41 years, and Albert is still in a 6×9 solitary cell.

Herman’s criminal case ended with his passing, but his legacy will live on through a civil lawsuit he filed jointly with Robert and Albert that seeks to define and abolish long term solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment, and through his comrade Albert Woodfox’s still active and promising bid for freedom from the wrongful conviction they both shared.

Herman was only 9 days shy of 72 years old.

Services will be held in New Orleans. The date and location will be forthcoming.

For more information visit http://www.angola3.org and http://www.angola3news.com.

Herman Wallace in April 2013: All Power to the People!