Update on Political Prisoner Robert Seth Hayes – June 2017

This was emailed by Prisoner News, and the link to where it was originally posted is here, by Jericho Movement.

For more information on political prisoner Robert Seth Hayes, who has been in prison since 1973, check out this video/audio.
Or read this bio on Prisonersolidarity.

As people know, Seth has been having serious problems with his blood sugar levels in the past month, especially since finally receiving the insulin pump. While the process of properly calibrating the pump is rather complex, there has also apparently been some medical incompetence in the use of the pump (without the monitor).

Seth’s sugars have, if anything, always tended to run too low, leading to incidents of him passing out, having “Code Blues” called, and being rushed to an outside hospital on an emergency basis. However, since the installation of the pump, his sugars have been running high (in the 200+ to 400+ range). In one recent incident, the infusion set was improperly inserted, and Seth was receiving no insulin whatsoever. His sugars were in the 500-600 range, which is life-threatening.

After one of the nurses arbitrarily removed the pump more than a week ago, stating that Seth was “too delicate” to have it, Dr. Wolf (the prison doctor) has been very concerned, since this is totally undermining her authority as a physician. This occurred during a weekend, when Dr. Wolf is not at Sullivan. (Also, the pump was removed, but the infusion set was still inserted into Seth’s body for 2 days after that. Luckily, he did not develop an infection.)

Dr. Wolf had Seth in the “infirmary” all last week, and that is where I visited him on Father’s Day. The last time I visited Seth when he was in the “infirmary,” he was allowed to come up to the regular visiting room. However, this time I had to visit in the “infirmary,” which was an educational experience for me. When I arrived to the visiting room, the Sergeant called down to the “infirmary” to ask if Seth could come up to the visiting room. I also asked if I could at least bring down some water and light snackage, and was told that I could not.

When I was on the elevator to the infirmary, I asked the CO, who was not wearing his name badge, when visiting was over, and he told me “We will kick you out of here at 2 p.m.” This was fine with me, as the bus driver had requested we all come out with the 2:30 escort.

So Seth and I are in a locked glass-walled small visiting room right in front of the COs’ desk. At around 11:30 a.m., the technician came to do the finger stick. He was very professional, placing the vial of insulin on the table so Seth (and I) could see exactly what he was being injected with. Seth stated that his sugars had been at 70 in the morning, but the fingerstick monitor showed his sugars were 280+. The technician then injected him with 6 cc’s of insulin.

So, the standard practice is that the patient is to eat shortly after receiving the insulin, even if the sugars are high. This is to prevent a precipitous drop and allow for a gradual decline in the sugars. Since the food cart had gone by shortly before that, we had to make sure that Seth got his lunch. Luckily, one of the nurses happened to arrive at that time, and I knocked on the glass to gain her attention. I asked for the lunch tray, but she could not hear me, so I made an eating motion, and she went down to the hall to speak with the COs, and then shook her head. So I made the motion of Seth getting an injection, and she nodded her head and the CO arrived with the food tray within 5 minutes. So kudos to the nurse who did the right thing and did not let herself be intimidated!

So I finally got to see the infamous “Class B” diet that Dr. Koenigsmann insists is an adequate diabetic diet. I don’t know where he went to medical school, but he obviously doesn’t know much about diabetes and nutrition. The lunch consisted of white pasta, a large hamburger on a white roll (with ketchup), and beets, all of which were cold by the time Seth got to eat. (Of course, since Seth’s sugars are high, let’s make sure we give him even more sugar!)

Since they keep giving Seth milk with every meal even though he is lactose intolerant (Seth has had diarrhea off and on for almost a week), I took the little milk container. This caused the CO (same one who brought me down to the infirmary on the elevator: a tall, slim white guy with glasses) to leap out from behind the desk, rush into the visiting room and come within an inch of physically assaulting me. He was screaming at me “That’s what I thought! You did this on purpose so you can eat his food!” with his fists up as if he was going to hit me. I haven’t seen anyone so enraged in a long time. I remained calm and replied, “I was told when I came in that I could not bring anything to eat in here. I’m only drinking the milk because Seth is lactose intolerant, and this gives him diarrhea.” The thought of anyone actually wanting to eat this food (which I would not serve even to a rat) was so hilarious that Seth and I burst out laughing. We couldn’t help ourselves. We were laughing so hard we were practically in tears. Meanwhile, CO FNU LNU (First Name Unknown Last Name Unknown) quickly locked the bathroom door before once again locking us into the visiting room and Seth literally forced himself to eat the hamburger and some of the beets.

Since the inside bathroom was locked, I asked to use the bathroom and thus got an informal tour of the infirmary. One thing I can certainly say is that it is freezing in there. Seth said that luckily, since all the beds are not occupied, he can grab an extra blanket from one of them.

Since I had been told by this same CO when I came in that visiting in the infirmary ended at 2 p.m., I was not concerned about the time, but it certainly seemed longer than it should have been. (There is no clock.) When the escort came to get me, it was already 3 p.m., so of course that meant I was late for the bus. I guess this was FNU LNU’s petty revenge for me having made sure, with the assistance of the nurse, that Seth was given his food (if you can call it that) in a timely manner.So I commented to the escort that I was late for my bus, and she replied, “That’s your responsibility.’ I replied, “Well, since I was told that infirmary visitation ends at 2 p.m., and since I have not yet developed the ability to pass through locked doors and walls, there wasn’t too much I could do about it.”

So I went back up to the regular visiting room with this young woman CO and waited for the rest of the visitors who were there. As we were walking out, we visitors were conversing. People asked where I had been, and I explained that we were visiting in the infirmary, where visitation is supposed to end at 2 p.m. I also commented the FNU LNU seemed to be hyperactive and extremely aggressive and possibly should be given some antipsychotic medication to calm him down.

When I finally arrived outside, it was 3:15 p.m. and the bus was not there. Since the prison now insists we cannot even put our cell phones in the lockers, my phone was also on the bus. I nice woman offered me a ride if I was going toward Albany, and I replied: “Oh, the bus probably went to Woodbourne to pick up people there and will come back for me.” Then I saw the bus coming up the hill. Jeff, the bus driver, said the COs said to leave me behind, and I said, “Yes, they did that once at Mohawk when a visitor was caught in the count and they wouldn’t let him leave. I went inside to see what the delay was, and the COs said to leave without him. I replied; “You are COs. You do that. We are community; we don’t leave our people behind.” Jeff smiled and said, “Exactly. I’ve been doing this for 30 years and have never left anyone stranded in the middle of nowhere!”

Seth called as I was getting off the bus in the Bronx to see how I was doing. He was concerned because I had not had anything to eat. So I told him not to worry about that and asked what his sugars were at 4 p.m. At that time, his sugars were at 202, but if he hadn’t eaten, they probably would have been at around 60 or 70. Seth is to see Dr. Wolf today, June 19, 2017, to discuss the current situation and see what next steps are. Of course, Seth wants to have the insulin pump and monitor and so does the endocrinologist at Coxsackie.

We have an update from Seth this evening, Monday, June 19, 2017 on the outcome of that conversation with Dr. Wolf. When I asked him what his sugars were today, he told me that not everyone is as professional as the technician who was there on Sunday, and he was not told what his glucose level was. He is still in the infirmary, but hopes to be out of there soon. In the meantime, people can write to Seth:

Robert Seth Hayes #74A2280
Sullivan C.F.
P.O. Box 116
Fallsburg, NY 12733-0116

Send him a get well card or write him a letter. Seth loves corresponding with people, and it also shows the prison that people are paying attention.

Also, you can call the facility at 845-434-2080. Ask to speak with the Superintendent and state you are concerned about Robert Seth Hayes #74A2280. Be polite but firm and say you are calling to make sure Seth gets the insulin pump and monitor returned to him as a life-saving measure for his diabetes.

Anne Lamb
NYC Jericho Movement

Seth wants to start a campaign about the issue of the COs, not the doctor and nurses, making medical decisions in the infirmary. Sullivan is supposed to be a regional medical hub, but the doctor and nurses are mostly upstairs in the clinic, and the COs are running the show in the infirmary. I will write this up in a follow-up shortly.

To contribute to ongoing efforts supporting Robert Seth Hayes, please donate online at:
https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/810a58

NYC Jericho received word on May 9, 2017 from Seth’s lawyer, Eve Rosahn, that his Article 78 appeal of his parole denial was also denied. You can read the decision here.


This is from Prisonersolidarity.net:

Seth has always maintained his innocence.

Life in Prison

Jailed for over 30 years, Seth has long since served the time he was sentenced to and while in prison he has worked as a librarian, pre release advisor, and AIDS councilor. He has remained drug and alcohol free throughout his entire period of incarceration and has maintained a charge free record in prison. Seth first came up for parole in 1998, but prison officials refused to release him and gave him another two years, after which he was again denied parole. Prison officials are effectively punishing him for having been a member of the Black Panther Party, and of having remained true to his ideals after 30 years behind bars.

Seth has been diagnosed with Hepatitis C and adult onset Diabetes since the year 2000. Unfortunately, despite his repeated requests Seth has not been receiving adequate health care from Clinton Correction Facility, (the prison where he is currently being held) and his condition has steadily deteriorated.

Cecily McMillan (OWS Activist) Released from Rikers Island: Uses Platform to Challenge Systemic Injustices Incarcerated Women Face Daily

This is from: SparrowMedia, July 2nd 2014

[NEW YORK, NY] Imprisoned Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan was released from Rikers Island on Wednesday morning, July 2nd, after serving 58 days. She spoke publicly at a 1pm press conference outside the jail’s outer gates on Hazen Street.

This was the first time she was able to speak publicly after testifying in her trial. Cecily’s controversial trial garnered international media attention. She was supported by elected officials, community leaders, and celebrities. While serving her term at Rikers Island she was visited by members of Russian rock group Pussy Riot, themselves unjustly imprisoned in 2012.

The Following is Cecily’s Statement as read to members of the press at 1pm EST:

“Fifty nine days ago, The City and State of New York labeled me a criminal. Millionaires and billionaire–who had a vested interest in silencing a peaceful protest about the growing inequalities in America–coerced the justice system, manipulated the evidence, and suddenly I became dangerous and distinguished from law-abiding citizens. On May 5th, the jury delivered its verdict, the judge deemed me undesirable, and officers drove me across that bridge and barred me within. On the outside, I had spent my time fighting for freedom and rights. On the inside, I discovered a world where words like freedom and rights don’t even exist in the first place. I walked in with one movement, and return to you a representative of another. That bridge right there, that divides the city from Rikers Island, divides two worlds – today I hope to bring them closer together. Crossing back over, I have a message to you from several concerned citizens currently serving time at the Rose M. Singer Center.

“Incarceration is meant to prevent crime. Its purpose is to penalize and then return us to the outside world ready to start anew. The world I saw at Rikers isn’t concerned with that. Many of the tactics employed are aimed at simple dehumanization. In the interests of returning the facility to its mission and restoring dignity to its inmates, we, the women of Rikers, have several demands that will make this system more functional. These were collectively drafted for me to read before you today.

“First of all, we demand that we be provided with adequate, safe, and timely healthcare at all times. That, of course, includes mental health care services and the ability to request female doctors if desired at all times for safety and comfort. We often have to wait for up to 12 hours a day for a simple clinic visit, and occasionally 12 hours a day for up to a full week before we see anyone.

“The women of Rikers feel a special sense of urgency for this demand because of a particular event that occurred recently. About a week ago, our friend Judith died as a result of inadequate medical care. Judith had been in RSMC for a while, but was transferred to our dorm 4 East A, where I was housed, only a few days before her death. She had recently been in the infirmary for a back problem, and had been prescribed methadone pills for the pain for quite a while. A few days before she died, they decided to change the medicine to liquid despite her dissent. They gave her a dosage of 190mg, which any doctor will tell you is a dangerous dosage, far higher than what anyone should be taking unless it is a serious emergency. Judith was not allowed to turn down the medicine or visit the clinic to get the dosage adjusted.

“After three days on that dosage, Judith could no longer remember who or where she was and had begun coughing up blood, accompanied with what we believe were chunks of her liver. We attempted unsuccessfully to get her medical treatment for the entire day, at one point being told that this was “not an emergency,” despite the fact that Judith was covered in blood. That night they finally removed her to the hospital, where she remained in critical condition before passing away a few days later. This was a clear case of medical malpractice, both with the ridiculously high dosage of methadone and the refusal of adequate treatment. Stories like this are far too common in Rikers Island, and we demand that no more of our sisters be lost to sickness and disease as a result of inadequate medical care.

“Our next demand is that Corrections Officers should be required to follow the protocol laid out for them at all times, and that at some point soon that protocol should be examined to make sure that all rules and procedures are in the best interests of the inmates. We also demand that we have a clear and direct means to file a grievance that will be taken seriously and examined fully, so that Officers can be properly disciplined and removed from the area quickly when they abuse or endanger us.

“Recently my friend Alejandra went to file a grievance about being denied access to medical treatment for a concussion until she awoke one morning unable to move. When she met with the captain after filing the grievance, she was presented with a different sheet and a different complaint than the one she had provided and was forced to sign it. Inmates should be able to trust that situations like that will not concern, and that our safety and dignity be respected by those designated to supervise us. There is a clear protocol for officers already laid out in the inmate handbook, but it is seldom followed. Officers are allowed to make up the rules as they go and get away with it, which we find unacceptable.

“Our final demand is that we be provided with rehabilitative and educational services that will help us to heal our addictions and gain new skills, and that will make it much easier for us to adjust to the outside and achieve employment when we are released. Specifically, for our education we would like access to classes beyond GED completion, maintenance, and basic computer skills, access to a library, and English classes for those attempting to learn the language. We feel that the addition of these programs would significantly help us prepare for release and reentry into the world, which would lower re-incarceration rates.

“We also feel strongly that Rikers Island needs to have much better drug rehabilitation programs. Many women who come through here are addicts, and many women are imprisoned here because they are addicts. That’s the area in which reentry rates seems to be the highest. This is likely a direct result of the failure of the meager programs that we are given. Thus, it seems only logical that serious and effective drug rehabilitation programs be provided to those who need them, assuming that the Department of Corrections would like to help work to achieve a better, healthier society and keep as many people as possible out of jail.

“Working with my sisters to organize for change in the confines of jail has strengthened my belief in participatory democracy and collective action. I am inspired by the resilient community I have encountered in a system that is stacked against us. The only difference between people we call “law-abiding” citizens and the women I served time with is the unequal access to resources. Crossing the bridge I am compelled to reach back and recognize the two worlds as undivided. The court sent me here to frighten me and others into silencing our dissent, but I am proud to walk out saying that the 99% is, in fact, stronger than ever. We will continue to fight until we gain all the rights we deserve as citizens of this earth.”

Cecily McMillan is a New York City activist and graduate student wrongfully imprisoned for felony assault of a police officer after an incident at an Occupy Wall Street event on March 17, 2012. Officer Grantley Bovell grabbed her right breast from behind and lifted her into the air, at which other officers joined Officer Bovell in beating McMillan until she had a series of seizures. She was convicted on May 5th after a trial in which Judge Ronald Zweibel disallowed key pieces of evidence from the defense. On May 19th she was sentenced to a 90-day sentence and 5 years of probation after a large public campaign for leniency, which included an appeal to the judge signed by 9 of the 12 jurors, who thought she should be given no further jail time. The sentence on this charge is typically a term of 2-7 years of incarceration.

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!

New message from Jaan Laaman for Lynne Stewart

This comes via email and can also be found here, written by: Jaan Laaman,

In the past few weeks, many people have been trying to raise the alarm about Lynne Stewart, the 73 year old Human Rights attorney, dying of cancer in a federal prison in Texas.  These include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has called for Lynne’s immediate release and has urged people in the United States to also raise their voices.  Dick Gregory, the entertainer and activist has begun a total solid food fast until Lynne Stewart is released.  These noble calls and actions have to reach much further though, all the way to the White House.
Lynne Stewart has spent her life fighting for justice, peace and Human Rights, especially for the poor, people of color, activists and even revolutionaries.  Lynne has been in prison since 2009 for too vigorously defending a Court assigned defendant, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman.
Right now Lynne Stewart has stage four cancer that has spread to several areas of her body.  She is dying.  Federal law allows for medical and compassionate release.  But the release process has to be initiated by the warden of the prison the person is held in.  The warden of the Federal Prison in Carswell, Texas, has refused to begin the compassionate release process for Lynne Stewart.
This is not just wrong, it is an outrage and you can do something about it.  Go to www.lynnestewart.org and sign the petition asking for Lynne Stewart’s release on medical and compassionate grounds.  This is a simple, quick task. Over 8,000 people have already signed.  Please, if you haven’t yet signed it, do it now; and equally important, tell all your friends to also sign the petition and help save the life of a courageous wonderful woman.
This is Jaan Laaman, your political prisoner voice, coming to you from the federal prison in Tucson, Arizona.  Until next time, remember, “Freedom is a Constant Struggle!”

Oregon DOC Attempting to Kill Kevin “Rashid” Johnson!

Posted on by kersplebedeb, on Rashid’s website:

Kevin “Rashid” Johnson is a New Afrikan Communist prison organizer and intellectual in the United States and one of the founders of the NABPP-PC (New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter). He has spent most of his adult life in the prison system and continually been subjected to political repression and violence in retaliation for his organizing efforts. He is currently held at Snake River Correctional Inst in Oregon.

After a long and uncharacteristic silence in communication with him and no information on his circumstances – a supporter received the following letter from another prisoner:

 “This is about Rashid. We need a lot of help. They are trying to kill him. On Jan. 31 they put something in his food that made him crazy. On Feb. 2 he took 30 pills. They did not do anything to get the pills out of him…. On Jan. 4 [sic; I assume he means Feb. 4] he ate 3 razor blades. This is all on videotape. They lied and said the X-ray showed nothing. The [blades] are still in him right now. 

He has not eaten since Feb. 3. He has not drunk anything since Feb. 5…. He is passing out and they won’t do anything to help him…. Said he is the one that won’t eat or drink so they are not helping him at all. He is peeing blood and has bad kidney pains…. Med staff will not give him IV fluids…. [As of Feb. 10 he had] lost over 16 pounds. His blood pressure is 191/100 and his urine is the color of coffee….”


It is of the upmost importance to put ALL POSSIBLE PRESSURE on the Oregon DOC AS SOON AS POSSIBLE in order to protect this comrades life!

Please call Snake River at 541-881-5000 and dial 0 to speak with a staff member and express your concern over the situation:

Also call the DOC Inspector General at (877) 678-4222 and Oregon DOC at 503-945-9090.

Fax number for Snake River Superintendent’s Office is (541)881-5460.

Email address of Snake River Superintendent Mark Nooth is mark.s.nooth@state.or.us.

Snake River is open 8-5 MST.  Further details on the situation and support actions will be posted here as they become available.

Working the room: Inmates in solitary confinement tell their stories and move people to action against torture and systemic oppression

From: SF Bay View

January 30, 2013by Destiny N. Thomas

Inmates trapped in segregated housing within prisons across the state of California are banding together, setting aside their differences, to expose the human toll of torturous living conditions inside state prisons. While undergoing abusive treatment and sensory deprivation, these organizers have managed to ignite calls for prison reform and self-sufficient communities in a way that transcends the very walls that house them – bringing a voice to a population whose silence is mandated by codes of conduct.

J. Heshima Denham after hunger strike 0711, headshot, web

Heshima Denham

Heshima Denham provides a glimpse of what a day in the life of a prisoner housed in SHU torture units is like. He maintains a daily exercise regimen from within his cell, as he is hardly ever allowed to leave his cell. While the small television in his cell shows the daily news of global oppression, the sharp pain Denham has experienced in his side as a result of a previous hunger strike is his constant reminder of the importance of surviving and resisting while housed in the Corcoran SHU.

The food selection never alternates and is designated by day; it is served at below room temperature, in small portions. In an attempt to maintain some degree of humanness, Denham greets guards with a “thank you” only to be met by laughter. Because bathing is not permitted on a daily basis, Denham takes a birdbath in his cell’s sink.

His day is filled with self-assigned research, caseloads, activism and journalism. The law library at Corcoran is indefinitely off limits. This adds to Denham’s frustrations. Where a person outside of a SHU torture unit would seek other inmates for education on legal and political matters, SHU confines enforce sensory deprivation, so communication is prohibited altogether. The only form of permitted communication, mail, often arrives an entire month after its postmark. To top it all off, Denham has grown accustomed to waking up with migraines, as he has been exposed to constant illumination for 12 years.

The effects of constant illumination

Constant illumination, an unvarying exposure to light around the clock, is a customary practice in prisons nationwide. The effects of continuous exposure to light are vast. Courts have yet to officially recognize this as cruel and unusual punishment as put forth by the Eighth Amendment. One court has cited the benefit to the safety of guards as outweighing the damaging effects of the conditions, although the brightness of the light could possibly be evidence of torture. It was found, constant illumination could only be deemed a violation of human rights if it “causes sleep deprivation or leads to other serious physical or mental health problems.”
However, studies show, constant illumination leads to dramatic decreases in dopamine levels, a biological chemical that affects a person’s ability to control body movement and other sensory-related bodily functions. This leaves people vulnerable to extreme anxiety, hallucinations, decreased motor skills, and likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease.

In 2008, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) launched a documentary titled “Total Isolation.” Six volunteers agreed to be confined to a cell, much like those of solitary confinement in prisons, and live alone in complete darkness for a total of 48 hours. Before being locked away, volunteers were tested for “visual memory, information processing, verbal fluency and suggestibility.”

By the end of the two-day study, volunteers were unable to maintain any meaningful sense of time, they experienced hallucinations, both visual and physiological, and one volunteer was certain his sheets had been soaked. In the two-day time period, volunteers lost the ability to perform basic tasks like thinking of words beginning with the letter “f.”

The participants in “Total Isolation” understood they would be released soon and they entered into the cells without the fear of being abused by staff or retaliated against for expressing discomfort. Prisoners trapped in solitary confinement in the United States have none of these assurances. One could only imagine the ways this would amplify the effects of sensory deprivation.

Solitary confinement a violation of human rights globally

Many have asked the question: Is solitary confinement torture? It is. The United States goes on record as being against inhumane treatment of international prisoners while contradicting itself right here in the United States. The United States – reluctantly – signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture in 1988, three years after Afghanistan, a nation the United States has accused of inhumane practices. One of the main themes in this document is the emphasis on the definition of torture: “any state-sanctioned action by which severe pain or suffering, mental or physical, is intentionally inflicted for obtaining information, punishment, intimidation or discrimination.”

Yes, solitary confinement is torture; it is a violation of some of the most basic of human rights; and the agents of the state responsible for carrying out this abuse need to be exposed.


California’s Pelican Bay State Prison has 1,000 cells delegated to segregation and torture and many prisons nationally assign segregated housing for indeterminate periods of time. Heshima Denham, a prisoner in the torturous SHU at Corcoran State Prison, explains the conditions barred by the United Nations Convention Against Torture virtually “define the validation, indeterminate-SHU and debriefing processes” of state prisons.

Denham goes on to explain, “You’ll only get out of SHU if you parole, debrief or die.” Debriefing, here, is the state’s term for coercing a prisoner to give up information about another prisoner in exchange for being released from the SHU. Often times, the information an inmate is forced to confirm is imposed by prison officials. Whether the information gathered is true or not – this type of coercion leads to murder at the hands of general population inmates and is torture, as defined by the United Nations.

In 1890, the Supreme Court in James J. Medley’s request to be released from solitary confinement found it to be unconstitutional for a prisoner to be held to a sentence handed down by the courts only to then be subjected to more sentencing, in the form of indeterminate segregation, at the will of prison officials. While this same case did not result in a finding that solitary confinement is entirely unconstitutional, justices went on record noting the devastating blow to mental and physical health that these conditions cause.

A common challenge to solitary confinement is the Eighth Amendment – a claim of cruel and unusual punishment. No cases have successfully proven the conditions in solitary confinement are, in fact, cruel and unusual at the United States Supreme Court level.

Where courts have agreed constant darkness poses a hardship on physical and mental health, prisons now enact constant illumination. Where a prison administration finds segregated prisoners’ complaints may be valid, parallel conditions to those of solitary confinement are then imposed on those in general population, making it difficult for prisoners to prove their hardships are due to conditions unique to solitary confinement.


The Supreme Court requires, to prove an Eighth Amendment violation, prison officials must be shown as having been purposefully unresponsive to the harshness of conditions. In Sandin v. Conner (1995), the Supreme Court noted, if a move to segregated population led to an “atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life,” a prisoner would have a cause of action.

The vagueness of the Sandin v. Conner requirements for proving Eighth Amendment violations – the precondition of proving something is in fact harsh and then showing prison officials were aware of the harshness and took no action of improvement – has led to prison officials imposing policies and conditions that conceal the true harshness of conditions.

The courts do not require a significant improvement in conditions when harshness is demonstrated. So prisons make minor changes that satisfy the need for action but don’t necessarily improve conditions – barring inmates from claiming intentional harm was inflicted on them.

For example, where courts have agreed constant darkness poses a hardship on physical and mental health, prisons now enact constant illumination. Where a prison administration finds segregated prisoners’ complaints may be valid, parallel conditions to those of solitary confinement are then imposed on those in general population, making it difficult for prisoners to prove their hardships are due to conditions unique to solitary confinement.

The state’s evasive tactics for avoiding bad publicity

Several inmate organized hunger strikes have brought attention to the harsh conditions of solitary confinement. Prisons now face pressure from the media and public who demand immediate changes to prison policies. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) claims to be in the midst of making changes to the SHU assignment and release procedures. However, there is no mention of changes being made to actual conditions within SHU, where significant degradation of health begins to set in within the first several hours of isolation and sensory deprivation.

Specifically, the CDCR claims to be making temporary changes to the “way [they] manage gangs.” Institutional Gang Investigators are establishing new gang profiling tactics, no longer singling people out as gang members by association or symbols. This policy change does not equate to the immediate release of inmates already confined to SHU for tattoos, artwork and writings as a result of the previous policy. In fact, a new “step-down” program has the potential to increase time spent in the SHU.

What the CDCR says will not change is the “option” to debrief – now formally called “cooperation.” The new policy grants more arbitrary power to prison officials when deciding to lock someone up in the SHU.

Self-sacrifice and the toll of resisting behind bars

Organizing against capitalism while behind bars poses a significant risk to the physical and mental health of politically organized prisoners. While participating in nation-wide hunger strikes in 2011, Heshima Denham lost approximately 45 pounds. Denham’s story is not unique. Many prisoners succumb to the stress on their bodies entirely.

Knowing inmates were experiencing health complications as a result of the hunger strikes, in addition to outright denying strike participants food, the CDCR “revised its medical evaluation policy for hunger strikers to minimize the amount of medical evaluation and data … They have ceased taking vital signs – blood pressure, heart rate, temperature – altogether and are weighing [inmates] only twice a week unless “it appears [they] need it.”

One wonders to what extent retaliatory SHU housing impacts a prisoner’s quality of life and will for freedom. Solitary Watch, a web-based collective with the aim of exposing the realities of solitary confinement, tells the story of Armando Morales (CDCR No. P-80673) who hanged himself to death in his solitary confinement cell at the California State Prison in Corcoran on Aug. 28, 2012. “He was found on his cell floor with a shoelace and a blue blanket wrapped around his neck.” Another inmate housed in Morales’ unit reported Morales was intimidated and threatened by IGI efforts to force him to debrief.

Inmate calls to action

The New Afrikan Revolutionary Nation (NARN) is a community of Black people who seek transformative discourse, nationwide networking and an end to systemic oppression. Their common interest in anti-oppression work unites them, even while behind bars. The NARN Collective Think Tank (NCTT) is active in the torturous SHUs of California’s prison system.

'NARN Collective Think Tank NCTT' logoInspired by the Occupy Wall Street movements across the country, Occupy NCTT works to develop and implement programs, policies and initiatives that align themselves with “Occupy” objectives and community activists globally. The NCTT is a collective that ultimately works toward the day when “freedom, justice, equality and human rights are extended to all mankind,” heavily aligning with the 10 Core Objectives of the global Occupy movement.

Heshima Denham, a very active coordinator of the NCTT, works daily with fellow members to develop “programs that improve the daily lives and material living conditions of the people and contribute to the end of oppression of man/woman by man/woman.” Denham likens systemic oppression to a wooden board, saying the likelihood of shattering that board is far greater when the hand – the fingers representing individual groups resisting oppression – is a clinched fist, as opposed to an open hand of stiff fingers.

Following this rationale, according to Denham, solidarity does not require a monolithic stance. With that, the NCTT seeks to rally solidarity through a central blog for the purposes of networking amongst interest groups, activists and those with the common goal of ending oppression – fortifying the proverbial fist.

NCTT Closed Circuit Economic Initiative

The NCTT Closed Circuit Economic Initiative was born out of the realization that lower income communities – not just Black ones – do not spend money in ways that enrich their own communities. The idea is that a neighborhood is more likely to thrive when that community is self-sufficient and invests close to home. The Closed Circuit Economic Initiative solicits the help of the broader Occupy movement in educating communities about the benefits of investing in one’s own neighborhood and about the program itself.

By surveying the community, organizers will be able to identify which goods and services are of greatest importance to that particular community. Once those goods and services have been identified, the most common good or service will become the basis for a cooperative economic venture in that community, thereby keeping funds circulating within the community for that particular commodity.

Essentially, with each member of the community committing to a minimal monthly financial contribution of even $1, a grocery store would be kept running on a monthly basis until it could sustain itself. The business would be jointly owned by all who contributed, with those who have technical expertise also owning a share and contributing their know-how to the maintenance of the business.

Sixty percent of profits would be paid to members of the community who contributed and 40 percent would be kept in an interest-bearing account. The money from this savings account would then be used to purchase and support additional businesses that support the initial venture.

NCTT Sustainable Community Agricultural Commune

The NCTT is very vocal about the need for accessible, quality food and resources in lower income communities. The Sustainable Community Agricultural Commune relies on alliances with Occupy the Hood and Occupy Wall Street. It calls for a joint effort in taking inventory of all land on a per-community basis – making note of who owns what – for the purpose of converting unused land into community-owned agricultural land. With the incorporation of innovative farming techniques and minimal contributions of community members in the form of labor and/or $1 per month, per resident, the commune would be able to distribute 60 percent of the revenue brought in by the agricultural space and farmers’ markets to community members and utilize the rest of the profits for expansion.

The belief here is that the availability of healthy, affordable food promotes healthy living, creates community-based jobs and lessens the likelihood of incriminating activities associated with the present lack of resources and income in underserved communities.

NCTT Block Vote Initiative

In response to tainted political representation and political corruption, the NCTT proposes a uniform platform centered on interests that generally improve the quality of life for those who seek to dismantle systemic oppression. The idea is that through surveys, public forums, community education and dialogue, the agreed upon will of the people participating in the initiative becomes the national platform for their public political voice.

A Voter Access Fund would work to ensure people are properly registered and prepared to vote. Where a policy or political action is either supported or challenged by the Block Vote Initiative collectively, related public actions would take place to insure sufficient public awareness. The pre-established initiatives would then become a national push for legislation. The proposed initial actions include:

  • A total ban on corporate lobbying and “strategic analysts” during elections;
  • An establishment of community-based parole boards so that the actual community the incarcerated person is returning to is able to make their own decisions about whether or not a prisoner is ready to return home, as opposed to probation decisions being left in the hands of law enforcement, the DA and members of traditional parole boards typically not as interested in community well-being and sustainability;
  • Comprehensive, universal healthcare for those earning under $25,000 and families earning under $50,000.

'Occupy the Beat' graphic by Heshima Denham

Occupy the Beat

The three proposed NCTT initiatives are in need of publicity, funding and organizers. One mode for raising the necessary startup resources is Occupy the Beat, a benefit concert series designed to create awareness about oppression and raise funds for the development of these and future initiatives.

A Nationwide Call to Unity

Heshima Denham explains a ban against media interviewing prisoners has meant endless retaliation by prison authorities and a lack of transparency that leads to increased prisoner vulnerability, especially following the last two hunger strikes. This leaves mainstream media in a position to misrepresent and further “dehumanize” the prison population. Without the protection of direct media attention – and with newly incorporated prison medical procedures for those participating in hunger strikes – prisoners need to mobilize to protect one another from within.

With that, an “Agreement to End Hostilities” was issued to take effect on Oct. 10, 2012, by a group of prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison. The significance of this document is in its call to end racial tensions within prisons for the sake of banding together to demand prison reforms and improved housing conditions. Specifically,

“beginning on Oct. 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups in SHU, ad-seg, general population and county jails will officially cease. This means that from this date on, all racial group hostilities need to be at an end. And if personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues!”
The agreement, signed by members of each racial group represented in the prison system, warns inmates of possible administrative retaliation and divisive tactics, but encourages inmates to remain vigilant and move in solidarity.

By taking to heart the experiences shared by Heshima Denham, housed in the Corcoran State Prison’s Secure Housing Unit (SHU), we learn that one of the greatest gestures of support and reassurance of the safety of prisoners who are vocal about their circumstances is constant visibility. The danger and risk associated with being in prison is magnified if at any point a prisoner becomes just another voiceless number.

This notion is not far from the realities underserved communities face daily. The reality is that all evidence points to capitalism. To put it succinctly, yes, solitary confinement is torture; it is a violation of some of the most basic of human rights; and the agents of the state responsible for carrying out this abuse need to be exposed.

Destiny Thomas, a graduate student at the California Institute of Integral Studies studying prison activism with Anthropology Department Chair Andrej Grubacic, can be reached at destinynthomas@gmail.com. Readers are encouraged to write to Heshima Denham, J-38283, Cor SHU 4B-1L-43, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran CA 93212.

A Weekend in Texas: Through the Labyrinth of Steel Doors

This is a beautiful and sad story about visiting a prisoner of conscience in the USA, about the state of the country and the Kafkaesque, Orwellian, inhumane world of visiting someone in prison. We only publish a small part, but do read the rest on CounterPunch.

By David Rovics, singer, songwriter, poet, critic and sharp observer:

From: CounterPunch, July 13-15th, 2012
….
Thor is even more reserved than the last guard, and clearly doesn’t want to be in the position of telling Marie her visit is over. He waits patiently while we say our last good-byes. Marie walks down a hallway where I’m not allowed to follow, smiling but with tears in her eyes. Thor and I walk together through the labyrinth of steel doors together in silence.

When we’re outside I venture a little communication. “I wish she could have a guitar,” I say.

Read the full story here.