Dan Berger Profile picture
Sep 6, 2018 29 tweets 12 min read
We need to pay attention to--and work to end--the use of solitary confinement. It is there, in the long-term lockdowns & sensory deprivation conditions that daily house upwards of 100,000 people in US, where the cruel endgame of American punishment is made clear. 1/
Solitary has always been a part of American prisons. It was central to the Quaker notion of "penitentiaries," only instead of penitence isolation led people to mental & physical decay. As well as rebellion & romance. See @activisthistory upenn.edu/pennpress/book… 2/
Isolation has long been the weapon of abuse prison systems use to punish dissidents, from people engaged in political protest to those who violate prison rules of segregation and compulsory (but institutionally prohibited) heterosexuality. E.g. press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book…
Yet despite & b/c isolation is so terrifying & dangerous, it has sparked rebellion. In the 1960s & 70s, some of the sharpest analysts of the ties between slavery & prison came people in isolation, as I wrote about here: uncpress.org/book/978146962… 4/
Prison officials knew that--& they were terrified. Their biggest weapon to control dissent was backfiring. So what did they do? More & meaner isolation. This is the rise of control units, the Supermax prison, the "maxi-max" prison--and ultimately Guantanamo. 5/
One of the first battles was the control unit at Marion federal prison, whose purpose the warden described as "to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and in society at large." See realcostofprisons.org/materials/Resi… 6/
The control unit gave way to rebellion--followed by a long-term lockdown, prisoners held in their cells for 22 hours/day, no programming, poisoned water. Marion held Black, Native, Puerto Rican, Chicano & white radicals, as well as apolitical & largely Black prisoners. 7/
Too few orgs fought against torturous conditions. The Committee to End the Marion Lockdown was almost alone in protesting this practice. See excellent book & resources by Nancy Kurshan and @freedomarchives for glimpse of their necessary work. freedomarchives.org/Out_of_Control/ 8/
In California, officials placed on permanent lockdown (actual or assumed) associates of George Jackson, which became basis for construction of Pelican Bay prison & its 23/7 lockdown. Goal was to prevent other George Jacksons, other rebellions. yalebooks.yale.edu/book/978030021… 9/
It worked for a time: the prison destroyed countless lives, some slowly, others quickly. But it also launched large, multiracial hunger strikes btw 2011-13 that have dramatically reshaped CA prisons & given new visibility to family members of prisoners nymag.com/news/features/… 10/
Since 1980s, courts have consistently sided w/ prison admin & expanded isolation. (Another reason #SCOTUSpick matters!) @solitarywatch has covered many heartbreaking stories of solitary as pure punishment. An example solitarywatch.com/2017/09/28/esc… 11/
Or Steven Jay Russell, whose fantastical escapes (portrayed by @JimCarrey in 2010 movie) have so embarrassed the state of Texas they sentenced him to 144 years in solitary. He is wheelchair bound now. He went to prison for insurance fraud. huffingtonpost.com/entry/steven-r… 12/
Courts have upheld not just existence of solitary but their most abject cruelty. In 2006 Beard v Banks case, #SCOTUS upheld by 6-2 vote Pennsylvania's ban on "magazines, newspapers, and photographs" from people in solitary. scotusblog.com/2006/06/todays… 13/
Beard v Banks sanctioned all of the permanent isolation of original prisons w/o any of the pretense of "penitence" or "rehabilitation." Pure punishment, designed to break people's minds & spirits. mitpress.mit.edu/books/story-cr… 14/
The logic of permanent isolation & total punishment has been upheld by US courts. It's why Guantanamo is still open, why Pelican Bay is still open, why Communication Management Units isolate prisoners who write essays about their conditions in prison. huffingtonpost.com/entry/how-the-… 15/
The radical prison organizing tradition has always made this point: what happens in prison is a reflection of what happens to all of society. The state violence inside is always a measure of how violent society is. And it begins with solitary confinement. 16/
Different states call their solitary/isolation practices different names, which makes it notoriously difficult to keep track of. Just like police agencies don't keep good data on people they kill: state violence excels in shadows. solitarywatch.com/2012/02/01/how… 17/
That's one of the many reasons why the ongoing #PrisonStrike is so important: the self-activity of prisoners is, once again, bringing light where officials don't want it to shine. The call to end #prisonslavery is a call to transform prisons as we know them. 18/
The #PrisonStrike2018 is not the only instance right now where the violence of prison is on full display. #Pennsylvania prisons are on lockdown while the state rolls out a series of get-tough strategies: prisoners can't receive mail directly, nor books or newspapers. 19/
And so the policies that have long governed solitary confinement are now being applied to the whole state. They're being rolled out by a Dem gov and a DOC Sec who fashions himself a reformer (even while championing more punitive prisons & expansion of isolation). 20/
These policies are harmful, immoral, & unnecessary. Not enough people raised a fuss when they happened to people in solitary confinement, & now they risk becoming the new normal for the whole state. Prisoners & advocates are mounting a response. I'll be linking resources next 21/
Here's the @aclupa statement on the lockdown. A friend incarcerated in PA was relieved to learn that the ACLU is challenging this assault on access to reading material. aclupa.org/news/2018/09/0… 22/
The @AbolitionistLC has been doing incredible work to free people from prison & fight environmentally & socially toxic prison conditions. They deserve all our support. abolitionistlawcenter.org 23/
The @AmistadLaw is another amazing legal organization protecting & securing rights of incarcerated people. They have represented & freed some of the most dedicated activists from PA prisons, many of them unjustly sentenced as juveniles. Support them! amistadlaw.org 24/
The @LifelinesPA project, an outgrowth of the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration, has provided stunning stories from people facing the other death penalty--life w/o parole--and their family members. An incredible resource. lifelines-project.org 25/
And the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration, which is connected to @DecarceratePA, can be accessed here. This energetic campaign was conceived & has been led by people on the inside b/c they know what is at stake. decarceratepa.info/CADBI 26/
There is also a petition to end the lockdown. Don't let Pennsylvania get away with this! We've got to end the lockdown and fight to restore everything they are trying to take away from incarcerated people. campaigns.organizefor.org/petitions/end-… 27/
Much more that could be said here, but I've got to wrap this up. I realize that I forgot hashtags (still learning the internet, apparently), so who knows if anyone will see this. But TL:DR version: #abolishsolitaryconfinement. What happens there happens everywhere. 28/fin
Postscript: A friend in PA writes that they are losing access to reading material & all mail must be sent to out-of-state processing center, to be scanned & emailed back to prison. Another absurd example of what @LoneberryWang calls carceral capitalism mitpress.mit.edu/books/carceral… 29/

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