Two centuries ago, America was a pioneer in the use of punitive isolation. Now it is pioneering a refinement: the use of solitary without end.
Before The Law,Jennifer Gonnerman, writing for The New Yorker, tells the story of Kalief Browder, who was unjustly accused of taking a backpack. He spent the next three years on Rikers Island before the charges were dismissed.
Last week, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project uploaded a YouTube video of Laverne Cox reading a letter written by a New York State inmate named Synthia China Blast, who described living in solitary confinement for the last decade. However, that video has since, at Cox's request, been taken down. (TW: descriptions of murder, sexual violence) [more inside]
Twilight in the Box. "The suicide statistics, the squalor and the recidivism haven’t ended solitary confinement. Maybe the brain studies will." [Via]
Solitary Lives - old and recent photos of inmates, plus a short snippet about each. California Prisons' Photo ban Leaves Legacy of Blurred Identities
On Wednesday, William Van Poyck was executed by the state of Florida for murdering a prison guard during a botched 1987 attempt to free an imprisoned friend. Poyck spent 25 years in solitary confinement on death row, during which time he wrote to his sister about his life in prison. Since 2005 she has published those letters to a blog called Death Row Diary. 'Poyck used to write about everything from the novels and history books he was reading and shows he watched on PBS to the state of the world and his own philosophy of life – punctuated by news of the deaths of those around him, from illness, suicide, and execution.' Excerpts. His final letter.
On The Tamms Poetry Committee: "One of the artists' initiatives was "photo requests from solitary." Prisoners on solitary would request photos and professional photographers would then shoot the request and send the photo back. The gallery of prisoners requests is surprising and poignant."
"'If you can't do the time, don't do the crime.' So goes the old saying. Yet conditions in some American facilities are so obscene that they amount to a form of extrajudicial punishment." Mother Jones is profiling "America's 10 Worst Prisons." Facilities were chosen for the list based on "...three years of research, correspondence with prisoners, and interviews with reform advocates." [more inside]
William Blake has been held in solitary confinement at Elmira Correctional Facility in New York State for nearly 26 years, after he murdered a Sheriff's Deputy and wounded another in a failed escape attempt back in 1987. Sentenced to 77 years to life, he will be eligible for parole in 2064. But Blake has no chance of ever leaving prison alive, and almost no chance of ever leaving solitary — a fate he considers "a sentence worse than death." (Via) [more inside]
Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America's Prisons. "We throw thousands of men in the hole for the books they read, the company they keep, the beliefs they hold. Here's why." An article on solitary confinement (previously) by Shane Bauer, one of the three American hikers who were detained in Iran in 2009 (previously).
"The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?"
The fire tower, or fire lookout, was one of the main wildfire-fighting tools of forest services across the world for much of the 20th century. Most are small cabins, alone or placed on 80-foot steel towers; these are then placed on top of peaks, giving them an unobstructed view of the surrounding countryside. (There are some exceptions, of course.) Operators in the towers, equipped with binoculars and firefinders, spent their days searching for smoke or lightning strikes, which would be pinpointed and radioed in for firefighters. (The lookout operators, who staff the towers for a season at a time straight, have a life that is generally pretty solitary and quiet, though sometimes rather intense.) At peak, there were thousands of fire towers across North America; while most of these no longer exist, a few hundred are still active. [more inside]