California Organizes, Educates, to End Solitary Confinement

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Solitary confinement is a form of torture. That’s the message behind the movement to end solitary confinement of prisoners in the United States. Actions take place on the 23rd of every month—representing the 23 hours per day that many prisoners stay locked behind bars.

Even the former warden of a high security prison, Robert Hood, told CBS News that for prisoners it was a “clean version of hell,” adding that the facility was “not designed for humanity.”

Over the past two years what began as a statewide grassroots movement to end solitary confinement of prisoners in California merged with prisoner support groups nationwide in spreading the word and staging public actions in numerous states.

One such movement action takes place today, July 23rd 2015 in Culver City, California at the Peace Center West where there is a performance of the play “If the SHU Fits: Voices from Solitary Confinement.”

SHU is the acronym for the “Special Housing Unit,” which is a euphemism for a form of solidarity confinement.

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The campaign begins with a history of prisoner activism. According to the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS), in July 2011 “The prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison” in California “began what became an historic hunger strike to protest the cruel, inhumane and tortuous conditions of their imprisonment.”

Support spread throughout the California prison system, and several times the hunger strikers suspended their action to give the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation time to respond to their demands. This failed to resolve the issues, so on “July 8th 2013, more than30,000 California prisoners initiated an indefinite hunger strike in response to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation  failure to meet their 5 Core Demands. 60 days and 1 death later, strikers suspended the strike, and California legislators committed to hold public hearings.”

PHSS reports that:

“Four years have passed since the initial hunger strike began on July 1. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation…continues to claim that “there is no ‘solitary confinement’ in California’s prisons and the SHU is not ‘solitary confinement,’” but people inside the Pelican Bay State Prison’s security housing unit say they remain locked in for at least 23 hours per day.”

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee has supported the California effort with a small grant to help organize and stage performances of the play “If the SHU Fits: Voices from Solitary Confinement.” Sue Udry, Acting Director of BORDC and Director of the Defending Dissent Foundation is excited by the “extraordinary work the coalition is doing by educating people about the cruel, but unfortunately not unusual, punishment of solitary confinement.” She adds “we are proud to be involved in what they are accomplishing.”

According to the event organizers:

At this event, we will present If the SHU Fits-Voices from Solitary Confinement, and follow with a session to:
* Share Stories
* Discuss Strategies to make meaningful change and
* Take Action!

If the SHU Fits is produced by Dramastage Qumran, LA Laborfest, & Public Works Improvisational Theatre, and supported by the Bill of Rights Defense Commitee (BORDC), National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSSC).

The event is a part of the Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement, a call by prisoners in solitary to their supporters outside to STOP THE TORTURE with events on the 23rd of each month, signifying the number of hours prisoners are kept in solitary. For info:

The National Religious Campaign against Torture has a detailed resources website with listings of ongoing activities in over 20 states. Think about getting involved.