incarceration

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.

 

IT'S BEEN SEVEN MONTHS since I've been inside a prison cell. Now I'm back, sort of. The experience is eerily like my dreams, where I am a prisoner in another man's cell. Like the cell I go back to in my sleep, this one is built for solitary confinement. I'm taking intermittent, heaving breaths, like I can't get enough air. This still happens to me from time to time, especially in tight spaces. At a little over 11 by 7 feet, this cell is smaller than any I've ever inhabited. You can't pace in it.

Like in my dreams, I case the space for the means of staying sane. Is there a TV to watch, a book to read, a round object to toss? The pathetic artifacts of this inmate's life remind me of objects that were once everything to me: a stack of books, a handmade chessboard, a few scattered pieces of artwork taped to the concrete, a family photo, large manila envelopes full of letters. I know that these things are his world.

"So when you're in Iran and in solitary confinement," asks my guide, Lieutenant Chris Acosta, "was it different?" His tone makes clear that he believes an Iranian prison to be a bad place.

He's right about that. After being apprehended on the Iran-Iraq border, Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal, and I were held in Evin Prison's isolation ward for political prisoners. Sarah remained there for 13 months, Josh and I for 26 months. We were held incommunicado. We never knew when, or if, we would get out. We didn't go to trial for two years. When we did we had no way to speak to a lawyer and no means of contesting the charges against us, which included espionage. The alleged evidence the court held was "confidential."

What I want to tell Acosta is that no part of my experience—not the uncertainty of when I would be free again, not the tortured screams of other prisoners—was worse than the four months I spent in solitary confinement. What would he say if I told him I needed human contact so badly that I woke every morning hoping to be interrogated? Would he believe that I once yearned to be sat down in a padded, soundproof room, blindfolded, and questioned, just so I could talk to somebody?

I want to answer his question—of course my experience was different from those of the men at California's Pelican Bay State Prison—but I'm not sure how to do it. How do you compare, when the difference between one person's stability and another's insanity is found in tiny details? Do I point out that I had a mattress, and they have thin pieces of foam; that the concrete open-air cell I exercised in was twice the size of the "dog run" at Pelican Bay, which is about 16 by 25 feet; that I got 15 minutes of phone calls in 26 months, and they get none; that I couldn't write letters, but they can; that we could only talk to nearby prisoners in secret, but they can shout to each other without being punished; that unlike where I was imprisoned, whoever lives here has to shit at the front of his cell, in view of the guards?

"There was a window," I say. I don't quite know how to tell him what I mean by that answer. "Just having that light come in, seeing the light move across the cell, seeing what time of day it was—" Without those windows, I wouldn't have had the sound of ravens, the rare breezes, or the drops of rain that I let wash over my face some nights. My world would have been utterly restricted to my concrete box, to watching the miniature ocean waves I made by sloshing water back and forth in a bottle; to marveling at ants; to calculating the mean, median, and mode of the tick marks on the wall; to talking to myself without realizing it. For hours, days, I fixated on the patch of sunlight cast against my wall through those barred and grated windows. When, after five weeks, my knees buckled and I fell to the ground utterly broken, sobbing and rocking to the beat of my heart, it was the patch of sunlight that brought me back. Its slow creeping against the wall reminded me that the world did in fact turn and that time was something other than the stagnant pool my life was draining into.

When, after five weeks, my knees buckled and I fell to the ground utterly broken, sobbing and rocking to the beat of my heart, it was the patch of sunlight that brought me back.

Here, there are no windows.

 

Tues, March 6th: Rallying Against the World's Largest Jail System, LA County

The threat of jail expansion comes amidst numerous lawsuits surrounding allegations of systematic abuse and torture in LA’s jails as well as numerous reports and expert opinions recommending against the rampant misuse of incarceration in the county. ...  Twenty counties in California have applied for a total of  $1,102,855,803 including a $100 million application from LA County. ...

Report Sheds Light On Dire Prison Conditions For Youth Offenders Serving Life Sentences

By The Public Record   Jan 5th, 2012

You probably know that the United States has more people in jail than any other country in the world. The staggering number is 2.3 million. China, which has four times as many people as the US, is a distant second with 1.6 million prisoners.

What you may not know is that the US also tops the charts in the numbers of youth offenders serving life without parole sentences in adult US prisons. The score? The world: 0; the US: 2,570.

You Can Jail the Resistors, But You Can't Jail the Resistance!

INCARCERATION:  Holiday Gift from Paul Gallegos to Occupy Eureka

While the District Attorney vacations with his family for the holidays, he (ultimately responsible for actions of his office) has set in motion another campaign of harassment, wrongful arrests, and incarcerations.

Stop the War on Drugs

Major International Leaders Plead for the US and the World to Get Smart and Stop the War on Drugs

The Commission on Drug Policy urged a shift from incarceration to consideration of a full range of alternatives, from decriminalization to legalization and regulation.

June 4, 2011 | By Molly O'Toole

July 8 RALLY (Eureka) TO SHOW SOLIDARITY With Prisoners Hunger Strike

Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison (Crescent City, California) will begin an indefinite hunger strike July 1, 2011 to protest the cruel and inhumane conditions of their imprisonment.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
has been found guilty of constitutional rights violations by federal courts, and its practice of long-term isolation, particularly at Pelican Bay, has been identified by human rights monitors as constituting a form of psychological torture.

The lives of the prisoners who say they are going to participate in the strike are at great risk.

 

U.S.A. Locking Up Poor People In Unprecedented Numbers

New research shows precisely how the prison-to-poverty cycle does its damage.

Forty years after the United States began its experimentation with mass incarceration policies, the country is increasingly divided economically. In new research published in the review Daedalus, a group of leading criminologists coordinated by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (which paid me to consult on this project) argued that much of that growing inequality, which Slate's Timothy Noah has chronicled, is linked to the increasingly widespread use of prisons and jails.

It's well-known that the United States imprisons drastically more people than other Western countries. Here are the specifics: We now imprison more people in absolute numbers and per capita than any other country on earth. With 5 percent of the world population, the U.S. hosts upward of 20 percent of its prisoners.

This is because the country's incarceration rate has roughly quintupled since the early 1970s. About 2 million Americans currently live behind bars in jails, state prisons, and federal penitentiaries, and many millions more are on parole or probation or have been in the recent past. In 2008, as a part of an "American Exception" series exploring the U.S. criminal-justice system, New York Times reporter Adam Liptak pointed out that overseas criminologists were "mystified and appalled" by the scale of American incarceration. States like California now spend more on locking people up than on funding higher education.

Too Many Laws, Too Many Prisoners

[article in The Economist!]

Never in the civilised world have so many been locked up for so little

Jul 22nd 2010 | Spring, Texas


THREE pickup trucks pulled up outside George Norris’s home in Spring, Texas. Six armed police in flak jackets jumped out. Thinking they must have come to the wrong place, Mr Norris opened his front door, and was startled to be shoved against a wall and frisked for weapons. He was forced into a chair for four hours while officers ransacked his house. They pulled out drawers, rifled through papers, dumped things on the floor and eventually loaded 37 boxes of Mr Norris’s possessions onto their pickups. They refused to tell him what he had done wrong. “It wasn’t fun, I can tell you that,” he recalls.

 

The Most Incarcerating Nation in the World

Rough Justice [article in The Economist!]

America locks up too many people, some for acts that should not even be criminal

Jul 22nd 2010 | Spring, Texas


IN 2000 four Americans were charged with importing lobster tails in plastic bags rather than cardboard boxes, in violation of a Honduran regulation that Honduras no longer enforces. They had fallen foul of the Lacey Act, which bars Americans from breaking foreign rules when hunting or fishing. The original intent was to prevent Americans from, say, poaching elephants in Kenya. But it has been interpreted to mean that they must abide by every footling wildlife regulation on Earth. The lobstermen had no idea they were breaking the law. Yet three of them got eight years apiece. Two are still in jail.

U.S. judges admit to jailing children for money

The really amazing thing is that they got caught.

- Tom Lacey, SF Peace and Freedom

 

U.S. judges admit to jailing children for money

Thu Feb 12, 2009, By Jon Hurdle, PHILADELPHIA (Reuters)

 

Two judges pleaded guilty on Thursday to accepting more than $2.6 million from a private youth detention center in Pennsylvania in return for giving hundreds of youths and teenagers long sentences.