Tag Archives: SHU

Six by 10: Stories from Solitary

From Lauren K. Gibbs, an EMIT leader and activist

I just finished “Six By Ten: Stories From Solitary,” edited by Taylor Pendergrass and Mateo Hoke, 2018, part of the Voice of Witness series. I got it from the library system and it is available on Amazon.

The experiences are from nine imprisoned or formerly imprisoned people, one from the wife of an imprisoned young man who died, one from the mother of an imprisoned young man who she believes is likely to die soon, and two from white Corrections Officers – one who almost was incarcerated before joining the COs – who are trying to make a difference in the system.

The incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people are three black men, two white men, one Asian man, two black women (one Muslim), and one black transgender woman. These are frightening stories.

Read this book if you can. I am asking the Governor, the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, the heads of the Judiciary Committee, and my legislators to read the book (242 pages plus six appendixes comprising 37 pages including what we on the outside can do, a timeline of Solitary Confinement in the US, a glossary of Solitary language, a six-page discussion of Intimacy and Violence in a supermax prison, a six-page discussion of where Solitary Confinement is headed in the US, and the five-page demands of the 2011 California Prisoner Hunger Strike.

 The 10 things we can do are as follows.

 1.  Befriend someone in Solitary. Go to http://solitarywatch.com/about-lifelines to obtain a pen pal.

2.  Invite people who have been in Solitary to speak in our community about their experiences and thoughts.

3.  Make demands of local elected officials and candidates, such as Sheriffs (and District Attorneys).

4.  Give money or time to local prisoners’ rights and reentry organizations. Prisoners Legal Services in Massachusetts is a strong advocate for incarcerated people, especially in solitary.

5.  Organize to pass statewide reforms, particularly of solitary confinement and improve access to quality mental health care funding in the broader community and in prisons and jails.

6.  Ask Governor Baker to take a stand against Solitary Confinement and appoint a corrections director who implements reforms to Solitary Confinement different from this administration.

7.  Volunteer in a prison.

8.  Support efforts to hire formerly incarcerated people.

9.  Support investigative journalism.

10. Share this book. 

The 5 Demands of the 2011 Strike are as follows.

1. End Group Punishment and Administrative Abuse.

2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria.

3. Comply with the 2006 Recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons to end Long-Term Solitary Confinement.

4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food

5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU-Status Inmates. 

Gov. Baker, the Massachusetts State Legislature and the Mass. DOC should work to end Solitary Confinement [under many different names and designations] and provide the programming, food, and mental health care that incarcerated people need to break the cycles of incarceration and get ahead in life. 

This documentary on solitary is powerful & memorable

Maine and Mississippi have both reduced use of solitary, also known as “segregation” or “SHU-Special Housing Unit,” by 70 to 80 percent. We are rallying to end this cruel and unusual punishment in Massachusetts that typically makes matters worse instead of better.

PBS Frontline has crafted a powerful 2-hour documentary, “Last Days of Solitary” available online for free. What makes this film so remarkable is that it humanizes the most dangerous and difficult to reach people who are incarcerated, and it takes us behind the barbed wire into places usually hidden from the public.

The camera brings us face-to-face with caged people in Maine, while officials transitioned 92 people back to general population over a few years, leaving eight in the unit. The new approach saves the state an estimated $1 million a year because staffing solitary is so labor intensive.

This film is a must-see. Even watching 30 minutes will inform you on why and how we can change this practice often negatively impacts people for years, and does NOT necessarily add to institutional security.

Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts, a champion of rights of the incarcerated, created a 7 minute video of testimonies from Massachusetts residents who have suffered the torture of solitary.

Here is a sampling of bills Massachusetts activists are endorsing during the 2017-18 session. Please contact your state legislator, set up a face-to-face meeting and encourage him/her to support the bills.

Solitary Confinement Reform (S.1306/H.3071)

Lead Sponsors: Sen. Cynthia Creem, Rep. Ruth Balser, Sen. Jamie Eldridge, Rep. Russell Holmes . These bills would end the practice of sentencing prisoners to long periods of isolated confinement. They would divert vulnerable groups (youth, pregnant women, those deaf, blind or in protective custody, prisoners with     serious mental illness or likely to deteriorate, away from solitary confinement.

To Collect Data Regarding Solitary Confinement in MA Prisons (S.1286/H.3092)

Lead Sponsors: Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Rep. Christopher Markey. Massachusetts corrections facilities are not required to make public information regarding our state’s solitary   confinement practices. This bill would require quarterly data relating to solitary confinement, including the age, disability status and racial composition of inmates, the length of time spent in solitary and the number of suicides.

Segregation Oversight (S.1297/H.2249)

Lead Sponsors: Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Ruth Balser. This bill would create a solitary confinement oversight committee to review data and make recommendations on the use of solitary confinement in Massachusetts.

 Promote Humane Conditions of Confinement (S.1296 / H.2248)

Lead sponsors: Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Ruth Balser. Vulnerable populations, including those who have serious mental illness, should not be placed in solitary confinement. Those who are placed into segregation should have full access to regular mental health treatment, facility programming, disability accommodations and other humane services.