Solitary Resistance


Recently Counter Punch published an article of mine describing the U.S. crime of long-term solitary confinement or control unit prisons.  Since then there have been a couple of important developments and the editor has generously allowed me some space to continue this reporting.

Most importantly, tens of thousands of California prisoners have launched the largest hunger strike in the history of the United States.  Recent reports, even in the New York Times, have suggested that about 30,000 prisoners are on hunger strike and that many are refusing to work as well.

Although this effort has been stimulated by prisoners in solitary confinement it is apparently spreading throughout the entire system.  It is absolutely essential that we support these prisoners.  We can do this by: a) joining in the many demonstrations; b) providing financial support; c) signing the petition; and d) spreading the word everywhere.  Indeed, this situation has the potential to become one of the most important strikes (of any kind) ever. For information about how to help: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com

I have received many emails in response to my initial article and it has become impossible to answer them all
OutOfContro Weblindividually.  I would thus like to thank those people who took the time to write to me, including those who disagreed with some of my basic observations.  The disagreements fell into two basic categories.

First, some people thought that I over-emphasized the role of prisons and control unit prisons in particular with respect to people of color, suggesting it was more a matter of class than of race.  Let me make it clear that I don’t believe that anyone should be placed in solitary confinement or control units ever.  They have been labeled as torture by human rights activists and scholars across the world and thus we all should oppose them for anyone.  However, it hardly seems possible to overemphasize the role of social control of people of color.  The imprisonment rate in the United States began to rise, for the first time in history, in 1972, following on the heels of the civil rights movement, the Black power movement, the great rebellion at Attica, etc.  The rates are now roughly 8 times higher for Black
people than for White people, and there are a hundred different permutations of these statistics that demonstrate how prisons target people of color.  If none of this is persuasive, I urge people to read The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander’s excellent book on this topic.  They also might be interested in my book, Out of Control: A 15 Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons, which discusses this topic at length. You can order it or read an abridged version online at: http://www.freedomarchives.org/CEML.html

Secondly, the issue of violence, specifically gang violence was raised by some readers as necessitating long-term solitary confinement. However, additional repression has never been an effective response to anything, including violence in the prisons.  It has been demonstrated time and time again that increased repression simply increases violence.  Additionally, it is the guards themselves that frequently use gang affiliation to get prisoners fighting among themselves, sometimes in isolation prisons and sometimes in general population.

The 30,000 prisoners who are on hunger strike are not all living in long-term solitary confinement but they oppose it because they understand that it is torture. If the prisoners themselves feel it is cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the 8th Amendment, then shouldn’t we take heed of this?  (For info re Hunger Strike: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com)

Shortly after they opened the first such California prison at Pelican Bay, the prison administration claimed that violence went down. However, my husband is a statistician who crunched the numbers and found that violence was going down even before they opened the prison.

Shane Bauer who spent 26 months in solitary confinement in Iran, upon his return to the U.S. investigated the California situation and found that the “rate of violent incidents in California prisons is nearly 20 percent higher than when Pelican Bay opened in 1989.”  Furthermore, he explains that “in states that have reduced solitary confinement–Colorado, Maine, and Mississippi–violence has not increased. . . Since Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman released 75 percent of inmates from solitary in the mid-2000s, violence has dropped 50 percent.

If there was a third thread to the emails I received, it was a weariness, a cynicism about change. This is not the time for cynicism, our worst enemy. On July 13th there will be a huge demonstration at one of these California prisons, Corcoran. Hundreds of people will travel for many hours to demonstrate in the blazing heat.  That sacrifice will be nothing compared to the Hunger Strike of the prisoners who are literally risking their lives in order to be agents of change.  And by the way, this is a Hunger Strike that cuts across ethnic lines, and the prisoners have called for all conflict between the various groups to cease. Let us not prevaricate. Let’s embrace their resistance. For more information, to join the demonstration, sign a petition, or donate needed funds, go to http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com.

Nancy Kurshan is the author of Out of Control. She can be reached at: Nkurshan@aol.com 





November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration
John Wight
After Paris: Hypocrisy and Mendacity Writ Large
Joseph G. Ramsey
No Excuses, No Exceptions: the Moral Imperative to Offer Refuge
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS Thrives on the Disunity of Its Enemies
Andrew Moss
The Message of Montgomery: 60 Years Later
Jim Green
James Hansen’s Nuclear Fantasies
Robert Koehler
The Absence of History in the Aftermath of Paris
Dave Lindorff
The US Media and Propaganda
Dave Randle
France and Martial Law
Gilbert Mercier
If We Are at War, Let’s Bring Back the Draft!
Alexey Malashenko
Putin’s Syrian Gambit
Binoy Kampmark
Closing the Door: US Politics and the Refugee Debate