Thursday, July 18, 2013


"When Prisoners Protest". An Op Ed Piece in the NY Times yesterday by Wilbert Rideau,  here. 

THERE aren’t many protests in prison. In a world where authorities exercise absolute power and demand abject obedience, prisoners are almost always going to be on the losing side, and they know it.

The typical inmate doesn’t want trouble. He has little to gain and too much to lose: his job, his visits, his recreation time, his phone privileges, his right to buy tuna, ramen and stale bread at inflated prices in the commissary. The ways even a bystander to the most peaceful protest can be punished are limited only by the imagination of the authorities. . .
And yet, sometimes things get so bad that prisoners feel compelled to protest, with work stoppages, riots or hunger strikes. On July 8, some 30,000 inmates in the custody of the California Department of Corrections went on a hunger strike to demand improvements in prison conditions. Their biggest complaint was the runaway use of solitary confinement, the fact that thousands of prisoners are consigned to this cruelty indefinitely, some for decades.
I know something about solitary confinement, because I’ve been there. I spent a total of 12 years in various solitary confinement cells. And I can tell you that isolating a human being for years in a barren cell the size of a small bathroom is the cruelest thing you can do to a person.
Deprived of all human contact, you lose your feeling of connectedness to the world. You lose your ability to make small talk, even with the guard who shoves your meal through the slot in the door. You live entirely in your head, for there is nothing else. You talk to yourself, answer yourself. You become paranoid, depressed, sleepless. To ward off madness, you must give your mind something to do. In 1970, I counted the 358 rivets that held my steel cell together, over and over. Every time the walls seemed to be closing in on me, I counted them again, to give my mind something to fasten on to.
Rumpole says: If you don't know about Wilbert Rideau, you should. He served 44 years at Angola (easily the worst prison in the US). He founded  The Angolite, an award winning inmate newspaper. He won a pulitzer prize as an inmate and in 2005 he won a retrial.  He was convicted of manslaughter and the max was 28 years, so he was released. He is the author of "In The Place of Justice, a Story of Punishment and Deliverance" which you can buy on Amazon. 
A 19 year old boy in 1961, sent to Angola, a hell hole in it's own right, and then sent to hell's own hell hole- solitary for 12 years. 
Yeah- we have the best, most enlightened justice and punishment system in the world. And there's no such thing as global warming either. 
See You In Court. 


Anonymous said...

http://www.dailybusinessreview.com/CaseDecisionDBR.jsp?id=1202603321215&Zimmerman_Can_Depose_Attorney_Hired_by_Trayvon_Martins_family state of florida wrong again

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. There is rampant use of solitary in Florida prisons as well, particularly against mentally-ill prisoners. Next time you get a case involving a recent releasee, check to see whether the client's recent term in prison entailed a lot of time in solitary. If so, it can explain -- mitigate -- the reoffense. You can also argue, as a reason for treatment over prison, the likelihood that your mentally-ill client will be consigned to solitary in prison, making him sicker and more likely to reoffend upon release.

Anonymous said...

he probably deserved every day of it.

Anonymous said...


That is precisely part of what I was talking about in my response to the Zimmerman post about our society's obsession with criminalizing even innocent behavior and making numerous value judgments.

The Alcatraz of the South was a plantation originally. There was one quote that Angola was as close to slavery as one could come to in 1930. The person who bought the Angola land originally was a slave trader.

The name Angola actually refers to a place in Africa where many of the slaves who served there came from. Originally it was a private enterprise. Whites arrested blacks merely for standing on a street corner without any gainful means of employment. They were rushed through kangaroo courts, hurried into a conviction, and then sent on a truck to convict leasing farms and the like. Of which Angola was one.

Eventually it was transferred over to the government and opened as a state penitentiary in 1901. Prisoners at Angola were viewed as "n**** of the lowest order". A man could go crazy just being told he was going to be sent there, because of its incredible reputation.

This was the era of convict leasing and chain gangs. A lot of work was able to be done off of the backs of the prisoners who served time in this described hell on earth. It has on occasions been described as the worst prison in America.

The American Bar Association actually criticized the state of Angola in 1971 due to its amazingly substandard conditions. Angola was situated in a place far removed from humanity, and its prisoners were never deemed to be human to begin with.

Angola is a precise example of what is wrong in America with the prison industrial complex, the growth of a system that exploits, dehumanizes and breaks people down to their worst in the furtherance of misguided ideals that have no place in our modern day and age.

But then again our 13th Amendment demands no less. It reads that if you are convicted of a crime, you are still a slave, even to this current day.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Rideau did not go to Angola because he sang too loud in church. That does not make his opinions invalid, but it definitely helps define his world view.

Rumpole said...

I would say Rideau's odyssey stands for this- people change. Life without parole is cruel and unusual. Rideau- born and raised in a segregated town, was sent to Angola at age 19, scared, confused, angry, and with very poor legal representation. And with all of that against him, he managed, after 12 years of solitary confinement, to 1) WIN A PULITZER PRIZE; 2) fight his case, get a re-trial, and win his release.
This man, convicted of a killing at age 19 in the 1960's, is now writing OP ED pieces for the NY Times.
So- even for murder- and I recognize how evil and wrong devastating a murder can be for surviving family members- but even for murder- are we really confident that just warehousing everyone and not giving anyone a chance at redemption is the correct punishment?
Or should this NY Times writer, pulitzer prize winner still be in Angola? Because that is the choice here.

Anonymous said...


I admire and agree with your opinion in this post.
But there is a very serious problem at the core of our society, because long before there is a murdered, a child molester, a drug addicted, a violent person in general, there is a person, with mental illness. Jails and prisons are full of individuals with mental illness that were not ever taken care off. Mental health is very expensive and many of those individuals in jails and prisons grow up with no treatment. Once they hit the system then is worst, the jails become a merry go around with no end, and no treatment.
What can we do. I think it need to start in schools, to be sure that children are growing with a healthy mind, to prevent future jail birds.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone knows the outcome or decision of Alex Michaels Appeal to the 3rd District Court. Please advice.