"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.