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CI: There Are No Children Here

August 06, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

 

There Are No Children Here
by nancy a heitzeg

“Racially differential treatment of children is an important yet under-explored arena within social psychology. The present findings suggest how urgently field and laboratory work are needed to fill in this research gap. In addition, they suggest that if, as Alice Walker says, “The most important question in the world is, “Why is the child crying’?” then, for Black children, the most important answer may be that they cry because they are not allowed to be children at all.

~ Goff, P. A., Jackson, M. C., Di Leone, B. A. L., Culotta, C. M., & DiTomasso, N. A. (2014, February 24). The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The title of this piece is of course stolen from Alex Kotolowitz whose 1987 book (and then Oprah TV movie) chronicled the lives of two boys growing up in the Henry Horner Homes.  The title is meant to convey how concentrated poverty and its’ attendant social ills deprive children of the joy of innocence and the opportunity to be carefree. But as the introductory quote from this recent study reveals, there is another meaning too. Racism, particularly anti-Blackness, and deeply held implicit biases also disfigure “innocence”, denying Black children both humanity and childhood, defining them as miniature “adults” to be feared and then controlled.

This has profound implications for everyday interaction with adult caretakers, teachers, and police. Those who are expected to protect childhood innocence are now inclined to deny it, and these singular reactions by adults in charge serve to replicate and reinforce institutional racism. This denial of innocence shapes the racial contours of the school to prison pipeline , and , as we have seen again this week, underlies decisions to charge and incarcerate juveniles as adults, and then brutalize them once they are in custody.

Because There Are No Children Here.

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CI: Albert Woodfox Speaks to the Experts

May 07, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Albert Woodfox Speaks to the Experts

Editors Note: The essay featured below, Albert Woodfox Speaks to theExperts, from the Why Am I Not Suprised? blog is reprinted in full with permission of the author and Angola 3 News. Now 42 years since Albert was first put in solitary, Amnesty International has renewed its call for Albert’s immediate release (view Amnesty’s recent statement and essay). If you have not yet done so, please sign the Amnesty petition today.

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CI: Stand Against Solitary

February 26, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Military Industrial Complex, Prison Industrial Complex

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Stand Against Solitary
by nancy a heitzeg

For Roses in Concrete

prison-hungerstrike-poster

“Prison policy is usually shaped out of public view, but the duration and visibility of the hunger strike has helped make the subject politically urgent. Last week, New York State agreed to extensive new restrictions on whom it could confine to its SHU. This week, in Washington, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing titled “Reassessing Solitary Confinement.” Other states have also curtailed the use of isolation recently—Indiana, where change was compelled by a federal judge’s ruling, and Maine, Mississippi, and Colorado, which had faced pressure from prisoners’-rights groups. These changes are too few to constitute a total rejection of the practice. But for the first time, it has begun to seem plausible that the American attachment to this special kind of imprisonment is not a national peculiarity so much as a generational one, and that a 25-year experiment may be ending.”  ~ “The Plot from Solitary”, by Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine

The struggle to end the tortuous use of solitary confinement is a grim one. Like the movement to abolish the death penalty, it forces us to grapple with horrifying details of life in box, buried alive, slow motion death – the gradual, state-sponsored decay of both body and mind. Worse still even,  victory in the abolition of these practices will never be enough. They are mere symptoms of the pathology of mass incarceration, mere branches never the root, that end up afflicting a numerical minority of those 2.3 million persons who languish, one way or another, in the context of the prison industrial complex. Yet resist we must.

Excessive and extensive use of long term solitary confinement is amongst the most egregious of the many human rights violations in US prisons and jails. The practice is now so pervasive that, according to Solitary Watch: “Based on available data, there are at least 80,000 prisoners in isolated confinement on any given day in America’s prisons and jails, including some 25,000 in long-term solitary in supermax prisons.” These stints are no longer the “proverbial “30 days in the hole” but regular conditions of confinement that last for decades, sometimes, as in the cases of Hugo Pinell and Albert Woodfox  ranging up to 40 years. There is widespread agreement that this is tantamount to torture.

The routinization and expansion of long term solitary confinement in the late 20th century is intended to control – not just individual inmates, but the general population as well. Indefinite and ambiguously administered solitary confinement looms as a threat to all. It is no accident that the proliferation of control units and SuperMax prisons emerges in the aftermath of successful inmate organizing and a growing connection between “imprisoned intellectuals “ and the community outside. ( See Strategizing to Defeat Control Unit Prisons and Solitary Confinement –An interview with author/activist Nancy Kurshan ) Control units serve decidedly political functions – they are meant to quell dissent and stymy inmate organizing.

Despite some particular and short-lived successes, even here the Carceral State has failed. The legal victories noted below all emanate from inmates themselves who have managed to be heard, to reach out, to organize and mobilize, even from 6 feet under. Roses that grew in concrete. More power to them.

Melanie Cervantes and Dignidad Rebelde

Melanie Cervantes and Dignidad Rebelde

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CI: A Voice from the Tombs

July 31, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Editors Note: Many thanks to Victoria Law for forwarding this letter from Saiyd Muhammad #0295512, who writes from a High Security Control Unit in North Carolina. The letter is reprinted in full below. It more than speaks for itself.

Mr. Muhammad’s story is a sadly familiar tale, one shared by more than 80,000 inmates kept in restricted housing in our nations prisons and jails. This includes the California Prison Hunger Strikers, who numbered more than 30,000 on the first day. This is the second major California strike, as prisoners continue to seek basic human treatment via their 5 Core Demands. The strike is now on Day 24, and has already resulted in one death, that of Billy “Guero” Sell, whose art may be found here.

The torturous details of life in solitary are difficult to read, but please do. And then Act – please support Mr. Muhammad, the California Hunger Strikers, and inmates everywhere  however you can..

Thank you..

Voices from the Tombs of HCON!
from Saiyd Muhammad #0295512

If prison is considered the “Belly of the Beast”, then surely the prison’s solitary confinement units are its bowels.  I am one of approximately 96 inmates currently being held in North Carolina’s Super-maximum Security Units.  These units may also be known as High Security Control Unit (HCON), solitary confinement segregation, “the hole”, and others.  I however, as a result of  enduring mistreatment  and cruelty from certain prison personnel, choose to refer to North  Carolina’s super-maximum security units as the N.C. Dept. of Public Safety TORTURE CHAMBERS!  Yes!  State sanctioned torture!!

shackles2Torture: “…the act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment  or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty.” This is the only word that I can find to accurately express the horrific inhumane treatment I endure here on a regular basis in HCON.  Unlike NC’s death row unit in Raleigh where men and women wait for a possible execution by whatever means the state and federal courts declare humane, here on HCON at the Polk Correctional facility in Butner, NC, we are executed psychologically every moment of everyday.  The 96 men are confined in what can only be described as a concrete box much like a mausoleum tomb.   It is like being in a tomb, a stone building for en-tomb-ment of the dead above ground!  Yes!  A mausoleum best describes the 96 concrete boxes they call cells to house its inmates.

Concrete vaults! They hold us locked in 24 hours a day; only unlike an actual mausoleum that houses the dead, these concrete vaults house the living!

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Herman’s House: Resisting the Cage

July 08, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

beyond-large

Herman Wallace may be the longest-serving prisoner in solitary confinement in the United States—he’s spent more than 40 years in a 6-by-9-foot cell in Louisiana. Imprisoned in 1967 for a robbery he admits, he was subsequently sentenced to life for a killing he vehemently denies. Herman’s House is a moving account of the remarkable expression his struggle found in an unusual project proposed by artist Jackie Sumell. Imagining Wallace’s “dream home” began as a game and became an interrogation of justice and punishment in America. The film takes us inside the duo’s unlikely 12-year friendship, revealing the transformative power of art. Premiering on PBS’s POV July 8, 2013.

CI: Still Starving for Justice

May 01, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Imperialism, International Law, Intersectionality, Military Industrial Complex, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Still Starving for Justice
by nancy a heitzeg

In the face of unrelenting repression and no sign of relief, refusal becomes the last refuge of prisoners. Prisoner hunger strikes proliferate again, at Guantanamo, Pelican Bay and Wallens Ridge State Prison in Virginia.

Defying the Tomb.

The Green Diamond Eat The Red Diamond Die, Robert Indiana, 1962

The Green Diamond Eat The Red Diamond Die,
Robert Indiana, 1962

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CI: The Campaign to Free the Angola 3 Intensifies

March 06, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights, White Privilege

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

The Campaign to Free the Angola 3 Intensifies
–Amnesty International responds to Albert Woodfox’s third overturned conviction

By Angola 3 News

(The video embedded above is a trailer for an upcoming UK documentary film about the Angola 3.)

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CI: Strategizing to Defeat Control Unit Prisons and Solitary Confinement

February 20, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Strategizing to Defeat Control Unit Prisons and Solitary Confinement –An interview with author/activist Nancy Kurshan

by Angola 3 News

Author and longtime activist Nancy Kurshan’s new book, entitled Out of Control: A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons, has just been released by the Freedom Archives. Kurshan’s book documents the work of The Committee to End the Marion Lockdown (CEML), which she co-founded in 1985 as a response to the lockdown at the federal prison in Marion, Illinois. It quickly turned into a broader campaign against control unit prisons and human rights violations in US prisons that lasted fifteen years, until 2000.  The following excerpt from Out of Control details CEML’s origins:

I had been living in Chicago for about a year when I heard the news that two guards had been killed by two prisoners in the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, 350 miles south of Chicago. Although it was an isolated incident with no associated riot conditions, the prison was immediately placed on lockdown status, and the authorities seized on the opportunity to violently repress the entire prison population. For two years, from 1983 to 1985, all of the 350 men imprisoned there were subjected to brutal, dehumanizing conditions. All work programs were shut down, as were educational activities and religious services.

book cover

 During the initial stage of this lockdown, 60 guards equipped with riot gear, much of it shipped in from other prisons, systematically beat approximately 100 handcuffed and defenseless prisoners. Guards also subjected some prisoners to forced finger probes of the rectum. Random beatings and rectal probes continued through the two-year lockdown. Despite clear evidence of physical and psychological brutality at the hands of the guards, Congress and the courts refused to intervene to stop the lockdown…

…Although the terrible conditions at the prison were striking, what drew us to Marion in particular was the history of struggle of the prisoners and their allies on the outside. When the infamous Alcatraz was closed in 1962, Marion Federal Penitentiary was opened and became the new Alcatraz, the end of the line for the “worst of the worst.”

In 1972 there was a prisoner’s peaceful work stoppage at Marion led by Puerto Rican Nationalist Rafael Cancel Miranda. In response to this peaceful work stoppage, the authorities placed a section of the prison under lockdown, thus creating the first “control unit,” essentially a prison within a prison, amplifying the use of isolation as a form of control, previously used only for a selected prisoner. That was 1972.

 At this time, in 1985, after two years of lockdown, they converted the whole prison into a control unit. Importantly, because Marion in 1985 was “the end of the line,” the only “Level 6” federal prison, there were disproportionate numbers of political prisoners—those who were incarcerated for their political beliefs and actions. These included people such as Native American Leonard Peltier who had spent years there until recently, and now (in 1985) Black Panthers Sundiata Acoli and Sekou Odinga, Puerto Rican independentista Oscar López Rivera, and white revolutionary Bill Dunne. These were people we knew or identified with, activists of the 1960s and 1970s incarcerated for their political activities. Marion, like its predecessor Alcatraz and its successor ADX Florence, was clearly a destination point for political prisoners.

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