If the SHU Fits: Prisoners Speak from Solitary Against Torture

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by Andy Griggs, LA Laborfest

If the SHU Fits – Voices from Solitary Confinement will be presented during Torture Awareness Month at the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church, 301 N. Orange Grove Blvd, Pasadena 91103, on Tuesday, June 23, at 7 pm. The play, staged as a multi-media dramatic reading, features stories, letters, and commentaries from prisoners and family members, as well as government testimony and historical information regarding the practice of solitary confinement. A discussion and opportunity for the audience to take action will follow the play.

What is Solitary Confinement?

Solitary confinement is the practice of isolating inmates in closed cells, virtually without human contact, for periods of time ranging from days to decades. Many euphemisms are used to describe these long-term isolation units; Intensive Management Units (IMUs), Restricted Housing Units (RHUs), Security Housing Units (SHUs), and Administrative Segregation. Despite the variety of names, incarceration in these units and facilities is solitary confinement.

According to estimates there are over 80,000 inmates held in some form of solitary confinement in state and federal prisons across the United States. This count does not include people held in isolation in county or city jails, military facilities, immigration detention centers, or juvenile justice facilities. A report by the Vera Institute of Justice issued last month, Solitary Confinement: Common Misconceptions and Emerging Safe Alternatives, states: “…whatever the label, the experience for the person placed in solitary confinement is the same: confinement to an isolated cell for the overwhelming portion of each day, often 23 hours a day, with limited human interaction and minimal, if any, constructive activity; an experience that all too often leads to harmful outcomes for the person’s mental and physical health and the well-being of the community to which he or she returns. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy recently opined, ‘This idea of total incarceration just isn’t working, and it’s not humane.’

Solitary Confinement is Torture

This performance is part of Torture Awareness Month, recognized around the world. On June 26, 1987, the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT for short) was adopted. The UN declared June 26 “International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.”

The play is being produced on the 23rd as a part of the Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC), which began on March 23 as a response to a proposal from prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison involved in the 2011 and 2013 Prisoner Hunger Strikes, who put forward the idea of designating a day each month as Prisoner Rights Day. According to Todd Ashker, one of the leaders of the 2011 and 2013 hunger strikes, and who has been held in solitary for over 20 years, “The 23rd of each month is symbolic of our 23+ hours per day in these tombs-of-the-living-dead—and it is hoped such rallies will spread across the nation.”

If the SHU Fits – Voices from Solitary Confinement is compiled by Andy Griggs and Melvin Ishmael Johnson, and produced by Dramastage Qumran, LA Laborfest, and Public Works Improvisational Theatre. Sponsoring organizations include: Anti-Racist Action-LA, Café Intifada, Pasadena-Foothills ACLU, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church of Pasadena, and the Prisoner Hunger Strike
Solidarity Coalition. This will be a free event, though donations will be requested.
For more information, contact lalaborfest@gmail.com or call 310-704-3217.

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