Over 14,000 people in California prisons, and 80,000 in the United States on any given day, are kept alone in steel and concrete cells the size of a parking space, with no fresh air or sunlight, for years and decades, some over 40 years. Many more are in solitary confinement in jails, juvenile facilities, and detention centers. Activists gathered on June 23 outside the Santa Cruz Post Office to expose and end the torture of solitary confinement in all lock-ups, in Santa Cruz County, statewide, nationwide, and worldwide.
On the 23rd of each month, since March 23, 2015, Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC) are held in cities throughout California. The demonstrations were launched by the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, a network of grassroots organizations, family members, formerly incarcerated people, lawyers, and individuals who are “amplifying the voices of those in California’s solitary confinement in their call for an end to torture.”
The United Nations condemns the use of solitary confinement for more than 15 days as torture, yet many people in California state prisons have been encaged in solitary for 10 to 40 years.
Demonstrations have been organized locally by Sin Barras, “a group formed in 2012 in Santa Cruz for members of the community that are directly affected by police terrorism and have loved ones in jail. We fight to abolish prisons and the prison industrial-complex.”
On June 23, and in recognition of June as Torture Awareness Month, dozens of people gathered outside the Santa Cruz Post Office as part of the ongoing effort to end solitary confinement. Members and allies of Sin Barras spoke, mostly using a bullhorn, about the cruel realities of people mistreated in jail and prison, as well as how their lives are effected following release. In a street theatre performance, Sin Barras members carried a large “greedy snake” structure representing the prison industrial complex. The greedy snake was symbolically defeated in battle by sword-wielding prison abolitionists.
During the rally, Willow Katz of Sin Barras stated, “A massive public movement is essential to end the torture. We do not want the people in prison to have to risk their lives in another hunger strike!”
The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) website explains, “In 2011, over 12,000 prisoners and their family and community members participated in statewide hunger strikes protesting the inhumane conditions in the SHU. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) promised meaningful reform. In February 2013, prisoners announced that another hunger strike would begin July 8th because of CDCR’s failure to fulfill that promise. That strike involved over 30,000 people locked in California prisons, as well as hundreds of other prisoners, young and old, throughout the United States.”
In California, June 23 demonstrations were held in Arcata, Fresno, Oakland, Pasadena, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz. Solitary confinement, however, is not limited to California, and coordinated actions to end it have expanded to large cities on the east coast, including Boston, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.
More than 80,000 people in U.S. prisons endure solitary confinement for 23 and more hours every day, for years and decades. Solitary confinement has different euphemisms, such as Security Housing Unit (SHU), but the result is the same. Solitary confinement is torture, no matter what Orwellian language is used by it’s advocates.
On March 30, 2015, Todd Ashker, confined in a SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison for over two decades, issued a critical analysis of solitary and mass incarceration in the U.S., an update on the movement to end it, and a call for action, “Moving Forward: With Our Fight To End Solitary Confinement.” In it he wrote, “Our outside supporters have all of our gratitude; their tireless efforts supportive of our cause make a giant-positive difference! They have recently begun monthly supportive actions — across the state — publicly rallying on the 23rd of each month for the purpose of keeping the subject of our endless torture in public view, and thereby exposed to the world!!! 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!!!”
For more information on the Statewide Actions to End Solitary Confinement, with coverage of the three previous demonstrations in Santa Cruz, please visit:
Statewide Actions to End Solitary Confinement Grow as they Enter Third Month
by Willow Katz & Courtney Hanson
Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement Continue
by Alex Darocy
Coastside Vigil in Santa Cruz Protests Use of Solitary Confinement
by Alex Darocy
Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement Begin
by Willow Katz
Contributions to this article were made by Willow Katz, a Santa Cruz based activist with Global Women’s Strike Network, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC), and Sin Barras, all co-sponsors of SCATESC.