I began this blog in May 2009 following the death of Marcia Powell at Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona. It is not intended to prescribe the path that leads to freedom from the prison industrial complex.

Rather, these are just my observations in arguably the most racist, fascist, militaristic state in the nation at a critical time in history for a number of intersecting liberation movements. From Indigenous resistance to genocidal practices, to the fight over laws like SB1070 and the ban on Ethnic Studies, Arizona is at the center of many battles for human rights, and thus the struggle for prison abolition as well - for none are free until all are. I retired the blog in APRIL 2013.

Visit me now at Arizona Prison Watch or Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Concerned for Prisoners' Rights? Tell Oprah Today.

Since 1976 a handful of people in New Mexico dedicated to promoting the rights of America's prisoners has been assembling and disseminating a free monthly newsletter across the country, including over 9,000 copies to prisoners themselves. After absorbing the costs for these mailings - with decreasing resources for funding over the years - the Coalition for Prisoners' Rights is having to stop publication of its newsletter, at least until it can pay off its $25,000 debt and establish a means of staying out of debt. I learned about their crisis from an impassioned plea for support put out by Lois Ahrens in the Real Cost of Prisons Project blog, and sent what I could.

Today I received what was my first - and may be their last - issue of the newsletter, down from 8 pages to two, one side in English and the other in Spanish. The featured article was about the abuse of extended lockdown in solitary confinement, which has become increasingly commonplace in American prisons over the past 20 years. Referring to the March 30, 2009 issue of the New Yorker, in an article titled "Hellhole", the newsletter quotes Arizona Senator John McCain describing solitary confinement, which he endured for a substantial portion of his incarceration as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Straight from the New Yorker article:

"“It’s an awful thing, solitary,” John McCain wrote of his five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam—more than two years of it spent in isolation in a fifteen-by-fifteen-foot cell, unable to communicate with other P.O.W.s except by tap code, secreted notes, or by speaking into an enamel cup pressed against the wall. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” And this comes from a man who was beaten regularly; denied adequate medical treatment for two broken arms, a broken leg, and chronic dysentery; and tortured to the point of having an arm broken again. A U.S. military study of almost a hundred and fifty naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam, many of whom were treated even worse than McCain, reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered."

According to the Coalition for Prisoners' Rights, at least 25,000 people are being held in isolation in what are know as "Supermax" prisons in America today. Another 50,000 to 80,000 are kept in restrictive segregation units where they have minimal human contact, even with guards.

That's mindboggling. It's routine. And it appears to be the trend of the future.

The newsletter goes on to describe the serious psychological trauma such treatment inflicts on people, about a third of whom develop psychotic symptoms with hallucinations.

But it doesn't end there. After pointing to how the British have learned to prevent violence rather than resorting to extreme punishments in the aftermath, the newsletter goes on to advise prisoners how to survive solitary - concrete suggestions for getting through it.

Now that's the kind of thing I'd want to know if I was in prison, because I'd most certainly be spending a lot of time in the hole, going out of my mind. This newsletter is definitely written with the prisoner audience in mind, and has never cost anyone but the Coalition a dime.

This newsletter can't be allowed to die just like that. Their debt is only 1/3 of my student loan debt. Their estimated total circulation is about 50,000 newsletters per month. If everyone who received one gave them just $1 a year (they've never charged for subscriptions), they could pay off their debt and operate in the black.

I don't have 50,000 readers, and I'm sure that of the handful (literally) who do visit this page, few are any more wealthy than myself. A suggestion made by one of the former prisoners in the coalition, though, was for 10,000 readers - roughly representing the number of prisoners who depend on the newsletter - to use just one stamp and send a note to Oprah about why this newsletter needs to be saved. Just one stamp.

I don't know why Oprah, and not John McCain (who owns more homes that he can count). I don't know if anyone else will do this, or if they do, if Oprah will even get the SOS. She's dropped more money on sillier things than this before, though - and she does seem to have a heart.

So, I'm printing up this blog entry and enclosing my copy of my newsletter and sending it off to Oprah with a prayer. Hopefully it will be more productive than the Progressive's campaign to get people to mail their old shoes to President Bush (since we could never get close enough to throw them at him personally, I presume). Maybe Oprah will even be moved to do a show on the kinds of issues the Coalition has covered over the years. Wouldn't that be remarkable?

Her address is: Oprah Winfrey, c/o Harpo Productions, Inc., 1058 W. Washington Blvd., Chicago, Ill 60607. If you'd rather call, the number is 312-633-1000.

I swear I never thought I'd find myself writing to Oprah about anything, much less suggesting publicly that others do the same. But if it was Amnesty asking me to write the President of Iran or the Governor of Georgia, I would without hesitation. And who knows, maybe if enough of us do from all over the country it will make a difference, and the Coalition for Prisoners' Rights Newsletter can be saved.

(The Coalition for Prisoners' Rights Newsletter is published monthly by the Prison Project of Santa Fe, Inc., PO Box 1911, Santa Fe NM 87504-1911 and will accept any donations of cash or stamps that people can afford, on the off chance that Oprah doesn't come through.)

No comments:

Post a Comment