Advocates campaign against solitary confinement in Eltingville with makeshift cell

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From Staten Island Advance:

Staten Islanders had the opportunity Thursday night to briefly experience one of the hardest parts of our nation’s penal system.

A group of advocates brought a makeshift solitary cell to the South Shore YMCA in Eltingville to show people the level of isolation inmates can face.

The model was constructed by Doug Van Zandt, of Albany, after his son Benjamin hanged himself in a cell just like the 6-foot-by-9-foot model.

“It’s a system that needs to stop,” Van Zandt said.
His son was sent to the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Dutchess County after he set fire to an unoccupied home in 2010 at the age of 17.

Van Zandt said his son was an honor roll student, who was an active Boy Scout close to obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout, but he also had severe mental health issues including auditory hallucinations that his parents were unaware of.

After suffering a sexual assault, Benjamin was sent to solitary confinement, Van Zandt said.

“We do not want other parents with children, who have mental illness to go through this,” Van Zandt said.

He was part of a panel with three other activists — Tamika Graham, Jack Davis, and Anisah Sabur — to discuss their own experiences with the criminal justice system, and solitary confinement.

Victor Pate, who was incarcerated for 15 years on and off for robbery and weapons offenses, moderated the panel. He now works as an organizer for the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC).

“Solitary confinement as it is in our state now is horrific. It is torturous,” Pate, who spent a total of two years in solitary confinement, said. “This is not something that should be happening to human beings.”

Read the entire article by Paul Liotta.