Play reveals injustice of solitary confinement

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From Lake Placid News:

Mariposa 2017

Cast & crew of “Mariposa and the Saint: Ray Huth, Julia Steele Allen (co-author), Michi Ilona Osato, and Tyrrell Muhammad of the CA. Photo credit: Naj Wikoff

Imagine living in and being confined 23 hours a day to an 8-by-14-foot space, which includes your bed, wash basin and toilet. Imagine living there anywhere from 30 days to 30 years.

In New York state prisons, more than 4,000 men and women are living in such conditions, nearly 1,000 in the North Country. The United Nations has declared over two weeks in solitary as torture and called for an absolute ban on solitary lasting more than 15 days.

One might think that people living in solitary are all there as punishment for some heinous crime, but according to Tyrrell Muhammad of the Correction Association of New York, that’s often not the case. He should know, as he spent seven of his 23 years in prison in solitary, the first time because someone gave him an extra blanket instead of the regulation one per inmate. The extra blanket was considered contraband, and that cost him six months in the box.

Two years ago, Sara “Mariposa” Fonseca, then a month away from release after serving 12 years, threw a cup of water at a male nurse. She was sent to solitary, given four extra years, and since has received two more.

Solitary results in sensory deprivation, the lack of normal human interaction, and extreme idleness. The outcomes can be severe physical, emotional and spiritual damage. No one comes out untouched.

Forty percent of prison suicides in 2014 and 2015 took place in solitary. Nationally, according to the Yale Law School and the Association of State Correctional Administrators, approximately 80,000 inmates are living in solitary, about 5 percent of the prison population. Of those in solitary, 66 percent are people of color. At, 16 percent, Louisiana has the highest percentage living in solitary while New York has 9 percent.

Around 2 to 3 percent are sent into solitary for protective reasons and 28 percent for disciplinary reasons. The vast majority are sent to and kept in solitary for “administrative segregation,” a catch-all phrase that covers minor infractions to disruptive behavior often determined by the corrections officers, such as Muhammad and Fonseca’s offenses. Administrative solitary rarely has a fixed length of stay and once in, an inmate’s time is often increased. Recently a few states, such as North Dakota, have begun developing guidelines to set lengths of stay for administrative segregation infractions. Nationwide, pressure has been building for the reform or elimination of solitary.

Muhammad felt that it was a corrections officer who slipped him magazines that kept him sane and enabled him to survive his time in the box.

Read the full article here.