In NC prisons, synthetic marijuana has emerged as a deadly threat

K2, one of the commonly used brands of synthetic marijuana, is widespread in North Carolina’s prisons. Medical experts say it poses serious health risks.

K2, one of the commonly used brands of synthetic marijuana, is widespread in North Carolina’s prisons. Medical experts say it poses serious health risks.

By Ames Alexander

and Gavin Off

aalexander@charlotteobserver.com

goff@charlotteobserver.com

 

North Carolina prison officials are grappling with a growing threat – synthetic marijuana, which is suspected in the death of at least one inmate and the hospitalizations of dozens of others this year.

Known by brand names such as K2 and Spice, synthetic marijuana is readily available online. It’s marketed as a safe alternative to marijuana. But in reality, it’s addictive and can be far more dangerous than marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Using it can trigger seizures and suicidal thoughts, elevate blood pressure, and increase the risk of heart attacks.

I can smell it burning right now.

James McElreath, an inmate at Scotland Correctional Institution, speaking about the widespread use of synthetic marijuana in North Carolina’s prisons

Officials began seeing K2 in the North Carolina prisons about two years ago, according to prison spokesman Keith Acree.

“Since then, dozens of inmates have been out to local hospitals as a result of K2 use, some of them with hospital stays of more than a week,” Acree told the Observer.

Several inmates interviewed by the Observer said that K2 has become widespread in the prisons – and that most of it is brought in by correctional officers.

“I can smell it burning right now,” James McElreath, an inmate at Scotland Correctional Institution, said during a recent telephone interview.

State prison leaders have acknowledged that most contraband in maximum security facilities is smuggled in by staff members.

Among the recent emergencies tied to synthetic marijuana:

▪ In January, 10 inmates at Harnett Correctional Institution were hospitalized after suspected overdoses from synthetic marijuana.

▪ In May, 14 prisoners at Hyde Correctional Institution were hospitalized. Again, K2 was suspected as the cause.

▪ In June, a 38-year-old inmate at Caledonia Correctional Institution was found dead in his cell. State prison officials said the victim, Charles Moss, may have been using K2.

Death of an artist

Fellow inmates believe synthetic marijuana also played a role in the recent death of David Wise, a 58-year-old prisoner at Scotland Correctional Institution, about 100 miles southeast of Charlotte.

Wise, an artist whose work had been displayed in galleries on the Outer Banks, had been serving time for drug offenses and assault by strangulation. He was scheduled to be released in 2018.

But on the afternoon of Aug. 2, a fellow prisoner found Wise unresponsive on his bunk. Inmate James K. Jones told the Observer that Wise had been smoking K2 with another prisoner about noon that day. A few hours later, Jones found Wise looking gray and lifeless.

“I thought he was dead,” Jones said.

Dozens of inmates have been out to local hospitals as a result of K2 use, some of them with hospital stays of more than a week.

Keith Acree, a spokesman for the North Carolina prisons, writing about the toll that synthetic marijuana is taking on the state’s inmates

Wise was taken to a local hospital, where he died two days later. Doctors found he had suffered a heart attack.

An autopsy concluded that Wise died as a result of heart disease. But medical examiners did not test for synthetic marijuana in Wise’s body. A spokesperson for the state Department of Health and Human Services said medical examiners don’t test for synthetic marijuana unless investigators ask them to do so.

Acree said prison officials initially thought that K2 might be a factor in Wise’s death, but “the medical information we were getting from doctors and the hospital did not support that.”

McElreath, the inmate at Scotland Correctional, said he’d also had seen Wise using K2.

“I told him that’s insanity,” McElreath said. “He’d say, ‘Hey man. I wish I could stop, but I’m a drug addict.’ ”

McElreath says he has seen inmates so impaired by K2 that they have attempted to jump from the second tier of a cellblock.

“I’ve seen them laying on the concrete floor swimming like they were on a lake,” McElreath said. “I’ve seen them freak out, crying, screaming for their Dad or Mom.”

‘On the lookout’

Prison officials say they are trying to educate inmates about the perils of synthetic marijuana. Prison leaders have incorporated information about K2 into inmate orientation, and have put up posters in inmate living areas warning of the dangers.

“Prison staff are constantly on the lookout for it,” Acree wrote.

Manufacturers make synthetic marijuana by spraying mind-altering chemicals on dried plant material. It’s often advertised as potpourri or herbal incense, but those who smoke it are generally looking to get high.

A 2015 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control found that the number of people nationwide who had died from synthetic marijuana had tripled over the previous year.

North Carolina legislators outlawed the manufacture, sale and distribution of synthetic marijuana in 2013.

State Rep. Craig Horn, a Weddington Republican who helped sponsor the legislation, says synthetic marijuana is less prevalent in stores than it used to be. But he acknowledged that it is still available online, and that some manufacturers are trying to skirt such laws by including a disingenuous warning on their packages: “Not for Human Consumption.”

If anything, Horn says, he has become more worried about synthetic marijuana.

“This stuff is getting more dangerous because it’s getting more potent,” he said. “The folks who make this stuff constantly push the envelope.”

Ames Alexander: 704-358-5060, @amesalex

CONTINUE READING…

Obama commutes sentences for 46 nonviolent drug offenders

The White House announced Monday that President Obama had commuted the prison sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders, bringing the total number of commutations issued by the president to 89.

That’s far higher than his two predecessors. Former President Bush commuted the sentences of 11 people, and Former President Clinton did so for 61 people.

"These men and women were not hardened criminals, but the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years. Fourteen of them had been sentenced to life for nonviolent drug offenses, so their punishments didn’t fit the crime," Mr. Obama said in a video the White House released on Facebook. He noted that if they had been sentenced under today’s laws, nearly all would have served their time already.

"I believe that, at its heart, America is a nation of second chances, and I believe these folks deserve their second chance," the president added.

The White House also released a copy of a letter Mr. Obama wrote to Jerry Allen Bailey, one of the people whose sentences he is commuting. Bailey was sentenced to 360 months’ imprisonment and 10 years’ supervised release in April 1996 for conspiracy to violate narcotics laws.

"I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around," the president wrote. "Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. Perhaps even you are unsure of how you will adjust to your new circumstances. But remember that you have the capacity to make good choices."

"I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong, and change your life for the better," he adds at the end.

Criminal justice reform has emerged as a rare issue uniting politicians on the right and left. The Corrections Act, introduced by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, aims to shorten sentences for low-risk federal inmates while also reducing their chances of returning to prison.

A handful of liberals and conservatives — including Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Cory Booker of New Jersey — have introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act. Two 2016 Republican candidates, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have also signed on to the bill, which would give judges more discretion in sentencing those convicted of nonviolent drug offenses.

Play Video

Hillary Clinton: Criminal justice system "unbalanced"

Paul and Booker have also introduced a bill crafted to complement other sentencing reform efforts, called the Redeem Act (the "Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment" Act) to reduce recidivism.

At the federal level, the Obama administration has attempted to reform the criminal justice system without the help of Congress. In 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a change in Justice Department policy to avoid draconian mandatory minimum sentencing rules. The department now charges low-level, non-violent drug offenders with offenses that don’t impose mandatory minimum sentences.

The White House also asked the Justice Department to develop criteria for identifying and recommending non-violent, low-level offenders for clemency if they might have been given less harsh sentences under today’s policies.

"The President’s decision to commute the sentences of 46 more individuals today is another sign of our commitment to correcting these inequities. We will continue to recommend to the President appropriate candidates for clemency, and we will continue to work with Congress on recalibrating our sentencing laws for non-violent drug offenders," Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement after the president’s announcement.

Mr. Obama will discuss criminal justice reforms when he addresses the NAACP convention in Philadelphia on Tuesday. On Thursday, he will visit the El Reno federal prison and will take part in the taping of an HBO special on the criminal justice system, making him the first U.S. president to visit a federal prison.

CBS News Political Reporter Stephanie Condon contributed to this story.

CONTINUE READING…

Prison operator sued in death of former marijuana provider

By Sanjay Talwani – MTN News

Connect

Lawsuit (MTN News photo)

  

Prison photo (MTN News photo)

  

HELENA –

The widow of a former medical marijuana provider who died while serving time is suing the operator of Montana’s only private prison.

A federal lawsuit says Corrections Corporations of America failed to give the inmate (Flor) needed medical care while at its Crossroads Correctional Center outside Shelby.

Flor died in August 2012 in a Las Vegas hospital on the way to a federal prison medical facility.

Before that, according to the lawsuit, he endured extreme pain while he awaited an assignment to a federal facility.

His lawyer, Brad Arndorfer, had tried to have him released from prison pending his appeal because of health reasons. And in prison, the lawsuit says, Flor and his family made multiple requests for medical care but did not receive any.

Flor was unable to adequately care for himself or feed himself, and his care was left to other inmates, the lawsuit claims.

Flor was 68 and a co-founder of Montana Cannabis, one of the state’s largest medical marijuana providers. It was shut down in 2011 by federal authorities along with similar operations around the state.

An inquiry to the attorney representing CCA in the case was returned with an email from a CCA spokesman.

Steven Owen, CCA’s managing director of communications, said in the email that CCA could not comment in a particular inmate’s case. But he said staff are firmly committed to the inmates’ health and safety.

He also said CCA meets or exceeds all of the standards of the U.S. Marshals Service, the Montana Department of Corrections, and the American Correctional Association.

"The facility and staff are subject to strong oversight by on-site monitors who regularly inspect and audit our processes for delivering care," he said in the email.

The suit was first filed on May 6 in state District Court in Yellowstone County. It has moved to U.S. District Court in Billings and was re-filed there Monday. CCA, based in Tennessee, has not yet filed a response.

Arndorfer filed the suit on behalf of Flor’s widow, Sherry Flor, and did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment.

CONTINUE READING…

We live in the only country in the world where a child can be sentenced to be in prison until they die

Juwan being interrogated

We live in the only country in the world where a child can be sentenced to be in prison until they die.

What’s worse is that it’s not even rare — more than 2,500 people who were sentenced as kids will spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Juwan is one of them. He was a skinny 16-year-old kid when he was arrested after he saw a companion kill a pizza deliveryman. The shooter was never convicted, but because Juwan was present and had a gun, he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Without the possibility of parole, Juwan will never have a second chance for rehabilitation.

Just one year before Juwan was sentenced, the Supreme Court decided that mandatory juvenile life without parole was unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

The problem is — the decision left gaping loopholes and didn’t ban the sentence outright, meaning that Juwan and other children became victims of poor timing and inadequate policy implementation. While six states have moved to ban the practice, this barbaric punishment is still perfectly legal in 44 states.

But the Department of Justice has the power to close some of these loopholes and set the standard on the federal level. By providing policy guidelines for U.S. attorneys, the DOJ can ensure that judges are empowered to use discretion and give appropriate sentences based on unique circumstances.

Attorney General Eric Holder has already endorsed proposals that limit life without parole sentences for non-violent drug offenders. If he hears from thousands of us who support criminal justice reform, he can provide the tools needed to limit juvenile life without parole sentences.

It’s time that we give kids like Juwan a second chance at life.

PLEASE FOLLOW THIS LINK AND SIGN PETITION!

We live in the only country in the world where a child can be sentenced to be in prison until they die

Juwan being interrogated

We live in the only country in the world where a child can be sentenced to be in prison until they die.

What’s worse is that it’s not even rare — more than 2,500 people who were sentenced as kids will spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Juwan is one of them. He was a skinny 16-year-old kid when he was arrested after he saw a companion kill a pizza deliveryman. The shooter was never convicted, but because Juwan was present and had a gun, he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Without the possibility of parole, Juwan will never have a second chance for rehabilitation.

Just one year before Juwan was sentenced, the Supreme Court decided that mandatory juvenile life without parole was unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

The problem is — the decision left gaping loopholes and didn’t ban the sentence outright, meaning that Juwan and other children became victims of poor timing and inadequate policy implementation. While six states have moved to ban the practice, this barbaric punishment is still perfectly legal in 44 states.

But the Department of Justice has the power to close some of these loopholes and set the standard on the federal level. By providing policy guidelines for U.S. attorneys, the DOJ can ensure that judges are empowered to use discretion and give appropriate sentences based on unique circumstances.

Attorney General Eric Holder has already endorsed proposals that limit life without parole sentences for non-violent drug offenders. If he hears from thousands of us who support criminal justice reform, he can provide the tools needed to limit juvenile life without parole sentences.

It’s time that we give kids like Juwan a second chance at life.

PLEASE FOLLOW THIS LINK AND SIGN PETITION!

Schapelle Corby: Time to let go of our obsession

Michael Bachelard

Michael Bachelard
Indonesia correspondent for Fairfax Media

Schapelle Corby waits in her cell before her trial in 2005.

CORBY: THE FACTS

 

Another nuance of activity occurred in Bali on Tuesday, as the parole process for Schapelle Corby inched forward once again. Representatives of an agency of the Indonesian Justice Department visited the house where she would be required to live if she were let out of jail early.

Even though she has not yet applied for parole, as with all things Corby, the "news" drove some of the frothier parts of the Australian media into habitual overdrive.

Schapelle Corby  is escorted by police to a courtroom in Denpasar in 2006.

Schapelle Corby is escorted by police to a courtroom in Denpasar in 2006. Photo: AFP

Some outlets have even put a date on her release – October 30.

Advertisement

Well, that may or may not be so. Like the last time a date was so confidently predicted (in May last year, August 2012 was said to be when she would return to Australia), it’s far enough away to be possible, yet not so close that anyone is held accountable if the date is missed.

So, assuming her release is coming up after almost nine years in jail, let’s take the opportunity to assess our attitude to Schapelle Corby.

Schapelle Corby and fellow convicted drug mule Renae Lawrence in Kerobokan Jail in 2010.

Schapelle Corby and fellow convicted drug mule Renae Lawrence in Kerobokan Jail in 2010. Photo: Jason Childs

Many people have spent a great deal of time and energy poring over this one woman’s case – the Australian consulate in Bali; authors; lawyers; dozens, if not hundreds of journalists; prison officials, professional internet conspiracy theorists, politicians in both Australia and Indonesia.

It’s not only the Australian media who go into a frenzy at the mention of her name. She has become a touchstone in the Indonesian press, too. There, though, it’s not about an innocent entrapped in a third-world system, it’s about the ugly habit of Westerners to aggressively demand special treatment.

The head of Bali’s Kerobokan jail, Gusti Ngurah Wiratna, remarked to the press in frustration recently: "I’ve got 1000 prisoners, why are you only interested in Schapelle?"

Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of dollars, have changed hands – for paid interviews with the family, internet ads, defamation actions and other civil court actions, royalties and lawyers fees.

Her 2004 arrest and imprisonment has turned into a Schapelle industry.

Sadly, for several years, the subject of that industry has suffered from severe mental health issues, and has largely removed herself from its centre. Even the Corby family-friendly journalists can only quote  "those who know and live with her" in their stories because Corby herself refuses any direct interaction with the press.

She does not even go to the visitor’s area of Kerobokan in case there might be journalists there. Her absence, for the same reason, from compulsory prison events, has potentially even harmed her cause.

For a long time  Fairfax Media readers have held the dual belief that Corby is guilty, but that she deserves a shortened sentence.

Views of her innocence in the broader public are likely to be higher, but substantially lower than at the height of the "Our Schapelle" frenzy of 2004 and 2005.

It’s her perceived innocence that initially drove the Corby story to the point of obsession, but even though this has changed, nine years later, we in the media remain closely focused on every detail of her incarceration and possible release.

Perhaps we assume people will be moved by the same impulses, or the echoes of the impulses, that moved them a decade ago.

But let’s consider what all this will mean when she is ultimately released, whether on parole or at the end of her sentence.

After 10 years in a bubble, Corby will be exposed to the world.

She’ll be walking the narrow streets of Kuta, living in a Balinese compound whose address is well known, with the world’s media – including a chaotic Indonesian press pack – on her doorstep.

The inevitable paid interviews will create an appetite among the unsuccessful bidders for exclusives of a different kind – for evidence of her poor mental state, for pictures of her drinking her first beer, wearing a bikini at the beach, hanging out with a man, throwing a tantrum.

In the open, she’ll lack the protection afforded by the Australian consulate from the tourists and stickybeaks who even now occasionally try to get into the jail to visit her.

The local police are unwilling and unequipped to provide any protection.

Whatever you think of her guilt or innocence, Corby has served a long sentence, and her adjustment to life on the outside – difficult as it will be already – can only be made immeasurably harder by such attention.

Perhaps it’s time to let go of our decade-long obsession and finally just leave Schapelle Corby alone.

CORBY: THE FACTS
• Corby has been eligible for parole for more than a year, since the Indonesian president granted her clemency with a five-year sentence reduction;
• She has not yet applied for parole, and the Indonesians have not started the process, because the Indonesian immigration department has not yet confirmed that she can get a visa to be able to serve out her sentence in Bali with her sister Mercedes and brother-in-law Wayan;
• All the other conditions for parole – including an unprecedented letter from the Australian government guaranteeing her good behaviour – are in place;
• With continued remission for good behaviour, she is likely to be out in 2015 even if she does not win parole.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/schapelle-corby-time-to-let-go-of-our-obsession-20130814-2rvuc.html#ixzz2cKeyqYu5

Schapelle Corby
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

NCADP Online Conference Video

NCADP Online Conference Video

 

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is excited to present this live online conference exploring how communities can be safer without the death penalty. The conference will be broadcast over the web and will be approximately one hour in length. View the conference right here, on this page!

This will be a video conference with presenters live in California, Maryland and Massachusetts. We need your help to advertise this event.

Join us for a fascinating discussion addressing the question, “does the death penalty actually keep us safer?” with Charles Ogletree, Harvard University and founder of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, Ron McAndrew, former warden of Florida State Prison who conducted that state’s final electrocutions, Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person exonerated from death row using DNA evidence, and Jerry Givens, former corrections officer from Virginia who put 62 men to death during his 17 years as an executioner.

Send us your questions in advance by tweeting them to #abolition2012.

THE VIDEO IS AVAILABLE TO VIEW AT THIS LINK….

 

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Hear Testimony on the Torture of Solitary Confinement

September 22, 2012 By

Well over one hundred people filled a conference suite at Temple University in Philadelphia on Tuesday, September 18, to hear testimony on the effects of solitary confinement. They included survivors of solitary, family members, community members, advocates, and lawmakers. The hearing was held by the Democratic Policy Committee of Pennsylvania at the request of Representative Ronald G. Waters (D-Delaware/Philadelphia), a member of the committee. It comes in the wake of the first ever Congressional hearingon solitary confinement, held by a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in June, and serves as yet another marker of how the widespread practice of solitary confinement in American prisons and jails is quickly becoming a mainstream human rights issue.

The hearing also followed a rally on Monday at Philadelphia’s Love Park, organized by the Human Rights Coalition. About 150 participants listened to speakers describe their experiences in solitary confinement, while holding signs and banners that read “Jobs Not Jails,” “Fund Schools Not Prisons,” and “End Torture in Pennsylvania.” One banner listed the names of a group of prisoner who have been held in extreme isolation for from ten to thirty years.

All twenty-seven Pennsylvania state prisons have solitary confinement units, called Restricted Housing Units, and collectively they hold around 2,500 of the country’s 80,000 solitary confinement prisoners–about 5 percent of Pennsylvania’s total prison population of approximately 50,000. Stays in these RHUs can last for months, years or even decades. In general solitary confinement units in Pennsylvania look much like those across the country: units of tiny cells, lit 24-hours a day, with only food tray slots as portals to the outside world, that are used as warehouses for the mentally ill and politically active. These units have seen three suicides in the last two years as well as the death of John Carter in April of this year, allegedly at the hands of guards who used pepper spray and stun guns on him during a violent ”cell extraction.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has a specific designation for those prisoners that are placed in solitary confinement for indefinite periods of time: the Restricted Release List, a program that grew out of what used to be known as the Long Term Isolation Unit.  Those on the list can only be released from solitary confinement with the approval of the department secretary; they often have not committed any offense in years, and are given no notice of their grave designation.

The hearing consisted of four panels: mental health experts, legal experts, survivors of solitary confinement, and family members with loved ones in solitary confinement. The first panel consisted of Dr. Terry Kupers and Dr. Craig Haney. Both men are psychologists who have done extensive research on the topic of solitary confinement, and Haney testified at the Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in June.

 

Dr. Kupers began by telling the narrative of how solitary confinement and the idea of the supermax came into prevalence in the United States; a story told and lamented throughout the hearing. Kupers stated that the United States made what he called “a historic wrong turn” in the 1980s when prisons across the country cut funding to rehabilitative services, and began to see a rise in prison overcrowding and recidivism. Instead of reassessing the system itself, the nation’s response was to expand the prisons and propagate the idea that all of the problems of the system hinged on “the worst of the worst,” those prisoners who needed to be locked away in isolation.

Both psychologists emphasized the well documented proof that solitary confinement leads to, and greatly exacerbates mental illness. In response to the testimony Rep. Ron Waters asked, for the first of many times, how he could convince his fellow lawmakers that current policies and the use of solitary confinement is a policy of “tough on crime” rather than “smart on crime.” The representative also pointed out that Pennsylvania taxpayers pay $33,000 per year to imprison one person, and they deserve a “healthy, productive” citizen in return, not a mentally ill victim of torture. His remarks were in response to Terry Kuper’s explanation of someone maxing out of prison and being released straight from solitary confinement back to the community.

The second panel consisted of Jules Lobel of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Marc Bookman of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, Angus Love of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and Robert Meek of the Disability Rights Network. Lobel, the first to testify, via telecast, has represented prisoners in multiple cases challenging the conditions of solitary confinement, including his current representation of prisoners at Pelican Bay state prison in California. His testimony focused on how and why solitary confinement does not achieve its stated goals, using mainly examples of who it is that ends up in these units–certainly not the “worst of the worst.”  “Instead, race, political affiliation, religion, association, vulnerability to sexual abuse, and challenging violations to one’s rights all too frequently play a role in which prisoners are sent to solitary confinement.”

The testimony of Angus Love and Robert Meek refocused the discussion towards the causal link between solitary confinement and mental illness. Statistics from research into Pennsylvania prisons, Meek explained, showed that 800 prisoners registered as having mental health issues are currently serving time in solitary confinement units in the state, while beds at the state’s mental health facility, State Correctional Institute Waymart, sit empty. Meek’s testimony called for what he referred to as “robust” psychosocial treatment for prisoners with known mental health issues and more oversight and consideration of mental illness in punishing a prisoner with solitary confinement. One of Pennsylvania’s prisons, SCI Cresson, is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice for their failure to provide adequate mental health treatment for prisoners. All four of the panelists urged that though programs for treatment and true rehabilitation may cost the state money in the short term, their cost-cutting effects in the long term would be great, and that in order to fix the issue of prisons in our state they must break the cycle of mental illness and incarceration.

The response from the delegates to the testimony presented by the panel of legal experts was thorough and indicated that several members were truly engaged in the subject of abolishing solitary confinement. Representative Vanessa Lowery Brown (D-Philadelphia), reflected on a recent visit to a Pennsylvania prison when she was told by staff that she “didn’t understand” why long term isolation was necessary. The testimony on Tuesday reinforced her belief that it was the staff at Pennsylvania’s state prisons that didn’t understand. Once again the representative implored the panelists to explain how they thought they should go about fixing the issue. The response from the three men present was unanimous: stop locking so many people up. Marc Bookman, whose testimony focused on the death row in Pennsylvania, pleaded that the lawmakers “stop feeding the Prison Industrial Complex” and “get smart on crime.”

As the hearing began nearing its scheduled end time, four solitary confinement survivors began the third panel. Robert King, a member of what is known as the Angola 3, who spent 29 years in solitary confinement in Louisiana, was the first to testify. A dedicated activist and public speaker, King simply talked about his experience in prison, and the effects that long term isolation can have on the mind. Most memorably he stated that he never once would have told you that he wasn’t crazy during his time in solitary confinement. “No one asked me; if they did I would have told them, of course I feel crazy.” The other two members of the Angola 3 are still in prison, convicted on questionable evidence of the 1972 murder of prison guard Brent Miller.

The second testimony was from Shujaa Graham, wrongfully accused of the murder of a prison guard in California which caused him to spend years in solitary confinement on death row. After a fourth trial his conviction was overturned in 1981, and he was freed after eleven years in prison. His voice shaky but sure, Graham’s testimony was some of the most emotional of the whole hearing. He stated that he felt he could never truly recover from the effects of isolation and that he only survives today “in spite of the system.” At the end of his testimony, with the applause of the audience, he told the representatives to stop nickel and diming the people they represent, to “do the right thing” and stop torturing people in Pennsylvania’s prisons.

The last two previously incarcerate people to speak were Hakeem Shaheed and LuQman Abdullah. Shaheed spent time in the federal prison system, including time at the infamous Marion prison, a federal supermax facility in Illinois.  His testimony focused on the corruption within the federal prison system. Shaheed himself was placed at Marion, he said, as retaliation to his speaking at an inmate event and offering an indictment of the torture and abuse within federal prisons. Before his testimony Shaheed circulated his laptop, which displayed a still shot from a video in which guards brutalized him following the September 11th attacks because of his Muslim beliefs.

LuQman Abdullah spent eleven years in Pennsylvania prisons after being wrongfully accused of murder. He spent much of his time in prison in solitary confinement, given misconducts for his involvement with political groups and indictment of the planned execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His testimony was a series of stories of the torture he survived, like being strapped naked to a bed without a mattress and left for days, and also of triumph and lessons learned. When housed at SCI Green, Abdullah was housed next to Russell Maroon Shoatz, whose teachings and friendship he said “saved his life.” For the second time during the hearing Maroon’s long-term isolation was called into question and a plea was made to the lawmakers to release the 70-year-old  with failing health into general population.  Abdullah also brought up the name of Charles Graner for the first time during the hearing; Graner was a guard at SCI Green who was found guilty of the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu-Gharib prison.

The final panel of the day was four women, all with loved ones in solitary confinement. Shandre Delaney, whose son Carrington Keyes has been in solitary confinement in Pennsylvania for ten years, told how her son was placed in solitary confinement as retaliation for his political actions and beliefs. Ms. Delaney is an advocate with the Human Rights Coalition and corresponds regularly with prisoners who suffer similar fates to her son’s.ay and demanded that the representatives take the necessary steps to set up an outside organization that can monitor the Department of Corrections because from her experience “prisoners are not requesting special treatment but fair and humane treatment.”

Theresa Shoatz, the daughter of Russell Maroon Shoatz, was the second panelist to speak. Theresa told her story of growing up with a father being tortured in prison. Like Delaney, Shoatz is not solely an advocate for her father, but for all prisoners suffering a similar fate to his. Near the end of her testimony Shoatz pulled a five -allon bag of prescription pill bottles from her purse, telling the representatives that if they wanted to see the effects of her fight for her father they need to look no further than that bag, which was full of medications for stress-related illness. (A video interview with Theresa Shoatz can be viewed here.)

As representatives began to slowly leave the conference room the last two panelists spoke. Patricia Vickers, an advocate with the Human Rights Coalition, read testimony submitted by her son Kerry Marshall (Shakaboona), who has spent seventeen years in solitary confinement. The letter she read was a pointed and concise evaluation of the need for an outside organization to be formed in order to ensure oversight of the retaliatory and tortuous practices of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Vickers’ own testimony echoed this need for an un-biased monitorial group. The final panelist was Barbara Fair, the founder of My Brother’s Keeper. Pushed for time, the lawmakers asked that she be brief, so she gave a five-minute testimony in which she simply re-stated the message of the day: “Solitary confinement is meant to break the spirit and shatter the mind, and there is no use or need for it other than that.” Her remarks were followed by a burst of applause from attendees.

Representative Ronald Waters ended the hearing, reminding the audience once again how hard it will be to bring everything they had learned that day back to the rest of the lawmakers in Pennsylvania and gain any meaningful change. ”Its too easy to go along with the narrative of tough on crime, you see the stories that make the newspapers,” he said. Representatives who had stayed an hour and a half beyond the scheduled time greeted some of the panelists and filed out of the conference room, having received a clear message that the uphill battle to end solitary confinement in Pennsylvania is one worth fighting.

CONTINUE READING….