And we continue to build one of our own here in Colorado. They have broke ground on CSP II and are going to have to be creative in how they fill it up.
By Jessica Pupovac, AlterNet
Posted on August 11, 2008, Printed on August 11, 2008
"When I left Angola," says Robert King Wilkerson, who spent 29 years in solitary confinement in Louisiana's notorious Angola State Penitentiary for a crime he was later found innocent of, "I said, 'I may be free of Angola, but Angola will never be free of me.'" Since his release seven years ago, the vow has taken him to rallies, churches and talk shows across the globe. Earlier this summer, it brought him to Philadelphia for the first-ever StopMax Conference, where he told stories, analyzed the state of the American prison system and collaborated with a throng of like-minded activists determined to "end the use of solitary confinement and related forms of torture in U.S. prisons."
Wilkerson is a former member of the Black Panther Party and one of the Angola Three. He spent more than 30 years in prison for the killing of a prison guard, along with two other former Black Panthers -- Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace -- before being exonerated by the state of Louisiana in February 2001. Woodfox and Wallace still languish in prison. They are the longest-held prisoners in solitary isolation to date in the United States.
On a Friday early this summer, Wilkerson addressed a crowd composed of both supporters and curious passers-by outside Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, which opened its doors in 1829 as the first institutionalized experiment in long-term solitary confinement. Over the past 40 years, with modern advances enabling an unprecedented level of isolation and control, the practice has been systematized, standardized and forced upon thousands of people across the country, from murderers to drug addicts and petty thieves.
Wilkerson was one of many modern-day solitary survivors who brought focus and momentum to the StopMax Conference, organized by the American Friends Service Committee. Bonnie Kerness, Prison Watch coordinator for the AFSC, said that over the past two decades, the organization has received an "astounding" number of letters from people in solitary confinement describing the abuse that occurs in their desolate cells. She told AlterNet that "they describe in excruciating detail," among other things, "the uses of devices of torture -- forced medication, restraint beds, restraint chairs …"
"And now we're also starting to hear from juveniles," she says, "so it's almost at a point where, how could we not respond?"