Book Reviews: June, 2013
Use of Solitary Confinement is “Out of Control”
I hope that my readers have been disturbed – maybe even shocked – to learn that a growing number of immigration detainees, many of them alleged to be guilty of no crime other than border violations – are being held in solitary confinement.
I’ve written about the issue of solitary confinement in this forum before, seeing it – as do the United Nations and most of the world’s governments – as an especially insidious and corrosive form of mental and physical torture. I’ve obviously haven’t been paying enough attention to the ways in which solitary confinement is actually administered in this country, and the extent to which the practice has metastasized. When my wife’s childhood friend, Nancy Kurshan, came to Boston recently, to publicize her book documenting a fifteen year fight against “control unit prisons,” I didn’t know what she was talking about.
In Out of Control: A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons, Nancy documents the explosive expansion of the concept and practice of long-term, punitive isolation, resulting in a network of prisons throughout the United States in which a majority of prisoners are held in solitary 23+ hours a day, for all practical purposes indefinitely.
The book focuses on the 15-year struggle of a grassroots Illinois group to shut down the Federal prison at Marion, Illinois, the first to use long-term solitary not just as a short-term response to prison violence, or for extraordinarily dangerous or violent inmates, but as their primary mode of incarceration and control. During the 15-year life of the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown (CEML), the number of U.S. prisons using this model as their primary mode of “correction” has skyrocketed:
“By 2005, at least 44 states had constructed their very own control unit prison. Some, like California, had more than one such prison. At this writing (2012) there are over 80,000 human beings locked away in these units, some for decades, some forever. There was not a single such prison at the beginning of 1983.”
Out of Control focuses on the ultimately unsuccessful efforts of CEML to shut down Marion, and may document more of the minutia of community organizing than some readers are looking for. Others will find it inspirational.
NOTE: A slightly different online version of Out of Control is also available at The Freedom Archives, with links to many of the documents cited. I’m old fashioned. I still prefer to read actual books.
Here’s a heads-up about an engaging new novel that puts the “crisis” of illegal immigration in the Southwest United States into humane perspective. Rilla Askew’s Kind of Kin might convince you that the issue isn’t a crisis at all – just a problem that non-hysterical neighbors might work out for themselves if given half a chance.
At the center of the story is Sweet, a middle-aged Oklahoma housewife caring for the senile father of her mostly-absent trucker husband, the son of her deceased sister, and her own son, who’s developing into a bit of a bully. In the meantime, her own father is in jail for harboring a barn full of undocumented migrants and her niece’s husband, also undocumented, was deported but has just shown up again. The local sheriff, pretty clearly modeled on Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio, sees the whole situation as his chance to break into the national media. Check it out: Rilla Askew, Kind of Kin, ECCO/HarperCollins, 2013.
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