hard to breathe

There are many disturbing points brought to light in Shane Bauer’s recent piece in Mother Jones, “Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me: Then I Went Inside America’s Prisons” – from the fact that over 80,000 people are in solitary confinement in US prisons, to the length of time that people are left to languish in what amounts to psychologically tortuous conditions. He visited Pelican Bay, a supermax prison in California, which holds 4000 people in long-term confinement. Bauer directs our attention to the fact that most of the people put in solitary are not sent there as a consequence of the crime they were convicted for, but rather for some form of evidence that they are part of a prison gang. The rationale for locking so many people up in isolation that breeds insanity is “safety.” Just like our rationale for waging a “drug war” on poor and largely black communities in the 1980’s was marketed as “crime prevention” in the grand scheme of law and order.

In a video that’s included in Bauer’s piece, he recounts going through multiple prisoners’ files looking for the reasons they were put in solitary. One particularly disturbing part is when he highlights how Corrections Officers regularly cite “possession of black literature” as well as “left wing books and writing about prisoners’ rights as evidence of gang membership.” If you freeze the video on a still image of a file that is citing the possession of “black literature” as evidence of gang violence, it includes “15 pages of handwritten Afro centric ideology” and a photocopy of“The New Afrikan Creed.” The basic principles of this creed promote self-worth, unity and collective purpose amongst Black Americans. While there may be a nationalist message, it doesn’t espouse violence, let alone suggest an outright threat to any specific group of people. Who, exactly, are we trying to protect by preventing people from trying to collectively uplift themselves?

(What happened to the first amendment? Right, prisoners are not considered full citizens, full humans even, so certainly not entitled to all the protections of free speech, and the right to bear arms, that plenty of white hate groups who openly espouse violence and genocide are allowed.)

Our criminal justice system today not only feeds off the poverty and inadequate education of a growing percent of Americans, it in fact actively perpetuates ignorance and isolation as a means of its own self-preservation. Our criminal justice system, and all its myriad beneficiaries (profits it reaps for a growing privatized prison industry sector, jobs for largely poor, white, rural Americans which ensures that class-based alliances across race and ethnicity never come to fruition, contracts and other financial incentives for city and state budgets….) thrives because it is licensed with the power to deprive people of their human and civil rights.

exalt reaches young people who’ve already tasted the constricted air in the tunnel ending in permanent disenfranchisement. We offer them different air to breathe – air that tastes like possibilities, like freedom. You can play an incredibly powerful role in turning the tide from one that pushes our children into prisons, to one that thrusts them towards their highest potential. Please consider taking on an exalt intern – or sharing this with someone you know who might.

Executive Director

Executive Director