Tonight: Survivors of Solitary to Share Stories of Life in Isolation At WNYC Event

Event at Greene Space in NYC will include personal stories, virtual solitary experience and panel of advocates, in-person and streamed

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
January 23, 2019 10:15 am

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Tonight, six survivors of solitary confinement will appear on a stage to share their personal stories of solitary, reflecting on how the experience of living in a cage the size of a parking space – sometimes for years at a time – altered their lives indelibly.

The Jan. 23 event, Micropolis Live, will also feature an immersive, haunting virtual tour of solitary confinement, simulating both the physical environment and the psychological disorientation of prolonged isolation.

The survivors and advocates speaking at the program, along with the virtual reality experience, will testify to the need for systemic reforms to limit solitary confinement in New Jersey and elsewhere.

“We must begin to understand what solitary confinement does to humans,” said Lydia Thornton, who spent nine-and-a-half months in solitary confinement in New Jersey. “It changes our brain chemistry – the studies demonstrate it, and our experiences confirm it. The vast majority of us will come back to our communities. We need to come back better, not more damaged. We call ourselves survivors, because we are. We speak for those who cannot.”

Also joining WNYC reporter Arun Venugopal, creator and host of the Micropolis series, will be members of the New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (NJ-CAIC) to contextualize this moment in criminal justice reform. NJ-CAIC’s membership includes the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ), the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), the American Friends Service Committee, and others.

The event takes place on Wednesday, Jan. 23, from 6 to 8:15 p.m. at The Greene Space, 44 Charlton Street in New York. Additional details and an interview with solitary survivor Lydia Thornton can be found at The Green Space website.

“Solitary confinement is torture. And it is a form of torture that is disproportionately used against Black and Brown people,” said Rev. Charles Boyer, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Woodbury and founder of the Salvation and Social Justice. “In New Jersey, over two-thirds of all isolated women and over three-fourths of all isolated men are Black or Hispanic.”

Legislation has been introduced in the state Assembly and Senate, A314/S3261, the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, which would greatly limit the use of solitary confinement in New Jersey prisons. The bill would ban isolation for more that 15 consecutive days, and no more than 20 days per 60-day period, with exceptions for genuine emergencies.

“New Jersey ranks fourth in the country in the number of prisoners who are held in isolation for more than six years,” said Amos Caley, an organizer with NJ-CAIC. “This is unconscionable. We call on our legislators and Governor Murphy to support A314/S3261, the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act.”

The bill would also prohibit any member of vulnerable populations, as classified by clinical staff, from being placed in isolation. Vulnerable populations include people aged 21 and younger, people aged 65 and older, people with developmental disabilities, people with a disability based on mental illness, people with serious medical conditions, and people who are pregnant.

“One of the cruelties of solitary confinement is its way of silencing those currently inside, keeping their anguish hidden from view, locked in cells the size of a parking spot,” said ACLU-NJ Staff Attorney Tess Borden. “The voices of survivors remind us of the intolerable suffering that takes place behind the walls of prisons and jails every day. Our legislators have a moral obligation to end solitary confinement in our state, and the stories of survivors illustrate why.”

In addition to Lydia Thornton, the event will also feature testimonies from:

Kevin Campfield, a solitary survivor and an advocate with NJ-CAIC who was released last year from a New Jersey prison.

Nafeesah Goldsmith, who was 26 years old when she was placed in solitary confinement for 60 days at New Jersey State Prison. Nafeesah Goldsmith is pursuing a Master’s degree at Monmouth University and works as a community organizer with New Jersey Together.

Mark Hopkins, who spent more than 180 days in solitary confinement in New Jersey. He was first tortured by solitary confinement when he was 16 years old. He is now a graduate student at Rutgers-New Brunswick and an organizer with the union AAUP-AFT.

Ron Pierce, the Democracy and Justice Fellow at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. During his more than 30 years of incarceration in New Jersey prisons, he spent a total of about four years in solitary confinement.

Justice Rountree, an organizer with NJ-CAIC. He spent a total of five years in isolation while incarcerated in New Jersey.

All speakers are available for advance interviews with members of the press.

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