From the Editor
by Paul Wright
Since we began publishing PLN in 1990 we have documented the horrific effects of solitary confinement and its overall goal and purpose of psychologically destroying prisoners subjected to long-term isolation. It’s not a coincidence that the rise of solitary confinement in the U.S. began in the 1970s just as American courts were ending the use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline by prison officials. For example, as recently as the early 1970s prisoners were still being flogged with leather straps in Tennessee and Arkansas.
The rise of solitary confinement also coincided with the successful use of long-term isolation and sensory deprivation by the U.S. as a torture and interrogation technique against freedom fighters and anti-imperialists in Vietnam, South America and elsewhere. What began as a counter-insurgency tactic overseas is now routinely used against an estimated 80,000 U.S. prisoners on a daily basis – the vast majority of whom harbor no animus toward the government that imprisons them but are simply a little too poor, a little too mentally ill, not law abiding enough or not subservient enough to stay out of prison or, once incarcerated, to avoid being placed in solitary. As states and the federal government spent billions to build supermax prisons, it was no surprise they would be filled with whoever was available to fill them.
Colorado was among the states that invested in solitary confinement as a means of controlling – and torturing – prisoners. After decades of using long-term segregation, it appeared there was some modest hope for change when Tom Clements was appointed director of the Colorado DOC and began to curtail the use of solitary.
I met Clements at a conference on supermax prisons several years ago at Columbia Law School, where we were both speakers. He discussed his efforts to reduce the use of isolation in Colorado, which had already been moderately successful. He seemed genuinely committed to the notion of reform; therefore, it was all the more shocking and ironic that he would be killed by a prisoner recently released from solitary confinement. This month’s cover story delves behind the headlines of Clements’ death into the background of his killer, Evan Ebel, and the repercussions that followed.
This issue of PLN also includes a poem by renowned poet Maya Angelou, who passed away on May 28, 2014. In addition to being a poet she was at various times homeless, a lounge singer, a pimp, a prostitute, a victim of child rape – all of which influenced her work – and had demonstrated by the time of her death that she was much more, by serving as a powerful voice for the voiceless. Several of her poems are especially meaningful for people behind bars, such as “Prisoner” and “Caged Bird.” The world will be a more somber place without her poetry but is more illuminated because of it.
Each year we spend a great deal of money sending sample copies of PLN to potential subscribers in the hope they will subscribe. From now until the end of the year we are running our Subscription Madness campaign, whereby people can purchase multiple one-year subscriptions to PLN for individuals who have not subscribed before, at reduced rates. Our hope is that after receiving PLN for a year, people will want to renew at our regular rates. The Subscription Madness rates do not apply to current or former subscribers – only those who have never subscribed previously. The goal is to introduce new people to PLN. This is a great time to purchase subscriptions for your favorite judges, legislators, corrections officials, prisoners, family members or anyone else who you think needs to learn more about the realities of mass incarceration and its impact on our nation. See the ad on p. 51.
Our fight against prison and jail censorship continues. As this issue goes to press we are awaiting a decision in our challenge to system-wide censorship of PLN by the Florida DOC that has been ongoing since 2009. We are currently litigating the censorship of PLN books by the Nevada DOC and are challenging postcard-only policies and book and magazine bans by jails in Florida, Georgia, California, Washington, Tennessee, Michigan, Arizona and Virginia. Within the past month we have successfully concluded lawsuits against jails in Wisconsin and Texas. If you are a PLN subscriber or purchase books from PLN, please let us know if you experience censorship of any PLN reading materials. We are dedicated to ensuring that prisoners anywhere in the U.S. can receive PLN and the books we distribute. All too often, prison and jail officials fail to notify usof censorship decisions; thus, we rely on our readers to keep us informed so we can take appropriate action.
Enjoy this issue of PLN, and please encourage others to subscribe and to participate in Subscription Madness!
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