I couldn't sleep last night- lately I have been a bookworm and have been reading a lot. I thought my dream (or more likely nightmare) traced back to one of my favorite books, "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson but I do not recall if this segment was mentioned in that book (I do highly recommend it, though =D)!
Nonetheless, I dreamt of Kalief Browder- a 16 year old boy who was imprisoned for allegedly stealing a backpack and its contents (He was never convicted. His bail was $3000 which his family was unable to afford). He spent three years at Riker's Island and spent about 2 years of that time in solitary confinement- that is a 6 x 8 cedar-block room with only 1-2 hours of social contact with the prison staff. To restate, that is 22-23 hours on his own... in that tiny cell...for about TWO YEARS! The average size of a solitary confinement cell in the United States is 10 x 7. Have you ever been inside a room that is 10 x 7 let alone a 6 x 8 room... it is tiny! I dreamt of him and the emotional pain he was likely experiencing and because of that, I had trouble sleeping-it woke me up because it was a feeling that literally churned my stomach-to know that there are likely thousands of imprisoned individuals in a room of that size with no human contact makes me sick- no matter what they did.
Here is a fact that is just remarkable- from the year 1990-2005, a new prison in the United States was built on average every 10 days. That is, over a thousand prisons (both state and federal) that were created in just a 15 year span.
I always knew that the prison system was completely broken- targeting minorities and those in poverty but reading that book by Bryan Stevenson helped me to understand the intricate details, and trust me...it ain't pretty. I even cringe when I think about the horror that individuals experience while in a prison, jail, and more specifically, in solitary confinement. I know there is a large...better stated, immense political cause and component but this blog will focus on the emotional and psychological aspects.
My biggest concern has been this- in a place where someone say, violates human rights or disturbs society in someway, how does the U.S. prison system respond? Punishes them by throwing them in the "Shu" (Special/Security Housing Unit)- away from everyone.
Buzzer noise: Ehhh- Wrong answer! (At least to me!)
That individual needs to be rehabilitated into society in a safe manner. I will say this- putting someone away in solitary confinement is not and never will be the answer. You cannot, I repeat, you cannot help someone adjust and accustom themselves to be a safer person in society by keeping them away from society- it defeats the purpose. It's like saying I want you to improve at soccer- but instead of having you practice, that person gets locked up without any proximity to a field and a soccer ball. (You might be asking- well what if that person is a danger to others? If so, he/she will be under the supervision of trained professionals who understand the complexities of his socioemotional needs).
It makes absolutely no sense. We need human contact! Psychological studies have proven this- we are social beings that need social interactions. I tell myself this as much as I tell my clients- too much time alone is never good...for anyone! Our minds can go into dark places...not to mention darker places when one has a history of trauma and is in a confined space for days, even years on end. Some of the many psychological symptoms as a result of the solitary confinement include hallucinations, panic attacks, anxiety, cognitive disturbances, anger, paranoia, and self-harm.
Another thought I had while studying how gender norms affect both men and women (another blog, for sure) is the use of language that we use when speaking about individuals who are imprisoned. We typically call them "criminals"- why? because for a lot of individuals, they committed some kind of crime. But there is a problem that is two-fold here...actually three-fold. One, labeling someone as a criminal for someone who has not committed a crime misidentifies and falsely accuses someone for something they did not do. Secondly, for those who have committed a crime, it justifies our demeaning treatment towards them. The first step in belittling someone or justifying violence (seen in gender-based violence and even in serial killers) is seeing them as subhuman. It is sickening and it is wrong. Thirdly, we have learned that those who are in prisons and jails have typically had traumatic histories that have included abuse (physical, emotional, and sexual), violence, neglect, discrimination and more. Understanding one's social and emotional needs can truly make a difference in how you see that person and in turn, how you treat that person. I can keep going but I think I will end it here.
To Kalief- to your family, my deepest condolences. For those who don't know, 2 years after being released, Kalief later committed suicide in his mother's home. This along with thousands of other stories stay with us- they serve as reminders that one must not silence themselves to social injustices; one must not silence themselves to justice reform. It is our duty to take a stand.