Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Solitary confinement: Torture chambers for black revolutionaries

Former Warden of United States Penitentiary Marion, the prototype of modern supermax-style solitary confinement, Ralph Arons, has stated: "The purpose of the Marion Control Unit is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and in the society at large."

One of these revolutionaries is Russell "Maroon" Shoats, the founder of the Black Unity Council, which later merged with the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party. He was first jailed in early 1970.

Hailing from the gang-war-torn streets of West Philadelphia, Shoats escaped twice from prison system, first from Huntingdon state prison in September 1977 and then again in March 1980.

Shoats' escapes - the first of which lasted a full 27 days, despite a massive national search complete with helicopters, dogs and vigilante groups from predominantly white communities surrounding the prison - earned him the nickname "Maroon", in honour of slaves who broke away from plantations in Surinam, Guyana and later Jamaica, Brazil and other colonies and established sovereign communities on the outskirts of the white settler zones.

Still, it was not until Shoats was elected president of the prison-approved Lifers' Organisation in 1982 - the closest thing to a union for inmates, through which they demanded basic rights such as proper visiting hours, access to legal documents and healthier food - that the prison system decided he was a "threat" to administrative stability and placed him in solitary confinement.

For the past 30 years, Maroon has been transferred from one "torture chamber" to another, where his best efforts to interact with his fellow prisoners or resurrect his old study sessions for the younger generation are thwarted at every turn.

In 2006, the US had an incarceration rate for black males that was more than five-and-a-half times greater than that of South Africa at the end of the apartheid era in 1993.

Yet most mainstream authorities on the prison system in the US - such as the eminent scholar Michelle Alexander, whose book The New Jim Crow suggests that the prison system is racially "biased" - do not come close to touching on the phenomenon of political prisoners, let alone on the inmates who take up the cudgels on behalf of their fellow detainees and attempt to carve out niches of justice in a massive chamber of terror.

h/t 

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