Since the beginning of 2018, four people in ADOC custody – three in solitary confinement and one on death row – have died by suicide. The suicide rate in Alabama prisons is one of the highest in the country. In June 2017, U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson declared the mental health system in Alabama prisons “horrendously inadequate,” an unconstitutional failure that led to what Thompson called a “skyrocketing suicide rate” among prisoners.
I left CDCr wondering how PBSP could remain in shambles after 22 years of court oversight. As I started educating myself about prison reform, I stumbled upon Keramet Reiter’s 2016 book, “23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement.” Within those pages, I found validation and some disturbing answers. I wish this book had been available to me before I started working in CDCr.
Working towards the success of the Millions for Prisoners March has been a central theme of the Amend the 13th’s agenda since the outset. In a movement dedicated to not only abolishing legal slavery in Amerika, but transforming the nature and structure of unequal social, political and economic relationships upon which mass incarceration is based, support for the March is of course an obvious priority – but what is not so obvious is why this march is vital to the very future of progressive social change in Amerika.
To educate our entire Oakland community, I’m writing to explain why Oakland needs a smoke-free multi-unit housing policy. This is a social justice issue. Smoking and tobacco products kill more African-Americans than alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drug use, homicide, suicide and other non-tobacco related cancers. We must educate our youth and communities regarding the dangers of smoking because it is an unhealthy life choice for them.
Today marks the first anniversary of President Obama ending juvenile solitary in the federal prison system in response to the case of New York City teenager Kalief Browder, who committed suicide in 2015 at the age of 22. In 2010, when Kalief was just 16, he was sent to Rikers Island, without trial, on suspicion of stealing a backpack. He always maintained his innocence and demanded a trial. Instead, he spent the next nearly three years at Rikers – nearly 800 days of that time in solitary confinement.
Last week, an Alabama state prisoner who had testified in an ongoing federal trial over the state of mental health care in state prisons was found dead, apparently of suicide. According to the Alabama Department of Corrections, he was found unresponsive, hanging from a piece of cloth in his cell. The state’s attorney said, “Jamie’s case is emblematic of the utter neglect and mistreatment of people with serious mental illness in ADOC prisons.”
This year at Holman in Atmore, Alabama, there have been five suicides in its segregation unit – more suicides or homicides than in its population. The latest was a mentally ill young man in his 20s. The conditions in the Administrative Segregation housing wings at the H.H. Coffield Unit located at Tennessee Colony, Texas are horrible, and these conditions have driven prisoners to suicide, approximately 13 deaths just this year! We need the broadest exposure of this horrifying trend.
Erika Rocha was 35 years old and one day away from her Youth Parole Hearing on April 15, 2016, when she committed suicide at the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona. Since her death, the suicide crisis at CIW has only worsened. On June 1, yet another young woman of color died at CIW. Her name is Shaylene Graves and she was 27 years old and six weeks away from returning home to her loving son, family and friends.
The African Hebrew Israelite community has launched a protest movement in recent weeks seeking to learn the truth about the untimely demise of community member Toveet Radcliffe, the first African American to die while serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Rejecting the Israeli army’s ruling that no one other than the 19-year-old Radcliffe was involved in her own death, members of the community have launched a campaign to pressure the IDF to reopen the case.
Clay Cane’s new documentary, “Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church,” is an emotional drive-by shooting. The gut-penetrating personal stories in the hour-long film will leave you ducking for cover to avoid being shot dead through the heart. You will not succeed. The film features nightmarish tales that create a reality for many young African Americans who identify as members of the LGBT community.
My message is: Take a little time out of your day to check on someone. Listen to your intuition, and observe the world around you. Wherever you are in life at this moment, even if you don’t like it, make use of your time, place and purpose to be a real life hero who saves a life. After all, heroes are not just those that we see on TV; they are everyday people like you and me who take the time to respond to the cry for help from others. Be a hero today.
My cellmate is an inspiration to all ethnic groups who has endured the injustices by the hands of what we call the “government.” His name is Leonard Peltier, in prison since 1975 for a crime he didn’t commit. How can someone hate when all that’s asked for is “peace and equality”? My vision is this: to write with all people of injustice not for the purpose of war but for peace, so we may start to heal. I ask you to stand with me.
This statement was written for an event on June 26, 2014, marking 39 years of incarceration. Of all the things I want us to remember today and every day, I want us to remember who WE are, I want us to remember where WE came from, I want us to remember our ancestors that we are so proud of, and I want us to live in such a way that our children and our children’s children will look back at us and be proud of who they are because of what we were.
“Hi! How are you?” has become a cliche and has lost its importance concerning others. We say it in passing as we are rushing to a destination and expect the response to be “I’m fine, thank you.” But what if the response is something other than “I’m fine.” Would we be prepared to stop what we are doing to talk to that person? We forget the power that each one of us has to make a difference in this world.
I am not one prone to fits of temper. But a few days ago I almost lost it. My outrage was prompted by witnessing the steady deterioration of another prisoner, resulting from particularly acute mental torture inflicted in Oregon’s Disciplinary Segregation Units, which duplicate almost exactly conditions of torture practiced at Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary that were outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1800s.
Amid rumors that SCI (State Correctional Institution) Albion has been authorized to establish a brutal and bloody regime in its solitary confinement hole, prison guards murdered Stony Schaeffer (DW8560) in his cell using chemical munitions – Oleoresin Capsicum (O.C. or pepper) spray – and electro-shock weapons. Stony, 44, had been in the hole for the past eight years straight.
Even before I began my political journey in 2001, I maintained certain principles – a variety of things I just don’t do. And usually, if ever I deviated from those principles, even in error, I’d end up in a tangle of trouble. February 2013 was an ordeal. I broke some of my rules and things got ugly. What happened is yet another experience that those who blindly trust the system – and those who don’t – need to know about.
A common denominator among individuals who commit suicide is a traumatic event and/or long-term torment which can result in psychosis. If left untreated, it can lead to suicidal thoughts with the intent to end the internal distress and anguish. This same diagnostic assessment is equally applicable to mass suicide.
For days, the world witnessed the flames of discontent and disenchantment engulfing the urban streets of England in the aftermath of the shooting death of 29-year-old Mark Duggan by the Metropolitan Police Service on Aug. 4.
Ask anyone who has ever been on a hunger strike; the process of intentionally starving oneself is a very painful ordeal. And yet, there are places on this planet where the idea of death is preferable to continuing down a path that offers no hope or relief from suffering. I live in such a place; I know.
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