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“What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers.”—Karl Marx
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Ending the Torture of Solitary Confinement In Illinois

Solitary confinement is categorically condemned as a form of torture by the United Nations, yet the United States has perfected its coldly inhuman use in supermax prisons, SHUs and segregation units throughout the country. The use of solitary confinement is intimately interconnected with the white supremacist implementation of mass incarceration and New Jim Crow laws targeting principally Black and Brown youth – who this system has utterly failed and has no future for – condemning them to a life of harassment by police and incarceration unprecedented in human history.

Imagine locking yourself in your bathroom for a week, a month, a year, a decade. Imagine never seeing the sun for years. Imagine never being able to touch or hug your loved ones for years. That might give you a small glimpse into what it would be like to be locked in solitary confinement, yet it would be much more comfortable in many ways than being in those cells.

I spent many years in solitary confinement in Illinois prisons. In fact, before I was even convicted I went to trial as a seventeen year old charged as an adult from solitary confinement in the county jail.

Due to the heroic struggles of the Pelican Bay and California prison hunger strikers and the work of many people in recent years protesting and exposing the pervasive use of torture by the United States government, there is now momentum pushing the rulers of this system to back away from the use of this torture practice.

In Illinois, we may have a unique opportunity to drastically limit the use of solitary confinement. A recent bill has been introduced by Rep. LaShawn Ford to limit the use of isolation to 5 days, currently named the “Isolated Confinement Restriction Act.” As currently written, this bill would restrict the use of isolation to 5 days at a time during any 150 day period, and incorporates a number of restrictions.

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t participate in electoral politics. This bill will on its face severely restrict the use of solitary confinement and remove from the Illinois Department of Corrections and Sheriffs in County Jails, and any private prison or detention center in the state of Illinois the ability to formally use State-sanctioned torture in the form of solitary confinement. As long as this bill remains true to its current form and intentions, I can do nothing but support it and work to ensure that it passes so that those still languishing in those cells where I spent over six years straight in solitary confinement will no longer be subjected to that form of torture.

Our understanding is that this bill may move rather quickly and be put to a vote by May. There are several hearings scheduled, one in March and one in April, which I will convey the further details of once I have the exact information. Mobilizing people to come out to those hearings and to to convey to both the public at large as well as the representatives of the government of the State of Illinois that we will no longer allow the practice of torture in the form of solitary confinement will be imperative.

I generally ask very little of my friends, comrades, and supporters. Supporting this struggle to end solitary confinement in Illinois is one thing that I am asking that you step up and be part of.

We will have more details to convey as they become available. But we, those of us who have survived the horrors of long-term solitary confinement and live with the aftermath every moment of every day, are committed to ensuring that our brothers and sisters who remain there are no longer subjected to this torture.

-Gregory

Letter from my Friend and Comrade Brian Nelson on Ending Solitary Confinement in Illinois:

Over the past several years, I have spoken at numerous Universities and other forums about the torture I endured in solitary confinement. There is no doubt that solitary confinement is torture and has taken a terrible toll on my life. Anyone that has seen me talk have seen the affects first hand and understand why we need to join together in this fight to stop these horrific acts of torture. Some have asked me why I continually put myself through the torment of reliving solitary when I talk about it. First off, I believe that nobody should ever have to endure the evil treatment I endured. Second, no mother, wife, parent, child or friend should be tormented by seeing what solitary confinement does to their loved one. Have no doubt that my mother was tortured just by looking at me. Thirdly, solitary confinement is morally wrong and so barbaric that most of the countries in the world have outlawed its use and condemn the United States for the use of solitary and its overuse.

The United States government has admitted that they have no idea who is in solitary confinement in the Federal Prison system, nor why they are there, how long they have been there, or if they will ever be released. Recently, the federal government has restricted the use of solitary on juveniles and mentally ill prisoners. Unfortunately, this only applies to the federal prison system not the states and it is the states that hold most of the prisoners in solitary! We need to work to protect the millions of individuals incarcerated in the state penal systems.

I have been asked hundreds of times, “What can we do to stop this?” Well, I finally have an answer. Illinois State Representative Ford has entered a bill to restrict the use of solitary and he needs us to help educate the public about the evils of solitary confinement. Representative Ford needs us to form groups to lobby our local Representatives and State Senators to support this bill. I am appealing to everyone to help. Form a student group, create web pages, educate friends, family, and yourselves about how horrific and destructive solitary confinement is upon a person’s mind!

I am positive you have hundreds of other ideas. I will help anyway I can. Just let me know the best way I can help you in this fight. As I have said numerous times, you are the future and you can change this. I firmly believe that you can do this and a lot more.

Please help stop this evil and horrific torture that is being unjustly inflicted upon human beings. THANK YOU!

Brian Nelson – Prisoners’ Rights Coordinator, Uptown People’s Law Center

Solitary Confinement In Illinois: Facts & Demands

FACTS:

  1. Solitary confinement in excess of 15 days amounts to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and can rise to the level of torture1 – Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
  2. “In the United States, more than 80,000 people are being held in solitary confinement, often in miserable conditions, for periods of time that qualify as torture.2
  3. In Illinois, the current maximum amount of time a person can be held in solitary confinement is an indeterminate period of time. There is no limit on how long the State of Illinois can hold a person in solitary confinement, and many are held for periods of time that constitute torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
  4. Torture is a crime.
  5. The State of Illinois is currently holding an unknown but knowable number of people in isolation under conditions that constitute torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
  6. The Isolated Confinement Restriction Act would prohibit the state-sanctioned use of torture in the form of solitary confinement, by limiting the maximum number of days a person can be held in isolation to 5 in any 150 day period.

DEMANDS:

  1. The Isolated Confinement Restriction Act must be passed and implemented immediately.
  2. Survivors of the state-sanctioned use of torture in the form of solitary confinement must be provided reparations and treatment.

 

1 Can International Laws and Standards Help Curb Solitary Confinement in the United States? By AYLIN MANDURIC AUGUST 6, 2015
2 Id.

Solitary Confinement In Illinois: Facts & Demands.pdf

More at our website – Torture Survivors Against Solitary

Sign the Petition Supporting the Bill Here

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Putting In Work

So I was reading a pretty interesting article, The New Black Power. Good piece on some of the young Black folks putting in work for liberation in Chicago. Got down to this paragraph, and really started thinking about everything that’s been going on since George Zimmerman was acquitted for gunning down Trayvon Martin in July 2013:

But what happened the second day wasn’t part of the plan: George Zimmerman was acquitted on all charges in the slaying of Trayvon Martin. The young activists held hands as they watched the TV reports. Some wept.

The tension that had built up found its outlet in that verdict. It was, Carruthers says, “a moment of collective trauma, but also a moment of collective clarity.” That night, half of the participants hit the streets to protest, while the rest stayed behind to write what would become the group’s first public statement. (The New Black Power, Chicago magazine March 2016)

I had spent most of that week keeping up with the trial and preparing for the almost-inevitable protest we would have to have when there was no justice for Trayvon. It was a warm July summer weekend, and I was preparing to be sent back to jail to finish serving a 300 day sentence for a fabricated political prosecution based on video recording a political statement on an iPhone at the “Ethical Humanist” Society of Chicago. I was there in part to record any police brutality and instead became the subject of police brutality and a political prosecution. That is another story for another time. But after appealing the case up to the Illinois Supreme Court, my appeal was rejected without any of my substantive legal claims being addressed. I also had a warrant out for my arrest for missing an alleged court hearing on said case which was never sent to my attorney. Another surreal side story I’ll omit at this time.

So this entire time that I’m participating in organizing these protests, I have a warrant, I’m preparing to “turn myself in” at the next court hearing on July 23, 2013. Turning oneself in was never something I saw as a noble act, nor did I intend to smugly submit to injustice based on knowing that I was being completely set up. There was nothing that I liked or felt good with about “turning myself in” – except for the agenda of struggle I set for myself to be part of during my time locked up.

The California prison hunger strike was kicking off again and I was doing radio shows to support the hunger strikers and preparing to join the hunger strike myself when they locked me up on July 23rd. I was also planning on bringing a lawsuit against Cook County Jail for banning all newspapers – which I did. And I won that lawsuit in July 2015 – see Cook County Jail’s 30-year Long Ban on Newspapers Ruled Unconstitutional. But that’s jumping ahead.

I go to my court hearing on July 23rd, accompanied by 30 or 40 friends, comrades and supporters. I began the hunger strike the previous night just before midnight, after a small piece of baklava and my traditional libations of a blunt and a 40oz of Olde English 800. After a few perfunctory words from the judge, I’m taken out of the back of the courtroom in handcuffs into the bullpens in the bowels of the courthouse to be processed and sent on a bus back to Cook County Jail.

I spent two weeks on hunger strike in Cook County Jail in support of the California prison hunger strike that summer. The next summer I’d appear in newspapers and night vision green video returning tear gas to militarized pigs moving on us with APCs and assault rifles, standing with the people of Ferguson.

Battlefield USA Inside Edition Ferguson

LOLs @ Ur Headlines, Bros

And so much happened between my hunger strike in Cook County Jail and Ferguson and since… Supporting the hunger strikes in Menard, the organizing I did with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network for the October Month of Resistance, being on Jesse Jackson’s tv show (not without a lot of consideration – another story for another time), Ferguson October, the panel I did at the National Lawyers Guild conference, going back to the prison I spent over six years straight in solitary to support some brothers there on hunger strike with my friends and comrades Brian Nelson and Mark Clements…

Pontiac protest - Brian Nelson, Mark Clements, Gregory Koger

Brian Nelson, Mark Clements and Gregory Koger supporting the hunger strike at Pontiac “Correctional Center” in September 2014

Speaking at universities and high schools, shutting down Lake Shore Drive and the Dan Ryan for Eric Garner and Laquan McDonald and too many others…

I’m trying to process and write about all of this, while living with way too many years in solitary confinement particularly but really, prison period. Fighting a 4 year long political prosecution where I was sent back to jail didn’t help in many ways, even though we did a tremendous amount taking on that case and won – hands down – politically even if I lost legally.

Shit has been really hard for the last year or so. In some ways I’ve made some important steps, in my personal life and in my writing. But in a lot of ways I struggle to even make it from day to day. I just gotta keep putting in work on the writing, on fighting to survive, on fighting this system… I got a few stories I need to tell yet.

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Laquan McDonald, Ferguson, Resistance & Liberation – A Discussion on Miss Geraldine Smith’s Radio Show

Miss Geraldine Smith Radio ShowHad a very serious and heavy conversation last night on Laquan McDonald, Ferguson, Resistance & Liberation on Miss Geraldine Smith’s Radio Show. Was a pleasure and honor to sit with brothers and sisters who have done time behind those walls, now on this side fighting in the struggle together. Thanks to Brian Nelson of Uptown People’s Law Center and Roosevelt Burrell for inviting me. I had just come back from out of town and didn’t know I would even be speaking, and the show is fairly freewheeling, but I tried to make some serious, salient points. As did all of the guests. We had some differences on ultimately what it is going to take to address this, but a real agreement that people need to continue to come together and stand up, that this system cannot keep doing what it is doing to people. Any system that murders people on a daily basis is completely illegitimate. We will not be swayed by frantic calls for calm in the face of these daily murders by the enforcers of this system, or backroom deals with those responsible for the policies and practices that count the lives of Black folks as less than worthy of the same humanity and respect that every person deserves. We will continue to stand firmly for liberation, and against the daily State violence inflicted by the U.S. upon us here and on our brothers and sisters around the world.

-Gregory

 

Miss Geraldine Smith Radio Show 11-22-15

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Menard Prison Hunger Strike: Lives on the Line – We Stand With You!

Menard hunger strike

 

Thursday, February 13, 2014 – 4:30 – 5:30pm
Outside the Thompson Center – 
Randolph & Clark – Chicago, IL

 

UPDATE 2-13-14: We have just received word from Brian Nelson at Uptown People’s Law Center that Menard today has barred them from speaking on the phone with one of the men on hunger strike. Additionally, one of the hunger strikers has been transferred to Stateville in an attempt to break his hunger strike: “Mr. John Velez was one of the men that began hunger striking in Menard on Jan. 15. As of today he is still on hunger strike. He was moved from Menard temporally to Stateville NRC. His Mother and Wife attempted to visit him today and they were denied visits until Mr. John Velez comes off the hunger strike. None of his legal material or personal property was allowed to be transferred with him. He does not no why he was temporally transferred to Stateville NRC.”

*****

A group of men in a high security unit at Menard (a prison in southwestern Illinois) began a courageous hunger strike on January 15. On Friday, February 9, several prisoners escalated the strike and began refusing liquids.

These men have put their lives on the line to protest inhumane conditions and placement in severe isolation, without reason or ability to challenge that placement. One prisoner was beaten in retaliation for being on hunger strike, others have been issued bogus “disciplinary tickets.” Attorneys for the prisoners were prevented by the IDOC from communicating with the men in the first weeks of the strike.

The conditions at Menard are intolerable: there is a lack of adequate heat and hot water, filthy, vermin-infested cells, a lack of access to basic cleaning and sanitation supplies, insufficient food and clothing, and a lack of access to legal resources and educational programming. Solitary confinement is considered torture under international law (over 80,000 prisoners in the U.S. are held in solitary).

One prisoner wrote, “Our conditions are inextricably linked to the social mobilization across the nation against the injustice of mass incarceration. We hope that we have your support & we thank you.”

No society should be permitted to treat human beings this way. We must stand with the hunger strikers and call for their demands to be met immediately.

The men on hunger strike have asked that “you & your friends call the Governor’s office, the Director of IDOC S.A. Godinez, & the Warden of Menard CC, and inquire about our peaceful protest & our reasons & conditions of confinement.”

Contact information:

Illinois Department of Corrections Director Salvador Godinez, (217) 558-2200, ext. 2008, Illinois Department of Corrections, P.O. Box 19277, Springfield IL 62794-9277 or http://www2.illinois.gov/idoc/contactus/Pages/default.aspx

Warden Rick Harrington, (618) 826-5071, P.O. Box 711, Menard IL 62259

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