Join us for a workshop at the People’s Summit on Prison System Injustices: Racism, Solitary Confinement, and the Detention of Immigrants with Gregory Koger, Mark Clements, Lynne Jackson, and Anthony Rayson
Saturday, May 12th, 11:45am at 500 W. Cermack – Room 715
Mark Clements & Gregory Koger
Mark A. Clements, is a Chicago Police torture victim who spent 28 years inside Illinois prison for a crime that he did not commit. He serves today as Administrator over the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and Jail Jon Burge Coalition.
Gregory Koger spent over six years straight in solitary confinement during his eleven years held in Illinois prisons. During his time in solitary confinement, Gregory studied broadly and became increasingly politically conscious and developed as a revolutionary and communist. Since his release, Gregory’s life has been dedicated to struggling against the injustices of this capitalist system and for a radically more liberated world, and he speaks and writes on the horrendous conditions and torture in U.S. prisons, mass incarceration and the criminalization of the youth, as well as the vast potential for those that this system has cast off to transform themselves and the world. He will focus on the historically unprecedented and racist system of mass incarceration and the New Jim Crow, situating its development in the historical context of the foundational white supremacy of the United States and the dynamics of capitalism-imperialism.
Lynne Jackson of Albany, NY is a co-founder of Project SALAM (Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims). Her involvement with the issue of preemptive prosecution began when two Muslim men in Albany, Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain, were sentenced to fifteen years in prison after being entrapped by the FBI. In 2010, Lynne organized the campaign for the Albany Common Council to pass the Albany Resolution, which urges the U.S. Justice Department to implement the recommendation of its own Inspector General and establish an independent panel to review the convictions of Muslims who have been preemptively prosecuted to ensure their fair treatment under the Constitution and Bill of Rights. She will focus on pre-trial and post-conviction solitary confinement conditions, as well as their effects on the prisoners, their families, and the community. Case examples will be given in detail, and letters and poems from prisoners describing their experiences will be read.
Anthony Rayson of the South Chicago Anarchist Black Cross will discuss the Crete Detention Center, ICE and the Corrections Corporation of America, as well as his experience with providing literature and zines to prisoners and the importance of letting the voices of prisoners be heard.
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Tags: Albany Resolution
, Anthony Rayson
, Campaign to End the Death Penalty
, Corrections Corporation of America
, detention center
, gregory koger
, Jail John Burge Coalition
, John Burge
, Lynne Jackson
, Mark Clements
, mass incarceration
, New Jim Crow
, People's Summit
, Project SALAM
, solitary confinement
, South Chicago Anarchist Black Cross
On January 12, 2012, just one day after the tenth anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo, the Chicago city council held a hearing on a resolution organized by the Illinois Coalition Against Torture (ICAT) that publicly condemns the use of torture and declares Chicago a “torture-free zone.” A broad array of people came out to speak publicly against the use of torture in the U.S. and abroad at the hearing organized by Alderman Joe Moore, who introduced the resolution to the Chicago city council. Listen to an excellent interview about the use of torture by the United States and the resolution with Mario Venegas and Dr. Frank Summers here. I spoke at the press conference and hearing about the pervasive use of torture in U.S. prisons in the form of long-term isolation and sensory deprivation in solitary confinement.
Speakers at the press conference and hearing included: Congressman Danny Davis; Flint Taylor, attorney with the People’s Law Office who has been instrumental in seeking justice for the men tortured by Chicago police commander John Burge; Dr. Frank Summers, psychologist who lead the fight within the APA to bar psychologists from participating in interrogations and torture in Guantanamo; Cherif Bassiouni, United Nations war crimes expert; Melinda Power and Margaret Power, Illinois Coalition Against Torture; Mary Lynn Everson, Marjorie Kovler Center; Sr. Benita Coffey, representing the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT); Laurie Jo Reynolds, activist with Tamms Year Ten; Mario Venegas, Chilean survivor of torture under Pinochet; Mark Clements, Burge torture survivor; Mary L. Johnson, mother of a Burge torture victim and inmate at Tamms Correctional Center, as well as several other mothers of Burge torture survivors; and Wallace “Gator” Bradley, who spoke to the use of torture in the federal ADX supermax prison.
I’m Gregory Koger, torture survivor who spent nearly the entirety of my 20’s in solitary confinement in prison in Illinois.
The exact number of prisoners held in solitary confinement within the US is difficult to ascertain. A 2005 study1 found that as of 2004, 44 states had supermax prisons holding approximately 25,000 prisoners. This number does not take into account numerous prisoners held in isolation outside of officially designated supermax prisons. For example, Tamms – Illinois sole supermax prison – holds 408 prisoners, while Pontiac – Illinois long-term disciplinary segregation prison – holds 1,733 prisoners2 in similar conditions of isolation, many for years on end. The total number of prisoners held in isolation in the US is estimated to be between 50,000 – 100,000 persons.
Sensory deprivation in solitary confinement has been universally condemned and considered torture. In October, United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez called for the prohibition of solitary confinement, stating: “Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit (SHU)… whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique.”3
Despite both universal condemnation and widespread knowledge of its seriously detrimental effects, the United States is now the foremost practitioner of solitary confinement in the world. This unprecedented use of solitary confinement arose concomitantly with with the explosion of mass incarceration in the U.S. since the early 1970s, under the guise of the “war on drugs” and – as Michelle Alexander has documented4 – racist New Jim Crow policies that leave the United States with a rate of incarceration for Black males five times higher than apartheid South Africa.5 Along with incarcerating more men, women and children than any other country in the history of the world, no other society has so routinely used torture in the form of solitary confinement.
As Harvard professor Dr. Atul Gawande stated, “In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement—on our own people, in our own communities, in a supermax prison, for example, that is a thirty-minute drive from my door.”6 And as Dr. Gwande has also described, “”People experience solitary confinement as even more damaging than physical torture.”7
This summer, thousands of prisoners in over one-third of California prisons came together across racial and other dividing lines on hunger strike to oppose the inhumane treatment that they, and other prisoners across the country, face. Ending long-term isolation in solitary confinement was one of their core demands.
We should follow their courageous example by demanding an end to torture in the form of solitary confinement in prisons. We should categorically state – as this resolution does – that there is never any justification for torture and that it has no place in our city or our society. And we must demand that it stops and that those responsible for policies and practices of torture be brought to justice. Thank you.
1 “A Critical Look at Supermax Prisons.” Daniel P. Mears. Corrections Compendium. 2005.
2 IDOC Quarterly Report, October 1, 2011.
3 “UN Special Rapporteur on torture calls for the prohibition of solitary confinement.” United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. October 18, 2011.
4 The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Michelle Alexander. 2010.
5 South Africa near the end of apartheid in 1993 had a rate of incarceration for Black males of 851 per 100,000; the United States in 2001 had a rate of incarceration for Black males of 4,848 per 100,000. The Prison Index: Taking the Pulse of the Crime Control Industry (2003). Peter Wagner.
6 Hellhole. Dr. Atul Gawande. The New Yorker. March 30, 2009.
7 “Dr. Atul Gawande: Solitary Confinement is Torture.” Democracy Now! January 5, 2011.
Posted in Thoughts
, Alderman Joe Moore
, Cherif Bassiouni
, city council
, Congressman Danny Davis
, Dr. Atul Gawande
, Dr. Frank Summers
, Flint Taylor
, hunger strike
, Illinois Coalition Against Torture
, John Burge
, Laurie Jo Reynolds
, Margaret Power
, Mario Venegas
, Marjorie Kovler Center
, Mark Clements
, Mary L. Johnson
, Mary Lynn Everson
, Melinda Power
, Michelle Alexander
, National Religious Campaign Against Torture
, New Jim Crow
, People's Law Office
, solitary confinement
, Sr. Benita Coffey
, Tamms Year Ten
, torture-free zone
, United Nations
, Wallace "Gator" Bradley
On the night of July 2, 2009, a Chicago Police Department “Mobile Strike Force” cornered 16-year-old Rakeem Nance in a dark alley on the West Side. Chicago’s Mobile Strike Force is a paramilitary unit lead by a Marine Lieutenant who commanded “counterinsurgency” operations in Fallujah, Iraq and is part of a militarized “surge” of police repression and intimidation in Chicago’s oppressed communities. Bringing home the bitter taste of what U.S. imperialism shoves down the throats of people from Iraq and Afghanistan to the streets of Chicago, Rakeem was shot in the back and executed in that West Side alley on that summer night.
Police allege that Rakeem was involved in breaking into a home, and that he supposedly aimed a gun at a police officer. Chicago PD Superintendent Jody Weiss claimed, “If you point a weapon at someone, they’re probably going to try to take his life,” and that Rakeem’s murder was justified. Following that logic, the people of Chicago being targeted by this paramilitary police urban warfare campaign would be fully justified in defending themselves with deadly force whenever the police come into their neighborhoods with weapons drawn; somehow I doubt that Mr. Weiss and the State’s Attorney would allow his justification to stand in such circumstances.
Rakeem’s funeral was held just down the street from where Chicago police murdered 18-year-old Aaron Harrison two summers ago. Just last summer the Chicago police shot 12, and killed 6, people in a four week period. Along a boarded-up wall next to the funeral home, we placed posters of Rakeem and numerous other victims of the Chicago police from the last couple years.
After the funeral, standing before the faces of far-too-many youth gunned down by the Chicago police, I spoke to several of Rakeem’s high school teachers. They adamantly wanted me and the world to know that Rakeem was nothing like he has been viciously portrayed by the police (and the media that think “journalism” involves unquestioningly parroting police propaganda). Rakeem always asked the most challenging questions, he enjoyed writing music and wanted to be a rapper, five of his friends had been killed and he was compelled to try to look out for his friends…
Rakeem was another promising young life brutally snuffed out by the enforcers of this capitalist system. Even if he was involved in some kind of break in (and claims of him pointing a gun at police while carrying armloads of items supposedly taken from a house they broke into is even more dubious), none of that justifies his execution by the police. What kind of system do we live in that upholds the value of private property over the lives of human beings? The same system that ordered police in New Orleans to “shoot to kill” anyone who attempted to take food and supplies to survive during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The same system that sends armed “surges” into the communities and homes of people from Fallujah to Chicago, to drop bombs on people’s homes from Kabul to Philadelphia, to execute the youth from Oakland to Baghdad, to snatch people off the streets in handcuffs and torture them from Abu Ghraib to John Burge’s precinct.
This whole damn system is guilty as hell.
Posted in Thoughts
Tags: Aaron Harrison
, Abu Ghraib
, Chicago police
, Jody Weiss
, John Burge
, Mobile Strike Force
, paramilitary police
, police murder
, Rakeem Nance
, torture bombing
, urban warfare
, West Side