Archives for April 2013

VOICES: You Are Solitary Confinement

By Nicholas Zimmerman.

The following narrative and poem are by Nicholas Zimmerman, who is currently incarcerated at Attica. He has spent, in total, a decade in solitary confinement. The website maintained by his loved ones is Thanks to CAIC member Desiray Smith for sharing his story.

You are the most profound form of Cruel and Unusual Punishment Know to mankind, yet the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution seems to have no effect on you?

You are only 6 feet by 8 feet in size, but your impact is devastating and long lasting.

You are a silent killer, slipping in and out of prison cells late at night to claim your next victim.

You are the Department of Corrections’ most effective weapon in inflicting mental and physical torture upon its captives.

Your existence is undeniable; you’ve been around for hundreds of years.

Numerous experts have complained about you for decades to no avail.

You are the cause of my depression, my high blood pressure, my anxiety, my sleepless nights, and my restless days.

I’ve watched you kill people with out laying a hand on them.

I’ve watched people hang themselves from your support beams within minutes of being in your clutches.

I’ve seen people slice and dice themselves with hopes of escaping your misery.

And I’ve also watched the Correctional Officers and Mental Health staff enjoy every minute of it.

You’re a Bitch in my eyes; not man enough to show your face and fight me one on one, but coward enough to attack me while I’m sleeping and inject fatal thoughts of suicide into my dreams.

Through lawsuits, maintenance, funding and security, you cause the taxpayers billions of dollars per year to stay afloat, yet they know very little about you and how unnecessary and counterproductive you really are.

Lately, you have been under fire by the media, however. But will this end your reign of terror? Only time will tell.

I’ve been battling you for the past 10 years and everyday I look at you and grin knowing that you are on your last leg. Your defeat is imminent, but your history will be legendary. Tomorrow you might be a thing of the past, but today at this very minute, as I write these words, you are torturing another soul and plotting your next murder.

And you legally get away with all of this simply because of who you are!

You are…


[Read more…]

NEWS: Bill Aims to Reduce Solitary Confinement in New York City Jails

By Josey Bartlett. Excerpted from the Queens Chronicle.

Rikers-Island-contrabandAbout 12 years ago Five Omar Mualimmak — who says his unique numerical name is the subject of a whole other article — was arrested on drug trafficking, possession of an illegal weapon, money laundering and tax evasion charges and sent to Rikers Island. Those charges were changed and dropped and then a few reissued, Mualimmak, 38, said, keeping him in the system for 11 years.

Once he was put in prison, a fight landed the Bronx man in solitary confinement.

“I got stabbed at Rikers,” Mualimmak said. “If you are a victim, it’s not where they care about you. Five people were involved in the fight and everyone was going to the box.”

This was just his introduction to solitary.

More brawls kept him there — 23 hours of time spent in a room where the light never turns off, and one hour, “maybe,” spent outside — for about five years. A family member sent him a book that the prison deemed an organizing device, Mualimmak said, and he was given more time in solitary.

“Mathematically it’s impossible to bring everyone outside,” he said. “It’s torturous. The yard is like a dog pen. Have you seen a dog kennel? It’s like that.

“To go out you have to be at your gate fully dressed for the rec run.

“Then they strip search you in your cell. Take off all your clothes, then from there you are cuffed, shackled around your waist, cuffed around the ankle, brought to another room where there are dogs and you are stripped again, then cuffed, shackled, cuffed.”…

The inside 23 hours of solitary confinement are spent pacing, sleeping — about half the time he slept, something much different from his current insomniac life — writing, drawing and reading — Mualimmak was allowed 10 books a month, which “ran like water” — and just spent being bored.

He watched other prisoners hold open the cell flap where food would come in, just for human interaction. That infraction broke solitary confinement rules and was penalized with more time in the box.

“You just have to have some sort of emotional breakdown and emotional outbreaks are treated with more solitary,” he said.

Since being released last year he can’t sleep for days at time; he’s paranoid, angry and antisocial.

“What has affected me is not only just about sleeping right or having nightmares or having my sleeping patterns totally messed up, which all happens, but it’s about socializing. I just don’t any more,” Mualimmak said. “In the box all you have is your memories. Your brain contorts that, then you start to expound upon that and it leaves you with this distant thought of that memory.”

Now outside of prison, he has a difficult time living beyond those thoughts.

Read the rest at the Queens Chronicle.


NEWS: No Peace Outside “The Box” for People with Mental Illness in New York’s Prisons

By Paul Grondahl. Excerpted from the Albany Times-Union.

atuJeff  Rockefeller never got past the eighth grade growing up in Troy. He spent his  20s in the Capital  District Psychiatric Center and has struggled with severe depression and  suicidal thoughts.

“He’s never had a day of peace in his life,” his mother said.

Now 44 years old and released from state prison five months ago, Rockefeller  spent nearly 20 months, half his 40-month incarceration, in solitary  confinement. Even as a free man, he still struggles with sleeplessness,  nightmares and crying fits. “I was locked up in a cage like an animal,” he said.  “It’s torture.”

“He’s different since he got out,” said his girlfriend, Mary, a 66-year-old  retired state worker who asked to be identified only by her first name. “He  can’t sleep. He’s jumpy. He’s having a hard time easing back into his former  life. Nobody should be treated the way he was.”

She recalled his anguished letters from prison, writing that he couldn’t take  it anymore and wanted to end his life. In phone calls from prison, he broke down  in sobs.

Rockefeller’s psychiatric problems — which helped land him in “The  Box” and worsened during his long months in 23-hour-a-day disciplinary  isolation — symbolize a form of punitive incarceration that prisoner advocates  call inhuman. Correction officials defend it as an effective method to control  unruly inmates.

Prison watchdog groups said Rockefeller’s prison experience is a sad but not  uncommon saga. On any given day, about 4,500 inmates are in solitary confinement  in New York’s prisons, according to the state Department  of Corrections and Community Services. There are currently 8,197 mentally  ill inmates out of a total prison population of 54,643. Three of the 14  prisoners who committed suicide in 2012 were in solitary confinement, according  to DOCCS records.

Prison suicides between 2001 and 2010 rose 186 percent to the highest level  in 28 years, according to the Correctional  Association of New York State, a watchdog group.

Prisoners in solitary are confined to cells 6 feet by 8 feet, with almost no  human contact. One hour per day, in newer prisons, a caged balcony is unlocked  remotely so inmates can breathe fresh air. Lights and shower are controlled  remotely. Meals are pushed through a slot in a reinforced cell door. Inmates  experience intense sensory deprivation in these so-called Special Housing Units,  or SHUs…

Read the full article for quotations from Jack Beck and Jennifer Parish and references to CAIC!

EVENTS: New York Advocates Participate in Premiere of HERMAN’S HOUSE

hhThe injustice of solitary confinement and the transformative power of art are explored in HERMAN’S HOUSE, a feature documentary that follows the unlikely friendship between a New York artist and one of America’s most famous inmates as they collaborate on an acclaimed art  project.

HERMAN’S HOUSE makes its New York premiere this weekend. (Buy tickets here.) CAIC members will be there to speak and answer questions, along with the film’s director, after the following screenings:

Friday, April 19, 7:00 PM (SOLD OUT!)
Moderator: Anna Sale, WNYC Reporter
Speaker: Taylor Pendergrass, Senior Staff Attorney, New York Civil Liberties Union
Speaker: Jackie Summell, Artist, Activist Featured in Film
Speaker: Angad Bhalla, Director of Herman’s House

Friday, April 19, 9:15 PM
Speaker: Five, Mualimm-AK, NYC Jails Action Coalition
Speaker: Angad Bhalla, Director of Herman’s House

Saturday, April 20, 7:00 PM
Moderator: King Downing, Campaign to End the New Jim Crow
Speaker: Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director, Correctional Association
Speaker: Angad Bhalla, Director of Herman’s House

Saturday, April 20, 9:15 PM
Speaker: Jean Casella, Editor,
Speaker: Angad Bhalla, Director of Herman’s House

Sunday, April 21, 3:00 PM
Speaker: Angad Bhalla, Director of Herman’s House
Speaker: Representatives from Metro NY Religious Campaign Against Torture

[Read more…]

NEWS: Rally Against Solitary Confinement in New York City Jails

By Stephon Johnson. Excerpted from the New York Amsterdam News.

photoOn Tuesday morning, New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm introduced two new bills addressing the issue of solitary confinement in New York City jails. Joined by advocates from the Jails Action Coalition and parents of people currently incarcerated, the group called on the Board of Correction to adopt rules regulating the use of solitary confinement.

“I agree with the experts that [say] solitary confinement should rarely, if ever, be used,” stated Dromm. “When I toured Rikers Island last year, I saw the conditions under which inmates are exposed. It is not a surprise that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has highlighted the inefficacy and inhumanity of solitary confinement and called for its end.”

The first bill requires comprehensive reporting of data on “punitive segregation,” as the Department of Correction (DOC) refers to solitary confinement. The second bill is a resolution calling for the end to the practice of placing individuals returning to jail into punitive segregation to complete time owed from the previous period of incarceration.

The DOC expanded its punitive segregation capacity 27 percent in 2011 and 44 percent in 2012. New York City currently has one of the highest rates of solitary confinement in history, and the DOC has more punitive segregation cells than it did in the 1990s.

Jennifer Parish, director of criminal justice advocacy at the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project, called punitive segregation a threat due to the damage it inflicts on inmates…

Read the rest of the article here.


EVENTS: Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement to Meet in NYC on April 17

309The next general meeting of the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement will take place on Thursday, April 17, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Urban Justice Center, 123 Williams Street between Fulton and John in lower Manhattan.

All are welcome. For more information email: Interested groups and individuals should also subscribe to CAIC’s new listserv by sending an email to:

NEWS: “No Escape” from Solitary on Rikers Island

By Maura R. O’Connor. Excerpted from the New York World.

rasaun-300x169In his Bronx courtroom, Judge William Mogulescu stores case files in standard-issue gray cabinets, each drawer labeled with the year the cases within it originated. The oldest, “2008,” is nearly empty, with the exception of a bursting and battered legal-size folder.

Inside sit the traces of a court case that has stretched on for more than four years, through at least a dozen motions, four lawyers, five judges and nearly 50 court dates. That does not include the four civil rights suits filed in federal court by the defendant, who entered the court system on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.

This file encompasses the harrowing story of Rasaun Bullock, a now 39-year-old man from the Bronx who spent more than four years incarcerated on Rikers Island. He endured at least 49 months of those in solitary confinement.

I have been locked in a room 24-7 for 2008 to present (today is 2011),” Bullock wrote in one of his civil rights complaints. “DOC yells at me & say they say you crazy- and that makes me sad & mad upset (very sad & upset).”

The astonishing length of Bullock’s incarceration and legal proceedings has gained him notoriety in this Bronx courtroom. So has his relentlessness in pursuing justice. “In all the years I’ve been on the bench, he is the only defendant that got my chambers’ number and was able to call my chambers,” said Judge Mogulescu, who has presided over the case since September 2011. “I have no clue how he got it.”

The judge declined to comment further because Bullock’s case will most likely enter an appeal process.

Bullock is among many defendants at Rikers who have stayed behind bars for years while their criminal trials grind forward. Like hundreds of other inmates at any given time, he was kept in solitary confinement, under conditions that mental health research has found can cause serious psychological deterioration. In Bullock’s case, his torments made it difficult, if not impossible, for him to get a speedy trial.

Read the rest here.

EVENTS: Jails Action Coalition Urges New Yorkers to “Raise Your Voice Against Solitary Confinement in NYC Jails”

rikers wireTwo upcoming events hosted by the Jails Action Coalition (JAC) give New Yorker’s the opportunity to speak out against the use of solitary confinement in New York City’s jails.

On any given day, over 1,000 of the approximately 12,300 people held on Rikers Island and in other city jails are in solitary confinement. Even as other prison and jail systems are reducing their use of solitary, the number of isolation cells has increased 44 percent in the past two years. Those held in isolation include children under 18 and people with serious mental illness.

On Thursday, April 4, JAC will host a rally outside the monthly meeting of the New York City Board of Correction, the body that oversees city jails. The rally will take place at noon at New York City Hall, 250 Broadway; the BOC meeting, which is open to the public, follows at 1:00 pm on the 16th floor.

On Tuesday, April 9, at 11 am, JAC will hold a rally and press conference on the steps of City Hal, 260 Broadway. The group will call on the Board of Corrections to adopt changes to the minimum standards regulating conditions of confinement in the city’s jails. These new standards would severely restrict the use of solitary confinement. Organizations and individuals wishing to endorse the call for new minimum standards should immediately contact Susan Goodwillie at

In addition, concerned members of the public are invited to attend the next meeting of JAC, on Thursday, April 4, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at the offices of the American Friends Service Committee, 15 Rutherford Place between 15th and 16th Streets, New York, NY. (For more information call Dilcio at (646)602-5666 or email People are also invited to join one of JAC’s working committees.




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