At the beginning of Genesis, we read: “Lo tov heyot ha’adam l’vado It is not good for the human to be alone.” (2:18) But Gabriel Reyes has been alone for more than 16 years. In a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Reyes (a prisoner and former hunger striker at the Pelican Bay State Prison), describes a life of isolation and solitude: “Unless you have lived it, you cannot imagine what it feels like to be by yourself, between four cold walls, with little concept of time, no one to confide in, and only a pillow for comfort - for years on end. It is a living tomb.”
On any given day in the United States, 80,000 prisoners are held in some form of isolation or solitary confinement. Solitary confinement often results from infractions of prison rules, and a significant percentage of prisoners in isolation are mentally ill. Many prisoners and human rights activists consider it to be a form of psychological torture.
Torture, in our own prisons, here in our own country. But people of faith are fighting back. RHR-NA and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture have expanded our work on ending torture to include ending this human rights outrage in our own backyards. The tide is beginning to turn, as more states realize that they can keep prisons safe and reduce costs while limiting the use of solitary confinement. But they need to hear from us.
Take action today by signing the NRCAT statement calling for an end to long-term solitary confinement. For every 500 signatures per state, the peition will be delivered to your governor and state legislators. Your signature can make a difference, especially in states like California, Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania where the numbers are very close.
Click here to sign the NRCAT statement.
Click here for Torture Awareness Month Resources
Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster
Director of North American Programs
P.S. On June 19th, the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights will hold its first hearing ever on solitary confinement in American prisons. RHR-NA and Uri L'Tzedek are calling on the Jewish community to join NRCAT in a nationwide fast for 23 hours (symbolizing the 23 hours per day prisoners spend in solitary confinement cells) beginning the day before the hearing. We will start the fast at 1 p.m. on Monday, June 18 and end at 12 noon on Tuesday, June 19. Click here to register your solidarity fast.