Next Sunday, 12/8/13, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship invites parishioners to join us in the Parish Hall after the service for an offering of letters to our state officials to comment about the use of solitary confinement, also know as extreme isolation, as a method for controlling the prison population. We chose December 8 for this activity because it falls close to the 65th anniversary on December 10, of the adoption and proclamation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 2013 theme is “Confronting Solitary Confinement in an Age of Mass Incarceration.” Far from being a last resort measure for the worst of the worst, solitary confinement has become a control strategy of first resort in many prisons and jails. Today, inmates can be placed in complete isolation for months or years not only for violent acts but for possessing contraband, testing positive for drug use, ignoring orders, or using profanity.
Sheila, held in isolated confinement in a medium security women’s prison, described solitary confinement this way, “In the box I am so tired…I feel like death… After a while I start talking to ants, crickets or any other living thing or imaginary thing I can think of so I do not totally lose what is left of my mind… I want to open people’s eyes to the greater damage that happens to everyone by throwing the very young, mentally and emotionally ill into cages to rot under the pretense that more punishment, isolation, and deprivation will make people change for the better.”
As Christians, we believe in the redemptive power of the Holy Spirit. The Episcopal Peace Fellowship of the Ithaca Area feels called to advocate for those whose voices are silenced in this system of punishment. We remember that our Lord Jesus was condemned as a criminal. Let us work for a prison system that seeks to bring the guilty to repentance and amendment of life, to give them hope for the future, and release for the unjustly incarcerated. Let us work for a prison system that is humane and compassionate. And give us the capacity to forgive and love as Christ taught us.