In my journey toward fighting for a world without prisons, I’ve had to fundamentally transform what I believed about the criminal justice system and who is most affected by policing and incarceration. Growing up, I thought that all cops were brave and compassionate protectors of society (that really went out the window) and that prisons were necessary in order to keep people safe (yeah this one is false too). I had the privilege of being raised partially by my papa who was a cop and whom I dearly love, so I didn’t see or experience the injustices of the system. As I’ve learned more about police violence, unequal sentencing, wrongful incarceration, and atrocities within the prison system itself, I’ve grown to believe that no one should be locked in cages no matter what. This idea has taken me a while to develop as the norm in society is to praise carceral actions and suggest more punitive options whenever possible. Although the emotional side of me often wants to be hypocritical and argue that people who cheat, lie, steal from, and hurt others should be imprisoned just as much as those who are overpoliced, this wish should never come out of my mouth. The goal of prison abolition will never be possible when hopeful abolitionists like myself suggest the same punishments as those who are the most most “tough on crime.” In my essay on abolishing the prison system, I wrote one portion specifically on the horrors of solitary confinement and why the type of imprisonment should never be used. I wrote, “The use of solitary confinement as a tool of punishment is an extreme form of torture that has been proven to only create and exacerbate mental illnesses. People who are placed in solitary are held in severely small cells without windows for at least 23 hours a day, spending one hour in another cage outside for ‘recreation time’. The practice is so cruel that the United Nations has even called for the abolition of solitary after one is isolated for 15 days. People in solitary housing units have shown the establishment and/or worsening of mental illness symptoms such as paranoia, anxiety, PTSD, hallucinations, depression, and their suffering often causes them to attempt suicide as the only way out of the cell. Few experiences are more damaging and detrimental to the mind than being housed in an 80 square foot cell with no human contact, access to the outside world, or light.”
Last week, the New York Times released an article about Tr*mp’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s upcoming incarceration on Rikers Island where he would be held in solitary confinement (“for his own protection”) before awaiting trial. Most people on both sides of the aisle encouraged the use of solitary confinement for a man like Manafort who cheated the American people and helped Tr*mp steal the presidential election (among other charges), but I wasn’t thrilled about the announcement. It’s easy to praise the criminal justice system when it’s targeting people we hate (aka every person in the Tr*mp administration, white nationalists, etc) and revel in the fact that bad people are finally getting their punishments, but we should never encourage the caging of another human being, especially not someone being thrown into solitary confinement. When we applaud the use of solitary confinement for people like Paul Manafort, we’re saying that we accept and approve the same practice for everyone else, especially Black and Brown people who are disproportionately incarcerated. The goal should be prison abolition, not the widespread imprisonment of as many people as possible under the cruelest of conditions. Paul Manafort is not a good person and he’s employed many disgusting tactics in order to keep his candidate in the White House, but he, just as everyone else, should never be locked in solitary confinement. Let’s continue working toward a peaceful and rehabilitative society that doesn’t need jails and prisons instead of pouring more energy and resources into the institutions that only traumatize offenders, their families, and everyone else involved in the prison industrial complex.