Get Out! Of Solitary Confinement

We are at the end of a heated primary race. I know all of the candidates for Sheriff in Mecklenburg County and many of their volunteers. I can endorse none. The Internal Revenue Service prohibits 501c3s from endorsing political candidates. Even if it were permissible, it would be unwise. The residents of the jail are our primary concern. Our conscience led us to announce two days ago that we will put all collaboration with the jail on hold until proper safeguards and radical change is adopted, namely a process to end solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is defined as 23 hours in isolation with 1 hour to roam and stretch large muscles. I could save this article for after the election, but to do so would be to supplant what is politic with what is right. I could publish this article now and face accusations of supplanting what is right with what is politic. There is no simple solution—except to sleep well tonight. After months of phone tag, on Tuesday, January 30, 2018, a volunteer and I were graciously welcomed by the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office to tour solitary confinement at Jail North where women and youth are contained after they are captured. I use the term capture to be clear in the connotation that the slave plantation evolved into mass incarceration. Arrested individuals are treated much like runaway slaves. In other words, as people of color, our citizenship is still contested as is our humanity. Our bodies and families are poorly valued animal property. That is why video visitation and solitary confinement make sense. Animals do not need regular human contact. One would need to read The New Jim Crow or view the documentary 13th to grasp the appropriateness of the analogy. As we walked through Jail North for youthful captives, we were warmly greeted by white male correction officers and a warm maternal African-American Sergeant. We were informed of the benefits of solitary to jail security, the implementation of a point system to earn time outside of the cage to call family or to order from the commissary and the daily jail staff check-ins were explained as sufficient human contact. In stark contrast were the sullen despairing faces of the young black men (our sons) in those small cement block cells with metal toilets and sinks roughly the size of what we find in an airplane. They spoke of how they needed space to breath; yet solitary “makes you go crazy.” One of our sons said that he had been in solitary for about 18 days. Another said he was midway through a 60 day stint. The Humane Society says 4-8 hours is too long a time in the cage, and it causes mental health problems…for a dog. The United Nations says solitary is human torture. As our guide smiled