Ridgeway on America's Solitary Confinement Nightmare

He always wanted to be an insider.

it never worked out.

DNA wouldn't allow it.

was always an outsider.

taking the side of the less powerful.

a student at Princeton in the 1950s, James Ridgeway worked on the student newspaper
to expose the elitism and racism at the university's eating club system.

a reporter at The New Republic in the 1960s, he exposed General Motors
for spying on his friend Ralph Nader.

then exposed corporate connections to America's university in his classic
book -- The Closed Corporation: American Universities in Crisis
(Ballantine Books, 1970)

now, he says he is working to expose President Obama's lie that "America
doesn't torture."

course we torture, Ridgeway says.

here in America.

our own prisons.

estimated 80,000 Americans are in solitary confinement.

have been in for decades.

are brutally beaten and restrained, even killed.

succumb to madness and kill themselves.

to most people, they remain invisible.

Ridgeway started a web site called solitarywatch.com
to find out more.

to bring light to what he considers to be a disgrace to the nation.

says we don't torture," Ridgeway told Corporate Crime Reporter
in an interview last week. "Let me tell you something. That's absolute
bullshit. We're torturing right in the President's backyard --
all over the place."

is a long haul," Ridgeway said. "It's an uphill battle to
draw attention to a situation where there are many cases that amount to torture."

little prisoners' rights groups have to have support. The larger human
rights groups and criminal justice reform groups have to take on the issue of
solitary confinement more directly. And there has to be more publicity about
what is going on."

is working with David Bruck, a death penalty lawyer and a professor at Washington
& Lee Law School in Lexington, Virginia.

they are trying to set up a database that will provide some of the basic facts
on solitary confinement.

how many prisoners are in solitary.

how do prison officials decide who gets put in the hole.

could be done at the whim of a warden or even a prison guard," Ridgeway
said. "After the person is convicted and sentenced, he kind of disappears.
He goes into this prison."

the warden, depending on reports of the guards, can put the prisoner in one
kind of solitary or another. He can keep the prisoner there for as long as the
warden deems necessary."

supposed to be due process, hearings to decide if they should be punished for
some reported violation of the rules. But in most states, the people who run
the hearings are prison officials, so of course the prisoners are always found

stories abound. The Angola 3 -- three African Americans in the infamous
Angola state prison in Louisiana -- have been in solitary for 37 years.

were three men charged with the killing of a prison guard in the early 1970s.
They were convicted. But there were some open questions. The convictions are
kind of dubious. They contend that they were targeted because they were Black
Panthers, organizing against prison conditions."

most incredible thing was that these three guys -- they have been locked
in solitary confinement for 37 years."

Ridgeway interviewed them?

wanted to go down and visit and talk with them and talk with the warden. But
I had written one article which quoted the warden's deposition. And it
made the warden look questionable."

warden -- Burl Cain -- is highly regarded by the press in the United
States for running an open prison that anyone can go in and look around."

for Ridgeway. The prison banned him.

can't visit the prison. I can't talk to the prisoners. And I can't
talk with Burl Cain."

reading these depositions about what happened to these guys in Angola and how
they had put in solitary, I began reading about other cases where people were
in solitary."

told me that if I thought the Angola 3 was a bad situation, there were many,
many other cases where people were in for 15 years or 20 years in solitary.
And this was very prevalent. And it was a kind of torture."

when I started Solitary Watch, together with Jean Casella, who is a writer and

partner in the project is David Bruck, who runs the death penalty clinic at
Washington & Lee University Law School. They recognize that this is a major
issue in U.S. criminal justice."

also came across the case of two African American sisters in Mississippi --
Gladys and Jamie Scott -- who were convicted of a $12 robbery.

of them had a previous record. And there is evidence of coerced confessions.
These two women were in rural Mississippi. They were arrested and charged with
a $12 armed robbery. The circumstances were all questionable. One witness signed
a statement that was written for him without reading it."

were teenaged boys. And they were allegedly threatened by the sheriff that they
would be sent to a male prison where they would become bitches -- they
would be raped -- unless they turned on the two women. They dreaded that.
So, they would sign anything to get out of that."

these two women were charged and convicted based on this testimony. No one was
hurt in this robbery. There was a gun involved. But it was always a question
as to who was holding the gun and who was doing what with the gun. But nobody
was hurt."

judge sentenced them to two consecutive life sentences each.

Scott has described -- through a paralegal - an ugly situation in
the prison - where inmates have died of second rate medical care, of sewage
seeping on the floors, of raining inside when it rains outside, of the resulting
mold build up, and of spiders.

conditions aren't unusual, especially in solitary confinement,"
Ridgeway says. "There are people who say that solitary is becoming a mental
institution. And people who aren't mentally ill when they go into solitary
go mad inside."

start hollering and screaming -- and then, of course, they just keep them
in solitary indefinitely. They go mad in solitary. To me, that's the proof
that it's a form of torture."

for Jamie Scott, she has kidney disease, Ridgeway says.

has collapsed several times in her cell. And she was put in a prison infirmary.
She needed dialysis. They wouldn't send her to a hospital. They would
bring in a dialysis truck. They put a stent in her arm to pump the blood in
and out. And it became repeatedly infected. Sometimes the machines broke down
in the middle of the dialysis."

she eventually became so sick that she was sent to the hospital. They straightened
her out and sent her back to prison. But she continued to get sick. She was
sent back to the hospital. They finally put a stent in her groin and managed
to keep her alive."

one point, the doctor said he wasn't going to release her from the hospital,
because she was going to die. I don't know what happened, but she ended
up back in the prison, where she is now."

has been an effort by the family, by the mother, and by a paralegal named Nancy
Lockhart, to try and get this woman out of jail. The Governor has no interest."

there she sits in this situation where she appears to have not only serious
kidney disease, but maybe end stage renal disease."

to one story, which apparently the prison denies, the sister Gladys offered
to give her a kidney and the prison refused to consider that."

has reported on the case of an inmate at the Red Onion state prison in Wise
County, Virginia.

is a case in Virginia of a guy who was spared the death penalty. Instead, he
was sent to solitary for life. He has begged the judge to put him to death.
He said he can't stand it anymore. His name is Joseph Armstrong. He's
at Red Onion State prison in Virginia -- one of the worst in Virginia."

is not advocating for the elimination of solitary.

he does want to severely restrict it.

may be cases where for safety reasons and other reasons, people need to be by
themselves for a period of time," Ridgeway says.

not 37 years. And not 20 years. Not for 15 years. Not for a year. And not at
all, under the kind of arbitrary, corrupt system we have now. Maybe for a short
period of observation, but nothing more."

was one recent case where a woman was thrown into solitary for reporting that
she was raped by a guard."

where a dozen Rastafarians have been in solitary for 10 years because they refuse
to cut their dreadlocks."

a lot of states, the response to a prisoner being suicidal is to place him in
solitary -- which drives sane people to suicide."

one guy who's a prisoner in Tamms in Illinois said, 'Lock yourself
in the bathroom for ten years, and see if it makes you go crazy.'"

one jail in Louisiana, they have been putting suicidal prisoners in 3 by 3 foot
cages, and leaving them there sometimes for weeks."

things are going on all the time."

have a blog on Solitary Watch and we have no shortage of things to post on it -
- there's a new story just about every day, one more outrageous
than the next."

are thousands prisoners suffering from mental illness who are put in solitary
because they aren't treated and can't be controlled. Solitary confinement cells
have become the new asylums. Children in adult prisons end up in solitary 'for
their own protection.' The system is totally out of control."

a complete transcript of the Interview with James Ridgeway, see 24 Corporate
Crime Reporter
32(10), August 9, 2010, print edition

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