Holding onto Your Humanity in Solitary Confinement

Can you imagine being invisible, without a voice? (Photo: jmiller291/flickr/cc)

Holding onto Your Humanity in Solitary Confinement

On the pain and the pathology of the Security Housing Unit

Introduction:I first met Ifoma Modibo Kambon through my friend Sharon Martinas. Sharon is part of PLEJ (Power, Love, Education and Justice), a project of Human Rights Pen Pals. PLEJ is a collaboration between incarcerated people in California and allies on the outside, to bring the wisdom of incarcerated people to classrooms.

I correspond with Ifoma and read his letters to my classes at De Anza College. Recently he sent me a piece of writing he did about the struggle to maintain his humanity while in solitary confinement, called the SHU (Security Housing Unit) in California.

Long term solitary confinement is being increasingly seen as a form of cruel and unusual punishment, and as torture. California has been notorious for its levels of mass incarceration and for its overuse of solitary confinement. As a result of a strong prisoner solidarity movement, a successful lawsuit, and a historic prisoner led hunger strike, since 2012 2,500 prisoners have been released from California's SHU. Work is being done to completely eliminate the practice in the state.

As you will see in his essay, Ifoma was first sent to the SHU for a minor infraction. Once a person is in the SHU, it is extremely difficult to get out without becoming an informant for the system. And so Ifoma was in the SHU for 38 years.

If you are interested in connecting with Human Rights Pen Pals, you can go find them at humanrightspenpals.org/plej/. If you'd like to write to Ifoma, you can reach him at:

Ifoma Modibo Kambon
[Daryel Burnett]
#B 6089
CSATF SP C3 -218
PO Box 5246
Corcoran, CA 93212

Keep reading...Show less
Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.