Try to Imagine Spending 1 Hour in Solitary Confinement. Albert Woodfox Spent 43 Years

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LOUISIANA, United States - What comes to mind when people think about solitary confinement? Society depicts prisoners in locked cells with little or no contact with the outside world. This is the reality of thousands of prisoners throughout the penal system in America, but what makes this subject topical and visceral is the recent release of Albert Woodfox. He was charged along with Robert King and Herman Wallace, for allegedly killing a guard during the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana riots in 1972.

Much can be debated about the guilt of these three black men, especially about the cruel and unusual punishment of having to serve their entire sentences in solitary confinement. Thus, the "Angola Three," as they have come to be known, are a prime example of the abuse of the incarcerated in solitary confinement also known as administrative segregation which condemns prisoners to a veritable living death.

Until his release, Woodfox was the longest-standing solitary confinement prisoner in the history of United States, having served 43 years in solitary confinement. The next most famous personage to survive a long prison sentence in solitary confinement was Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison. He had received a life sentence in 1964 for conspiring against the apartheid regime, and spent the first 18 of those years on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town. (Source: Solitary Watch).

We, the public, can conceptualize solitary confinement, but everyone who has visited decommissioned cells in the administrative segregation section of prisons remarks on the fact that they couldn't imagine spending more than a few minutes in such an environment. Even this brief amount of time adversely impacted them, so one can extrapolate, though not really comprehend the magnitude of spending almost half-a-century in a small cell locked up for 23 hours a day.

The practice of administrative segregation needs to be reviewed much like the death penalty. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) some states across the nation are choosing to legislate the discontinuation of capital punishment, and many states and even the federal government need to also reexamine the potential human rights abuses of prolonged isolation of prisoners.

Solitary confinement is often used to separate dangerous prisoners, protect inmates from other inmates, or put a stop to illegal activities outside of the prison, according to the National Institute of Corrections (NICIC). The problem with this method of punishment is that confined inmates are at risk for mental health problems. Inmates in solitary confinement are not engaged in stimulating activities such as work, friendship, volunteering, religious worship, and more. In fact they are isolated for 23 hours a day, which is proven to have a deleterious affect on mental health. Studies show that living alone is positively linked to mental health problems, and while this is not typical for everyone, isolation and seclusion can lead to depression, anxiety, self-harm, hatred or other psychological and physiological concerns.

These health effects are especially greater in solitary confinement because prisoners spend everything but 1 hour of each day locked up and alone.

“In 2014, 13 years after being set free, Robert King told CNN that he still suffers from confusion, saying that he often gets "confused as to where I am, where I should be." He also said he started experiencing problems with his vision soon after entering solitary confinement. In addition, King told CNN that depression was a constant (though expected) symptom.”

The effects of solitary confinement on a prisoner’s well-being have been debated since the first half of the 20th century, according to Peter Scharff Smith, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for Human Rights in Copenhagen. For reasons earlier noted, solitary confinement is a necessary component of the penal system, but its efficacy is in doubt outside of isolating violent inmates who pose an immediate danger to other incarcerates and even the guards. Prolonged and forced isolation of prisoners who have no recourse nor outside representation is one of theissues that needs to be debated as part the overall reformation of prison system.

To that end, small things can be changed to immediately improve the lives of those inmates who are locked up for long periods of time. This may include granting them the privilege of engaging in daily tasks as well as maintain meaningful social contacts that can be monitored and reviewed by the Prisoner Review Board. These contacts may involve writing letters and making phone calls to family members, friends, and mental health professionals, all of which are afforded to mainstreamed prisoners, but denied to those confined in solitary.

Additionally, attention to the mental health of prisoners being held in solitary confinement needs to be a top priority. They should have frequent access to social workers, clinical licensed psychologist, or even psychiatrist so that they can share their feelings, find an outlet for their depression through therapy, and if necessary receive proper medicine to manage any preexisting or confinement induced mental illnesses. No human being can exists successfully in isolation, as our ability to remain human and hold onto our humanity is through our relationships with other people and participation with the community, even if that community is an incarcerated population.

This does not negate the necessity of the penal system, nor the necessity of incarcerating violent felons such as murders, rapists, pedophiles, or robbers from time-to-time in solitary confinement; however, to keep inmates locked up continuously for decades at a time is a clear human rights violation. For the families of victims of violent crimes, no punishment could be too harsh and since we have not walked a 'mile' in their proverbial shoes we don't know exactly how we would react. But, the empirical evidence is clear that when and if solitary confined prisoners are released back into society without proper mental health treatment, they pose a greater danger than when they went into the system.

While incarceration is intended to strip inmates of certain rights, not addressing mental health problems which are the result of solitary confinement will ultimately result in extra costs and impose a greater burden upon a system that is currently stretched to its limits. But, these costs are minimal when compared to the expense of having to hire extra guards to manage volatile situations which may arise because of having mentally ill inmates in general population.

The case for or against solitary confinement is a complex one; however, it is clear that the system of isolation and administrative segregation poses a greater risk to society by creating a class of individuals who are mentally unstable, either because of genetic disposition or prolonged isolation, and therefore are incapable of successfully reintegrating into a society into which they are thrust without support, medication, or life and job skills upon completion of their sentences.

Contributing Journalist:  @SophieSokolo

KKK Burns Black Woman Alive

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SHREVEPORT, Louisiana – The Western media often portrays terrorists and extremists as a unique manifestation of Islam and the cultural clash between modernity and religion that is occurring throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia.

However, less vigorously reported, but no less prevalent, is the increase of hate crimes in the United States.

Most recently, a group which was thought to have perished in ignominy has once again exhibited its extreme hatred of African-Americans, perhaps as a result of the United States’ 2012 Presidential election.

There are some in America who are virulently opposed to President Barack Obama not as a consequence of political, economic, or social differences, but simply because he is a man of color who had the ‘temerity’ to think that he could be President of the United States.

This type of xenophobia and hatred was regularly displayed post-9/11 when many Sikh men, who are not Muslim and wear turbans, were targeted and in some instances killed because their assailants thought they were Arab.

On Sunday, 21 October 2012, a young black woman by the name of Sharmeka Moffitt, 20, alleged that members of an American hate group called the Ku Klux Klan attacked her while taking a walk in a park in Winnsboro, Louisiana. According to her statement, she was attacked by three men wearing hoods who then doused her with a flammable liquid and ignited it. She is listed in critical condition.

Thanks to one of our readers, we have been informed that Ms. Moffitt now admits that she made up the story in an apparent attempt to obfuscate the circumstances surrounding her burning which was the result of a failed suicide attempt.

However, the reason this story resonated with so many people, including me, is the fact that the 2012 U.S. election cycle has provided ample opportunity for members of the 'far right' and 'white supremacist' like the man wearing the tee-shirt above, to espouse their views openly in various media outlets without fear of sanction or reprisal.

These bad deeds in no way justify Ms. Moffitt's actions, but the fact remains that racism, sexism, religious intolerance, and homophobia are on the rise in this country. Thus, even the spectre of the Ku Klux Klan evokes an immediate deep-seated visceral response in even the most reasonable people.

For Americans, the KKK is a dirty secret, a racist group that terrorized and killed thousands of African-Americans because members of this organization espoused white supremacy. In 2008, Americans hoped that this painful era of our history was successfully banished with the election of the first African-American President, in 2012 sentiment has proven otherwise.

"The Ku Klux Klan is the name of three distinct past and present far-right organizations in the United States, which have advocated extremist reactionary currents such as white supremacy, white nationalism, and anti-immigration, historically expressed through terrorism. Since the mid-20th century, the KKK has also been anti-communist.

The current manifestation is splintered into several chapters with no connections between each other; it is classified as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. It is estimated to have between 3,000 and 5,000 members as of 2012." (Source: Wikipedia)

Ms. Moffitt has become the unfortunate symbol of the ascendance of racism in America. At a time when America hoped to present itself and view itself as a nation of equality and 'post-racialism,' the rancor and hatred exhibited in the 2012 election serves as a stark reminder that racism and other areas of discrimination are resurgent.

American terrorist groups like the KKK should be added to the list of international extremist groups like Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and as such, should be vigorously pursued, targeted, and eliminated for the good of all.

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Taliban Shoot 14-Year-Old Pakistani Activist, Malalai Yousafzai

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Knowledge is power. Information is power. The secreting or hoarding of knowledge or information may be an act of tyranny camouflaged as humility. ~ Robin Morgan

MINGORA, Pakistan – On Tuesday, a 14-year-old Malalai Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist, was shot while boarding a school bus for home. The girl has garnered international attention and praise for her bravery in advocating for the education of girls as well as publicizing the atrocities committed by the Taliban who oppose her efforts. She was nominated last year for the International Children's Peace Prize.

Yousafzai, who lives in the Swat Valley was shot twice, once in the head and once in the neck, but miraculously has survived. The second girl shot was in stable condition, the doctor said. Pakistani television showed pictures of Malalai being taken by helicopter to a military hospital in the frontier city of Peshawar.

The attack began when a bearded Taliban man walked up to the school buses where lines of children stood waiting to board. He asked one of the girls to point out Malalai, and then he walked toward Malalai and another girl she was standing with.

After demanding which of the two girls was his intended victim, the other girl pointed to Malalai who subsequently denied her identity, whereupon the Taliban gunman shot both girls. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, calling Malalai's work "obscenity."

"This was a new chapter of obscenity, and we have to finish this chapter," said Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan by telephone. "We have carried out this attack." (Source: AP)

Malalai role as an international children’s rights activist began when she was only 11 years old. She initially began by authoring a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC's Urdu service about life under Taliban occupation.

Taliban militants began asserting their influence in Swat in 2007 — part of a wave of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters expanding their reach from safe havens near the Afghan border. By 2008 they controlled much of the valley and began terrorizing the residents with the aberrant interpretation of religion.

They forced men to grow beards, restricted women from going to the bazaar, whipped women they considered immoral and beheaded opponents.

During the roughly two years of their rule, Taliban in the region destroyed around 200 schools. Most were girls' institutions, though some prominent boys' schools were struck as well.

Then in the summer of 2009 after the Taliban was successfully rooted out and driven by from the Swat Valley by Pakistani militia, Malalai began speaking out publicly about the tyranny of militant groups and the need for girls' education.

In 2010, Malalai, then 13, chaired a children’s assembly in Swat Valley which was supported by UNICEF, during which she championed the continued progress and increased role of girls in Pakistani society.

"Girl members play an active role," she said, according to an article on the U.N. organization's website. "We have highlighted important issues concerning children, especially promoting girls' education in Swat."

Kamila Hayat, a senior official of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, praised Malalai for standing up to the militants. "This is an attack to silence courage through a bullet," Hayat said. "These are the forces who want to take us to the dark ages." (Source: AP)

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Welfare, a State of Connectedness

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There once was a farmer who grew award-winning corn. Each year he entered his corn in the state fair where it won a blue ribbon.

One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors.

"How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?" the reporter asked.

"Why sir," said the farmer, "didn't you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn."

He is very much aware of the connectedness of life. His corn cannot improve unless his neighbor's corn also improves.

So it is with our lives. Those who choose to live in peace must help their neighbors to live in peace. Those who choose to live well must help others to live well, for the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others to find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all.

The lesson for each of us is this: if we are to grow good corn, we must help our neighbors grow good corn. (Source: Anonymous Author)

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Tunisian Police Rape Woman then Charge Her with Indecent Exposure

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 00:30 AM EDT, 5 October 2012

Tunisian Protesters Hands, Photo by America Abroad MediaTUNIS, Tunisia - Earlier this year, the world was appalled to learn that under Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code, a rapist can escape prosecution by marrying his victim.

In an unconscionable twist of fate, a young girl who had been raped and reported the assault to the authorities, was subsequently ordered to marry her rapist. Facing such an untenable situation the girl took her own life.

On Tuesday, 02 October 2012, in the neighboring North African country Tunisia, hundreds of women gathered in the capital city, Tunis, to protest the trial of a young woman who had been charged with indecent exposure after she was raped by two Tunisian policeman.

Her ordeal began last month when she and her fiancé were driving in the city and were approached by three police officers. According to her complaint, one officer took her fiancé to the bank to extort money, while the remaining two took turns raping the her inside the car.

When the couple reported the sexual assault and extortion to the authorities, instead of launching an investigation into her complaint and possible misconduct of the policemen; the police department charged the couple with "intentional indecent behavior," a charge that carries a term of up to six months in prison.

The audacity of the attack and the charges levied against the victim demonstrate a total lack of regard for women's rights or fear of reprisal for any abuses. The fact that the courts upheld the police's complaint against the woman, connotes an environment in which men can violate women with relative impunity.

According to reports, ‘it was only after the woman filed a complaint against the officers -- and they were charged with rape and extortion -- that the officers said they found the couple in an "immoral position" in the car.’ (Source: CNN)

The combined impact of this high-profile case is the tacit acknowledgement that female victims of physical or sexual abuse will not receive justice and in fact may themselves face prosecution.

Despite Tunisians leading the Arab Spring movement which paved the way for a renaissance of personal freedom of expression, it appears that these hard fought rights were never intended to benefit Tunisian women. In fact, last month, in another blow to women's rights in the country, 'the government rejected a U.N. Human Rights Council's recommendation to abolish discrimination against women in areas such as inheritance and child custody.’

The sensational aspect of this rape case highlights a systemic environment of anti-women's rights policies within post-Arab Spring Tunisia. From regressive family laws to charging rape victims with a crime if they have the temerity to report the assault, one has to wonder what the Tunisian fruit seller who self-immolated would feel about the outcome of his actions that sparked a freedom movement.

He and other Tunisians’ made the supreme sacrifice to achieve the dream of living in a post-President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali’s regime. It is disheartening to witness that the newly installed government has chosen to adopt the failed policies of the last regime to control the Tunisian citizenry and journalist through arbitrarily applied "public immorality" and "public disorder" statutes, clearly designed to silence the voices of those seeking justice.

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The Rabbit Hole of 'Legitimate' Rape

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 22:22 p.m. EDT, 20 August 2012

Rape Victims in American MediaGlobally women are under assault and their rights are constantly under attack by religious extremists, misogynist, and cultures in which they are viewed as chattel.

Americans by and large think of the challenges these women face as daunting, yet far removed from the realities of most women living in the U.S. for whom protections of women’s reproductive rights has been legislated into law.

That was until Saturday, 19 August 2012, when Republican Congressman Todd Akin stated a position that is widely held by conservative Americans but rarely voiced. The belief that a woman cannot get pregnant through rape, with a subtext that is much more revealing because it implies that if a woman is raped and gets pregnant then she must have wanted it and is only afterwards crying foul.

This is straight out of the text book of religious extremists of any faith who believe that if a woman is raped she caused it by dressing provocatively, by engaging in risky behavior such as walking to her car after work, going out to have a drink with her girlfriends, coming home late, or being sexually active.

When the Afghanistan Taliban executed a woman last month because of accusations of adultery, the world was outraged, but it was expected as par for the course for those ‘crazy Muslims who treat their women like animals and make them completely cover up.’

But, there is no difference between the Taliban and the Republican conservatives who are running for election during this 2012 American election cycle who hold extreme views on women's reproductive rights and in particular the rights of rape victims. The definition of rape has been continuously narrowed and defined by them as ‘legitimate or forcible,’ which can be extrapolated to exclude statutory rape, date rape, and incest.

Thus, by this definition any woman who cannot prove that she has been raped by a preponderance of evidence of being physically and violently assaulted is deemed to be lying and therefore not deserving of the assistance. In fact, according to Akin, if a woman is raped and conceives then she can’t possibly have been raped.

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare…If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. Let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work, or something, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” ~ Republican Congress Todd Akin

Under this premise, not only should the woman suffer further indignity by carrying to term the child of the man who raped her, the child must come into the world baring the stigma of being the product of rape, and thus the woman and the child are given a lifetime sentence simply because they were the unfortunate victim of a sexual assault.

According to the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN), “In 2004-2005, 64,080 women were raped. According to medical reports, the incidence of pregnancy for one-time unprotected sexual intercourse is 5%. By applying the pregnancy rate to 64,080 women, RAINN estimates that there were 3,204 pregnancies as a result of rape during that period.”

1996 study by the American Journal of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found “rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency” and is “a cause of many unwanted pregnancies” — an estimated “32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year.”  (Source: The New York Times)

The only thing that makes this case more alarming is that it revealed the extent to which women’s rights in this country have been under quiet but aggressive attack by a group of men who desire to control women’s reproductive rights. There is no difference between these American politicians and members of the Taliban and other extremists who believe that a woman does not have the inalienable right to self-determination and reproductive choice.

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