Monday, March 18, 2013

Solitary Confinement Punishes Families, Too

The Huff Post published a beautiful piece by Marie Levin, whose brother Ronnie (Sitawa) has been held in solitary confinement for the last twenty-three years.

Marie's piece is a reminder that solitary confinement is punishment not only for the segregated party, but for his/her family as well.

I have only seen my brother ten times since he has been at Pelican Bay. The drive is almost eight hours, I don't own a car, and travel and lodging are very expensive. There is so much time between visits that each time I see him, Ronnie looks much older. We're not allowed any contact at all during visits, and the prison only allows us visits of one-to-two hours.

But this is hardly the worst our family has suffered while Ronnie has been in the SHU. In 2001, our sister Carol suffered kidney failure. Ronnie was a compatible kidney donor, but the prison would not allow him to make the donation. For years, Ronnie fought for permission to save his sister. Carol died in 2010, in a puddle of blood, bleeding out after a dialysis treatment.

Now, our mother is seriously ill. She has had several strokes, is paralyzed on her right side, has trouble speaking, and suffers from cognitive difficulties. She longs to see her only son, but she is no longer able to make the long, difficult trip. I am faced with the heartbreaking realization that she may never see her son again solely because of his writing and reading material - his unjust imprisonment in the SHU that has kept him from being paroled for almost two decades.

This is an extreme example of the multiple ways in which mass incarceration destroys families and communities, invading and harming countless lives beyond those behind bars.

Marie will be one of our speakers at tomorrow's panel on solitary confinement. The event is at 6pm, at UC Hastings, 198 McAllister Street. We will have a life-sized model of a SHU cell and hear from people formerly incarcerated in the SHU, family members, doctors, lawyers, and activists. Please join us for all-day tours of the SHU and for the evening panel.

And of course, if you have not already done so, please plan to join us Thursday and Friday for California Correctional Crisis: Realignment and Reform.

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