Breaking Down the Box

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by Karima Amin

At its monthly meeting on November 30, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. will consider “breaking down the box,” not to be confused with the campaign to “ban the box.” Banning the box is about ensuring that people with criminal convictions have a fair chance to work. To date, 19 states and over 100 cities (including Buffalo) and counties have taken steps to remove barriers to employment for qualified workers with records. Breaking down the box is about dismantling solitary confinement, a form of imprisonment that isolates a prisoner from any meaningful human contact. While it has been cited as a measure of protection for a prisoner, it is a form of punishment that has far-reaching ramifications. Men, women, and children, who are subjected to this form of punishment, experience a form of psychological torture that can be abusive to mind, body, and spirit.

When a prisoner is relegated to isolated confinement, aka solitary confinement, this person is confined to what is commonly known as the box, the hole, the bing, the shu (special housing unit or secure housing unit), [pronounced “shoe”], or lockdown. Generally speaking, this means that a person will spend 22 to 24 hours a day in segregation, in what is typically a 6’ by 9’ cell. One or two hours may be used for showering or exercise. Time in the box may be one day or several decades.

In the past, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. has devoted several programs to increasing our understanding of solitary confinement and what we can do to fight against this practice. Most recently, in January of 2014, CAIC (the NY Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement) came to Buffalo and conducted two workshops to share information about this form of extreme isolation, in our state prisons and local jails, and the campaign against it. Although it has been proven that solitary confinement is a damaging practice, New York utilizes this mode of punishment at rates well above the national average.

On Monday, November 30 at the Pratt Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, at 7 – 9pm we will gather for a screening of “Breaking Down the Box,” a documentary film about solitary confinement, produced by NRCAT (the National Religious Campaign Against Torture). Relative to this topic, in the past we have screened “Solitary Confinement: Torture in Your Backyard” (also a NRCAT film) and “Herman’s House,” a film about Herman Wallace, a political prisoner who died in 2013 after 41 years in solitary confinement.

At our monthly meeting on Monday, November 30, in addition to the film, BREAKING DOWN THE BOX, we will also host a guest speaker. Mr. Sha-teek Howze from Buffalo, NY, spent 20 years incarcerated in New York. Some of that time was spent in solitary confinement. He will share his thoughts about mass incarceration as well as some insights regarding isolated confinement. Mr. Howse, who was release 3 years ago, has recently published a book, WHAT DID I SAY?, which chronicles his struggles as well as his successes. You are invited to see the film, meet Mr. Howse, and learn more about the campaign to reform solitary confinement.

Join us for our last meeting of 2015. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org or BaBa Eng, g.babaeng@yahoo.com.

“God has not called us to see through each other, but to see each other through.” (Anonymous)

Karima Amin is a longtime Buffalo Activist, Educator, and Storyteller as well as founder and director of Prisoners Are People Too (PRP2).

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