Immigration

Close High Side Coalition demonstrates the cruelty of solitary confinement in Rhode Island

“I spent two years in seg, in solitary confinement,” said Close High Side Coalition organizer Tarah Dorsey. “It’s built to break you. To break your spirit. To break your mind. To me it’s a form of torture…[used] to break someone’s spirit. I used to call segregation the ‘Warehouse of the Broken’… I’ve seen people literally stab themselves with their eyeglasses to get out of seg…just to have somebody to talk to…It’s not right. Something has to be done about it…”
Photo for Close High Side Coalition demonstrates the cruelty of solitary confinement in Rhode Island

Published on May 14, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

Starting on Thursday at 7am, and continuing for 96 hours, the Close High Side Coalition has been demonstrating the inhumane conditions at the Adult Correctional institutions (ACI), where solitary confinement is used in excess of the United Nations rules on torture, by placing volunteers on display for the public to see. For four days straight volunteers will live inside a replica solitary cell – just 8×10 feet of space – located outside the Rhode Island State House.

Volunteers spending time inside the cell include Senator Tiara Mack (Democrat, District 6, Providence), Providence City Councilmember Rachel Miller (Ward 13), Rhode Island State Council of Churches Executive Minister Chontell Washington, Rabbi Howard Voss-Altman from Temple Habonim, and Close High Side Community Organize, Joseph Shepard, as well as many other community members. Shepherd spent three and a half years in solitary confinement at the High Security Center in total, most recently five months for an unfounded accusation related to having labor union flyers in his cell.

UpriseRI visited the demonstration while Andrew Horwitz, Assistant Dean at Roger Williams Law School, was serving his voluntary time.

Horwitz was felt called to volunteer because of his long career defending people accused of crimes. Solitary confinement, said Horwitz, “is designed, intentionally, to do what it does, to invade the person’s brain and psychologically impact that person in a really devastating fashion. That’s it’s purpose.”

People sent to solitary for short stays for minor infractions find themselves repeatedly and unintentionally running afoul of small regulations that can lengthen their stay from days, to weeks, to months and even years.

“It’s a cycle that builds on itself,” said Horwitz. “When we put people in a scenario where the human brain wants to figure out a way to exercise som control, to do something that shows your a living, functioning human being, and almost anything that a person does in that environment is considered to be a violation of the rules… We force people, more or less, into violations.

“It’s like if you put somebody in a car, tell them they had to go 300 miles, but they had to do it at five miles an hour. Nobody is going to be able to do that.”

This action is in support of bills S0395 and H5740, sponsored by Senator Mack and Representative Grace Diaz (Democrat, District 11, Providence), which would drastically limit the use of solitary confinement in Rhode Island, better protect vulnerable populations from its use, and help increase access to essential mental and behavioral health services behind the walls. The racial disparities in our criminal justice system, which are already extreme, are even more disproportionate when it comes to solitary confinement. As of April 19th of this year, 47% of individuals held in the High Security Center of the ACI were Black and 27% were Hispanic.

“I spent two years in seg, in solitary confinement,” said Close High Side Coalition organizer Tarah Dorsey. “It’s built to break you. To break your spirit. To break your mind. To me it’s a form of torture…[used] to break someone’s spirit. I used to call segregation the ‘Warehouse of the Broken’… I’ve seen people literally stab themselves with their eyeglasses to get out of seg…just to have somebody to talk to…It’s not right. Something has to be done about it. That’s why I’m using my voice, and hopefully it’s loud enough and clear enough.”

On Saturday, May 16th at 1pm, speakers, including Senator Mack, Black Lives Matter PAC Executive Director Harrison Tuttle, and other coalition members and solitary cell action participants will discuss the importance of the issue and the impact of this experience.

Pat Ford serves his voluntary time

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