STOPMAX Campaign conference

Pam Fadem
From May 30 to June 1, 2008 the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) sponsored a conference in Philadelphia, PA to launch a new national campaign to shut down maximum-security prison units.
The mission of the STOPMAX campaign is to build a national movement to end the use of solitary confinement and other forms of torture in US prisons. The conference was an opportunity for about 400 former prisoners, families of prisoners, activists and concerned people to share their experiences and begin to plan future work to accomplish these goals. Over the 3 days, people participated in over 40 workshops addressing issues such as the History of Supermax Litigation, Strategies from the Chicano Mexicano Prison Project, and Family & Friends Emergency Response Network.
CCWP sponsored one of the only workshops on conditions for women in prison, showing the video, Charisse Shumate:Fighting for Our Lives. After the video, we had a discussion with 25 people about the specific conditions for women locked down in segregation, SHU and on death row in California. We talked about “caged mental health” as Sandi Nieves calls it (see her article “Caged” Mental Health), the impact on the mental health of all people locked down under inhumane conditions. Our workshop said out loud that prisons and the SHUs are about humiliation for everyone, but for women and transgender people it is especially about sexual abuse and degradation, using our genders against us.
Perhaps the most moving part of the conference was hearing the testimonies of Survivors of Isolation. This panel included people who endured and built resistance to solitary confinement and torture, such as sister Munirah El-Bomani, founder of My Sisters Keepers in Newark, NJ, and former political prisoner Ray Luc Levasseur who spent almost 20 years in federal prisons, many of them in control units.
Robert King Wilkerson of the Angola 3 was in prison for 31 years, 29 of them in solitary. At a rally in front of the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia King said, “Prisons are not moral. ‘StopMax’ should not be our final goal. We need to raise the bar and think about doing the moral thing. We need to abolish all prisons. We need to tear them down. Because prisons are an extension of slavery.”
Laura Whitehorn, a former political prisoner who was locked up for 14 and 1/2 years, some of them in the Marianna, FL control unit said, “When I go to visit men in prisons, all of the visiting rooms are full. When I was in prison, the visiting rooms were not full. Women stand by their men inside. Men need to stand by their women, and support all women in prison. Guess I am lucky I was a lesbian. I had my girlfriend and a lot of women supporting me.”
AFSC’s Oakland office has just issued a new report, Buried Alive: Long-term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons. Contact the AFSC for a free copy:
write: 1730 Franklin St., Ste. 212, Oakland, CA 94612
call: 510-238-8080