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Truthdigger of the Week: Shane Bauer

Posted on Jul 13, 2013
AP/Craig Ruttle

Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal at a news conference in New York after their release from an Iranian prison.

By Alexander Reed Kelly

(Page 2)

The trampling of those rights is visible in the psychological states of many isolated prisoners. “A 2003 study of inmates at the Pelican Bay SHU by University of California-Santa Cruz psychology professor Craig Haney found that 88 percent of the SHU population experiences irrational anger, nearly 30 times more than the US population at large,” Bauer writes. Haney says that every study of the psychological effects of involuntary solitary confinement has shown “negative psychiatric symptoms after 10 days.” A full 41 percent of SHU cases reviewed by him reported hallucinations while twenty-seven percent had suicidal thoughts. The California prison system’s own records show that “from 2007 to 2010, inmates in isolation killed themselves at eight times the rate of the general prison population.”

These hellish conditions have 30,000 inmates across California waging a hunger strike. Those prisoners confirm that being held in isolation amounts to torture. Bauer has no doubt heard from some of the strikers.

“Every day,” he wrote in Mother Jones, “I come home to a new stack of letters from prisoners—our hostage story, it seems, is best known inside America’s penitentiaries. For a while, I try to respond to each one, but as the weeks and months pass, they start to pile up. I become afraid of them and all the sorrow they contain. They take me back to my own time in solitary—and how can I go back there every day?”

“One morning, I sit down at my desk and look at the stack of envelopes slowly taking it over. I need to write these people back. I know what it’s like to wait for word from the outside. Some of them remind me of myself while I was locked up, their whole lives bent on staying sane. They write. They read. They exercise. They meditate. Others make me think of what I would have eventually become. Their letters don’t make sense. They write me constantly, desperately. They are broken.”

Americans in general have little sympathy for people placed behind bars on convictions of crimes. “Lock him up and throw away the key” is a phrase every man, woman and child knows. As far as civil rights are concerned, America’s prisoners are regarded as what the Jesus Christ figure recognized as the “least of us.” Shane Bauer was once one of them. For not forgetting them, and for raising his voice in their defense, we honor him as our Truthdigger of the Week.


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