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  • Doug Tjapkes

Days, weeks, months, years in the hole? Not acceptable!

My friend puts it well: Getting old sucks! In response to my kids’ persistence, I called my physician to ask about a troublesome leg. That led to a visit to Urgent Care, and that led to the Emergency Room. Possible blood clot. I have great respect for the medical profession, but all of my hospital visits in my 80+ years have not been pleasant. We’re in a small town so, in this case, there was a 2-hour wait while the facility’s ultra sound technician was paged and brought in. And here’s the deal. You’re sitting on a gurney with your pants off, so you can’t run to the bathroom. The ER exam room is tiny, the curtain is pulled, there’s no radio, no television, COVID has resulted in the removal of magazines. And, my cell phone was in the car. Alone with NOTHING to do for 2 solid hours. And that got me to thinking about people I love behind bars, and the common practice I detest: solitary confinement. For a variety of reasons, we can and do place men and women in tiny cages for 23 hours a day. Some months ago I wrote about an old boy in Louisiana who’d been in solitary for over 40 years, staring at the walls of a 7 by 9 cell. Psychiatrists warn that solitary confinement can lead to mental issues. Some experience panic attacks, depression and paranoia, and even hallucinations. One expert claims that it renders many people incapable of living anywhere else. Then, when prisoners are finally released, they are overwhelmed with anxiety. My friend Lois Pullano, who founded Citizens for Prison Reform and who has stories to tell about segregation, has been passionate in promoting what is called the Open MI Door campaign. We support it, too. The campaign calls for an end to solitary confinement in our state’s prisons, jails and juvenile detention facilities. This, she says, would bring Michigan into full compliance with the UN Mandela Rules. The Mandela Rules restrict the use of solitary confinement as a measure of last resort, to be used only in exceptional circumstances. Mandela found solitary confinement to be “the most forbidding aspect of prison life. There was no end and no beginning; there’s only one’s own mind, which can begin to play tricks.” Your support is needed in this campaign: Getting old sucks. Being locked up really sucks. Being locked up alone is simply cruel and unusual punishment and must be stopped. ...remember those in prison as if you were together with them.

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