“So little ‘moves’ here” the man wrote. He’d been held in solitary confinement for twenty three years and three days at the time and he was asking for a photograph that represented motion. Motion of any kind would do.
“It’s like living in a still life painting; that’s not living, it is existing; being ‘in place,’” he wrote in blue ink in a neat cursive hand that lurched to the right as if it were reaching forward toward something.
“I’d like to see things moving,” he went on. “Perhaps traffic at night, lights shining and the trails from lights whizzing past. Or water flowing from a stream, waterfall, etc… Or snow while it is falling. Anything in motion!”
Another man had a request of his own: a “photo collage with pyramids from all over the world including, but not limited to, the Mayan, Egyptian, Sumerian, Babylonian Pyramid with the Center of the photograph being the all seeing eye in the center with the phrase ‘To Dream is to be Free’ underneath it.”
And a woman: “I am abolitionist. I would like to have a photo that shows the crumbling of a prison with people of all races surrounding this prison celebrating the abolishment of prison. In the background the faces of revolutionaries such as MLK, George Jackson, Malcolm X and more should be seen, as a tribute to these fallen comrades.”
“All races, classes and groups need to be included in the photo. Make sure Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are included in the depictions.”
You know the other two of course but Jackson was an author who was imprisoned himself and a founder of the Maoist-Marxist Black Guerrilla Family. Johnson and Rivera were gay liberation activists and the founders of the group Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.
The messages come from a project called Photo Requests from Solitary a partnership with Solitary Watch which helps men and women being held in long-term solitary confinement throughout the U.S. request a photograph “of anything at all, real or imagined,” then tries to find volunteers to produce that image for them.
“The astonishing range of requests, taken together, provide an archive of the hopes, memories, and interests of people who live in extreme isolation,” the group explains.
I wrote about the torture practice known as solitary confinement in a paid-only post on here a while ago which you can read here with a subscription but in short the nut of it goes like this:
For most of the past century some version of solitary confinement has been used throughout the country but more sparingly than it is now, a day here or there, the American Psychological Association says. That’s changed in recent decades. Prisoners might spend years at a time in the hole isolated for twenty three hours a day. Some have spent decades inside. Yale Law School’s Liman Program and the Association of State Correctional Administrators released a study in 2015 that said there were at least 100,000 people being held in “administrative segregation” at the time which is what they call the hole in the biz…
But that number may have been a little high it’s really hard to say because as Solitary Watch points out there are so many prisons under so many jurisdictions throughout the country and so little oversight over how this sort of information is gathered that it can be hard to say what’s real or not.
Understanding what’s real or not is even more difficult when you’re being tortured by the state on our behalf in order to keep the rest of us safe or whatever it is they say to justify it.
PRFS estimate that there are at least 80,000 people in solitary today and point to the findings of experts like Dr. Craig Haney a psychiatrist who studies the effects of prolonged isolation to describe the psychological and emotional toll it can take on a person.
Here’s something Haney said in an interview with PBS a few years ago:
In my opinion, the reason solitary confinement began to be used in the ’80s and ’90s has to do with the rapid expansion of the prison system in the United States. … You had terribly overcrowded conditions and prisons that looked like they were about to become out of control.
You also had a change in correctional philosophy that occurred in the United States in the 1970s. Prison systems up until that point had existed, at least in theory, to provide rehabilitative services to prisoners, the idea being that they would get out of prison, or at least have an opportunity to get out of prison in better shape than they went in.
We abandoned that commitment in the mid-1970s, and we embraced and set a prison-for-punishment rationale. Among other things, what that meant is that prison systems had fewer and fewer incentives to offer prisoners. There were fewer programs; there were fewer ways of shaping prisoner behavior by offering them positive things to do.
And so, having been denied the opportunity to use carrots, they began to use sticks. They began to punish prisoners in order to control them, and one of the tried-and-true, old-time ways of punishing prisoners is to put them in the hole. …
The third component to this is that there were increasing numbers of mentally ill prisoners coming into the prison system. Their behavior was harder to understand; it was harder to control. Prison systems didn’t have the resources to properly deal with them, and so solitary confinement increasingly became a repository for mentally ill prisoners who the prison system believed it couldn’t control any other way.
Along with the photograph initiative PRFS also tours exhibitions of the requests and photos as part of an effort to address the epidemic of solitary confinement like an ongoing exhibition at the notorious but now defunct Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia — the birthplace of solitary confinement! — and a recently finished exhibition at the Brooklyn Public Library.
“PRFS offers a new way for people to think about solitary confinement and the people who endure it,” the group explains. Viewers are able to see not what incarcerated people see, but what they envision—the vivid and varied images that all minds produce, independently of senses and circumstances. Capturing these images as photographs, which can then be sent back to the people who conceived them, completes an artistic collaboration that acknowledges the shared creativity and humanity of individuals on both sides of the prison walls.”
I randomly saw this tweeted into my timeline just now and it seemed appropriate to share giving the subject matter.
You will no doubt be well aware by now of the increasingly dire and horrific conditions migrants are being held in in concentration camps along the border. Here’s this from the NYT this past week:
Overcrowded, squalid conditions are more widespread at migrant centers along the southern border than initially revealed, the Department of Homeland Security’s independent watchdog said Tuesday. Its report describes standing-room-only cells, children without showers and hot meals, and detainees clamoring desperately for release.
The findings by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General were released as House Democrats detailed their own findings at migrant holding centers and pressed the agency to answer for the mistreatment not only of migrants but also of their own colleagues, who have been threatened on social media.
In June, inspectors from the department visited five facilities in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, and found children had few spare clothes and no laundry facilities. Many migrants were given only wet wipes to clean themselves and bologna sandwiches to eat, causing constipation and other health problems, according to the report. Children at two of the five facilities in the area were not given hot meals until inspectors arrived.
Overcrowding was so severe that when the agency’s internal inspectors visited some of the facilities, migrants banged on cells and pressed notes to windows begging for help.
“At one facility, some single adults were held in standing-room-only conditions for a week, and at another, some single adults were held more than a month in overcrowded cells,” according to the report, which built off an initial inquiry by the inspector general in May that described similar conditions in facilities in El Paso.
One of the few lawmakers reacting to the conditions in the camps with the appropriate level of outrage and fury is Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez which has made her the preferred target of the right and of the CBP and ICE agents themselves as both the Intercept and ProPublica have reported recently.
“Members of a secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents joked about the deaths of migrants, discussed throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress visiting a detention facility in Texas on Monday and posted a vulgar illustration depicting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engaged in oral sex with a detained migrant, according to screenshots of their postings,” ProPublica reported.
Ocasio-Cortez rightfully likened the “detention centers” to concentration camps a comparison which many on the right found beyond the pale like daughter of torture apologist and architect of a million dead Muslims Liz Cheney.
“Allegations that somehow the United States is operating in a way that is in any way a parallel to the Holocaust is just completely ludicrous,” Cheney said.
“Although Ocasio-Cortez did not mention the Holocaust, the association between the Shoah and concentration camps is strong, and attacking an opponent for hyperbole is easier than defending the torture of children—not that Cheney is at all opposed to torture,” Adam Serwer wrote in the Atlantic.
And then he wrote this which is crucial to understanding the state of modern discourse on this and all other issues.
The reaction to Ocasio-Cortez is unsurprising. Whatever the merits of her criticism, when those in power are caught abusing that power in ways that are morally indefensible and politically unpopular, they will always seek to turn an argument about oppression into a dispute about manners. The conversation then shifts from the responsibility of the state for the human lives it is destroying to whether those who object to that destruction have exhibited proper etiquette. If congressional Republicans—or, for that matter, their constituents—had expressed a fraction as much outrage over the treatment of migrant children in American detention facilities as they did in response to Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks, she would never have had cause to make them in the first place.
This variety of tut-tutting is irresistible to many ostensibly objective journalists, who by convention are barred from expressing opinions on policy but are welcome to lecture on tone, and take nearly every opportunity to remind the rabble of their obligation to be polite to their rulers. But to express outrage at the criticism of nefarious conduct while treating that conduct as a typical political conflict in which there are two equally valid positions is to take a side.
Not to bring my whole thing up again but this precisely describes what happened to me when I suggested the operators of the baby jails should be fucked with somewhat when they go out to dinner. The debate instantly shifted to the propriety of saying such a thing which takes the focus off the actual evil being perpetrated and gives the people who would rather not address it in the first place something else to talk about. And then the fair-minded media referees get to present the whole ordeal as some say while others say…
Long story short I am the true and only victim here.
This is the entire purpose of this newsletter: Rejecting the idea that the Democrats and the major media, and the NYT in particular, are holding onto, even at this late stage of our collective decline, that being a moderate centrist is somehow a neutral pov and not itself a radical political ideology.
And then Ocasio-Cortez and the handful of other actually progressive lawmakers get treated like this by Nancy Fucking Pelosi.
FUCKING DOG SHIT.
I always misspell Ocasio-Cortex shit I just did it. I always spell it as Ocasio-Cortex and that is sort of appropriate because that is what scientists need to start calling an entire hemisphere of the Republican brain. They can’t stop thinking about her.
Ah fuck I just clicked on the link to the YouTube video they send out when you donate to Solitary Watch and looks like it finally happened I am finally being served a frothy bowl of shit from the algorithm tap of Hell.
I wrote about YouTube comments being one of the last pure places on the internet a while back and here is part of what I said:
People talk lately about how whatever it is they start watching on YouTube the recommended videos always end up bringing them to some corrosive white nationalist horse shit like Jordan Peterson or Ben Shapiro videos or videos where Sound of Music looking ass teens play video games like I.Q. Genius where the goal is to measure as many scalps with a caliper as you can before the time runs out but that doesn’t happen to me for some reason. YouTube knows my Brain Force is too resistant and cannot be overpowered is probably what it is. In any case the gremlins that pull the steampunk levers in my own personal YouTube algorithm seem to have decided of late that no matter what video I begin watching I then want to hear a song from Siamese Dream by the Smashing Pumpkins next and they are correct about that.
Just now I got this:
I’m not sure why it thinks someone who watched a video about prison reform wants to watch Louis CK’s most savage moments next or see Jordan Peterson destroy an entire panel on transgender… something I’m not clicking on it to see the full title but that’s just how it works and there is no changing it no matter how many times it’s written about or how often people complain about it which is constantly.
At least they’re still offering up the Smashing Pumpkins content I crave. Man that’s a good song isn’t it?
Fool enough to almost be it
Cool enough to not quite see it
Old enough to always feel this
Always old, I'll always feel this
We were in New Hampshire for the 4th at a lake house Michelle’s aunt and uncle have up there but don’t get too agitated about that fact it’s not the rich asshole type of lake or the rich asshole type of house they are mechanics who own a garage in Brockton, MA which I wrote about in the most recent paid-only Hell World piece. It’s a very nice place though and I love to go there and get in the lake and they take good care of us.
Something the previous generation could do is work a blue collar job and rise in the ranks until they owned the business then they got to purchase a pretty nice place by a pretty nice lake in the middle of nowhere important New Hampshire but I don’t think that sort of thing is in the cards for you and me anymore buddy.
The point is I was bobbing around in the lake with my brother in law and he told me something a young boy he knows told him one time which is that he saw something on YouTube about how Russia had sent a bunch of pedophiles to jail in a space prison and then accidentally sent a child to the same space prison and were like ah no we fucked up. He tried to tell him it was fake but the boy was like but I saw it on YouTube.
Another thing that always happens on trips like the one I was just on is there will be tons of food everywhere like hamburgers and hot dogs and stuff around all day and I’ll go into a major panic about it like a dog waiting under the table who knows he’s not supposed to be there but can’t help himself. I’ll go and cut a little sliver off of a hot dog or something so I can have a taste but not commit to eating the whole thing and everyone will laugh at me for being weird about it whenever they catch me doing it. I want to say it’s only because I’m deathly afraid of getting fat and it’s literally the only thing I can think about every five minutes of my life and I just want to have a little taste so I can feel like I’m taking part in the holiday cookout but you can’t say that type of shit to people who don’t know you very well because they’ll think you’re some kind of psychopath. You can say it to thousands of strangers though apparently.
The past couple weeks I’ve been doing really badly when it comes to my obsessive body image issues because after about a year and a half of not lifting or running so I could try to heal my various injuries and then turning to drinking to calm my anxiety about it most nights I finally and fully became a disgusting hog and I think I should probably go ahead and kill myself because I’m so fucking fat but I’m not going to do that don’t call the ambulance or anything. I brought it up with my therapist the other day and she said well I don’t remember what she said because I go into a sort of fugue state whenever I’m in therapy like you do when you’re talking to your doctor and you don’t remember any of the important shit they tell you five seconds after you walk out of the room. Sometimes when people go to the doctor for serious shit they bring a family member who can listen and ask questions more thoroughly because they’re not having an existential fucking crisis about their own specific mortality at that current moment but you can’t do that when it comes to therapy because you probably wouldn’t be honest if someone else was listening.
Here’s something else I just saw which reminded me of a favorite hobby of mine which is collecting the absolute shittiest lede sentences on news stories.
Jesus that is bad. Ok I will now share some of the worst ledes I’ve ever seen please enjoy them because this shit has been getting a little heavy today.
I believe I am on the record as saying the only good genre of music is hardcore bands who are obviously and evidently Smiths fans but this piece I just read reminded me of the only other good genre which is hardcore bands who become shoegaze bands. Every band on this list from Nothing to Title Fight are the best bands I can think of but here are two I particularly like.
Here are the lyrics to that one:
Heavenly, be heavenly
Have the patience to wait with me
Slow down and see the green
There's much more here to see than you think
Pushing away the ways we are faithful
I could leave it all behind
He's a swarm
When I hear you, I can't see you
Not how I want to
It's a chore to be the ground for you
He's a swarm and I am unforgiving
I am unforgiving. That line sticks with me. I think as someone who is infuriated by the carceral state in America I am not supposed to desire vengeance for my own version of the bad guys but it’s hard to push those thoughts away sometimes when you think about the people responsible for the torture we do to those in prison and in the concentration camps. You’d like to think something would happen to them but it makes you uglier and uglier the more you think it until one day you’re the jailer and you’ve got the key in your hand and you slam the gate and go home after a hard day on the job and forget about what you did all day. How was your day your spouse will ask and you’ll say it was fine.
Here’s another request from Photo Requests from Solitary project I really like:
“I’d like to see a picture depicting both police and elected officials being arrested by regular citizens, while walking in shame, through crowds of unified people of all ethnic groups, genders and ages,” it reads.
“Under or above the picture it should say in cursive letters ‘True Justice is that which no one is exempt especially not those who are is position to cause the most damage to the country and we the people.’”