Try to Imagine Spending 1 Hour in Solitary Confinement. Albert Woodfox Spent 43 Years

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LOUISIANA, United States - What comes to mind when people think about solitary confinement? Society depicts prisoners in locked cells with little or no contact with the outside world. This is the reality of thousands of prisoners throughout the penal system in America, but what makes this subject topical and visceral is the recent release of Albert Woodfox. He was charged along with Robert King and Herman Wallace, for allegedly killing a guard during the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana riots in 1972.

Much can be debated about the guilt of these three black men, especially about the cruel and unusual punishment of having to serve their entire sentences in solitary confinement. Thus, the "Angola Three," as they have come to be known, are a prime example of the abuse of the incarcerated in solitary confinement also known as administrative segregation which condemns prisoners to a veritable living death.

Until his release, Woodfox was the longest-standing solitary confinement prisoner in the history of United States, having served 43 years in solitary confinement. The next most famous personage to survive a long prison sentence in solitary confinement was Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison. He had received a life sentence in 1964 for conspiring against the apartheid regime, and spent the first 18 of those years on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town. (Source: Solitary Watch).

We, the public, can conceptualize solitary confinement, but everyone who has visited decommissioned cells in the administrative segregation section of prisons remarks on the fact that they couldn't imagine spending more than a few minutes in such an environment. Even this brief amount of time adversely impacted them, so one can extrapolate, though not really comprehend the magnitude of spending almost half-a-century in a small cell locked up for 23 hours a day.

The practice of administrative segregation needs to be reviewed much like the death penalty. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) some states across the nation are choosing to legislate the discontinuation of capital punishment, and many states and even the federal government need to also reexamine the potential human rights abuses of prolonged isolation of prisoners.

Solitary confinement is often used to separate dangerous prisoners, protect inmates from other inmates, or put a stop to illegal activities outside of the prison, according to the National Institute of Corrections (NICIC). The problem with this method of punishment is that confined inmates are at risk for mental health problems. Inmates in solitary confinement are not engaged in stimulating activities such as work, friendship, volunteering, religious worship, and more. In fact they are isolated for 23 hours a day, which is proven to have a deleterious affect on mental health. Studies show that living alone is positively linked to mental health problems, and while this is not typical for everyone, isolation and seclusion can lead to depression, anxiety, self-harm, hatred or other psychological and physiological concerns.

These health effects are especially greater in solitary confinement because prisoners spend everything but 1 hour of each day locked up and alone.

“In 2014, 13 years after being set free, Robert King told CNN that he still suffers from confusion, saying that he often gets "confused as to where I am, where I should be." He also said he started experiencing problems with his vision soon after entering solitary confinement. In addition, King told CNN that depression was a constant (though expected) symptom.”

The effects of solitary confinement on a prisoner’s well-being have been debated since the first half of the 20th century, according to Peter Scharff Smith, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for Human Rights in Copenhagen. For reasons earlier noted, solitary confinement is a necessary component of the penal system, but its efficacy is in doubt outside of isolating violent inmates who pose an immediate danger to other incarcerates and even the guards. Prolonged and forced isolation of prisoners who have no recourse nor outside representation is one of theissues that needs to be debated as part the overall reformation of prison system.

To that end, small things can be changed to immediately improve the lives of those inmates who are locked up for long periods of time. This may include granting them the privilege of engaging in daily tasks as well as maintain meaningful social contacts that can be monitored and reviewed by the Prisoner Review Board. These contacts may involve writing letters and making phone calls to family members, friends, and mental health professionals, all of which are afforded to mainstreamed prisoners, but denied to those confined in solitary.

Additionally, attention to the mental health of prisoners being held in solitary confinement needs to be a top priority. They should have frequent access to social workers, clinical licensed psychologist, or even psychiatrist so that they can share their feelings, find an outlet for their depression through therapy, and if necessary receive proper medicine to manage any preexisting or confinement induced mental illnesses. No human being can exists successfully in isolation, as our ability to remain human and hold onto our humanity is through our relationships with other people and participation with the community, even if that community is an incarcerated population.

This does not negate the necessity of the penal system, nor the necessity of incarcerating violent felons such as murders, rapists, pedophiles, or robbers from time-to-time in solitary confinement; however, to keep inmates locked up continuously for decades at a time is a clear human rights violation. For the families of victims of violent crimes, no punishment could be too harsh and since we have not walked a 'mile' in their proverbial shoes we don't know exactly how we would react. But, the empirical evidence is clear that when and if solitary confined prisoners are released back into society without proper mental health treatment, they pose a greater danger than when they went into the system.

While incarceration is intended to strip inmates of certain rights, not addressing mental health problems which are the result of solitary confinement will ultimately result in extra costs and impose a greater burden upon a system that is currently stretched to its limits. But, these costs are minimal when compared to the expense of having to hire extra guards to manage volatile situations which may arise because of having mentally ill inmates in general population.

The case for or against solitary confinement is a complex one; however, it is clear that the system of isolation and administrative segregation poses a greater risk to society by creating a class of individuals who are mentally unstable, either because of genetic disposition or prolonged isolation, and therefore are incapable of successfully reintegrating into a society into which they are thrust without support, medication, or life and job skills upon completion of their sentences.

Contributing Journalist:  @SophieSokolo

Savita Halappanavar | Denied Abortion Dies from Septicemia

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The ‘War on Women” became a seminal issue of the 2012 United States presidential election. Never before had women’s issues been at the forefront of a political contest in which many men openly revealed their utter ignorance of how women’s bodies functioned, while waging an all-out campaign to eliminate the legal statutes that guaranteed the right for women to seek and secure safe abortions.

While Americans were discussing abortion rights in the abstract, last month an Indian woman living in Ireland, Savita Halappanavar, 31, died because she was not allowed to receive an abortion.

Her tragic story began when she presented to University Hospital Galway because at 17 weeks pregnant she was experiencing unusual back pain.

By all accounts Mr. and Mrs. Halappanavar were happy with the upcoming addition of a child to their family, so this sudden development was worrisome. Savita, a dentist, and her husband, an engineer, waited for the results of her internal examination, but when the doctor returned with the prognosis it was devastating. She was fully dilated, her amniotic fluid was leaking, and the child would not survive.

Doctors told her that she would miscarry in a few hours, but instead according to a report in the Irish Times today, she “died of septicemia a week later because, even after doctors confirmed that her baby would certainly die, they refused to perform a life-saving termination of the pregnancy citing the fact that Ireland is a Catholic country.

This is a clear case of when the religious beliefs of attending physicians outweighed their Hippocratic Oath. Though, the Halappanavar repeatedly begged the doctors to induce labor since it was clear that the fetus would not survive, but each time doctors refused to perform the life-saving measures required to save Savita’s life, asserting that as long as there was a fetal heartbeat they would not terminate the pregnancy.

Over the next few days medical personnel seemed to take inordinate care of the fetus, checking every few hours to see determine if its heart was still beating. Meanwhile, Mr. Halapannavar had to watch Savita deteriorate as poisonous blood course through her body. Once it was clear that they could not save her baby, Mrs. Halappanavar once again begged for the doctors to induce labor to end the pregnancy, as before, these requests by all accounts were assiduously ignored.

Mr. and Mrs. Halappanavar are Hindu and thus believed that they were not subject to the prohibition against abortions which governs the religious lives of Irish Catholics. Even when Mr. Halappanavar explained that they were neither Catholic nor Irish and that under the Irish law, a woman has a “legal right to an abortion where there is a ‘real and substantial’ risk to her life,” the doctors still refused to save her life.

Two months prior to Savita’s death, on 13 September 2012, more than 140 Irish medical professionals from the fields of obstetrics and gynecology, mental health, and molecular epidemiology attended a symposium to discuss abortion as a tool to save a mother who has a problematic pregnancy that is life-threatening.

At the conclusion of the conference the symposium issued ‘the Dublin Declaration.’ Drafted by leading medical experts in maternal healthcare the document asserts that “abortions are not medically necessary, and thus abortion has no place in treating women and their unborn children." (Source: Zenit)

Thus, Savita perished after a week of suffering and with the knowledge that she had already lost her child and that she would most certainly die.

Meanwhile, across the pond, America pro-choice supporters mounted a vigorous defense of Roe vs. Wade while combating ignorant beliefs about pregnancy espoused by many far-right conservatives like former Representative Joe Walsh.

The Illinois Rep. proclaimed that because of "advances in medicine and technology, you can't find one instance" in which an abortion would be necessary to save a mother's life. It was also his belief that the health of the mother has become a tool for abortions any time for any reason ... there's no such exception as the 'life of the mother.'

When women’s freedom and the right to self-determination is held hostage by religious beliefs, cultural bias, or patriarchal dominance, death is sure to follow. Whether by stoning or honor killings or medical neglect, the net result is women everywhere remain at risk as long as a few people can impose their will and belief system about women’s bodies on society at large.

Editor-in-Chief: @ayannanahmias
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Mother Kills Daughter with Acid

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Acid attacks, are a heinous crime in which the perpetrator seeks to deliberately maim or kill their victim with acid so that they suffer horrendously in the short-term, and if they survive, must suffer the further indignity of being horribly disfigured.

These attacks are most common in Cambodia, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and other nearby countries. Globally, at least 1500 people in 20 countries are attacked in this way yearly, 80% of whom are female and somewhere between 40% and 70% under 18 years of age. (Source: Wikipedia)

The recent assassination attempt of the Pakistani heroine, Malalai Yousafzi, galvanized Pakistanis who took to the streets in an unprecedented demonstration of support for Malalai. The nation and the world was swift and vociferous in the condemnation of the perpetrators, and this watershed moment seemed to mark a desire by the citizens of the country to stand up for the rights of Pakistani women and girls.

It was therefore disconcerting to learn of the murder of a young Pakistani girl who was targeted simply because she was speaking to a boy. Unlike Malalai, who was targeted by the Taliban for advocating for access to education for Pakistani girls, the young 16-year old girl who lost her life today, was victimized for no other reason than she happened to speak to a boy in front of her home.

She was the victim of an 'honor killing,' which is the murder of a girl or woman by relatives, because they perceive her actions as having brought dishonor to the family.

According to Reuters, the girl’s parents poured acid on her face and body. In this case, as in others, the mother was the main perpetrator, though usually it is a male relative who initiates and carries out honor killings.

Unlike the acid attack victim pictured above, the young 16-year old did not survive the ‘third-degree burns on her scalp, face, eyes, nostrils, arms, chest foot and lower part of legs.  According to the doctors who tried to save her life, even her scalp bone was exposed.’ (Source: Reuters)

The parents in this case have been arrested, which is unlike many cases in Asia in which the perpetrators often escape justice. In many cases the murder is viewed as a private family matter and in some conservative communities the practice is tacitly condoned.

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The Rabbit Hole of 'Legitimate' Rape

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 22:22 p.m. EDT, 20 August 2012

Rape Victims in American MediaGlobally women are under assault and their rights are constantly under attack by religious extremists, misogynist, and cultures in which they are viewed as chattel.

Americans by and large think of the challenges these women face as daunting, yet far removed from the realities of most women living in the U.S. for whom protections of women’s reproductive rights has been legislated into law.

That was until Saturday, 19 August 2012, when Republican Congressman Todd Akin stated a position that is widely held by conservative Americans but rarely voiced. The belief that a woman cannot get pregnant through rape, with a subtext that is much more revealing because it implies that if a woman is raped and gets pregnant then she must have wanted it and is only afterwards crying foul.

This is straight out of the text book of religious extremists of any faith who believe that if a woman is raped she caused it by dressing provocatively, by engaging in risky behavior such as walking to her car after work, going out to have a drink with her girlfriends, coming home late, or being sexually active.

When the Afghanistan Taliban executed a woman last month because of accusations of adultery, the world was outraged, but it was expected as par for the course for those ‘crazy Muslims who treat their women like animals and make them completely cover up.’

But, there is no difference between the Taliban and the Republican conservatives who are running for election during this 2012 American election cycle who hold extreme views on women's reproductive rights and in particular the rights of rape victims. The definition of rape has been continuously narrowed and defined by them as ‘legitimate or forcible,’ which can be extrapolated to exclude statutory rape, date rape, and incest.

Thus, by this definition any woman who cannot prove that she has been raped by a preponderance of evidence of being physically and violently assaulted is deemed to be lying and therefore not deserving of the assistance. In fact, according to Akin, if a woman is raped and conceives then she can’t possibly have been raped.

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare…If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. Let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work, or something, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” ~ Republican Congress Todd Akin

Under this premise, not only should the woman suffer further indignity by carrying to term the child of the man who raped her, the child must come into the world baring the stigma of being the product of rape, and thus the woman and the child are given a lifetime sentence simply because they were the unfortunate victim of a sexual assault.

According to the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN), “In 2004-2005, 64,080 women were raped. According to medical reports, the incidence of pregnancy for one-time unprotected sexual intercourse is 5%. By applying the pregnancy rate to 64,080 women, RAINN estimates that there were 3,204 pregnancies as a result of rape during that period.”

1996 study by the American Journal of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found “rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency” and is “a cause of many unwanted pregnancies” — an estimated “32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year.”  (Source: The New York Times)

The only thing that makes this case more alarming is that it revealed the extent to which women’s rights in this country have been under quiet but aggressive attack by a group of men who desire to control women’s reproductive rights. There is no difference between these American politicians and members of the Taliban and other extremists who believe that a woman does not have the inalienable right to self-determination and reproductive choice.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw6j-weI5FE]

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Waris Dirie | FGM vs Circumcision

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 16:00 PM EDT, 3 May 2012

Waris Dirie

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is currently one of the most egregious women's rights abuses occurring globally. It is a subject that is hard to discuss because of its intimate, sexual and graphic nature.

However, it is exactly because of the life-long psychological and physical effects this barbaric practice has on its innocent and unwilling victims, that it is incumbent upon us to publicize this abuse until it is eradicated.

This issue was first brought to the public's attention by Waris Dirie, Somalian author, activist, and victim of FGM, when she published her memoir titled 'Desert Flower.' The book was subsequently made into a movie in 2009, and Liya Kebede, an Ethiopian supermodel, played Waris Dirie in the heart wrenching but ultimately victorious story of survival.

Initially, when we featured a post about this topic, a number of readers commented about male circumcision and how this is just as barbaric as FGM and should also be classified as a human rights abuse.

Though it is true that any type of unwanted genital mutilation is a crime, the major differences between male circumcision and FGM are as follows:

    1. Most boys are circumcised at birth, or in the case of Jews and some Muslims, on the 8th day of life;
    2. Men who are circumcised later in life often elect to have this procedure for personal, religious, or health reasons;
    3. The surgery is performed in a sterile environment, usually under anesthesia;
    4. Male circumcision is usually performed in a non-invasive manner that ultimately results in few, if any adverse psychological effects.

By comparison, FGM has more in common and correlates best to physical castration in men.

    1. Girls who undergo FGM (aka female circumcision) are forcibly mutilated anywhere between 13 and 15 years of age;
    2. The 'procedure' occurs without anesthesia in unsanitary environments;
    3. Rusty razor blades, old knives, or shards of glass are used to cut the flesh;
    4. The clitoris and the inner and outer labia are torn away;
    5. Finally, the wound is crudely stitched together and must be cut open for sex and childbirth.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are benefits to men and boys becoming circumcised particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

"Strong evidence from Africa indicates that circumcision reduces the risk of HIV infection in heterosexual men by 38-66%, and studies have concluded it is cost effective in sub-Saharan Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) currently recommends circumcision be recognized as an intervention as part of a comprehensive program for prevention of HIV transmission in areas with high endemic rates of HIV." (Source: WHO)

The effects of FGM are profoundly debilitating and deleterious to women's reproductive health and serves no useful purpose. It is a practice deeply rooted in misogyny, tyranny and the concept of women as chattel.

Men who have been circumcised can still enjoy a robust sex life filled with numerous encounters, whereas women who have undergone FGM must suffer immense pain to remove the sutures, and as one can imagine, sexual intercourse thereafter would be excruciating.

In the Europe between the 16th and 17th centuries the 'Chastity Belt' was developed to prohibit women from having sexual intercourse. This device was also a contrivance of men desiring to control the sexuality of the women in their societies.  In comparison to FGM, a 'Chastity Belt' was infinitely less egregious, but definitely a women's rights violation.

Surprisingly, FGM procedures are on the rise in Western nations such as the United Kingdom.  It is easy for most people to acquiesce in the face of such a daunting problem that is occurring half-way across the world. It is also more comfortable to believe that this is an Islamic problem though FGM is no prescribed in the Quran.

It is easiest to effect change in one's backyard, and thus, in Western societies where there are no health reasons to recommend FGM it is up to the medical establishment and authorities to intervene and halt these procedures.

Misogyny like rape, is less about the object of abuse, in this case, women, and more about control. The net result of FGM is that it diminishes all women everywhere even if it hasn't personally impacted your life or those of your friends and family.

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Frida Kahlo | The Thorned Princess

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 01:43 AM EDT, 18 May 2011

"I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best." - Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, Self-PortraitMEXICO - Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are two painters who lived extraordinary lives defying conventional standards of conduct and mores of their day.  Frida was born on July 6, 1907 and died on July 13, 1954 after a long and protracted illness.

Although Frida did not consider herself a surrealist painter, her paintings portray otherwise.  Within the universe of her canvases she depicts her emotional and physical pain with exquisite poignancy. Even someone with a cursory knowledge of surrealism can easily decipher the objects of her derision and disgust.

Her physical pain was the result of a trolley accident in which she suffered serious injuries, including a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, and a dislocated shoulder. Also, an iron handrail pierced her abdomen and her uterus, which seriously damaged her reproductive ability." (Source: Wikipedia)

As a result, by 1944 Frida's health had deteriorated to such an extent that she had to wear a steel corset Broken Column, 1944for several months.  The straps of the corset held her spine in place but its rigidity left her unable to move and only able to stand upright or lie supine.

The portrait to the left depicts her damaged spine. The nails piercing her face and body represent the physical pain she has endured since her accident. The larger nail piercing her heart represents the emotional pain caused by Diego.

Her relationship with the famed Diego Rivera was renown for its volatility, dramatic arguments and public altercations. Diego had a larger than life personality and was of immense stature and girth.  He was also a philanderer.

Diego's infidelity caused Frida immense suffering.  In response Frida would often engage in extra-marital affairs during their many separations. One of her more famous relationship was with the famed dancer and performer  Josephine Baker.  Frida's inability to completely sever her relationship with Diego Rivera is in my observation symptomatic of an abused woman.

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Published: 18 May 2012 (Page 2 of 2)

Steven Stosny, a counselor and the founder of CompassionPower, an anger and violence management program which treats people convicted of abuse in the home call this cycle a "pendulum of pain."  Although Frida and Diego's relationship was emotionally abusive  and not physically, it none the less followed the same pattern.

Abuse victims will "leave out of either feThe Two Fridas Kahloar, anger or resentment," Stosny said. "But then, after the fear, anger or resentment begins to subside, they feel guilt, shame, anxiety, and that takes them back."

After a violent incident, there is often a "honeymoon period" during which the abuser may apologize profusely, give the victim gifts and persuade the victim to stay, experts say. But when that period is over, the abuser may once again reoffend. " (Source: CNN)

All of these complexities can serve as a distraction from her talent or can augment and flesh out the breadth of her humanity and her struggle to define herself in the patriarchal society into which she was born; and the male dominated field of painting which she chose as a career.  We shall never know but the 2002 biopic goes a long way toward illuminating her struggles.

The eponymous film Frida, directed by Julie Taymor, in which Salma Hayek portrayed the artist with Alfred Molina playing Diego is based on Hayden Herrera's book. The film grossed $58 million worldwide and worth seeing to get a full picture of the nuances of this complicated woman's extraordinary life.

Watch the official trailer of the film "Frida." (Click here to view)

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