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California Congregation Works to End Solitary Confinement

California Congregation Works to End Solitary Confinement

Temple Beth El (TBE)/Jewish Community Center, Aptos, CA, and the RAC have both endorsed the Together to End Solitary (TES) campaign, a nationwide initiative to build public support and political power to ban the use of solitary confinement. TES is a series of events that take place on the 23rd of each month, as a reference to the 23 or more hours a day that up to 100,000 people in U.S. prisons spend in small solitary cells. People hold actions wherever they are. Please join us. In California, the campaign includes Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement.

Temple Beth El has hosted a series of powerfully moving events to raise awareness and work to end solitary confinement:

  1. Social Justice In & Out of the Sukkah: Congregants and Reform California Organizer Rabbi Jessica Kirschner joined together to speak out against adult and youth solitary confinement and racial profiling, and about implementation of Proposition 47, a successful 2014 ballot initiative that allowed certain people to have their nonviolent felony convictions re-categorized as misdemeanors.

 

  1. Social Justice Shabbat: Dolores Canales, co-founder of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC), talked to the congregation and community members about her 20 years in prison due to drug addiction, and about her son, John Martinez, who spent almost 15 years in solitary confinement. (UN Mandela Rules prohibit as torture over 15 consecutive days in solitary confinement.) Dolores stated: “I’m just a mom…I received information in 2011 that the prisoners were going…on…an indefinite hunger strike…They were requesting adequate food, education programs, to stop the use of informants to keep them in solitary confinement…they were not given due process…I knew I had to do something.” Click here to watch the video. Dolores said federal law prohibits solitary confinement of chimpanzees as social beings and cited organic egg “‘certified humane’ standards [for] chickens…Yet we keep human beings confined in cement and steel for decades…depriving them of human contact and natural sunlight…”

 

  1. Screening and discussion of Breaking Down the Box: We showed this National Religious Campaign Against Torture documentary, which exposes the systematic use of solitary confinement in the context of mass incarceration. Marie and Randy Levin, part of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition and CFASC, explained how the racial unity-based CA Prisoner Hunger Strike by over 30,000 prisoners led to winning the monumentally important 2015 settlement ending indefinite solitary confinement in California. One of the hundreds of people released from solitary, Marie’s brother, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, shared his first embrace with Marie and Randy in over 31 years!

 

Jewish teachings make clear that solitary confinement and other forms of social isolation are deeply disturbing. Genesis 2:18 declares: “It is not good that the human should be alone.” In the Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 23a, Honi the Circle-drawer prayed for death to end his loneliness. Raba said, “Either friendship or death.”

Our congregation currently is working to oppose an ongoing practice of loudly awakening prisoners in CA solitary every 30 minutes throughout the day and night, causing great mental and physical harm. Prisoners and families have filed a sleep deprivation complaint with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

Temple Beth El will also work to pass CA Senate Bill 1143 to limit youth solitary “room confinement,” and to educate and mobilize our congregation, community, courts, and legislature until solitary confinement is ended. Please join us in spreading awareness about solitary confinement, and in working to end the use of solitary confinement in prisons, jails, detention centers, and youth facilities around the country.

Willow Katz is a member of the Social Action Committee of Temple Beth El/Jewish Community Center in Aptos, California and an activist with the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition in California and Together to End Solitary nationwide. 

Adam Waters is a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He grew up in Coral Springs, FL, and was a member of Temple Beth Orr. Adam graduated from Brown University.

Adam Waters