August 16, 2016 |
At age 16, Donyea Phillips hit rock bottom in segregated housing at Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center, with a bed sheet for a noose. "As my fingers and toes started going numb, I remembered Sarah," he said. That's Sarah Morris, who runs arts workshops for children in the city's adult jails: She was the only person he could recall encouraging him. "She told me I was good at writing poems. At the last minute, I remembered that. When I got a sheet around my neck, she saved my life.
August 13, 2016 |
HARRISBURG - Testifying before a federal judge Thursday, the former head of the state's prison system and its current chief offered radically different opinions over freeing from solitary confinement a 64-year-old inmate who has spent nearly 37 years confined 23 hours a day to a 7-by-12-foot cell. Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said Arthur Johnson could not be placed among the general population because he still has it in him to try to escape, and still has the capacity to kill during the attempt.
July 24, 2016 |
He's out of solitary confinement for the first time in 22 years, and $99,000 richer from settlement of a civil rights lawsuit against Pennsylvania prison officials. But at 72 - serving life without parole for the 1970 murder of Philadelphia Police Sgt. Frank Von Colln - Russell Shoatz is never getting out, and now ponders his remaining life behind bars. "One of the biggest things is that my father is now beginning a period of growth and development," said Shoatz's son, Russell III. The younger Shoatz said there was talk of using part of the settlement to help inmates reenter society.
July 8, 2016 |
HARRISBURG - The question for convicted murderer Arthur Johnson seemed simple: Could he explain what his days are like, from the moment he wakes to the time he drifts off to sleep, in the 7-by-12-foot prison cell where he has spent nearly 37 years in solitary confinement? His response was an unstoppable, eight-minute soliloquy about despair and mistrust and lessons learned on the street, the words spilling from his mouth in a crush of thoughts as he tried to convince a federal judge on Wednesday that nearly four decades is enough time for any one person to spend alone.
July 7, 2016 |
FRACKVILLE, Pa. - On a warm morning last week, couples were hugged up on comfy sofa chairs and buying snacks and soft drinks from vending machines. Happiness was everywhere, despite the setting: the visiting room at one of Pennsylvania's maximum-security prisons, the State Correctional Institute - Frackville. Just feet from the couples, in a side room, a rail-thin man in an orange jumpsuit sat behind a thick window, his eyes obscured by a dated pair of prescription sunglasses. He was seated, hemmed between the window and a floor-to-ceiling chain-link fence behind him. A camera was trained on him, mounted high on a cinder-block wall behind the fence.
June 16, 2016 |
Arthur Johnson has used neither a cellphone nor the internet. He's never voted, married, or had children. It was long after the funerals of his father, two brothers, and the grandmother who helped raise him that he even learned of their deaths. For nearly 37 years, he has dined alone. "Beyond the necessary contact with prison staff, I have not touched another human since 1979," Johnson said in a declaration that is part of his federal lawsuit against John Wetzel, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections secretary, and five other DOC officials.
September 24, 2015 |
Over the last few months, unusual missives began arriving in the post office box of the Hearts on a Wire Collective , a grassroots collaboration between transgender people who meet weekly at the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia and transgender prison inmates around the state. "We started getting letters from folks on the inside saying, 'I just had this bizarre conversation I never expected to have,' " said Adrian Lowe, one of the organizers. "People were saying, 'They just asked me if I needed a bra!
September 10, 2015 |
A FORMER member of the radical Revolutionary Action Movement convicted of bank robbery in the early 1970s, Philadelphia's Hakim Ali spent about three decades in state and federal lockups, but nothing haunts him more than his roughly two years in "the hole" - solitary confinement. Ali, the spiritual leader of Muslim prisoners at the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa., in the early 1980s, said an inmate work stoppage led to disputes with prison officials, who ultimately retaliated by throwing him into solitary.
July 16, 2015
PRESIDENT OBAMA'S speech before the annual NAACP convention moved me - not just because he called for reforming the penal system, but because he also got into the whys surrounding the issue. Why is it that so many African-American men get ensnared in the criminal-justice system? Why is it that African-Americans make up almost half of the 2.3 million prisoners incarcerated in the United States? Why is it that one in every 35 African-American men is serving time, compared to one in every 214 white men?
February 14, 2015 |
TRENTON - A New Jersey lawmaker wants to restrict the use of solitary confinement in the state's jails, warning the practice has "grave consequences" for the safety of inmates and officers. There's just one problem: The Department of Corrections and the unions representing officers say they don't use solitary confinement. A disagreement over semantics dominated an hours-long hearing Thursday held by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, which took testimony on the bill but did not vote on it. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D., Union)