The National Council of Churches (NCC) is joining with other member groups of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) to push for an end to solitary confinement in prisons.
Jim Winkler, General Secretary and President of the NCC, led the opening prayer Monday (Feb. 24) at a gathering of religious leaders, human rights advocates, and persons who have been subjected to solitary confinement.
The gathering, organized by NRCAT and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), was held in the Simpson Memorial Chapel of the United Methodist Building, 100 Maryland Ave. NE.
“The gathering focused on calling on the federal government to honor its commitments to Constitutional and international standards of human rights by confronting the use of solitary confinement in federal facilities,” said Laura Markle Downton, director of U.S. Prisons Policy and Program for NRCAT.
The gathering was timed to precede a Congressional hearing on solitary confinement, “Reassessing Solitary Confinement II: The Human Rights, Fiscal and Public Safety Consequences.”
The aim of the gathering was to “highlight developments in states including New York and California that illustrate national recognition that the abusive use of solitary confinement is immoral, antithetical to rehabilitation, fiscally wasteful, endangers institutional and community safety, and must be brought to an end,” according to Markle Downton.
During the pre-hearing gathering, attendees sampled “the loaf,” a tasteless, non-nutritious, visually unappealing substance served to incarcerated individuals in solitary confinement for additional punishment.
In addition to Winkler and Markle Downton, other participants included: Juan Mendez, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture; Dolores Canales, co-founder of California Families Against Solitary Confinement, whose son is among those enduring solitary confinement in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay Prison in California; and Five Mualimm-ak, of the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, who spent five years in solitary confinement in a New York state prison.
Also, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president and CEO, Hip Hop Caucus; Galen Carey, vice- president of government relations, National Association of Evangelicals; Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel, ACLU’s National Prison Project; and Rabbi Rachel Gartner of T’ruah: A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, who delivered a closing prayer.
In his opening prayer, Winkler asked God’s presence with persons incarcerated in solitary confinement.
“We beseech Thee to be with them during their sleeping and during their waking that they may know Thy peace and comfort, that they may somehow find Thy holiness in the hell-holes called solitary confinement,” said Winkler in prepared remarks.
The full text of Winkler’s opening prayer follows:
“Ruler of the night, Guarantor of the Day, we gather before Thee to witness on behalf of sisters and brothers living tortured lives of solitary confinement, mostly without human contact. We beseech Thee to be with them during their sleeping and during their waking that they may know Thy peace and comfort, that they may somehow find Thy holiness in the hell-holes called solitary confinement.
“We have been commanded by Thee to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and visit the prisoners. Require us not to take these responsibilities lightly. We seek thy strength as we struggle to free the oppressed.
“Give us new visions of people freed from silence and solitariness, give us strength and courage beyond committees, hearings and memos, beyond calls and appointments, beyond frazzled expectations. Turn us toward the light as we pray for those who live in the darkness of despair.
“Today we submit our ways to Thee, the One who promises the way and the truth and the life. Grant us courage and strength as we fight for justice.
“We pray in the name of all that is holy. Amen.”