In the photo, activists walk a long stretch of road carring signs with messages such as "Education not Incarceraction" and "Hospitals not Prisons." Image courtesy of the author.
In late May and early June, I, along with the Chicago group Voices for Creative Nonviolence, organized a 150-mile walk against indefinite detention, extreme solitary confinement, and a racist U.S. prison system.
Our destination was Thomson, Illinois, site of a new federal supermax prison that will double our nation’s capacity for solitary confinement.
For two weeks, 20 of us walked across the state of Illinois from east to west, interacting with hundreds of passers-by and holding public face-to-face discussions at churches and libraries. We began on May 28 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago and then walked through Chicago’s west side, the western suburbs, on to DeKalb and the rural northwest part of the state.
Our march grew to 35 by the last day, June 11. When we arrived in the small town center of Thomson we were greeted by 18 police cars in a town of 600 residents.
Undeterred and carrying placards saying "Education Not Incarceration" and "Hospitals Not Prisons," we continued walking the final mile up to the Administrative U.S. Penitentiary, Thomson, which is expected to open in 2017.
The word “administrative” is a euphemism for a facility consisting entirely of isolation cells, in this case 1,900 of them according to the watchdog organization Solitary Watch. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons would aim to fill these cells by taking prisoners from prisons in other states.
General public disgust with solitary confinement in Illinois recently forced the state assembly to consider a House Bill 5417, legislation that requires a documented reason for putting any prisoner in isolation confinement and which limits the duration of such confinement to not more than five days.
Speaking against the prison at the rally, I also admonished the U.S. government for not releasing the remaining prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, who for 14 years have not been charged with any crime. There are rumors that the new prison may be part of a plan to avoid releasing these detainees by moving them around—for example, to Thomson. Indefinite detention without charge or trial, an ongoing occurrence at Illinois’ Cook County jail, is a government crime, the brunt of which falls on poor people and on people of color. In 2008, according to the NAACP, black people were six times more likely to go to prison than white people.
Our walk to Thomson prison is just one thread in the vast tapestry of work being done to challenge the prison system. The more we can do to engage people on the issue of mass imprisonment, the better. By facilitating dialogue and sparking people’s imaginations, our goal is to pull public resources away from building prisons and put them toward alternatives that help us build a healthier society.
Buddy has been a co-coordinator with Voices for Creative Nonviolence since January 2012 and a volunteer since 2005. He organized Voices’ 5 most recent walks: weeks-long campaigns against prisons, drones, and NATO.