NEWARK, N.J. — In a small, brightly lit office in Newark, Ojore Lutalo lays out sheet after sheet of paper covered in disquieting words and images — collages made from photographs and cutouts from magazines pasted alongside the text of legal documents and blueprints and Lutalo’s words. They are the product of his incarceration for nearly 30 years in a New Jersey prison, 22 of them in solitary confinement.
“I would create these collages to help maintain my sanity,” said Lutalo. “I would get up every morning. I would read and write, exercise. I’d write letters. Some days I would do collages all day long. I’d just cut and paste, cut and paste.”
On Nov. 12 and 13, the practice of holding incarcerated people in prolonged isolation will come under international scrutiny when the U.S. government goes before the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva, part of a periodic review to assess the country’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture and the first U.S. review under Barack Obama’s administration.
This year the 10-person U.N. committee has repeated its concerns about imposing prolonged isolation on prisoners. In a list of issues to be addressed with the U.S. — including the use of secret detention facilities, Guantánamo Bay and the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” — the committee has asked the government to “describe steps taken to improve the extremely harsh regime imposed on detainees in ‘Supermax security prisons,’ in particular the practice of prolonged isolation.”
The U.S. government insists that “there is no systematic use of solitary confinement in the United States.” There is abundant evidence to the contrary; Latulo can attest to that. He is just one of tens of thousands of men and women who have spent years, sometimes decades, in solitary confinement in the U.S. (more…)