Disgrace of US Guantanamos:
Hope from Alabama

Dear Editor:

The disgrace of Guantanamo has been much in the news lately, including the brutal force feeding of hunger striking prisoners who have already been determined to be innocent or not dangerous. The news also occasionally mentions the Republican obstruction blocking a formal closure and gross  Presidential ineptitude in closing it anyway.  But Gitmo is only the highest profile example of why the US has no moral currency to preach to anyone about human rights.  There are many Gitmos.  In Louisiana’s Angola Prison, Herman Wallace, now dying of cancer ,has been in solitary confinement for 41 years! A petition campaign for him can be found at www.amnestyusa.org . There is scarcely anything less humane than the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay Prison in California.  Twenty Two hours a day in an 8’X8’ windowless cell. Contrary to official statements, residence at the SHU is not reserved only for the “worst” prisoners. There are regular hunger strikes at PB also. The common theme is loss of hope.

In the midst of this gloom, I was pleasantly surprised to find and example of a prison program that is bringing hope to maximum security inmates in, of all places, Alabama.  I have taught several times at the University of Alabama Law School and I have great affection for the state and its people, even the Christian fanatics who almost scuttled this program a few years ago.  The Donaldson  Prison is near Bessemer, not far from the university at Tuscaloosa. Since you are the virtual editor, I can continue here by including the following video.  It is a story of compassion and hope. I was pleased to see in it a brief appearance by my colleague in death penalty work, Bryan Stevenson. It is a long clip, and I suggest that you first watch the interview with Thich Nhat Hahn. Then  pause and think about compassion. Finally,  look at what happened in the Alabama prison.  The program involves a meditation technique. I assure you, however, this is not “touchy feely” stuff.  It is a straight up challenge to our basic humanity.

 


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