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- End Solitary Confinement
Matir Asurim members live and work in the US and Canada. Efforts to end solitary confinement are taking different paths in the two countries. MA recently endorsed a piece of federal legislation in the US and shares information about efforts in Canada.
US: End Solitary Confinement Act
STATEMENT TO SHARE
Matir Asurim: Jewish Care Network for Incarcerated People regularly encounters the physical, psychological, and spiritual devastation of solitary confinement. Our name, “Matir Asurim (literally: The One Who Frees Captives),” reflects Jewish values — including human dignity, healing, and teshuvah (repentance/restoration) — in opposition to solitary confinement. We applaud introduction of the End Solitary Confinement Act (HR 4972) in the US Congress, thank its co-sponsors, and encourage others to support this legislation and, more generally, an end to this form of torture wherever it is employed.
We implore other Jewish institutions and organizations to get behind the work of ending solitary and advocating for prison justice more broadly.
WRITE REPS For those in the US: Use this form to encourage your Representative to co-sponsor this bill or thank them for already doing so.
Canada: Isolation Persists
In November 2019, Canada announced abolition of administrative segregation. The shift from “solitary confinement” to “structured intervention units” did not substantially change the experience of extended isolation and its detrimental effects, according to this 2021 on the implementation of the SIUs from May, 2021. More recently, McGill Law School Journal offered this “[Counterpoint] Solitary Confinement in Canada, concerning “the history and evolution of solitary confinement, why its elimination has proved difficult, and the challenges of piecemeal versus system-wide change.”
This episode explores the practice of solitary confinement in Canada and the winding road toward its abolition. Our two guests, Andrea Monteiro (former Director of Corrections for the Yukon Government and founder of Ethical Correctional Consulting, Inc.) and Nora Demnati (a Montreal-based prison lawyer and instructor at McGill’s Faculty of Law) bring their differing experiences and perspectives to bear on the question of prison reform.— podcast, with full transcript, June 27 2023
Alt Text for graphic: “In keeping with our core belief that all people are made in the image of the divine and deserve to be treated as such, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs joins the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and our other multi-faith and secular partners in support of the End Solitary Confinement Act. — David Bohm, Chair, Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA)” Take action: nrcat.salsalabs.org/esca-2023. #EndSolitary Torture is a Moral Issue
- Responding to Extreme Heat Conditions
UPDATED July 11 and July 18
Matir Asurim learned, from inside Florida’s Death Row, that extreme heat conditions are endangering incarcerated people and staff alike. Even “normal” summer temperatures can be damaging to health without cooling measures. The aging UCI facility is not providing adequate cooling to protect the health of those inside. This document includes details about conditions and specific, urgent improvements needed. It also contains sample language for contacting those in power. Below are contacts and images for Florida’s #CoolTheRow campaign and some specific demands. An additional letter asks Jewish individuals and organizations to join the campaign.
Conditions are also deadly in Texas — inmates die in stifling Texas prisons (Texas Tribune, June 2023). And heat is an basic health issue in many locations during summer months. See report on prisons across US (Grist, March 2023) and “Few rules address extreme heat problems” (NPR, August 2022).
Please check on conditions of incarcerated people near you and conditions for Matir Asurim pen pals. Let us know of any other solidarity actions underway.
Short link to share this post — tinyurl.com/CoolRow
JEWISH VALUES call us to protect the vulnerable, advocate for justice, and safeguard the sanctity of human life.
Cool the Row crafted a letter reflecting Jewish values to encourage greater participation in this campaign. Please edit this DRAFT to suit and share with Jews and Jewish organizations.
SERIOUS ATTENTION needed. Early responses from Fl DOC officials reported regular visits to UCI and “no complaints” concerning heat on the same days that inmates reported oppressive heat affecting health and well-being. They also reported addition of a fan in the day room — which is progress of a kind but, per reports from inside, pops the electrical circuit, cutting power to smaller fans in nearby individual cells. Attention to the basic safety of staff, National Guards, and inmates requires serious attention and consultation with all concerned. Any heat measurements must include some taken at the hottest part of the day, and explore conditions in cells and public spaces.
As of July 18, conditions were still dangerously hot and contributing to lack of sleep, which has additional consequences for physical health and mental well-being. Immediate cooling measures and plans for longer-term solutions are still needed.
Florida #CoolTheRow Action
Here are specific demands to raise with Florida Department of Corrections:
- Repair the defective shading devices in the yards to provide adequate relief from the sun and reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses.
- Implement temporary relief measures, such as daily distribution of ice to inmates, which can help alleviate the extreme temperatures within their cells. Simple and cost-effective solutions, such as placing frozen water bottles in front of fans, could provide some immediate relief while awaiting long-term solutions.
- Consider involving the Death Row population in the pilot program currently installed at Lowell Correctional Institution, utilizing portable AC Units (Swamp coolers) to regulate the extreme temperatures. The families of the inmates are willing to contribute financially towards the installation of such devices, and numerous organizations fighting against the death penalty will support this initiative.
The #CoolTheRow campaign also shared contacts for Florida Legislators. Campaign organizers believe these legislators are concerned about prison justice and willing to hear from people who are not their constituents.
Facebook sample messages:
Time to take action! Spread the message far and wide. Share this impactful image and let’s demand change for those facing extreme heat on Florida’s Death Row. #CoolTheRow
Heat doesn’t discriminate. Inmates, correctional officers, and National Guards are all at risk. Share this visual, raise awareness, and fight for safer conditions. Join the #CoolTheRow campaign now!
Twitter sample messages:
Join the movement, save lives! Let’s #CoolTheRow in Florida’s Death Row! Share this powerful image and demand action for those at risk of lethal heat. Together, we can make a difference!
It’s time to raise our voices! Share this impactful visual and let’s stand up for justice on Florida’s Death Row. Heat is lethal, and we must fight for change. #CoolTheRow
No one should suffer in the scorching heat, not inmates, not correctional officers, not National Guards. Spread this image, raise awareness, and join the #CoolTheRow campaign for a safer future.
Images to use on social media:
Alt Text for images:
CoolTheRow#3: Prescription bottles and pills with words: “Beating the Lethal Heat — Protecting vulnerable lives on Florida’s death row. Standing up for the Medically Vulnerable on Florida’s Death row. Let’s fight against deadly death, protect lives, and uphold human dignity! Embrace humanity, reject injustice, and cool the lethal flames!” #CoolTheRow
CoolTheRow#4: Image of prison cells with thermometer and “Sweating Away Justice” 74% of Florida’s death row inmates are over 50. Facing an increased risk of heat stroke or death. Temperatures exceeding 90 F, even 100 F, for 3 months: July, August, September. It’s time to cool the flames of injustice! #CoolTheRow
CoolTheRow: Image of sweaty face with thermometer and “Saving lives, fighting heat.” Protect Florida’s death row inmatesI Protect Florida’s death row inmates. With over 90 F, even 100 F, scorching summers lasting three month, we must act now. Reduce the heat, preserve human dignity! #CoolTheRow
- Meeting and Team News
Special topic, from June 14 General Meeting: Jews and the Death Penalty.
Please share with inside members:
These reports on general meetings and teams/working groups provide inside members, and others who are unable to attend meetings, summaries of happenings within Matir Asurim. We will also share inside members’ responses. Please forward to inside pen pals.
A few key items this month for outside members:
Penpal Community Hour on Zoom. On Sunday, July 16th from 6-7pm EST, we will offer a monthly Penpal Community Hour on Zoom for those with incarcerated penpals. Please register here.
Reimbursements: We are excited to share that we are able to reimburse Matir Asurim penpals for postage expenses spent on penpals. Details here.
Shutim (“Questions and Answers”): Shutim is a new column in Matir Asurim mailings that responds to questions that folks inside are asking about how to do Jewish practices while incarcerated. Use this form to submit questions. Or send questions to: Matir Asurim. PO Box 18858, Philadelphia, PA 19119.
Seeking interviewees for Prison Chaplaincy Oral History Project!
Shir, one of our Matir Asurim organizers, is collecting stories from prison chaplains (paid or volunteer) across faith traditions. They are interested in learning how people came to prison chaplaincy, how they understand “spiritual resilience” in the context of prison chaplaincy, and how they see their role as prison chaplains fitting into wider conversations about abolition. Please share information with chaplains who might be interested — details and form.
- Fringes, Still in the Wilderness
New this month in Torah Explorations:
“Still in the Wilderness” — some thoughts on holiness, crowds, and grumbling (Numbers 8 – 18).
“What Will We Make Different this Year?” by Jay Stanton, plus more thoughts on “fringes.”
CREATE AND SHARE: Divrei Matir Asurim is also seeking material for future Torah Explorations. We welcome thoughts on Torah text, practice and prayer, and other reflections relating to Matir Asurim’s work.
We know that our incarcerated community members have powerful Torah to offer us, and we know that abolition must be and will be led by those directly impacted by prisons – which is to say that this is not a charity project. This is a strategy of care. We are creating these resources as points of connection and as a way to build a spiritual practice with our expansive Jewish community.
Submissions should be accessible – avoid academic language, jargon, acronyms, define all Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino or non-English words. When creating content, there is a balance between writing from your heart while also being aware of the power dynamics between inside/outside community members. We ask that everyone who is contributing (especially those who do not have direct experience with the prison system) be mindful of their unique positionality while creating content.
If you have questions or material to share, contact the editor: ethreporter at gmail.com
- Numbers, Wilderness, Sinai
“Matir Asurim Torah Explorations” is part of the new Divrei Matir Asurim: Matir Asurim Words/Matters publication, an experiment from Matir Asurim. The experiment begins with the Book of Numbers.
Introduction: The Book of Numbers
Bamidbar: In the Wilderness
Naso: Take a Census, Lift Up
Please read. Discuss. Share.
For those who prefer formatted PDF or unformatted text to share, below are additional ways to access the same “Torah Explorations.”
For the festival of Shavuot, (re-)explore the 5782 Shavuot mailing. Poems, essays, and other resources to help celebrate the giving of the Torah. Shavuot begins at nightfall on May 25 this year.
Download from the resources page.
- General Meeting, Team News, and more
Matir Asurim is experimenting with expanding communications, to make our work and our hopes and our plans easier to access for all interested, and to make input from folks inside and outside easier to incorporate in our decision-making. This Late May edition of the brand new “Divrei Matir Asurim: Matir Asurim Words/Matters” includes summaries of recent general and team meetings. Also new as part of the communication experiment is “Matir Asurim Torah Explorations.”
Please check out the new offerings and let us know what works, what more/different you’d like to see, and what you’d like to contribute yourself.
Here is the first edition of Divrei Matir Asurim: Matir Asurim Words/Matters, on-line.
Here is a formatted newsletter version (PDF) and an unformatted/text version.
- Matir Asurim in Jewish Currents
Matir Asurim was highlighted in a “Jewish Currents” publication earlier this year. Author Aviva Stahl notes lack of attention to “lived experience of incarcerated Jews…even within the most progressive Jewish communities.” She describes long-standing resources for (some) incarcerated Jews, adding that “queer and trans people or people of color…struggled to find any resources to support their religious life.” The article relates some individual experiences as well as the genesis of Matir Asurim and current initiatives:
…a chaplaincy network that provides resources and support to incarcerated members, a pen pal program, a holiday mailer that includes contributions from incarcerated and non-incarcerated writers, and public education programming for people on the outside to learn more about abolitionism through a Jewish lens. The organization now sends out around 75 holiday mailers to incarcerated people across the US and Canada and has matched nearly 40 pairs of pen pals….Stahl, “Jewish Currents Thursday Newsletter, 2/23/23
Stahl notes Shir Lovett-Graff’s view that “centering people who are incarcerated can change our perception of who is Jewish and who is interested in Judaism,” and cites Jessica Rosenberg suggesting that “these resources haven’t existed in the past in part because most white Jewish communities typically don’t see themselves as connected to the issue of incarceration.”
Full story at Jewish Currents
Image Description: “Thursday Newsletter 2/23/2023” over image of flying bird with “Matir Asurim” in Hebrew characters and “Jewish Care Network for Incarcerated People” in English.
Image courtesy of Matir Asurim, as part of Jewish Currents report.
- New Member Orientation – January 29th
If you’re in creating Jewish communities across and beyond prison walls, resourcing and supporting incarcerated Jews, and organizing for a world without prisons, join Matir Asurim for a new member orientation, to find out about our work and organizing model, and how you can get involved.
We will have live captioning at this meeting. Please let us know any access needs, and we will do our best to meet them.
- December Penpal Training
Join Matir Asurim on Sunday December 11 at 5pm EST/2pm PST for a penpal training!
This session will include information about our guiding principles, structure, and some reflection time on penpal relationships.
- Jewish Traditions & Futures of Mutual Aid: A Conversation with Dean Spade and Dori Midnight — 11/20
Jewish history and tradition is full of practices of mutual aid that sustained our ancestors, and must be part of our work to transform the world and towards abolition. Join Dean Spade and Dori Midnight in conversation about ritual and magic, collective care and mutual aid organizing, where our ancestors have been and how their wisdom can propel us into a world without walls.
- Rosh Hashanah Letter-Writing – Sept. 18th 2022
Join Matir Asurim to wish our members on the inside a sweet new year! Sunday, Sept. 18th at 5pm EST
- June Penpal Training – 6/26 – 10-11:30AM PDT
We are holding our next penpal training and introduction to our penpal program, which connects penpals from the outside (non-incarcerated) with folks on the inside (incarcerated). The training will include info about our guiding principles, structure, logistics, and some reflection time on penpal relationships.
This session will be on Sunday June 26th from 10-11:30 PDT / 1-2:30 ET
Current penpals are also invited to lead a ritual, opening, or song, or sharing about their experience being a penpal during this meeting. If interested, please email us by Tuesday June 21st.
- Introductions to Abolition with Matir Asurim – 6/5/22 – 12:00PM EDT
This Shavuot, join organizers, volunteers, and supporters of Matir Asurim: Jewish Care Network for Incarcerated People, as we deepen our learning about abolition.
Together with Enzi Tanner and Alona Weimer, we will explore the basics of abolition, engage questions like what does abolition mean to us, and discuss how we can connect our abolition with our Jewishness, spirituality, tradition and culture.