Solitary Hope Opens Window to Prisoner Confinement

The prison-industrial
complex and solitary confinement will come under fire at Scripps College tonight. Melissa Krassenstein SC ’16 and Jing Gu SC ’16 organized a panel event called “Solitary Hope” at which they hope to discuss issues of imprisonment and justice with the Claremont

Krassenstein and Gu said they first became attuned to these issues when they took “Why Punish,” a Core course with
philosophy lecturer Susan Castagnetto. 

“After we took this class, we could go on and on
about what we disagree with in the greater aspects of the prison-industrial
complex and various problems with the criminal justice system,” Krassenstein said. “But the one that was the most fundamentally wrong to us was
solitary confinement. It goes against so many values of the international human
rights charter. So, Jing and I thought if we wanted to make some sort of
difference, it would just be by getting more people involved and trying to
learn about this issue.”

Gu also highlighted the necessity
of having the voices of these victims of the prison system heard. 

has become more apparent that a really huge sector of our population has
been systematically silenced and marginalized by the incarceration system,” Gu said. “I
think part of the hope of this event is to be able to re-center their stories
and narratives, and to have a really honest account from people who are
familiar with this system, how it works, and the way it disenfranchises

Castagnetto, Scripps psychology professor Stacey Wood, and former Pomona College professor and art activist Sheila Pinkel
will be on the panel to provide greater insight into various
aspects of the prison system. The event will not only provide information for
attendees, but also facilitate a discussion on the issue.

The “Solitary Hope” campaign is also
bringing in a special guest, Daletha Hayden, the mother of a man in solitary
confinement with whom Krassenstein has formed a personal connection. Krassenstein began writing to Hayden’s son, Ian Whitson, upon meeting Hayden at a panel put on by Castagnetto last year. 

“When Ian had just turned 18, he was convicted, wrongfully so, when a family
accused him of murder,” Krassenstein said. “He did not receive a fair trial, his family could not
afford a proper attorney, and the one provided by the state was not sufficient.”

In their communication, Whitson shared his story with Krassenstein, including the unfair reasoning behind his placement in
solitary confinement. During his time in prison before solitary confinement, Ian was a liaison between the different social groups in the prison and the guards. However, this supposed “snitching” was interpreted as gang affiliation and behavior, and Whitson was placed in solitary confinement. 

Both Gu and Krassenstein discussed
how Whitson’s story demonstrates the unfair reasoning that puts prisoners into solitary confinement. Often, mental illness, a
disagreement with a guard, or snitching can place a prisoner in this isolated

“I think an important part of the event is to raise
awareness on the ways in which the prison-industrial complex and solitary
confinement work to commodify and make profit off of people’s bodies,
especially black and brown bodies, and the ways in which marginalized
communities … are
funneled through this system that does nothing in terms of rehabilitation,” Gu said. “Rather, it creates more issues, and this process of getting into solitary, which
is unregulated, is incredibly troubling.”

Krassenstein and Gu hope this event
will generate greater activism and discussion on campus about eliminating
this system of punishment and, specifically, helping Whitson get a
chance at a fair trial. Within his past 10 years in solitary confinement, Whitson has
created many drawings that he has sent to Krassenstein that will eventually
be placed on T-shirts to generate funds to pay for an attorney to appeal his
case. Tonight’s event will conclude with an opportunity for attendees to write letters to Whitson. 

“One of our main
goals of this event is to make it a community event, not just for students but
also professors from all different departments and from the 5Cs,” Krassenstein said. “We think this
issue is in line with a lot of people’s views here, but people are just not
aware of what is going on.” 

Whitson described his experience in a letter to Krassenstein: “I often go to bed at night asking God for the greatest gift he
could give me, that I won’t wake up the next day. We’ve been tossed into the
societal refuse heap … This is the landfill of humanity.”

The event will be held today, April 25 at 7 p.m. in Vita Nova 100 at Scripps.

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