A Jailbreak of the Imagination: Seeing Prisons for What They Are and Demanding Transformation
Date:  05-05-2018

Authors of article posit “awareness of the humanity of prisoners is a crucial step toward undoing the harms of mass incarceration”
From Truthout:

This story is the ninth in Truthout's "Visions of 2018" series, in which activist leaders answer the question: "What would you like to see created, built, imagined or begun this year?" Each piece will focus on a bold idea for transformation, to give us fuel as the year moves forward.

Our current historical moment demands a radical re-imagining of how we address various harms. The levers of power are currently in the hands of an administration that is openly hostile to the most marginalized in our society (Black people, Native people, the poor, LGBTQ people, immigrant communities and more). While we protect ourselves from their consistent and regular blows, we must also fight for a vision of the world we want to inhabit. For us, that's a world where people like Tiffany Rusher, who began a five-year sentence at Logan Correctional Center in Broadwell Township, Illinois, in 2013, are not tortured to death in the name of "safety." Our vision insists on the abolition of the prison industrial complex as a critical pillar of the creation of a new society.

Imprisoned on charges related to sex work, Tiffany Rusher was eventually placed in solitary confinement for getting into a physical struggle with one of her cellmates. During her time in solitary confinement, Rusher's mental health began to deteriorate, initiating a cycle of self-harm. After a series of suicide attempts and periods of solitary confinement, Rusher was placed on "crisis watch" for a period of eight months. According to Rusher's lawyer, Alan Mills, being on "crisis watch" meant being stripped of all clothing and belongings, and placed in a bare cell with only a "suicide smock" (a single piece of thick woven nylon, too stiff to fold, with holes for one's head and arms). During this time, Rusher was monitored through a plexiglass wall, with the lights on, 24 hours a day. Rather than receiving mental health care, Rusher was kept naked, except for her rigid smock, in an empty cell. She was given strict, dehumanizing instructions about how to wipe herself and manage her menstrual hygiene, which included a requirement that her hands be visible to the guard watching her at all times. In order to read, Rusher had to persuade a prison guard to hold an open book against the glass of her cell, and turn each page as she finished reading it.

As time wore on, Rusher asked her attorney: Who in her situation wouldn't want to kill themselves?

At the end of her sentence, Rusher was finally transferred to a mental health facility. Rusher, who disclosed to her doctors that she had experienced child sexual abuse, had received dozens of diagnoses over the years, including schizoaffective disorder, but nonetheless made great strides while in treatment. Eight months into her in-patient care, however, Rusher got into an altercation with another patient. Rather than treating the episode as a symptom of her mental health problems, she was sent back to jail, where the cycle of carceral violence continued.

Sangamon County jail returned Rusher to solitary confinement, where she remained for three months before being found unresponsive with a ripped piece of a towel around her neck. Rusher died 12 days later when the hospital removed her from life support. In the words of Rusher's attorney, Alan Mills, "First they tortured her, then they killed her."

At the time of her death, Tiffany Rusher was 27 years old. Continue reading >>>