A Voice for the voiceless
Dr. Terry A. Kupers' First-Hand Account of Supermax Isolation
Story by Charli Depner, photo by Allan Jensen, Videography by Howard Kirsch
Ashby Village’s Arts and Culture Series draws from the extensive talent and expertise of members to enhance the community’s experience of art, science, and current affairs. On April 29, 2018 Joanne Carder introduced Terry Allen Kupers, M.D., M.S.P, who shared sobering observations of supermax isolation in American prisons. “Prisoners are among the most voiceless members of our society,” Kupers observed. Despite a seven-fold increase in incarceration since the 1970s, few of us have direct experience with what goes on beyond the walls of American prisons and jails. Distance and other obstacles often constrain family visits. Press access is limited. Dr. Kupers’ latest book reveals the grim realities he witnessed as a psychiatrist and expert witness in large class action suits.
Solitary, The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It, published this spring by University of California Press, documents crowded conditions, violence, sexual abuse, inadequate treatment for mental illness and substance abuse, and the pervasive, often protracted, use of solitary confinement. Dr. Kupers described security housing units (SHUs), small, often windowless rooms, some without adequate ventilation, functional plumbing or lighting. He shared stories of the human costs of supermax isolation, including anxiety, depression, paranoia, impaired concentration and memory, exacerbated mental illness and elevated rates of suicide. “More often than rehabilitation,” Dr. Kupers concluded, “mass incarceration results in compromised lives.”
“These abusive practices are being done in our name,” Dr. Kupers reminded the audience. His talk sparked a broad range of questions, many about what could be done to improve conditions. He shared a number of organizations working for reform:
Center for Constitutional Rights
Southern Poverty Law Center
Ella Baker Center
American Civil Liberties Union
California Coalition for Women Prisoners
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
Thanks go to Arts & Culture co-chairs Marcia Freedman and Rochelle Lefkowitz and members Joanne Carder, Sigrid Duesberg, Irene Marcos and Betty Webster for arranging this event.