Prayers for those in solitary

On June 26, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, faith leaders and other advocates met with the California Dept. of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) officials to call for an end to the use of solitary confinement in the state.

The faith leaders delivered hundreds of prayers cards submitted by people from diverse religious traditions nationwide to be distributed to the incarcerated remaining in long-term isolation.

The faith leaders delivered hundreds of prayers cards submitted by people from diverse religious traditions nationwide.

Representatives of California Families Against Solitary Confinement brought stories of families whose loved ones have been locked under the torture of solitary confinement, some for decades.

The faith leaders echoed the family members’ calls for an end to torture in California prisons.

The faith leaders included: the Rev. Ron Stief, executive director of National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT); Rabbi David Cooper on behalf of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights; Basim Ekarra, executive director of the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations; the Rev. Phillip Lawson, pastor emeritus, Easter Hill United Methodist Church, Richmond, Calif.; Debbie McDermott, associate director for Restorative Justice at California Catholic Conference; and Laura Magnani, program director, Healing Justice, American Friends Service Committee San Francisco office.

National call for prayers

In advance of Torture Awareness Month (June), NRCAT and its partners issued a national call for people of faith to compose and share prayers for all who remain in conditions of isolated confinement, and in remembrance of the significance of the one-year anniversary of the historic, peaceful, prisoner hunger strike throughout California prisons that began July 8, 2013. More than 30,000 prisoners participated.

The national response to the call for prayer was moving and overwhelming.

“The national response to the call for prayer was moving and overwhelming, with more than one hundred prayers submitted in a matter of days,” said the Rev. Laura Markle Downton, director of U.S. Prisons Policy & Program at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT). “The message is clear: People of faith stand with all who have risked their lives in work for peace and unity.”

The prayers share an urgent call for restorative justice and an end to the cruel, inhumane treatment of long-term isolation, and for an end to systems and practices that sow division and distrust, according to NRCAT.

On July 8, NRCAT began tweeting the 100+ prayers it collected from people of faith nationwide. NRCAT plans to do so for 60 days, the length of the strike, tweeting two prayers per day beginning July 8 from @NRCATtweets. You can also visit NRCATtweets on the web.

The full collection of prayers is available at One-Year Later.

Prayer vigils, processions

Also on July 8, California Families Against Solitary Confinement organized events throughout the state to commemorate the anniversary of the strike. Events included candlelight vigils and processions in places such as Eureka, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Bernadino and Santa Cruz.

The hunger strike to protest the inhumane conditions of confinement in long-term isolation was suspended Sept. 5, the 60th day. That ended the third peaceful hunger strike in California prisons. California legislators vowed to take legislative action and host a series of hearings.

More than 1,000 clergy and religious leaders throughout the United States supported the hunger strikers’ call to end torture, joining with NRCAT, the American Friends Service Committee and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition in signing "A Religious Call for a Just & Humane End to the Hunger Strike in California Prisons."

The letter called on Gov. Brown to honor five core demands in order to bring the hunger strike to a swift, humane end. The clergy signatures from all over the U.S. were delivered to Gov. Brown and Jeffrey Beard CDCR secretary.

Editor's note: In June, human rights and faith organizations join together to mark Torture Awareness Month because on June 26, 1987, the nations of the world took a major step against the immoral and abhorrent practice of torture. On that day, the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman & Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT for short) entered into force and the United Nations later declared June 26 the “International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.”

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