If the SHU Fits: Play Exposes Torture of Solitary Confinement

The U.S. system of mass incarceration came under solemn scrutiny Saturday Sept. 27 when UUCCSM presented a dramatic reading of  “If the SHU Fits”, by Andy Griggs and Melvin Ishmael Johnson. The play is based on original letters and poetry from inmates living in Security Housing Units (SHUs), mainly in California’s Pelican Bay Prison, in which they spend 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. The play was commissioned by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) and Interfaith Communities Untied for Justice and Peace (ICUJP), and partially funded by a grant from the Fund for a Just Society of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The evening was sponsored by UUCCSM’s Peace and Social Justice Committee and by the Committee for Racial Justice in Santa Monica. The eight readers came from a variety of backgrounds but a unity of purpose: to see an end to the growing mass incarceration of working class people, particularly people of color. The readers were Paula Brooks, Bob Gordh, Kevin Michael Key, Rev. Sidonie Smith, Anthony Taylor, Sherri Walker, Craig Walter, and Dayvon Williams. They were directed by Morna Murphy Martell, a member of UUCCSM, with assistance from Diana Spears and Peggy Rhoads.

Following the reading, a panel of speakers from organizations involved in fighting against the continuance of this legal torture discussed their current efforts in prison reform, including incarceration in immigration detention centers, and how our communities can help.  The speakers included Andy Griggs, ICUJP; Melvin Ishmael Johnson, Director, Dramastage Qumran; Geri Silva and Ernest Shepard, California Families Against Solitary Confinement; Mary Sutton, Critical Resistance and CURB; Diana Zuniga, Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB); Kay Brown, Los de Abajo Printmaking Collective, from our Art Wall exhibit, "Behind Bars;" and Nora Hamilton, UUCC Faith in Action Peace & Social Justice Committee.

Thanks to Sidonie Smith for her painting “Miscarriage of Justice”, to James Witker for filming, Bob Dietz and Karl Lisovsky for tech support, Tom Ahern for logistical support and to the members of the Peace and Social Justice Committee who facilitated the evening. To contact PSJ and become involved in our work, please email co-chairs Cathie Gentile or Roberta Frye. You can also obtain information at the Faith in Action table at church.

Further information on solitary confinement can be found at

http://audio.theguardian.tv/audio/kip/standalone/world/1334585861759/5478/gdn.ps.120416.hermanwallace.mp3 and http://www.hrw.org/features/growing-up-locked-down.

-- Peggy Rhoads