NEW HAVEN – Three New Haven UCC churches have collaborated with community and collegiate partners to fight the use of torture in prisons by bringing a solitary confinement cell replica to New Haven. Shalom United Church of Christ, United Church on the Green, and Church of the Redeemer have been working with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) to organize a three-week display of the replica cell in the New Haven area in February.
The 7 X 12 feet replica cell is a part of NRCAT's Together to End Solitary effort to raise awareness about the torturous effects of solitary confinement and to end the practice. The cell — known in federal prisons as "the SHU (Solitary Housing Unit)" — is furnished only with a bed and a toilet. There is only a single narrow window on the door and a steel slot where meals can be delivered. The purpose of the replica cell is to have participants spend a few minutes inside the cell thinking about what it would be like to spend long periods confined "inside the box."
The practice of solitary confinement in the U.S. can be traced back to the Quakers in the early 1800's who thought that criminals who sat alone in reflection would see the error of their ways. Despite the practice eventually being disavowed by the Quakers, the first solitary confinement cells were built in Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary in 1829. Evidence that the practice caused significant mental illness was apparent as early as the late 1800s, but solitary confinement has continued to be used as a method of control in prisons throughout the U.S.
In 2006, delegates to the 139th Annual Meeting of the CT Conference adopted a resolution calling for an end to the use of any torture. The resolution called on all clergy and lay members of CT Conference congregations to "work without ceasing to oppose torture and to restore respect for the rule of law and the dignity and rights of all human beings, each and all bearers of God’s divine image."
"Every person is created in the image of God, and it's a sin and a crime to torture anybody," says the Rev. Allie Perry, pastor of Shalom UCC.
The cell will be in New Haven for three weeks from January 30 through the weekend of February 18th and will be available for people to experience throughout that time. In conjunction with the cell project organizers have scheduled talks, films, panels, and performances with the goal of educating people about the practice of solitary confinement and equipping people to advocate for the practice to be halted.
"This has been a very exciting and inspiring collaboration, a convergence, motivated by the conviction that solitary confinement is a form of torture and needs to be stopped," says Perry.
The cell will be on display at the New Haven Free Public Library, 133 Elm Street, for the first week, Monday, January 30 – Saturday, Feb. 4, and at Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library, 120 High Street for the second week, Sunday, Feb. 5 – Saturday, February 11. For the third week, from February 11-18, the cell will be at the Yale Law School library, 127 Wall Street. A schedule of all events can be found here.