Members of the UB community set up a 9-foot-by-6-foot replica cell before and during Angela Davis’ speech Wednesday to protest against solitary confinement.
The imitation cell, which was placed in the lobby of Alumni Arena, had a toilet, a sink and a window sill with an attached bed. There was also audio from an actual prison cell to complete the intended environment. Organizers of the event said the demonstration is intended to give people a deeper understanding of the realities of solitary confinement.
The protesters said prisoners can be forcefully kept alone anywhere from 22 to 24 hours a day and have limited access to books and music. The imitation prison cell gave people the opportunity to get a glimpse of what those kept in solitary confinement experience.
UB graduate student Chelsea Gonzalez helped organize the demonstration. She said she joined the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement last November, and originally planned for the exhibit to take place Tuesday in the Student Union.
CAIC decided to move the exhibit to the Alumni Arena on the night of Davis’ speech once “word got out” to other UB community members. Gonzalez said she felt this was appropriate, as Davis faced charges of homicide and kidnapping and was kept in solitary confinement from Oct. 23 to Nov. 5 1970.
CAIC partnered with UB’s Pre-Law chapter of Black Law Students Association, which is sponsored by SA, to set up the exhibit. Gonzalez said the exhibit had a lot of support from UB administration and UPD.
“UB police were very, very collaborative, cooperative and have offered nothing but assistance with the project,” Gonzalez said.
Steve Hart from CAIC organized the exhibit and spoke about the importance of improving the conditions for prisoners in New York.
“Every human being has a right to certain basic rights and dignity, regardless of your bad deeds,” Hart said. “It's one thing to imprison somebody's body, it’s another thing to destroy their mind and soul.”
The demonstration largely aimed to raise support for the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Bill. The bill, if it passes, will “immediately” limit the time of solitary confinement to 15-20 consecutive days out of 60, and “protect” those who are especially vulnerable to harm in solitary, such as LGBTQ people and those with physical or cognitive disabilities, according to demonstrators.
Organizers said this bill is currently competing with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal on solitary confinement, which limits time spent in solitary to 90 days starting in April 2021.
Jacklyn Walters is a senior communication major and The Spectrum's managing editor. She enjoys bringing up politics at the dinner table and seeing dogs on campus.
Tanveen Vohra is a former senior news editor and covered international relations and graduate student protests.