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  • Writer's pictureEd Epping

Disappearing Bodies

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

There are nearly 7,000,000 individuals currently under the supervision of U.S. correctional systems. 2,300,000 are incarcerated in federal, state prisons and county jails. The remainder of those supervised is either on probation or parole.

Internment makes the incarcerated body invisible, and without visibility, that body begins to lose its identity; it vanishes. Those disappearing into the correctional system are disproportionately black, brown, and female bodies, bodies with illnesses and bodies with unsustainable incomes.

The scale of the data defining overcriminalization and mass incarceration escapes the comprehension of most people. Compounding upon this deficiency is that a majority of white people do not have any relationship with an incarcerated individual. "Black people in this country are imprisoned at more than five times the rate of whites; one in 10 black children has a parent behind bars, compared with about one in 60 white kids". (Stanford Center on Poverty & Inequality) Even with an increase in published scholarship and news accounting these details, too many whites remain uninvolved with the social conditions that create and are impacted by this crisis.

Individuals—by their incarceration—are disappeared from their family, friends, occupations, and communities. The formerly incarcerated, stripped of identity, are provided very few resources to support them in reestablishing their identity through the acquisition of I.D's, education, employment, secure habitation, addiction treatment, or counseling. Without this support, recidivism rates remain high, and the cycle of disappearance continues.

The most extreme form of carceral disappearance is found in solitary confinement. Broadly used throughout federal, state and county prisons and jails, sequestered in solitary is used as a means of punishment, isolation, and segregation from the prison population. Currently, on any given day in the USA, there are 100,000 individuals in SHU (Special Housing Units). It is typical to spend 23 hours of every day in a cell that is often no larger than a small bathroom. That remaining hour outside the cell is still within a confined and isolated area of the prison compound. Too often, it might be several days before those in solitary have any direct contact with others, including prison personnel.

Rather than dealing with these as symptoms so complicated that we permit the body to vanish, we, as a nation, must examine the causes and establish a more secure and just footing in our social contract. That begins by becoming better informed, and these are among the organizations that have made it their mission to build that knowledge.

The Marshall Project,

The Innocence Project,

Equal Justice Initiative,

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