(A Black Panther prisoner, Ray De Vaul, speaks from solitary confinement just after hearing of his imminent release.)
You know the first thing I thought of? My fucking TV. This piece-of-shit black-and-white, I’ve had it in my cell for 18 years. I asked them can I take it and they say no, they got better TVs on the outside. But do you know I have a relationship with this TV? It’s not just an object—this thing is my friend. For the last 24 hours I can’t stop thinking about what am I gonna do with a new TV? I came in at 19; I’ll be 57 next month. The lack of oxygen—all this steel and concrete. I could drop dead out there in three days ’cause my body’s become so used to this shit.
Sarah Shourd is a writer, activist and educator based in Oakland, CA. For the last five years, her work has focused on exposing the cruelty and overuse of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, which she views as a key component to ending mass incarceration. To this end, Shourd has traveled the country as a public speaker and visited dozens of people isolated in our prisons. Out of this extensive research and advocacy emerged several works: The BOX, a play about solitary confinement inspired by real stories (which premiered at Z Space in San Francisco in July 2016, see Aplaycalledthebox.com for future performances); an anthology, Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement (2016, New Press); and numerous articles and op-eds on issues related to criminal justice (The New York Times, Mother Jones, CNN, Daily Beast, The San Francisco Chronicle, Salon, Huffington Post, Reuters, and more).
Shourd received her BA in English Literature in 2001, and went on to spend her 20s doing international solidarity work with the Zapatista Indigenous Movement in Chiapas, Mexico; anti-war organizing in the San Francisco Bay Area; and teaching Iraqi refugees during her year living in Damascus, Syria. Shourd was then captured and held as a political hostage by the Iranian government and held incommunicado in solitary confinement for 410 days, an experience chronicled in the memoir she co-authored with her fellow hostages, A Sliver of Light: Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran (2011, Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt), which was selected by Best American Nonrequired Reading in 2013. Shourd was appointed Visiting Scholar by the University of California Berkley’s Center for Law and Society in 2014. She has been the recipient of numerous grants, fellowships and awards including: Blue Mountain Center, CA Endowment, Entrekin Foundation, Further Foundation, Mesa Refuge, Neda Nobari Foundation, SF GLIDE Memorial Church’s 2016 Community Hero Award, Shuttleworth Foundation, Vital Funds Project, Wattis Foundation, Zellerbach Family Foundation and more.