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November 2012

Wry Fancies and Stark Realities (Robert King) @ NYC, NY

When: Saturday, November 17 2012 @ 10:45 AM - - 08:30PM
Where: 38th East 8th Street
Off University Place
New York City, NY

The New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University and the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University present

Should You Ever Happen to Find Yourself in Solitary Wry Fancies and Stark Realities

An all-day Wonder Cabinet featuring:

Tony Kushner, Mike Daisey, Joshua Foer, Walter Murch, Catherine Chalmers, Samantha Holmes, Stuart Firestein, Robert Hillary King,Breyten Breytenback, Shane Bauer, Juan Mendez, Scarlet Kim, and many others

Saturday November 17th 2012

10.45am till 8.30pm at NYU's Cantor Film Center

38th East 8th Street, Off University Place, NYC

Free & Open to the Public (first come, first in)

Gradually, almost without anyone’s even having taken notice, the United States has become one of the most frequent and extensive practitioners of solitary confinement anywhere in the world, at any time in history. The Vera Institute of Justice put the number of individuals being held in this manner, according to many experts a harrowing form of torture in and of itself, at over 80,000 (based on figures from 2005, one of the most recent years for which we have reliable information). According to Solitary Watch, “far from a last resort used for the ‘worst of the worst,’ solitary confinement has become a control strategy of first resort in many prisons and jails.” (New York City’s Rikers Island alone has 990 isolation cells.) “ Today inmates can be placed in complete isolation for months or years not only for violent acts but for possessing contraband, testing positive for drug use, ignoring orders or using profanity. Thousands of prisoners are held in solitary because they have been named as gang members by other inmates who are rewarded for their information. Others have ended up in solitary because they have untreated mental illnesses, are children in need of ‘protection,’ are gay or transgender, are Muslim, have unsavory political beliefs or report rape or abuse by prison officials.”

For this public program, the latest in an annual series of all-day Wonder Cabinets, the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU, teaming up this time with NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge, will initially approach the issue, as is its perennial wont, from a sort of slant, with “Dreams of Solitaire.” Starting at 10:45 in the morning, we will ask eminent individuals from a variety of disciplines to imagine how they might endeavor to keep from going crazy were they ever to find themselves condemned to such a terrible fate. Thus, among those we will be hearing from, among others, will be:

-- playwright Tony Kushner

-- digital visionary Carl Skelton

-- author and memory champion Joshua Foer

-- insect photographer Catherine Chalmers

-- monologist Mike Daisey

-- the poet and translator Alastair Reid

-- avant garde mosaicist Samantha Holmes

-- film and sound editor Walter Murch

-- the mathematician and YouTube sensation Vi Hart (via several of her short videos)

-- Biologist and author of Ignorance:  How It Drives Science, Stuart Firestein

Around 3:00 pm, we will pivot so as to hear from a quartet of people who actually have spent time extended periods of time in solitary confinement (it turns out that most of the fantasies we have of the sorts of things we might do to keep from crumpling under the pressure are of little use in real life).

These will include:

--Breyten Breytenbach, the renowned Afrikaner poet and painter who spent seven years in South African prisons for his anti-apartheid activities

-- Tim Blunk, who spent seven years in solitary for exposing an FBI sting operation while serving thirteen years in prison for his role in the Resistance Conspiracy Case.

-- Robert Hillary King, the only freed member of the Angola 3, a former Black Panther who spent 29 of his 31 years at Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison in solitary confinement, most of that time on charges from which he was eventually exonerated.

-- Shane Bauer , one of the three Americans hikers captured and held last year on the Iranian border, who spent four months in solitary before his eventual release, after which he covered conditions at California’s notorious Pelican Bay Maximum Security Prison for Mother Jones (he will be represented by a short film made on that assignment).

At 5:30 pm we’ll hear about the philosophical, human rights, and legal implications of the appalling surfeit of solitary confinement in the United States today. Lisa Guenther, a philosopher from Vanderbilt University, will draw on ideas developed in her forthcoming book, Social Death and its Afterlives: A Critical Phenomenolgy of Solitary Confinement. Juan Mendez, the celebrated human rights lawyer who himself suffered a harrowing stint in solitary during the Dirty Wars in his Argentine homeland, will put the U.S. situation in a wider international context from his perch as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. And finally, closer to home, we will hear from Scarlet Kim, one of the co-authors of the NY Civil Liberties Union’s recent report “Boxed In: The True Cost of Extreme Isolation in New York’s Prisons.” The day will conclude around 8:30 pm.

Check back for program details and updates at

Robert Hillary King

For more on From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King click HERE .


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