23-Hour Fast for “The Least of These”
Monday at 1 p.m., I am joining hundreds of people of faith across the nation to fast for 23 hours, symbolizing the 23 hours per day that tens of thousands of Americans, including children and the mentally ill, are warehoused in solitary confinement.
The fast will be held in conjunction with the first-ever Senate hearing on the use of solitary confinement in the U.S. federal prison system.
Although the particular conditions in solitary confinement vary depending on the facility, individuals are typically held for 23 or 24 hours a day in small cells with no meaningful contact and no stimulation. Inmates may be allowed an hour alone in a caged pen for exercise. We warehouse people in these isolated conditions for weeks, years, even decades.
As believers, we are called to help “the least of these.” Many of us are quick to apply that calling to those who are among “the least” by no fault of their own (the unborn, the orphan, the widow). Certainly, we have a duty to provide aid and compassion for these vulnerable populations. Yet, Christ also came for the seemingly most undeserving. He loved and aided the prostitute, the tax-collector, and the convicted criminal who hung next to Him on the cross. In Matthew 25, prisoners were among the specific examples Jesus identified as “the least of these.” He came for the sick and the sinners – all of us.
Research consistently demonstrates that the psychological effects of solitary confinement, particularly among children and the mentally ill, are devastating. Even those who enter solitary confinement without pre-existing mental illness may experience hallucinations, perceptual distortions, and suicidal ideation. Thankfully, a growing number of states have reduced their reliance on solitary confinement by using evidence-based classification systems. The results have proven that there are more humane and less expensive alternatives that still keep our prisons safe.
So, today I invite you to join me in shining a light in some of our nation’s darkest places. Sign up for the 23-Hour Fast to End 23-Hour Solitary and endorse the National Religious Campaign Against Torture’s petition to end prolonged solitary confinement.
As evidenced in recent prisoner hunger strikes in California and Virginia, refusing food is one of the few means prisoners have to protest their conditions in isolation. Today, as people of faith protest in the same manner on their behalf, we pray our country’s leaders will be moved to act on their behalf.
(Watch NRCAT's video on prolonged solitary confinement here:)