BIPP: The Lewisburg Penitentiary: A world away

Madison Simon, Contributing Writer

There’s something magical about watching those campus sunsets descend over the Malesardi Quad. The sun sets on our picturesque little campus, and out in the darkness we see little lights on the horizon: the Lewisburg Penitentiary. The prison is only five miles away from campus, yet the lives within those walls might as well be a million miles away.

The Lewisburg Penitentiary is known for its brutal conditions. Prisoners are forced to either live in solitary confinement or live with a violent cellmate in cramped conditions. Allegations of abuse against the prisoners comes out almost every year, and yet, the conditions remain. NPR and The Marshall Project made headlines last October with reports regarding the prison. According to Lewisburg staffers and more than 40 current and former inmates — who made similar claims in lawsuits, court testimonies, government audits, or letters and interviews with The Marshall Project and NPR — restraints are used as punishment at Lewisburg, often for prisoners who refuse their cell assignments.

Five miles down the road, University students stress out about midterms and their own roommate problems. Will they get invited to a date party? Is their Greek organization going to get kicked off?

Back at the prison, inmates have their own anxieties. Mental health is a huge problem in the prison system. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit dedicated to the treatment of mental illness, prisons have become the new asylums. Prisoners suffering from mental illness often find their condition exacerbated and amplified by their incarceration. Imagine a person suffering from depression or bipolar disorder in a hostile and restrictive environment. The new solution at Lewisburg Penitentiary? Crossword puzzles in lieu of counseling.

Meanwhile, at the University, students can find the New York Times Crossword with the free daily delivery of the paper while waiting in line for the walk-in hours at the new and beautiful Counseling & Student Development Center.

According to a June 2017 lawsuit against the prison, most prisoners do not ever receive one-on-one counseling. Conversations are often had through cell doors with cellmates in close proximity. The lawsuit states that the effect of the lack of care is evident: men bang their heads on the walls, mutilate their bodies, and frequently attempt suicide.

As University students, we are worlds away from the torture that happens so close to campus. Prisons, and those who reside within their walls, are constructed to be removed from our society. Their humanity, their agency, and their livelihood is put into the strict, unyielding hands of the State.

When did we forget that those in shackles are still human and still deserve their rights? The system is perpetuated because we can forget about those who are suffering. We don’t see them on a daily basis and we don’t interact with them, but in actuality there are over 2 million people in the U.S. prison system. Odds are, you’ve interacted with a former member of this community, a member whose humanity was only returned when they stepped outside the walls of incarceration.

It’s easy to ignore the facts when you’re living on a campus like our own, but our apathy only allows the terror to continue.

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