George Ruiz is 72 years old. For the past 30 years, he has spent every day alone – locked in a cramped, windowless cell inside the Security Housing Unit (SHU) first at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, then at Tehachapi prison. He is allowed out for only one hour per day to exercise — also alone — in another concrete cell.
Ruiz is in the SHU not for any rule violation, but because other prisoners claimed he was affiliated with a prison gang.
Ruiz barely sees or communicates with his family, as he is not allowed telephone calls and his children live hundreds of miles from the remote prison. Scribbled drawings from Ruiz’s two-year-old great-grandson have been confiscated for supposedly containing “coded messages.”
Though he suffers from debilitating health issues, for years, Ruiz was told that the only way he could receive better medical care would be to inform on other prisoners, thereby putting himself and his family at great risk of violence – and no doubt landing someone else in the torture chamber called the SHU.
The United States would like the global community to believe that Ruiz’s experience is an aberration. Last week, as the U.S.’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture (CAT) was under review by the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva, the U.S. delegation touted the country’s progress on reducing and limiting its use of solitary confinement.