“You have to be strong. The only thing you do all day is just not break,” says Katherine “KteeO” Olejnik, on her two month detention in solitary confinement.
In September 2012, KteeO and her colleague, Matthew Duran, were imprisoned and sent to solitary confinement at Seattle Federal Detention Center for refusing to testify in front of a grand jury. They weren’t being tried for any crime, but refused to testify because of their political ideals.
“From the get-go, I never had any intention of being used as an instrument by the federal government,” says Duran.
“If I would have testified and something that I had said would have put someone in prison and taken them away from their family, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself,” adds Olejnik.
What heinous crime could justify the use of solitary confinement to get KteeO and Matt to cooperate?
In this case, it was a few acts of vandalism during a May Day protest last year.
“It was a largely peaceful protest but there was a small contingent who were dressed in black and they were covering their faces, and they caused damage to the federal courthouse and also to some nearby businesses,” says Olejnik’s attorney Jenn Kaplan.
The suspects are alleged to be a group of anarchists, as are KteeO and Matt. Matt and KteeO believe they were brought in to testify based solely on their shared political beliefs with the suspects, and that the FBI is on a witch hunt to track down political dissenters.
Because grand juries are extremely secretive and there is very little transparency, the court would not release any information on the proceedings or the prosecution.
“If you’re not willing to cooperate with a grand jury’s investigation, no matter how illegitimate it seems, you can go to jail for a very long time,” says Kaplan, “and not just to jail, but it seems that the Bureau of Prisons can put you in solitary confinement for extended periods without having to justify its decision to anyone. And this could happen to any US citizen.”
Were Matt and KateeO tortured for their testimony? They sure think so.
“Just the idea of locking someone up for days, weeks, months—and never letting them out—anybody that thinks would know that this is a form of torture,” says Duran.
Margaret Chen, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, notes that you can see the physiological and psychological effects of solitary confinement in as little as seven days, and they may include sleep deprivation, withdrawal, depression, anxiety, uncontrolled rage, suicidal thoughts and self-mutilation.
Using solitary confinement for convicted felons is controversial enough, but in this case the imprisonment was a form of coercion. The judge only released Matt and KteeO after concluding that they would not break their resolve under the harshest of circumstances.
Written and produced by Tracy Oppenheimer; camera by Zach Weissmueller. About 7 minutes.
[Ed Note, sorry, I could not get the video to embed here]
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