On the white card above his cell door, the name Arthur Johnson is typed, followed by his prison number.
Johnson has been held in solitary confinement in half a dozen PA prisons, since 1979, late December, when he unsuccessfully tried to escape.
When he tried to escape, Jimmy Carter was president, Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep had just won Oscars for “Kramer vs. Kramer”, and a beaming Sally Field won one for her portrayal of a heroic union organizer, “Norm Rae”. Newspapers blared huge headlines about an accident at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, known as Three Mile Island.
From that date to this, Arthur, (known as Cetewayo- the name of an African Zulu warrior-to his fellow prisoners) has been in solitary confinement – over 36, going on 37 years, come December.
Several days ago, a federal judge in Central PA rules that Johnson’s endless isolation was unconstitutional, and ordered he be released into general population.
Chief Judge Christopher C. Connor, of Pennsylvania’s Middle District, issued and extraordinary Preliminary injunction against the Department of Corrections, writing in his 26 page Memorandum Opinion, the following:
For the past 36 years, the Department has held Mr. Johnson in solitary confinement -his entire existence restricted, for at least twenty-three hours per day, to an area smaller than a horse stall. Astoundingly, Mr. Johnson continues to endure this compounding punishment, despite the complete absence of major disciplinary infractions for more than a quarter century.
Arthur ‘Cetewayo’ Johnson’s long nigh of cruel – and quite unusual -treatment is finally coming to an end.
It is a stark indictment of the DOC, and its Kafkaesque cruelties committed under the rubric of ‘corrections’.
Solitary. Isolation. The Hole.
For 36 years!
Why? Because they could.
When the judge asked the State about the mental effects of such long-term confinement on Johnson, the DOC said he was OK, because he had a window in his cell to see the cages in the prison yard. I did you not.
But perhaps the final word belongs to Chief Judge Connor, who wrote, at opinion’s end, “After thirty-six years of isolation, Mr. Johnson deserves the opportunity to shake hands with someone other than his attorneys.”
Arthur ‘Cetewayo’ Johnson was represented at this civil trial by Bret Grote, Esq., and Pittsburgh’s Abolitionist Law Center