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The two-century-old Foundry United Methodist Church at 1500 16th St. NW—once a regular house of worship for the Clinton family—will get a new addition beneath its Neo-Gothic granite facade on Sunday: A temporary solitary-confinement cell in its Davenport Center.
The cell, a full-size replica of a special housing unit (or “SHU,” as it’s called in prison-speak), is being sponsored in part by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, a faith-based human-rights organization. Scheduled to happen at 12:30 p.m., the installation will kick off five days during which the public may access the replica and contemplate what it’s like to experience solitary confinement. The cell was originally constructed in Madison, Wisc., and has travelled to other houses of worship in Baltimore, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Harrisburg, Pa. St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church hosted the SHU replica for a few days in March of this year.
“We know solitary can have debilitating effects on an individual’s mental health and it needs to be shown for the torture that it is,” said Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, Foundry’s senior pastor, in a statement. “This is a critical time for national legislation on criminal justice reform; we want to do our part to help inform our leaders and community.”
The planned installation follows the introduction of a bill by D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh on Tuesday that seeks to limit the use of solitary confinement (also known as segregated housing) in D.C. Department of Corrections facilities. As drafted, the legislation would require regular mental-health screenings for inmates placed in solitary, restrict its use for “only the most serious crimes,” and mandate two hours of out-of-cell time for segregated adult prisoners, among other measures. (A spokesperson for the West End Strategy Team, a communications firm, says that At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds has confirmed her attendance at Sunday’s replica-installation.)
The replica will have a door on the cell, and people are invited to go in and sit alone for as long as time and capacity allow. Given Sunday is a day of worship, parishioners will likely have to conduct more of a walk-through that day; however, the installation will remain open all day Monday through Thursday, during which visitors are encouraged to spend between five minutes and an hour alone in the SHU.
“This solitary confinement cell…has proven to be a powerful tool to expose the suffering of the thousands of adults and youth, disproportionately people of color, in solitary in our jails and prisons,” said Rev. Ron Stief, NRCAT’s executive director, in a release.
Here’s what the cell-replica will look like:
Top photo by NCinDC via Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0. Cell-replica photos by Erin Schaff, provided courtesy of Perisphere Media