Arthur “Cetewayo” Johnson – A case of 36 years in the hole
Arthur “Cetewayo” Johnson is a politicized prisoner who has been held in solitary confinement by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) since 1979.
Despite his exemplary disciplinary record of the past 25 years, and his recently turning 63 years old, Cetewayo continues to be subjected to 23-24-hour lockdown in solitary confinement with its attendant austerity, monotony, and deprivations. He has not had human contact with anybody except prison guards in over 30 years.
Solitary confinement is torture. Decades of social isolation and sensory deprivation is unfathomable, unconstitutional, and in violation of international human rights standards. Government conduct so extreme shocks the conscience, and it must be ended.
Convicted of homicide and sentenced to life without parole in 1971 when he was 18 years old, Cetewayo soon developed a close relationship with imprisoned members of the Black Liberation Movement. As happened to so many of his generation who took up the struggle for human rights, Cetewayo became a target for severe state repression.
Cetewayo was accused of being involved in attempted escapes between 1977 and 1987. Cetewayo never got off prison grounds or escaped custody during any of these alleged attempts.
Since then, his disciplinary record has been exemplary, receiving only a few misconducts for minor rule violations in the last quarter-century. There have been no allegations of, or actual, escape attempts since 1987.
Human rights begin at home. Cetewayo’s case represents a challenge to human rights activists that is long overdue. Ending the torture and repression of political and politicized prisoners is a core part of rebuilding a mass human rights movement within the U.S.