Freedom Archives banner
Online donation system by ClickandPledge

A New Book from the Freedom Archives

Design: Josh McPhee/Antumbra Design

Out of Control - A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons

by Nancy Kurshan

The men held captive in the Marion control unit lived in an 8 x 10 foot cell for about 23 hours a day, seven days a week. There was no contact with other human beings. There was no way to know when it would end. Days, months, years would go by...

USP Marion was "horror on steroids"— the nightmare that various prison rights and community activists, attorneys, law offices and other concerned people sought to end.
— Sundiata Acoli

Out of Control concentrates on the political analysis and commitment of the women and men of the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown - and a protracted and determined struggle to stop the physical and psychological abuse in control units in US prisons. I urge everyone to read and distribute this book.
— Lucy Rodriguez

Order the book
Now Available!

Read a web version of Out of Control here!

Reviews of Out of Control:

Angola 3 News by Hans Bennett

Ben Achtenberg Blog

Black Commentator by Lenore Daniels

Counterpunch by Ron Jacobs

Rag Blog by Jonah Raskin

Solitary Watch


Podcasts & Interviews

KCSB Interview with Nancy Kurshan

Bill Newman interview on WHMP

Nightcall interview by Peter Werbe

Rag Radio interview with Thorne Dreyer


Puerto Rican Cultural Center



Out of Control - A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons

Out of Control: A 15-Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons tells the inspiring story of the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown (CEML). Founded in 1985 to organize against control unit prisons and related inhumane practices at the notorious federal prison in Marion, Illinois, the committee’s work and influence spread nationwide, even as the practices at Marion became widespread in many other prisons in the U.S. and internationally. Written in a very accessible and eloquent style by Nancy Kurshan, a CEML co-founder and leading activist throughout its history, the book recounts how the committee led and organized hundreds of educational programs and demonstrations in many parts of the country and sought to build a national movement to expose and abolish “end-of-the-line” prisons. Along the way the Committee wrote thousands of pages of educational and agitational literature, and developed new ways of analyzing and fighting against the “prison industrial complex.”

CEML was a beacon of hope for most of the prisoners who were in Marion and ADX while i was there. Whenever CEML brought a demonstration to the gates of Marion, inside we would enjoy celebratory moments. Because we knew we had not been forgotten and that there was the possibility the barbarous and dehumanizing dungeon could be closed. What we didn't know was the amount of work, the enormous challenges and the great sacrifices Nancy, Steve, et al., faced to keep-up the good work of CEML. i suggest the best way to have a good appreciation of their wonderful endeavors is by reading Nancy's book. For it is a treasure-trove of information. Thank you Nancy and Steve from the bottom of my heart.
En resistencia y lucha,
— Oscar Lopez Rivera

Kurshan’s honest and prophetic analysis of the country’s abuse of solitary confinement and the system’s destruction of human fiber through the use of isolating torture is both chilling and instructive. This inspiring story of the efforts of concerned citizens to shut down the Marion Control Unit should be mandatory reading for all of us.
— Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director, Correctional Association of New York

The work of the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown (CEML) consistently confronted human rights abuses in U.S. prisons for 15 years. CEML represents several important features of the movement for social justice. First, CEML represents a continuation of the politics of anti-racist politics of the 1960s movements for social change. Second, the CEML efforts were at the center of the fight against the criminalization and mass incarceration of Black and Latino youth decades before it became a national discussion. Finally, CEML brought critical attention to the inhumane nature of the control units of Marion Federal Prison in Illinois, which became the model for maximum-security incarceration in the U.S. Marion’s sensory deprivation and isolation methods have been reproduced around the U.S. empire and characterize one of the major human rights abuses of our time. This narrative is a must for all desiring to challenge mass incarceration and to those of us seeking examples of active organizing to resistance to the genocidal elements of the U.S. prison system.
— Akinyele Umoja, Associate Professor and Chair, African-American Studies, Georgia State University

Although there were some victories along the way, in the end we lost every large issue we pursued. Nonetheless, this is not a story of failure or discouragement. Rather it tells the story of one long determined effort against the very core of the greatest military empire that has ever existed on this planet. If current and future activists who stand in opposition to what Malcolm X called the “American nightmare” can benefit from reading this and can move ahead with some greater insight and effectiveness, then it was all worth it. The story I tell here is accurate as best as I can determine. I hope it will help illuminate a path to building a humane society and I have tried throughout to be guided by the words of the great leader of Guinea Bissau, Amilcar Cabral, who urged us to  “tell no lies, claim no easy victories.”
— From the Preface by Nancy Kurshan, the book's author 

Houses of the Dead: Human Rights Crimes
Inside America's Control Unit Prisons
by Nancy Kurshan
Counterpunch May 2013