What they won't teach you on 'Lock Up Raw' is that your religious beliefs can get you held in long-term solitary confinement; particularly if devotion to your religious teachings prohibit you from cutting your hair. Virginian inmate, Rastafarian Kendall Gibson knows this policy very well. He's been held in solitary confinement for 10 years, and unless he cuts his hair, Mr. Gibson (and others like him) will not be joining "gen pop" anytime soon.
For more than 10 years [Kendall Gibson] has lived in segregation at the Greensville Correctional Center, spending at least 23 hours every day in a cell the size of a gas station bathroom. In a temporary home for the worst of the worst - inmates too violent or disruptive to live among the rest of society's outcasts - he has been a permanent fixture.He is there, he says, not for his crimes but for a crime he will not commit - a crime against God.
The only thing imposing about Gibson is his long black dreadlocks, resting on the front of his shoulders so they won't drag on the ground as he shuffles along in his orange jumpsuit.
It is his hair - winding locks he considers a measure of his Rastafarian faith - that makes him a threat... Source: Rasta inmates spend 10 years in isolation for hair, Associated Press
Unless something drastic and unexpected changes, or Gibson decides to cut his hair, Virginia Department of Corrections regulations make sure that Gibson will stay in solitary for a very long time.
You see, in 1999, the Virginia Department of Corrections established a rule that inmates must not wear their hair below their collar and must not wear beards. Prisoners who refuse to cut their hair and shave their beards serve their time in administrative segregation. The American Correctional Chaplains Association reports that Virginia is one of about a dozen, mostly Southern, states that regulate the length of inmates hair and beards. And even several of those provide consideration for religious beliefs of " Rastafarians, Muslims, Sikhs, Native Americans and others, whose religious beliefs prohibit shaving or cutting their hair."
On the other side of the argument, prison officials make a case that weapons can be hidden in massive hair growth and any inmate refusing to comply with the Virginia Department of Corrections rules and regulations is being defiant and deserves to be punished with restrictions.
At this point, Gibson is resolute about not cutting his hair and combats his confinement with spiritual commitment.
While some view growing their hair as optional, most Rastafarians see it as demanded by the Nazarite Vow in the Bible (Numbers 6:5): "There shall no razor come upon his head."
Gibson never entertained the thought of cutting his hair when the policy was announced or during the 10 long years since. "Jah didn't lead I to feel that this plight was burden enough to bow," he says. A person must be willing to stand up and fight for a worthy cause, he says, echoing Rastafarian messenger Bob Marley's rhythmic chant "Get up. Stand up. Stand up for your rights."
[Gibson] has now been in isolation nearly 4,000 days. He begins each one with prayer, reading scripture and meditation. Source: Rasta inmates spend 10 years in isolation for hair, Associated Press
Gibson is serving a 47-year sentence for robbery, abduction and gun charges. When he gets out, let us hope he maintains his spiritual commitment to living in peace.
What do YOU think? Is it fair to keep Rastafarians, who refuse to cut their hair, in solitary confinement?