COULD YOU HANDLE IT?
While it is hard for the average person to comprehend or appreciate the scope and seriousness of mental health problems resulting from prolonged isolation, one might start by imagining yourself stepping into an empty elevator to find that when the doors close and it starts moving up, it stops. You would immediately feel panicked. You yell and scream, but there is no one who hears you (or perhaps they don’t care). This just makes the panic increase. There are loud noises all around. You can’t quite make out what is being said, but people are screaming. People are banging on doors. This goes on for hours. You are tired but the bright lights won’t go out and no matter what buttons you push, nothing happens. You eventually fall asleep from exhaustion. When you wake the lights are still on. There are no windows, so you can’t tell if it is day or night. You don’t know how long you slept, only that the constant noise has never stopped. You are constantly anxious and panicky. You are waiting and hoping that those doors will open soon – but they never do. There is no TV, no radio, and no one to talk to; only your overactive imagination.
It is impossible for anyone who has not been in solitary confinement to actually experience this, or the feelings of it going on like this day after day, month after month, and year after year, no matter how hard they might try.
In an effort to learn more about solitary confinement, on January 23, 2014, Rick Raemisch, the Director of Corrections for the state of Colorado, placed himself on Administrative Segregation (solitary) at the Colorado State Penitentiary for one day.
In an editorial published in the New York Times on February 20, 2014, Raemisch said the experience was challenging.
“First thing you notice is that it’s anything but quiet. You’re immersed in a drone of garbled noise: other inmates, blaring TVs, distant conversations, shouted arguments. I couldn’t make sense of any of it, and was feeling twitchy and paranoid,” he wrote. “I kept waiting for the lights to turn off, to signal the end of the day. But the lights did not shut off. I began to count the small holes carved in the walls. Tiny grooves made by inmates who’d chipped away at the cell as the cell chipped away at them. For the sound mind these are daunting circumstances.”
By 11:30 A.M. the next day, Raemisch said: “I felt like I had been there for days. I sat with my mind. How long would it take before AdSeg chipped that away? I don’t know, but I’m confident that it would be a battle I would lose.”
Raemisch said he was moved by the experience. “Everything you know about treating human beings, [Segregation’s] not the way to do it.”
Mr. Raemisch had just a touch of solitary confinement. However, he did not experience it for months or years. Nor did he experience the often de-humanizing treatment by officers which so often accompanies the inmates put in solitary.