With so many people being held in solitary confinement, there have been thousands of reports of what it’s like and the anguish and pain that people have gone through. Here are just a few.
“I found solitary confinement the most forbidding aspect of prison life. There is no ending and no beginning; there is only one’s mind, which can begin to play tricks. Was that a dream or did it really happen?
One begins to question everything.”
“I went to a standstill psychologically once – lapse of memory. I didn’t talk for 15 days. I couldn’t hear clearly. You can’t see – you’re blind – block everything out – disoriented, awareness is very bad. Did someone say he’s coming out of it? I think what I’m saying is true – not sure. I think I was drooling – a complete standstill.”
Interview of a man in solitary taken by Dr. Stuart Grassian
“I can’t concentrate, can’t read . . . . Your mind’s narcotized . . . . Sometimes can’t grasp words in my mind that I know. Get stuck, have to think of another word. Memory is going. You feel you are losing something you might not get back.”
Interview of a man in solitary taken by Dr. Stuart Grassian
“I heard someone screaming far away and it was me. I fell against the wall, and as if it were a catapult, was hurled across the cell to the opposite wall. Back and forth I reeled, from the door to the walls, screaming. Insane.”
Jack Henry Abbott
“I had no physical contact with another human being in at least 10 of the 18 years I was incarcerated. Today I have a hard time being around a group of people for long periods of time without feeling crowded . . . . I will have to live with these vivid memories for the rest of my life. I would watch guys come into prison totally sane and in three years they don’t live in the real world anymore . . . . Solitary confinement does one thing, it breaks a man’s will to live and he ends up deteriorating. He’s never the same person again. I haven’t had a good sleep since my release. My mind and body are having a hard time making the adjustment. I have mood swings that cause emotional breakdowns. Solitary confinement makes our criminal justice system the criminal.”
Spent years in solitary for a crime he did not commit
“Solitary confinement is terrifying, especially if you are innocent of the charges that put you there. It evokes a lot of emotion. It was a nightmare. My soul still cries from all I witnessed and endured . . . . There’s no describing the day to day assault on your body and your mind and the feelings of hopelessness and despair.”
Robert Hillary King
Spent 29 years in Segregation prior to his release
An Essay On Solitary Confinement
Over 200 years ago, Aristotle recognized that “Man is a social creature whose life finds meaning in his relation to other human beings.”
We are in fact the sum total of all our experiences, and our experiences come mostly from our interactions with the people around us. A normal person will have thousands of interactions with others – their family, spouse, children, co-workers, friends, and strangers; while eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner; while talking on the phone, running errands, or bussing the kids to afterschool activities; going to the movies, clubs, plays, or just watching TV at home. All these experiences build thousands of memories everyday, and keep the average person grounded in reality. This is the basis for all that a person is.
Now imagine if you were locked in a room the size of an elevator, by yourself, deprived of all meaningful human contact – for months or years – with only your own thoughts and imagination to counter the loneliness and boredom of such a desolate existence. Could you survive the dreadfulness of a life where there was no one to interact with , no one to challenge your thoughts, no pone to befriend you, no one to sympathize with or to have compassion for you? This is solitary confinement.
Have you ever awakened from a powerful dream or nightmare and not been sure is it was real or not? It often takes a few minutes before you can be sure it was all a dream. Some dreams area so powerful that it can take hours to shake the feelings and emotions that they leave you with, even after you have forgotten the details. It can seem very real, it may feel very real, but you have thousands of daily interactions, the underpinnings of life, to uphold reality. You can recognize that it was just a dream. You can easily differentiate between dreams and reality.
For someone held in solitary confinement, there are no people to interact with, no phones, no TVs, no family, friends, or colleagues to ground you in reality. In this extreme desolation, dreams, nightmares, and rampant imagination are all they have; these become their only reality – their preferred reality. Month after month, year after year, these imaginings persist and are often repeated frequently, creating powerful memories that seem as real, or even more real, than other memories. Their imaginings may even transgress into hearing voices, or having visions. New memories intermix with or overwrite old; no matter how hard they try to hold onto the old memories, they can’t, they no longer distinguish between the real and the spurious memories. The lack of interaction with other people – which form references into reality – make it impossible.
If we are the sum of all our experiences – our memories of those experiences – what happens to us when our memories are no longer based in reality? We are no longer the same person. We have in essence, lost our mind. The mental anguish of realizing you are losing your mind is torture. Solitary confinement is torture, the most insidious form of torture, for there is nothing you can do or say to stop it, there are no marks or bruises on the body to show what’s been done to you, and no one to hear your screams and cries. The torture persists day after day without relief and without stopping. Life loses all meaning.
Written by someone who spent 6.5 years in solitary confinement
“That place mentally messed me up,” a teen recalls of his 82 days in the hole. “I really wanted to die. I felt hopeless.”