Prisons are meant to rehabilitate criminals while delivering the punishment imposed for each crime, but the statistics on the success of imprisonment in rehabilitating criminals are grim. Most prisoners get out of prison worse than they were going in, which beats the reason for putting them in there in the first place. Prisons have many methods to punish crime, most of them controversial and inhumane, but none has been as condemned as much as Solitary confinement. The idea of someone spending months to years locked in a small cage without sunlight or human interaction is chilling. Here is a look at some of the most interesting facts and stories about this inhumane practice.
Solitary Confinement Saved Ludger Sylbaris
This is probably the only story of Solitary Confinement that ended well. Saint Pierre was a thriving city in Nothern Martinique, a French overseas territory when the Mount Pelee volcanic eruption occurred in 1902. The eruption killed an estimated 30,000 people within two minutes. The eruption occurred at the time when Ludger Sylbaris, a man who had been arrested the day before in a street brawl, was in solitary confinement.
His cell was a small bombproof room partially underground. It was hardly ventilated, so all he had to do when the eruption happened was to urinate on his clothes and use them to block out the hot air from getting in. He still sustained burns but lived to tell the tale until 1929, when he died from natural causes.
Albert Woodfox Holds the Record For The Longest Time Spent In Solitary
Albert Woodfox’s book Unbroken By Four Decades Of Solitary is a bestseller and one of the most detailed accounts of the experience of Solitary Confinement inmates. He was one of the famous Angola Three who spent a joint 114 years in isolation. He spent 23 hours a day in a 9 by 6ft cell where he could only take five steps forward and backward for more than half of his life. He wasn’t allowed any education material, exercise, radio, or reading material for most of that time.
He was incarcerated at the infamous Angola prison in Louisiana, where a guard was killed, and he was accused of participating because of his affiliation with the Black Panthers. He wasn’t allowed any social life for those years and faced frequent beatings and emotional torture from the guards. He said he lost it many times and even attempted suicide, especially when his mon died in 1994. He was released in 2016 and is now an activist against the practice of solitary confinement.
The Angola Three
Robert King, Herman Wallace, and the previously discussed Albert Woodfox were three black men serving time at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola Prison, which was known as the bloodiest prison in the US in the 70s. The three were associated with The Black Panther Party, so they were immediately blamed when a guard was killed in a riot in 1972 as prisoners protested the harsh conditions they were enduring. Despite the lack of evidence and international condemnation of the racially motivated accusation and harsh imprisonment, the three were kept in solitary.
Robert King was the first to be released in 2001 after the court overturned his conviction. An Amnesty International campaign saw Herman Wallace released in October 2013 because he was 71 and suffering from terminal liver cancer. He died three days after his release, a day after the state of Louisiana had decided to rearrest him. Albert Woodfox was the last to be released in 2016 after entering a plea of No Contest against the state for his Incarceration.
Next to Albert Woodfox, the white supremacist Thomas Silverstein is the other man in the US to spend the longest time in solitary confinement, although his conditions were worse. He spent 42 of his 67 years in prison, 35 of those in isolation. He was initially incarcerated in 1978 in Kansas for robbery, where he was then accused of killing another inmate in 1983, leading to his first solitary confinement period in Marion, Illinois. He then killed two other inmates and a guard.
He was then transferred to the Maximum prison in Florence, Co, which was created for serial killers and terrorists. He started writing from prison condemning the conditions of his detention as he said he couldn’t sleep as the bright lights in his 6by7 foot cell, and the camera never went off. He was taken to hospital in May 2019 after developing complications to his heart, where he died during surgery.
Solitary almost definitely Leads To Mental Illness
The human brain can withstand lots of things, but it wasn’t meant to be kept in 24 hours of isolation in a four-walled cage. There are lots of mental health issues that arise when someone spends hours on end with no interaction whatsoever with the world. The most common side effect of solitary confinement is the Nonsense Syndrome, where prisoners lose a sense of self-identity and have hallucinations.
After the first few months in solitary, you are likely to suffer irreversible psychological damage that will mess up the rest of your life. Solitary also causes a condition called the Pit Of Despair Syndrome, where the prisoners generally lose their spirit to fight and sit in a corner hunched over for days. The failure to deploy other sensory organs in your body for such a long time also causes them to lose function, which can be catastrophic in the end.
It Doesn’t Really Serve As A Method Of Rehabilitation
Statistics show that at least 80,000 people have been held in solitary confinement of some kind in the US since the 70s, making it the highest in the world. However, an analysis of isolation as a form of punishment proves that it doesn’t really work as a method of correction. People who are kept in Solitary confinement for long find it nearly impossible to reintegrate back into society if they come out alive.
Most of them tend to re-offend and are likely to be more violent than they were before they were isolated. The UN considers the isolation of persons for more than 15 days in the restrictive conditions a crime against humanity, although, in the US and other prison systems worldwide, that number is exceeded by almost every prison.
Fancy Terms Used For Solitary Confinement
Widespread condemnation of the practice of solitary confinement has led many countries to abandon the practice, but the practice is still applied widely but under different names. The most common term used for a solitary in the US is the SHU or Special Housing Unit. Administrative Segregation is the other term wardens use to justify isolation of prisoners deemed to be a threat to other inmates or guards if kept in the general population.
The main problem with their criteria is that the scope for being sent to solitary is very wide, and pretty much anyone can be taken there. Disciplinary Confinement (DC), Maximum Management (MM), Close Management (CM ), and Administrative Segregation (AdSeg) are the other common terms used for solitary confinement in states around the US.
You Don’t Have To Be A Violent Criminal To Go To Solitary
Solitary confinement is one of the worst nightmares a convict can imagine, but once you are in prison, you are not far from solitary. Isolation is meant for violent offences, which include anything from being seen in a prison brawl to fighting with fellow inmates. Insulting, attacking, or disobeying a guard also earns you time in solitary confinement, and one offence can be split into all of the three meaning you spend longer in isolation.
In 2015, CNN released a report showing inmates who were sentenced to up to 37 years of solitary confinement for updating their Facebook profiles. One was also denied 74 years of phone calls and visitation for the same offence. The worst of solitary comes when you threaten or attack a prison guard, in which case the inmate faces the harshest of misconduct consequences.
Most People Put In Solitary End Up Committing Suicide
In many prisons, when you are in solitary, you lose the right to visitation, phone calls, and even time in the yard, which means your thoughts are all you have for 22 to 24 hours each day. One of the greatest disadvantages of staying in isolation for such long periods is psychosis. Albert Woodfox said in his book that his biggest struggle was with homicidal thoughts and the desire to self-harm.
The suicide rates in maximum prisons around the US are as high as five percent, and solitary confinement inmates make the biggest portion of deaths. If you don’t commit suicide, you are still likely to develop other medical complications from the stress and lack of exercise. Almost all victims of long-term solitary confinement end up needing treatment for physiological and mental complications, and many like Thomas Silverstein just end up dead.
Victims Describe The Experience As Worse Than Death
When Albert Woodfox narrates his experience at interviews, some people end up crying because it is too harrowing. He described how the guards would clobber him and his fellow inmates before leaving them to 23 hours of solitude. Robert King said that he had forgotten what his face looked like, and his brain’s sense of direction was also lost.
He forgot almost everyone he knew, and his body also forgot how to perform certain normal functions such as tasting and urinating. Many scientists concluded that long-term solitary confinement leads to the reduction of one’s hippocampus, the part of the body responsible for learning and memory. The body also loses many neurons, and your senses become totally distorted. Each of the Angola Three described their experience as death before death.