Chapter 5: Is solitude the answer?

During lasts weeks’ discussion, General Alfredo’s brother was mentioned in relation to solitary confinement. I then began to compare his brother’s imprisonment with what he is putting the hostages through. Although they are not being individually confined, everyone being held captive lacks the ability to escape, which is comparable to what the brother experiences in prison. Diane did a great job talking about the conditions prisoners experience along with questioning the morality of this type of environment. A lot of questions were then sparked which required me to do further inquiry in attempt to find answers.

Mental health has always been a curiosity of mine and after searching for information in order to learn more about solitary confinement, I was able to find a lot of content addressing what a prisoners mind goes through when put in situations such as these.

To review, this type of imprisonment is usually used to protect and separate inmates but is done so in an extreme fashion. This includes being in an isolated cell for usually 23 hours a day while receiving small amounts of artificial light.(Guenther) This has become a standard practice in prisons throughout the United States despite the fact that it drives healthy prisoners insane, makes the mentally ill sicker, and turns life into a living death no matter what ones mental state is. (Shalev)

There is clear evidence that supports the idea that solitary confinement has the ability to result in impacting ones health and wellbeing. There have been many studies performed in order to gather a variety of data and here are a few examples of what has been found…

In California, 100 prisoners were selected from Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit, a supermax, and each portrayed a high volume of symptoms relating to psychological trauma. Below are the symptoms described along the percentage of prisoners from the group experiencing them

91% anxiety and nervousness

80% headaches, lethargy, and trouble sleeping

77% chronic depression

70% fear of impending breakdown and irrational anger

Over 50% nightmares, dizziness and heart palpitations

41% hallucinations

(Guenther)

Stuart Grassian, a Harvard psychiatrist, has invested almost two decades studying the effects of solitary confinement. He has found similar symptoms and suggests that isolated prisoners form a syndrome similar to delirium.   Grassian describes the accumulation of effects as, “a constellation of symptoms occurring together with a characteristic course over time, thus suggestive of this discrete illness.” He then explains saying, “this syndrome is characterized by a decreased level of alertness, EED abnormalities, perceptual and cognitive disturbance, fearfulness, paranoia, and random impulsive and self-destructive behavior.” (Guenther)

Anonymously, a male prisoner stated that after being isolated in a dark and punitive cell he was able to see faces and hold conversations with “people” who in reality weren’t actually there. He often times felt as if he was losing his mind but at the same time questioning if he had already lost it. During a period of having “conversation” with nonexistent people he was able to touch his eyes and knew at that point that he wasn’t dreaming and later came to the realization that he could have been undergoing hallucination. As hard as it was for him to admit, at that point death became a common thought running through his head. (Shalev)

Dough Wakefield can also relate to experiencing hallucination after spending a significant amount of time in isolation. However, instead of people, he would see spiders and other hallucinated insects crawling all over his isolated cell and would occasionally hear strange noises.(Guenther) As a person who especially hates spider I cant imagine going through this.

Although there are many cases like the ones mentioned above, there is also a small percentage of people who will do their time in solitary confinement being resistant to the negative affects without ever experiencing a single symptom. (Stahl) However, this is a very rare occurrence but it is still important to acknowledge.

With all of this being said, I am now left wondering why solidary confinement is still taking place? According to the most recent census by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are 80,000 men, women, and children in confinement across the U.S. (Stahl) It is clear that as a country we are taking the easy way out of the situation and relying heaving on this type of confinement. It costs a significant amount of money to keep institutions for theses purposes running, and does nothing to improve the wellbeing of the person being confined. Prison administrators will often times claim that solitary is only used for “the worst of the worst” however people with serious mental illnesses are still being put there as an easy way of avoiding having to provide them with treatment.

On the contrary, there have been multiple campaigns with recent years including StopMax, Stop Solitary, and Solitary Watch who are taking a stand in attempt to end this cruel and usual punishment. (Winter) Earlier this year in July President Obama visited a United States prison and upon leaving openly questioned the use of solitary confinement and has put forth action to further investigate the need. (Winter)To conclude, these types of facilities are becoming abused to the point that it is resulting in the decline of thousands of human beings, however I do believe that there are circumstances in which solitary confinement can be applicable and in some cases necessary.

Guenther, L. Solitary Confinement: Social Death and Its Afterlives.Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. Project MUSE. Web. 1 Oct. 2015. <https://muse.jhu.edu/&gt;.

Stahl, A. (2015, September 27). How Many Prisoners Are in Solitary Confinement in the United States? Retrieved September 29, 2015.

Winter, M. (2015, September 23). Is This the Beginning of the End for Solitary Confinement in the United States? Retrieved September 29, 2015.

Shalev, S. (2008). A sourcebook on solitary confinement. London: Nuffield Foundation.

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One thought on “Chapter 5: Is solitude the answer?

  1. hcelemen says:

    Your findings on solitary confinement really brought forth what one of the Generals imagined his own brother is experiencing while being imprisoned. I further empathized with the General and his brother as I imagined having someone from my own family being taken away and imprisoned. It is even more difficult that there’s no way of reaching out to them and taking away the loneliness they are experiencing. In this loneliness they are left more vulnerable and they lose perception of what is real and what is not. These prisoners are held as due punishment for their crimes but it makes me wonder what their “keepers” prioritize more. Is it simply to keep them alive until the end of their sentence because a quick death is far too merciful? Is their physical health more important than their mental health. Is their mental deterioration part of the punishment they are being dealt with? What seems to have started as a way to make a person self-reflect and repent for their sins as punishment, has become a form of prolonging their torture by allowing them to become self-destructive.

    This has sparked my interest in how solitary confinement works. Looking into solitary confinement and how it is being managed in other countries would be an interesting way to take this research even further, especially if those other countries have a worse or more effective punishment for their “worse of the worse”. Should they make life easier for these prisoners? Even the generals are not so heartless as to deny their hostages food, clothing, and necessities. Furthermore, they do not deny the hostages from interacting with each other and finding comfort in that way. I guess the biggest difference between the hostages and prisoners is that the hostages don’t believe they deserve to be in this situation whereas prisoners are constantly reminded of their actions and decisions that led to their imprisonment and consequently, they are forced to believe that they deserve such treatment.

    I believe that the Generals and the other terrorists are as much as prisoners as the hostages. There are two different scenarios I can imagine happening to them if they walked out those doors. The police will either kill them on the spot after ensuring the safety of the hostages or take them to prison where they will be reunited (or not) with the comrades they are trying to save. Such is the way of the justice system. We already know what the outcome will be. It is interesting that your research mentioned 80% of prisoners would experience “headaches, lethargy, and trouble sleeping” because General Alfredo is developing the same symptoms hence his increased irritability and frustration. It will be interesting to see if his symptoms will escalate in the future chapters. I also wonder if the other Generals and terrorists will start developing these symptoms.

    Like

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