Why Do People Go Crazy In Solitary Confinement?


Solitary confinement requires that an inmate
be restricted to one cell and has no contact, or at least very little contact, with other
inmates. Kinds of solitary confinement differ all over
the world, and no doubt in some countries you still have what might better be called
dungeons. In most developed countries these days such
segregation units are not as barbaric and prisoners should have some time outside of
the cell as well as receive enough nourishment that they won’t be looking forward to the
next time an insect gets into their cell. Nonetheless, many critics call it an inhumane,
psychological torture that is hardly in line with rehabilitation. Let’s now see how you might deal with it,
in this episode of the Infographics Show, How to get through time in solitary confinement. First of all, the amount of time you spend
in what some people call ‘the box’ is important when we are discussing how you might
get through it. Spending one day in there can’t be compared
to spending one year in there. Some inmates might find themselves doing a
temporary stay in solitary for what authorities call their own good. Maybe guards believed they were a danger to
themselves and had to be under constant supervision. Other inmates might have hurt someone else
and needed to be immediately separated from the other people. Then there are high profile prisoners, perhaps
prisoners who have great power still even on the inside, and often they can spend a
long time in solitary. We might look at Mexican drug kingpins, such
as Félix Gallardo (aka The Godfather) or Joaquin Archivaldo “El Chapo” Guzman Loera,
who have complained about being in their cells, all day, every day. Look at former Aryan Brotherhood leader and
prison guard killer, Thomas Edward Silverstein, whose been in solitary in the U.S. since 1983. In the UK, you have Robert Maudsley, aka Hannibal
the Cannibal, whose been in solitary almost 40 years. He’d killed three prisoners while locked
up, and the stories were gruesome. The media writes, “He spends 23 hours a
day in ‘the cage’ — a cell made of bulletproof glass which was built specifically for him
in 1983 after he was officially classed Britain’s most dangerous prisoner.” But as you probably know, it’s not always
inmate or guard killers that end up in solitary, and some less dangerous people have spent
a long time locked in those cells. We might look at the story of Albert Woodfox,
sometimes called the man who spent the most years in solitary in American prison history. The former Black Panther, part of what became
known as The Angola Three, was arrested in 1971 for armed robbery. Prior to that he had been fighting racism
in Angola, Louisiana, and ended up in the prison there. We should add that he was certainly no angel,
having been involved with other robberies. In 1972, he was accused of killing a prison
guard along with two others and he would end up spending the next 43 years in solitary. Amnesty International writes, “State authorities
kept Albert in a cell measuring 6×9 feet, or 2×3 meters, for 23 hours a day. He was allowed one hour of exercise a day
in a yard – but this was on his own, and he remained shackled.” Even though the murder conviction was overturned
three times, he remained in solitary. We won’t go into it, but the evidence against
him was weak, very weak. Each time the conviction was overturned and
authorities retried him, then in 2015 Louisiana state authorities were barred from retrying
him again. In the end all three men had their convictions
overturned, but Woodfox was the last to leave prison. While this story is about how to deal with
solitary, we tell you this to emphasize that the practice can be overused and it can be
used to abuse prisoners. Now let’s look at how a man stayed in this
box 43 years of his life. None of us can likely put this into context
in our own lives. Just imagine, if you’re alone now, not being
able to leave that room for a few days. 43 years in a tiny cell, perhaps as an innocent
man, how could someone get through that. On top of that, Woodfox told the media that
he was taken to the worst cell in solitary, a place he called The Dungeon. He also said guards would regularly beat him
there. Fortunately, he was allowed to read books
in there. This, the BBC tells us, was one thing that
kept him sane. He taught himself criminal and civil law,
and the BBC writes that he would teach other inmates when he had his hour out each day. While Amnesty said he spent his hour alone,
we are guessing he could communicate with others through a fence, which is often the
case for segregated prisoners. He explained the best moment of being locked
up was teaching another man to read: “All of the things we went through and all
the pain, the suffering, the struggles, the victories here and there, none of that compared
to the feeling I got when a man who could not read or write at all could sit across
from me and read from a book.” The New Yorker tells us he tried to control
his surroundings as much as was possible. He kept the light on all the time and covered
it when he slept his three hours. He ate little and slept little, and this adapting
to a strict regime gave him some feeling of autonomy. “We wanted the security people to think
that they were dealing with superhumans,” he told the New Yorker. “Before I let them take something from me,
I deny it from myself.” He wrote many letters to family, pen pals,
to Black Panthers, to people fighting racism and inequality on the outside. He was described by social workers as “respectful,”
“positive,” “cooperative,” and “neat.” Yet, every time he came up against a disciplinary
panel, he was denied reentry into the main population. Then you have Charles Bronson, often called
“Britain’s most notorious prisoner.” He was only charged at first with armed robbery,
but due to his erratic, often violent behavior, as well as taking hostages inside, he’s
been in prison since 1988. Prior to that he’d been locked up for over
a decade. Much of his time has been spent in solitary
confinement, as you may have seen in the movie about him. He didn’t exactly get though his time in
solitary with ease. He once wrote, “Years of solitary have left
me unable to face the light for more than a few minutes. It gives me terrible headaches if I do … Years
of loneliness in small cells have left me paranoid about people invading my space. I now can’t stand people getting too close,
crowding me.” But he did write a book on keeping fit in
solitary confinement – he was once a bare knuckle fighter and so enjoyed keeping fit. The book released in 2002 was called “Solitary
Fitness.” He claimed to do at least 2,000 push-ups in
a day, and that his confinement was spent mostly on building his body. We read many reviews of his book and it seems
he was onto something, with his exercises requiring zero equipment working for most
people. In short, if you’re in solitary, work out
and try and improve by the week to give yourself goals. We found another man who’d spent a lot of
time in solitary and for him using his imagination was key to survival. He imagined all the interactions he had had
with people throughout his life and imagined alternate realities where he did something
different, so in a way creating a fiction out of all of his memories. “I used to lie in bed with my eyes closed,”
he said, “thinking about my past, thinking about my future, planning for the future. Some of it was based on reality, and the other—borderline
fantasy.” Another inmate, from Texas, called Michael
Jewell, said he did the same. He would imagine situations and how he might
react. He said it made him a better person because
he was continually noticing problems in his past behavior and he knew the best way to
react for a positive outcome. “When I opened my eyes and stood, I would
feel refreshed and even invigorated,” he said. Psychologists tell us that when a person is
robbed of sensory stimulation of the things around them, their brains get active and the
imagination is more fecund. This, however, can be negative for people
who have mental problems. For a long time it’s been stated that many
people who end up in solitary have such problems, and they only worsen when trapped in a small
cell. A psychologist told the BBC that some people
do go insane inside these cells; they have isolation panic and their identity becomes
fragmented. “That’s an extreme case of somebody’s identity
becoming so badly damaged and essentially destroyed that it is impossible for them to
reconstruct it,” he said. In another article one person said you really
must take control over your own space. That means keeping everything spotless, as
well as keeping yourself very clean. Own your area and take care of yourself. This even means doing your nails daily, just
by making them the same size or finding a way to make them smoother. You need routine and you must stick by it. We also looked at the website Prison Writers
and a piece on how to deal with long-term solitary confinement. The writer, who had spent many years in solitary
and was currently imprisoned, said stress management was key. He said don’t be idle, and added that watching
TV (if you have one) or even masturbating all the time is not a good idea. You must be productive, and if possible, learn
a new hobby. “Try art work, crocheting, writing, chess,
etc. Your brain is a muscle, and if you don’t
use it, you lose it!” he said. He also said that if you want to transcend
your cell’s walls you must read, and read a lot. Invite some of the greatest minds in history
into your cell, he said. Like others we have talked about today, he
said study the law, because you might well be treated better when you know it. Examine your life, he said, and stay healthy. That meant staying off the prison commissary
processed foods as much as possible. On a final note, we found a researcher who
had spent years visiting people in solitary confinement and trying to understand how they
got through it. His conclusion is that successful inmates
followed a rule of what he called the “Seven Rs”. Despite maybe some of this sounding obvious,
he said most prisoners in solitary didn’t follow these rules and their time as solitary
prisoners could result in “withdrawal, destructive rumination, cognitive impairment, depression,
self-harm and, exceptionally, suicide.” The Seven Rs he talked about are:
· Rescheduling This means learning how to manage time. Don’t look at the 20 years you have to serve,
take it day by day and have plans for those days. · Removal
This is what we have discussed, meaning remove yourself from the present moment of being
surrounded by four walls. It could be reading, writing, exercise, or
any of things we have talked about. It might even mean forming relationships with
an ant that comes into the cell. · Reduction
By this he means reducing time through drug use. While he says it might not be the best path,
when things get hard some prisoners do find time passes with the prescribed medicines
they are offered. · Reorientation
This means living in the present, and we mean totally, like someone who is mediating. If you can be at one with everything, focus
on your breath, the sounds around you, forget the past, the future. · Resistance
This is finding ways to beat the system. It might be against prison rules, but some
people find it helps if they can tap on pipes to communicate. But there are many ways prisoners can get
one over on the system. Others, as we have said, study law and challenge
their sentence, or matters regarding their confinement. · Raptness
This is becoming completely absorbed in something, such as writing, or hobbies. It’s more than just removal, because one
becomes lost in their art. · Reinterpretation
This is like putting your situation against another, perhaps comparing yourself to someone
who had it worse and got through it. “Those who can devise, or adopt, a frame
of reference – often political or religious – that puts their pain in context seem to
draw succor from their circumstances,” said the researcher. “For the fortunate few who can re-imagine
their situation, the potential rewards are substantial.” If you’ve been in this situation, we’d
love to know how you got through it. If you haven’t, how do you think you would
get through it, or what do you think would be the best way? Tell us in the comments. Also, be sure to check out our other video
Man Spent 43 Years In Isolation. Thanks for watching, and as always, don’t
forget to like, share and subscribe. See you next time.

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

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