Did You See This?

Alone in a Cell

The nightmare of solitary confinement in America’s prisons.

The unforgettable voices in this video from Sister make it clear that solitary confinement is a brutal form of punishment. If our prisons don’t commit outright torture, this is as close as one could imagine them coming. Filmmaker Cali Bondad and reporter Gabrielle Canon spoke to some of the men at supermax Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, California about their experiences in solitary. “It’s not to the point where you want to commit suicide,” says one prisoner, before breaking down into tears and admitting there are times that he wishes he had received the death penalty.

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In solitary, a prisoner spends 22.5 hours a day alone in an 8-foot–by–10-foot cell—no windows, no anything. An hour each day, they get access, alone, to a closet-sized courtyard with a small patch of sky above. Some people have seen nothing more than that patch of sky for, says one prisoner, “longer than I’ve been alive.”

Listening to these voices from behind bars is harrowing. These prisoners face hours, weeks, months, years of nothing but “hopelessness, agony, pain, hatred, frustration, a sense of continuous silently screaming,” as one prisoner puts it. You can read the accompanying article by Canon to learn more about the movement to limit solitary confinement in America’ prisons.

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