Solitary Confinement: Cruel and Inhuman Solitary confinement is one of the most controversial and widely used forms of punishment within the U.S. prison system. Independent producer Claire Schoen brings us this story of nine former prisoners as they describe their experiences in solitary confinement. This story comes to us form the NPR series Hearing Voices.
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Solitary Confinement: Cruel and Inhuman

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Solitary Confinement: Cruel and Inhuman

Solitary Confinement: Cruel and Inhuman

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Back now with Day to Day. President Obama has called for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Human organizations condemn Guantanamo for a number of questionable practices, including solitary confinement. The U.N. calls the practice a form of torture.


Some prisoners here in the U.S. are held in solitary, and human rights groups have also condemned that practice. Here now are nine former prisoners describing their experiences in solitary confinement.

Unidentified Man #1: The hole, the bucket, the can.

Unidentified Man #2: The box, the hole, the bing.

Unidentified Woman #1: The chiller.

Unidentified Man #2: Locked up.

Unidentified Woman #1: Maxi-maxi.

Unidentified Man #3: The shoe(ph).

Unidentified Man #4: Solitary confinement.

Unidentified Man #3: The cell was probably like maybe seven feet, maybe nine feet long.

Unidentified Man #5: Maybe nine by six.

Unidentified Woman #2: It's very small.

Unidentified Man #6: The cell was a windowless cell.

Unidentified Man #3: The walls were cinderblock.

Unidentified Man #6: The floor, it was concrete.

Unidentified Man #7: The bed is concrete. There's a small concrete slab that serves as your table.

Unidentified Man #3: You had nothing in the room but you.

Unidentified Man #4: It's hard to describe nothing.

Unidentified Woman #2: Just your lonely body in a cell that's empty. That's what solitary confinement is.

Unidentified Man #2: Metal and cement, that was it.

Unidentified Man #3: The light...

Unidentified Man #2: There's lights on most of the night.

Unidentified Man #3: Double neon light.

Unidentified Man #4: The light would be on sometime 24/7. It never went out.

Unidentified Man #4: The situation I was in, they never turn the lights on. The lights were out 24 hours a day. There was a big door that closed, and you didn't hear anything outside the door.

Unidentified Man #7: It can get eerily quiet in these places.

Unidentified Man #3: Really quiet.

Unidentified Man #7: Most of what you're going to hear is your own breathing. You might here your heart rate pumping up.

(Soundbite of heartbeat)

Unidentified Man #7: And so when there is a noise, it's just nerve-wracking.

Unidentified Man #3: Coming on to the tier, it's a heavy steel door and it opens electrically, which means you get...

(Soundbite of buzzing and steel door opening)

Unidentified Man #4: I really wanted to talk to somebody, you know, to somebody to be there.

Unidentified Man #1: You can go days without talking to people. Sometimes weeks, sometime months.

Unidentified Man #4: You can't touch anyone.

Unidentified Man #5: No, no human touch.

Unidentified Woman #1: Except for aggressive touching by guards when they would come in to chain me up to take me out.

Unidentified Man #6: Even if you have family, there's no contact visits at all.

Unidentified Man #2: There's a glass in front of you where the person visiting you on the other side.

Unidentified Man #7: My daughters were trying to kiss the glass and kiss me through the glass.

Unidentified Man #6: It was painful - it was very painful.

Unidentified Man #2: I've spent seven and a half years in the control unit.

Unidentified Man #4: Maybe about 12 years in lockdown.

Unidentified Man #1: I was there for 29 years, you know.

Unidentified Man #3: Many, many years in solitary confinement.

(Soundbite of echo)

Unidentified Man #4: Solitary confinement is just as real as real could be. It could warp the mind.

Unidentified Woman #2: It damages you psychological, you know, because human beings need to interact with each other.

Unidentified Man #4: It's not normal to be in the dark for days and days and days on end.

Unidentified Man #2: I could hardly sleep, like I would have insomnia.

Unidentified Man #3: Waking up at night in the sweats, panic attacks.

Unidentified Man #2: It would trigger something in my nerves. I would break out in hives from head to toe.

Unidentified Man #5: I lost track of time.

(Soundbite of clock ticking)

Unidentified Man #6: There's no concept of time, you don't know no time, in lockdown. There's sleep and awakeness. That's it. In the madness, in between the madness...

(Soundbite of echo)

Unidentified Woman #1: I would try to hear things, try to hear human voices and sometimes I would imagine that I was hearing noises.

Unidentified Man #6: You start hearing things that's not even being said.

Unidentified Man #3: And say, yeah. You know, yeah, what? And nobody is answering.

(Soundbite of screaming)

Unidentified Man #6: The anger, the rage, bitterness, the anxiety, the nightmares. And as years passed, it just seem like the walls in the cell begin to close in. They begin to close in. You can feel your mind like trying to escape from you.

Unidentified Man #3: And what happens is chaos.

Unidentified Man #4: Insanity.

(Soundbite of echo)

Unidentified Man #6: They'll say the end of the barrel. That's what the prisoner officials call it.

Unidentified Man #4: Call it maximum security, the administrative segregation.

Unidentified Woman #1: Control unit, stigma unit.

Unidentified Man #4: Isolation.

Unidentified Woman #1: Special housing.

Unidentified Man #5: Lhasa lhasa(ph).

Unidentified Man #4: You know, on and on and on and on and on.

Unidentified Man #2: So many...

Unidentified Woman #2: I will say torture chambers. No other way to describe them.

Unidentified Man #2: Of course, it's torture. It's torture in every form or fashion.

BRAND: Our piece was produced by Claire Schoen for the NPR series, "Hearing Voices."

COHEN: The men and women who shared their stories were Robert Delaylo(ph), Munira Elbomani(ph), Tommy Escarsega(ph), Rayluk Lavasier(ph).

BRAND: Also, King Archangel, Hakim Shahid, Belal Suni Ali(ph), Laura Whitehorn(ph) and Robert King Wilkerson(ph).

COHEN: To see photographs of the people in the story, go to

BRAND: I'm Madeleine Brand.

COHEN: I'm Alex Cohen.

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