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kottke.org posts about Terrence Slater

What Happens When You Spend Weeks, Months, or Even Years in Solitary Confinement

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2020

This video interview with two former inmates (Five Mualimm-Ak and Terrence Slater) about their experiences in solitary confinement is, well, I was going to says “sobering” but it’s not sobering. It’s fucking infuriating and upsetting. Just to pick one moment, here’s Mualimm-Ak’s answer to “How do you maintain a sense of who you are?”:

You don’t. You live off of your memories because you have nothing else to accumulate to move forward. And then you end up having this short-term memory disorder which is a part of you the consequences of being in solitary where you can’t keep one train of thought for too long. And then you’re dropped off in 42nd Street-Times Square, the biggest tourist spot in the world, with 20 million commuters. It’s a sensory overload.

As Atul Gawande wrote in the New Yorker in 2003, solitary confinement is legalized torture by the state. Here’s more from a Psychology Today article on how long-term solitary can change your perception of the world:

Being confined in a 6x9-foot cell for almost 30 years, with very limited contact with other humans or physical exercise, surely has consequences on one’s overall health, including the brain. King knew that solitary confinement was changing the way his brain worked. When he finally left his cell, he realized he had trouble recognizing faces and had to retrain his eyes to learn what a face was like. His sense of direction was also messed up, and he was unable to follow a simple route in the city by himself. It is as if his brain had erased all those capabilities that were no longer necessary for survival in a cell no bigger than the back of a pick-up truck.

A couple of things from the video that merit your attention. The first is Hell Is a Very Small Place, a book of stories by people who are now or have been in solitary confinement. And second, Mualimm-Ak started an organization called Incarcerated Nation Network “an abolition alliance network dedicated to transforming the prison industrial complex & ending torture” — join me in sending a donation to them? (via open culture)