|Mock solitary cell on display during the Capitol Hill hearing.|
“Solitary confinement does one thing, it breaks a man's will to live and he ends up deteriorating,” testified Texas death row exoneree Anthony Graves, before a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Tuesday. The hearing, convened by Subcommittee chair Senator Richard Durbin, was the first of its kind at the federal level on the issue of solitary confinement.
For over 18 years, Graves spent 22 to 24 hours in an 8-by-12 foot cell, with a steel bed, small desk, toilet and a small window. Inside the hearing room was a replica of such a cell that approximates the living conditions of over 80,000 incarcerated individuals. Psychologist Craig Haney testified that “the cells themselves are often scarcely larger than the size of a king sized bed. Prisoners thus eat, sleep, and defecate each day in areas just a few feet apart from one another.”
It’s a nightmare scenario I’ve read about for the past year in my work on this issue for Solitary Watch. Again and again, I have received letters from individuals held in isolation units across the country, sometimes for 10, 20, and 30 years describing terrible psychological pain. One individual, isolated for over five years, described daily life as consisting of “reading, writing, crying and begging for death.”