Solitary hell: Life inside a prison cell

Written By komlim puldel on Sabtu, 07 Februari 2015 | 20.01

A damning report has been released into the failures of solitary confinement in prisons. Source: Getty Images

HE SPENDS 22 hours a day locked up in a 5.5m square cell and can almost touch wall to wall when he spreads his arms.

The cell walls are bare, the floor is concrete and a solid metal door with two thin rectangles offer his only glimpse into life outside his four walls.

Yet the Texas prisoner, known only as Alex, calls the cell his house, because it is the only thing he has known for the past 10 years.

His whole life is spent within these four walls and the only time he ever sees another human being is when guards slide through food to him, which he eats on his bed.

Weeks pass before he even sees another person's face, and his cell constantly smells like urine due to the toilet in the corner.

His story is just one of thousands documented in a damning report into solitary confinement which claims it amounts to torture, offers prisoners no hope of rehabilitation and is among the most harsh punishments in the world.

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This is what a cell looks like for prisoners in isolation in Texas. Picture: Texas Department of Corrections. Source: Supplied

The report, A solitary Failure: The Waste, Cost and Harm of Solitary Confinement published by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, paints a harrowing picture for the 6564 Texas prisoners who are currently locked up in solitary-confinement across the State.

It claims the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) confines 4.4 per cent of its prison population in solitary confinement and locks more people in solitary-confinement cells than twelve states house in their entire prison system.

It also says most prisoners spend on average up to four years in a solitary confinement cell, with more than 100 inmates having spent more than 20 years in one.

The conditions not only fail to offer any hope of rehabilitation or education but leave inmates damaged with most suffering a mental illness due to extreme isolation.

According to the report, people released from solitary are also more likely to commit more new crimes than those released from the rest of the prison system.

Despite this, in 2013, the Texas Department of Justice released 1243 people from solitary-confinement cells into the community.

It also takes note of the high cost of keeping inmates in solitary confinement — $46 million a year and goes on to mention such conferment also leads to rising violence in prisons.

One inmate, known as Alex, has depicted daily life inside his cell. Picture: ACLU of Texas & Texas Civil Rights Project. Source: Supplied

For inmates such as Alex, prison is definitely no holiday, having not seen the sun for a decade.

"I miss that so much," he is quoted in the report.

"One time I was going to the hospital, down to Galveston and we were riding the ferry and the sun was coming up and it was the only one I'd seen in years. I'm a pretty tough guy, but it brought tears to my eyes."

What light he does see is illuminated from a fluorescent bulb which is kept on even during the night, meaning sleep is limited.

Night-time is the worst, but bright lights aren't the only thing stopping him from falling asleep.

The prison is filled with screams because some of the other solitary inmates have gone insane, and cut themselves or eat their own faeces.

"Constant banging, clanking, rage, anger," he writes. "Like a jammed packed area for a boxing match with everyone screaming murder. The night sounds are the worst. More personal and filled with sadness. It sounds like hell.

"I have to be honest. [W]hen your 48 back here and the guy next to you is so crazy he's cutting on his face or eating his faeces. It makes things even worse because you don't know if they came into [solitary] this way, or the walls, this place, has caused it. So you begin to wonder, am I next?"

Inside one of the maximum security cells at the supertax facility in Huntsville, Texas. Source: News Corp Australia

According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, its mission is to provide public safety while promoting positive change in offender behaviour and reintegrate offenders back into society.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas claim this is anything but the case.

Their report comes on top of research findings released last year which found the human mind is not built for the sensory and social isolation of solitary confinement.

Researchers at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago found depriving someone of visual stimulation, human interaction, sunlight or physical activity can change their brain structure in a matter of days.

According to them, there are 80,000 prisoners currently held in solitary confinement in US prisons, with roughly a third estimated to be suffering from mental illnesses.

They also found many end up being affected by conditions including anxiety, depression and have difficulties with impulse control.

A diagram depicting a typical isolation cell in ADX, a US Federal Super maximum security prison in Colorado. Source: Supplied

Solitary confinement also came under the spotlight in July last year when human rights group Amnesty International launched a report into the practice claiming it violated international law.

Entombed: Isolation in the US Federal Prison System, found solitary confinement was callous and dehumanising.

The report which focused on the United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum facility near Florence, Colorado (known as ADX Florence), said solitary confinement had a devastating impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of a prisoner.

Its report claims severe conditions in ADX have led to some prisoners practising extreme self-harm or committing suicide after being left in the cells for up 22 hours per day.

Many prisoners in solitary confinement barely see the light of day. Source: News Corp Australia

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