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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Solitude’s Despair

By Alexander Nazaryan
Newsweek Magazine
Originally published on April 3, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Though daunting, Solitary Confinement is lucid as hell. Lucid about hell, too. Its fundamental premise is that no man is an island, and that throwing inmates into concrete rooms, especially for minor offenses like possessing Black Panther writings or disobeying guards, is an exile no human psyche should (or can) bear. "The absence of even the possibility of touching or being touched by another," Guenther writes, "threatens to unhinge us." Jean-Paul Sartre said hell is other people. Guenther reminds that this hell of Others is far better than the hell of no Others at all. You don't have to care about prisons or prisoners to care about the philosophical valence of the human touch. That, I'm pretty sure, is what this book is really about.

Some researchers have tried to quantify the suffering of solitary confinement. In 2003, Craig W. Haney of the University of California at Santa Cruz published a study of inmates in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, Calif. He found that 88 percent of those in prolonged isolation suffered from irrational anger; chronic depression plagued 77 percent, while violent fantasies visited 61 percent of these prisoners. Nearly a third (27 percent) wanted to kill themselves.

The entire story is here.

In essence, the author is arguing that solitary confinement is an attack on the "self."
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