By Jerome Wright
Covid-19 has caused many the world over to suffer beyond its medical consequences of sickness and death, and has relegated many to be forced to stay indoors. As evidenced by the cries of boredom, being driven up the wall and “I can’t take this any more,” it is obvious that being held hostage – even in one’s own home – is no bed of roses.
I am a survivor of solitary confinement. Although people may try to equate their “isolation” to that of solitary, I can tell you it pales in comparison. If you are being driven crazy by this limited form of staying at home, then you need to multiply those feelings exponentially to even come close to understanding the actual torture of solitary confinement.
Having lived that torture myself for more than seven and a half years, I can attest to the fact that no human being should be subjected to the type of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual degradation that solitary visits upon you, and which stays with you forever. It is man’s inhumanity to man and is absolutely cruel.
Solitary has no redeeming value, makes one bitter not better, and severely compromises both institutional and public safety. For most, it is an unfathomable torture and a traumatic experience that never goes away, regardless of the length of stay.
In solitary there is no family, or even meaningful human contact; no creature comforts of home like cable and other entertainment; and talk about boredom – forget about it! In many solitary cells, you are surrounded by four solid walls with nothing but a closed slot in the door that food is delivered through, your steel toilet in the cell, and potentially a small window that does not go to the outside but simply to an indoor tier.
Not to mention that you spend all of your time, in this space no bigger than your bathroom or a parking space, for days, months, years and sometimes decades. You have no access to programming with other people or the ability to meaningfully interact with other human beings. This type of confinement has long been shown to have devastating physical and mental effects.
So, the next time you think about how boring, uncomfortable or inconvenient the coronavirus has made your life, think about the thousands of men, women and children languishing in solitary confinement who are being tortured to the point of mental illness, self-harm, and sometimes death by suicide.
There is a bill pending in New York State, the HALT, or Humane Alternatives to Long Term, Solitary Confinement Act, which would limit solitary confinement in prisons and jails in line with international standards (aka the “Mandela Rules”), and human dignity. A majority of both the New York State Senate and Assembly supports HALT.
The Legislature must reconvene remotely on April 20, as per their original schedule, and must bring HALT to a vote immediately, and the governor must sign it. If social distancing has allowed you to imagine even a fracti of the horrors of isolation that people in solitary are forced to endure, support HALT solitary and end this torture and death. HALT will save lives.
Jerome Wright is a survivor of solitary confinement and the Western New York organizer for the #HALTsolitary Campaign.