No human contact: on the origins of solitary confinement as a software for managing psychological sickness

No critical dialog about legal justice reform may be carried out with out learning the lives of Thomas Silverstein and Clayton Fountain and the position every performed in increasing using solitary confinement and solitary confinement in America’s prisons.

In October 1983, they individually murdered two correctional officers in the identical cell block in the identical jail. Each had already killed different prisoners within the jail. Each have been related to the Aryan Brotherhood, a wild white jail gang.

In 1983, there was no federal loss of life penalty, and jail officers argued that convicts like Silverstein and Fountain had nothing to worry by persevering with to kill. To guard different inmates and guards, each males have been positioned underneath what was dubbed: NO HUMAN CONTACT. Stripped all the way down to their boxer shorts, Silverstein and Fountain have been moved into isolation cells the scale of king mattresses.

The partitions have been white, the lights burned 24 hours a day, the cell doorways have been stable metal. No radios, no tv, no newspapers, nothing was allowed of their cells besides a skinny mattress and bathroom. No mail, neither incoming nor outgoing. Silverstein and Fountain have been sealed off from the skin world as in the event that they have been characters in Edgar Allan Poe’s traditional The cask of Amontillado, the place a sufferer was buried behind a brick wall unable to flee. Officers privately hoped that each males would finish their very own lives, however neither did. Restrictions have been regularly relaxed, not out of kindness, however out of necessity. It proved tough to regulate a prisoner with out having one thing to carry to ensure good habits.

Amazingly, Silverstein and Fountain discovered function of their lives. Each finally rejected the Aryan Brotherhood and its violence. Fountain turned a Trappist monk; he died alone in 2004 after 21 years in his solitary confinement cell. Silverstein turned an achieved artist whereas dwelling 36 years in solitary confinement, the longest of any federal prisoner, earlier than his loss of life in 2019.

The murders they dedicated in 1983 have been used to justify the development of the primary federal Tremendous Max jail, the place in the present day inmates spend twenty-three hours alone in cells manufactured from thick poured concrete behind two doorways with restricted contact with the skin world. Forty states have copied the Tremendous Max mannequin. The Division of Justice studies that 80,000 males, ladies and youngsters are held in solitary confinement on any given day in America.

This expanded use of solitary confinement has been proven to be significantly dangerous to prisoners with recognized psychological sicknesses. A consequence of the deinstitutionalization motion that started within the Nineteen Sixties with the closing of state psychological hospitals helped make prisons and jails the first custodians of the severely mentally ailing.

There are extra mentally ailing Individuals in prisons than in psychiatric hospitals. Many have been arrested for minor crimes associated to their delusions, solely to be charged with extra critical crimes for breaking the principles as soon as they have been imprisoned. Federal jail officers promised that no mentally ailing prisoners could be held in its Tremendous Max jail due to the recognized dangerous results of solitary confinement. Nonetheless, Silverstein reported extreme psychological decline, and a fellow prisoner tried suicide a number of occasions, chopping his arms, legs, and abdomen, and at last chopping off a fingertip and consuming it.

One other inmate practically starved after he was denied meals for disobeying orders. So emaciated that he couldn’t stroll upright, he lay on the ground of his cell surrounded by his personal excrement. Because the scent seeped underneath his cell door and into the jail, guards positioned sandbags round its base to lure the scent.

I wrote No human contact to doc the historical past behind the escalation of solitary confinement, look at the results of long-term solitary confinement, and ask the query: Are any folks really irredeemable? Listed here are 5 titles that have a look at the psychological well being of incarcerated populations.


Alisa Roth, Insane: America’s Legal Remedy of Psychological Sickness

Journalist Alisa Roth takes readers deep inside America’s jails and prisons to disclose how and why they turned warehouses for folks with critical psychological sicknesses, revealing establishments riddled with inappropriate remedy and outright abuse. Her fair-minded method stings as she describes how each prisoners and people who guard them usually really feel trapped with few instruments in a violent surroundings that always causes additional struggling slightly than offering remedy and rehabilitation.

Waiting for an echo

Christine Montross, Ready For An Echo: The Insanity of American Incarceration

Hospitalized psychiatrist Dr. Christine Montross makes use of her eager eye, analytical expertise and writing expertise to explain these left behind in our prisons and jails with psychological sickness. She places a human face on the inmates she meets. If a person in isolation feels himself slipping, feels the truth of the world round him slipping, he seeks a solution to reassure him, to anchor him to actuality. Aggression and self-harm are subsequently not solely about inflicting injury or attracting consideration, however about in search of probably the most fundamental confirmations of the continued existence of the self.

Madness in the streets

Rael Jean Isaac and Virginia C. Armat, Insanity within the streets: How psychiatry and the regulation deserted the mentally ailing

Insanity within the streets presents an in depth authorized clarification of how society’s good intentions to shut state hospitals in favor of native care have gone astray. Deinstitutionalization and well-intentioned civil rights legal guidelines have created an surroundings the place households and psychological well being suppliers are pressured to face by and watch as Individuals with critical psychological sicknesses roam our streets till they exhibit indicators of imminent hazard, which then causes a arrest. Those that do not work out usually die (of neglect) with their rights on them. A pioneering work.


Dinah Miller and Annette Hanson, Engaged: The combat for involuntary psychiatric remedy

Dedicated examines the political battle being fought between those that oppose any type of involuntary psychiatric hospitalization, irrespective of how ailing a person, and people who insist that involuntary dedication is usually the one method to save somebody who’s misplaced in a world of delusion and paranoia. If severely ailing people have been ordered by the courts to simply accept remedy, would there be much less homelessness and inappropriate incarceration and at what value, since research have proven that medicine can assist some however can hurt others? A thought-provoking overview that features interviews with Scientologists who query whether or not psychological sickness is actual, in addition to parent-backed organizations that argue an absence of perception prevents these most ailing from evaluating what’s finest for them self.

Stories from the shadows

James J. O’Connell, Tales From The Shadows: Reflections of a Road Physician

is a heartfelt, poignant account of a physician’s look after the homeless, addicted and mentally ailing on the streets of Boston, biking misplaced in plain sight between sidewalks, jails and morgues. His tales could be miserable if advised by a much less gifted author, however Dr. OConnell’s compassion for his sufferers offers us a greater understanding of these we cross every day. Dr. OConnell realized humility early on by washing sufferers’ contaminated and swollen ft, which taught him the therapeutic energy of empathy and listening, which typically seems to be extra of a tonic than a psychotropic drug. Though Dr. OConnell shouldn’t be a journalist, the honesty of his phrases is far stronger than any intelligent wordsmith.


No human contact

Pete Earley is the creator of No Human Contact: Solitary Confinement, Most Safety, and Two Inmates Who Modified the Systemobtainable now from Kensington Publishing Corp.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *