Over the last several months I’ve written a lot about kids locked away in solitary confinement. The experience of solitary is real to me in a small way having spent time on the isolation units with my young students. I’ve tried to describe what the utter bleakness is like: the stripped down environment, the cold atmosphere of glass, steel and concrete, and the overactive AC systems, the deprivation of not seeing another person for hours, in some cases days at a time.
There are reports and studies documenting what life is like for America’s kids in solitary lock-down. Human Rights Watch “Growing Up Locked Down” and Alternet “The Unbelievable Inhumanity of Solitary Confinement” are two such reports. Each is worth reading.
More powerful than the words of those reports–and remember, I’m a word man struggling to make the suffering of these kids lives palpable –are the drawings that Solitary Watch recently published showing what the inside of an isolation cell looks like. These are powerful pictures. Looking at them I could feel my gut tighten up, my breath shorten. The tomb-like brutality of the place washed over me. Sounds dramatic I know. But I’m not looking for an affect. The sheer stripped down bleakness of the pictures brought it all back.
And they made me think something I’ve thought over and over: if that’s what it was like for me, what must it have been like for the kids I sat with there. If those are my visceral reactions, what might theirs be.
Looking at those drawings makes me wonder, once again, what are we as a nation trying to accomplish by building places like this and locking children up in them?