By: Jason Walker, Contributing Writer
After spending over five years in solitary confinement, I have finally come to realize that solitary confinement is known torture — and the prisoners aren’t the only ones who know this. There have been extensive studies that have shown that lengthy periods of isolation can cause a number of mental and psychological setbacks.
In a report concerning CIA torture, expert of sensory deprivation, Dr. Albert Biderman, reported: “the effect of isolation on the brain function of the prisoner is much like that which occurs if he is beaten, starved, or deprived of sleep.” Dr. Biderman also noted that the effects of sensory deprivation were similar to, if not worse than, physical torture.
Also noted in a study by Dr. Craig Haney at the University of California Santa Cruz on the effects of solitary confinement: “To summarize, there is not a single published study of solitary or supermax-like confinement in which non-voluntary confinement, lasting for longer than 10 days where participants were unable to terminate their isolation at will, failed to result in negative psychological effects.” The damaging effects ranged in severity and included such clinically significant symptoms as hypertension, uncontrollable anger, hallucinations, emotional breakdowns, chronic breakdowns and suicidal thoughts and behavior.
Dr. Craig Haney, Expert on the psychological effects of Solitary Confinement:
Direct studies of prison isolation have documented an extremely broad range of harmful psychological reactions. These effects include increases in the following potentially damaging symptoms and problematic behaviors: negative attitudes and affect, insomnia, anxiety, panic, withdrawal, hypersensitivity, ruminations, cognitive dysfunction, hallucinations, loss of control, irritability, aggression, and rage, paranoia, hopelessness, lethargy, depression, a sense of impending emotional breakdown, self-mutilation, and suicidal ideation and behavior.”
What’s sad about the whole ordeal is the fact that these researchers are only doing a study that has a range and time limit of observation. Just imagine what I’m going through and what I’ve observed in the past five years being around the same individuals day in and day out?
One case amongst several that I want to point out is a prisoner I will call “Poo-poo.” This particular inmate has been locked up for over three decades, with two of them being spent in solitary confinement. The effects of what has happened to him are obviously permanent and only getting worse as the days tick away.
This individual (when awake) spends his days hollering, kicking, banging, pacing and ranting and raving. All it takes is for him to conjecture that something being said or done is against him and the results are: several hours long of indecent and vulgar name calling to no one in particular, since what or who he thinks is against him is nothing more than schizoid and psychotic auditory hallucinations. Due to his dysfunctional behavior, staff and inmates alike have developed hatred towards him and, as a cause of punishment for his uncontrollable behavior, staff had maintenance remove his electrical outlets to prevent him from doing anything other than being disruptive. Since he has no way of utilizing his power, he can’t listen to the radio or use his fan to ward off the summer heat, so his thoughts of everybody being out to get him are partially true, which intensifies his rage and opens up a Pandora’s box for future events.
Another case I want to elaborate on is that of an inmate I will call “Turbo.” This inmate doesn’t kick, scream or disrupt the environment. He keeps quiet, stays in the dark and, at times of extreme stress, will cut deep gashes in his neck, arms and temple and will quietly bleed to death if a spectating inmate doesn’t bring it to the staff’s attention. I’ve bared witness to his cutting charade three times and each time staff and medical just put him on suicide watch status for several days and then send him back to a cell on the same pod.
This inmate, just like Poo-poo, has spent 10+ years in solitary confinement and has no outside support or support from staff and inmates. These two cases are different but they are both examples of how solitary confinement has more than one way to suck a victim into its vacuum of ill-fated pandemonium.
Staff and the administration alike have found ways to try and suppress or fabricate the reality of the harmful effects caused by solitary confinement. The most common notion of monomania, that these inmates behave like this to get attention, is absurd and illogical. Due to humans being naturally social, it would take a fool to believe that being restricted from direct and constant contact with sounds and common themes that are essential to one’s social development and mental stimuli won’t have a dramatic affect if they are stripped against one’s will.
More precisely, the torturous effects of solitary confinement were given scientific study by the CIA and military in efforts to refine its application as a deliberate torture technique. This was exposed by Alfred McCoy in an exhaustive exposé following, and in response to, the 2004 military CIA torture scandal. McCoy revealed that this method of torture was studied and refined as part of a $1 billion a year CIA torture research and development project spanning from 1950 to 1962.
One of the earlier experiments was conducted under CIA contract by Dr. Donald Hebb at McGill University, where he found that hallucinations and severe mental breakdown could be consistently induced within 48 hours by cutting a person off from external sensory stimulation which is, in effect, what solitary confinement does.
In a 1951 study, Dr. Donald Hebb tested his theory that sensory deprivation could break a person in a matter of days. He hoped to observe his subjects [paid male university students] for six weeks, but the majority of them lasted no more than a few days in isolation—and none more than a week.
From Hebb’s study: “Prolonged exposure to a monotonous environment, then, has definitely deleterious effects. The individual’s thinking is impaired; he shows childish emotional responses; his visual perception becomes disturbed; he suffers from hallucinations; his brain-wave pattern changes.”
Not only is this 100% true, but the entire solitary confinement area plays in effect to this. Just by one inmate screaming, kicking and being disruptive day-in-and-day-out for years can drive the most sane inmate crazy, if he is forced to bear witness to such insensible doldrums without a way to block it out.
Due to the fact that the administration and the government are aware of the effects of isolation and still refuse to acknowledge it goes to show that solitary is torture.
Jason Walker is serving 18 years in Texas for Aggravated Burglary.
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Jason Walker #1532092
9601 Spur 591
Amarillo TX 79107