The first time I experienced solitary confinement was a 2 week stint at the Maine Youth Center when I was 16. After stealing a disposable Bic razor from a staff member's desk a kid try to earn a home pass caught me and told staff. As punishment for the theft I was taken to a darkened row of cells that stank of mildew and cleaning chemicals. They stripped me of everything but my underwear and slammed the door shut. There were no books, magazines, television, or radio and my only relief from the monotony came in the form of self-mutilation with sharp rocks, singing half-remembered songs from school and church, and defiance. They were two very long weeks but enduring the hole as a teen was more like a scary right of passage, one that clings like a nightmare.
A year later, back at the youth center for running from a cop and violating my probation, they put me in the hole for a month because I dared to flee. This time the hole was harder because I knew just enough to understand the guards were not my friends. They in turn proved this by shutting off the lights during the day and serving meals at varying times. Showers and our 1 hour of rec out of the cell were sporadic. One kid tried to kill himself, and because he was unsuccessful, was tormented by staff for his failure. This was in 1995.
By the time I was charged with capital murder in 1997 my familiarity with the hole prepared me for the twenty months I would spend on 23 hour lock down at the county jail. The time became the hardest of my life for more reasons than being confined in a cell. Though I had access to books and magazines the emotional impact of being charged with murder, the doubts and suspicions of friends and family, and the thought of spending the rest of my life in this tiny space broke me.
I grew so angry during this period I punched the steel mirror upon seeing my reflection, or the wall wishing it would crumble. My hands stayed swollen a lot. I cried for the lives that had been lost -- including my own. Eventually I tried suicide, and when failure brought me back to the same cell I died inside. The cell became an extension of my thoughts and they ended in its cold corners.
I have not spent years in the hole like some of my friends, but the signs of their long ordeal are apparent. Everyone I know of who has spent a minimum of two years in solitary confinement displays some form of dysfunctional behavior. Obsessive cleaning, sleeping fully clothed, talking to themselves, fits of rage --whatever it is they do we prisoners as a group can tell who has left a part of their mind in the hole. Even the most defiant can break eventually.
Yes, the hole is torture, but the asker already knew that, and so did the people who designed the practice and implemented its use in the penal system. The question that needs to be asked is: why is the hole still used if we know it's torture?