How solitary confinement defined the lives of 14 former and current prison inmates.
Co-editors Pendergrass, a civil rights attorney for the ACLU, and Hoke (co-editor: Palestine Speaks, 2014), an oral historian, believe that solitary confinement “is the little-known dead end of the US criminal justice system” and that its use (and abuse) remains an atrocity. Reinforcing their viewpoints are intimate profiles of prisoners whose histories and experiences put a human face on prison trauma and aptly reflect the work both editors believe is necessary to abolish this inhumane practice. Each profile raises the more universal moral question of whether or not isolation makes the general population safer in the long run or if it’s simply a cruel and unusual method of punishment. To the editors, these biographies are emblematic of a much larger overlooked and ignored population and an issue deserving of widespread attention. Culled from two years of extensive interviews, the book shares the backgrounds of convicts varying in age and experience. Maryam, confined to “the hole” for refusing to remove a religiously sanctioned headscarf, covered her claustrophobic cell with flowers fashioned from toilet paper; Vernesia, a 25-year-old mother of three, got caught up in her fiance’s troubled past and fought for justice after he died from maltreatment; Candie, a psychologically scarred woman (who was eventually acquitted), describes her time in a rusty Rikers Island solitary cell as hellish. More harrowing is the story of Shearod, convicted of second-degree murder, who describes Michigan’s Ionia Maximum facility as loud, rat-infested, and deadly. Sonya, a transgender woman, poignantly speaks of the peace she now enjoys after years of turmoil and unrest in a penitentiary. The editors also include the deliberations and experiences of two prison officers who share their thoughts about American prison life and the controversies surrounding solitary isolation. Further bolstering this important report is an expanded appendix section providing tools for increased public awareness, the little-known history of solitary confinement, and pro-reform activism.
A consistently eye-opening, urgent report on the use and misuse of prisoner isolation.