What’s life like in solitary confinement? – BBC News

[Music] when i opened the door and then the door closed behind me my life went with it i walked right into hell they call it the box the whole the atmosphere itself is closing in on it you know you get this feeling where you you being smothered almost you know it's a place where many lose their mind their connection to the world is being stripped away i've seen men cut their own wrist their neck or they just going insane you know nothing they say makes sense solitary confinement is seen by many u.s prison staff as essential to keeping order what do we do with the individual that gives another inmate 150 stitches across his face but should it be legal if i commit suicide it's because of solitary deep south mississippi i'm on my way to meet a man who spent a lifetime as jailer to the most violent criminals burl kane believes there are some prisoners who need to be sealed up alone in solitary indefinitely the most dangerous prisoner is the sexual predator that's like the lion in the jungle the serial killer the one who don't even know you but he attacks and he kills you they're really dangerous and i'm not sure you have any cure for them those people you have to put away so you can't ever let them get away kane an active christian believes solitary can change inmates for the better and says nowadays solitary is nothing like as bad as people imagine so you don't want them in there it's a prison that's old-timey dungeon type thing we don't want to do that at all you make people crazy in there and then you have to get out of the cell every day and have exercise a place to walk up and down a tear and so forth that still means 22 hours or more a day in a small cell organizations that monitor the use of solitary estimate over sixty thousand inmates are in isolation and say the numbers have spiraled since the pandemic suicides are common in prisons across america this is contraband footage said to have been shot by an inmate in mississippi last year a prisoner had slit his wrists [Music] studies suggest that those held in solitary are six times more likely than other inmates to kill themselves you said that was the segregation unit right segregation unit can we go see inside the solitary so the segregation unit it would not be good because the covey and island we haven't toured any prison no one's been in there but him and his staff [Music] what is really going on behind the shroud of prison walls in solitary cells we've all now experienced lockdown in our homes but try to imagine being confined to a room the size of your bathroom for 22 hours a day indefinitely [Music] what would happen to your mind [Music] i headed three hours south to new orleans to meet a man who survived almost 45 years in solitary it feel like the whole the atmosphere itself is closing in on it you know you get this feeling where you you're being smothered almost you know i remember the very first time uh i experienced a claustrophobic attack i was sleeping and i woke up and the bunk above me was was right there you know about a couple of inches from my face you know that was your perception yeah and i couldn't move you know so you felt like you were being yeah literally i was being pressed down you know by the very atmosphere itself [Music] in solitary units across america prisoners complain of a lack of mental health care i've seen them screaming for it in prisons across the country for years [Music] homer venter worked as the chief medical officer at rikers island jail new york i have had many patients who very quickly develop problems with auditory hallucinations for example or even visual hallucinations it's because their connection to the world is being stripped away and so the ability of solitary confinement to cause psychological harm can be very acute and it can happen very quickly far off the beaten track in the backwoods of louisiana is the prison where albert woodfox spent decades in solitary i've been in contact with prisoners around the country cataloging inmate accounts of conditions and solitary should we go good billy blake is a prisoner in upstate new york who murdered a policeman he's been in solitary for 34 years for decades he says he wasn't allowed even one phone call this one a glimpse into a closed world how are you doing hello hello billy said prisoners threw feces and screamed all night in solitary he's had to fight off insanity i've seen mentally ill people rock back and forth back and forth i started rocking and then i caught myself this is what crazy people do next thing you know they're playing with feces or urinating on the floor i didn't want that to happen to me you consciously stopped yourself from going insane well i don't know if that's what did it but that's what i have done the united nations has defined more than 15 days in solitary as torture do you what do you say about about that i'm not torturing them because i'm going to feed them good and we're going to try every day to get them to come out of there and live peacefully with the others but until he says that until he wants to act right i have no choice but to protect the others leave him over here [Music] as decades of his life went by in the box albert woodfox held on to his sanity the memory of his mother his strength but on the day of her funeral he was still trapped between his four close walls i lost my mind i actually thought it thought about commit committing suicide the only time in 44 years 44 years 10 months that i ever considered taking my own life when i lost my mind woodfox accused of killing a prison guard has always maintained his innocence he was released in 2016.

The length of his incarceration shocked many around the world he's become a leading figure in the fight against solitary over a thousand miles away new york a city whose leaders see solitary as wrong and have started limiting its use with a view to banning it but corrections officers in new york are furious one of their leaders benny bossio says the reforms have been a disaster there's an increase in assaults on correction officers up 23 percent we have to be able to segregate those people because you know if we have a society without consequences then we'll just have total anarchy in our streets total anarchy in our jails which is is pretty much happening now because the consequences for inmates have been so watered down and they know it isn't the problem that many of those in solitary are not the really dangerous criminals they're people who've broken minor rules or are suicidal that's just not the case minor infractions people do not end up in silence in pune segregation [Music] but what happened to candy haley a mother of two and child care provider she was held at rikers on an attempted murder charge that was later dropped candy was put in solitary after an altercation with a guard accused of other minor offenses she was kept in solitary for three years if hell had a description or a definition it would be solitary confinement the cell was like a elevator that you're stuck in for 24 hours [Music] locked in her cell almost around the clock candy decided there was only one way out all you're thinking about is trying to kill yourself i swallow pills i cut my arms take a spoon or fork or whatever i could find a pencil a pen whatever i could find cut my arms up rikers island jail wouldn't comment on candy's case but pointed out that new york's making groundbreaking reforms solitary destroyed candy a previously functioning and healthy adult so what does it do to children that's him this is ronnie peterson's home in shreveport louisiana and this his adopted 13 year old son solon he loved to play hockey that was his favorite sport he was gifted with music he loved playing guitar he could talk to anybody and made friends easily and just wanted to have a good time with everyone it was a friday in february 2019 solon who had adhd had set fire to a bin at his school he was taken to a juvenile detention center like other children he ended up in solitary for misbehaving children left in these cells alone deteriorate quickly a few days later ronnie was finally allowed to see his son [Music] i could talk to him through a little bitty four inch window and talk to him through the door and see him through the window and you could tell it was kind of breaking him down he was punching the wall and his his knuckles i remember were a little bit bruised we were told that he was going to get out that night or at the latest the next morning but he didn't this footage shows the corridor outside soul and cell on his fifth night in solitary in the dead of night an officer realized solon had hanged himself i got a phone call at two o'clock in the morning saying that he was dead solon's parents gave permission for use of this footage they want to highlight the horrific consequences of putting their 13 year old in solitary i think i was more in shock than anything else to where you don't really feel a whole lot in the moment um you kind of go numb and you're in shock i mean he's a normal teenage boy and he was happy most of the time ware youth center says it can't discuss individual cases for legal reasons research shows that in the year after release from prison former inmates are nearly twice as likely to kill themselves if they've been in solitary if i commit suicide it's because of solitary if i ever succeed solitary confinement is torture i'm here with you physically but i feel like i'm going to wake up and it's going to be i'm going to be back in solitary like this is just a dream because it's so unbelievable that i went through that benny bossio still believes strongly that solitary is an essential tool for keeping jail safe if you're allowed out of punitive segregation and you do not change your behavior you can continue to assault and use weapons against correction officers use weapons against non-violent inmates what do we do with you that's that's the magic question right i've been to many prison settings where people come out of their cells for several hours a day they may engage in programming and even interaction with others but it's in a way that's secure where they're not you know able to harm each other oh man you wouldn't believe how excited i feel billy called again i ecstatic almost like i'm going home for more than half his life he's been locked up alone in what he calls a cage he's just heard he's to be allowed out of solitary to live with other prisoners after 34 years [Music] and you're just going to normal normal prison right it feels almost like i'm like i'm returning to the human race you know that's how it feels and i'm mad excited i'm smiling all day bailey will soon be with others but many thousands of american inmates face years alone with their minds you

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