How to survive solitary confinement

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The books I’ve read by people stuck in tye Gulag tend to be descrptive of how to deal with it. Decades ago I read a book by an American woman who landed in a Chinese prison. Papillon of course was about prisons in French Guyana. I bet POW first hand accounts would give an idea.

Fifty years ago there was a book, “Doing Time”, I.forget the author but it had an intro by Howard Levy (he was a US army doctor who refused to teach green berets because he felt it just helped killing and did two years) . It was aimed at people who were getting busted for poltical crimes, anti-war, civil rights, drug use. Less of a shared experience of going to prison than non-white or deliberate criminals. So a primer of what to expect was useful.




How do you keep your grip on what’s real, and what only exists in the world in your head?


Maybe it’s better if they merge. :frowning:


This pretty much confirms what I’ve already discovered. I spend way too much time inside my own head. But every time I get a chance to pop out and see for myself whats going on out there, my head doesn’t seem like such a bad place to be. Being crazy may not be a choice in these times, but its always an option to choose a wholesome, Addams family/Coraline sort of crazy, rather than a Joker/Donnie Darko kind of crazy.


Like bodybuilding


May 10, 1967: Army Captain Howard Levy Refuses to Train Green Berets During Vietnam War


My list of priorities in solitary confinement would be:

  1. Understand my goal, intimately. Know it and keep it front and center and develop some way to remind myself of this goal if it ever starts to slip. The goal is getting out of solitary and back to normal. So, some kind of totem or note or mantra or something, anything, to keep my primary goal in mind and bring it back to mind if it seems forgotten or slipping or I get distracted by sickness, mental anguish, etc.

  2. Find the limits of what I can get away with ASAP. Can I get a notebook and a pen or pencil? Can I get some workout equipment? A library card and a steady flow of books? Can I get a radio or an Xbox with a live connection to the internet and some visitors in a few weeks? I mean, where is the line? Obviously I wouldn’t get most of that, but I would need to find the boundaries and then gather my materials, based on where that line is.

  3. Develop my own routine around whatever materials for sanity-keeping that I could gather. A workout routine. Stuff I’m working on mentally. Songs. Poetry. Dances. And practice them at set times. Understand the prison’s schedule perfectly. Know when my meals are coming and anything at all that I can regularize, as much as possible. If I know the patterns and they try to throw me, then I have a foothold to regain my sanity and not freak out. These little things would be extremely important.

  4. Have a plan for when things get really bad. This one is harder to pre-determine. But the idea is that beyond remembering my goal, I need a personal action plan for how to deal with adversity. It could be sickness. Or neglect. Or mental anguish, or depression, anger, rage, sadness. Any state that is beyond normal. A plan that includes coping skills like taking personal inventory, remembering those who love me, visualizations and imaginations, songs, self-counseling, prayers, active exercises in mindfulness, etc.

I could probably think of more things, but this is where I’d start if I were confined to solitary.


Hmmm… an imaginary friend, then. You could name him Wilson.


Handy advice for Americans, residents of the only rich democracy that still uses extended solitary confinement.


I’m imagining all of you right now.




This is pretty much exactly the life strategy I’ve adopted in the last couple of years. Am I… in solitary confinement right now?


I was in solitary when I was 19 for over five months and it messed me up. I ate toothpaste because I was so hungry and wiped myself with my hand. This was over twenty years ago. Obviously, I made terrible choices that landed me in this spot, but isolation is rather awful. I feel like we are better than all that.


It boils down to whether or not you can control it like you were in a lucid dream. If it only seems to exist in your head, yet stubbornly resists efforts to edit it, then, like it or not, you’ve got something real to deal with.

Isometric exercise can still work okay in the mental realm as well as the muscular, you just have to know your own limits so you don’t accidentally dislocate your own superego.

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It remains to be seen if we’re still a democracy.


I gather that long enough ago, prisons were a lot worse to start with. So even without being “in solitary” prisonersspent little time with others. Exercise time and dining hall, the rest alone in their cells, limited visits and only from a tiny.list of people, evenlimited mail.

Robert Stroud lived that way mostof his life, which of course was how long he was in prison. Some might know him as The Birdman of Alcatraz (though he was never allowed birds at Alcatraz), I read the book with that title years ago.

I was going to guess “yoga.”

I think one could lose track of years doing a mantra, maybe slowing down your heart rate until they thought you were dead.

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