The invisible scars of solitary confinement


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This article illustrates well how prison time is not about protecting people from criminals, rehabilitation or a deterrent for anti-social behavior but simply about punishment. Psychological punishment is the absolute worst.

As an introvert, solitary confinement sounds like not a bad deal at first. And for an introvert, short periods of solitary confinement probably would be better than being in general population except for the additional restriction of not being allowed to have anything in your cell. For an extrovert, even if they were allowed materials to pursue their hobbies, it sounds horrible.

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Luckly we live in a universe which is relative by nature, solitary confinement is nothing more than dissociation from the outside world, just described in a sad way. Comtemplatives for centuries if not milenia have thought us that this isn’t torture, in fact quite the contrary it frees us from the apparent ilusory personality which we feel is very real to us. We think the moment we wake up till the moment we go to sleep, this incessant way of thinking give rise to this personality, that’s why giving it pause feels like torture.


I guess it would all depend on how you react to depersonalization, derealization, and ego-death. From what I’ve read, certain forms of Buddhist meditation can induce any or all of these states– and as you’ve hinted, attainment of such states is often the tacit goal.

To the extent that such states allow one to perceive the continuity of life, the universe, and everything, I suppose that perspective might be helpful in daily life. But to have that perspective necessarily requires that the person return to their egocentric state (albiet now enlightened). Doesn’t sound like solitary allows such a return.

The passage below seems pretty relevant at this point, so I’ll just leave it here:

“A considerable evil of imprisonment is the denial of most distractive options. And as terms for deliverance by other means are poor as well, the prisoner will tend to stay in the close vicinity of despair. The acts he then commits to deflect the final stage have a warrant in the principle of vitality itself. In such a moment he is experiencing his soul within the universe, and has no other motive than the utter inendurability of that condition.” -Peter Wessel Zapffe, The Last Messiah (1933)

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What an awful way to rationalize this. Swimming is good for you when you choose to do it, and forcing someone off a ship in the middle of the ocean remains an act of terrible cruelty. There is nothing acceptable in such punishments; that some ascetics have said good things about removing yourself from the outside world says nothing about trapping someone else away from it.


AKA the not-so-invisible scars of solitary confinement:

Held by Israel in secret in a secret prision, facing 10 years in jail. Dude kills himself. Family gets paid 1.2mil to not sue the asshole government of Israel. Netanyahu is a fucking criminal.

‘Contemplatives’ as a class (while I prefer to leave them to their hobbies without interference, if that’s what they want) are almost certainly a terrible choice for anything resembling a psych baseline.

People do all sorts of meditation, and solitary-physical-stress-in-the-wilderness, and shamanic hallucinogens, and so on and so forth; but that’s not really a model for acceptable standard of care for state prisoners.

Skoptsism was a thing (at nontrivial scale at its height, with assorted variant religiosity/purity-associated castration stuff cropping up from time to time) back in the day; but nobody would use that to dismiss concerns about a prison with high levels of self-mutilation.

Similarly, there’s an (arguably not less cogent than other schools) consistent strain of Antinatalist philosophy right back to classical Greece; but a quotation of Aristotle on Silenus isn’t likely to excuse your prison’s suicide rate…

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Just curious, how do you replace the legitimate uses of solitary (as isolation from general population)? I understand it is abused by pig-headed guards and wardens, but there are people that require removal from the population as punishment or protection and there are only so many things that can be done about it.

How about just not doing the things that get you solitary confinement in the first place? You know, like, killing people?

The get no sympathy from me.

Originally solitary confinement was actually based on this idea. The problem is that prisoners don’t have the same context as monks so it didn’t work the same for them. Now the situation is even worse b/c most prisons have added a layer of tiny rewards for good behavior and removal of those rewards for the tiniest infraction, like raising ones voice to the guards. The way that it is currently implemented is unarguably torture. It has been proven to destroy impulse control and promotes excessive outburst of anger even after release.

Whereas actually meditative practice has been shown to improve outcome, when the opportunity is provided. But the prisoner had to pursue this knowingly, not just be locked up alone with no context.

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You could remove someone from the population without taking away books and windows pretty easily, for starters. It would also not be that hard to allow more limited and more supervised contact in smaller groups if the prisons were being run better. Isolated people could still use smaller reading rooms/ exercise yards etc. but never be left alone or allowed to get out of hand.
Very few are so bad that they will attack anyone else in the room for no reason on a regular basis.
Cost is an issue, which is why privatized prisons are so bad, the cost cutting becomes torture pretty fast.


Sorry, but that’s just not the case. Even an introvert needs sensory stimulation. (If you don’t believe me, try sitting very still in the bathroom and not looking at anything. For eight hours. Do not bring a book.)

Even humans who like solitude are just not built to sit in a featureless box with no human contact. It causes brain damage, rapidly.


Wow, false assumption. You think you have to hurt someone to get solitary?

Things that get you solitary confinement in the first place include “having a cigarette we think you shouldn’t”, “being in the same cell as a guy we think is in a prison gang” and “daring to exist when a guard’s in a sadistic mood”.

You’re assuming that prisoners have to be bad people as a way of hiding from an extremely unpleasant truth - the world is hideously unjust, and it could have been you this is happening to.


Thanks for taking the time to let us know your opinion. We can tell you don’t have much to spare, seeing as how you obviously didn’t so much as glance at the article.


Which is why I said “except for the additional restriction of not being allowed to have anything in your cell”

I’m an introvert as well and I think that I could handle solitude and sensory deprivation for longer than average.

That said… there is a vast difference between voluntary solitude with sensory deprivation and the kind of solitude that is enforced through violence by a system that views me/you/us/them as non-human.

True. I’m just saying that if they changed solitary confinement from “Be alone in a cell and stare at 4 blank walls” to “Be alone in a cell with access to books and other things to do”, it would be a lot more acceptable. The part of solitary confinement that is cruel isn’t being confined by yourself but having the other things taken away from you.

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