Solitary confinement is so horrible that it’ll probably leave you with a mental illness
Reported By Liku Zelleke
In recent years, the cruelty of solitary confinement has been one of the most debated topics. Activists against the form of imprisonment argue that it constitutes cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners that does more harm than good, akin to torture.
Now, filmmaker Dan Edge has made a new documentary about solitary confinement. One thing that egged him on was the murder of Tom Clements, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, who was shot dead by a former inmate who had spent a long time in solitary confinement.
Edge and Clements had gotten to know each other while Edge was working on a film about war veterans who were struggling with PTSD and had ended up in prison. Clements had told him that he was worried that solitary confinement was being overused in prisons across the United States and that instead of helping the inmates to rehabilitate it was making them much worse.
A year after the murder, Edge spent several months filming “Solitary Nation“, a documentary that takes a look into the segregation unit of Maine’s state prison and shows raw footage of the treatment and life of prisoners that have been put in solitary confinement.
Regarding the documentary, Edge said, “I think one of the misconceptions about solitary confinement is that it’s for the worst of the worst, that you’re going to walk into one of these units and just find psychopaths. It’s not like that at all. The unit we were filming on has an average of about 40 inmates … a lot of them are very young – 18, 19, 20 years old. They’re in prison for fairly minor stuff… and they’re in solitary confinement because, for one reason or another, they’re not doing well in general population. They might be disruptive, they might need protection themselves … it is often the most vulnerable inmates, and it’s often inmates who are on the brink of mental illness.”
The documentary follows some inmates over the course of their time in solitary. As the documentary progresses their mental state worsens and many of them resort to extreme behaviors like pushing feces under their doors and smearing their walls with blood after cutting themselves with razors.
Edge was able to film inside solitary because, the warden of Maine prison was also concerned about the way solitary confinement was being used.
Edge said, “I think he was prepared to let us go in to film because he wanted the United States to have a grown-up conversation about this issue.”
Find out when you can watch the documentary on PBS by clicking here.
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