The Psychology of Solitary Confinement

Solitary Confinement: a form of imprisonment whereby a prisoner is isolated from any human contact

There in Minnesota exists a room, with walls, ceiling and floor padded and soundproofed. The record for someone to stay in the room by themselves is 45 minutes. Why? Because the room blocks out 99% of sound, so much so, that an individual begins to hear their own lungs move, blood flow, stomach gurgle. How we get around is possible through the sound we hear when we walk. So if that sound is taken away, how can we orient ourselves in our environment? Hence, people in this room much be seated. And in the dark. 15 minutes of sensory deprivation can cause hallucinations. Only one individual has managed to stay in there for 45 minutes.

Now, let’s assume the room wasn’t soundproof. However, it was small enough to only fit one person, dark and cold. Instead of staying in there for 45 minutes (voluntarily), you were forced to stay in there for days. If you were lucky, 48 hours. But if you were like everyone else, it was a week. Seven days. In the dark, by yourself. There was no one there who would take you out if you got lonely or felt like you were going mad. No one to save you from your punishment.

To deprive the mind from any kind of human contact may seem at first, manageable. But we are created to need human contact, people to converse with. When you take that away, who knows what could happen?

The brain is the seat of pain

As time went by, more and more talk amongst the prison officials regarding corporal punishment became apparent. Soon, it was decided that lashings with the Cat o’ Nine Tails was not doing justice. Some prisoners used it as a way of showing off their strength and durability, and the Lieutenant-Govenor decided it was time to implement a new form of punishment to be used generally in replacement of floggings; depriving one from human contact.

As humans, we are created to live together; to share with each other, protect each other and enjoy the company of one another. It is therefore unnatural to seclude a person from others, for I believe that it is in this moment of great vulnerability, when situations are more stronger in their attack to the mind and emotions.

If an individual can only stay in a sound-proofed, relatively medium-sized room in the dark with no other individuals, for 45 minutes, without going insane, how much more harder would it be to be locked in a cell small enough to just fit one individual, with no light and no protection from the cold apart from the clothes on their back, deprived of human interaction and left on a diet of bread and water, for 10,080 minutes (1 week)?

Lashings might have caused physical scars, but I believe that solitary confinement definitely caused psychological ones.


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