Shane Bauer, one of three U.S. hikers imprisoned on vague espionage charges in Iran, visits California's infamous Pelican Bay State Prison for an in-depth, horrifying look at solitary confinement in its Security Housing Unit (SHU), where inmates land when charged with gang affiliation for "offenses" like possessing Christmas cards with stars, drawings of dragons, and left-wing or prisoners' rights reading matter. Bauer's four months in solitary were the worst part of his experience - so much so, "I needed human contact so badly that I woke every morning hoping to be interrogated." The U.N. defines more than 15 minutes in solitary as torture and cruel or unusual punishment; 89 inmates have been in the SHU for over 20 years. From Mother Jones.
Bauer on the difference between his Iran cell and Pelican Bay's SHU: "There was a window...Without those windows, I wouldn't have had the sound of ravens, the rare breezes, or the drops of rain that I let wash over my face some nights. My world would have been utterly restricted to my concrete box, to watching the miniature ocean waves I made by sloshing water back and forth in a bottle; to marveling at ants; to calculating the mean, median, and mode of the tick marks on the wall; to talking to myself without realizing it. For hours, days, I fixated on the patch of sunlight cast against my wall through those barred and grated windows. When, after five weeks, my knees buckled and I fell to the ground utterly broken, sobbing and rocking to the beat of my heart, it was the patch of sunlight that brought me back. Its slow creeping against the wall reminded me that the world did in fact turn and that time was something other than the stagnant pool my life was draining into."