The Fly In My Cell

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From Photo Requests From Solitary

Despite broad condemnation of solitary confinement as cruel and degrading treatment akin to torture - and efforts to end it by forces ranging from Obama and Pope Francis to the U.N., ACLU, watchdog groups and a lawsuit by inmates at California's Pelican Bay - the U.S. still holds up to 100,000 broken human beings isolated in some sort of confined or restricted incarceration, sometimes for years and occasionally for decades. At a cost of about $75,000 a year, our country continues to do this despite growing testimony that solitary induces a broad array of psychiatric disorders including anxiety, hallucinations, panic attacks, cognitive deficits, deep paranoia, obsessive rumination and "overwhelming feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and depression.” One expert describes those "grieving for their lost lives," who "understand they had lost who they were, and weren’t sure of who they had become.”

An array of projects seek to capture and relay those experiences, in order to end or at least ameliorate them. Photo Requests From Solitary asks what inmates would like to see from a world beyond their concrete walls, and sends them pictures of it. "Voices From the Box" and "Hell Is A Very Small Place" from Solitary Watch are compilations of stories by inmates alternately fearful, outraged and terrified of their own disintegration. "Welcome To My Cell," a new interactive project by The Guardian, offers a virtual simulation of solitary confinement, incarceration facts and figures, and harrowing stories from inmates in solitary who describe boredom quickly spiraling into despair, anguish at losing the companionship of a fly, the sense that "the whole world has disappeared...All I am left in is a small, dark, deep space and the space never changes and all I find is darkness around me and I just can’t seem to get out of this darkness." Says one woman, "It's like you’ve been put into another country, and you don’t even know the language." The least we can do, say those working to get them out, is visit them there.

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Five Omar Mualimm-ak, who spent over five years in solitary and befriended "the fly in my cell." From The Guardian.

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