Prison Commentary: Death Row & Solitary Confinement - Week 8

Prison Commentary: Death Row & Solitary Confinement - Week 8

Course: HNRS 302: Extreme Punishments: Life, Death, & Solitary Confinement
Written: March 5, 2014 

Published: February 27, 2017
© All Rights Reserved

Written during Destiny's junior year of college, Destiny poignantly provides commentary and reflection on readings for the week for a University Honors course titled "Extreme Punishments." Each reading required the illumination of the following 4 structure components: takeway(s), a free write, a quotation(s) of interest, and a question(s). 

Commentary: Escape from Death Row and Life Under Sentence of Death


  • On death row, there's always a possibility that innocent people are put to death
  • The mistake of killing an innocent person is irreversible
  • It would be interesting to explore the legal, historical, and political reasoning behind high vs. low execution states and why the top 4 are indeed the top 4
  • Some would argue, so what, who cares? about improving prison conditions for death row inmates because they assume prisoners should be punished
  • Solitary confinement rules and forms of punishment for death row inmates may vary among states, but it is legal
  • When one is labeled "condemned," some believe they deserve torture or punishment
  • At the same time, when one is labeled "condemned," others believe they don't deserve empathy (Life Under Sentence of Death)
  • Even today, wealthier individuals (higher socio economics) benefit from power, wealth, and status that can "lighten" prison sentences or legal accusations, just as the nobles did in the Middle Ages (Life Under Sentence of Death)
  • An implication of prisoners coping with socially-isolated prison environments or death-row confinement is called "tripping"


The premise of "Escape from Death Row" dissects how prisoners cope with death row isolation--the process, rather than the outcomes (pg. 535). I appreciate how the author highlighted that most studies focus on these outcomes or social dimensions, rather than the implications and effects of death row confinement.

My initial reaction to "tripping" was neutral. I appreciated the author's clarity on passing time vs. coping. And that "tripping" was more related to coping, rather than just passing time (pg. 537). As a whole, I also related the word "tripping" to three contexts: an inmate, a free citizen (assuming he or she is not a drug user), and a drug addict.

Tripping: An Inmate

In the context of being an inmate, "tripping" can be a form of escape from their current situation of oppression--physical and social (pg. 538).

Tripping: A Free Citizen

Now, in the context of a free citizen, the definition of "tripping" could metamorphosize into "daydreaming." In other words, when a free citizen, imagines they are in another place or "escapes" from their current reality, we normally refer to this as "daydreaming."

In an effort to grapple with the material, I wholeheartedly agree with the author's distinction that "tripping" differs from daydreams (pg. 542). However, I also acknowledge that some aspects of "tripping" are similar to daydreaming if placed in a different context. I wondered,  is it that "daydreaming" is more applicable to a free citizen because we aren't physically confined (pg.542)? Perhaps, so. In this way, "tripping" and "daydreaming" may differ on one main variable: physical confinement. Why? Because the psychological process of a free citizen "daydreaming" is moderately synonymous to an imprisoned citizen "tripping."

Additionally, children also imagine themselves being in different places--an act of "daydreaming." Isn't it a joy to witness a child imagining they are in some "fairyland" with the good guy, the bad guy, and then trying to save someone?! Then, the child may use their props and toys to act out a scene, with their cute voices mimicking the characters they imagine. We can witness this from a child if they are uninterrupted. This is similar to the author's point that an inmate can "trip" longer if he is uninterrupted (pg. 539). In essence, the inmate’s elaborate description of hunting trips may be a form of "tripping." But, in the context of a free citizen (child or not) one could simply call it "daydreaming."

Tripping: A Drug Addict

By extension, "tripping" is also a term used in the context of describing a time when a drug addict is in a state of mental euphoria. Here, the drug has had some chemical reaction with their brain. They begin to either mumble to themselves, hallucinate, and even think they are in another place. Sometimes, you can witness this if you ride through an impoverished neighborhood. has videos of this as well.


In these three contexts, "tripping" does stand alone when an individual is in death row or solitary confinement. But all in all, this touches on the reality that the term "tripping" could easily intersect other contexts.


  • "Most modern prisons are explicitly organized to limit social interaction."-Escape from Death Row (pg. 533)
  • "Prisoners do not totally relinquish autonomy, they do not become zombies." -Escape from Death Row (pg. 543)
  • "All that thinking about it is like a little dying, even if you're on the best death row on earth." - Life Under Sentence of Death (pg. 1)


  • How should "punishment" be defined and where does our society/laws/prison system cross the line?
  • In the last sentence, is the author referring to death rows prisoners viewing their freedom as liberty since conditions are life-threatening, causing "the death of the spirit as well as the body?" (pg. 545)
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