Prison Commentary: Solitary Confinement - Week 7

Course: HNRS 302: Extreme Punishments: Life, Death, & Solitary Confinement
Written: February 25, 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). 

Midterm Commentary: Solitary Confinement

Midterm Reading Selections on Solitary Confinement:

  • Week 1: A Last Meal Examined/Last Supper (pg. 36)
  • Week 2: Critical Mass: Transubstantiation (pg. 36)
  • Week 3: Slamming the Door: Life in Prison (pg. 47)
  • Week 4: A Question of Freedom: Back in the Hole (Ch. 29, pg. 192)
  • Week 5: Life Without Parole, America's Other Death Penalty (pg. 341)
  • Week 6: Up the River: Priority Room Officer (pg. 17)

Midterm Takeaways:

  • Some view solitary confinement as a form of harsh punishment
  • Others view solitary confinement as a form of justice: a deserving situation (i.e. victim, victim's family, some correctional officers)
  • For the prisoner, physical and psychological implications arise from solitary confinement
  • Historically, solitary confinement acted as "the antidote" to overpopulated prisons
  • Presently, solitary confinement is also a normative form of punishment for inmates who have been labeled disruptive or violent
  • Solitary confinement as a form of punishment for a lifer vs. an inmate on death row can be either less or more harsh, depending on the situation
  • Solitary confinement of an inmate can be at the discretion of an unethical, or angry correctional officer as a retaliatory and unjust tactic
  • Many inmates in solitary confinement should be in mental health facilities

Midterm Freewrite

After grappling with the class material up to this point about solitary confinement(SC), I've gathered that SC remains a debatable form of punishment for inmates (Week 1, pg. 36).


At the same time, I came to the realization that SC may be a subjective and inevitable form of punishment. SC as a punishment may be subjective because it's often at the judgement of a warden or correctional officer(s), if an inmate is violent or disruptive. This can be subjective because some inmates are placed in SC even when they aren't culprits of violent or disruptive behavior. To further elaborate, an inmate can be placed in SC simply because the authoritative person over them is in a bad mood that day. In short, injustice in the justice system causes SC to be a "subjective" form of punishment.


I say that SC may be inevitable for inmates for two main reasons. First, the U.S. prison system doesn't have a mandatory time sentence or legal rubric for how long an inmate can or should be in solitary confinement (esp. by state). And second, although SC may be deemed as unethical, it is legal. The latter is the bottomline. It's harsh, indeed---but just that simple (Week 2, pg. 36).


Interestingly enough, the statement that SC is unethical can also be subjective. Why? Because, some view SC as an act of justice, instead of a form of punishment. In Slamming the Open Door, the author discussed her feelings toward her daughter being murdered. Nothing can bring her daughter back. But, the inmate convicted of killing her daughter is still alive--even if he were to go in SC or not. (Week 3, pg. 47).


From another perspective, SC can be a form of good escape for some inmates.  In this way, some inmates may prefer SC depending on the circumstances. I found this insight somewhat surprising from Dwayne Betts's perspective. As a prime example, Betts described “the hole” as “a vacation” (Week 4, pg. 192).


In extension to Bett's perspective, there's no denying that SC is detrimental, especially when inmates are on lockdown (Week 5, pg. 341). In a sense, lockdown, the hole, and the tiny cells rooms can feel and be justified as a form of SC within themselves (Week 6, pg. 17).


In closing, I view SC as unnecessary and unjust. Being in prison means that one is already confined and isolated. Doesn’t this already denote SC?


Midterm Quotation(s)

  • Week 1: “He eats alone with a plastic fork no knives for the condemned.” -Last Supper (pg. 36)
  • Week 2: “Felons into objects.” -Transubstantiation (pg. 36)
  • Week 3: - “Oh I wish I were lucky like you, to see my child again on some unnamed day” -Slamming the Open Door (pg. 47)
  • Week 4:  “Truth is I liked the hole. It was deprivation, but I could deal with it...So in the hole, in some ways, was like vacation.” -A Question of Freedom (pg. 192)
  • Week 5: "When prison conditions deteriorate—when there are 'lockdowns and the violence and stuff like that'—daily life becomes unstable or oppressive." -Life Without Parole, America's Other Death Penalty” (pg. 341)
  • Week 6: - “Six cubic feet, all you have” -Up the River (pg. 17)

Midterm Question(s)

  • Is solitary confinement cheaper than normal inmate housing?
  • Does solitary confinement violate the 8th amendment?


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