Please read the included link regarding the use of solitary confinement in prisons. I can’t speak about prisons as I have only been incarcerated in jails. Most were Detention Centers. They are basically holding facilities for people before the courts or awaiting sentencing. My experience was that there was little done to, for or about me. Both prisons and jails have areas for prisoner segregation. I have heard it referred to as solitary confinement, the hole, administrative segregation and the digger. When I raised my voice to one of the jail nurses at being denied a medication that my mental health hinged on I was asked if I wanted to go to the digger. “What’s the digger?” “The hole, you were in it your first night.” I understood the threat when it was referred to as the hole. I was quite sane on that first visit to the hole and had my fill of it in mere hours. My next visits were while I was psychotic. I can’t substantiate my length of stay as a whole but I have a couple of letters which refer to five day stays. I was moved between the medical cells and the three isolation cells. My sense of time during this period is basically nonexistent. While in the hole I was subjected to a 24 hour light. I would awaken at different times and be surprised to find it was night. I was for certain periods oblivious to the hour, day of the week or date. I do measure my exposure to this period of isolation as a season.
The medical cells were larger or the bars and their spaces included something beyond. The hole was near 5 feet by eight feet with all concrete minus the toilet in the corner and the solid steel door with a window smaller than a fist so it couldn’t be punched out. My view beyond that was a concrete wall as the hall turned leading to another steel door. The guards sat 15 feet beyond that point. Silence. The only noise was the industrial flush of your cold, hard, seatless toilet. You might catch a piece of a face but mainly you see hands as your meals are slid through a slot in the door. Faces are common until they become uncommon. To see eyes was an interesting phenomenon when my only reflection came from said toilet. Isolation made navigating simple requests next to impossible. It seemed the jail bureaucracy barely made it to the area. In a regular area you could call a guard. In isolation you could ask for a request form. I was unable to use a phone, had little access to a shower and my mattress was removed from my cell during the day.
Corrections Canada’s response to my psychosis was isolation. My psychiatric care often consisted of taking my temperature and weight which though important are usually not correlated to psychosis. When I was isolated in the medical cells another inmate had a broken hand from a jail fight. He wore a cast which I surmised to be beyond the abilities of most guards. He was isolated with a bed, the ability to interact, an area telephone and an area shower. He also received the best modern medicine has to offer. As a society most would be aghast had he been denied medical technology, treatment or emergency care. This is my question: why when an inmate has a “mental” condition do we prescribe administrative segregation with its 24 hour light and total deprivation outside of nourishment and sanitation. If only we could distill such treatment into a pill. Is this discrimination or is it merely stigma on its hind legs?
A dog runs in circles after being left alone for a few hours. Are we not as social? I think it’s time to let mental illness out of isolation. It’s the least we can do. An easy solution shouldn’t be considered the only one when it is nowhere near best medical practices.