Shane Bauer on Solitary Confinement and American Prisons

Shane Bauer was one of the three American hikers imprisoned in Iran after being apprehended on the Iraqi border in 2009. He spent 26 months in Tehran’s Evin Prison, 4 of them in solitary confinement. In his latest feature for Mother Jones, Shane Bauer writes a powerful piece on his experience of solitary confinement in that Iranian prison:

“There was a window,” I say. I don’t quite know how to tell him what I mean by that answer. “Just having that light come in, seeing the light move across the cell, seeing what time of day it was—” 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.

But then he goes to an American prison, and the experience is much, much worse:

Acosta, Pelican Bay’s public information officer, is giving me a tour of the Security Housing Unit. Inmates deemed a threat to the security of any of California’s 33 prisons are shipped to one of the state’s five SHUs (pronounced “shoes”), which hold nearly 4,000 people in long-term isolation. In the Pelican Bay SHU, 94 percent of prisoners are celled alone; overcrowding has forced the prison to double up the rest. Statewide, about 32 percent of SHU cells—hardly large enough for one person—are crammed with two inmates.

The cell I am standing in is one of eight in a “pod,” a large concrete room with cells along one side and only one exit, which leads to the guards’ control room. A guard watches over us, rifle in hand, through a set of bars in the wall. He can easily shoot into any one of six pods around him. He communicates with prisoners through speakers and opens their steel grated cell doors via remote. That is how they are let out to the dog run, where they exercise for an hour a day, alone. They don’t leave the cell to eat. If they ever leave the pod, they have to strip naked, pass their hands through a food slot to be handcuffed, then wait for the door to open and be bellycuffed.

You should read the entire story here.

3 thoughts on “Shane Bauer on Solitary Confinement and American Prisons

  1. Reblogged this on LOCKDOWNPUBLISHING.COM and commented:
    I just spoke at UC Irvine with Ms Dolores Canales about prison life and solitary confinement. Ms Dolores brought in the video related to Shane Bauer. Both Dolores and I ( Glenn Langohr ) have both done prison time. I turned 10 years into 8 books about the drug war and prison life and corruption.

  2. Like Shane Bauer, I was imprisoned in Iran as a foreigner accused of espionage – http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2009/07/30/reports-about-my-trip-to-iran-in-junejuly-2009/ – and I have been to prisons in the US when working there as a lawyer. NO, the (prison) systems in both countries are not the same. Just ask yourself if an article like this could appear in Iran. The American penal system is rotten in many places, but comparing it to a system that tortures and kills political opponents in its prisons is not helpful for the required debate.

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