Working to End Solitary Confinement
Anthony Graves has seen lucid men go insane.
Anthony Graves has seen, lived and survived hell. But a part of him remains forever stuck there. Found innocent and released from death row in Texas two years ago, Graves still hasn’t slept more than 2 ½ hours a night. After having spent 18 ½ years in prison and 10 of those years in solitary confinement in an 8’x12’ cage, after having slept on a steel bed with a thin plastic mattress and pillow, and after having humiliatingly relieved himself with his steel toilet in front of male and female guards, Graves can’t rest. After having known a man who took out his own eye which he then swallowed and after having learned of a wretch who enveloped himself in a sheet only to light it afire, Graves can’t sleep.
A replica of a solitary confinement cell erected for the Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on solitary confinement.
“I have been free for almost two years and I still cry at night,” said Graves to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on June 19 in the first congressional hearing on solitary confinement. “I haven't had a good night sleep since my release.”
Graves represents one of 80,000 people in solitary confinement in the U.S. His story exposes the naked truth in America’s criminal justice system, a horror that must stop.
Each year, solitary confinement destroys American lives. Though “reserved” for the worst of the worst, solitary confinement still manages to oppress the mentally ill, minors and individuals who commit minor infractions, such as breaking prison rules.
Artificial light robs prisoners of day and night as they live in a windowless area about the size of a bathroom for twenty three hours a day, for days, months, years, and decades. They have no human contact except with guards who handcuff and shackle them. Significantly more expensive than regular housing, solitary confinement neither deters the detainee from future “outbreaks” nor does it provide one with an opportunity to reflect and to repent. Instead, sane people go insane, eventually experiencing a psychotic state akin to delirium. Solitary confinement not only ignores the inherent dignity of every human being, but it also betrays the sanctity of the Creator, who made each person b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God.
In closing, Graves said, “Solitary confinement makes our criminal justice system the criminal…It is inhumane and by its design it is driving men insane. I am living amongst millions of people in the world today, but most of the time I feel alone. I cry at night because of this feeling. I just want to stop feeling this way, but I haven't been able to.”
Make a difference, and join the National Religious Campaign Against Torture to end solitary confinement.
David Bloom (at left) is a participant in the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship Program. He is interning at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
Photo by the U.S. Senate, courtesy of NPR.