Being locked up was bad enough. Now they moved you to a prison within the jail. You’re in a cold, tiny room for 23 hours a day. You won’t see another person for who knows how long. You’ll start to lose track of the days, months and years. The only company you have is your mind, so you better not lose it.
In the U.S., there are about 80,000 inmates in isolation on any given day. Solitary confinement can be as stressful as torture. Going through this traumatic experience can shrink parts of the brain responsible for memory, controlling emotions and spatial orientation. As your brain adapts to lessen the effects of this awful experience, some of its functions will be permanently altered. So you might never be the same person that entered that hideous place, even after you get released.
How small would your cell be? What’s the rule of thumb in solitary confinement? How could cleaning your nails keep you sane?
Step 1. Make It Your Home
The size of your living quarters is 1.8 x 2.7 m (6×9 ft). Chances are your new cell is filthy. Time to start cleaning. Then divide the space into a living area and the bathroom. If there’s no toilet, designate a pee corner.
Even though you’re in an already tiny space, dividing it by activities will help give you some order and structure.
Step 2. Occupy Your Mind
Sure, you’re deprived of almost all forms of social interaction but you still have your mind, so make the most of it. Use your imagination to create mental imagery that can stimulate parts of the brain responsible for reasoning, abstract thought and motor control. In the right circumstances, you can imagine things that could feel real. You can use this to help you escape these concrete walls. You can build your dream house in your mind, or picture yourself spending time with your loved ones.
Step 3. Clean Your Nails
Spending most of your time without human contact, you might begin to wonder if you still exist. You’ll need to try your hardest to not lose yourself in this place. Talking out loud or singing could help you regain a sense of yourself. Something as simple as cleaning your nails with your own hands or scraping them on the wall to trim them can help you maintain your identity.
Step 4. Watch What You Eat
Your mind might not be the only thing you’ll lose in here. Your body will also suffer and illnesses will begin to creep in. The lack of sunlight can cause a vitamin D deficiency. And without the space to exercise, heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure can be quite difficult to prevent and manage. You need to try and stay as healthy as possible since medical treatment might be almost non-existent for you.
Step 5. Mind Your Own Business
Human rights advocates continue to shine a spotlight on the inhumane conditions of keeping prisoners in solitary confinement. Despite this, you find yourself locked in this concrete box and the worst thing you can do is to let yourself go. You need to fight for your life and do whatever it takes to make it out of here. Minding your own business is the rule of thumb in prison and it also applies to solitary confinement inmates if they are allowed yard time.
For the one hour a day that you might be allowed to leave your cell, use the time to refresh your senses. Don’t make trouble for others. You survived this horrible place, but now you’re being moved to a supermax prison. You thought that anything would be better than solitary confinement, but now you’re in one of the most impenetrable facilities in the world.
What would it take to stay alive in this hell hole of humanity?
- “New Data: Solitary Confinement Increases Risk Of Premature Death After Release“. Prisonpolicy.Org.
- “10 Tips For Surviving Long Term Solitary Confinement | Prison Writers“. 2020. Prison Writers.
- “How To Survive Supermax”. The New Republic. Longworth, Arthur.
- “How To Survive Life In Solitary Confinement”. 2022. Business Insider.
- “How Do People Survive Solitary Confinement?“. 2022. BBC News.
- “How To Survive Solitary Confinement“. 2016. Nautilus | Science Connected.