After journalist Terry Anderson was taken hostage by a terrorist group in Lebanon in 1985, he spent much of six years in tiny cells completely by himself. Trapped in solitude, he found his mind inexorably breaking down.
“Where are all the things I learned, the books I read, the poems I memorized?” he asked himself. “There’s nothing there, just a formless, gray-black misery. My mind’s gone dead.”
At times he was put with other captives, which he found far preferable. But in 1986, he was returned to solitary confinement, and soon he hit the end of his rope. He began smashing his head into the wall, over and over, until his jailers stopped him. Even after his release from captivity, he told The New Yorker magazine, he felt himself enveloped in a mental fog.
For many American prison inmates, detention in a tiny space with minimal human contact is routine and unending. They may spend 22 or 23 hours a day in a cell measuring six feet by eight feet. When they are let out for exercise, they may also be alone. Like Anderson, they may descend into despair or madness.
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