Solitary confinement’s horrors explained by famous victim

prisonLost in the joyous stories about the release of the three Americans imprisoned by Iran after unknowingly hiking over the border of Pakistan into Iran was the horror endured by the one female prisoner.

Sarah Shroud revealed her traumatic experience and the pain it still causes her in a poignant opinion piece in Saturday’s New York Times:

After two months with next to no human contact, my mind began to slip. Some days, I heard phantom footsteps coming down the hall. I spent large portions of my days crouched down on all fours by a small slit in the door, listening. In the periphery of my vision, I began to see flashing lights, only to jerk my head around to find that nothing was there. More than once, I beat at the walls until my knuckles bled and cried myself into a state of exhaustion. At one point, I heard someone screaming, and it wasn’t until I felt the hands of one of the friendlier guards on my face, trying to revive me, that I realized the screams were my own.

Of her 14-1/2 months of imprisonment, Sarah Shroud spent all but 345 hours of it in isolation. That’s less than an hour a day with human contact.

Upon release she found out her experience was far from abnormal.

I was shocked to find out that the United Nations Convention Against Torture, one of the few conventions the United States has ratified, does not mention solitary confinement. I learned that there are untold numbers of prisoners around the world in solitary, including an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 in the United States.

Here in Montana the ACLU of Montana has seen the psychological damage solitary confinement causes first-hand.

Our client Raistlen Katka was just 16 years old when he was placed in solitary confinement in the Montana State Prison. Suffering from mental illness and denied human contact he grew increasingly despondent. Raistlen tried to kill himself multiple times. Thankfully he was unsuccessful and thankfully we were able to get him out of solitary confinement and into mental health treatment.

But we and ACLU affiliates and prison rights advocates across the country are working toward an end to solitary confinement. No one — and especially not children — should be subjected to this torturous treatment.