“I Spent 29 Years in Solitary Confinement”

by | August 27, 2010

Angola 3 member Robert King describes his experience in The Guardian. Some excerpts:

It was a dimly lit box, 9ft by 6ft, with bars at the front facing on to the bare cement walls of a long corridor. Inside was a narrow bed, a toilet, a fixed table and chair, and an air vent set into the back wall.

Some days I would pace up and down and from left to right for hours, counting to myself. I learned to know every inch of the cell. Maybe I looked crazy walking back and forth like some trapped animal, but I had no choice – I needed to feel in control of my space.

At times I felt an anguish that is hard to put into words. To live 24/7 in a box, year after year, without the possibility of parole, probation or the suspension of sentence is a terrible thing to endure…

The wardens tried to discourage us from talking, but we defied them. We were beaten up and prisoners were found hanging in their cells. Whenever I was disciplined, it was for talking. I didn’t care, I refused to let them dehumanise me.

The worst punishment was the “cold box”, our name for the cell within Camp J. It was down a long hallway through three sets of secure doors, and when they pushed me inside, the isolation was total. They would keep me there for a month, in blocks of 10 days, shoving food through a slot in the door. I went for days without speaking to anyone. That kind of sensory deprivation was torture for me – to survive I knew I had to keep my mind active.

Since my conviction was overturned in 2001, I have travelled constantly, educating people about the widespread use of solitary confinement in America. The words of the US Constitution prohibit what is called “cruel and unusual punishment”, and yet that phrase could have been written to describe solitary confinement.

When I walked out of Angola, I didn’t realise how permanently the experience of solitary would mark me. Even now my sight is impaired. I find it very difficult to judge long distances – a result of living in such a small space. Emotionally, too, I’ve found it hard to move on. I talk about my 29 years in solitary as if it was the past, but the truth is it never leaves you. In some ways I am still there…

Read the full piece here. Or watch this 2009 conversation between King and Dr. Terry Kupers on thr psychological effects of solitary confinement.



James Ridgeway and Jean Casella

James Ridgeway (1936-2021) was the founder and co-director of Solitary Watch. An investigative journalist for over 60 years, he served as Washington Correspondent for the Village Voice and Mother Jones, reporting domestically on subjects ranging from electoral politics to corporate malfeasance to the rise of the racist far-right, and abroad from Central America, Northern Ireland, Eastern Europe, Haiti, and the former Yugoslavia. Earlier, he wrote for The New Republic and Ramparts, and his work appeared in dozens of other publications. He was the co-director of two films and author of 20 books, including a forthcoming posthumous edition of his groundbreaking 1991 work on the far right, Blood in the Face. Jean Casella is the director of Solitary Watch. She has also published work in The Guardian, The Nation, and Mother Jones, and is co-editor of the book Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement. She has received a Soros Justice Media Fellowship and an Alicia Patterson Fellowship. She tweets @solitarywatch.

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  • Joshlyn

    hell i understand what it dose to you man i go thow that every dam day sucks like you have harder time with sent like smell gets to you at times loundnes is not raly what it is like you hearing gos higher then others and then memory and jumpynes those are the lasting pains in my ass realy solitary is sick i mean puting someone thow that unwillingly as way to get even is sick like rapeing kids sick the scars never go all the way gone i wasent in a prison helll i was in school lol 8th grade for me solitary effects lol now i thingk i faleing 102 liveing with them with out riping heaqds lol latly good thow but god have mercy for anyone ever trys puting me back in lol they will die befor i let that happen lol

  • Adrian Masters

    “dehumanizing humans” …..

    Didn’t that happen during WorldWar 2 and weren’t we all telling the world that such a treatment of human beings should and would not ever be repeated?

    Putting human beings in solitary confinement, for whatever reason, for whatever crime, is a repetition, a repeat, of what the declared animals of the national socialists did to human beings in and during World War 2!

    How is it possible that judges, laws, lawmakers, enforcers of laws do this in 2010?

    How in the name of humanity is it possible that WE, the ones who are accountable and responsible for what is done to other human beings, ALLOW this to happen, again, and again, and again?

    Were are WE, the People, when this happends again and again?

    De-humanizing human beings is making animals of ourselves!

    Stop allowing institutions to do treatments that de-humanize humans!

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