Now Available in Paperback: Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement

The first major trade book on solitary confinement brings together first-hand accounts of life in solitary with analysis by leading experts.

Order now as a paperback, hardcover, or e-book.



Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement
Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement
Now available as a paperback, hardcover, or e-book.

President Barack Obama, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Pope Francis have all criticized the widespread use of solitary confinement in prisons and jails. UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez has denounced the use of solitary beyond fifteen days as a form of cruel and degrading treatment that often rises to the level of torture. Yet the United States holds more than eighty thousand people in isolation on any given day.

In a book that will add a startling new dimension to the debates around human rights and prison reform, 16 men and women currently and formerly former imprisoned in solitary confinement describe its devastating effects on their minds and bodies, as well as the solidarity expressed between individuals who live side by side for years without ever meeting one another face to face, the ever-present specters of madness and suicide, and the struggle to maintain hope and humanity in the face of crippling isolation and deprivation.

These firsthand accounts are supplemented by the writing of noted experts, exploring the psychological, legal, ethical, and political dimensions of solitary confinement. Solitary Watch’s James Ridgeway and Jean Casella provide a comprehensive introduction, and Sarah Shourd, herself a survivor of more than a year of solitary confinement, writes eloquently in a preface about an experience that changed her life. The powerful cover art is by renowned political artist Molly Crabapple.


Kirkus Reviews: “The founders of a watchdog group dedicated to stopping the practice of solitary confinement gather voices from victims of this hellish punishment [and] make their arguments with undeniable efficacy…In collecting essays from prisoners and mental health experts, the editors dig deep into the frailties of the human mind as well as the savagery of the American penal system and its ilk. Many of the men and women whose voices are captured here measure their time in solitary not in years but in decades. Some are soul-deadening…Other writers are startlingly articulate and unnervingly funny, despite the violence and grief spilled out on the page…The stories by people victimized by solitary confinement are followed by articulate essays by medical and legal professionals about the human costs of the practice…A potent cry of anguish from men and women buried way down in the hole.”

Publishers Weekly: “In this grim, no-holds-barred exposé, 21 essays and academic papers critique the use of solitary confinement in prison, looking at the ruinous effects on those forced to endure it for weeks, months, years, or even decades at a time…These stories pack a visceral punch and make a convincing case for more humane conditions, better oversight, and continuing prison reform.”

New York Review of Books (review by Martin Garbus): “For readers who have no sense of the nature of the punishment that is exacted in their name, this collection offers an unforgettable look at the peculiar horrors and humiliations involved in solitary confinement.”

Los Angeles Review of Books: Hell Is a Very Small Place is composed of communication and observation that is not supposed to exist: it is a book as a minor act of rebellion…Writing and publishing this book was a form of defiance against repression, and reading and discussing it constitutes a minor form of solidarity with those still inside.”


“A book that people of conscience must read and share. The stories in it will not simply haunt us. They will inspire us to act.” — HEATHER ANN THOMPSON, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Blood in the Water, choosing her Favorite Book of 2016 in Publishers Weekly

“We will never achieve justice in this country until we have the courage to look unblinkingly into the hidden corners of our system of mass incarceration, where men and women are locked away and forgotten—stored like meat in a freezer. This book does just that.”  —VAN JONES, author of Rebuild the Dream

“An extraordinary collection of testimonials from men and women who have endured solitary confinement and, unlike many others, survived. . . . Hell is a Very Small Place probes the darkest corners of a prison system where, all too often, the urge to punish has prevailed over law, morality, and human decency.”  —DAVID C. FATHI, director, ACLU National Prison Project

“A devastating look in the mirror for a society that has hidden the depths of its cruelty behind concrete and steel. Hell is a Very Small Place puts us face with the smells, the sounds, and the profound despair of solitary confinement, and is a call to moral outrage, repentance, and action.”
—REV. LAURA MARKLE DOWNTON, former U.S. policy director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture

“Confronts the moral catastrophe of solitary confinement through compelling and courageous testimonies by the world’s premier experts on the matter: the confined themselves.”  —GLENN E. MARTIN, founder and president, Just Leadership USA

“This important book leaves no doubt that solitary confinement has no place in a civilized society. The story of each person subject to solitary shows that he or she is somebody and that the life that is thrown away is not beyond redemption. Together they demonstrate the urgency of turning from hatred to understanding and from vengeance to reconciliation if we are doing to have a decent, moral and compassionate society.” —STEPHEN BRIGHT, president and senior counsel, Southern Center for Human Rights

“Please take the time to read these haunting voices of people in solitary, along with experts and activists. It is vitally important.” —RALPH NADER

“The personal accounts by prisoners contained in this book are some of the most disturbing that I have ever read. There were many points throughout the book when my emotions became very overwhelming, and I had to pause and catch my breath.” —CHELSEA MANNING

About the Authors:

JEAN CASELLA is co-director of Solitary Watch, a web-based watchdog project, and a Soros Justice Fellow. Her writing on solitary confinement has appeared in The Guardian, The Nation, Mother Jones, and other publications. She is the editor of two previous anthologies and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

JAMES RIDGEWAY has been an investigative journalist for more than fifty years and is the author of eighteen previous books. He is co-director of Solitary Watch and recent recipient of a Soros Justice Fellowship, Alicia Patterson Fellowship, and Media for a Just Society Award. He lives in Washington, D.C.

SARAH SHOURD, a journalist and playwright, was held as a political hostage by the Iranian government, including 410 days in solitary, an experience she chronicled in A Sliver of Light: Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran. She lives in Oakland, California.

Publication Information:

240 pages, 5 ½ x 8 ½”

Paperback: September 5, 2017, $17.95, ISBN 978-1620973516

Hardcover: February 2, 2016, $25.95, ISBN 978-1-62097-137-6

E-Book: February 2, 2016, $9.99, ASIN B016TX4F16

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