Legislator Enters Solitary Confinement

Markeshia Ricks Photo State Rep. Robyn Porter sat inside a 10 foot-by-12 foot box looking at the blue cinderblock walls. Listening to the sounds of prison, she got a taste of what her son once experienced.

“I started to think about how my son had been in prison and how he had sat in a [solitary] cell,” she recalled Monday.

Porter didn’t go to jail herself. She took a turn sitting inside a replica of a maximum-security prison cell in Wisconsin, newly on display at the downtown Ives branch of the New Haven Free Public Library.

The display, which is known as “Inside the Box”, will live at the library until Feb. 4. Then it will be moved to Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library through Feb. 12, before heading to Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School until Feb. 18. (To find a full schedule of events connected to the display click here.)

The exhibit aims to shine a light on the prevalence of solitary confinement—the practice of putting a prisoner alone in a cell for up to 23 hours a day —as an act of torture.

Porter said that sitting in the cell transported her to the time her son was incarcerated. She was slated to have a major surgery. She was nervous and wanted to see her son but was told she couldn’t.

“He had been in a fight, and had been hurt and that was all they would tell me,” Porter said. “Imagine having to go under, not knowing how your kid is doing?”

She said her son doesn’t talk much about his prison experience. Not the way she wishes he would. But she and others who attended the opening of the “Inside the Box” display got a little taste.

“It just kind of makes you wonder what goes on for 23 hours, when you listen to that,” she said. “And even when you get out an are allowed to exercise, you’re still in a cage. It’s not like you’re allowed to go out and be around other people. You’re still solely by yourself. It was very, very heavy sitting in there.”

Keishar Tucker didn’t have to wonder. He has lived the experience. At the age of 17 he was arrested for the crime of threatening and sent to Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire. He ultimately wasn’t convicted of the crime, he said, but he still spent a month in solitary confinement at Northern Correctional Institution, a level five, maximum security prison in Somers.

“I couldn’t cope with being in prison so I would act out,” Tucker said. He ended up in solitary confinement after an encounter with a correctional officer in which he said he fell on the officer, knocking them both down. Tucker said the CO reported the incident as an assault, and he was sent to Northern. He stayed in solitary confinement for a month until he made bond.

“I still suffer anxiety attacks, panic attacks,” said Tucker, who is now 35. “It just never leaves you when you endure that type of torture. It never leaves. There are periods where I go on medication, I have breakdowns from enduring that. There are times when I have to be in hospital a week or two weeks. It’s an ongoing thing. It’s definitely torture and should be stopped.”

That is the message — that torture is always wrong — that the sponsors of “Inside the Box” aim to send, particularly in light of President Donald Trump’s promises to bring back torture practices.

“At this political time with so much challenging, discrediting of facts and knowledge, that this particular exhibit be in our libraries is important,” said the Rev. Allie Perry, lead organizer of the coalition of groups sponsoring the display. “We support our libraries as repositories of knowledge, history and wisdom—as resources that help us all in a democracy, that help us to be educated, all of which is critical for us to have a vibrant democracy and protect it.”

City Librarian Martha Brogan said that when she was approached about hosting the display, she didn’t hesitate. She said the purpose of the exhibit—to experience, educate and advocate—resonates with the library’s original founding mission to provide “opportunities for self-education and to participate successfully in self-governance.”

Mayor Toni Harp said that the exhibit is right on time given how people have most recently been denied their rights in this country, and as a reminder of the human capacity for cruelty and inhumane treatment. She pointed out that the United Nations had deemed prolonged solitary confinement a form of torture, but it persists in the United States, denying some 80,000 people a day basic human contact.

“We are at a crossroads,” she said. “In my view, the timing of this exhibit ... couldn’t be better ... in terms of human rights and human dignity.”


“We’re very focused on punishment but not as focused on people,” said State Sen. Gary Winfield. We’re focused on building prisons where we design them in such a way that if you go into prison you are broken. We’re focused on building cells like that that break you. We don’t really just throw these people away. They come back to our communities, back to our families. They come back to us. When we focus on punishment, not people, we create problems for ourselves.”

Porter echoed Winfield’s sentiments.

“We have laws and rules and people going crazy about what you do to animals, dogs and cats, but then look at people who are labeled criminals,” she said. “We strip them of all of that. Their dignity, their humanity, we damage them in ways we can’t even imagine because a lot of the damage is not visible. It’s spiritual damage, mental damage, damage that you can’t calculate by just looking at someone.

“But I bet you can see it when you look into somebody’s eyes,” she said. “Those things start to show up. And it doesn’t make us any safer. I think it actually puts us in jeopardy and makes us less safe. You have people who sit in those cells for years on end. And then they release ‘em and drop ‘em off. And what do you have? You don’t know. You don’t know what you have you don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Porter said if you treat people like wild animals, they might start to behave like them.

“That’s what we created,” she said. “We did that as a society. We have allowed that to go on and I think it’s high time that we say enough is enough.”

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posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on January 30, 2017  5:28pm

This is a necessary exhibit. I think people ought to understand what this is. When you see it and experience it you are brought quite low. I cannot and will not experience it. I will however, use whatever platforms I am a part of to raise awareness.

This is profoundly life changing.

posted by: the1king on January 30, 2017  6:54pm

What we should do is close all prisons and just have a time out chair.  If they are 25 then 25 minutes, but only 5 minutes at a time.  Give them a break with cookies and milk.  After the 25 minutes we should talk about it.  Why did you shoot the guy.  next time just talk to him.  Oh yea we could open a place where everyone can just talk.  Because prison is torture and wrong.  For everyone out there that does get what I am really saying.  If you do the crime then do the time.  If you are in jail and you “act up” and can’t follow the rules then go to the hole.  If you can’t control yourself then you should not be let back into civil society.

posted by: SparkJames on January 30, 2017  7:42pm

Each cell should have a functioning Keurig coffee maker,  a microwave of at least 1,100 watts, and a serviceable HD compatible flat screen TV

posted by: EPDP on January 30, 2017  10:09pm

Having spent two years in Federal prison I believe that every prosecutor, judge and legislator, who has the power to pass sentencing laws, should spend a night locked up in a jail cell.  Prison is nothing short of State sponsored brutality.  The NY Times just reported that years of CIA torture techniques never produced any valuable information to fight terrorism.  See:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/19/us/politics/cia-torture.html  Putting prisoners in solitary confinement and the use of torture did nothing but cause brain damage to human beings.  See https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/09/world/cia-torture-guantanamo-bay.html  You might as well bring back the lobotomy.  The condition of American prisons is so bad that long periods of incarceration does nothing but create individuals pose bigger dangers to society.  Prison not only dehumanizes the prisoners, but also dehumanizes the guards who regularly inflict pain and suffering on other human beings.  Militarizing the police, building more prisons and increasing prison sentences has only increased the level of fear, violence and brutality in this country.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 30, 2017  10:34pm

posted by: SparkJames on January 30, 2017 6:42pm

Each cell should have a functioning Keurig coffee maker,  a microwave of at least 1,100 watts, and a serviceable HD compatible flat screen TV.

They do.When it comes to the rich do time.

Madoff’s Butner Prison Is The “Crown Jewel” Of Federal Prison System

The Butner Federal Correctional Complex is about 45 minutes northeast of Durham. From the outside you could mistake it for a college campus, except perhaps for the barb-wire.

It’s often sought after by convicts because its staff and facilities have a good reputation. There are no hardcore maximum security type criminals there. It’s all minimum, low and medium security.
Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling requested he be allowed to serve his sentence there.

Butner is also known for having excellent medical facilities, especially its cancer-treament programs. There have been rumors that Madoff has been diagnosed with cancer.

Butner houses about 3,600 inmates. Notables include former U.S. Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, former Adelphi CEO John Rigas, and former Navy intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard.

http://www.businessinsider.com/madoffs-butner-prison-is-the-crown-jewel-of-federal-prison-system-2009-7

posted by: Perspective on January 31, 2017  8:45am

So the intent of the exhibit and the persons interviewed is to advocate for removing the practice of solitary confinement from prisons.  What do they suggest is a suitable form of punishment for someone who ‘acts out’ in prison? 

“We’re very focused on punishment but not as focused on people,” said State Sen. Gary Winfield. We’re focused on building prisons where we design them in such a way that if you go into prison you are broken. We’re focused on building cells like that that break you. We don’t really just throw these people away. They come back to our communities, back to our families. They come back to us. When we focus on punishment, not people, we create problems for ourselves.”

BTW Senator—here is a definition of prison—perhaps he would like to rename them rehabilitation centers
A building in which people are legally held as a punishment for a crime they have committed or while awaiting trial:

posted by: the1king on January 31, 2017  10:15am

EPDP,  sorry that you went through that experience.  But maybe if you didn’t commit a crime you wouldn’t had to go through that.  Maybe a good idea to shorten prison sentences is when you rob somebody cut their hand off, if you rape somebody cut your junk off and so on.  I bet our prisons and crime would go way down.  If you commit a crime be ready to do the time.

posted by: Noteworthy on January 31, 2017  11:31am

I’d love to hear the alternatives. The pols as usual, pose in the box, always posing with the “problem,” and the solution is just ban the box. People go in the box for non-conforming behavior which is also the reason they are in prison. Mr. Tucker still has flashbacks and PTSD from his one month experience in solitary. What do you think happens to crime victims who are beaten and robbed? Or the family members who have had a member killed? Or the shop owner who was robbed after some thug put a gun to his head? Or rape victims? Crime victims suffer for years. Where is the empathy from Ms. Porter for those folks - just taxpayers who have become prey for the non-conformers. There should be a regular review of those in solitary and some sort of disposition as to whether the behavior that landed them there is going to be repeated again - the exception being death row. Oh right, that’s now gone too. Just a note to Mr. Winfield - we’re not building jails as best I know. We’re shutting them down. Fyi.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on January 31, 2017  11:57am

It always amazes me that conservatives don’t trust the government with their tax money, but everybody in prison is 100% guilty. So is the government incompetent or not? Or is it only the lawmakers? Is every cop 100% honest? Except probably the one who pulled you over that one time, right?

Never mind the institutional racism which rules our Justice system and makes the likelihood of conviction and sentencing two to three times more likely if you happen to have a darker skin color OR your victim happens to have a lighter skin color. Cause obviously crimes against white people are worse.

So easy to judge, so hard to walk in another man or woman’s shoes and so few people willing to show empathy for anybody but people who look, talk, and act like them.

posted by: Noteworthy on January 31, 2017  1:51pm

Two Rocks:

This is not about the bias in the justice system. We all know it’s there and sometimes, in shocking levels. Are there innocent people in jail? Perhaps. In solitary? Perhaps. But all those issues are separate. It’s also not about having empathy for those who make decisions that land them in the box.This is about solitary confinement - the ACLU, when it’s not focused on stripping God, church and Christmas from our public spaces - now wants us to ban the box. And the posers, with no alternative plan, are happy to pile on because it is the path of least thought.

posted by: Hill Resident on January 31, 2017  2:19pm

I get it,.solitary confinement is not good for the mind or soul. But it’s also not good to allow someone who has committed a violent act against another while incarcerated to be free to do it again without consequence or further confinement. I know that everyone in jail isn’t guilty of the crimes they are incarcerated for, there are innocents who are incarcerated. But there are those who are guilty, were incarcerated, rehabilitated and released. I was incarcerated for a crime I committed and that experience definitely caused me to change my behavior and I stopped committing criminal acts. I was rehabilitated JUST by going to jail!!!  But I’ve also been a victim of crimes committed against me. There must be sanctions against those who commit criminal acts. We must have a system by which citizens are protected from those who would cause them harm and commit crimes - punishment & rehabilitation where possible (there must be consequences when you do wrong), as well as isolation from society of those offenders who are NOT going to be successfully rehabilitated and just need to be kept away from society. So what do you do with the person who breaks the rules while incarcerated? If you are incarcerated and you commit an act that causes harm to another individual, you should be held in isolation until such time that swift determination has been made that (1) the act was deemed self-defense or (2) you are deemed no longer a threat to others as evaluated after having received counseling/therapy. And those most violent offenders who are deemed unable to be rehabilitated, they need to stay in isolation for the safety of everyone else. We need to revamp the process of how long you are held and how you are considered to be no longer a threat, not just leave it in the hands of the corrections officers but include licensed therapists trained in prison behavior, but isolation cells are needed in prisons as a form of ‘time out’!

posted by: Bill Saunders on January 31, 2017  3:20pm

Depending on the charges and the prison, Solitary could be a reasonable alternative to being killed.

posted by: EPDP on January 31, 2017  4:04pm

There are thousands of State and Federal criminal laws on the books.  Almost every American citizen commits at least one crime, if not multiple crimes during his lifetime.  Read the book “Three Felonies a Day.”  The Federal laws are so complicated and convoluted that half the time you don’t even know if you are committing a crime.  The government has the ultimate power to decide who gets busted and who doesn’t.  Why does Yale only get slapped with a fine when it overcharges Medicare or Medicaid, while individual practitioners get thrown in jail for the same crime?  Why do some people in a conspiracy get off the hook while others end up doing 10 years? Why do most white drug dealers go free while minority drug dealers get hard time? Why did the banks get let off the hook after the housing crash with civil fraud fines and no jail time?  In law school you learn that in our democracy the government has “prosecutorial discretion” to decide who to arrest and who to let go.  Yet the law also allows you to sue the government for selective prosecution.  But selective prosecution cases rarely get anywhere in the courts.  There are no checks against the out of control bureaucracy.  The incarceration rate in this country is still the highest in the world, higher than dictatorships, despite the government’s slow and tepid attempt to close prisons.

posted by: TheMadcap on January 31, 2017  6:12pm

I love the fact people here assume you get sent to seg only for a violent attack.

posted by: William Kurtz on February 1, 2017  10:48am

Nitpicky terminology notes: “ban the box” usually refers to the movement to get rid of yes/no questions about prior arrests or convictions on job applications.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ban_the_Box

Noteworthy noted:

“Are there innocent people in jail? Perhaps. In solitary? Perhaps. But all those issues are separate.”

“Mr. Tucker still has flashbacks and PTSD from his one month experience in solitary. What do you think happens to crime victims who are beaten and robbed? Or the family members who have had a member killed? Or the shop owner who was robbed after some thug put a gun to his head? Or rape victims? Crime victims suffer for years.”

Those issues are also separate and more complicated than you seem willing or able to understand. First, replace ‘perhaps’ with ‘certainly,’ unless you are seriously prepared to argue that the steady stream of wrongly-convicted people being exonerated of crimes has finally run dry. Next, empathy, compassion, and support for crime victims aren’t antithetical to fundamentally humane treatment of incarcerated people. A just society can do both.