Right now hundreds of Massachusetts prisoners are locked alone in a concrete cell about the size of a parking spot. They can stay there for months or years on end, allowed only one hour a day outside, in a small exercise cage that looks like a dog run. Their meals come through a slot in the cell door. Some tell us their thoughts are racing and they feel the walls closing in. Some get relief by cutting themselves, or by acting out in order to provoke a “forced move” where officers suited-up in tactical gear rush the cell to “extract” the prisoner. They do this just so they can feel contact, feel alive. Others withdraw into themselves. Their world shrinks to their cell, and anything outside becomes frightening and chaotic.
A state prisoner can be sentenced to 10 years of solitary confinement for a single disciplinary violation. Massachusetts is one of only three states that allows for this kind of barbaric sentencing.