• Abby Brenker

The History of Isolation


This week’s episode outlines three aspects of the history of isolation. Obviously the term “isolation” is so vague and broad there are many ways to take that. We decided to focus on solitary confinement, isolation as tortue, and being stranded totally alone. There are really heavy parts of this conversation. We wanted to highlight that things like solitary are a huge issue and incredibly inhumane. Especially in the US Prison system (which is already a horrific and unjust system without the addition of solitary.)


For more information, I suggest watching the documentary Solitary (2016) and looking into Solitary Watch. There are ways to write letters to people being held in solitary confinement.


Solitary confinement is when a prisoner is isolated from other prisoners, and kept in a single, usually very small cell. There are two use cases. As a punishment for prisoners who are violent, disruptive or a threat to prison staff and other prisoners. The other way is as a way to protect high profile prisoners, or prisoners who may be a target to other inmates.


The first known use of solitary confinement in the US Prison system can be traced back to 1829, in Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary. It is rooted in a Quaker practice, an alternative to public shaming. The Quakers of Pennsylvania believed that isolating someone in a stone room with only a bible would inspire prayer and rehabilitation. However, they moved away from this practice when most prisoners completed suicide, went insane or lost basic human functions.

Eastern State Penitentiary did not get the memo though, and started using this tactic in 1829.


Listen to the episode for more history on solitary, the uses of isolation as torture and some truly bizarre times when people were stranded on islands. Lunatics Radio Hour - anywhere you listen to podcasts.


All my love,

Abby


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