How to Survive Solitary Confinement

With a sigh, Johnny Perez rises from his plastic chair, unfolds his lanky frame and extends his wingspan until the tips of his middle fingers graze the walls. “It was from here to here,” he says. “I know because I used to do this all the time.” Until recently, these measurements—10 feet by 6 feet—fit his entire life.

Two years ago, Perez was released on parole after serving 13 years at Rikers Island penitentiary and prisons in upstate New York, three of which he spent in solitary confinement.1 Sitting across from Perez, you wonder how he feels in this space, a tiny, harshly lit conference room at the Urban Justice Center on Wall Street in Manhattan. Whether it brings back traumatic memories, or feels like home, or both.

While there is no universally agreed-upon definition, modern solitary—also called supermax, isolated segregation, and “the box”—is commonly understood to involve confinement to a small cell for 22 to 24 hours a day. Prisoners are not allowed to participate in leisure activities, have hobbies, or speak to others. They are often handcuffed and shackled when they leave their cells—if they ever leave. Perez says he eventually stopped even wanting to.

JOHNNY PEREZ: Clothes are near and dear to his heart, says Perez, because for years he was told what to wear. “Nowadays I am very intentional as to what I wear.”Allegra Abramo

Solitary confinement has been linked to a variety of profoundly negative psychological outcomes, including suicidal tendencies and spatial and cognitive distortions. Confinement-induced stress can shrink parts of the brain

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