Voices from Solitary: Hunger Strike in Menard Prison

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A little over a year ago, the notorious Tamms Correctional Center was closed, after a long battle by activists and with the support of Governor Pat Quinn. Individuals were rehoused in prisons across Illinois, including Menard Correctional Center, the largest maximum-security institution in the state. While few would argue that it is anything but an improvement over […]

Voices from Solitary: Walk With Me —— Life on the Inside of the SMU at USP Lewisburg


The following account comes from Live from Lockdown, a website focused on “using technology to provide voice and access to gang leaders and other influential inmates who are known personally by the community. Rather than glamorize street gangs, the mission of LIVE is to utilize gang leadership as credible messengers to provide an unvarnished view […]

Voices from Solitary: “This Massive Mind-Fuck Machine”


Sean Swain is has served 22 years of a 20-to-life sentence for a murder he maintains was committed in self-defense. He has done many long stints in solitary confinement, and is currently being held at the supermax Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown. A self-proclaimed anarchist, he has twice run for governor of Ohio from his prison cell. […]

Voices from Solitary: Thin Comfort


The following comes from Joseph Stanwick, who has spent nearly two decades in solitary confinement in Texas. In this letter to Solitary Watch, he describes his last holiday season, which was spent under lockdown status. In supermax prisons and solitary confinement units, where people rarely leave their cells to begin with, lockdown often entails further deprivations of things like regular […]

Voices from Solitary: “Finally Out and Among the Living”


This essay by John Jay Powers was published by the Colorado Independent, with the following introductory note by editor Susan Greene. Greene has corresponded with Powers for years, and included him in her multimedia investigation of solitary confinement, The Gray Box. “Jack Powers is an inmate in the federal Bureau of Prisons convicted of bank robbery and escaping from prison. […]

Voices from Solitary: “A Prison Where the Building Becomes the Shackles”


Former political prisoner Ray Luc Levasseur was raised in Maine, born to a working-class family of Quebecois origin. He became politically radicalized at a young age, first after serving a term of duty in Vietnam, and again after spending two years in a Tennessee prison.  In 1986, Ray Luc Levasseur was convicted for militant activities conducted […]

Voices from Solitary: Life in H-Unit, ADX Federal Supermax

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The excerpts that follow come from a declaration by Mahmud Abouhalima, who was convicted of taking part in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center (a charge he still denies). Sentenced to 240 years, he initially spent most of his time in the general population at federal maximum security prisons, where he was permitted […]

Voices from Solitary: Welcome to the SHU

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Karl ChuJoy is currently serving three years in solitary confinement in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) of Elmira Correctional Facility in upstate New York, for possessing a laptop computer. He writes in a letter to Solitary Watch: “I’ve been incarcerated since I was fifteen (15) years old. I am now thirty-six (36)…I’m halfway through these three (3) […]

Voices from Solitary: Solitary Confinement’s Invisible Scars

Solitary confinement cell in a New York state prison.

The following comes from our friend and colleague Five Omar Mualimm-ak, who works for prison reform in New York with the American Friends Service Committee, Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, New York City Jails Action Coalition, and New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, among other groups. He served twelve years in […]

Voices from Solitary: “I Live Each Day Contemplating Death”


The following comes from Toby Chavez, currently in solitary confinement at the Penitentiary of New Mexico. He is serving a life sentence for first degree murder and armed robbery, a conviction he is appealing, and will be eligible for parole after 30 years. Chavez has been incarcerated since 1999, and has spent over a decade […]