I made this piece in response to a report published by the VERA Institute of Justice on solitary confinement. The report is direct, informative, and densely packed with important information on the subject. My goal in extracting phrases from it was to poetically respond to it in its entirety: both the data and how it felt to read it.
Prior to starting this project, I had only a passing familiarity with solitary confinement. I learned many facts about the experience that horrified me: the cells are often the size of a parking spot; it is loud and often windowless; usually brightly lit 24 hours a day; the inmates are released from these cells for very limited periods of time (frequently only for an hour a day); and the average length of stay in a solitary cell—while difficult to identify across the U.S.—in some states is measured in years.. It is unsurprising that this experience often causes lasting psychological effects.
It seems uncontroversial that the practice should change. And, in fact, many states are working towards reducing the practice, or changing the status quo of the living conditions within solitary confinement (such as allowing for more social time). However, any change is difficult in a system as large as the Department of Corrections, and the physical infrastructure currently in place limits the speed of action.
My home state of Oregon is actively working with the VERA Institute of Justice to assess the use of solitary confinement, which is heartening.
Now more than ever it is vital for us to simply be aware of these issues. It is easy to let yourself ignore the issues facing people in prison, for many reasons. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like for you to experience these conditions, and all too easy to fall into cold-hearted ideas about punishment, rather than looking at how to best make everyone safe and help everyone thrive. I encourage you to listen to the stories of those who are or have been incarcerated whenever possible, and to weigh in with your opinion on the matter to your local government.
Many thanks to Portland nonprofit Big House Kite, who commissioned this animation. Big House Kite is an organization devoted to the creation of original theatrical presentations as well as other forms of artwork by inmates. I encourage you to learn more about Big House Kite and to donate to them if you are able to do so.