Insights into life in solitary and one man’s first taste of freedom
“I feel like I am developing some kind of skitsophrinia behaviors,” reads one letter. “I hear voices echoing as I try to fall asleep.” That’s how one New York prisoner describes his lengthy experience directly from solitary confinement. The New York Times took a look at some of the letters to the New York Civil Liberties Union from more than 100 prisoners who spend 23 hours a day in elevator-sized cells. The correspondance is part of the NYCLU’s efforts to change the laws around solitary confinement. New York is one of the few states that has not wavered from extensive use of solitary in its prisons.
The days and nights detailed in the letters are similar to those lived by Daniel Holden (Aden Young) in Sundance Channel’s new series RECTIFY. Daniel spends almost 20 years on Death Row before he is released after new DNA evidence vacates his conviction.
The men “fished,” or passed notes, books and magazines to each other using ripped sheets weighted by toothpaste tubes. But mostly they watched the walls.
“The water from the sink is a milky color,” one inmate wrote. “It’s not white but its definitely not clear. Our shower is extremely hot and drips even after we cut it off — nonstop. Due to the moisture from the shower and the sink, we now are beginning to notice knats, also known as ‘fruit flies.’ The walls are marked with gang signs, demonic drawings, mucus, feces and rust. We are not allowed to disinfect our cells. There is toothpaste hard and flaky on my lights, walls, bed, ceiling, doors and vents. On my shower there is numerous stickers, mildoo, soap residoo, and what appears to be little spots of dried blood.”
There is another story in the news that mirrors Daniel’s experiences and might leave you with a bit more hope. An Arizona man who spent 42 YEARS in prison for starting a fire that killed 29 people was freed after advances in fire forensics raised doubts about his conviction.
Louis Taylor, who has been incarcerated since he was 16 years old, stopped for a cheeseburger at In-N-Out on his drive away from prison. Then he went for a hike.
“I’m kind of overwhelmed,” he told The Phoenix New Times, “but I’m free. That’s the most important thing.”
Like RECTIFY’S Daniel Holden, Taylor was freed based on changes in evidence, but has not been exonerated. He had to agree to a no contest plea and could still be tried on new evidence. Some authorities still believe he is guilty. Like the fictional Daniel, he could be tried again.