From Charles Dickens to the West End stage, the "separate system" has been condemned since 1842. It's high time we got rid of it—and found better ways to help prisonersby Kirstie Brewer / September 29, 2017 / Leave a comment
Abnormal, inhuman, diseasing, demoralising. That’s how prison inmate Susan Willis Fletcher described her experiences of being in solitary confinement.
“Each prisoner is locked in her solitary cell for twenty-three hours out of every twenty-four; which is in itself a very dreadful punishment bad for the health of the body, worse for the health of the mind,” she wrote in a journal about her twelve-month stint in Westminster Prison.
That was in 1884—but prisoners today can still strongly relate. The ravages of solitary confinement on the minds of prisoners have been documented ever since it was first introduced in England in 1842, but the practice persists.
During the 90s and mid-2000s, Dean Stalham spent a total of six years in prison for handling stolen artwork and landed in solitary confinement a number of times. The longest period was a fortnight, when he says he was locked up for at least 23 hours a day. He says he’d smuggled a miniature television into prison so he could watch the football world cup.
“It is horrendous—you cover every inch of the cell you’re in—studying the light and how the air is different in one part than the other,” he remembers. “I ended up curled up on the floor, in an embryonic state.”
Stalham—who writes stage and screenplays about prison life—recalls the messed up sleep patterns; staring at the dirty pale yellow walls and slipping into a hallucinogenic state where reality merged with…