Hell is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement by Jean Casella, James Ridgeway, and Sarah Shourd
Best for: People interested in learning more about the real cost of solitary confinement.
In a nutshell: A collection of essays about solitary confinement, with the vast majority being authored by those who have actually experienced it.
Line that sticks with me: “I could see grass through the window at the end of the hall. When they found out I could see it, they put a plate over it. We are way worse than other countries.”
Why I chose it: This was a recommendation from my husband.
Review: Each essay written by one of those who has been placed in “SHU” (Secure Housing Units, a.k.a. solitary confinement) is heartbreaking and infuriating in its own way. Solitary confinement has always sounded horrible; these stories confirm it. From the absurd reasons guards – and judges – find to lock people away for 23 hours a day in a tiny cell, to the long-term detriment this causes after just fifteen days, it is all bad.
All of it.
And it’s mortifying that in the U.S., we put more people in these tortuous cells than anywhere else on earth. People are denied human contact. They must jump through absurd hoops just to get access to the occasional book. And some have been in solitary for thirty years.
Can you imagine?
I don’t buy into the idea that people who have committed crimes deserve to be tortured. Yet it seems that so much of the U.S. prison system is focused on revenge fantasies instead of finding ways to rehabilitate people.
The only reason this book isn’t getting five stars is because I didn’t find the final section to be as compelling. It’s a few essays about the psychological and legal concerns about solitary confinement. It felt a bit unnecessary, but I do understand why it was included. It just took away from my experience.