Indigo Girls and Solitary Confinement

As we grow up, we start to define ourselves by the ways we differ from those around us – friends, family, local society, tv characters, book characters, etc. For many adolescents and adults still seeking our self-definition, music provides a bridge to the life we see for ourselves in the future. The Indigo Girls were one band who helped me begin to build my bridge to nowhere and to everywhere.

The bridge must be long enough and strong enough to support the connections I aim to maintain with the spaces, places and faces who accompanied me on the first 18-year leg of my journey. This sense of humanity is incredibly precious to me and as soon as it was tested during my college years, I knew I would never end up taking some of the risks I had hoped to take (namely smarty-pants types of Robin-hoodesque crimes). For years, I avoided being finger-printed, “just in case” I was someday put in a situation where I “had” to commit a crime for society’s well-being, or to save/protect my family.

“It takes a network of interconnected obligations, both in the present and extending into the past and future, to create and sustain social personhood.”
Lisa N. Guenther

Lisa Guenther talks about the social connections I was intuiting during that initial self-discovery phase. She discusses this social personhood in terms of her philosophy studies and the interrelationship with the experiences of prisoners in solitary confinement. She mentions one of the longest to be confined in solitary, Herman Wallace, whose story is the subject of a recent documentary.

As a person who is an enthusiastic hugger, likes to grab your arm when I am excited about an idea, and frequently asks for multiple opinions about how an experience felt among friends: I would go completely bonkers in regular jail or prison! In short time, I would be in a catatonic state were I to ever be put in solitary confinement.

I agree with Guenther that these practices, affecting over 80,000 U.S. citizens, amount to inhumane and torturous treatment. I hesitate to sound the doomsday alarm, however, I do hope you consider reading a little bit about solitary confinement. Think it over, roll it around in your mind and consider if that is something you think is a worthy punishment for something as simple as forgetting to return your lunch tray properly (one of the examples). We all make simple mistakes like forgetting to clear our dinner plate; criminals made big mistakes to land them in prison, but to further torture them is more than unpalatable, it is cruel.

When Amy Ray and Emily Saliers serenaded my coming of age, I imagined a world full of open-minded people just like me. With our shared mind, we created a utopia beyond belief. While real life has taught me that my “utopia” may well represent my neighbor’s “hell-on-earth,” I still believe there are basic standards due to all humans, no matter what your ideal society looks like. While some argue that solitary confinement is a necessity for managing prison populations, that difficult end does not justify these means. Employing people to inflict cruel punishments is toxic to our society; supporting systematic alienation of 80,000 people from human contact is unconscionable. It is that simple.

What seems simple to me is often the most difficult for me to put into words that get other people’s heads nodding along. The Indigo Girls point out that the hardest lessons to learn are those that are the least complicated. I’m gonna keep singing my song of compassion and humanity right along with these talented songwriters, musicians and humanitarians.



Filed under 5-100

6 responses to “Indigo Girls and Solitary Confinement

  1. Wow. I just watched the trailer for the film. Thanks for posting this. I am sad to say I have never even thought about this issue, and in fact I didn’t even realize it was an issue.

    • There are a lot of hidden atrocities in the U.S. prison system. I have a lot of respect for the work done by the wardens and guards; but I have so many issues with the policies that have created the system in the first place and the sentences and policies that keep the population at such a high level. I am especially outraged at the private prison industry that is supporting politicians who create these policies. But that’s a separate story.

      Solitary confinement is its own sad story. I really hope I get the chance to see this movie. The artist, Jackie Sumell, is an inspiration for the way a single person can really change another person’s life for the better. Just like Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed one hundred people, feed one.”

  2. Until now, all I knew about solitary confinement I learned from an episode of Law and Order Special Victims Unit! I would not do well…perhaps less because of the solitary part than the confinement part.

    Freshman year of college, my single dorm room was tiny. I loved having a single, but I had trouble staying in the room alone with the door closed unless I was asleep. Since I had trouble in a 7×12 room, I don’t think I’d fare well in a 6×9 cell.

    • On the topic of solitary…What’s the longest you’ve gone without talking or touching someone? Or without having somebody else implicitly validate your experience (e.g. by walking around a table, proving that it exists)? I’m not sure I have ever gone longer than 24 hours…thinking of one particular spring break when I holed up in my apartment, but I still ended up in coffee shops after a day or so…

      • Without talking to or touching someone else? Three days. Dave was on travel and lots of people at work were on vacation. Honestly, I was absolutely fine about it until day 3. Then I started feeling weird and actually constructed an excuse to attend a meeting off-site just so I could talk to someone.

        But the other question is much less time. Probably a day or maybe 2-thinking there was probably a time I called in sick before Dave moved here (but I don’t even have a specific example in mind). Even in the first example, I was NEAR people (although not talking or touching or interacting at all) each day on my commute. I hole up in my house all the time, but Dave’s usually here.

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