What It Means to Be Human: A Philosopher’s Argument Against Solitary Confinement

What It Means to Be Human: A Philosopher’s Argument Against Solitary Confinement

The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.  –Fyodor Dostoyevsky

guentherIn recent years, resistance to the widespread use of solitary confinement has gained significant traction in the United States. Opponents of the practice have drawn upon everything from psychology and neuroscience to criminology and economics to show the many harms caused by solitary.

Lisa Guenther, associate professor at Vanderbilt University and author of the new book Solitary Confinement: Social Death and Its Afterlives, draws upon her knowledge of philosophy to make a thought-provoking argument against the practice of isolating human beings for extended periods of time.

Guenther refers to the tenets of phenomenology, which deals primarily with the development of the consciousness through first-person experiences—the formative relationships we share with one another and the objects that surround us. Solitary confinement, she argues, eliminates the opportunity for incarcerated persons to form these meaningful connections. Although the necessities of survival may be provided, those held in solitary deteriorate nevertheless. She describes it as an unhinging of the person’s psyche.

In an AEON Magazine article, Guenther contests, “We do not exist as isolated individuals,” but rather as constantly changing and adapting reflections of our living environment. Phenomenology suggests that while we may believe ourselves to have intrinsic characteristics unique to us, at heart we are products of the environments we interact with on a day-to-day basis.

Solitary confinement effectively removes all meaningful stimulus from prisoners’ environments, rendering them unable to ground themselves in a reality created by sensory connections. Guenther, in an article published in the New York Times, explains these sensory phenomena in simple terms:

Think about it: Every time I hear a sound and see another person look toward the origin of that sound, I receive an implicit confirmation that what I heard was something real, that it was not just my imagination playing tricks on me. Every time someone walks around the table rather than through it, I receive an unspoken, usually unremarkable, confirmation that the table exists, and that my own way of relating to tables is shared by others.

While these may seem like insignificant interactions with one’s environment to an average person, a phenomenologist would say that these are reassuring occurrences that should not be taken for granted. Being deprived of these interactions, as people in solitary confinement are, leads them to question their reality and develop symptoms associated with extreme isolation such as paranoia, hallucinations, and introversion.

Five Mualimm-ak, who spent a total of five years in solitary confinement later reflected on the experience: “The very essence of life, I came to learn during those seemingly endless days, is human contact, and the affirmation of existence that comes with it.” Without these subtle yet countless affirmations we experience daily, we too would have trouble discerning what is grounded in reality and what is solely in our heads.

While we don’t have to undergo this questioning of reality that individuals subjected to solitary confinement must, we on the outside are not unaffected by its practice. From a phenomenological standpoint, the complete seclusion of these prisoners from our shared environments restricts our capacity to understand the world in which we live. Solitary confinement is purposefully concealed from the public eye—out of sight, out of mind—and because of this we are denied the first-person experience so important in forming our thoughts, feelings, and judgments.

More transparency in our prisons would allow the public to better understand the treatment that isolated inmates undergo, and give them a greater ability to critique and formulate alternatives to their practices. The absence of isolated prisoners from our common consciousness perpetuates their suffering and our ignorance, a dangerous combination.

Accepting that humans are relational beings, Guenther suggests that the sensory deprivation that people in solitary undergo is sufficient to unhinge their minds. They are forced to question everything with which they interact. And as they begin to reflect their morbid environment, they lose their sense of what it means to be human.

This phenomenological argument makes a strong case for the inclusion of human contact in the list of fundamental human needs—and for the use of solitary confinement to be seen as a violation of fundamental human rights.

Solitary Watch: “Solitary 101” PowerPoint Presentation

New from Solitary Watch: “Solitary 101” PowerPoint Presentation

Our “Solitary 101″ PowerPoint, developed for the recent Midwest Coalition for Human Rights conference on Solitary Confinement and Human Rights, is now available online. The 60-slide PowerPoint includes sections on the history of solitary confinement, solitary as it is praed in the United States today, and the growing movement against solitary confinement.

We encourage educators and advocates to use, share, and customize the presentation according to their needs (for non-commercial purposes only, with proper attribution to Solitary Watch). No advance permission is necessary, although we will appreciate hearing about how you are using the presentation, as well as any suggestions for improvement.

Solitary Watch’s ‘Solitary 101′ Powerpoint Presentation

Solitary Watch’s ‘Solitary 101′ Powerpoint — Printable Version







“To love. To be loved…” Arundhati Roy

DSC_0093“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget. “ - Arundhati Roy

Tommy Lee Waldrip granted clemency day before execution


GA: Tommy Lee Waldrip granted clemency day before execution

Sat Jul 19, 2014 13:21


US death row inmate granted clemency day before execution; sentence commuted to life
By: Kate Brumback, The Associated Press
Posted: 07/9/2014 5:19 PMATLANTA – The state of Georgia on Wednesday spared the life of an inmate, commuting the condemned man’s sentence the day before he was to be put to death.
Tommy Lee Waldrip, 68, was scheduled to be executed Thursday night for the April 1991 slaying of a store clerk who was set to testify in court against Waldrip’s son. After a hearing Wednesday, the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles ordered that Waldrip’s sentence be commuted to life without parole.
The board did not give any explanation for its decision in the order, saying only that it had reviewed and considered all the facts and circumstances of the case, as well as arguments for and against clemency.
Lawyers for Waldrip did not immediately return after-hours calls seeking comment Wednesday. Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, said his office had no comment.
Waldrip is only the fifth death row inmate to have a sentence commuted by Georgia’s Parole Board since 2002. The last time it happened was in the case of Daniel Greene, who was spared execution on April 20, 2012.
Waldrip had been on death row for two decades. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994 for the April 1991 slaying of 23-year-old Keith Evans. His son and brother-in-law were also convicted in the killing and are serving life sentences.
Evans was a store clerk and had testified in the 1990 armed robbery trial of Waldrip’s son, John Mark Waldrip. The younger Waldrip was convicted, but he was granted a new trial and released on bond, according to Georgia Supreme Court records from Tommy Lee Waldrip’s case. Evans was set to testify in the retrial.
On April 13, 1991, several days before the new trial, John Mark Waldrip called another witness and threatened to harm him if he testified.
Later that evening, Tommy Lee Waldrip, his son and his brother-in-law Howard Livingston ran Evans’ truck off the road at a highway crossing and fired a shotgun through the windshield, hitting him in the face and neck, authorities said. Evans was still alive and the men drove him in his truck to another location, where they beat him to death, authorities said. Evans’ body was buried in a shallow grave and his truck was set on fire.
Authorities found an insurance card for Tommy Lee Waldrip’s wife’s car near the burned truck. Waldrip denied any involvement in Evans’ disappearance in an interview the next day. But he was arrested days after that and later confessed to shooting and beating Evans and burning his truck. Authorities said he led them to Evans’ body and the shotgun.
The next day, he said his son and brother-in-law had killed Evans and burned the truck and that he was just a bystander. In a third statement, he said all three of them were involved, authorities said.
Associated Press writer Russ Bynum in Savannah contributed to this report.

Got an e-mail: Mark Woodworth and Ryan Ferguson, innocent men both freed this year with the help of Change.org petitions.


Liz Ramsey via Change.org <mail@change.org> schrieb am 1:28 Sonntag, 20.Juli 2014:
Change.org Responsive Template Baseline

Mark Woodworth and Ryan Ferguson, innocent men both freed this year with the help of Change.org petitions.

Annamaria –

Mark Woodworth spent 17 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit. This last Tuesday, he got the call he had been waiting for since his conviction was overturned for the second time in January of 2013 — prosecutors we’re dropping all charges against him.

Mark was only 16 years-old in 1990 when his neighbor was shot and killed in her home, and three years later he was indicted for her killing. Soon it was revealed that prosecutors withheld evidence that pointed to his innocence. His conviction was overturned twice but when the Missouri Attorney General planned to try him a third time, I started a petition calling for the charges to be dismissed.

With the help of a fantastic legal team and the more than 140,000 people — including you — who signed my petition on Change.org, all charges against Mark were dismissed on July 15.

This means that Mark’s ordeal is finally over. He and his wife can move on with their lives.

Thank you for being part of Mark’s fight for justice.

Liz Ramsey
St. Louis, Missouri

P.S. Now 39, Mark was only a teenager when this ordeal began. He and his family have spent thousands on legal fees over the years. I’m raising money to help him start his new life without fear of imprisonment. If you want to chip in, click here to learn more.

80 gifts to 80 homeless people in Paris — We are all little helpers

Originally posted on ChildreninShadow.wordpress.com:


80 gifts to 80 homeless people in Paris — We are all little helpers

Veröffentlicht am 30.12.2012 

Friends giving food, presents, smiles and cuddles directly to homeless people. Just do the same with your friends or join us ! :)

The idea came after seeing this video : http://vimeo.com/28878406

We decided to gather to do the same in Paris, but with homeless people.

We were 12 friends bringing food & warm good condition clothes that we didn’t use anymore.

- For food, we bought : coffee, tea, soup, bread, meat, cheese, chocolate, fruits, cakes, biscuits, water, juices…

- For clothes : scarves, coats, jeans, t-shirts, gloves, hats, blankets & pillows… for men, women and children.

We walked all day long, and managed to give 80 gifts + 50 bags of food.

We just wanted to give directly to people. To help, hand to hand. To talk to them…

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“I´HAVE BUILT ROBOTS” Homeless People In Poignant Video Remind Us It Can Happen To Anyone

‘I’ve Built Robots’: Homeless People In Poignant Video Remind Us It Can Happen To Anyone

“I speak four languages.” “I’ve built robots.” “I have a degree in biology from West Virginia University.” These aren’t statements from renowned business leaders or well-known academics. These are truths written…


More Than 100 AIDS Researchers and Advocates Perished on Downed Malaysian Jetliner


Feeling “Invisible,” Black Residents Leave Austin

Feeling “Invisible,” Black Residents Leave Austin

Natalie Madeira Cofield, president and CEO of the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce, in her South Congress Avenue neighborhood in Austin.

Natalie Madeira Cofield, president and CEO of the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce, in her South Congress Avenue neighborhood in Austin.

When Austinite Natalie Madeira Cofield walks among the local boutiques and cafes in her South Congress Avenue neighborhood, she likes to take note of the other African-Americans she sees.

“If I get past 10, I’m like, ‘Wow, there are a lot of black people out today,’” said Cofield, 32, who moved to Austin three years ago from Washington to become head of what is now the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce.

Austin, with a population of 885,400, is among the country’s fastest-growing cities, luring residents with its live music scene, technology jobs and laid-back way of life. But the city is struggling to attract and retain African-Americans. Among large, fast-growing cities, Austin is the only one with a shrinking African-American population, according to a May report from the University of Texas at Austin that used Census Bureau data.

“It is completely outside the norm,” said Eric Tang, an author of the report, which looked at cities of at least 500,000 residents that experienced a double-digit rate of population growth from 2000 to 2010. While Tang said researchers expected to find that Austin’s African-American population was not growing at the same rate as the general population, they did not expect to find a decline. None of the other cities examined, Tang said, showed a drop.

As Austin’s population grew 20.4 percent from 2000 to 2010, its African-American population declined 5.4 percent. In contrast, the population of African-Americans increased for the greater Austin metropolitan Region….

READ MORE: https://www.texastribune.org/2014/07/18/african-american-austin/

Mother Cow Proves Animals Love, Think & Act

Originally posted on spiritandanimal.wordpress.com:

Mother Cow Proves Animals Love, Think & Act

(TOUCHING TALE) A dairy cow made the tough choice to hide one of her calves after giving birth to twins. As her fifth birth, the cow remembered her previous agony and knew that both of her babies would be taken away, unless she tried to save one. The intelligence and care displayed by this mothering cow is both heartbreaking and breathtaking. Read this touching tale, told by a veterinarian, about an amazing display of motherly love that proves animals love and feel. — Global Animal

calves differnt colors baby cow Mother Cow Proves Animals Love, Think &amp; Act

By Holly Cheever, DVM, reprinted from Action for Animals

I would like to tell you a story that is as true as it is heartbreaking. When I first graduated from Cornell’s School of Veterinary Medicine, I went into a busy dairy practice in Cortland County. I became a very popular practitioner due…

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