The new PBS Frontline documentary "Solitary Nation" delves into the stark realities and consequences of solitary confinement in the U.S. prison system. HuffPost Live hosted a discussion about the documentary's findings with filmmaker Dan Edge, along with former prisoners who recounted firsthand what it is like to be locked up alone.
For Sarah Shourd, who spent 410 days in solitary confinement as a political hostage in Iran, the experience was dehumanizing.
"In the beginning, it reduces you to an almost animal-like state," she told host Marc Lamont Hill. "I spent all my days pacing my cell, punching the air, just full of rage. And then I would fall into deep depressions."
She continued, "I would crouch by the slot in my door, just trying to hear a sound, like a cough or a footstep, to remind me that I was still in the land of the living. And there were times where I completely lost my sanity and screamed and beat up the walls of my cell."
Even when she was provided with mental stimulation during solitary confinement, Shourd said she was still adversely affected by the lack of human contact.
"Studies show that after two or three days, your brainwaves start to shift toward stupor or delirium," she said. "There's no stimulation. Eventually I got books. And I was ecstatic to have books, but I would spend some days reading the same paragraph over and over again, not being able to understand anything, and just hurling it at the wall in frustration."
Shourd shared that small rebellions, like receiving clandestine notes from other prisoners, helped bolster her morale. "Those notes were my lifeline. Any contact with another human being would give me new things to think about. It would fill me with hope and joy."
Also joining Shourd in the conversation was Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York, and Anthony Graves, who was wrongfully convicted and later exonerated of a crime, but not before he was held in solitary confinement for 16 of the 18 years he spent in prison.