Rhesus monkeys raised in isolation are anti-social, catatonic, and profoundly disturbed even after they are introduced to their peers. The same is true of humans kept in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time, whether as hostages or prisoners, writes Atul Gawande in the New Yorker. As months roll on, captives feel their minds slipping away, begin to hallucinate, and find it increasingly difficult to reenter society—many of them permanently.
Gawande's subjects range from Terry Anderson, held hostage by Hezbollah for 7 years, to inmates of the American prison system sentenced to long stints in solitary, who liken the experience to torture. So why does the US use it on tens of thousands of convicts? One inmate who learned his former jailer had been put in solitary himself said, “I’d let him out. I wouldn’t wish solitary confinement on anybody. Not even him.”