Ian Manuel had just finished seventh grade when he shot a woman in the face during a robbery. It was "the act of a 13-year-old in crisis," Manuel writes in a New York Times op-ed, adding that the "cruel and unusual punishment" that followed did not fit the bill. Manuel pleaded guilty in Florida, believing he would face a 15-year maximum sentence. Instead, he got life imprisonment with no chance of parole. Prison was bad, of course. But solitary confinement was worse, and that's where Manuel landed at age 15 after "minor infractions." Each subsequent infraction meant another six months in solitary. Ultimately, Manuel would stay "caged in a roughly 7-by-10-foot room" for the next 18 years—"from 1992 to 2010. From age 15 to 33. From the end of the George HW Bush administration to the beginnings of the Obama era."
He recalls one night he "purposely overdosed on Tylenol so that I could spend a night in the hospital. For even one night, it was worth the pain." But mostly he imagined he was free—to "play basketball with my brother" or "eat my mother's warm cherry pie on the porch." Manuel adds "no child should have to use their imagination this way—to survive." While juvenile solitary confinement in federal prisons was banned in 2016, the same year Manuel was released, the practice is still permitted in dozens of states. "But we have the power to change that—to ensure that the harrowing injustice I suffered as a young boy never happens to another child in America," writes Manuel, who also advocates for limiting adult solitary confinement to no more than 15 days. His full piece, to be followed by a memoir, is here. (Manuel's victim became one of his biggest supporters.)