In last night’s episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a perp who throws Detective Eliot Stabler off a roof uses a defense of mental distress from having spent nineteen years in solitary confinement. He’d been jailed for bank robbery, and when he refused to join the White Aryans in the prison, he got into so many fights they put him in the hole and threw away the key. Stabler decides to find out what it’s like to be in solitary, and spends three days in the same cell the perp had been in.
This scene, of Stabler in the cell, was so powerful, I considered changing the station—that’s how disturbing it was. I remembered being freaked out the same way by the movie The Hurricane, when Denzel Washington portrays the same process, and also Papillon, which I saw too long ago to actually remember. I don’t know how any human being endures solitary confinement for more than an hour at most; I’m sure I would bang my head against the wall in an effort to kill myself, the way the perp did last night. At his trial he described voices in his head saying things like, “Chew off your hand, go ahead, you can do it.”
Why do they do this to people, unless it’s intentional torture? It’s certainly “cruel and unusual punishment,” forbidden by our constitution. What can be the rationale for not allowing someone in solitary to read a book, or listen to music? Again: it’s gotta be intentional torture.
It is now almost 24 hours since I saw the show, and I still haven’t completely shaken the feeling it gave me. Good television. Bad world.
Do You Think You Could Survive (poem written over 30 years ago)
Do you think you could survive solitary confinement?
When you read about Angela or Pappillon
do you imagine exercises you’d do,
mental games you might play?
Do you think you’d rise above it
or have you never considered
of being further confined?