Solitary confinement: Fading to grey
This morning I left the house as the sun was rising, resenting the onset of winter. Dark mornings, dark evenings, and only being able to see daylight through my office window.
But as I walked to work, the sunrise, with its pink and purple hues, made the early wake-up worthwhile.
For 43 years, Albert Woodfox didn’t see a sunrise.
Locked up in solitary confinement, he missed over 15,500 of them, trapped in a grey and steel cell for 23 hours a day: far from the pinks, purples, reds, blues and greens that most of us take for granted.
People in solitary confinement have reported that over time, colours fade until all you see is grey.
But the physical and psychological effects of solitary confinement are far more profound. Being imprisoned in a cell without windows, no bigger than a parking space. Exercising alone. Guards wearing gloves so there’s no chance of you feeling a human touch. It’s unsurprising that prisoners in solitary confinement suffer from insomnia, hallucinations and paranoia, and that suicide rates are far higher than in the general prison population.
That solitary confinement is still used so prevalently is a serious concern for Amnesty. In many cases, it contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 5: no one should be subjected to torture, or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
For decades, Amnesty has campaigned for individuals to be released from solitary confinement. We’ve had real successes, most recently with Woodfox, who was released on his sixty-ninth birthday this February after 200,000 Amnesty activists wrote to him and the US prison authorities during our annual Write for Rights campaign.
But the fight to ensure that people aren’t subjected to this type of cruel treatment continues.
In April, 37-year-old Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual-national, was arrested at Tehran Airport and held in solitary confinement for 45 days. Her husband, Richard, told us that when she was eventually moved out of solitary she was extremely weak, couldn’t walk without suffering blackouts, and her hair was falling out. Since then she’s been sentenced to five years in jail on “national security charges” after a short, highly secretive trial.
This November, we’re asking people to write to Nazanin and the Iranian authorities, just as hundreds of thousands did in support of Albert Woodfox last year, with our Write for Rights campaign.
And next time you see a sunrise, spare a thought for those who can only see grey.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.