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Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement

Regular price $ 25.95

Edited by Jean Casella, James Ridgeway and Sarah Shourd

The New Press

2016, hardcover

SKU: 9781620971376


The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has denounced the use of solitary confinement beyond fifteen days as a form of cruel and degrading treatment that often rises to the level of torture. Yet the United States holds more than eighty thousand people in isolation on any given day. Now sixteen authors vividly describe the miserable realities of life in solitary.

In a book that will add a startling new dimension to the debates around human rights and prison reform, former and current prisoners describe the devastating effects of solitary confinement on their minds and bodies, the solidarity expressed between individuals who live side by side for years without ever meeting one another face to face, the ever-present specters of madness and suicide, and the struggle to maintain hope and humanity.

These firsthand accounts are supplemented by the writing of noted experts, exploring the psychological, legal, ethical, and political dimensions of solitary confinement, and a comprehensive introduction by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella. Sarah Shourd, herself a survivor of more than a year of solitary confinement, writes eloquently in a preface about an experience that changed her life.


"[I]f I were to recommend just one book on this topic to an interested citizen, I would recommend this one." - Counterpunch

"[T]hese stories pack a visceral punch and make a convincing case for more humane conditions, better oversight, and continuing prison reform." - Publishers Weekly

"A potent cry of anguish from men and women buried way down in the hole." - Kirkus

"Solitary confinement in American prisons has grown to become one of our nation's most horrendous human rights problems. Much more public attention is needed on this shameful, wasteful, cruel travesty. Hell Is a Very Small Place has been put together by a group of conscientious stalwarts working at the center of this problem. Please take the time to read these haunting voices of people in solitary, along with experts and activists. It is vitally important." - Ralph Nader

About the Authors:

Jean Casella is a co-director of Solitary Watch, a web-based watchdog project, and a Soros Justice Fellow. She is the editor of two previous anthologies and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

James Ridgeway is national political correspondent for the Village Voice and author of 17 books. He is a co-director of Solitary Watch and a Soros Justice Fellow.

Sarah Shourd is a writer, educator and Contributing Editor at Solitary Watch currently based in Oakland, California. Sarah has done international human rights work with the Zapatista indigenous movement in Chiapas, Mexico; organized with women's groups against unsolved murders of sweatshop workers in Juarez, Mexico; and taught for the Iraqi Student Project while living in Damascus, Syria. After her wrongful imprisonment in Iran, Sarah has become an advocate for prisoners' rights, focusing her writing, speaking, and theater projects on the wide-spread use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails. She has written for the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, CNN, and Newsweek/Daily Beast, and contributes a blog to Huffington Post.