Saturday, September 19, 2009

Atul Gawande, Truth-teller

Clay Shirkey’s book Here Comes Everybody is about the current rage for online social networking, not prison conditions. But in asserting that humans are social by nature, he illustrates the point by asking us to consider the consequences of completely depriving someone of social contact during incarceration.

“One of the most severe punishments that can be meted out to a prisoner is solitary confinement; even in a social environment as harsh and attenuated as prison, complete removal from human contact is harsher still.”

Sharkey published these words in 2008. Early in 2009, Atul Gawande probed the soul-destroying experience of long-term solitary confinement in prison and concluded that it amounts to torture. The March 30 issue of The New Yorker contains his disturbing essay “Hellhole,” which should be required reading for all Americans. The depth of the degradation it depicts will not leave you unchanged.

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