Inside the United States, there are around 80,000 people in solitary confinement on any given day.
Last month, nearly 30,000 inmates in California prisons began a hunger strike to protest solitary confinement conditions, and the state prisons chief met with advocates for the inmates on Friday. More than 300 strikers are still refusing food, according to the AP.
One man who has lived through solitary confinement in California joined All In with Chris Hayes Friday evening to describe what living in prison seclusion is like every day.
“It was terrible. It was lonely. It was scary. Bleak. It really wasn’t until looking back in hindsight and reflection that I was able to see what had really happened. When I was there, there wasn’t any sense of reality around it,” said Steven Czifra.
Czifra, 38, and now a student at UC Berkeley, spent 16 years in correctional facilities and eight of those years were in solitary confinement. Long after his release, Czifra emphasized the deep, psychological effects he’s still recovering from after being in solitude for so long.
“It wasn’t until I looked back and was able to live with other people and saw how they were operating and the way I operated, just as far as day to day anxiety level, sleep patterns, the kinds of things that occupied my thoughts versus what I saw other people paying attention to. It was like night and day,” he said.
Deputy Press Secretary for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Terry Thornton released a statement to All In, saying,
“There is no so-called ‘solitary confinement’ in California prisons and the Security Housing Units at Pelican Bay State Prison … In fact, there is no unit within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that can be described as ‘solitary confinement.’ The SHU is specifically designed to house offenders whose conduct endangers the safety of others or the security of the prison.”
Czifra says “solitary confinement” is the appropriate term for what he and other inmates experienced.
“Some of these people haven’t touched another human being in excess of 30 years,” he said. “They’re alone. They’re desperate. They’re willing to die. They are dying. To act like there’s no issue is absurd.”
You can watch Czifra’s full interview on All In with Chris Hayes in the player above.
Read more about the California prison strike here, and watch a recent panel discussion on solitary confinement’s mental health effects from the Melissa Harris-Perry show.