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  1. Opinion

Column: Solitary confinement is torture

Laurette Philipsen on her time in solitary: “Everybody needs human contact, I never truly understood that until I went 28 days without it, and I hope other people will never have to go through it.”
Published May 28

After a couple of days in solitary confinement, your mind starts to play tricks on you. It's really easy to look around and think about ending your life.

I speak from experience. I was put in solitary for 28 days at Lowell Correctional Institution after I was accused of a violation while I was out on work release. I've been out of prison for over a year, and I still bear the scars of that time in solitary.

I don't handle enclosed environments well. Now, I don't like closing the door when I'm in my bedroom or bathroom. I still can't sleep through the night because of my time in solitary.

It's very hard to describe what solitary is like to someone who's never experienced it. Very quickly you lose track of time. You don't know what day it is, and you don't know if it's day or night. With nothing to occupy your mind your brain begins to meander, and you think your family and friends have forgotten about you, and maybe would be better off without you.

You have nothing to do, except stare at the ceiling and the toilet. Your mind drifts in and out of consciousness in a room with no air conditioning, or ventilation, that is barely larger than a parking spot.

And imagine being served food that is slop on unclean trays that is shoved into your cell. You only get to shower three times a week for a limited amount of time, and you're handcuffed when coming and going from that shower.

Everybody needs human contact, I never truly understood that until I went 28 days without it, and I hope other people will never have to go through it.

Since I got out of prison, I've done everything I can to turn my life around. I was happy to talk about my experiences at a recent press conference where a class action lawsuit was announced challenging the use of solitary confinement in Florida prisons.

I wouldn't wish what I went through on anyone, but I know there are worse cases. For instance, Admire Harvard is a transgender woman locked up in a men's prison. She's been in solitary for 10 years and she's only 28 years old.

Another person, whom the lawsuit identifies as J.H., is only 17 years old and has been locked up in solitary in an adult prison since December 2018. For someone that young being in solitary for months is awful. Our brains are still developing at that age, and I fear this child could have lifelong mental health problems from being in solitary.

Being in solitary makes it harder when you get out of prison, and it doesn't make the prison safer. There's no reason it can't be eliminated.

I hope Florida soon gets rid of this barbaric practice, either through this lawsuit, or because state officials recognize the futility of using it.

Laurette Philipsen served over eight years in prison for fraud. A resident of Port Richey, she now volunteers with Florida Cares, which is dedicated to improving the lives of the incarcerated through visitation programs, advocacy and legislative efforts.

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