Solitary Confinement (SC), in development, is a secular program requested by the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) to bring mindfulness and meditation to inmates in isolation. Solitary Confinement has proven to have a terrible impact on even stable inmates, driving many individuals to psychosis and suicide.
A number of states have begun to address these issues: people with diagnosed mental health issues and youth under 18 are being rehoused; conditions are being somewhat humanized; enrichment of different kinds is being offered and transition programs are being considered so that inmates are not released directly from extensive solitary to the street. In Colorado the spotlight was turned on the program when a previous director was killed by an inmate who was directly released from solitary. Nationwide, the average time in solitary for even minor infractions is 18 months.
Far from being a last-resort measure reserved for the “worst of the worst,” solitary confinement has become a control strategy of first resort in many prisons and jails. Today, incarcerated men and women can be placed in complete isolation for months or years not only for violent acts but for possessing contraband, testing positive for drug use, ignoring orders, or using profanity. Thousands of prisoners (80,000 estimated) are held in indefinite solitary confinement, some because they have been named as gang members by other prisoners who are rewarded for the information. Others have ended up in solitary because they have untreated mental illnesses, are children in need of “protection,” are gay or transgender, are Muslim, have unsavory political beliefs, or report rape or abuse by prison officials.
We have produced a secular mindfulness book for inmates in solitary to help them develop a meditation discipline and methods for working with the intensity of their situation. It gives them a way to cultivate wholesomeness and sanity in an 8×10 foot room, rather than leaving them at the mercy of an uncontrolled, delusional mind. We’re developing a curriculum that will help them study the book and go deeper into its practices and understandings.