Earlier this month, VICE producer James Burns began a 30-day project in which he will voluntarily stay in solitary confinement as a way of bringing awareness to the use of this form of punitive and administrative segregation by the American prison system.
Prior to starting the month-long project, which is being livestreamed on VICE, Burns discussed his own troubled past and the amount of time he spent in solitary confinement during his stay in prison.
Burns ran with a rough crew as a child, and at the age of 14, was convicted as an adult for his crimes. He explained that while he was being shuffled between juvenile and adult facilities over the next four years, he spent quite a bit of time in solitary.
During those times, the documentary filmmaker noted that he would punch the walls until his fists were swollen, or cover his cell door to force a SORT team to come in so he could fight them, all in an effort to feel something. Regarding how someone can be placed in solitary, Burns pointed out that it isn’t just the extremely violent offenders. Instead, many are placed in there over minor prison infractions, such as hiding an extra roll of toilet paper or mouthing off to a corrections officer.
Below is the livestream of Burns in isolation:
Of course, this time around is different, as Burns will be able to leave his cell if he’s unable to take it anymore. And he knows he’ll be a free man when the 30 days is up if he makes it However, on the flip side, he was a child when he dealt with it in the past, and he wonders how he’ll be impacted as an adult.
I was a kid the first time I went in, so I didn’t understand the true gravity of what was happening to me. I’m afraid that this time around there will be situations that are going to trigger me, but my hope is that I can look this thing in the face again and finally close the door on it forever.
Burns also wants to make clear that most of the people who are in prison now will be released at some point. Considering that there are roughly 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement now, the negative effects those prisoners go through during their time in isolation can bring significant danger to communities when they are released to society.
Watch Burns’ interview with VICE above.
[image via screengrab]
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