‘Solitary’ not for faint-hearted

I’ll need to stipulate something off the top: I’ve never been imprisoned, let alone locked up in a prison cell all by myself for any length of time.

However, I do have a tiny sense of what it is like to be tossed into an “administrative segregation” cell.

Frontline looks at the practice of solitary confinement Tuesday at 9 p.m. in a special titled “Solitary Nation” that airs on Panhandle PBS.


Frontline takes an unprecedented look inside the Maine maximum-security prison. It’s graphic and it’s tough to watch. It examines the practice through the eyes of inmates, corrections officers and a new warden who is rethinking whether to consider the practice while possibly seeking to reduce the number of inmates placed in solitary confinement.

What is my “experience” — brief as it was — with this form of punishment?

Well, it occurred during my first year in Amarillo. I received a tour of the William P. Clements maximum-security prison unit northeast of the city. The then-assistant warden, Rick Hudson, took me through the place, showing me where the inmates slept, ate, where they were taken into the unit, how they were processed, where they relaxed and, at the time, where they made saddles and other leather goods.

Then he and a couple of corrections officers showed me the administrative segregation wing.

“Do you want to go into one of the cells?” Hudson asked. “Sure,” I said.

I walked in and then the door slammed behind me.

I was in the cell all of about two minutes. It contained a cement slab where the inmate would place a mattress, a commode and a sink. That’s it.

I could not get out of that cell fast enough. Perhaps it was the sound of the steel door slamming shut and the echo it made.

“Solitary Nation” will give us all an intimate look at what these individuals go through when they mess up in prison. Don’t expect to feel sorry for these people, for many of them have committed some horrible crimes that put them there in the first place.

Solitary confinement, though, isn’t for those with faint hearts.


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