Social Death and Its Afterlives
Publication Year: 2013
Prolonged solitary confinement has become a widespread and standard practice in U.S. prisons—even though it consistently drives healthy prisoners insane, makes the mentally ill sicker, and, according to the testimony of prisoners, threatens to reduce life to a living death. In this profoundly important and original book, Lisa Guenther examines the death-in-life experience of solitary confinement in America from the early nineteenth century to today’s supermax prisons. Documenting how solitary confinement undermines prisoners’ sense of identity and their ability to understand the world, Guenther demonstrates the real effects of forcibly isolating a person for weeks, months, or years.
Drawing on the testimony of prisoners and the work of philosophers and social activists from Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty to Frantz Fanon and Angela Davis, the author defines solitary confinement as a kind of social death. It argues that isolation exposes the relational structure of being by showing what happens when that structure is abused—when prisoners are deprived of the concrete relations with others on which our existence as sense-making creatures depends. Solitary confinement is beyond a form of racial or political violence; it is an assault on being.
A searing and unforgettable indictment, Solitary Confinement reveals what the devastation wrought by the torture of solitary confinement tells us about what it means to be human—and why humanity is so often destroyed when we separate prisoners from all other people.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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This book would not have been written if not for Angela Davis. In my first year teaching at Vanderbilt University, I audited a graduate course on slavery with Dr. Davis, who was a visiting professor in the philoso-phy department at the time. This course, along with her written work on slavery, prisons, and torture, changed the course of my research and ...
INTRODUCTION: A Critical Phenomenology of Solitary Confinement
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...plest and most devastating is through prolonged solitary confinement. Deprived of meaningful human interaction, otherwise healthy prison-ers become unhinged. They see things that do not exist, and they fail to see things that do. Their sense of their own bodies—even the fun-damental capacity to feel pain and to distinguish their own pain from ...
I. The Early U.S. Penitentiary System
1 An Experiment in Living Death
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...of punishment with the establishment of the penitentiary system in the early nineteenth century in the United States. The penitentiary was devised as a humanitarian response to the penal customs of public hu-miliation, torture, and execution inherited from English colonial rule. In the latter system, punishment was largely based on retribution—an ...
2 Person, World, and Other: A Husserlian Critique of Solitary Confinement
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State Penitentiary in the early nineteenth century. Taking this descrip-tion as my starting point, I now develop a phenomenological analysis of what personhood must be like in order to be affected in this way by prolonged solitary confinement. What are the conditions for the pos-sibility of such a radical physical, emotional, cognitive, and social de-...
3 The Racialization of Criminality and the Criminalization of Race: From the Plantation to the Prison Farm
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...tions, and I feel all that they ever felt, but double. I can’t slavery. It felt like slavery. It was black people and people of first wave of the U.S. penitentiary system was not, by and large, an experience of (failed) redemption through solitary confinement in the penitentiary system but, rather, one of forced labor, bodily pain, pub-...
II. The Modern Penitentiary
4 From Thought Reform to Behavior Modification
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...from Alfred H. Love, and there is a vast ideological chasm between Love’s Christian humanism and McConnell’s scientific antihuman-ism. And yet their conclusions are strikingly similar: criminals must not only be punished or reformed but also treated and cured of their criminal behavior. The desire to diagnose and treat criminal offenders ...
5 Living Relationality: Merleau-Ponty’s Critical Phenomenological Account of Behavior
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...cation provided a scientific foundation and an intellectual justifica-tion for a set of practices ranging from the coercive interrogation of enemies of the state, to coercive “therapy” for domestic prisoners, and even to voluntary forms of therapy and self-improvement based on similar principles. These researchers shared a set of basic assumptions ...
6 Beyond Dehumanization: A Posthumanist Critique of Intensive Confinement
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...see my face in the mirror. I’ve lost my skin. I can’t feel my In 1971, the Attica Liberation Faction demanded an end to the de-humanization of prisoners in its “Manifesto of Demands and Anti-We, the inmates of Attica Prison, have grown to recognize beyond the shadow of a doubt, that because of our posture as prisoners and branded ...
III. Supermax Prisons
7 Supermax Confinement and the Exhaustion of Space
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...the era of the control prison. Its implicit, and often explicit, aim is to control, contain, and incapacitate prisoners. Gone is the rhetoric of rehabilitation or spiritual redemption. It has been replaced by a neo-liberal rhetoric of risk management, security, efficiency, accountability, and public–private partnerships. Even the official names of supermax-...
8 Dead Time: Heidegger, Levinas, and the Temporality of Supermax Confinement
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...less toothache feels like. . . . I wish I could paint what it’s time do you, or even do you in? Every prisoner must face this question on some level. But time is an especially pressing issue for the supermax prisoner who is isolated from others and confined to a tiny cell for weeks, months, or even years. Just as security doors chop up supermax ...
9 From Accountability to Responsibility: A Levinasian Critique of Supermax Rhetoric
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...the freedom of the same; calling it to responsibility, it founds cies of extreme isolation and control through an appeal to safety, effi-ciency, and accountability (Riveland 1999, 6; Mears and Watson 2006, 251–56). Inmates who disrupt prison life with violence or other forms of disobedience create an unsafe environment for other inmates and ...
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...not just affect the individual or the family or the local community; it affects all of us who live in a society in which black, brown, and poor people of all races are criminalized and isolated in prisons for the sake of someone else’s security and prosperity. Urban centers across the United States have been “securitized” through policing strategies that ...
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...1. See P. Smith 2006 for a detailed review of international studies on solitary 2. According to Craig Haney’s 2003 study of Pelican Bay State Prison, a su-permax prison in California, 91 percent of prisoners in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) reported anxiety and nervousness; over 84 percent suffered from head-aches, chronic fatigue, and difficulty sleeping; and 70 percent felt “on the verge of ...
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Abbott, Jack Henry. 1991. In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison.Adamson, Christopher R. 1983. “Punishment after Slavery: Southern State Penal Agamben, Giorgio. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life.Translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Alessandrini, Anthony C. 2009. “The Humanism Effect: Fanon, Foucault, and ...
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About the Author
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LISA GUENTHER is associate professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of The Gift of the Other: Levinas and ...
Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2013