James Ridgeway: As a reporter, I ran into solitary confinement in writing an article about Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, members of the so-called Angola 3, who have lived in solitary confinement in Louisiana since 1972. When the prison denied me access, the ACLU of Louisiana took up my case, and I was finally granted what turned out to be the standard guided tour of the plantation prison. It included numerous dormitories, chapels, and even the death chamber—but not the solitary confinement units. Even the ACLU couldn’t help me penetrate those fortresses of solitude.
While reporting on solitary confinement in New York State, I was readily shown around Auburn Correctional Facility by the affable warden there. I saw all kinds of cells, yards, and workshops—everything but the so-called Special Housing Unit (SHU) where people are held in solitary. These units, I was told, are never shown to the media. At another New York prison, I managed to visit (under the watchful eye of a guard) with a man who has been in solitary for nearly 25 years. Since the Department of Corrections media policy forbids media visits to most prisoners in “segregation,” I had to withhold the fact that I was a reporter, and sign in as his “friend.”
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