Saturday, March 28

London Fridays And Prisoner Isolation

Eitan, for some reason, decides to read on the stairs - complete with blanket which was a baby gift from Spencer and Alex. Spencer was a colleague in business school who hit it big at a hedge fund but before he became one of the immortals we suffered our relocation to London, for our wives, by drinking vodka martinis on Friday nights. Wives included, of course. Those were good moments and we were full of London and its newness. Alex was on the fast track at JP Morgan before putting it aside for Spencer and their three children - they now live in Westport, Connecticut. On her I say: stay tuned.

So I am finishing Polish writer Lem Stanislaw's sci-
fi classic Solaris - from the jacket: "When Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface he is forced to confront a painful, hitherto unconscious memory embodied in the physical likeness of a long-dead lover. Others suffer from the same affliction and speculation rises among scientists that the Solaris ocean may be a massive brain that creates incarnate memories, but its purpose in doing so remains a mystery . . .
'Solaris' raises a question that has been at the heart of human experience and literature for centuries: can we truly understand the universe around us without first understanding what lies within?"

I connect Solaris to this week's New Yorker story and isolation, which 25,000 US prisoners face in solitary confinement - in some states, as much as 7% or 8% of the prison population. Studies show, and POWs confirm, that lack of social contact for ten days effects personality and over three months presents extreme trauma and loss-of-self. The New Yorker's rhetorical question: "Is this torture?" Indeed, our nation too easily slipped into Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib but the foundation laid for twenty years when America began building maximum security prisons with isolation centers .. shows like "24" and violent mainstream media and video further de-sensitized us to our treatment of citizen convicts .. and all prisoners for that matter. Unfortunately and not surprisingly, these people are more of a (violent) societal threat when returned to freedom. Contrast this to Britain which has also monitored prisoner violence creep - the government here decided not punishment, but integration the best route and, in fact, environmental change dramatically tempers aggression. So America must ask: are we, as individuals, not equal to how we treat the poorest and least privileged? Are we making our society better or safer?