Democracy Now! : Torture in U.S. Prisons? Historic Senate Hearing Takes Up Human Toll of Solitary Confinement (with Anthony Graves and James Ridgeway from Solitary Watch)


(photo : Solitary Watch’s James Ridgeway)

Perhaps the most moving testimony Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on solitary confinement came from death row exonoree Anthony Graves. Graves spent over 18 years on Texas’ death row for a crime he did not commit. Living in an 8 x 12 cell, he had little social contact, and described horrible, degrading conditions. “Like all death row inmates, I was kept in solitary confinement. I lived under some of  the worst conditions imaginable with the filth, the food, the total disrespect of human dignity,” he testified, “I  lived under the rules of a system that is literally driving men out of their minds.”

He goes on:

I was subjected to sleep deprivation. I would hear the clanging of metal doors throughout  the night, an officer walking the runs and shining his flash light in your eyes, or an inmate kicking and screaming because he’s losing his mind. Guys become paranoid, schizophrenic,  and can’t sleep because they are hearing voices. I was there when guys would attempt suicide by cutting themselves, trying to tie a sheet around their neck or overdosing on their medication.  Then there were the guys that actually committed suicide.

Mr. Graves continues,

Solitary confinement does one thing, it breaks a man’s will to live and he ends up deteriorating. He’s never the same person again. Then his mother comes to see her son sitting behind plexiglass, whom she hasn’t been able to touch in years, and she has to watch as her  child deteriorates right in front of her eyes. This madness has a ripple effect. It doesn’t just  affect the inmate; it also affects his family, his children, his siblings and most importantly his  mother.

His experience in isolation has continued to haunt him,

I have been free for almost two years and I still cry at night, because no one out here can  relate to what I have gone through. I battle with feelings of loneliness. I’ve tried therapy but it  didn’t work. The therapist was crying more than me. She couldn’t believe that our system was  putting men through this sort of inhumane treatment.

To read his complete testimony, click here.

To watch the full hearing from Tuesday, click here.

Mr. Graves joined Solitary Watch co-founder James Ridgeway today on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman to discuss solitary confinement and the historic hearing.




Prison activist and editor. Currently preparing a book on the introduction of maximum security prisons in Belgium and Europe, including the practice of solitary confinement. In 2008, Luk started the Belgian Prisoners' Family & Friends Association. ( In 2009, with Farida Aarrass he launched the Campaign Free Ali Aarrass ( ). In 2012 he organised the Committee of the Families of European detainees in Morocco ( Luk Vervaet is the author of « Le making-of d'Anders B. Breivik » (Egalité=Editions, 2012), « Nizar Trabelsi : Guantanamo chez nous ? (Editions Antidote, 2014). He is co-author of « Kim et Ken, mes enfants disparus » (Editions Luc Pire, 2006), « Condamnés à la prison? Ecrits sur un monde caché » (Revue Contradictions, 2008) et « L'affaire Luk Vervaet : écrits sur un interdit professionnel » (Revue Contradictions, 2011). Contributions : « Etats généraux sur les conditions carcérales en Europe : La condition pénitentiaire, regards belges, français et européens"» (2010, éditions MGER) ; « The violence of incarceration: a response from mainland Europe »(2010, Race & Class) ; « Gevangenissen: spiegel van onze samenleving » (2013, MO Mondiaal Nieuws) Publishing house :

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