Hell Is a Very Small Place

Voices from Solitary Confinement

The first major trade book about the prison sentence “worse than death,” featuring a dozen haunting firsthand accounts of life in solitary

“Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for twenty-three hours a day for months, sometime for years at a time? That is not going to make us safer. It’s not going to make us stronger.” —President Barack Obama

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has denounced the use of solitary confinement beyond fifteen days as a form of cruel and degrading treatment that often rises to the level of torture. Yet the United States holds more than eighty thousand people in isolation on any given day. Now sixteen authors vividly describe the miserable realities of life in solitary.

In a book that will add a startling new dimension to the debates around human rights and prison reform, former and current prisoners describe the devastating effects of solitary confinement on their minds and bodies, the solidarity expressed between individuals who live side by side for years without ever meeting one another face to face, the ever-present specters of madness and suicide, and the struggle to maintain hope and humanity.

These firsthand accounts are supplemented by the writing of noted experts, exploring the psychological, legal, ethical, and political dimensions of solitary confinement, and a comprehensive introduction by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella. Sarah Shourd, herself a survivor of more than a year of solitary confinement, writes eloquently in a preface about an experience that changed her life.

Praise

“A potent cry of anguish from men and women buried way down in the hole.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Elegant but harrowing.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Solitary confinement in American prisons has become one of our nation’s most horrendous human rights problems. Much more public attention is needed to this shameful, wasteful, cruel travesty. Hell Is a Very Small Place is vitally important.”
—Ralph Nader
“Confronts the moral catastrophe of solitary confinement through compelling and courageous testimonies by the world’s premier experts on the matter: the confined themselves.”
—Glenn E. Martin, founder and president, JustLeadershipUSA
“The personal accounts by prisoners contained in this book are some of the most disturbing that I have ever read. There were many points throughout the book when my emotions became very overwhelming, and I had to pause and catch my breath.”
—Chelsea Manning
“Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for twenty-three hours a day for months, sometime for years at a time? That is not going to make us safer. It’s not going to make us stronger.”
—President Barack Obama
“This important book leaves no doubt that solitary confinement has no place in a civilized society. The story of each person subject to solitary shows that he or she is somebody and that the life that is thrown away is not beyond redemption. Together they demonstrate the urgency of turning from hatred to understanding and from vengeance to reconciliation if we are going to have a decent, moral, and compassionate society.”
—Stephen Bright, president and senior counsel, Southern Center for Human Rights

News and Reviews

Counterpunch

Read Counterpunch's review of Hell Is a Very Small Place

Slate

Watch an interview with two of the formerly incarcerated men profiled in Hell Is a Very Small Place on Slate

Bookslut

Bookslut reviews Hell Is a Very Small Place

Inside Higher Ed

In a review for Inside Higher Ed, Scott McLemee says solitary confinement "degrades the society that has turned it into reality"

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