How to survive while in solitary confinement in the Special Housing Units (SHU)

By | February 1, 2016
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Surviving a relatively spacious, sparsely populated prison is hard enough for newly incarcerated individuals, oldies and returnee-prisoners alike. Do these individuals perhaps know how to survive while in solitary confinement in the Special Housing Units (SHU)?

In the olden times, solitary confinement may have been a last option earmarked for the worst inmates or misdeeds. Recently however, it has become as a firsthand control measure in many correctional facilities in the event of brutal acts, ignoring rules, possession of drugs or contrabands as well as for other reasons ranging from being in need of protection (gay, political beliefs, Muslim) or suffering from a mental ailment.

An inmate can spend solitary confinement from one week to 24 years, according to prison records. A month confined in an enclosed cell with no windows and no amenities (television, radio or books), with hardly any human contact can drive you nuts. So, how can an individual survive a year or years of incarceration in such a place?

Knowing how to survive while in solitary confinement in the Special Housing Units (SHU) is top priority for an inmate who wants to get out of the cell or prison with a sane mind. When you are denied any human contact, imprisoned in the SHU with nothing to do at least 23 hours a day every day, your mind would be the first part of you to get affected. A weak mind and spirit can lead to a weak body.

You need determination, as well as strength of mind and body, to survive the ordeal. Most importantly however, you need to accept your situation and deal with it as best as you can. This means you have to take charge of your space by making the most out of your situation. Clean your cell and designate a place for your basic requirement, regardless of the cramped space. You should strive to make a decent living quarter within your cell as much as you can. Thus, you need to clean your space as well as maintain cleanliness. Designate areas in your space for eating, peeing, exercising or meditating. It will be hard but such order will greatly impact your daily life within your cramped quarter.

It would also benefit a prisoner in solitary confinement to establish a personal routine. It would help the person hang on to some form of normalcy and structure in his isolated cell, thereby helping him retain his identity. SHUs actually make prisoners feel helpless. It is a learned helplessness which develops through constant conditioning of the mind that whatever they will engage in or do will end up in failure. Engage in some personal routine such as cleaning your nails by using your own nails, keeping your hair in some semblance of order, or doing some other grooming activities. Have very long fingernails? You can chew it off or scrape them against the wall.

Living in a place which limits your mobility can take a toll on your mental as well as spiritual well-being. Hence, it is important that you take good care of yourself by doing some regular physical and mental exercises to keep you strong and healthy. There are various physical exercises which you can do despite the small space. Establish a regular exercise routine each day to stay in shape. Besides, it is difficult to feel despondent when you are engaged in a physical fitness regimen.

To keep your mind healthy, you can mediate, read anything that comes to hand and write down anything that comes to mind. You can keep journal, write poems, essays, letters or just anything that you can think of. It does not really matter what you write as long as you keep your mind thinking and going. Invent words with corresponding meanings or write a play. Use your imagination and your mind to crowd out the boredom and despondency that can overwhelm.

Learn how to meditate. When you spend your time with nothing to do, no one to talk to in a cell that does not even allow you a glimpse of the sky or the green trees outside, it will tend to emphasize your isolation from the rest of the prison’s population. If you allow despondency to take over your whole being, you will probably give in to the claws of insanity that can slowly creep on you. One of the best ways to counter the isolation is to meditate. You can also sing or talk to yourself. Think aloud. You will not only exercise your vocal chords but also allows you to have some form of human interaction, even if it’s only with your own self.

Basically, the best technique on how to survive while in solitary confinement in the Special Housing Units (SHU) of prisons solely depends on you. The way you will handle the isolation and the way you spend your time while in seclusion will determine whether you will survive the ordeal or not. You can survive the ordeal depending on how you handle your situation. You can do foolish things that will allow you to have human interaction no matter how brutal it can be, or you can try to accept your predicament and make the most of it. Some prisoners pick fights with their guards just so they could have some human contact even if it means having 3 to 4 pairs of hands brutally yanking or subduing them. Other prisoners however, choose to manage their emotions better.

These types of prisoners engage in more productive things that allow them to retain their personalities instead of shouting, banging, crying or doing other unproductive efforts. They live each day without hoping too much that each day will be their last on solitary confinement.

Life in solitary confinement won’t be a holiday. Nonetheless, depending on how you see it, you can either make a heaven or a hell out of it. You can treat your stay there as an experience from which you will learn things that help you enhance or reform your life for the better, or make it as something that you are ready to take on again and again.

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