Sarah Shourd still has nightmares about the 13 months she spent in solitary confinement in Iran. “It reduces you to an animal-like state,” she tells me. Shourd recalled the hours she spent crouched down at the food slot of her cell door, listening for any sign of life. Or pounding on the walls until her knuckles bled. Or covering her ears to drown out the screams – the screams she could no longer distinguish as her own – until she felt the hands of a prison guard on her face, trying to calm her.
Shourd was captured by the Iranian government in 2009, along with her now husband Shane Bauer and their friend Josh Fattal, when they accidentally crossed over the border during a long vacation hike. The three have just released a book called A Sliver of Light about their subsequent incarceration. Shourd spent less time in Evin prison than Bauer and Fattal, but she was held in solitary confinement for her entire stay. Her devastating account of how this isolation almost caused her to unravel will, no doubt, shock many American readers. They should be even more shocked, however, to know that there are tens of thousands of prisoners held in isolation in American prisons every day – and the conditions to which they’re subjected are not much better than Shourd’s in Iran.
Indeed, ‘the hole’ in the US is sometimes even worse than the worst public horror stories.
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