Psychological Survival in Isolation: Tussling with Time on Death Row
H. Toch, J. Acker and V. Bonventre (2018) (eds.), Living on Death Row: The Psychology of Waiting to Die. American Psychological Association
19 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2019
Date Written: February 22, 2019
A person’s relationship with time is ruptured by his or her imprisonment. It no longer has value as a scarce resource to be spent carefully in pursuit of individual goals but becomes a hyper-inflated currency, vast quantities of which must be frittered away in the face of an ever-diminishing return. Despite its centrality to their lived experience, little is known about how prisoners engage with an aspect of their existence that cannot be touched, heard, smelled, seen, or tasted but that nevertheless bombards the senses.
Solitary prisoners, with so few diversions, feel time’s passage all the more painfully; it has a smothering quality that frustrates easy passage through the day. Koestler (1942, p. 107) drew on the image of the grave to describe how it felt awaiting execution in solitary confinement in Spain: “The cell was like a vault enclosed in three-fold armour-plating; the three-fold wall of silence, loneliness and fear.” Piercing this armour-plating is an enormous challenge. Without the distraction that company brings, temporal pressures build and threaten to overwhelm.
Keywords: prison, prisoners, isolation, death row, solitary, confinement
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