14 Days in Solitary
Earlier this summer, whistleblower Chelsea Manning tried to take her own life in prison. Yesterday, she learned the punishment: 14 days in solitary confinement for both attempting suicide and for possession of a book without her name written in it.
Now, she’s preparing herself for isolation.
“I have been in solitary confinement before,” Manning told VICE News, responding to questions through an intermediary. “I know what it feels like. I don’t like the feeling of isolation. It cuts me off from those who love me and care about me. It is incredibly lonely. I dread the idea of going back.”
She says the decision makes her feel hurt, alone – and embarrassed.
“I am a US citizen,” Manning said. “I take pride in our military and our government. So when we do things like this, and look awful, I feel embarrassed.”
“The military depends on its “optics” and public confidence,” she added. “For me, this board undermines the confidence of the military in the eyes of the public.”
The disciplinary board was made up of three officials from the US Army prison in Kansas. She was found guilty on two counts: “Conduct Which Threatens” and possessing “Prohibited Property.” The first charge was because her suicide attempt interfered “with the good order, safety, and running of the facility.”
The second charge was because prison officials, while searching her cell after Manning had been removed, discovered a copy of “Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy” by Gabriella Coleman which wasn’t labelled with her name.
She was acquitted of a third charge which alleged that she resisted efforts to forcibly remove her from her cell because she was unconscious.
There is no set date for her period in solitary – technically known as “disciplinary segregation” – to begin, and she has 15 days to appeal her punishment as soon she she receives the board’s decision in writing.
If she loses the appeal, she’ll have to serve seven days in solitary, and then another seven if she commits another perceived infraction in the next six months.
The hearing took a total of four hours, with a break for lunch. During those four hours, Manning, who is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking thousands of sensitive military documents to Wikileaks while working as an army intelligence analyst, presented evidence and questioned witnesses. She was not permitted to have any legal representation.
Manning told VICE News that the whole experience was hard, and made her feel “sad and anxious.”
“I had to relive and retrace everything that happened,” Manning said.
Solitary confinement is an increasingly controversial tool used by prisons across the United States to discipline inmates who have broken the rules or segregate those who are believed to be at risk of harm.
Stuart Grassian, a certified psychiatrist and former faculty member at Harvard Medical School interviewed hundreds of inmates who had been placed in solitary confinement, andconcluded that isolating prisoners can cause a specific psychiatric condition characterized by “severe confusional, paranoid, and hallucinatory features”, also by “intense agitation” and “impulsive, often self-directed violence.”
Grassian observed these symptoms even in individuals who had no history of mental illness. Roughly a third of solitary inmates, Grassian concluded, were “actively psychotic and/ or acutely suicidal.”
The US Justice Department has issued guidelines warning against placing prisoners with mental illness in solitary confinement, because the extreme isolation could exacerbate existing psychiatric conditions.