There are many ways to destroy a person–or an animal. But the simplest and most devastating might be solitary confinement.

Consider the following testimony from prisoners interviewed by the psychiatrist Stuart Grassian in Block 10 of Walpole Penitentiary in 1982:

Chimpanzee at the San Francisco Zoo. (Photo: Jeff Marquis/Flickr)

  • I went to a standstill psychologically once — lapse of memory. I didn’t talk for 15 days. I couldn’t hear clearly. You can’t see — you’re blind — block everything out — disoriented, awareness is very bad. Did someone say he’s coming out of it? I think what I’m saying is true — not sure. I think I was drooling — a complete standstill.
  • I seem to see movements — real fast motions in front of me. Then seems like they’re doing things behind your back — can’t quite see them. Did someone just hit me? I dwell on it for hours.
  • Melting, everything in the cell starts moving; everything gets darker, you feel you are losing your vision.
  • I can’t concentrate, can’t read . . . Your mind’s narcotized . . . sometimes can’t grasp words in my mind that I know. Get stuck, have to think of another word. Memory is going. You feel you are losing something you might not get back.