Albert Woodfox sits alone in a cell smaller than the average parking space. Unless it is one of the three days that he gets to stretch his legs in the prison yard, the 68-year-old will likely remain caged in these conditions for 24 hours today. The four walls are solid – save a single small window that looks onto the parking lot – as is the metal door in front of him. His isolation is complete, even from others prisoners in nearby cells. He has spent more than half of his life in this nightmare.
Woodfox – who has the dubious honor of being the United States’ longest serving prisoner in solitary confinement – is just one of an estimated 80,000 people held in solitary confinement on any given day in the United States. He has described the physical and mental anguish of solitary as “standing at the edge of nothingness, looking at emptiness.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has specifically condemned Woodfox’s treatment as torture and called on the United States to eliminate the use of prolonged isolation. Albert’s case has returned to the spotlight in the past month because he is no longer a convicted man – a federal judge ordered his unconditional release in early June, two years after his conviction had been overturned for a third time (a last-minute appeal kept him behind bars). The ruling on Albert’s behalf came only two days after the devastating news that 22-year-old Kalief Browder killed himself. Browder wasn’t guilty of a crime – in fact, he was never even convicted. A judge eventually dismissed his case, but only after he had spent two years in solitary confinement for fighting with other inmates inside the notoriously brutal prison.