I'm Still in That Box: 23 Years in Solitary Confinement

April 2, 2012

Brian Nelson was 17 when he was found guilty of armed robbery and murder. He was sentenced to 26 years, and sent to Stateville Correctional Center, a maximum security prison south of Chicago. A year and a half later, he escaped. He spent several years being transferred around, ending up at a minimum security prison in New Mexico. There, he said, “I went in and out of the prison at will.” He made guards’ uniforms, he says, and after pressing them, he would take them out to the guards’ cars for them. “I was 10-15 minutes from the Mexican border,” he said, “and a lot of the guards kept guns in their trunks.”

Then without warning, he was transferred to Tamms Correctional Center, a Supermax prison in Illinois. “We really don’t know [how he got to Tamms],” his lawyer, Alan Mills wrote in an email. “He was never given any formal charge or hearing. He certainly didn’t have any sort of disciplinary problem in New Mexico.” Mills says he suspects once Tamms opened, Illinois simply recalled all prisoners it had sent out of state, and put them in Tamms.

In all, Nelson spent 23 years in solitary confinement. He was released just under two years ago. In this podcast, Nelson talks about the lasting effects of solitary confinement, and the challenges of reintegrating into mainstream society.

In the meantime, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed closing 14 state facilities, including Tamms, as part of an effort to cut the state budget.

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