I Was 16 and in Solitary Before I Ever Even Went to Trial

February is cold in Northern Virginia. It's even colder when you're in a cell alone, without a mattress, a blanket, a pillow, or a sheet.

When I walked into that cell in the basement of the Fairfax County Jail, my hands cuffed behind my back and stomach grumbling from a half a day without food, I was almost relieved. Happy to be soon free from cuffs, to be close to being processed, and to be moved to wherever I'd suffer next. What I didn't know is that once the deputy uncuffed me and closed the small opening that I'd slipped my hands through, no one would talk to me again for days.

This was February 21, 1997. Seventeen years ago and still the date, the time of day I arrived, and the exact location of the cell in solitary confinement are permanent fixtures in my memory. I was sixteen years old and being held in pre-trial detention on carjacking and robbery charges.

After spending three months in juvenile facilities, I had grown strangely familiar with being in a cell. But nothing prepares you for solitary confinement.

I spent ten days in that cell. I learned to pace, seven steps back and forth, again and again. I stared at the wall, sought out figures in the cracks. Across from me was the padded room where they sent prisoners who threw things on the deputies. The kid in the cell beside me, he too only sixteen or seventeen years old, told me about all of his fears of a straightjacket. Those days felt like a straightjacket to me.

Eight of those days were without a shower or any of the other small allowances that helped men from freezing in the night. I wore the same clothes and slept on a concrete slab that was covered in phlegm. For a time I told myself that the ordeal couldn't be real. I wondered if one of the punishments for guilt was solitary. How would I know otherwise? I hadn't been to court, hadn't seen my lawyer in a few weeks, had yet to have a trial – and yet, without explanation I was in solitary confinement.

After those first ten days in solitary, I would go on to plead guilty to carjacking and robbery. Sentenced to eight years in prison, the better part of my youth was spent confined. And during those eight years, I spent a year and a half doing various short stints in solitary confinement. I watched grown men crack under the pressure of a solitary cell. I watched men beg for relief, strapped to a bed by their arms and legs.

Seventeen years later, I find that I'm again constantly thinking about solitary confinement. The horror stories that drive the public conversation about solitary are not stories to me, but memories. It's unsettling because as much as I know the truth of what the noise of silence can do to a person's mind, I know the dangers for juveniles are worse.

It's good to see this issue getting more press. And it's encouraging to see some states slowly making changes. But it's still unacceptable that every day children are held in solitary confinement for upwards of 22 hours — in adult prisons and jails and juvenile facilities alike. It's unacceptable that we still have a practice on the books that devastates children's minds. We know that solitary confinement does not reduce violence and likely increases recidivism, and we must end this child abuse nationwide.

To help address the widespread issue of solitary confinement and isolation in juvenile facilities, check out the ACLU's new advocacy toolkit, "Ending the Solitary Confinement of Youth in Juvenile Detention and Correctional Facilities."

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I decided I preferred a cell alone to being sexually abused. In fact that's why I got in trouble in the first place but never mind.


Don't do the crime if you can't do the time !! I hope this turns your life around. If not you'll be dead before you reach your 18 birthday. Gangster !!


Don't do the crime if you can't do the time. Gangster !!


I spent the first week I was in a state hospital, age 17, in solitary. It was pretty standard in those days (late 60's), especially for badly traumatized kids like I was who tended to freak out when they were first put on wards with mostly adult lifers. I was not a delinquent at all, but I'd been through some really bad abuse so perhaps I was a little hard. Recall I was freaked when I first realized they'd locked me in a cell! Never had been in a cell before. But after howling pointlessly for a bit, I settled down & the rest of the week was fine. I'm a loner, so guess having a very private room may have suited me. I'm also good at amusing myself (had had a very solitary childhood). In those days, they didn't check on you --just brought meals.

I'm puzzled by the big outcry over solitary, especially by criminals that were no wimps when they were out committing crimes. People will claim anything to play the victim.

If you hated solitary so much, why oh why did you get put back in solitary. Doesn't add up.

I used to want to go back to solitary -- ward was crowded -- but I wanted to get out of the state hospital even more, and I knew going back to solitary would take me further from the goal of getting out.

If solitary was the worst thing that happened to me during the few years I spent in the mental hell system as an adolescent, I'd be happy. Try forced shock & forced drugging with substances that make utterly miserable & utterly dysfunctional in the name of help. Solitary is a vacation.


My grandson just spent 65 days in solitary in an adult jail. Not for punishment but because he was a minor with adult charges and under the no sight no sound law. I called ACLU and emailed no one responded.


I was placed in solitary confinement when i was 17 in a local county jail in western NY. I was given nothing but a pair of undershorts and a small roll of tp paper . and that's how i stayed for weeks. I was refused meals many times , I could not complain because the only guard I saw was the Shift Sargent who had placed me there inn the first place and a few select others that seem to be indifferent to the way i was being treated. I became so desperate that one day I smuggled a piece of paper out of the law library, which i was allowed to visit once a week under strict supervision , in my anal cavity. I saved a piece of broom brissle from a random cell cleaning that had fallen from the broom and used it to scratch a wound in my chest so that I could wrote a letter to my family in my own blood. I wrote the letter and tried to give it to a guard that seemed to have taken pity on me but I was wrong, the letter was used as a reason to lock me down even longer. I was many times hand cuffed to the steal bunk for days at a time after this. One day after a few month of this , I was rushed out of that dark solitary ell that was put as the end of a hallway and tossed into general population, it seems the county has some important visitors and didn't want me seen. After they left , I was gathered up and placed back into a solitary cell. I was kept like this until my release. To this day I still suffer nightmares, I suffer from have extreme anxiety to the point that I can't get out of my house, I pretty much exist in a small room in my own home, a prisoner of my own mind. I wouldn't wish this type of treatment on anyone !


You spent 8 years in prison for violent crimes and still got into Yale law? Not a whole lot of sympathy. You spent 10 days in solitary, your victims will spend their whole lives in fear.

As a fellow attorney, I have serious doubts about your character and even greater doubts about your ability to pass a State Bar Character and Fitness review...good luck.


You spent 10 days in solitary, your victims will spend their whole lives in fear.

I have serious doubts about your character and ability to pass a Star bar Character and fitness investigation.


Interesting, it appears the ACLU is deleting posts disagreeing with this young man's character and fitness to practice law.

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