Google Images has come to be one of my go-to sources for interesting material. I’m usually looking for royalty-free images to use with my articles. That’s what was going on this morning, when I did a search for “solitary confinement.” One haunting image was of a man heavily bundled in old-fashioned clothing, and with his face obscured by a mask or hood. Clicking on it led me to the New Yorker article where it had been published, which discussed not only modern solitary confinement, but something written by Charles Dickens during an 1842 visit to the Walnut Street penitentiary in Philadelphia.
Dickens was appalled at the treatment of the prisoners in solitary confinement. “I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers; and in guessing at it myself, and in reasoning from what I have seen written upon their faces, and what to my certain knowledge they feel within, I am only the more convinced that there is a depth of terrible endurance in which none but the sufferers themselves can fathom, and which no man has a right to inflict upon his fellow creature.”
I turned first to Gutenberg to find this article and, not finding it, did another Google search. Oddly, this search brought up the link for the Gutenberg version, which taught me not to depend on doing a Gutenberg search solely on the author’s name, since the more obscure books may not come up. I found another source, so either way, I have the entire original article now.
There was also a useful link in the original New Yorker article, to a 2009 article: Hellhole, a discussion of, not just solitary confinement in the penal system, but the effects of any method of isolating humans or animals from others of their own kind.
One picture, three new pieces of research material. Google is more versatile than most people realize.