Stuck in a box: Sensory deprivation

by Deanna Maria R.

In the USA, approximately 80,000 inmates live their prison sentences out in solitary confinement. Basically, four walls and nothing else. Sensory deprivation has become a mental health crisis for those ‘stuck in a box’. Sensory deprivation can cause panic, despair, memory loss, hallucinations, self-mutilation, psychosis, compulsion, and suicide. People in society have taken it upon themselves to help alleviate a bit of the distress of sensory deprivation for inmates by simply snapping a photo.

People who are aware of the issue and communicate with inmates have been filling requests for photos of the outside world. Although a photo is a far cry from the actual experience of life, for those in solitary confinement, it means ‘hope’. Some requests from inmates are quite simple, such as a photo of a cow or autumn leaves. Other photo requests are more elaborate. One inmate’s request involved a photo of his mother, standing in front of a mansion, in front of a new expensive vehicle with piles of money strewn at her feet. She had passed away and the photo represented the inmate’s desired vision of the way his mother’s life should have been.

Some people may be surprised to find that there are many who wish to help and go out of their way to fill the requests even if it means creating them from scratch. ‘The rhythms’ of life that we take for granted cannot be compared to a photo. For those in solitary confinement, images of life are the only way for inmates to stay connected to the world outside the box.