Solitary Confinement (Characters and Scenes)


“A lonely body in a cell — that’s what solitary confinement is”

“I will try to hear things – human voices.”

“You could feel your mind trying to escape from it.”

In this radio piece the reporter, Claire Schoen, does a great job at taking a very empty and desolate place and making it alive with thoughts and sounds – humanness, really.  By using such noises as buzzing lights, slamming doors, heartbeats, sirens, tapping, ticking clocks, and mechanical prison sounds, she paints the picture of a place that begins to work on one’s mind. The fact that she used a variety of inmates to describe it added to the effect of the piece.  It shows that this is a very ubiquitous, and effective, method of punishing inmates in our prison system.  Although you don’t get to know any one person, you begin to understand what it’s like to be an inmate there, that is, all the characters begin to paint one portrait of this person locked up in solitary confinement.

Little phrases the characters use – like “the sweats” – add a certain level of access that makes you really feel like you’re there in the prison.  I also haven’t heard some of these techniques used before in a radio piece, such as the echo at the end of: “There’s no concept of time.  You know no time in lock down.  There’s sleep and awake-ness – and the madness in between (in between, in between).”  This added a heightened level of production, though it didn’t feel contrived. This approach would likely be more gut-punching than just sitting down with one inmate and talking about the experience, although I don’t know if it would be as intimate. The intimacy in this piece lies not in any one character, but in the picture that is painted in the theater of the mind, one of a maddening culmination. And I wouldn’t say this is a complicated topic insomuch as it’s a hard feeling to grasp – being in solitary confinement – and an even harder one to convey to the audience, especially if you’ve never been there. But I think it’s effective.

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