Solitary Watch

This is part of series of posts by recipients of the 2020 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Ana Hallman, COL ’21

For my summer, I interned with Solitary Watch, a national journalistic watchdog group that investigates and disseminates information on the widespread use of solitary confinement in US prisons and jails. Over the course of the internship, I collaborated with other interns and members of the organization to decide how to proceed with content for the week. I served as a social media intern, creating and posting content on all of our social media platforms, which included Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Their Instagram lacked the following and engagement that their Facebook and Twitter had, so by using my creativity to curate posts and
learning more about how to engage people on social media, I increased their Instagram following by 151% and their engagement by 580% over the three months that I worked as an intern. I learned about patterns of social media use, began to intuitively understand what kind of posts led to engagement, and tracked what did and did not work. In the age of the Internet and increasing social media presences, these skills felt important to learn.

Additionally, I got to learn more about solitary confinement and what it looks like in US prisons and jails. Before the pandemic, around 80,000 people were in solitary confinement on any given day. After the pandemic, that number exploded to 300,000 to attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19 rather than obtaining testing and protective equipment for these institutions. Putting people in solitary confinement actually worsened the pandemic, however: inmates, dreading solitary confinement, avoided sharing their symptoms or getting tested, worsening the outbreaks in their institutions. I also learned that solitary confinement beyond fifteen days is considered by the U.N. to be a form of torture for the severe and debilitating mental effects it can have on a person, but here in the U.S., stays in solitary typically start at 30 days and can go on for months and even years. And while we may think of solitary confinement as being a last resort for people in prison accused of violence or rioting, it is actually often used as a first resort. People in prison who talk back to a guard, who have contraband sugar packets, who have requested an ankle brace, or have even identified as gay, transgender, or Muslim have all been placed in solitary confinement.

The U.N. also says that it is inhumane to put people with mental problems in solitary confinement because of how much it can exacerbate these problems, but in I.C.E. detention facilities, 40% of their solitary detainees were determined to have a mental illness. As the social media intern, I translated this information into posts to share with our followers. I was happy to take part in their mission to document the injustices of solitary confinement with the ultimate goal of seeing and
participating in its end. I learned about solitary confinement, social media, and was able to network with people in the field as well as with other interns that shared similar interests, some of whom I am still in contact with today. I am extremely grateful for the summer funding that made this all possible.

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