Newsletter: 23 Hours Alone

June 17, 2015

New 6/16 Episode: SOLITARY WOMAN


Solitary confinement is used in prisons to control the population. When prisoners act out, they get put in solitary– the penal version of ‘go to your room and think about what you’ve done.’

But for the 12 women with histories of trauma, being in solitary confinement was more like ‘go to your room and think about what’s been done to you.’

This week, these women in solitary speak. Reporter Annie Brown has our story. Listen here.

And for this week’s episode we have two extra segments:

In Established By The State, producer Casey Miner speaks with Timothy Johnson about the oral arguments in the Supreme Court Case King v. Burwell. You can listen here.

In Solitary HALT, Jack Beck of the Correctional Association of New York speaks with executive producer Nancy Mullane about solitary confinement and policy reform in New York. You can find it here.


Reporter’s Notebook: Annie Brown

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Wondering how this week’s episode came together? Our intern, Kirsten Jusewicz-Haidle, spoke with reporter Annie Brown about the story.
Kirsten: How did you come up with the idea for the story?

Annie: I was in medical school and I met a woman who had spent two years in solitary confinement. She would talk about it and be like “You feel like you get it, but you really don’t. You can’t understand what it’s like without actually experiencing it.” I looked it up in the literature and it was pretty true that we hadn’t really tried to understand what women experience in solitary confinement. But, I knew that women have a ton of different risk factors in terms of their mental health. So I got a grant to do qualitative research interviewing women who spent longer than two weeks in solitary in New York. And in the middle of it all realized that what I was mostly interested in was them telling their own stories in their own voices.
Kirsten: How did you find the women you interviewed?
Annie: I was working with this prison reform nonprofit in New York called the Correctional Association and basically what they do is monitor the conditions inside New York State prisons and make sure they’re run in a humane way. They acted as the umbrella under which I could work and recruit women. The prison reentry community is also really strong and I attended a bunch of meetings and gave a couple of presentations. And so I wound up talking to a couple of women and those women gave me other women’s names. There are these certain women who are like the nodes of the social network and sort of know everyone and once I tapped into that, I was able to really find a bunch of women who wanted to tell me what happened to them.
Kirsten: What was the most surprising part of reporting this story for you?

Annie: There were two things. One of them was starting to see the way in which childhood trauma and young trauma just paved this path into prison. There’s just this very slippery route that’s constructed on these early childhood experiences. Seeing these sort of very intricate and clear links between their trauma and their crime and hearing about it from the women sitting in front of me was kind of mind-blowing.
The other was that I knew I was going to be finding a lot of women who had had these really traumatic experiences and then when they were in the solitary confinement cell relived them. But, it was these really subtle experiences. They would say, “A door slammed and I remembered being locked in a closet,” or “I heard footsteps outside the door and I heard my abuser coming.” A solitary cell can really prime you to have this remembered experience that’s totally unrelated to what’s currently happening to you.


LIVE LAW Comes to the Big Easy

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This Thursday, June 18th, in New Orleans, the storytelling show BYO and LIVE LAW partner up to present true stories that explore the accuracy of eyewitness memory, what we’ve done with what we’ve seen, and the aftermath for everyone involved.

The show will be recorded for possible later broadcast on the LIVE LAW podcast, and on NPR member station WWNO in New Orleans. Spread the word to your friends in the Big Easy. The 8pm show is at Wonderland Studios, 3233 St. Bernard Avenue, and free.


Meet the Team: Our New Intern, Kayla


We want to introduce our new intern, Kayla Higgins! She’s joining the team for the summer from Manhattan, where she will work on our blog. We’ll let her take it from here. 

Kayla: Hey folks! I’m Kayla, one of Life of the Law’s new interns. I’m a soon-to-be third-year law student in Chicago, and a born-and-raised New Yorker. As a proud nerd, one of my favorite things to do in my free time is listen to podcasts on all sorts of topics, and LOTL has been a favorite of mine for about a year now.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I finished listening to an episode in May and heard Nancy announce that LOTL was looking for summer interns! I had already committed to working at a public defender’s office in Manhattan full-time for the summer, but I applied anyway. I was delighted that Nancy said I would be able to work flexible hours and weekends for the podcast. I’m so excited to contribute to a show that has been my ear-and-brain-candy for countless commutes over the past year.

When I’m not working or studying in the library, I enjoy performing improv comedy with an all-female troupe, riding my bike around Chicago, doing weekly Jewish text-studies with an LGBTQ Jewish study group, reading graphic novels, and eating a lot of chocolate-covered espresso beans.


What We’re Listening To: “The Vanishing Dark”

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The night is a lawless land, that from behind the lens of a telescope or far from the lights of the city, reveals the magic of the universe beyond our reach. But what do we do when our lights outshine the stars in the sky?

In producer Vanessa Lowe’s podcast “Nocturne”, we are given a chance to explore the night through beautifully crafted and richly sound-designed “radio essays”. In “The Vanishing Dark“, Lowe discusses light pollution, and what it means for the future of the night sky on earth.


Stay tuned for next week’s LIVE LAW story: Bigger than the Y


“We are all sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins, for life.”
– Tennessee Williams