What 4 Years in Solitary Confinement Taught Me About Surviving Isolation

Article What 4 Years in Solitary Confinement Taught Me About Surviving Isolation

I turned my prison cell into a space of enlightenment, creativity, and higher learning





  • Applicable
  • Hot Topic
  • Engaging


In October 1999, Shaka Senghor was thrust into a dreadful new reality – a six-foot by nine-foot cell. Not knowing when he’d be allowed to leave the confined space, he underwent a period of anger and resentment – but then he set to work expanding his soul and transforming himself so his punishing environment became a place of light and learning. People have compared COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders to being in prison. It’s easy to imagine why such a comparison might rankle someone who has actually experienced the most abusive form of prison life; but, with characteristic empathy, Senghor shares his hard-won tips for how to thrive – and grow – in very limiting circumstances.


Recognize that only two things are under your control: your thoughts and your actions. 

Shaka Senghor spent four years in “an environment designed to crush souls,” otherwise known as solitary confinement. His first two years were full of anguish, primarily due to uncertainty. He didn’t know when he’d be allowed to leave. Each time someone came near his cell, he wondered whether the torture was coming to an end, only to despair when the footsteps passed his door. Tension wreaked havoc on his mental health. He was at the mercy of prison administrators who seemed indifferent to his suffering. Somewhere in the midst of year three, Senghor discovered a tool that kept him sane: writing. 

Writing led Senghor to the transformative realization that his thoughts and his actions were the only two things he could control. He didn’t have power over his external circumstances, but he could work to become the kind of man who would one day emerge from solitary confinement “healthy and whole.”

Shelter-in-place orders aren’t a prison, but they are confining, and a healthy understanding of what you can and can’t control will...

About the Author

Shaka Senghor is the author of Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison. He’s a director’s fellow at the MIT Media Lab, and he teaches classes for the Atonement Project.

More on this topic

Customers who read this summary also read

Spying on Attica
9 Practices to Help Maintain Mental Health During the Coronavirus Lockdown
The Family Lockdown Guide
Improving the Rhythm of Your Collaboration
How to Make Working from Home Work for You
4 Factors That Help Leaders Lead Successful Change

Related Channels

Comment on this summary