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In-Depth Interview: Former Iranian Prisoner Sarah Shourd Shares Her Brutal Experience in Solitary Confinement

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Sarah Shourd spent more than 400 days in solitary confinement in Iran’s Evin Prison.  Now she works to amplify the voices of over 100,000 Americans who are locked up in solitary today, as co-editor of a new book, Hell Is A Very Small Place.Shourd was hiking in Iraq with her now-husband, Shane Bauer, and their friend Josh Fattal when they were detained by Iranian authorities and sent to the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran.

As we open, she describes her ordeal and ways she stayed focused and busy to avoid thinking about her isolation.  She explains that, as she came close to breaking, authorities relented and allowed visits with Bauer and Fattal, and then released her before the men.

She reacts to the recent release of Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post reporter who was finally released in January after almost 18 months; and the recent discharge of Albert Woodfox  after 40 years of solitary at Angola, Louisiana.  We quote from chapters in the book written by inmates, and talk about recent reforms in isolation policy in California prisons.

From letters recently sent from the solitary confinement “adjustment center” at San Quentin, we hear the voice of James Anderson, who has been on death row for 36 years and has a credible claim of innocence in the double murder for which he is condemned.  Shourd comments on Anderson’s observations, and notes how so many cases of solitary confinement are arbitrary, often paybacks from guards–who are prisoners themselves in some ways.  Anderson has trained himself as an artist in prison, and you can see some of his work here.

Shourd’s co-editors are Jean Casella and James Ridgeway, the well-known journalist, and the latter two run the Solitary Watch website, where you can get more information on the book and their weekly digest of news on solitary confinement.