For 43 years, Albert Woodfox was held in solitary confinement in a six-by-nine-foot cell in a US prison. Yesterday, he was released.
Albert spend 23 hours a day in that cell, alone. He was allowed one hour a day of ‘recreation’ in a smal area of fenced concrete, where no one spoke to him.
For a second, imagine yourself in that situation, in that 54 square feet (5 square meters) of nothingness.
Total solitude. No physical or emotional contact. No human interaction. No input. Not being heard or seen. Not being held or cuddled. Alone, forgotten, and abandoned.
For 43 years.
This is not justice. This is torture. It’s barbaric. It’s inhuman. It’s shameful.
Human contact is a fundamental human need and – I would argue – human right. We have a deep, deep need to be seen, heard, and touched in a loving and respectful way.
In this contact, our humanity, our essential goodness, our right to live and our ability to prosper, are acknowledged. We need contact to stay healthy, be happy and thrive.
Deprived of that contact, we wither and die, figuratively if not literally. Lack of touch weakens our immune systems, dampens our spirits and makes us numb and depressed.
So I say to all the parents who send their children to the naughty chair, who give them the silent treatment or send them to their room ‘until they behave’: you are exposing your children to essentially the same treatment as Albert was.
To the adults who exclude their co-workers in the office or look the other way when a beggar is sitting on the street: your treatment is deeply hurtful and damaging.
Witholding contact is degrading and shameful. It dehumanises the other person and, in a subtle way, dehumanises you.
So if you find yourself ignoring, avoiding or doing anything that amounts to isolating, stop it.
Examine your own pain or fear or anger, and find a way to get over it. And then make contact again, even if you are still angry or whatever it is that ails you.
Just reach out, connect, and if appropriate physically touch someone in a loving and respectful way. It’s one of the most human and healing things you can do.
Ilja van Roon
P.S. If you find it hard to make contact with other people or find that other people don’t make enough contact with you, contact me. Or read other blogs about the power of seeing someone and 15 things to tell your children.