Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Danielle S. Rudes's "Surviving Solitary"

Danielle S. Rudes is a Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology at Sam Houston State University and the Deputy Director of the Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence. She was formerly an Associate Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University.

Rudes applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Surviving Solitary: Living and Working in Restricted Housing Units, and reported the following:
On page 99 of my book, Surviving Solitary: Living and Working in Restricted Housing Units, readers will find a representative selection of quotes and observations from my team’s time collecting data with residents and staff in solitary confinement units in several U.S. adult men’s prisons. This particular page highlights several quotes from correctional staff regarding how many (but certainly not all) staff treat residents. One correctional officer notes, “…They have to be caged like an animal. You know, I get to go home, take my kids out to eat, go to the golf course. You [residents] get to stand in a cell and yell profanities for the next twenty-three hours and maybe pass out because you’re retarded.” Another correctional officer describes how he denies residents rights such as showers via a process both staff and residents call “burning.” He says, “Earlier, I yelled 'shower!' He…was sleeping. I go by policy. I announced showers. He didn’t come to the door. He thinks we should be his mom and dad and that we should knock on his door. We don’t have time to wait for you.” In these quotes, the correctional staff openly discuss their views on residents and the ways they navigate their work duties within the unit.

Each topical chapter of the book juxtaposes resident and staff perceptions and actions related to rights, rules, relationships, reentry, and reform. The selection on page 99, specifically considers how staff understand and negotiate RHU rules. While it does not show residents’ views on rules, it provides a telling example of one of the overall messages of the book…that of the masked (or hidden) malignancy (harm) faced when living or working with in RHUs.

The second main message of the book is one of tenacious resilience among both staff and residents as they find both manifest and latent pathways to cope with the masked malignancy of the RHU. The book also provides an overview of daily living in these spaces but told uniquely from both sides of the bars…a rare find in the existing literature on solitary confinement. Finally, the book closes with two powerful chapters: one on suggested reforms/changes and another that painstakingly details the methods and positional choices the researchers made to give voice to the staff and residents who so graciously allowed us access to their world.
Follow Danielle S. Rudes on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue