The Torture of Solitary
Solitary confinement, once regarded as a humane method of rehabilitation, unravels the mind. Yet today, more than 25,000 U.S. prisoners languish in isolated cells.
Here is what I knew about Joe Loya before stepping into his car: During a 14-month stretch in the late 1980s, he stole a quarter-million dollars from 30 Southern California banks by donning a tailored suit and, occasionally, a fedora, striding up to bank tellers, and, in a low and smoky voice, demanding all their money. His panache earned him the nickname “The Beirut Bandit” because, he said, “no one could believe a Mexican from East L.A. could be so smooth.” He was finally bum-rushed by undercover agents while reading the newspaper at a UCLA campus café. (His girlfriend had tipped them off.) As he served out a seven-year prison sentence, he grew increasingly violent, once chomping a chunk off the ear of an inmate who had snaked his copy of Playboy. When his former cellmate was slaughtered in their old cell, Loya was pegged as a primary suspect and consigned to Security Housing Unit—otherwise known as solitary confinement—for two years, until cleared of the charges. He was released in 1996, at age 35.
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Stephanie Elizondo Griest is the author of Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines (2008) and Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana (2004). She splits her time between Corpus Christi, Texas, and Iowa City, Iowa.more from this author >>