Raynor Library houses display on solitary confinement

The prison cell, set up in Raynor Memorial Library, gives students the chance to experience solitary confinement. Photo by Valeria Cardenas / valeria.cardenas@marquette.edu
The prison cell, set up in Raynor Memorial Library, gives students the chance to experience solitary confinement. Photo by Valeria Cardenas / [email protected]

The room is a just a little smaller than a dorm room in McCormick Hall, with nothing but a bed, toilet and sink. The walls are a dull blue-gray and the only window is on the cell door, looking out to the lobby of Raynor Library.

The display is a model of a typical jail cell in Wisconsin and it’s been set up on Marquette’s campus to raise awareness of the treatment of American prisoners in solitary confinement.

“It’s extremely damaging psychologically to the people who go through it,” said Chris Gooding of WISDOM, one of the groups sponsoring the display.

WISDOM works to improve incarceration conditions at the state level. The installation, open to the public until next Saturday, is also supported by Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope.

The display’s design was drawn up by an inmate and the actual display was produced by the theater program from Edgewood College, a school in Madison. The display was made with material commonly used in set design.

Students will be able to experience the simulation themselves starting Tuesday. Those  interested will have 45 minutes alone in the cell and will be provided with only a Bible or Quran and a pen and a sheet of paper — the only materials given to prisoners when incarcerated.

Those taking part in the experience are encouraged to use headphones to hear pre-recorded sounds of a prison, including banging on walls and yelling.

“It’s really unsettling how they treat people and it really grabs your attention,” said Dana Warren, a freshman in the College of Business Administration. “The display does a great job of getting people interested to learn more and I think that’s what the point of it was. It definitely served its purpose.”

The organizations aim to gather support for a petition seeking accountability of how solitary confinement is used in the state. They have already lobbied Gov. Scott Walker on a number of reforms, including limiting time of incarceration to 15 days, an end to incarceration for those under 18 and the creation of a database to share information about Wisconsin’s prisoners.

“I’ve heard testimonials of individuals who have gone into confinement for prolonged periods of time and developed severe mental disorders — some even as bad as schizophrenia,” Gooding said. “In the state of Wisconsin alone, there are people who have been incarcerated in cells like these for decades of their lives.”

Students have the opportunity to attend a forum on solitary confinement, Wednesday, again sponsored by WISDOM and MICAH.

“I think it’s a really good opportunity to see what it’s like in solitary confinement,” said Eunah Lee, a visiting assistant philosophy professor. “Being in this replica is truly a different experience and just thinking about how it would feel to be in one 23 hours per day for years and years, without human contact, shows it needs action to make it better.”

The exhibit will be up in the entrance of the library until Saturday, March 21. To reserve a slot, students must call 414-841-2762, in advance.