Escaping Solitary Confinement
Today, there are approximately around 80,000 people in solitary confinement - just in U.S. prisons. Most of all have some idea of what solitary confinement (or restricted housing, segregation, isolation, etc.) looks like today thanks to many popular movies and TV shows. Yet the general population, including myself, could only imagine what it’s like to be put under such treatment. Held in a cell for 22 to 24 hours a day, zero human contact, fluorescent lights on 24/7, etc.
In an excerpt from Hell is a Very Small Place, a compilation of voices from solitary confinement, Sarah Shourd, who spent 410 days in solitary confinement while being held as a political hostage in Iran writes,
“In solitary confinement, a grey, limitless ocean stretches out in front of and behind you - an emptiness and loneliness so all-encompassing it threatens to erase you. Whether you’re in that world a month, a year, or a decade, you experience the slow march of death. Day by day you lose your connection to everything outside the prison walls, everything you once knew and everything you once were” (emphasis added).
We, humans, were created to be social creatures. To engage one another and the world around us. Psychologist Terry Kupers concludes that solitary confinement “destroys people as human beings.” That without another person to communicate with, the mind decays; without anything to do, the brain atrophies; and without the ability to see off into the distance, vision fades - ultimately breeding isolation, anger, anxiety, and hopelessness.
Solitary confinement destroys the things we need most to thrive - hope, vision, identity - simply by keeping us isolated from others.
The end of the year is always a busy time for the church. So, naturally, I buried myself in my work. I spent countless hours alone in the office doing work, both administrative and “spiritual” and found myself growing more and more tired. I was beginning to lose vision. I felt cornered, trapped, hopeless. Yet, for some reason, I chose to remain in solitary confinement.
Shourd also writes about how everyone has a “snapping point” in solitary confinement. Suddenly, you lose it. You scream and kick and punch and do everything you can, almost as if your rage will suddenly change your circumstances. Yet, as this rage period passes, you appear to calm down … to settle in.
“Yet the scream doesn’t stop. You try not to hear it as you brush your teeth, take your meds, force yourself to do push-ups, or attempt to focus on reading a magazine. As long as you’re stuck in this coffin that silent scream becomes the backdrop of every moment of your waking life. It could last a month, a year, a decade, or the rest of your life, yet no one will ever hear it but you” (emphasis added).
I so resonated with this. Outwardly, I was functioning alright. I was still attending morning prayer, still preparing bible studies, still facilitating worship services, still reading the bible, still doing everything I was “supposed” to do - yet the scream didn’t stop.
There are many in the church today who are stuck in solitary confinement. There are so many out there who are functioning perfectly fine on the outside and yet constantly tormented by the silent scream of their trapped spirit. The Enemy wants us to stay isolated. He wants to keep us stuck … ashamed … hopeless … without community. He wants us to think that we either need to work our own way out of it or that we need to just sit back and passively wait for the “season” to be over.
But Jesus has already paved the way. The door to freedom has already been open. We need only to claim that freedom and walk through the door trusting in Jesus. The Enemy may have come to steal, kill, isolate, and destroy, but Jesus has already overcome all of that.
Jesus came that we may have life and have it abundantly.
My freedom came in the form of new friends, a joint retreat, and a short time of spontaneous prayer. I first began to feel myself coming alive again when a group of leaders from different churches gathered to pray for a joint retreat we were having. I felt the camaraderie and brotherhood feed my spirit. Then, at the retreat, I felt a bigger wave of joy and life hit me as I saw youth students from many different churches worship together in one accord; as I saw how lucky I was to be part of such incredible company. Finally, as I was driving down to the airport one day, I noticed how beautiful the city (Atlanta) looked as the sun was setting behind it - and it hit me that I had lost vision for the city. I pulled over and had the best 30 minute prayer and intercession session I have had in a long, long time.
If you feel as though you’re stuck in solitary confinement - there is freedom for you. I believe that the Lord is wanting to restore vision and new life through community.
For all those who are reading this stuck in isolation, I pray that you will find freedom through whatever community God has placed in your life. Fresh vision, new life, JESUS!