The average American probably gets more information about the criminal justice system from Law & Order than from reality, and that can be a problem when it comes to ministering to people in prison. Because a better understanding of the daily realities of prison life can help focus discipleship and foster compassion, Crossroad Bible Institute (now Crossroads Prison Ministries) recently hosted four panelists who spoke at a continuing education seminar, titled “What Happens to People in Solitary Confinement?”

Opening up about his own experience behind bars, Peter Martel, program associate from the American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) Michigan Criminal Justice Program, described his ten years in solitary confinement after an attempted escape from prison. His personal stories allowed attendees to gain a better perception of the harsh conditions faced by those in administrative segregation.

After outlining the prison system more broadly, Natalie Holbrook, program director of the AFSC’s Michigan Criminal Justice Program, described solitary confinement in more detail. She noted that a person is confined to his or her cell for twenty-three to twenty-four hours per day; any time outside prison walls is spent within a small cage.

Lois DeMott, the founder and coordinator of the Family Participation Program and co-founder of Citizens for Prison Reform, focused on the poor treatment of those with mental disabilities in adult prisons and shared the story of her fifteen-year-old son’s difficult journey through incarceration. She emphasized that many prisoners who have mental disabilities, like her son, do not receive necessary treatment and have a high probability of being sent to solitary confinement, where their conditions are likely to worsen.

Dr. Barry Mintzes, a licensed psychologist and former warden of Jackson Prison and Kinross Correctional Facility, affirmed that human contact is essential for mental stability and stated that solitary confinement can aggravate mental illness.

After the presentation, attendees participated in a lively Q&A session and had the chance to step inside a life-size model of a solitary confinement cell. Michigan artist Reuben Kenyatta contributed to the design of the model, which is 8 feet wide and 7.5 feet tall. Kenyatta himself spent eleven years in the Michigan Department of Corrections and discovered his creative talents through a prison arts program.

Crossroad will continue its exploration of how the American criminal justice system impacts the lives of people in prison and their families at the next continuing education seminar, titled “The Death Penalty on Trial.” Don’t miss it!